The National Catholic Review

Eve Tushnet, a writer in Washington D.C., blogs at the Patheos Catholic portal. Born in 1978 and raised with some Jewish religious influence, she graduated from Yale University in 2000. In 1998 she surprised her family and friends by converting to Catholicism as a 20-year old Yale sophomore. Describing herself as an “openly lesbian and celibate Catholic,” Ms. Tushnet now writes frequently on religion and sexuality. Her first book, “Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith” (Ave Maria Press), will be published Oct. 20. It is available for pre-order from Amazon.

On July 1, I spoke with Ms. Tushnet by telephone about her new book. The following transcript of that interview has been edited for clarity and length.

You describe this book as a work of “vocational discernment for gay Christians.” Why did you write it?

Well, there really wasn’t anything quite like it out there. There are a few good books on personal experiences of being gay and Christian, written in a way that’s faithful to historical Christian teaching on sexuality, but there wasn’t anything that was focused on the different paths that one’s life could take. There are really good personal stories in a couple of books by Wesley Hill and Melinda Selmys, and I talk about them in my new book. What I wanted to do was show that there’s a huge diverse range of options for you. The first part of the book is a personal story, but then the rest of it goes through a lot of different paths: devoted friendship, service to your family of origin, service to people in need, service to your community — basically a lot of different ways you can have a life that is fruitful, loving, that is surrounded by people who love and care for you.

Who is your audience?

The primary target audience is actual gay Christians who are trying to figure out what their lives are going to look like, and then anyone who wants to make the churches more welcoming for gay and lesbian members.

Did you suggest ways for churches to be more welcoming?

I did and I listed some specific suggestions for pastors. More than that, my whole emphasis is on vocation and on embedding Christians in a community that understands a lot of people are not going to be “structured” by marriage or a religious vocation — people who nonetheless are right there in the pews, longing to serve and to have the sacrifices they are making in their lives acknowledged.

Traditionally, Catholicism talks about three vocations of married, single, and religious life. Have you personally discerned a lifelong commitment to any of these states? Or have you discerned a lifelong calling from God in some other sense?

The way I’m using the word vocation in the book is just to talk about the different ways we love. Marriage and religious commitment are obvious ones where you end up making lifelong commitments, but there are a lot of others. I think one of my primary vocations is friendship. Artistic creation can also be a vocation, a way in which you’re called to love and serve both God and the people around you. Not all of the things I talk about in the book are lifelong commitments. Some of them probably will be for some people. There are also some things that are more limited.

The title of your book mentions “finding community.” How have you experienced your vocation to friendship within the community of the Catholic Church?

For me personally, friendship is something that just sort of happens. You read a lot in the literature on friendship, especially on spiritual friendship or devoted friendship, about discernment and how to choose a friend, and I talk a little in the book about why that’s important and also why I have not ever done it myself. I’ve really practiced no discernment whatsoever in choosing my friendships and I’m not recommending that. I’m just saying it can actually work out O.K. even if you don’t do it by the book.

But in terms of finding community in the church, right now my primary community within the church is pretty much other gay Christians. One of the things that I find really heartening is just how many people there are who are coming out and accepting themselves, but also staying within the Catholic Church or other churches that hold to a traditional understanding of sexuality. That’s so different from when I became Catholic. Everything is so different and so much more open, in the sense of a camaraderie that was not there at all when I became Catholic, and it’s really great.

What makes you feel at home in the Catholic Church?

Home is a strange word. I definitely feel that it’s the place where I need to be because of the Eucharist. That’s what initially made me sure I would need to become Catholic: Its vividness, its visceral quality, the fact that God would do this really emphasizes the importance of our bodies and the importance of the physical world. And also it’s very lurid and scandalous to people today, just as it first scandalized people when Jesus told them what he was going to do. And I think there’s something in that kind of shocking, fleshly, and even materially violent aspect of the Eucharist that responds to the world as we find it, which is shocking, and violent, and lurid. I feel like any religion that made it easier to understand or abstract away from that violence would be hard to believe.

Moving onto another phrase in your title, what does “accepting sexuality” mean?

I think for most people it just means being honest about where you’re coming from, what you’re experiencing, where your sexual desires are being directed, and not feeling that this area of your life is somehow shut off from God or turned away from God in a way that the rest of your life isn’t. It means not separating out your sexuality and your sexual orientation by saying they need to be repressed or destroyed in some way.

For me personally, things are very different because of the background I was raised in. I didn’t have a particularly difficult experience of coming out to myself. Acceptance of my sexuality has never really been that much of an ongoing process. One thing I’m hoping is that my readers see that being gay doesn’t have to be this giant burst of angst or fear. I’m hoping other people who are raised within the churches have a much easier time accepting that, “yes, this is where I’m at, my life looks different from the lives of most people, but this is not something I really have to shake.”

Your background does suggest you had a different experience of accepting your sexuality than some of the people who marched in pride parades throughout the U.S. last weekend. What would you say to people who believe the Catholic Church is an unwelcoming place?

I mean, it often is unwelcoming, right? The first thing to say is that a lot of the criticism the Catholic Church receives for treatment of her gay members is true. Lots of people I know who were raised Catholic had a much harder time than I did accepting themselves and finding some degree of peace with who they are. When you run into people who have fallen away from the church very violently, often you find that it’s coming from real pain caused by sins committed against them by other people. One of the reasons I wrote the book is to cut down the miseries that gay people experience within the church.

