Simply Loving

Everybody knows that same-sex marriage and homosexual acts are contrary to Catholic moral teaching. Yet that same teaching also says that gay and lesbian people must be treated with “respect, sensitivity and compassion.” As more states pass laws legalizing same-sex marriage, more gay and lesbian Catholics are entering into these unions. This leaves some Catholics feeling caught between two values: church teaching against same-sex marriage and church teaching in favor of compassion. In Seattle a few months back, for example, many high school students protested the ouster of the vice principal, who was removed for marrying another man.

Most people who oppose same-sex marriage say they do not hate gay people, only that the traditional understanding of marriage is important and perpetually valid. Other opponents of same-sex marriage invoke the oft-repeated mantra, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” If that is so, then why do so many gay people say they feel hatred from members of the church?

Let me suggest a reason beyond the fact that many gays and lesbians disagree with church teaching on homosexual acts: only rarely do opponents of same-sex marriage say something positive about gays and lesbians without appending a warning against sin. The language surrounding gay and lesbian Catholics is framed primarily, sometimes exclusively, in terms of sin. For example, “We love our gay brothers and sisters—but they must not engage in sexual activity.” Is any other group of Catholics addressed in this fashion? Imagine someone beginning a parish talk on married life by saying, “We love married Catholics—but adultery is a mortal sin.” With no other group does the church so reflexively link the group’s identity to sin.

The language of “hate the sin, love the sinner” is difficult for many gay people to believe when the tepid expression of love is accompanied by strident condemnation. And the notion that love calls first for admonishing the loved person seems to be applied only in the case of gays and lesbians. To take another example, it would be like telling a child, “You’re a sinful child, but I love you anyway.” This can end up sounding more like, “Hate the sinner.”

Look how Jesus loved people who were hated in his day. Take the story of Zacchaeus, the diminutive man who climbs a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus as he passes through Jericho (Lk 19:1-10). As chief tax collector, and thus head of all the tax collectors in the region, Zacchaeus would have also been seen by the Jews as the chief sinner in the area. When Jesus spies him perched in the branches, he calls out, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” Zacchaeus then promises to repay anyone he has defrauded. “Salvation has come to this house,” says Jesus.

Notice that Jesus shows love for Zacchaeus even before the man has promised to do anything. That is, Jesus loves him first, by offering to dine with him, a powerful sign of welcome in that time. Jesus does not say, “Zacchaeus, you’re a sinful person because you’re gouging people with taxes collected for the oppressive occupying power, but even though you’re a public sinner, I love you anyway.” He simply loves him—first.

The story of Zacchaeus illustrates an important difference between the ministry of John the Baptist and of Jesus. For John the Baptist, conversion came first, then communion. First you repent of your sins; then you are welcomed into the community. For Jesus, the opposite was more often the case; first, Jesus welcomed the person, and conversion followed. It’s not loving the sinner; it’s simply loving.

What might it mean for the church to love gays and lesbians more deeply? First, it would mean listening to their experiences—all their experiences, what their lives are like as a whole. Second, it would mean valuing their contributions to the church. Where would our church be without gays and lesbians—as music ministers, pastoral ministers, teachers, clergy and religious, hospital chaplains and directors of religious education? Infinitely poorer. Finally, it would mean publicly acknowledging their individual contributions: that is, saying that a particular gay Catholic has made a difference in our parish, our school, our diocese. This would help remind people that they are an important part of the body of Christ. Love means listening and respecting, but before that it means admitting that the person exists.

Diana Harmon
3 years ago
Thank you, Fr. Martin, for an insightful article. I see so many of my Catholic friends that struggle with this and I know there are gay men who are active in their Church, love their Church and still feel like they must remain in the "closet". Loving first is always the choice we should make. In our world of judgment and comparison, loving first never enters our mind we meet new people. Learning to love others first because I am loved...that is my quest these days. (and I fail miserably, I might add!)
Bill Fant
3 years ago
Thank you for your column, Father Martin, I admire your books and a great deal of your commentary. But what is mandatory for there to be reconciliation between the LGBTQ community, and the Roman Catholic community, and many of your priests are in both communities, is the abolition of the apartheid policy with respect to the LGBTQ community, and equal treatment. By the church's own doctrine, everyone is a sinner. Everyone should be treated with unconditional love.
Beth Cioffoletti
3 years ago
amen, Bill.
Stephen Miller
3 years ago
As a member of Courage (the Catholic ministry for gay men and women), I find myself at odds with Catholics and non-Catholics alike far more often than I feel I should. I'm mocked for wanting to pursue a life that keeps Christ, and the Church at the forefront, with certain principals to be followed that do not always conform to what the gay culture thinks I should do. At the same time, I feel disrespected by a Church that doesn't seem fully willing to accept the fact that I believe, brokenness and all, that I was created exactly as God intended, for His specific purpose. It's frustrating, but I think we're on the verge of a breakthrough, and I want to play a part in that. The message that the Church isn't welcoming to gay men and women is simply not true, and we that are SSA Catholics need to step up and correct that perception in the community.
Stephen Miller
3 years ago
By the way, Fr. Martin, if you'd allow a man like me to pen an essay for America about the modern Catholic experience from a gay man's perspective, just say so .
Marilyn Mauriello
3 years ago
I read both your posts Stephen and agree with you. I would love to see this essay.
David Mooneyhan
3 years ago
"The message that the Church isn't welcoming to gay men and women is simply not true..." Well, if you think an offer of NO personal intimacy or sexuality for LIFE for an entire segment of the population is welcoming, I've got a dictionary to sell you.
