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Michael J. O’LoughlinNovember 04, 2011

I've read a couple different stories over the last few days that offer a glimpse into the polarization of the Catholic Church on certain issues, in this case homosexuality and the place of gay people in the Church.

First was the news that The Pilot, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston, ran an opinion column in which Daniel Avila, an employee of the USCCB, said that homosexuality may well be the work of the devil. From the SFGate:

In the column, Avila says "the scientific evidence of how same-sex attraction most likely may be created provides a credible basis for a spiritual explanation that indicts the devil."

It also says "disruptive imbalances in nature that thwart encoded processes point to supernatural actors who, unlike God, do not have the good of persons at heart." It says that when "natural causes disturb otherwise typical biological development, leading to the personally unchosen beginnings of same-sex attraction, the ultimate responsibility, on a theological level, is and should be imputed to the evil one, not God."

Both Avila and The Pilot apologized for the column; The Pilot said the claim was contradictory to Church teaching and presented theological errors. Today, the USCCB said that it had accepted Avila's offer to resign.

Regardless of Avila's official employment status with the Catholic Church, it is clear that some within in the Church still believe that gay men and women are demonic; are less than images of God; and are not worthy of the dignity that by the Church's own teachings should be afforded to all human beings. It is doubtful that Avila's views are unique to him.

Now contrast that with this story from the Chicago Tribune that profiles Anthony Alfano, the first openly gay student body president of DePaul University, the nation's largest Roman Catholic university. From the article:

When Alfano ran for student government president last spring, he didn't make special note of being gay. His closest friends knew, and that seemed enough. Over the summer, though, he decided he owed it to other young gay people to be more candid, so he opened up in the student newspaper last week, despite worrying about how his candor might affect his conservative Catholic family.

"This story needs to be shared," he said. "It's for the gay youth, especially those thinking about taking their lives. I want to let them know I'm in a position of influence at a Catholic university, the largest Catholic university in the country, and I have all this support. I want to tell them, 'You can come out too.'"

Alfano, of course, has his detractors, but he says that his experience has been overwhelmingly positive, with support from the University community. It is a credit to Catholic universities in the US, beacons of hope for Catholics here, that DePaul released this statement:

"Anthony is a remarkable young man and student leader," said an official DePaul statement, "and we hope that his candor helps other young people facing these issues to feel comfortable discussing their orientation with family and friends."

The Catholic Church in the US is a big tent if there ever were one, so it is not surprising that the range of opinions on certain subjects is wide. These two anecdotes offer a glimpse into that range. Though it would be naive to use them to make too large a claim, it is hopeful that the individuals involved in the DePaul story represent the generation that will supplant those involved in the first episode.

Taken together, these two stories represent my own experience in the Church. There are the few who readily denounce those who are different from the norm. But alongside those individuals are the many who stand ready to welcome people where they are, to affirm their gifts, and to walk alongside them without judgement or callousness. Sadly it seems that the few have the loudest mics available to them. But when I search just a bit, it's not too difficult to find the many, and that is where the Church truly lives.

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11 years ago
I refuse to speak publically on this issue for fear of losing my job.  You win!
Eugene Pagano
11 years ago
Mr. Avila has plenty of company in the Roman Catholic Church.  Look back at Father Martin's entry of Nov. 13, 2009 


and Mr. O'Loughlin's earlier entry dated Oct. 12, 2010, 


Michael Barberi
11 years ago
A good article that touchs on the contemporary problematic, namely what Richard Gaillardetz proposed a new model called "the Church as a Community of Reception. This new model can be described as a circular flow diagram where: the people of God express their faith in liturgy, devotion, religious art, daily Christianity, and so on >> followed by episcopal reception of these expressions of faith whereby the bishops receive these faith expressions and access their fidelity to the apostolic tradition >> followed by offical formulation of doctrine where by the bishops, if the need arises, give doctrinal form to the insights manifested in the faith expressions of the community >> followed by reception of doctinal formulations whereby the faithful engage this official teaching and access its fidelity to the lived faith of the church. On recognizing it, they actively appropriate the new formulations, which in turn leads to new expressions of faith. 