But depending on where the person is coming from, we can talk about more positive stuff too. I think a lot of people have only heard some church leaders give a list of things you can’t do if you’re gay and offer some weak explanations of why you can’t do them. That leaves the question of “what can I do as a gay Christian” completely blank. Most of the book is focused on all of the ways the church is calling you to actually live a life full of joy and beauty, a life where your suffering and your loneliness are going to be acknowledged and respected in a church where people share those experiences with you.

Shared in the sense of suffering together?

Yeah, right, in the sense that you’re not going to have to do this completely alone with no sympathy and with no sense of solidarity.

In the circumstances of your own life, how has your sense of community in the Catholic Church helped you grow closer to God?

It would be hard to even number the ways. I only have a relationship with God because of the church and through the church. I don’t really know how it would look separated from that.

Did you feel any tension and conflict when you entered the Catholic Church?

Oh yeah, definitely. I came out in middle school. When I entered the church in college I was very frightened and anxious, I really had no idea what my future was going to look like. I was very worried that I was doing the wrong thing. And I just felt really alone. And although they were not the only issues by any means, issues of sexuality and orientation were a big part of that. I didn’t know any other gay people who were at all interested in following the Catholic Church’s teachings and I was sure there was some reason for that. You know, that no one else was doing that. If no one else is going into the giant dark cave that says “there are bears,” maybe there are reasons!

Then why did you go into the giant dark cave?

Oh, I felt like I had to. I really believed it was true. Right before I was baptized and confirmed during the Triduum of that Holy Week, my church did nightly lectures on St. Edith Stein followed by Eucharistic adoration. And I went to those. I actually don’t remember a single word of the stuff about Edith Stein. I think I literally didn’t remember it as it was happening, like it was not registering at all, because I was really stressed out. But the Eucharistic adoration was what made me go through with being baptized.

To recall another phrase from your title, have you found yourself “living your faith” differently over the past 16 years since you converted to Catholicism?

Yeah, I think a lot of the structure of the book is really shaped by those changes. Unsurprisingly, when I converted, I had a very strong mindset that I should just follow the rules and everything else would sort of work itself out, and I wasn’t particularly thinking about what I was actually being called to do. That’s one major change. I think, over time, you have to figure out which prayer practices really speak to you and that’s been true for me as an ongoing process of discerning what shapes my spirituality. And then a couple years ago, I quit drinking and started spiritual direction. So that was obviously a pretty major change in my spiritual life and one that I’m pretty happy about. I talk about it in the book.

How would you describe your faith right now?

Fraught. I mean, it’s really hard to talk about without sounding complacent. I feel like it’s very hard to know what your inner life looks like. I think I have a lot of trust in God, even with these areas where I really struggle to live up to what I believe he’s calling me to do. But I feel like I talk to God a lot. You always know there are places where you’re rationalizing or not being fully honest, to make yourself feel like everything you do is O.K. But I at least work to tell God: “You know, I think I’m over-rationalizing or not being fully honest with you about this area of my life. Do with that information what you will.”

When you talk to God, how do you pray? Do you look to any particular saints as models?

Well, I pray a rosary every day and it’s a prayer practice that’s really important to me. And the Anima Christi is probably my favorite single prayer, which I do not pray as much as I should. It really speaks to me. Especially when I’m most deranged, that’s a prayer I find myself resorting to. In terms of saints, my patron saint is Elizabeth of Hungary. People who have shaped my spiritual life also include Dorothy Day and Oscar Wilde — who did actually die a Catholic and who I personally think will be canonized one day.

Speaking of role models, what do you think of Pope Francis?

My opinion about all popes is that everyone should think less about the pope. The celebrity status of all recent popes is more of a problem than a good thing. That said, I like a lot of the things I know about Francis, but I also just don’t really follow papal news. If I see the pope doing things that lots of people hate, my answer is to say that it’s probably not that important in the long run.

And I suspect that Francis feels the same way.

Well, right. You know, I have a lot of warm fuzzy feelings toward the guy. But we should all think less about Pope Francis.

What do you want readers to take away from your book?

I think the biggest thing is really just that there is a future for individual gay people in the Catholic Church that doesn’t require repression, or self-hatred, or being totally alone. And then the secondary thing would be that the troubles you experience are going to depend somewhat on your cultural context, but they’re not going to be totally alien for Catholics and it is possible to build solidarity both with other gay Christians and with the straight people who are the majority. It is possible to have solidarity in our life paths without being condescending about our differences.

Any last thoughts?

As I said before, the first part of the book is my personal story. The second part is essentially a list of vocations, going through practical and spiritual aspects of living out those vocations. But that section ends with a relatively long chapter on problems that people often experience in these vocations. I really wanted to make sure to have that because I think most of the book is very positive. Because my personality tends to be sort of gloomy and cynical, my writing tends to be fuzzy and sunny. Most of the book is, “Look at all the great stuff you can do living your life as an unmarried, celibate, gay Christian. Look at how great things can be.” So I really wanted to make sure I had a section dedicated to exploring the times when it is really hard to be a gay Catholic in the early 21st century. It can be uniquely humiliating, or difficult, or lonely. I felt I had to include that experience.

Sean Salai, S.J., is a summer editorial intern at America.

