DURING the Anglican Church Assembly debate on the Wolfenden Rpport. the Archbishop of Canterbury underlined a point that needs to be made again and again these days.
He pointed out that heterosexual offences actually caused a great deal more suffering and damage to people and to the community in general than homosexual ones-and this apart from the relative rarity of the latter. Yet, while there still remains a sense of horror and disgust against homosexual offences, even when it is a case of consenting adults, the country accepts fornication and adultery as something to be taken for granted and hardly subject to moral criticism at all.
DR. FISHER, it is true, in making his point used terminology which does not harmonise with that of Catholic theologians who base themselves on the precise distinctions of scholastic philosophy.
In Catholic moral theology homosexuality is "unnatural" as distinguished from heterosexual sin which is "natural".
The second is grave sin by the misplaced use of man's normal and bad-given procreative powers, the true use of which is in marriage and all it entails in the way of permanent union and mutual help and comfort between the complementary sexes in the new cell of the family. The first is not only a misplaced use of human powers but an actual perversion of them since in the physiological order itself, quite apart from any human choice as between a proper or improper use of a natural instinct, the faculty itself is abused and contradicted.
It is true that psychology today has reached the conclusion that man's emotional nature does not run as true to man's biological and physiological make-up as was once thought. Malec are not as much wholly male and females as wholly female as was believed, while it appears to be the case that a number of people are born definitely sexually abnormal. Equally, bad upbringing can twist emotions to a degree of perversion that cannot be considered the mere result of culpability in the subject.
Of course, in so far as all this ig scientifically correct, then the application of the old categories of "naturarand "unnatural" have to be modified for the exceptional. Objective misuse of sexual powers remains wrong in any ease but the homosexual sin could not always strictly speaking be called "unnatural" in the old sense.
Generally speaking, however, the moralist's view that because one kind of sin is "unnatural" it is more grievous in itself, and another, because "natural", less intrinsically grievous, remains valid.
When Dr. Fisher calls adultery and fornication "unnatural", be really means something else. "The homosexual", he says, "violates manhood, the heterosexual sins violate both manhood and womanhood as well. To my mind that makes them far worse. The real thing in this is the heartlessness of the general acceptance of adultery and fornication as natural sins. They are not; they are completely unnatural in the eyes of God."
What, as we understand him, he really means is that the injury to the community caused as a consequence of adultery and fornication may well be much greater than that caused by homosexual sin, and that injury is a further offence and evil in God's eyes.
The consequence of adultery may be the ruin of the happiness of many, and, in any case, the sin of injustice is added to the sin of impurity. Indirectly, these sins, moreover, when accepted by the community as something perfectly normal and to he taken for granted, spread their evil consequences through the community as a stone spreads its ripples across a pond. The consequent offence caused to Almighty God is by so far the greater.
BUT it would be wrong to deduce from this that there are not differences of gravity in sins in themselves, as apart from their consequences. 1"o forget this is soon to lead to one of the real moral errors of our times. How often do we not read articles, often by clergymen, in which Christianity is indicted because it fails to see its main work in the amelioration of the social conditions of our times and the righting of all injustices.
Christianity is first and foremost the worship and service of God and the keeping of His law by the individual person whom He treated. Consequent on this is the Christian effort to fight for justice and peace among men, for God's will is justice and peace. But the priorities may not be reversed. God, if He is loved and served by men, will bring justice and peace. Justice and peace, if indeed they could exist without the worship and service of God, would not of themselves bring men to God.
Nor, for that matter, do we believe that when men look to religion, they really seek a better social order. They seek God, first and foremost, and only secondarily all that could flow to the world from the recognition of God's primacy. They seek the spiritual bond which united men together as brothers. but within the Mystical Body of Christ, where sin is in itself destructive.
Nevertheless, Dr. Fisher, though expressing himself in a way open to misconception and even danger, does very well to remind the people of this country that, whatever may be said of the problem of homosexuality in our midst, we do tolerate a state of affairs in our society where sins against the Sixth Commandment have, in the case of fornication and adultery, virtually become respectable.
The consequences of this in unhappiness, the marring of character, the making of unhappy marriages, the breaking of them and • remarriage, the deforming of the upbringing and education of so many children (even sometimes deforming their character in respect of this very evil of growing up " unnatural ") is appalling.
While the problem of homosexuality is only too real a one nowadays, and while it is very proper to consider how best it may be controlled and remedied, its intrinsic evil is ultimately something between the individual conscience and Almighty God. The problem must not, however, be allowed to make us forget the terrible harm that is being wrought all the time by our society's acceptance of fornication and adultery as scarcely sins at all in comparison with homosexual sins.