Contrast this model with the current Church model of much of the second millennium, where the process represents a unidirectional trajectory that begins with magisterial teachings and ends with the obedienital submission of the faithful. In the new model, we begin not with laws and doctrines but with the lived experience and testimony of the Christian community. This does not mean that in the new model we don't have laws and doctrins at the foundational level. What is clear is that the traditional unidirectional model is not working.
Vince Killoran
11 years ago
Joe's comment caught my eye: "I refuse to speak publically on this issue for fear of losing my job.  You win!"

Well, sure, if your job is the associate director of poiicy and research and you are identified as such in your newspaper column.  In that case you are doing a horrible job of representing the USCCB and should be fired for incompetence.

Firing someone for that reason isn't anything close to a violation of free speech (which, BTW, you don't have in most workplace situations).
OldDave NJ
11 years ago
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that homosexuals - even those in loving, committed, monogamous relationships - are engaged in ''acts of grave depravity'' (CCC2357).  That assertion is based on references to four passages in the Bible.  One is the Sodom story, which is quite explicitly about gang rape.  The other three are from Paul's letters, one explicitly being about people ''enflamed with lust,'' and all three acknowledged in Catholic commentary of the Church's very own NAB translation to be referring to things like pederasty.  (Both the Catechism and the NAB commentaries can be found on the USCCB's own website.)  Is saying that homosexuality=rape/lust/pedophilia/prostitution - as the USCCB and the Catechism pretty clearly imply - really all that much less offensive than what Daniel Avila said??  I'm not bashing Catholicism in general and don't actually think most Catholics believe those correspondences between homosexuality and those other things.  (Just like most Lutherans strongly repudiate Luther's anti-Semitic views; I'm Lutheran so can say that without fear of being labelled a Lutheran-basher.)  But those correspondences do seem to be firmly established, official, Catholic dogma.
11 years ago
The Epidemic of Error. Pope John Paul II (was) relentless in exposing the widespread dissemination of error in moral teaching. He identifies professedly Catholic universities and seminaries as a seedbed of these errors. He stresses the fact that these errors are especially in the area of sexual and conjugal ethics. So called Catholic moralists are claiming that each person is to decide for himself what is right or wrong regarding contraception, direct sterilization, homosexuality, masturbation, pre-marital sexual relations, and artificial insemination. One result of this moral iconoclasm is to reject even the constant moral teaching of the Church’s magisterium.

The Pope leaves no doubt how believing Catholics are to react to these satanic ideas. They must be condemned as contrary to the truth about man and his freedom. They contradict the Church’s teaching on the unity of the human person, whose rational soul is essentially the form of his body. We are destined for a heavenly eternity in body and soul. We are therefore to serve God here on earth both in body and soul. We are to submit our bodily desires to God’s revealed truth about human pleasure here on earth.
John Hardon SJ
Michael Barberi
11 years ago
@Maria Byrd

Wow, it hard to imagine that your believe such exaggerate theological speculation. Consider the following: 

JP II believed that his Church was under siege, its ability to promote a specific, ecclesially defined morality was threatened by the negative influence of a "prevalent and all-intrusive culture". He was convinced that some of his own clergy, theologians and most of the laity were infected with relativism, subjectivism and individualism which has taken root in the post-modern period. He believed that the individual conscious can err, but not the Divine Truth as proclaimed by the Magisterium. The overwhelming numbers of Catholics who rely on their conscious and believe in the licitness of artificial contraception within marriage, are not to be interpreted as possible signs of the transformative wisdom of the Holy Spirit at work in the community, as they might be from some readings of the meaning of the sensus fidelium, but as evidence of failed pedagogy or symptomatic of a climate of insufficient respect for God's law.

If we believe the foregoing we must accept two statements: 1) that the magisterium does not make mistakes; and 2) that truth can be ascertained without attention to the manifold ecclesial mediations of the work of the Holy Spirit.

