Saturday, October 16, 2010

Adding to the confusion and widening the divide

I am hesitant to write about this topic again, especially since I have posted about it twice recently- last Monday in a post entitled At the service of an ideology and the Monday before that with my post "We love because he first loved us." My post last Monday was a general response to the many ideologues seeking to put the recent and heart-breaking suicides of five lovely young people, all them having as a causal factor their sexual orientation, at the service of politics. The first casualty of such misguided efforts is the truth. First, the truth about these young people, which should not be reduced in such a heartless manner. Second, the truth about the human person, at least as conceived of on a Christian understanding. Picking up on this same trend, my brother deacon, Greg Kandra, author of The Deacon's Bench, one of the best and, hence, one of the best known blogs in the Catholic blogosphere, responded today to a new initiative being undertaken by Episcopal Bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. As most people know, Robinson is an openly gay and extremely controversial figure, even within his own church, not to mention within the worldwide Anglican communion to which the Episcopal Church U.S.A. belongs.

Bishop Robinson's initiative is called It Gets Better. In his post Deacon Greg observes that, at least by its initial appearance, It Gets Better by denigrating Catholic, Southen Baptist, and LDS teachings about homosexuality. Predictably, Deacon Greg's observation that "Robinson is entitled to his opinion, and his own moral theology," but that it is impossible to "respect the way he has gone about brazenly dismissing (and, in fact, misrepresenting) the moral teachings of others," does not sit well with many, especially those who vehemently disagree with the Catholic Church's views about human sexuality, which is their right, a freedom we respect.

The upshot of Catholic teaching with regards to human sexuality for homosexual people is not, as one commentator suggested, that "God made junk when He made you, die." Nothing could be further from the truth, not to mention more lacking in charity! It seems to me that presently there are few things about which we are more confused than about our sexuality. For one thing it is over-emphasized by all parties and not just when it comes to homosexuality. To reduce faith to a single issue, be it sex, immigration, abortion, or whatever, is to make the mistake of reducing faith to a kind of moralism, which is never attractive, not to mention inherently un-Christian.

Recent events have convinced me more than ever that we must not define people, or allow people to define themselves, exclusively by their sexual orientation, by whom they prefer to have sex with and how they prefer to have sex. Of course, our sexual desire, our need in this regard, which is not merely, perhaps not even primarily, physical, is yet another manifestation of the need at the heart of our human, that is, our contingent and far from self-sufficent, being.

What the church teaches us is that it is Christ who ultimately satisfies our hungry hearts and that, to quote Springsteen, "everybody's got a hungry heart," that is, a needy heart, a heart that will be satisfied with nothing less than being loved beyond measure! It seems to me that the two groups most at risk of having their humanity reduced to their sexuality are homosexual young men and all young women. Indeed, there is something ideological if not downright sinister about such efforts, which are often subtle, especially when they appropriate the language of social justice.


To the young person who perceives that s/he is "different" and who feels threatened and/or terrified as a result we offer them our love, our protection, our support, as well as our active care and concern. It is characteristic of genuine love that it asks nothing in return. To offer them less is to fail to be Christians. As Deacon Greg said, we can respectfully disagree about the nature and purpose of human sexuality, how it fits into our overall understanding of the human person, especially our transcendent dimension, which cannot but determine how we relate to people pastorally, but to mischaracterize and make false accusations does nothing for Christian fellowship, nor for people caught in the crossfire.

Let's not forget what is most fundamental to Christian faith, summarized well by St. Paul: "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8). This cuts across all humanity, down to each and every person, heterosexual and homosexual.

In the present cultural moment, our confusion about the nature and purpose of human sexuality is certainly not limited to a particular group. To wit: heterosexual people, including married couples, at least from the Catholic perspective, are just as confused as everyone else. In this light, I appreciate that Catholic teaching on sexuality invites us to consider our sexuality in the context of the totality of our personhood, especially in light of the end for which each one of us is lovingly made, encapsulated well by these famous words of St. Augustine- "God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you." Too often our conception of even our own personal sexuality is mundane, earth-bound, wholly lacking a transcendent dimension, which cannot but blind us not just to the truth, but to the goodness, and the beauty of our very being.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

11 comments:

  1. Great post. I just wanted to add a few things.

    First, a very minor point, the It Gets Better project was started up, not by Bp. Robinson, but by Dan Savage, an erstwhile Catholic turned syndicated sex columnist slash gay activist.

    Second, the project's anti-religious bent probably stems from the anti-religion of many gay men and lesbian women, many of whom experienced bullying in religious schools, and most of whom perceive a connection between disapproval of homosexual acts and disapproval of homosexuals themselves. (To oversimplify drastically, they can't be entirely wrong about that, since the connection is predicted by the classical laws of association.)

    Third, whether or no sexual orientation is or should be a component of identity, it certainly makes a great difference to how, as a Catholic, you live the life God has given you.

    And it's precisely this difference, and not the bullying or disapproval, that makes it hard to be gay and Catholic. For heterosexuals in the Church, the classic vocations help to fill out the future, but for gay men and women, for whom the vocations are forbidden, the future is a great void, and it's this void that drives and keeps them away.

