Monday, 16 January 2012

Homosexuals and the Catechism

Many people believe that the Catechism teaching on homosexuality is well known: in effect, you can be gay, just don't do gay (which makes as much sense as saying you can be left-handed, just don't write left-handed - but I'm not getting into that, today).

 2357 Homosexuality ....... has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved

What those "many people" overlook, is another, equally important line in the Catechism, which has been far too frequently ignored by people who should know better, such as some of the  Catholic bishops and Vatican bureaucracy). That line demands that we must be accepted with "respect, compassion, and sensitivity".

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. ......

Lesbian and gay Catholics would do well to take careful note of this line, memorise it, and quote it every time they encounter hostile, orthotoxic Catholics quoting the previous line. There are good grounds for challenging the statements and conclusions in the hostile line (the claims about Scripture are disputed by many modern Bible scholars, the claim from "natural law" debatable), but no grounds that I am aware of for challenging the line on respect, compassion and sensitivity.

Even where lip-service is paid to this important Catholic teaching, the full implications are often ignored.  At America blog last week,  Fr James Martin SJ expanded on the significance of the line, and what it implies, in a lengthy and valuable post.Even before he gets to the important part, he makes a welcome observation about some more familiar words - in which the Catechism describes the inclination as a "trial". This is usually presented as a trial which is intrinsic to the condition, for which the proposed remedy is to endure it with fortitude, to "unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition". But the experience of gay men and lesbians is that the difficulties do not arise from the orientation itself, but from the hostility of the church, and heteronormative social conditions. (For some people, the oppression also arises from internalized homophobia, induced by external oppression).

.....while some gays and lesbians may not appreciate having their situation described as a “trial,” the Catechism reminds Catholics that being a homosexual in many modern cultures is still fraught with difficulty.  It can be a painful struggle for a gay person to accept himself or herself as someone loved by God.  As most of us know, bullying, beatings and, in rare cases, murder, is often part of being a gay or lesbian teen.  As a result, the rate of suicides among gay teens is significantly higher than it is for straight teens in our country.  In other parts of the world the situation is more dire: in some countries homosexual activity can bring imprisonment or execution. 

The really important part of the post, is where he digs into the line on respect, compassion and sensitivity, to explore what a genuine observance of this would mean. I share some extracts below (only extracts. Read the full article at America blog)


There is more to respect, he reminds us, than just the negative sense of refraining from denigrating them, or treating them as second-class citizens, or even just acceptance. These, he says, are the bare minimum. (And even that low bar, I suggest, is one that some Catholics and Catholic bishops fail to meet).

So, what is really required by "respect"?

One of the hallmarks of respecting a person, for example, is listening to him or her.  If a child interrupts an adult, or fails to listen to a teacher, the child may be told, “Show some respect.”  You would scarcely say that you respected a person if you showed no real concern for what they said, or, likewise, for their personal experiences.  So, to show real respect Catholics need to listen carefully to the experiences of gays and lesbians.  Indeed, I think one reason for the fraught nature of the church’s relations with gays and lesbians is an absence of listening.  (On both sides.)

 What would it mean for the church to listen to the experiences of gays and lesbians?  First, it would mean willingly and honestly listening to what it is like to grow up as a homosexual child and adolescent.  It would mean paying attention to the voices of young people who feel persecuted or who are bullied.  It would mean taking seriously the heightened threat of suicides among gay and lesbian youth, which is, after all, a “life issue.” It would also mean listening to what it is like to be an adult gay or lesbian, particularly within the church.  That would mean another, more difficult, kind of listening: trying to understand the widespread feeling among many gay and lesbian Catholics that their own church doesn’t “respect” them.  Then it would mean asking the difficult question: “Why is this?” 


We may think we know what is meant by compassion, but Martin points out that in its scriptural usage and etymology, the meaning is far stronger than everyday use. From the

To suffer with gays means to be with them, and to stand with them, in solidarity.  It means to be, and to be seen to be, on their side, battling "every sign of unjust discrimination.”  It means sticking up for them when others mock or belittle them.  It means reaching out in ways that might move us beyond our comfort zones.  It might mean finding ourselves mocked as a result.  It means aligning ourselves with them. That’s what Jesus did, after all.  Even more than that, it means showing the kind of love that Jesus shows for those on the margins—a special kind of love.

It's hardly necessary to point out that the extraordinary efforts of some Catholic bishops to oppose marriage equality, are in direct contradiction to standing "in solidarity" with us.


For Martin, this requires that in dealing with gay and lesbian people, the Church must recognize that our experience has often left us feeling hurt and scarred. This requires going out of our way to listen, and to take great care in the presentation of overall teaching. There is an imbalance, he observes, in the way that teaching on homosexuality is often presented only in terms of "thou shalt not" (the hostility of line 2358), but not the "thou shalt" - to say nothing of the careless speech like that of Cardinal George, and the Ku Klux Klan. What is important, is not only what is said, but how it will be heard.

This imbalanced is not matched in dealing with other groups, and applicable (equally disordered) sexual teaching:

This way of proceeding has always struck me as surprising.  It would be as if the first thing that a priest said to a group of married Catholic couples at a retreat was not “Welcome,” but “No extramarital sex!” Or if a group of Catholic business leaders was greeted at a luncheon by a bishop who said, “No unfair wages!”  Or if a group of Catholic physicians was told at the beginning of a conference, “No abortions!”  Gay people sometimes feel as if the “thou shalt nots” are the entirety of the church’s teaching on who they are.  Because sometimes that’s all they hear. 

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