As for the body-spirit unity, JP II's "personalism" was indeed related to respecting the body-spirit unity. One must respect both dimensions. As such, JP II believed that nature (God) had inscribed what might be called a moral language and grammar in the sexual structure of the human body. Morally appropriate acts respected this language and grammar in all of its complexities, which included the unitive and procreative dimensions of human sexuality, namely, sexual intercourse as a expression of love and the means of transmitting life. Any act that denied one of these dimensions, violated this grammar of the act and reduced one's spouse to an object of one's pleasure, devoid of true marital love. In other words, unless spouses practice PC as an act of fertility regulation, marital acts would become acts of lustful pleasure, without remainder. PC respected God's procreative plan symbolically revealed in the language of the body, in its fertility-infertility nexus. However, JP II's assertions were theological speculation because no one knows God's procreative plan, nor do most theologians and Catholics believe that metaphorical biological symbolism is a convincing moral theory.

All of this does not mean that each individual should pick and choose the doctrines and teachings that fit his/her personal or relational circumstances. Far from it. It does mean that individuals should never go against their informed consciouses, while remaining respectful of Church teachings, the counsel of their spiritual advisors and the workings of the Holy Spirit through constant prayer. They must use all means to seek the truth and understand the philosophical and theological underpinnings of their faith as best they can. You can disagree with certain Church teachings and still remain a faithful Catholic. If you disagree you are not in the culture of death, a dissenter, unfaithful and infected with the ills of mdern society.
11 years ago
"Among you there must not be even a mention of fornication or impurity in any of its forms, or promiscuity: this would hardly become the saints! For you can be quite certain that nobody who actually indulges in fornication or impurity or promiscuity - which is worshipping a false god - can inherit anything of the Kingdom of God. Do not let anyone deceive you with empty arguments: it is for this loose living that God's anger comes down on those who rebel against Him. Make sure that you are not included with them. You were darkness once, but now you are light in the Lord; be like children of light, for the effects of the light are seen in complete goodness and right living and truth."
Eph 5:3-8
Jim McCrea
11 years ago
Michael:  Maria does not follow Jesus, only John Hardon, the End All and Be All of her tiny warped strand of Catholicism.
OldDave NJ
11 years ago
Maria - the Ephesians passage is relevant only if you believe that homosexual=fornication in the Biblical sense of the word ''fornication.''  The problem with that is that the word translated ''fornication,'' in the original NT Greek, comes from the word ''porneia'' which does not specifically have to do with homosexuality, but instead generally describes sexual activities conducted purely for self-gratification ... e.g. purely for pleasure or for pay.  (It actually is the same word used in one of the passages the USCCB says refers to pederasty.)  And whille equating homosexuality with activities conducted purely for self-gratification is entirely consistent with saying homosexuality=rape/lust/pedophilia/prostitution - which, as I said before, is at the heart of Catholic teachings on homosexuality in the Catechism - just be aware that your beliefs are, in fact, based on those very assumptions.  And understand that most people that personally know same-gender couples  in loving, committed, monogamous relationships know first-hand that those assumptions, made by you and the USCCB and the Magisterium, are false.  I think that is part of Michael's point ... that the notions that ''the Magisterium does not make mistakes'' and needs to be obeyed without question take a real beating when they argue positions using assumptions that are transparently untrue.
David Cruz-Uribe
11 years ago
Having read extensive extracts from Avila's original column, I think it is seriously misinterpreting him to say that he believes "gay men and women are demonic."  He is attempting to give a metaphysical explanation of how people come to be gay.  It is not pre-determined in the sense of being solely genetic:  something happens prenatally that seems to lead to same-sex attraction.  So Avila was was looking beyond the material explanation-"it just happens due to random chance"-to see if there is a deeper reason. 

In proffering thsi explanation, I am not saying that I accept his argument:  it is something I want to think about some more.  But if you are going to criticize him, then you need to do so based on what he wrote, and not on a summary from a paper which may be less than sympathetic to him.

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