Show Comments (26)

Comments (hide)

Robert Helfman | 8/23/2014 - 2:45pm

This is a final reply to Tim O'Leary. I have read Sandi's reply and it says all that I can say on the subject and I am glad such a literate and erudite reply was tendered on your behalf. I confess to baiting you, in that were I to show any weakness you might try to exploit it with some pseudo-religious tripe that attempts to manipulate me through guilt if you cannot do it through intimidation. You did.
I am not going to apologize for what was posted the first time. I meant it. I believe it is the truth. Your subsequent posts are evidence of your state of intellectual confusion. Sadly, it is also a comment on the church in that you give evidence of the insufficiency of rote religious practice. It is not mine to pass judgement on you-but were you or anyone resort to law as the means of justification instead of grace St. Paul wrote that for such Christ died in vain, for if religious works are sufficient for justification then there is no need for Calvary.

Tim O'Leary | 8/23/2014 - 8:50pm

Robert - your confession (regarding baiting) is accepted, but you don't seem capable of getting through a sentence without another ad hominem insult. Why you would think quoting Jesus amounts to "pseudo-religious tripe" is beyond me. You said it was wrong of you to call me damned, but now you say you meant it. And you reiterate here that it is not your place to judge. Talk about intellectual confusion. I do not think it is possible for me to insult your intelligence. You do well enough on your own.

Robert Helfman | 8/31/2014 - 11:03pm

May God bless you and keep you, may he make his countenance to shine upon you and give you his peace.

Robert Helfman | 8/17/2014 - 11:20pm

As a single person who happens to be living a chaste life, I am still seriously offended at the idea that the Christian is called to live out a chaste lifetsyle for his or her salvation. This makes it a reward for good behavior and not the work of grace. I strongly believe that one of the problems the Church faces in these times is its fall from grace. It is by grace we are saved, and none other. No theologian, no learned cleric, no Pope can change this truth-it is a great equalizer and a source of humility for the redeemed.
Much of the legalism that has scarred untold thousands in ways not as scandalous as sexual abuse still remains undercover, as can be seen from these articles in AMERICA. I have thought hard about the issue and have come to the conclusion that the issue is one of theological heresy, one that leads to a works-based salvation. I speak as a baptized and confirmed Catholic who has been baptized more than once-an unorthodox situation, but one that led to much theological and spiritual enrichment nonetheless.
St. Paul tells us in the Epistles that if we rely on our religious works for salvation we are fallen from grace. This is something that Pope Francis is addressing in his ministry, by example-mercy, love, and compassion. However, I do not claim that he has changed the corpus of Canon law. If grace be grace, we may be saved in spite of ourselves but not because of our religiosity.
I did not itend to post twice but the web page had other plans. Perhaps I am Protestant. You have no idea how shocking this whole discussion is to someone to reveres the Word of God, the Gospel truth. May God have mercy on you all.

Marie Austin | 9/8/2014 - 4:14am

Dear Robert, chastity is so important to our respect of the sacredness of human life. Sexuality is not a recreational activity, but something with enormous consequence: the creation of our children. Living unchastely tempts us into even greater sin -- such as contemplating the death of our own children. All couples who engage in extramarital sex have unspoken thoughts: what will we do if our contraception fails? Will we kill the baby? Will we raise the baby unmarried? Having a child in a non-marital relationship almost ensures that he or she will have a broken home and severely limits life prospects. Christ asks us to live selflessly in all aspects, and matters of sexuality are no different. Live selflessly -- and chastely -- for the sake of your children. You are living the courageous life and be proud.

Tim O'Leary | 8/18/2014 - 12:54am

Robert - it does seem that you have arrived at a sola gratia position, so that no moral response to the Gospel is required by the Christian to get into heaven. But, this is very different from Jesus's teaching in the Sermon on the mount, which is full of calls to a moral life. Here is just a subset of His actual words (Mt 5, NIV trans. - quoted partially for brevity):
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."
19 "Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."
20 "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."
22 "… And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell."
26 "Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny." (Is this Purgatory?)
28 "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
29 "If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell."
30 "And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell."
48 "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

The first line (Mt 5:17) might sound more legalistic than any catechism and the last (Mt 5:48) might sound impossible. And Jesus repeatedly warns of the danger of hell - to his followers, not those who have left Him.

Of course, this just scratches the surface. None of this is to take from the fundamental priority of grace, but Christ would not have spent so much time stridently warning us of the dangers of hellfire if the moral response of the soul was unnecessary for salvation.

You seem to have looked into this honestly and you must follow your conscience in the end. But, there is nothing in Scripture or Tradition that says your conscience cannot err. And a sola gratia absolutism is like a sola scriptura one. But that too is unscriptural, unhistorical (Oral Tradition came before the NT Scriptures) and unworkable (so many disagree on interpretation). That is why the Church has the special protection from the Holy Spirit in the authentic teaching of faith and morals. Please open you heart to Mother Church, the mystical body of Jesus. God Bless.