John Wren
3 years ago
Fr. Martin I agree with everything you say here. But what about politics? There are powerful, well-financed, well organized efforts that have been at work for decades to make sure none of our political representatives subscribe to the teach of the Roman Catholic Church, and that ultimately the voice of the Church in political debate be silenced or punished as hate-speech. In Colorado 2 years ago Rep Frank McNulty was in a position to single handedly block the well-finance, well-organized gay lobby (something I'm sure you'd agree is not subject to our command to love our neighbor, we love individual terrorist, but that doesn't obligate us to love terrorist organizations) and then almost nothing was done by the Catholic Church regarding civic education to make sure Catholic voters heard both side of all issues important to maintaining a free open society from all candidates and to use Catholic teaching to participate as a citizen as a voter, political worker, candidate, or office holder.. Same thing appears to be happening again, This time Archbishop played Rep Frank's role as the last minute hero, stopped an outrageous bill, and now it appears that there is another slipping into neutral, which will just make the defeat of pro-Catholic-teaching candidates next fall that much larger. Two years ago and apparently again this year, I hope I'm worng, all that's been accomplished is to give aid and assistance to the enemy, those organizations that would silence the Church's message of love as you've so well expressed it here. I gave Archbishop a letter to this effect at the rally he held at the Colorado capitol just before the bill in question was withdrawn from consideration, for now, and I've not heard back from him.
John Douthitt
3 years ago
Thank you for the article. I do agree with most of it, but am having difficulty with the last paragraph. I am not denying that gays have contributed to the church, but if the church teaches that the gay lifestyle and same-sex marriage are against church teachings, then why would the church employ someone that is openly living against this, or living in sin? Would the church employ a "music minister, pastoral minister, teacher, clergy and religious, hospital chaplains and directors of religious education" that were living an adulterous lifestyle for example? I don't understand how someone can serve in the church, in a religion that believes their lifestyle is against God's teachings without this being contradictory.
Rochus Boerner
3 years ago
John, your persistent use of the phrase "lifestyle" to refer to the nature of gay people embodies the central misunderstanding that is the reason why the Catholic Church and gay people can't see eye to eye. It is, and has been, the consistent life experience of millions of gay men and women that what gender we feel sexually and romantically attracted to is at the very heart of our nature. When we enter puberty, we don't choose to feel a romantic and sexual interest in the same sex. We simply discover that we do. We also discover that no amount of wishing otherwise has any impact on this basic truth of our existence. When you use the phrase "lifestyle" to refer to our biological truth, you trivialize and mock our life experience. Religion is certainly a choice, and yet I think you would feel hurt, insulted and misunderstood if I proposed to you that you simply need to "leave the Catholic lifestyle", as if your deepest feelings were the equivalent of preferring one brand of soap over another. This is what you're doing to me when you call my biological nature a "lifestyle". It's a form of spiritual violence. If Catholics wish to have a real dialogue with gay people, then the "lifestyle" rhetoric needs to go. It's an instant conversation-ender.
David Mooneyhan
3 years ago
Thank you, Rochus. So much of the "dialogue" of the traditionalists doesn't even touch on the realities of sexual orientation as we now understand them. There's a lot of quoting of OT texts about ritual purity and destruction of a city where the entire male population turned out to rape 2 angels, or St Paul's bizarre idea that the frequently abusive and exploitative same-sex activity of the pagan world was the result of otherwise-heterosexual men turning to idol-worship, but when we talk of modern relationships and psycho-sexual orientation, there seems to be a sudden nostalgia for the days when EVERYONE could believe without troubling doubt that the sun revolved around the earth.
Tim Brantley
3 years ago
Dear Fr. Martin, Yes, everybody knows that homosexual activity is contrary to Catholic moral teaching, but as we also know, everybody does not assent to the truth that the Church offers in that area and many other areas. The second paragraph of your article is very telling; this line: “Most people who oppose same-sex marriage say they do not hate gay people”..In other words, “most” people “say” it, but they don’t necessarily “mean” it. And this line: “Other opponents of same-sex marriage invoke the oft-repeated mantra, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” If that is so”…in other words, it’s not necessarily so.This double speak implies that those who assent to the truth of the Church, could very well just be liars who could just possibly actually hate homosexuals. Then you ask; “then why do so many gay people say they feel hatred from members of the church?”…Well, what you imply is; it could very well be because they feel actual hatred from members of the Catholic Church…You don’t bother to point out that perhaps what these people “feel” is not hatred from others at all. Could it be that since homosexual activity is serious sin, an active homosexual could possibly be feeling the effects of serious sin? Could it be that because a person rejects the truth that the church offers, that person actually does not like the fact that the Church refuses to confirm him/her in their sin and therefore, accuses the Church and those who assent to the church, of hatred when it’s not hatred at all? Could it be that their conscience may be bothering them? The conscience that God placed within us to determine right from wrong? And then there’s this: ““We love married Catholics—but adultery is a mortal sin” …Well Father, the vast majority of married Catholics don’t go around proclaiming that adultery is a perfectly fine lifestyle and that it’s not a sin. Adultery is a sin, and homosexual activity is a sin, and theft, is a sin, and lying is a sin…When Catholics frequently and publicly proclaim that sin is not sin and accuse the church of hatred and homophobia and quite frankly…lying…, well, I hope you can see the flaw in your example. And this: ““You’re a sinful child, but I love you anyway.” ….If the child proclaims “I don’t have to obey you and I’m absolutely right not to obey you”..then Yes, there is good reason for that statement…“you are a sinful child, but I love you anyway”. If the child acknowledges what he does is wrong, then No, there is no reason for that statement. When children do wrong, it’s actually a common practice of good parents to say something like “What you did was wrong (in other words, sin) but I still love you” That’s a correct response to wrongdoing (sin). Jesus knew very well that Zacchaeus was a sinful person and so did Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus did not say “You’re wrong, Jesus, the things I do are not sinful, I can continue to do what I do and it is not sinful at all..I reject your authority and your “truth” and I declare myself the authority on the matter” That’s what many people say to the Church, and by doing so, say it to Jesus. “It’s not loving the sinner; it’s simply loving”…it IS loving the sinner because we are all sinners, but we must acknowledge that we are sinners. We can’t say that sin is not sin and expect to be at peace and be free from sin, it impossible. It’s true that there are people who do actually hate homosexual people., and there are people who demonstrate saying all manner of erroneous things, and actually believing that the bible tells them to do this. The Catholic Church is the most welcoming place on earth for any homosexual person. When I say “welcoming”, I don’t mean confirming of sin, (pick a sin, any sin) I mean offering of Truth and freedom and peace. Yes, that means acknowledgement that sin is sin. That means lovingly telling a person that they are in danger and that you care for them enough to offer them the truth. You don’t want them to continue in a lifestyle that leads to death, you don’t want them to continue to reject the truth and have as an only recourse the belief that people hate them when nothing is further from the truth…That is what the church means by “respect, sensitivity and compassion”
Chris Pritchett
3 years ago
Dear Fr. Martin, I would be so grateful to hear your response to Tim Brantley. I find both your article and his response very compelling. Thank you.
