Scandinavian bishops reaffirm Church teaching on sexuality, assure those struggling with gender of Church’s love

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Scandinavian bishops
Cardinal Anders Arborelius. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

(OSV News) — The Scandinavian Bishops’ Conference issued a pastoral letter on human sexuality on March 26 to Catholic members of the faithful of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland, in which they reaffirmed Church teaching while condemning “unjust discrimination of any kind.”

God made humans in his image — body and soul, the bishops said. “For us Christians the body is intrinsic to personhood. We believe in the resurrection of the body.”

They called it “curious” that “our intensely body-conscious society in fact takes the body lightly, refusing to see it as significant of identity, supposing that the only selfhood of consequence is the one produced by subjective self-perception, as we construct ourselves in our own image.”

The Scandinavian Bishops’ Conference represents seven dioceses spread out across five countries in Northern Europe.

The bishops wrote that after “Noah and his kin stepped back into a world washed clean,” God set a rainbow in the clouds as a sign of the covenant between him and every living creature on earth, but this “covenantal sign” is claimed in today as the symbol of “a movement that is at once political and cultural.”

The Catholic Church condemns “unjust discrimination of any kind,” including “on the basis of gender or orientation,” they said, but “we declare dissent” when “the movement puts forward a view of human nature that abstracts from the embodied integrity of personhood, as if physical gender were accidental.”

“And we protest when such a view is imposed on children as if it were not a daring hypothesis but a proven truth, imposed on minors as a heavy burden of self-determination for which they are not ready,” the bishops said in their pastoral.

The prelates signing the letter were Bishop Czeslaw Kozon of Copenhagen, president of the conference; Cardinal Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, Sweden; retired Bishop Peter Bürcher of Reykjavik, Iceland, administrator of the Diocese of Chur, Switzerland; Bishop Bernt Eidsvig of Oslo, Norway; Bishop Berislav Grgic, territorial prelate of Tromsø, Norway; Father Marco Pasinato, diocesan administrator of the Diocese of Helsinki, Finland; Bishop David Tencer of Reykjavik; and Bishop Erik Varden of Trondheim, Norway.

“The image of God in human nature manifests itself in the complementarity of male and female,” the bishops said, adding that God created man and woman “for one another: The commandment to be fruitful depends on this mutuality, sanctified in nuptial union. In Scripture, the marriage of man and wife becomes an image of God’s communion with mankind.”

That is not to say this union is “easy or painless” and “for some it seems an impossible option,” the bishops wrote. “More intimately, the integration within ourselves of masculine and feminine characteristics can be hard. The Church recognizes this. She wishes to embrace and console all who experience hardship.”

The bishops stressed they “are here for everyone, to accompany all. The yearning for love and the search for sexual wholeness touch human beings intimately. In this area we are vulnerable. Patience is called for on the path toward wholeness.”

“The Church is made for love,” they added.

Today “notions of what it is to be a human, and so a sexual being, are in flux. What is taken for granted today may be rejected tomorrow. Anyone who stakes much on passing theories risks being terribly hurt,” the bishops explained. “We need deep roots.”

They acknowledged that many people seem “perplexed by traditional Christian teaching on sexuality,” but urged those who are to go beyond “snippets here and there” and become acquainted “with Christ’s call and promise, to know him better through the Scriptures and in prayer, through the liturgy and study of the Church’s full teaching.”

They said taking part in the Church’s life will enlarge not only “the horizons” of people’s questions but also their hearts and minds.

“Consider the limitations of a purely secular discourse on sexuality. It needs to be enriched. We need adequate terms to speak of these important things,” they continued. “We shall have a precious contribution to make if we recover the sacramental nature of sexuality in God’s plan, the beauty of Christian chastity, and the joy of friendship,which lets us see that great, freeing intimacy can be found also in nonsexual relationships.”

“The point” of Catholic teaching, they added, “is not to curtail love but to enable it.”

God’s love “never ends,” the bishops said. “By this love the world was made, our nature formed. This love was made manifest in Christ’s example, teaching, saving passion, and death. It is vindicated in his glorious resurrection, which we shall celebrate with joy during the 50 days of Easter. May our Catholic community, so many-faceted and colorful, bear witness to this love in truth.”

Julie Asher

Julie Asher is senior editor at OSV News. Follow her on Twitter at @jlasher.