Robert Helfman | 8/21/2014 - 11:37am

Fr. Keating writes in MANFESTING GOD that we are rejecting the invitation if we think we are doing anything to earn it.
He is obviously Catholic. There has been an official agreement between the Lutherans and the Roman Catholic church on the role of grace in salvation. I heard a pastor (Catholic) say it is a gift although we like to think we earn it. Who is absolutist here?
I never said a moral response is not asked of us to the challenges of life. It does not earn our salvation regardless. I maintain that you are have fallen from grace and you may be Catholic but not Christian.
I thought to apologize for being blunt, but you do not know Jesus as your savior and you are not in a relationship with God-you have a relationship with the Church.
The rest is a perversion of the Gospel and an insult to my intelligence. "Love God and do what you will". St. Augustine. Read Cor. I:13, without the assumption that some absolutist brainwash brought it up.
Your view of Jesus and the Gospel if horrific. If there is any Good News to share, it is not this
There are many words you could have quoted that Jesus gave his disciples about love, compasssion, His never-failing presence, our security in His care. Unfortunately you are out of touch with more progressive theological trends in the Church-have you read the Conciliar documents?
As for the quotes you have included, you have left out the Cross, whereby God reconciles Himself with humanity. Jesus is describing the futility of attempting to follow the Mosaic law because it is impossible. His mission will provide the answer in His death and resurrection.
I do not accept your view that I cannot read St. Paul and understand what I read without the filter of an accretion of misunderstanding and clerical manipulation. There are other Catholic authorities with a more enlightened point of view, who are redeemed.
If you are not under grace, you are under law, and effectively damned. Better an ignorant Pagan or secularist in good conscience than you.
I forgive you for insulting my intelligence. May God bless you in spite of yourself.

Sandi Sinor | 8/21/2014 - 11:08pm

"I maintain that may be Catholic but not Christian.....-you have a relationship with the Church."

As a long time reader of Tim's comments (which I admit, I now mostly skip pasat), I must say that you caught on really fast.

Keating and Rohr have it right - and anyone who thinks that we can "earn" what is pure gift needs to do a whole lot of praying and reflecting. Sadly, too many Catholics think that Pope = God and that Catholic Church = Jesus. They really don't get it. It's really quite sad.

Tim O'Leary | 8/22/2014 - 3:33am

Sandi and Robert - you deserve each other. You both seem incapable of dealing with a doctrinal disagreement without going off the deep end of nastiness and a fundamentalist propensity to judgmentalism.

You are either misunderstanding what I said (most charitable interpretation) or you are claiming that an immoral life has no consequences for our eternal life, as if the hundreds of moral teachings of the Savior can be ignored. This is certainly not the teachings of Scriptures or any VCII document.

I never said that we "earn" anything. I used the word used in the Catechism or Lumen Gentium "response." By my phrase, "the fundamental priority of grace" I mean we can do nothing without His grace. But, as the Catechism says, "God's free initiative demands man's free response" (CCC 2000). Grace never destroys man's freedom.

And in CCC 2013 "All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity." All are called to holiness: "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Or in Lumen Gentium (40) "In order to reach this perfection the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ's gift, so that . . . doing the will of the Father in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbor."

Sandi Sinor | 8/22/2014 - 10:18pm

The unspoken assumption of yours is that people who understand that all is pure gift of the One who is perfect love are not going to try to be better people because they understand that it is pure gift - you think that they will then live as hedonistically and dishonestly as possible because, after all, they are "saved". You are wrong. Precisely because they do understand the fact that it is all gift, most try to try to love as Jesus asked us to love, while constantly falling short. They know they will not be judged in the way that you judge everyone else. The two great commandments, as you may recall, are to love. Jesus never said a word about any of the "hot button" issues that so preoccupy some in the church, about all the legalisms that have overtaken the Catholic church during the last 1700+ years, losing what Jesus gave us in the process. He told us to love. He told us not to judge. That's a pretty tall order, and none of us can love with the perfect love that God bestows on us as gift.

The main reason I stopped attempting to engage with you is that you don't discuss, Tim. You lecture. Apparently you think that all Catholics with whom you disagree are ignorant and uneducated and it's up to you to set them straight. You have said as much in some of your comments. You see it as your "mission". But you what you really do is judge almost everyone whose ideas do not match your own, sometimes quite sharply, while trumpeting your own superiority.

So before you judge others as judging you, perhaps you should reflect on what you see in the mirror. Perhaps you should think about the old story of people who live in glass houses. Some get tired of trying to be polite to you when you are anything but polite to many of them, calling them "misguided" or not really Catholic or worse. Think about it, Tim. It's not too late for you to discover what Jesus and the gospels really teach. Where there is still breath there is hope for true conversion, that you will have a true experience of metanoia. Metanoia is often misunderstood by legalistic Catholics as meaning "repentance", but it's true meaning is much more than that. To quote from wiki -

"In biblical Greek, metanoeō/μετανοέω and metanoia/μετάνοια signify a "change of Mind, a change in the trend and action of the whole inner nature, intellectual, affectional and moral."

I join Robert in praying for you - that you will come to see the light and no longer need to post in order to lecture, and perhaps to learn from others instead of always trying to attempt to demonstrate your "superior" knowledge and understanding in the face of so much ignorance, as you perceive it.

Tim O'Leary | 8/23/2014 - 2:19am

Sandi - your unspoken assumptions are, once again, completely wrong. But, you have been hostile for so long you no longer can make an argument that is free of disparaging insults. I do not think your prayers for me are well intended. You have some deep-seated issues to work out.