Tim Huegerich
3 years ago
Tim B., I think you may be missing an important point about Zacchaeus. Before Jesus simply showed his love for him, Zacchaeus *was* effectively saying those things. He was saying to the authoritative religious leaders of the time, "I can continue to do what I do...I reject your authority." A question I have for Fr. Martin or anyone is how you envision gay persons making reparations for their supposed sins. In Zacchaeus's case, he "promises to repay anyone he has defrauded." In the context of a loving, permanent commitment, who does homosexual sex harm, that reparations could be directed towards them?
Tim Brantley
3 years ago
Hi Tim, Thanks for your response. Yes, Zacchaeus was a sinful man and he was doing wrong, we have to ask; why was he up in that tree in the first place? Could it be because he knew he was a sinful man, his conscience bothered him, and he desired the freedom that he’d been hearing about through the man Jesus? He wanted to stop his wrongdoing and he needed the Truth to set him free. Well, the Truth came knocking and he welcomed Him in and it changed his life. He no longer tried to justify his actions, he accepted the Truth, he did not reject it. That’s the difference. There are so many catholic groups out there who DO reject the truth as the Church proclaims it. They publicly and vehemently proclaim that homosexual activity is not sinful at all, that it is a good thing, that it is a valid and praiseworthy practice, that the Church is WRONG on the matter. It’s promoted and encouraged….So if the Church is wrong about this, what else is the Church wrong about? Well, these same groups (and individuals) have no problem telling you exactly what else the Church is wrong about…contraception, abortion, women’s ordination, cohabitation, fornication, to name a few….If we don’t trust the teaching authority of the church fully, then we don’t trust the teaching authority of the Church at all. Genuine trust is is complete, and genuine love must contain genuine trust, the two are inseparable. We can’t trust someone “partway” or “almost”….When we feel “free” to tear any page from the Catechism that we see fit, then..Marian Doctrine, The Sacraments, The Real Presence, etc..are all subject to removal.……The Church does not force anyone to assent to Her teaching authority, we are quite free to choose to reject it, but to then obstinately insist that we are the authority and at the same time pretend that we are in communion with the church is quite frankly, a lie. It’s a lie to ourselves and a lie to the Church. You ask “who does homosexual sex harm”…Just like any other sin, it harms those who engage in it, it harms society, and for the Christian, it harms the entire Body of Christ.
Tim Huegerich
3 years ago
It's interesting to see how quickly the discussion moves from "what is really true here" to "you must believe, or else!" In any case, you seem knowledgeable enough to understand that not every Church teaching carries the same level of authority and certainty. The typo in Pope Francis's tweet does not actually invalidate papal infallibility (kidding here), and just because the Church was wrong (to some extent) to criticize Galileo does not mean it is wrong about everything. In fact, it is of the utmost importance for the new evangelization that we communicate the nuance and truth here. The Marian Dogmas and the Real Presence are teachings such that not accepting them means you are simply not Catholic. The teaching on homosexuality is not at that level (obviously, when you think about it), and the Church acknowledges that it is fallible on such teachings, however unlikely or rare its errors might be. The Church also affirms that it is possible to be in full communion despite being unable to accept such a teaching, though the conditions for doing so are quite rigorous. (Bishops' advocacy of a particular affordable housing policy is at a lower level still, of course.) Here's a primer on the three main levels of magisterial teaching from a rather tradition-minded theologian: http://brotherandre.stblogs.com/2007/11/10/the-three-levels-of-magisterial-teaching/ p.s. It is very clear that St. Paul rightly condemned orgies and Abu Ghraib-style sexual violence. What is not so clear is that he intended to (or that we should) condemn Andrew Sullivan.
Tim Brantley
3 years ago
Tim, Thanks, I’m familiar with Brother Andre and I respect his courage and honesty. Also, I ‘d add that I do have much more respect for someone who rejects the teachings of the church and comes right out and says so honestly, than for someone who just pretends, and avoids stating what they believe plainly and clearly. I didn’t say "you must believe, or else!", I said: “The Church does not force anyone to assent to Her teaching authority, we are quite free to choose to reject it, but to then obstinately insist that we are the authority and at the same time pretend that we are in communion with the church is quite frankly, a lie.” We’re free to believe whatever we choose to believe, the question is under what authority do we proclaim what we believe? Are you and I the teaching authority on Faith and Morals? Is the Church a revealed religion or do we deny that it is? The Catechism clearly lays out the official teachings of the Church in regard to Faith and Morals. This is what the Church teaches to be Truth. The many groups and individuals that I mentioned earlier who publicly identify themselves as Catholic and obstinately reject the teachings of the Church, claim an authority that does not belong to them. If we can say that the Church is wrong when it teaches this:….. “"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.” Then we can also say that the Church is wrong when it teaches this:……. “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” And we can also say that the Church is wrong when it teachesthis:……. “Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.” And so on, and so on……. Like I say, we are quite free to reject the Truth which the Church offers, and I never said that people don’t struggle with some church teachings. It’s our responsibility to assent to these teachings and work toward understanding the truth in them and the right reasons for them. To obstinately and publicly proclaim that the Church is wrong and that we are the authority on the matter and to do so under the identity of Catholic is a serious error.
