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Ronan McCoyJuly 04, 2014
Young people during the closing Mass of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, June 18, 2012.

The family is at the heart of church and society. There’s nothing new in that sentiment. Nor is there any great shock in the recognition that ‘family’ here is defined as the traditional family envisioned by the church for generations as imitating the Holy Family. When something is so central to what binds us, tighter definitions are approached with caution. As Catholics we know this all too well. When Pope Paul VI issued "Humanae Vitae" in 1968 he was writing to a church united in its understanding of the world. The last four decades have seen the development of a more conscientious, pluralistic church, struggling to understand itself as one, holy and apostolic. When, this past October, Pope Francis called a synod on the family he embarked down a road that risks producing division as much as unity, but then being surprised by Francis is hardly surprising.

Already, preparations for the synod have revealed the extent to which official teaching and lived experience of the church have diverged. The working document released last week shows a church populated by twenty-something lovers, LGBT families and couples given a second shot at love after the struggle of separation and divorce. The traditional family ideal is as beautiful as ever but many today see its beauty in the love it enshrines, equally evident in increasingly visible variety. This week we read the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Hobby Lobby case and Catholics argued out both sides of the case in homes and offices all over the U.S. Many of us stand with the spirit that animates "Humanae Vitae" while disagreeing with its proscriptions; many more struggle with what religious liberty means in a pluralistic society. And so what is emerging is a church both thinking and feeling its way towards truth.

These two weeks are an exciting time to reflect on this vision of Catholicism. As a European, my stock response to overt American patriotism is to cringe (see the Irish resistance to being ranked first on the Good Country Index last week) but being here for Independence Day makes me reflect on whether America is the still the land of the free. Last weekend, New York saw an explosion of color onto its manicured Fifth Avenue as the Gay Pride parade marched through Manhattan. Two memories came to mind as my subway car hurtled south to join it. In summer 2008 I was in Sydney for World Youth Day. The streets thronged with young people waving flags and singing, bustling with the excitement that comes from knowing they aren’t alone and proud of their identity as young people marked by faith. In summer 2012 I was in Dublin for the Eucharistic Congress. As the children of abusive triumphalism, we’re slow to express our Catholic pride too exuberantly. We’ve grown accustomed to skulking to and from Mass for fear our friends may judge us as backward and judgmental, but, even if softly spoken, our joy in seeing others like us was evident and some pride again began to bud.

Both events were happy memories, but at both we were faced with the tension of the teaching/experience gulf. At both we were met with LGBT protests and struggled with the barrier between "us" and "them." The protesters were enraged by our joy, seeing in it some threat to their own; as if our swollen parades were dedicated to an-anti LGBT agenda. It hurts when the church espouses views that I do not share but it’s also a source of great joy when it speaks for truth and love.

And so, last weekend I arrived at the pride parade filled with the anxiety of being forced into opposing sides in a battle I don’t believe in. I met my friends outside a church with rainbow flags hanging from its pillars and watched as crowds of young people waved flags and sang, bustling with excitement, proud of their identity and celebrating their not being alone. My anxiety dissipated as church groups marched past us, celebrating the Source of love, and I felt truly free. This Independence Day I can believe in a land of the free as the place where there is no "us" and "them" and where we can all wave flags and sing, excited by the joy we have found in love.

Ronan McCoy is a summer intern at America.