Robert Helfman | 8/22/2014 - 1:26pm

I do not intend to suggest that you are damned. I went over the top with that and went back to see if I could edit the comment and found Sandi's reply. Now yours.
It can sound somewhat fundamentalist writing with such strong epithets and whatever. However, you present a point of view which, were you to follow the implications to their natural conclusion would present the results I pointed to in my reply.
However, most fundamentalists read everything in Scripture literally; contemporary Biblical scholarship, (including Catholic) is more enlightened. THE WORDS OF GOD IN THE WORDS OF MEN, reads the guide to my Catholic Study Bible.
Problem is, you don't know Scripture. You haven't welcome the Holy Spirit into your heart so that you may understand the Word. God loves you and wishes to impart the wisdom that may be found therein but as long as you rely on the Catechism you are going to miss out on the fullness of what God has for you. The Catechism is not the Word of God. It should be a guide to the faith and practice of the Church but not the be-all and end-all of revelation, which to you it obviously is.
The commandments of the Lord are not burdensome; He taught two fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. He taught by parable and example that love fulfills the Law. St. Paul wrote that "against love there is no law". St, John exhorted us, "little children love one another, for God is love".
Your religiosity is proof that the Catechism alone is not a sufficient guide to all Truth. The Holy Spirit IS.
Now, in some circles quoting Scripture in any context for any reason at all will get you branded a fundamentalist; I think we can dispense with that for the reasons given above.
I believe you really need some assurance that God loves you and you are not getting it from your dependence on second-hand sources. Go to the Source. Ask Jesus. You will never be the same again and you will be able to put into perspective the issues that at present cloud your vision.

Tim O'Leary | 8/23/2014 - 2:29am

Robert - you claim I am damned, have fallen from grace, am not a Christian, don't know Jesus is my savior, my view of Jesus is horrific, I am not in a relationship with God, and quoting Jesus directly is a perversion of the Gospel. And you end your first comment saying I am worse than "an ignorant Pagan or secularist." And you got all of this out of my taking the well established position against one (of many) Protestant position of solo gratia. You even understand that this is a Protestant position, when you say "Perhaps, I am a Protestant." Yet Sandi says you catch on fast???

Not liking that I quoted Scripture to make my point, you asked if I read the Conciliar documents. So, I quote Lumen Gentium (a major VCII document) and the Catechism paragraph that relates to and quotes LG, and now you complain I am relying on "second-hand sources," apparently forgetting my original source and your own source (Fr. Keating). Now you say "Problem is, you don't know Scripture. You haven't welcome (sic) the Holy Spirit into your heart so that you may understand the Word" and disparage the Catechism that is the product of VCII, having been written after it. What could possess you to make such judgmental conclusions from so little evidence?

Don't you see that this is not a good way to persuade or to share your faith, no matter what your position is? Even backwoods fundamentalists have a more charitable way to make your points. Would Jesus really want you to share your faith in such a manner?

Sandi Sinor | 8/25/2014 - 7:45am

Gosh, Tim, such outrage! Such hurt feelings. How dare others use your own approach? Now I can't even keep you in my prayers without you passing a nasty judgment on me. LOL!

Sad, such a negative exchange. It's the reason I vowed I would no longer comment on your comments - it just escalates until you have the last word, But maybe having a few of we less-polite people call you on it now and then is what it will take for you at some point to see that your comments (lecturing and passing judgment on all who don't share your particular narrow view of Catholicism) is "not a good way to persuade or share your faith"? Read Bruce Snowden's comments - he is every bit as much a catechism Catholic as you are, but he also gets the the heart of Jesus' message - love. He doesn't lecture, he doesn't judge and condemn those who don't see things exactly as he does. OK, I'm gone. Sling your next set of arrows, I will once again give you the final comment.

Tim O'Leary | 8/25/2014 - 3:34pm

Sandi - I've given you the last say in the recent go-a rounds but maybe, I can explain the difference between my approach and yours. Typically, I begin with a statement of agreement or disagreement, based on my interpretation of the argument so far. I do not intend to lecture but to give evidence for my point of view. I start with Scripture, then, if warranted, VCII documents or the Catechism, etc. I also present statistics from the scientific or sociological literature. I never judge a person's soul or state of grace but I do judge intellectual arguments, as that is the point of any rational discussion. Most people on this blog respond with facts or arguments for their side, sometimes detailed and referenced, and that is how I think it should be. I can see how it might appear to be lecturing as some people do not argue facts but feelings and find facts (esp. Scriptural quotes) very threatening. In any case, I see nothing wrong with lectures or syllogisms as an approach, as long as one sticks to the argument.

On occasions where a blogger begins with a direct attack on the Church, I still try to stay with the facts, and with Scripture, as many have already abandoned the idea of an authoritative Magisterium. Sometimes, my language is harsher here as I think the blogger has already offended the integrity of their target. But, I could do better here and will continue to try. (I believe our interaction went south the first time as you made a broad-based attack on the Church, and you haven't got over that one since).

If you look at my interaction with Robert above, he began by stating the sola gratia position, which is fair enough, and a well established Reformation position. He does give a swing at the Church, so I counter with Scripture and what I believe is the Church's position. He could have responded by saying how he thought I was wrong and kept it cordial. But, he chose a different approach, with a string of 10 or more judgments on the state of my soul. ThIs gives you the opening to join in, applauding the approach, and never distancing yourself from damnation. I try to get you both off the intolerant judgmentalism by pointing out the futility of it, not because I am "hurt" but because I believe the anger really hurts the perpetrator more. So, I see my approach as completely different from yours. And, I would not align myself with fire and damnation as you did here, just because you are angry. And, more importantly, your anger with the Magisterium is not healthy either.

I am sure Robert is well-intentioned in his faith, but when one stoops to damning an "opponent" in the very first exchange, it is usually a sign of a fragile faith that hasn't been tested out in the real world, and he is unused to ever being challenged. Even though he doubled-down on his curses before signing off, I hope he will think better of this later on.

Robert Helfman | 8/31/2014 - 11:06pm

You were never damned. The implications of
your beliefs are damning.