Tim Huegerich
3 years ago
Each of these specific teachings is, in my understanding, "presented as true or at least as sure, even if they have not been defined with a solemn judgment or proposed as definitive by the ordinary and universal magisterium. Such teachings are, however, an authentic expression of the ordinary Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff or of the College of Bishops and therefore require religious submission of will and intellect." That means, more specifically, that a Catholic ought to accept the teaching or, if unable to accept it, to carefully and exhaustively study the rationale for the teaching with the aim of being able to accept it or, if still unable, to carefully examine one's conscience to see whether some current sinful habit or practice is preventing one from understanding and accepting the teaching or, if still unable, to finally check that one has an appropriate attitude of submission and respect with regard to the teaching authority of the Church, generally. If one is still unable to accept the teaching (in this third level) after carrying out these steps in good faith, one can rest assured that one is in communion with the Church. Do you disagree with this? I'll let you have the last word. p.s. Just to demonstrate my own good faith in attempting to accept the Church's teaching, I'll recommend two sources which present that teaching admirably: the first, in video form, came to me through my diocese's twitter feed: http://vimeo.com/93079367 and the second, in blog form: http://beatushomo.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-good-bad-and-gay-overview.html
Tim Brantley
3 years ago
Tim, I don’t disagree with that. And like you said earlier, these conditions are quite rigorous. If a person genuinely seeking truth and struggling with doubt, faithfully undertakes such a rigorous course, that person would have to be a person of genuine humility. That person would not be an obstinate person. After taking such a rigorous course, such a person would be extremely unlikely (even if he/she still disagrees with Church teaching) to then act in obstinate defiance by individually or collectively making continuous public proclamations that the Church is wrong and should therefore change Her teachings. Such action would be contradictory to the humility required to take such a rigorous course to discern Truth in the first place. I submit that the obstinate, proud person who has already made up their mind that a certain sin is not a sin at all, would not genuinely and faithfully embark upon and see through the rigorous requirements necessary to discern the truth. Thanks for the links, I’ve viewed “The Third Way” many times and I think it’s a wonderful testimony to the struggles that homosexual people face and to the great freedom that is found in the Catholic Church. I respect your comments very much, thanks.
David Mooneyhan
2 years 11 months ago
"the great freedom that is found in the Catholic Church"...for gay people? You have a truly cruel sense of humor.
David Mooneyhan
3 years ago
Wow, thanks for sharing "The Third Way" with us. I was actually taken in by it for the first 10 minutes or so. I think the phrase "what people call homosexuality" was the first "ding," though. And then the dawning realization that ALL of these people talking to us came from very troubled backgrounds, and that that long-discredited line about the origins of homosexuality was actually being trotted out as legitimate! (But I did, of course, enjoy seeing the attractive young woman and man wander pensively around the ruined church. Trying to draw in the melancholic Goth teens, I suppose.) I don't want to put in the time to discount everything in this well-produced piece of propaganda, though I could do it frame-by-frame, so I'll just give a link: queeringthechurch/2014/05/16/the-third-way-a-depressing-study-in-catholic-ex-gay-propaganda
Tim Brantley
3 years ago
David, Is homosexual activity sinful? Thanks.
David Mooneyhan
3 years ago
To me, that would be like asking the question, "Is (all) heterosexual activity sinless?" Either answer would depend on the nature of the relationship between the two persons.
Monica Doyle
3 years ago
Excellent article, but I don't think the adultery analogy is fitting. Instead, saying something like "We love our married Catholics, but any sexual activity not open to the transmission of new life is a mortal sin", would be a more apt one. It's not only homosexuals who engage in sexual activity that is not open to the possibility of new life.
Kristen Hoffmaster
3 years ago
Father Martin, Would you be able to teach us about the process that resulted in the Church coming to understand/proclaim its current teaching regarding homosexual intimacy and homosexual marriage? In reading the bible (New American or RSV is usually what I have on hand), I have heard Jesus uplift the beauty of marriage between a man and a woman. I have not seen anything written, however, about faithful or holy relationships between our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community. Every instance where homosexual activity is condemned (it seems to me in my limited understanding anyway) is in relationship to temple prostitution or some other form of unchaste, disrespectful or nonconsensual activity. If the basis for theological development (in the tradition of faith seeking understanding) is that teaching must be based on revelation through the Word of God, where, in the Bible, can we find that homosexuality is disordered and cannot be ordered to the good of the human person and the Body of Christ? Is our current teaching based more on a historical understanding of natural law and philosophy or is it revelation from the Word of God? If Jesus did not mention something in the Bible, must we assume that He did not intend to reveal it at a later point in salvation history? Must we assume that having knowledge of God means that we cannot grow in our understanding of Him? I sometimes wonder if this was not a large topic of discussion in Christ’s day simply because human society had not reached a point, in the fullness of time, where God intended for us to understand this aspect of His nature or our nature. To my knowledge (which is often proven to be limited) there were not large communities seeking self-determination in this regard. There were also not large communities of minority populations seeking to overcome low-wage labor or seeking the right to vote. If Jesus does not mention a topic specifically, does this mean that we cannot seek to understand it more fully in our own time? Thank you for providing this safe forum where we can all seek to grow closer to the love of our Savior, Jesus.
