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.