Sean Salai, S.J. | 7/11/2014 - 11:14pm

Thanks everyone for your comments here. One thing I appreciate about Eve Tushnet is how her writing strikes a deep chord with people -- Catholic or otherwise, gay or straight, single or married -- who struggle to live chaste lives. Without casting judgment on people who live out their sexuality differently than she does, Eve is great at expressing her own experiences of trying to live chastely and at making them relatable for others. Although I'm not gay myself, I can identify as a celibate man with her experience of moments which are "uniquely humiliating, or difficult, or lonely." I have found that being vowed to chastity (celibacy) as a Jesuit in today's society is a path with many of the same ups and downs she describes in her writings. But like Eve and Dawn Eden, whom I also interviewed recently for America, I've also found that celibacy can be a positive experience that opens you to love others.

In popular culture and society today, we hear very little about the positive value of refraining from sex, and Ms. Tushnet's new book offers us a creative look at the life-giving possibilities that arise from it. As she pointed out to me early in the interview, there's really nothing quite like it today on popular bookshelves, religious or otherwise. She's actually popularizing a contemporary body of post-Vatican II literature on celibate sexuality -- i.e., how to live it in a psychologically healthy, integrated, and life-giving way -- that has been restricted to seminary and religious formation libraries for the past 50 years. But she's doing so within the context of her own experiences as a single woman in the secular world. In this way, she is proposing celibacy as a viable option for people today who might not otherwise have seen it as a real possibility.

But on a more fundamental level, I think Ms. Tushnet's writings resonate with anyone who has ever struggled with sexuality, and with anyone has ever suffered in life at all. You don't need to be gay or celibate to experience suffering in your relationships with God and others. Everybody suffers. Although we Catholics don't always do it well, Ms. Tushnet noted in our interview that she has found Catholicism to be a place of affirmation and compassion where people share their struggles with each other in prayer rather than suffering alone in silence. As a fellow convert, I can only say "amen" to that experience. 

Sean Salai, S.J.

Michael Barberi | 7/5/2014 - 6:20pm


I agree that single people are called to a lifetime of sexual abstinence. However, I do not underestimate the number of single people who would like to marry but cannot because they have not found the right person. That was not my point.

Single people and those called to religious life have a 'choice' between marriage or a lifetime of sexual abstinence. Even priests who have taken a vow before God can be granted a dispensation from their vows, leave the priesthood and marry. Is such a vow taken before God not permanent? Apparently not. As such then, perhaps granting the sacrament of reconciliation and Eucharistic reception to those divorced and remarried under certain conditions will be something the Synod on the Family will permit. If this happens the pastoral application of other teachings may change as well.

As an side, we are all called to be chaste, but chastity is not found in the extreme of this virtue but in a large middle ground based on circumstances, as Aquinas and Aristotle taught us. When pressed for the definition of chastity in marriage, all that one gets from the hierarchy is that one should be temperate in controlling the sexual appetite. What exactly does that mean? For many married couples, having sexual intercourse once a day is reasonable and temperate. For others, once a week. For the hierarchy, somehow the issue always boils down to natural family planning (12 days per month of sexual abstinence) to regulate one's fertility in marriage for those who do not want more children for good reasons.

No one wants to recognize that most married couples abstain from sexual intercourse often during each month for a host of reasons, from 'one spouse not in the mood the other respecting her desires', to 'daily exhaustion from child rearing' to 'exhaustion from very long hours at work'. Few married Catholic couples are not waiting to get home so that they can have as much sex as possible in an irresponsible, unchaste way. They practice responsible parenthood even when they choose to practice artificial birth control for good reasons. The 30% of women who have irregular menstrual cycles don't practice natural family planning (NFP) because its does not work for them. Others rightly argue that NFP as deliberate physical acts intended to separate the so-called unitive and procreative meanings of the marital act, just like contraception. Either NPF and contraception violates the teaching on birth control or they do not.

For clarity, according to the world-wide survey conducted this year and sent to the Synod on the Family, 78% of worldwide Catholics practice some form of contraception.

Getting back to the point of this discussion. Anyone who chooses to practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence for God, I applaud and respect the person and his/her decision. However, this is one 'choice' among other 'choices' (such as marriage) that everyone has, except those born with a same-gender orientation. In other words, they have no choice other than to practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence for their salvation. This gift from God (lifetime sexual abstinence) is given to a few individuals, not to a large segment of the population. Must all people born with a same-gender orientation suffer the burden of lifetime sexual abstinence for heroic virtue because the hierarchy asserts that lifetime sexual abstinence for them is God's will and the only way to their salvation? Is it impossible that the pastoral application of this teaching cannot be developed?

To most of us who are heterosexual, a homosexual act is something that we cringe at because it goes against our nature. Heterosexuals do not have a same-gender innate inclination that they are born with and lasts for a lifetime. To many heterosexuals, gay and lesbians are people born with an objective, intrinsic and distorted human nature and inclination. Somehow, all they have to do is voluntarily 'choose' against this inclination and marry a person of the opposite sex, and the problem of a lifetime of sexual abstinence would not be imposed and forced upon them by authority. They have this 'choice' and all they have to do is choose it. Unfortunately, scientific research does not support the implications of this judgment. If you believe such things, then anything I may say in argument will not be persuasive to you.