David Mooneyhan
2 years 11 months ago
THANK YOU, Kristen!
Marcie Frazee
3 years ago
Dear Fr. Martin, As the mother of a son who has challenged my husband and me in utero, rebuking the Sacraments around age 13, quit attending a protestant church at age 18 (I told him if didn't want to attend a Catholic church, he *had* to attend a church, any church, as long as it didn't practice Satanism), only to tell us that not only is he an atheist, but he's also gay. As a mom, I taught my three children that we are all *God's* children, and we are not to pass judgement on another, yet I wrestle in my mind every day what my son divulged to me over five years ago. If it's supposed to be that the ultimate goal of parents that their children go to heaven, then my husband and I must be doomed to either living out our eternal life in either hell or purgatory. It's confusing, at least to me, that this isn't just something my son decided he would be--he has dated girls--so it's just the fact he's gay, but he is also an atheist. I pray for him every day, not so much that he become 'ungay' (is that even a word?), but I pray that he hears God whispering into his soul that He wants to lead him back to His sheepfold. I'm sorry to ramble, but your thoughts touched my heart. As far as gay marriage is concerned, while I don't believe in sacramental marriage for gay/lesbian couples, I do believe they have the right to be joined as a couple in a civil ceremony. And so, there you have it. My thoughts and fears on this hot-button issue. I ask for your prayers, not only for my son, but for my husband me, as well. May God continue to hold you in the palm of His hand.
Tim Huegerich
3 years ago
Marcie, have you seen the letter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops entitled Always Our Children? Fr. Martin has recommended it "especially for parents who have homosexual children" (http://americamagazine.org/content/all-things/what-catholic-response-gay-suicide) and it is available here: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/homosexuality/always-our-children.cfm
Paul Leddy
3 years ago
Marcie, it's good that you wrote your comment. I have a small issue with this article. I'm an old man; cradle Catholic and gay (something I don't broadcast to the world, usually, except when I'm adding a comment in America magazine). I don't want my public identity defined by my sexual orientation. Even if Fr. Martin asks that we love first, he still identifies the special gifts that gays bring to the Church: choir directors, Easter flower designers; I forget what else. So, once again I'm placed with the sensitive guys, a natural walk-on for GLEE. Your son is gay. But, first of all, he is your son. The "coming-out" process for him and you and his father is a life-long process. It's a development issue. It's a personal, private process that can thrive in a loving atmosphere that might say "I'll meet you where you are, lets travel this together." This atmosphere, this place may be in your and his faith community. I get anxious when I read Fr. Martin's articles on gay issues, I think because he is trying to be kind and accommodating, and thus imposes well intended "stuff" (I don't know), ..a truth imposed is just a lie... I would wish for your son what I'd like for myself: to be a smuck; to be a jerk, to be a regular guy, like everyone else...including Fr. Martin. These high school kids protesting against programs on the Church's teaching on sexuality are doing no one any favors. They impose another "truth", no matter how well intentioned and thus closes off / shuts down any opportunity for growth and understanding. You know, 'the unexamined life is not worth living." These high schoolers have shut-down their gay friends' right to figure it out for themselves. Like Fr. Martin, they've limited the possibilities. I played along with that game and its not for me. With love, your son will thrive and will find the Truth. God bless -Paul
Ed Hawkins
3 years ago
Dear Fr. Martin, First. . . I am amazed by your writing. "Jesus A Pilgrimage" is the best book of its kind that I've read in years. I'm on my 3rd reading. Thank you. I am 67 years old, a cradle Catholic, a former Franciscan friar, and gay. My relationship with Mother Church has had its ups and downs, to say the least. Older age has allowed me to see through all the bull and concentrate on Jesus. Also of great help to me has been your brother Jesuit, Pope Francis - not because of the who-am-I-to-judge remark, but because of his example of Gospel living and his understanding of God's mercy. Your essay gets it right, IMO. The Church, esp. under Pope Ratzinger, talked about sin and then love in its approach to us gay folk. Jesus, and His Jesuit disciple Francis, put it the other way around, as you have written here. It's interesting to me that some of the comments above immediately return to the sin-first model. As Cardinal O'Malley said recently, "change is difficult." That's true especially when we're asked to think about something in a new light. Unlike my outlook 2 years ago, my view of our Church now is hopeful. If our shepherds lead with love and mercy, the sheep will come around in time. God bless you & your work.
Monserrat Washburn
3 years ago
I find that many Catholics, especially the regulars in the pews, have a tendency to be judgmental borne out of the way they must normally perceive themselves as being “holier than just anybody else around.” Yes, many perceive themselves as holier than just about anyone else because they equate "holy" with having perfect attendance in Church liturgical celebrations, keep a close relationship with the clergy, support the Church to the utmost, are involved in many ministries, and attend Volunteer’s Appreciation dinner. (The latter seems to be the time-tested way of separating the righteous and the non-righteous of the parish. It’s a joke!) But, is this the test of true faith in God? What do we really know about God’s law, about God’s judgment, about God’s love, about God’s forgiveness? We know about sin because of the law handed down to us from God himself through Moses. And there is such a thing as the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. We have been warned against the “letter of the law” by Paul himself in many of his discourses. But we do need the letter of the law so we know the “rules” of moral living. The letter of the law and the spirit of the law go hand and hand. They are not opposed to each other. When Jesus came to give us a newer version of the Ten Commandments, this I have to say, was also the time that the spirit of the law came into being. The spirit of Christ, the spirit of the law, makes our understanding and interpretation of the letter of the law replete with his love, the grace of God, the Father, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. So, who are we to pass judgment and condemn our fellow brothers and sisters? If so, then we are so much more concerned with the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. We must leave the judgment to God. We are not in any shape, form, or position to call out sinners because we are all sinners ourselves. Only God can call out sinners and pass judgment. Let us instead re-direct our energies into “simply loving.”