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  2. Thank you for the background and clarification regarding the It Gets Better Initiative. I was utterly unfamiliar with its origins apart from Bishop Robinson, whose involvement is only known to me through Deacon Greg's post.

    I would offer a few clarifications of my own. Priesthood and/or religious life are vocations, which mean they are positive calls to those states of life. So, religious life and priesthood are not places for people who would rather be married. Second, one's sexual orientation does not preclude one from either priesthood or religious life except perhaps in a few dioceses and within a limited number of religious orders.

    Priesthood and religious life are not places for sexually unsettled people, men or women, heterosexual or homosexual. What counts is the positive vocation, which is discerned not just by the individual, but the community, which has various ways of doing this. One who has a positive vocation to priesthood and/or religious life also knows her/himself, to include one's sexual orientation, and is okay with who they are. Hence, what matters more than one's sexual orientation is one's affective maturity.

    To wit: the Church has no shortage of homosexual priests who serve us well and likely no shortage of homosexual women religious, too, who also serve us selflessly because this what they are called to do, not because they perceived this as the only option.

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  3. At any rate, the primary and essential vocation is baptism: the universal call to holiness.

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  4. Indeed, Fred. It is important never to lose sight of the One who asks for nothing less than our whole selves. He can ask this because He gives himself to us totally and without reserve.

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  5. I have not written about this at all or even commented on any blogs about it... but I will here.

    For what it is worth, I have had positive feelings towards many of the It Gets Better videos that I have watched. Rev. Susan Russell, an Episcopal priest in Pasadena, CA, for example, made an excellent one.

    I do not know Bp. Gene personally, but know many people who do. He did once email me after one of my friends asked him to pray for me; I was deeply touched by the words that he sent to me. I have never had anything other than the utmost respect for him.

    Which is why it was all the more shocking and distressing to click onto the video and to hear those words. It caused me to stop the video actually!

    Adding the the confusion and widening the divide indeed. God have mercy on us all.

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  6. My thinking on this subject is probably pretty distorted, so bear with me.

    Fr. James Martin and others have pointed to the same issue I brought up. There are definitely theological troubles with how I posed the problem, but however theologically misguided it may be, it's a very real aspect of why gay men and lesbian women leave and/or stay away from the Church. In saying this, I don't want to criticise anyone: I just want to raise awareness of a fly in the pastoral ointment which will hopefully someday be addressed.

    To digress on the 2005 Instruction for a moment, I would say that "transitory" homosexual tendencies were meant to contrast with "deep-seated" ones: so if a man's homosexual tendencies are not transitory, i.e., if he's gay, then his tendencies are deep-seated. In particular, since the instruction excluded men with deep-seated homosexual tendencies from the priesthood, it must also exclude gay men from the priesthood. Again, in saying this, I don't want to criticise anyone: I just want to show how I interpret the instruction so you know more about where my observation was coming from.

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  7. Don't get me wrong, I understand that it is difficult for many homosexual people to remain Catholic. Again, as to the issue you bring up, I'm not sure that a lot of dioceses or religious orders get too hung up on a single Vatican instruction. Rather, they are concerned about affective maturity. For one seriously considering and being considered for ordained ministry, even deacons, there are well-established and effective ways to determine suitability on these grounds.

    It is important to keep in mind that when it comes to the nature and purpose of human sexuality, homosexual people are not the only ones the Church challenges. The Church challenges single heterosexual people to remain chaste. The Church also challenges married couples to live marriage chastely, which means being open to life, keeping the transcendental (i.e., unitive) and existential (i.e., procreative) dimensions present in their love-making.

    To isolate Church teaching on homosexuality and see it as something apart from the magisterium's entire take on human sexuality is to reduce and distort, even if unintentionally.

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  8. Deacon,
    You and the other heterosexual Catholics give yourselves far too much credit if your "Charity" is dependent on the absolute anonymity of gays, which is what Benedict demands.

    Your Charity means nothing. Creating a society in which the only protection against unjust discrimination for gays is lifelong secrecy and self-enforced ostracism is genocide in all but accidence.

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  9. @ Frank: "Gay ex-Catholic militant secularist." Seriously?

    You are invited to point my attention towards the document in which Pope Benedict XVI demands of all homosexuals that they live in absolute anonymity.

    Also: In what way does Dcn Scott's article convey the message that his or our charity is dependent on the homosexuals living anonymously?

    FYI: Right now we are creating a society in which carefully questioning the homosexual lifestyle can get you an invite from the court. You will probably ask why, then, is it homosexuals that commit suicide? Maybe it takes a mature person with a stable identity and an integrated sexuality to withstand bullying, be it by homophobes or by the militant secular pro-gay lobby. Or maybe it doesn't. I'm just throwing it out there.

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  10. Sometimes my morality is pretty simplistic. At its foundation: hurting people (animals, etc) is bad while loving is good. I wonder if we focus too much on the physical sex and miss the love involved. Are there deeper issues than my gross oversiplification? Yes. However it seems a good place to start.

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  11. The relationship between two people is certainly important. I don't think the Church's teaching over-emphasizes the sexual dimension. It is important not to be reductive about sex, which is the biggest temptation.

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