I think it is time for more mercy and understanding for those born gay and lesbian. Many gay and lesbians strive to love God and neighbor and want to part of a Church that welcomes them. Let's pray that the Synod on the Family will find a way to treat gay and lesbians with more respect, compassion and dignity/sensitivity.

Marie Austin | 9/8/2014 - 5:53am

Dear Michael, as a woman who practices NFP successfully, you must be corrected on two counts. Irregularity in cycle is not necessarily a prohibitive condition because practitioners look for signs of fertility to determine ovulation. Using multiple indicators considerably lessens the difficulty for "irregular" women. Secondly, NFP is categorically distinct from contraception in crucial respects. NFP is in fact nothing more than abstinence. It is not a "deliberate physical act." It is precisely the opposite (a non-act). To say that NFP is tantamount to contraception is as meaningful as saying that two teen lovebirds practicing abstinence are using contraception.

That is not to say that NFP cannot be abused to indulge selfishness or to reject the vocation of parenthood. The important thing is that the spouses must accept that any given sex act may bring forth a baby -- which my husband and I of course do. This respects the procreative aspect of sexuality. However, this sentiment is impossible given a mentality of artificial contraceptive because the very purpose of the act is first and foremost for pleasure (or emotional reasons; what have you) -- with the express assumption that it will not result in pregnancy.

On another point (somewhat relatedly), unfortunately, the concept of "choice" is not sufficient reason to endorse sex completely divorced from the procreative purpose, whether heterosexual or homosexual. The orientation simply does not matter. The truth of the matter is young single heterosexual men, particularly teens, have intense biological urges to engage in sex. These biological urges are no less intense or physiological than for LGBT people. But the Church calls on teenage boys to remain chaste. If the requirement is suddenly removed for LGBT people -- if the Church fundamentally alters its view of sex for these people -- then it must do so for teenage boys as well. The Church would simply have no basis to call on these boys to be chaste after endorsing sex divorced from procreation (or for anyone else for that matter; teenagers are just one example). And as for choice, it is by no means guaranteed that these teens will ever find spouses. This is far from their choice. This could happen for any number of reasons outside their control. Mental illness, for instance. Yet and still, they are called to chastity outside of marriage. We must not succumb to the temptation to promote hate against our brother and sister Catholics by claiming that they are anti-gay or disrespect, act un-compassionately toward, etc. LGBT people -- every one of these individuals is much loved by the Church and the Lord.

Michael Barberi | 9/8/2014 - 6:17pm


I have to respectfully disagree with you for a host of reasons.

1. Women with irregular cycles often are required to abstain from sexual intercourse more than the standard 12 days per month as most NFP programs suggest. Equally relevant, it is perplexing that if God's Procreative Plan is to abstain from sexual intercourse on fertile days, the maximum fertility window for couples is only 4-6 days per month, not 12 days per month or more!! The truth is that science has not identified a reasonable and accurate means available to women to determine the moment or day of ovulation. Thus, 12 days is overkill compared with 4-6 days. Are we going to argue over "heroic virtue" here? In truth, no one knows God's Procreative Plan with moral certainty, and it was only in 1951 that NFP was proclaimed licid by Pius XII. Up until that time, "open to procreation" was a euphemism for the deposit of semen in its proper place regardless if procreation was possible or not.

2. There are two acts involved in NFP: abstinence from sexual intercourse for a continuous period of time (usually an average of 12 consecutive days per month) and the two intentional and willful physical acts of measuring basil temperature and cervical mucous and plotting them on a calendar to determine infertile days where sexual intercourse can be limited to those days to ensure that all sexual acts are not procreative. NFP couples as well as couples who use artificial birth control have the same motivation, end and intention…namely, to ensure that all martial acts do not result in conception. That is why they practice birth control. The Church likes to focus on the acts of sexual abstinence without recognizing and acknowledging what is really happening…namely, all that intentional measuring and plotting to achieve the same end. Hence, either both NFP and contraception violates Humanae Vitae, or they do not.

3. Most, if not all, faithful Catholics who practice artificial birth control or NFP will quickly tell you that if birth control fails, they would welcome the child into their families with unconditional love. As for contraception being a false, evil and destructive love, there is also no evidence whatsoever in existential reality that NFP couples treat each other as loving subjects, while contraceptive couples have a utilitarian attitude and a diabolic love grounded in concupiscence.

4. I agree that all single Catholics (heterosexual or homosexual) must practice sexual abstinence. The issue you fail to address is the responsible sexual expression of love within a permanent, faithful and loving relationship. Most sex in an average month, and a fertile marital lifetime, is not procreative for a host of reasons ranging from infertility problems, to the fertility-infertility nexus, to good reasons for not having children. A Catholic marriage does not require the procreation of children to be a valid sacramental marriage; nor is there a minimum number of children that are imposed to valid the marriage. In fact, Pius XII said that couples could practice NFP (birth control) for a long time or a life-time for good reasons.

I could on but this would only lead to a very lengthly discussion. A thorough analysis of my arguments about contraception can can be found in the Am. Mag. article by James Keenan regarding How he teaches HV (earlier this year). As for the Church's teaching about homosexuality, my comments in this blog are clear and are offered for reflection. Nevertheless, I would be happy to discuss this issue further with you off-line. Let me know and I will give you my current email address. Until then, we will have to agree to disagree.

God bless.