Tim O'Leary
3 years ago
There is much to commend in this article from Fr. Martin. There is no doubt that “loving the sinner, while hating the sin” is easier for God than for man. We imperfect and fallen humans either tend to loving both or hating both. Hard to get it right. But, we must try. It is the only way to see through to truth. The phrase became a mantra because it has always been a Christian maxim. I also appreciate the comments below, especially the learned back-and-forth between the other two Tims. Their discussion goes to the heart of what it means to be faithful to a revealed religion, to “Follow me” as Jesus said. Fr. Langan’s earlier America article “See the Person”( http://www.americamagazine.org/issue/see-person), particularly its title, really resonated with me. So often in His ministry, Jesus was able to peer directly into the person He met. He was able to see and love the person as His first encounter, as primary, and see their fault, or weakness, or sin, as not part of the person but as a burden the person was carrying. He never denied the sin, and sometimes even brought it up (as in His conversation with the Samaritan woman), but in a way that led to a metanoia in the person. It seems to me that our goal in encountering anyone should be to follow His example, as hard as it might be. I do think we are in more difficult territory in some modern moral controversies. What the Church teaches (and has always taught) as a sin, is being challenged as not a real sin at all, but an actual good. It is not at all like adultery, which even the greatest proponents rarely campaign for as something good in itself (though the campaign for polyamory might be an exception). Against the constant Church teaching, fertility is being judged as a fault, requiring contraception as a remedy, or a condom as a medical solution to venereal disease, or abortion redefined as a “right-to-choose” or killing old or sick people as a good act of mercy. Similarly, relevant to this article, we have the ever-expanding LGBTQIA, to be accepted as a series of discrete new genders, and even publicly endorsed or approved, claimed on the authority of social science or psychology, even though it has no materially quantifiable objective basis (no objective physical test, genetic, blood, etc.) but must be accepted solely upon a person’s self-identification and affirmation. The faithful Catholic person cannot accept these redefinitions of morality, and Pope Francis will not succumb to the political pressure to abandon these central moral teachings. The true doctrine is a tightly woven tapestry, with interrelated threads that cannot be separated without distorting the whole. I do not think most people understand the inter-relatedness of these moral teachings, and so think an adjustment here and there will not fundamentally alter the faith, and separate us from Jesus and the Apostles. But, it would. Those who demand this of the Church (such as Rochus below) are sure to be disappointed. The pastoral approach, however, is, I think, open to a shift, and this is what I think Pope Francis is doing. He is calling us to first focus our gaze on the person, to love the person, to “see the person,” before we see their religion, their ideology, their “orientation,” their life circumstances (as he has mentioned in various places re atheists, communists, gays, remarried divorced, etc). Only that way can we properly distinguish the person from the sin and keep love primary, without departing from the truth.
Paul Ferris
3 years ago
There is an ancient theological principle: lex orandi lex credendi. The law of prayer is the law of belief. In the liturgy we pray, "Lord I am not worthy that You should come under my roof but only say the Word and my soul shall be healed. This applies to all worshipers and should not be thought of as pious rhetoric.. Unlike Jesus we are all sinners.
Paul Ferris
3 years ago
I think Tim O does a great job articulating his position. I loved his analogy of tightly woven tapestry. The issue wfor myself is can a new tapestry ever be woven while keeping "Jesus and the Apostles" as the main focus. I believe it can with real change in some moral positions such as gay love and marriage. It is useless to try to convince someone like Tim O that this is true and in a way it is not important. Let him be. As stated by the apostle John, "In my Father's house there are many mansions....and I would add, many tapestries. I also believe that gays are not asking for more love, they are asking for more understanding which is of course part of love...an understanding that includes their own experience and witness to their their faith. Understanding means stop trying to change me....we are who God made us and as the old button says, "God does not make junk."
Tim O'Leary
3 years ago
Thanks Paul, for the words that were kind. I think it is important to distinguish the commandment to love, Christian love (as in "love your neighbor" and "love your enemies"), as agape and not at all the same as erotic love. Whatever it is, "gay love" as you use it is utterly different from agape. Christians are called to agape for their "gay" neighbors as much as their friends and enemies. You are so right that "God does not make junk." He only makes saints - in potential if not yet in actuality - for His many rooms in heaven. Only our resistance to His grace can thwart His plan for us. So, that is why, when we see someone with a congenital defect, or an unnatural proclivity (such as alcohol addiction or pedophilia or violence), we do not see these as integral to the person that God created, but as a consequence of original sin or personal sin. The call to "see the person" applies not only to other people, but to ourselves as well. If we see our faults or defects as "that is just me, it is the way that I am," we are making the same prejudicial mistake as when we conflate the sin with the sinner in someone else.
Paul Ferris
3 years ago
You mention the distinction between agape and eros. Not always as clear in practice as they are in concept but valid in some respects. When God became man in Jesus Christ he incorporated agape, eros, and philia in unique way. In as sense the Incarnation includes and transcends these distinctions. If we want to include the gays and lesbians in a Catholic and Eucharistic embrace than we too following Jesus must transcend these distinctions.
Tim O'Leary
3 years ago
Paul - I have never heard the idea before that The Incarnation removed the distinction between agape and eros. That seems like a retrograde step into the pagan fertility religions or temple rites. Even heterosexuals should realize the distinction between their romantic desires and and their agape desires. I come back to the tightly woven tapestry analogy. If eros is an expression of agape, then how could one deny a married man an affair with his new-found love, especially if romance has gone out of his marriage? Or, what if eros led someone to love two or more women? The obligation to marital fidelity would appear a direct denial of the love you would call Christian. It could appear to be just a legalism from a puritanical Church. Same with a wide variety of desires that get interpreted as part of romantic love.
