The extraordinary fiasco over comments by an advisor to the US bishops' anti-gay-marriage initiative would be the stuff of high comedy, if it were not so tragic. (Indeed, much of the commentary from the secular LGBT blogosphere has been hilarity at the nonsensical nature of his claim that homosexual orientation has a Satanic origin).
The tragedy is that someone so appallingly ignorant on both the scientific evidence, and on orthodox Vatican teaching, should have been formally employed by Church bodies in the first place. The scientific evidence is overwhelming that the orientation is entirely natural, regularly recurring in both humans and the animal world, and is entirely non-pathological. The Vatican accepts this, and also states clearly that the condition is in no way sinful, and that the Church deplores violence or malice directed at those with a homosexual inclination, in either speech or action. Instead, we should be treated with dignity, understanding and respect.
Avila's theology is deeply flawed, an several useful on-line commentaries point out. (See Bill Lindsey for instance at Bilgrimage, with an extensive set of important links, and valuable commentary of his own, on the outdated and damaging views expressed by Avila - and expressed in marginally less offensive manner by some bishops themselves. Personally, I could not face wading deeply into the depths of Avila's idiocy - but I am fascinated by the aftermath.
The silver lining in the tragedy is more interesting: the remarkably swift response by the Church, both at diocesan and national level. The archdiocese of Boston was the first to response, withdrawing the offending article from the publication in which it first appeared. Now, he has resigned from his position as adviser to the USCCB sub-committee on marriage. This swift response mirrors earlier corrective action by bishops in Canada and Texas to homophobic speech and actions by priests. Together with other indications from different regions and sectors of the Church, I believe the conclusion is now inescapable: the Catholic Church is undergoing a fundamental change in stance on homosexuality and gay relationships.
(I would stress here the change is on of stance, not position. Church teaching remains unchanged: orientation is morally neutral, genital acts are sinful. What has changed, is a shift in emphasis, from an obsession with the acts, to greater emphasis on the pastoral response, to avoiding offensive speech, and a corresponding increase in priority for the "dignity, respect and understanding", which has been so badly neglected until recently).
Among several news reports on Avila's sudden resignation, the best I have found is from the Washington Post. Here are some extracts:
A policy adviser to the U.S. Catholic bishops’ anti-gay-marriage initiative resigned on Friday (Nov. 4), a week after writing a column that blamed Satan for homosexuality.
Daniel Avila had been an on-staff adviser to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage since June.
Unofficially, Avila referred to himself as the “bishops’ marriage guy” and represented the USCCB’s stance on marriage in Washington.
Avila also apologized in a statement on Wednesday. “The teaching of Sacred Scripture and of the Catechism of the Catholic Church make it clear that all persons are created in the image and likeness of God and have inviolable dignity,” he said.
“I deeply apologize for the hurt and confusion that this column has caused,” Avila added. Avila also said that his column did not reflect the opinion of the Catholic bishops and was not authorized before publication. The USCCB has not taken an official position on the causes of homosexuality, Walsh said.
Among the interesting items in Bill Lindsey's piece, are some suggestions that the swift ecclesiastical response has been triggered in part by the work of progressive activists groups and writers. Perhaps the bishops are finally beginning to take note of the polling evidence that shows how far they are out of step with the Church on issues of human sexuality. It may not always seem like it, but queer Catholics are slowly gaining influence in the Church. (Avila's resignation came swiftly after gay rights groups had called for Avila’s ouster. Coincidence?). In the Washpost article, I particularly liked the response by Marianne Duddy-Burke, of Dignity:
“I think it’s appropriate that he has resigned,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke executive director of DignityUSA, which advocates for gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church.
“I would hope that the bishops will follow it up with some significant action of repentance to demonstrate that they understand the harm that he has done to LGBT people and our families.”
- Boston Pilot retracts column blaming Satan for homosexuality. (Commonweal)
- Breaking News: Avila Resigns from USCCB Position (Bilgrimage)
- The Gays + the Devil: More Resources about Boston Catholic Controversy (with Theological Reflections) (Bilgrimage)
- Halloween Theology Explains Same Sex Attraction (Enlightened Catholicism)
- LGBTQ: Gifts from God (National Catholic Reporter)