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Michael Barberi
9 years 10 months ago
Thanks Ronan for a touching and enlightening article of reality and love. Most Catholics acknowledge that more must be done to bridge the profound divide between many sexual ethical teachings on the one hand, and legitimate theological disagreements and the lived experience of Catholics on the other. There is a major problem in our Church today when the hierarchy calls us to treat LGBT individuals with respect, compassion and dignity, but instead we see many Catholics offer hate speech while the hierarchy proclaims that LGBT persons have an "objective intrinsic disorder" that inclines them sin. Nevertheless, there is much hope that things will change because of the love of Christ and the Holy Spirit who leads us to truth in agreement and disagreement.
Joseph Kalwinski
9 years 10 months ago
An interesting clarification of "objective disorder" can be found in: http://www.secondspring.co.uk/articles/melina.htm
Michael Barberi
9 years 10 months ago
Joseph, For a more contemporary and comprehensive scholarship on homosexuality and the theological argument in tension with the rationale of official Catholic teaching, I suggest: 1. Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler, "Sexual Ethics", Chapter 5, and, 2. An excellent article by Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler, "Truly Human Sexual Acts: A Response to Patrick Lee and Robert George, in Theological Studies 69 (2008).
Denise Cascino
8 years 4 months ago
Is this the Joseph Kalwinski that taught in Hawaii?
ron chandonia
9 years 10 months ago
"The traditional family ideal is as beautiful as ever but many today see its beauty in the love it enshrines, equally evident in increasingly visible variety. " Sounds so cool . . . so tolerant. But what it means is that increasing numbers of children are being raised without mothers and/or fathers. That is hardly cause for celebration, as anyone who accepts Catholic social teaching surely ought to recognize.
Gene Van Son
9 years 10 months ago
Ronan, as C.S. Lewis points out in "The Screwtape Letters," beware of relying too much on your own inner feelings and preferences rather than on reason and the priorities and facts of the faith. I too have friends who are homosexual, but I cannot and do not condone the homosexual lifestyle. Theirs is a heavy cross to bear, and I pray for them, but as someone once said, “Open-mindedness taken to the extreme becomes moral blindness.”
JR Cosgrove
9 years 10 months ago
I posted this over a year ago but it seems relevant here.
Several years ago I had a conversation with an ex seminarian who was a Catholic in good standing and had married a Catholic girl and was having a family (his first child was recently born). The conversation got around to religion and then to sex as a religious issue. He said that there are several issues with sex. One was just what sexual acts were permitted and why. The second thing we discussed was just who was permitted to have sexual acts. He said the Church's long standing position was that these acts should take place only within marriage for several reasons. But one he said will forever prevent the Church countenancing sexual acts outside of marriage. He called it the boundary problem. If sexual acts are permitted outside of marriage then just who will be allowed to do them. He said with marriage there were very clear boundaries but outside of marriage there are none. And if one group were permitted to do them then there would be no real restraint on anyone. There is no natural age limit since in the past teenagers commonly married and an arbitrary cut-off of say 21 or 18 or 16 would never work. Before you know it you would have 10 year olds experimenting and no one thinks that is good for society. Our conversation never turned to same sex relationships since at that time it was not an issue. But the same reasoning applies here too. Just what is permitted and by whom? People can object all they want to the Church's so called antiquated and illiberal position but it is the only one that makes sense because there is no solution to the boundary problem other than marriage.
Michael Barberi
9 years 10 months ago
J. Cosgrove, I agree. Sex, any sex, outside of marriage is immoral. With respect to same sex relationships, one solution is to morally permit a permanent, loving and faithful union between same-gender couples. This issue is complex. Recent scholarship has challenged the principles and philosophy the underpin the teaching of marriage and procreation. We are only at the beginning of the impasse but other issues have been raised about treating gay and lesbian individuals with more respect, compassion and sensitivity/dignity. To date, the hierarchy has admitted to this problem. Nevertheless, ask any gay or lesbian person and most of them will quickly tell you that the doors of the RCC is closed to them. They feel un-welcomed and are treated as second class members of the Church. They must acknowledge and agree that their innate inclination is "an objective disorder of a God-given heterosexual orientation/nature" and accept a lifetime of sexual abstinence for their salvation….or live in perpetual sin. For most or many heterosexuals, any homosexual act is something that cannot be imagined because it goes against their nature. I have written much on previous blogs regarding this subject. I don't think a lengthly thread is needed again. Nevertheless, I think (hope) most heterosexuals can appreciate that everyone has a 'choice' between marriage and a lifetime of sexual abstinence….that is, except those born with a same-gender orientation. They do not have the same 'choice' that everyone else is granted, but only one choice, namely, to live a life of sexual abstinence for their salvation. A lifetime of sexual abstinence is a gift from God given to few individuals, not to a large segment of the population. It cannot be impose by authority, but must be voluntarily chosen for it to work. Is this not an almost impossible burden, save for a few individuals who have this gift? It is easy for many heterosexuals to dismiss the "lifetime of sexual abstinence requirement for their salvation" and assert that this is God's will for them per the hierarchy. Some claim that scripture condemns homosexual acts. I agree. However, when the argument is made that in ancient times it was believed that all humans were born heterosexual, and that homosexual acts were acts that were chosen by heterosexuals, they say "perhaps this is true"….but they still cannot move beyond what they have been taught or how they feel. This is clearly not the whole of the argument but I mention it as one aspect of the impasse. I don't profess that I have the "answers" to this complex issue. However, I do believe, as does the hierarchy, that we must treat gay and lesbian persons with more respect, compassion and sensitivity/dignity. Let's pray that the 2014-2015 Synod on the Family will do just that so we may see a development of this teaching. For a more definitive argument, I suggest the writings of James Alison, a prominent gay priest, who has a large worldwide following and wise thoughts for your reflection.

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