Paul Ferris
3 years ago
In becoming man God elevated all of human nature. I was not defending adultery.
Tim O'Leary
3 years ago
Paul - I know you do not mean to defend adultery. My point is that most people do not see the connection of the sexual revolution to the whole teaching on chastity (see my more detailed response to David above).
Michael Cobbold
3 years ago
"Most people who oppose same-sex marriage say they do not hate gay people, only that the traditional understanding of marriage is important and perpetually valid. Other opponents of same-sex marriage invoke the oft-repeated mantra, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” If that is so, then why do so many gay people say they feel hatred from members of the church?" ## An excellent article. How about this; which was suggested by the mention of Zacchaeus. Catholics care about morals, and law, and not-sinning; at least, such concerns are deeply ingrained in the Catholic psyche. There is - I think it is fair say - far less emphasis on grace: perhaps as a psychological side effect of the fact of Protestantism. And there is the Catholic temptation to legalism, and - at least in the US - a Jansenist tendency: though it is probably far weaker than it was. Such a cocktail of influences can create a very earnest, morally-concerned, God-fearing type of character - but it lacks the paradoxical character of grace. Catholicism is so concerned with being just, that it does not appreciate the Divine Righteousness & equity that is - so to speak - too profound and too hidden in God to be accessible as what men call justice. This righteous equity is not justice, because it something much more typical of God - it is the "injustice" that is the Gracious Love of God. And grace is not elicited by goodness or justice in the one it loves - it finds those it loves unrighteous, and makes them righteous. This is, in a sense, totally "unfair" - and totally Divine. In short, ISTM that the theological imagination of Catholicism has severe difficulty with God's graciousness, Catholicism, perhaps as a result of pre-Christian Roman religious attitudes, is a bit too keen on "keeping track" of everything - it is not very good at coping with anything it is not in a position to manage. This attitude is very different from that of Biblical religion. Jesus, by contrast, showed the Graciousness of His Father, not by dispensing with morals, but by approaching people - such as Zacchaeus - not because they were upright, but so that they become upright. Because He was without sin, He did not look askance at sinners, but went out to them & spent time in their company. He valued them - He was not put off them by the sorts of consideration that led the Pharisees to be concerned about being unclean through contamination by them. It is - AFAICS - this gracious acceptance of others, "just as [they are]", that the CC needs to regain. God knows that people sin. But He does not hold our sins against us - He loves us, not because we do not sin, but so that we may be free from sin. If God loves gay people - how is it possible for the Church not to do so ? If God accepts gay people as His beloved sons and daughters in His Son - what logic allows the Church not to be equally accepting, for the same reason ? Love has much greater power to transform than rebukes or sermons or laws, because love sincerely & actively seeks the good of the beloved; it does not "hold its nose" in disgust at the flaws of the beloved. The Love of Christ, far from isolating Him from those Whom He Loved, led Him to the very fullest identification with them - it led Him to the Cross, all of it. That is Love - and surely it is the God-given model for how the Church is meant to love. When the Church is more used to showing that self-sacrificial, gracious-hearted sort of love to - among others - gay people, it will (I think) be both far more attractive, and a far brighter and more convincing sign of the Love of God that it seeks to show. At the very least, the Church badly needs to treat gay people as people - at present, I fear it is not doing that well. It is too concerned about morals to treat people as it should; that is, as Jesus did. It lacks His inner freedom - perhaps that is to be expected.
Paul Ferris
3 years ago
thanks Michael. You have given a new way to look at this issue by proposing a very important horizon shift.
Tim O'Leary
3 years ago
Michael - I think you are only seeing part of Jesus's interaction with the sinners he encountered. When He met someone who did not defend his or her sin, He took the attitude you suggested. When He met someone who denied their sin and in fact felt self-righteous about their sin (like the Pharisee leaders, etc.), He could be highly critical ("brood of vipers," etc.). He also thought strongly against immorality in his sermons, including sexual sin (lust in the heart is already adultery, etc.) There is an apt analogy from the medical arena. Imagine a doctor expressing acceptance and love for a patient but never addressing their illness. Even patients in denial need treatment, especially them. For the latter, addressing their denial is the only way to begin the healing. The failure to communicate between Gay activists and the Church seems to hinge not on a lack of acceptance of the person, but on an a priori demand that the Church first change the teaching, or at least stop teaching. I also think your approach has been tried and failed. Some Protestant Churches, with much greater puritanical heritages than The Catholic traditions, have recently tried your approach, possibly as a reaction to their past. But, they have been unable to accept the sinner without shortly thereafter approving of the sin. This is a sure way to losing the efficacy of the Good News.
David Mooneyhan
3 years ago
Thank you, Father Martin, for all your great BOOKS. They've been so helpful in my recent return to the wonderful faith into which I was born. The fault, of course, is with the absurd teaching that being gay automatically means that you are "called" to be celibate. Whoever heard of such absurdity? GLBT persons cover the widest possible spectrum of humanity. We're not called en masse to ANYTHING, other than loving God with all our beings, and our neighbors as ourselves.