Tim O'Leary | 7/5/2014 - 12:26am

I thank Eve for this great witness. Our current society puts so much emphasis on sex that it is sometimes hard to see that the Christian call to holiness is far more central to our eternal destiny than the very transient sexual urges that can consume our youthful years. If we believe that the Church has retained the teaching of Jesus, then the obligations to lead a chaste life, no matter how difficult they seem, no matter how often we fail, are the teachings of our Lord. The sociological literature states that over 80% of the population are tempted/succumb to the sin of masturbation on a regular basis, that over 20% of men and 14% of women have not married by age 45, which can seem like a life of abstinence (or at least when we sin without abstinence), that many marriages are sexless after a time, due to divorce, distance, illness or other reason, that over 50% of married Catholics use contraception and over 20% of Catholic women/couples have abortions. Many heterosexuals are also attracted to sexual practices incompatible with the Christian life. Addiction to pornography is at epidemic proportions. All these numbers are far higher than the 1-2% who consider themselves exclusive homosexuals! and the 5% or so who consider themselves bisexual. Yet Jesus said one who even lusts in their heart is sinning. So, there are very few who do not sin sexually.

The point is that we are all in a a very similar boat when it comes to living a chaste life. Marriage and sexual activity is no panacea. and we are all in need of accepting our sinfulness and of forgiveness. No doubt it is difficult, and failure is the norm. But Jesus has died for all these sins, among many others. With His grace, a holy life is possible.

Ashleen Bagnulo | 7/4/2014 - 3:23pm

Thank you Eve for your testimony and your braveness, and for helping me to reflect more on what a universal call to holiness looks like in the particular. Thanks for a great interview, Sean Salai.

Michael Barberi | 7/3/2014 - 9:16pm

I applaud Ms. Tushnet for her faith and choice.

However, not all gay and lesbian Catholics have the same experience, nor do they express their love of God and neighbor in the same way. Since about 1%-5%+ of the population are gay or lesbian, I question the requirement of a lifetime of sexual abstinence imposed upon the overwhelming percent of Catholics who are born with a same-gender orientation. Every single person, even seminarians and ordinary lay persons, are granted a choice: to marry or remain single. In this way, they can sexually express their love for another. Even priests can be granted a dispensation from the vows taken before God, leave the priesthood and marry and sexually express the love for another. However, those with a same-gender orientation are denied the choice of a marriage or a permanent union with another of the same-gender and sexually express their love for another. They only have one choice, namely, to practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence for their salvation.

Not everyone is automatically granted the God-given gift of the virtue of chastity-celibacy or lifetime sexual abstinence. This gift from God is given to very few individuals, not large segments of the population. Additionally, lifetime sexual abstinence must be voluntarily chosen, not imposed or forced upon individuals by authority for it to work. Lifetime sexual abstinence is a most heavy and arduous burden and it is not reasonable to merely say that all same-gender individuals must embrace an extreme form of chastity-temperance.

For those who have a same-gender orientation and who can live as the hierarchy teaches is one thing. To require everyone who is gay or lesbian to practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence for their salvation is another issue. If "pastoral mercy" is being called for by Cardinal Kasper and Pope Francis to permit the divorced and remarried access to the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharistic reception (while continuing to have sexual relations with their 2nd or 3rd spouse which some Orthodox Churches permit), where is the "pastoral mercy" for those that are required to practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence for their salvation?

I realize that the above argument is not the whole of it, but more must be done.

Christina Dudley | 7/4/2014 - 5:24pm

Of course, Catholics who are heterosexual and single, or divorced, are also called to a lifetime of sexual abstinence. Often, this is not a life they would choose, but one God chooses for them, asking them to do something they would rather not. Wasn't this also Jesus' experience when he accepted the sacrifice God the Father asked him to make? With acceptance comes the grace to do what God asks, and to make it fruitful in unexpected ways. And joyful.

Michael Barberi | 7/4/2014 - 6:03pm

Most single people get married and most young divorced people do as well.

While they are single they are called to embrace a temporary life of sexual abstinence until they get married. Few single people choose to be single for a lifetime. I think you fail to recognize that a large segment of the population are born with a same-gender orientation and are required to practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence, as the only choice for their salvation.

Nevertheless, single people have the choice to be single or to marry and have all the sex they want. As for the divorced, we will have to wait until the conclusion of the 2014-2015 Synod on the Family to see if a change will be made in the pastoral application of the current teaching on divorce and remarriage. It seems clear that Cardinal Kasper and Pope Francis is calling for pastoral mercy for the divorced and remarried for a number of good reasons.

I am perplexed about your statement made about single people namely, "often this is not a life they would choose (lifetime sexual abstinence), but one that God chooses for them". First, few single people choose to remain single, save for those called to be priests or nuns. More importantly, God does not make all our moral decisions for us. To equate the example that Jesus accepted the sacrifice God the Father asked of him, with an ontological imperative about making a moral choice in every human circumstance is not reading and interpreting Scripture correctly.

I applaud those who choose a lifetime of sexual abstinence for the love of God. However, choosing to do something different (and joyfully) is not ipso facto immoral. No one knows God's will and plan with moral certainty.

The points I made, that you replied to, is something the hierarchy must adequately address. This issue is complex and there are no easy answers. I believe more pastoral love and mercy is needed for those born with a same-gender orientation that seek God and the love of neighbor. Imposing a lifetime of sexual abstinence as the only choice for their salvation will not work for a number of reasons, some of which I mentioned.

God bless.

Christina Dudley | 7/4/2014 - 8:15pm

I think you underestimate the number of heterosexual people who would like to marry but do not because they just don't find the right person.