Tim O'Leary
3 years ago
David - I think your "absurdity" reaction goes to the heart of why we are dealing in this controversy with an anthropological heresy of sorts. Your reaction is not just to the legal argument on same-sex marriage per se, but is a revolt against chastity as a virtue, and to the Christian understanding of biological complementarity, both physical and spiritual - to our very souls. All Christians, from the very beginning of the Church, have been called to chastity (in terms of avoidance of many types of sexual gratification) for their whole lives, including in their marriages. Chastity in marriage means, among other things, confining one's sexual appetites to natural vaginal intercourse. So, a married person is not justified to satisfy their sexual urges however they choose. Hence, the teaching against masturbation or contraception or condoms, or non-vaginal intercourse. Also, the teachings that marriage be freely entered into, faithful until death, always avoiding a willful separation of the conjugal act from the openness to the conception of children, are central to a Christian understanding of our biological humanity. In my analogy below of the tightly woven tapestry, the doctrinal acceptance of homosexual sex would completely distort or eliminate the virtue of chastity. It is the rebellion against chastity that has characterized much of the Western world for the last half-century. This is the reason so many heterosexuals have become supporters of the Gay cause. The heterosexual is looking for a license to abandon their pretenses to chastity. Any heterosexual who can no longer see the beauty of the chaste ideal, or worse, who considers it as absurd or even unhealthy, will have already departed from the teaching. In the same way, heterosexuals who have already bought in to a contraceptive mentality, already see sexual fulfillment as the means to happiness, and divorce as an unfortunate but necessary means to furthering sexual fulfillment. They may think they have accepted Humanae Vitae, in principle if not in practice, but they have already lost the teaching on family, the full understanding of the true Christian meaning of being a father or a mother. They have come to think that they are roles that are severed from their biology, that are dispensable and/or interchangeable. So, the dispute we are living through today is really a dispute of chastity and of Christian anthropology. Many are so aggrieved because of their own circumstances, or have succumbed to the re-characterization of the issue in terms of a personal liberation, that they cannot see how broad and profound the sexual revolution is challenging the Gospel.
Paul Ferris
3 years ago
Again Tim a reasoned reply and defense of the present position of the magisterium. I accept a great deal of truth in your understanding of some of the effects of loss of regard for chastity in our society. Still I would say you have become so enamored with your tapestry analogy you cannot accept other tapestries. All it takes to unravel and ruin a tapestry is to pull one string. I think this is the strength and weakness of the tapestry model. Moral issues can change. The church once condemned lending money at interest as a sin of usury but looked at it differently later on. Popes in the 19th century castrated the Vatican choir boys so that their voices would not change. Here is a shocking change for you. Recently the Sudanese courts condemned a woman who converted from Islam to Christianity to death as an apostate. Now I am sure you believe that this is disgusting but Thomas Aquinas in a section of faith taught that if a heretic did not recant after a few chances then he should be turned over to the secular courts for torture and execution. Thomas also taught that have sex with a sheep is worse than rape or incest. What I am trying to say God is not a bore and he is capable of sending the Holy Spirit to teach us how to weave new and maybe even better tapestry. Still I thank you for your very articulate comments and warning about the abuse of chastity in your recent reply.
Tim O'Leary
3 years ago
Paul - I agree it would be very sinful to castrate a choir boy but I know of no popes who did so, even though the practice occurred in secular Italy and the Church did hire them in their choirs. In any case, I know of many popes who committed sinful acts, some very bad sins. They too were called to life a virtuous life. Some appear to have failed. God has judged them. I have never defended the personal lives of all of popes (though I do believe we have been blessed with several holy popes in recent times). You should know by now that I only claim that the Holy Spirit has protected the deposit of the faith that the Church teaches. Similarly, while Thomas Aquinas was possibly the greatest intellectual genius in history, he did not always get things right (think of the Immaculate Conception). In fact, I have often noted that study and intellectual knowledge does not protect from error. Otherwise, Luther and Calvin, very very smart men, would not have erred so much. But, that is also a warning to every smart educated person that they cannot rely on their talents to come to the truth. We can't just weave new doctrine and dispense with what has been handed down. We are not protected from doctrinal error like the Magisterium. That is the Catholic self-understanding.
Paul Ferris
3 years ago
By hiring castratii to sing in the Sistine Chapel (because females were not allowed to do so) is the what I would call complicity.... complicity means that if the Vatican invested in condom manufacturers. Would you approve or excuse the practice. I believe that the Popes had some control over what went on in the Sistine Chapel..the same popes who according to you are the chief representatives of the magisterium. There is a long article in the Guardian on the subject. Aquinas never tortured or executed anyone but he encourage the practice by his answer on the treatment of heretics. In fact during the Inquisition a priest accompanied the practice just in case the so called heretic would seek forgiveness...much in the same way as a chaplain today accompanies someone on death row. Again I agree that chastity is important but it is not everything. Again I think Michael Barber comment above has it right and goes along way to providing the threads for a new tapestry...glory be to the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Tim O'Leary
3 years ago
Michael is indeed trying to come up with a new theology and make a new tapestry out of whole cloth. But, notice that all the novelty is to try to conform Catholicism to the secular idea of sexual liberation. My point is that his idea of sexual liberation will not set you free. It only binds you in new chains.
Paul Ferris
3 years ago
Tim, you forgot to mention usury where the church clearly changed its moral position in your defense of Popes who went to the Sistine Chapel to enjoy the castrati.
David Mooneyhan
3 years ago
I see the beauty of chastity. I just don't think the millions of my LGBT brothers and sisters are all called to a permanent version of it for the preservation of your archaic sexual caste system. Where are we in your tapestry? Left out, that's where. You had no realistic concept of our existence when you wove it.

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Greg Hicks as "Richard III" (photo: Alex Brenner)
It would be fascinating were the producers able to arrange a quick transfer to a venue somewhere near the White House.
David StewartMay 26, 2017
In the hyper-curated, beautiful world that Dev lives in, a scene that conveys the touching, ugly stubbornness of marriage seems totally impossible.
Eloise BlondiauMay 26, 2017
This image released by the Minya governorate media office shows bodies of victims killed when gunmen stormed a bus in Minya, Egypt, Friday, May 26, 2017 (Minya Governorate Media office via AP).
The attack in central Egypt today killed at least 26 people, including children aged 2 to 4, and wounded 25 others.
Gerard O'ConnellMay 26, 2017
The data and facts are clear: If you care about working families and sound economic policy, SNAP is the program for you.
Meghan J. ClarkMay 26, 2017