What messages do we send?
I spent much of this weekend reflecting on last week’s post by Fr. Jim Martin on what the Catholic response could be to young people who despair to the point of ending their lives because of the negative messages they receive and bullying they endure for being gay. Jim’s thoughtfulness to this issue is refreshing, and he offers a prayer for those who find themselves on the margins: lonely, afraid and desperate. Surely, we as outsiders are incapable of understanding fully what people feel when they decide life is no longer worth living. But we can take a critical look at the messages individuals receive that may lead them to despair and darkness. With regards to young people who are gay or lesbian, consider how they may interpret what the church says about them.
“Something is wrong with you.”
Though it also includes pleas for the faithful to demonstrate love and compassion for all people, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2358, states that homosexual inclinations are, “objectively disordered.”
“Showing affection to the person you love is a grave sin, perhaps evil.”
Again from the Catechism, 2357: “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered;” scripture shows them to be “acts of grave depravity.” Further, “they are contrary to the natural law” and “under no circumstances can they be approved.”
“You are unworthy of a lifetime commitment with the person you love.”
Catholic leaders and organizations from around the world, including Pope Benedict, prominent bishops, and the Knights of Columbus, are at the forefront of condemning same-sex marriage and exhorting all the faithful to speak out against gay rights.
“You are unworthy of employment with your church.”
There have been several cases in recent years of Catholic institutions that fire employees when they come out as gay or lesbian. I blogged about an episode in Massachusetts recently, involving an employee of a Catholic high school who was forced to resign because she married her longtime partner.
“You are unworthy to be a parent.”
Catholic Charities agencies in Massachusetts and Washington, DC, decided to close down their adoption programs rather than comply with state and local laws that say discrimination based of sexual orientation is illegal.
“You are unworthy of receiving the Eucharist.”
An incident in Minnesota has a group of gay students and their allies claiming that they were denied communion by Archbishop John Nienstedt. Though details remain a bit murky about what happened at the Mass, the students say that they were wearing buttons that showed their support for same-sex marriage, and that when they approached the archbishop to receive the Eucharist, they were instead offered a blessing.
“You are unworthy of heaven.”
Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, the retired head of the Vatican's Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, said that, “homosexuals will never enter the kingdom of heaven and it is not me who says this, but Saint Paul. People are not born homosexual, they become homosexual, for different reasons: education issues or because they did not develop their own identity during adolescence. It may not be their fault, but acting against nature and the dignity of the human body is an insult to God.”
“You are unworthy to be a priest.”
Part of the Vatican’s slow and often frustrating response to clergy sexual abuse was to create standards by which to judge which men would be ineligible to enter seminary, including those “who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”
“You are a threat to human existence.”
Pope Benedict was accused of using an address that called for continued vigilance to protect the environment as an opportunity to remind the world that gays and lesbians are a threat to God’s creation as well.
The issue is not church teaching on sexuality; scholars much smarter than me spend careers and countless books debating just that. Rather, I raise questions about the messages young people receive from the church and its leaders. Do some of the “messages” I construct above misinterpret their corresponding stories or quotes? Probably. But imagine for a moment that you are a young adult Catholic struggling with your sexuality. Perhaps you’re bullied at school; you don’t have close family members or friends whom you can trust. Your faith is an important part of your life, and you turn to your church leaders for help and guidance. But what messages are sent to these kids? If they interpret the general themes anything like the examples above, we as a church have much to consider: Are our messages life-giving? Are we providing hope and comfort to the confused and fearful? Is accurate and repeated articulation of a complex and closed theological system more important than pastoral care for those who live on the margins?
The church and its most vocal leaders sometimes seem to lend their voices toward defending the abstract (“sanctity of marriage” or “family values”) with much more gusto than they offer for those whom their words ultimately affect. The tension is lucidly present even in that little bit of canon law I cited above. The code itself is two-fold: homosexual acts are gravely immoral but gay and lesbian people must be treated with love and respect. Both sentiments may be worthy of propagation, or may not, but in the church today, it feels as if the voices promoting the former are much louder and commanding than those calling for the latter. And if we can learn anything from the tragic episodes over the past several weeks, it’s that words affect how people view themselves and have life-changing and life-ending consequences.
I have asked many of those who subscribe to the bishops' war on making civil marriage legal for same-sex couples about the alleged ''threat' to ''traditional marriage.'' They cannot actually say how making gay marriage legal would threaten ''traditional'' marriage.
However, the war against legalizing gay marriage has certainly drawn a lot of media attention, and, perhaps, added fuel to the hatred-fires, leading to an increase in bullying and worse against gays. After all, if the leaders of the conservative churches, including the bishops, are so incensed about it (far more incensed about gays marrying than about real threats to traditional marriage, spending millions and millions of the dollars people put in their Sunday collection baskets on ''fighting'' it - without asking those who pay the bills if this is really where they want their money to go, of course), some may feel justified in acting out their hatred of gays.
Legalizing same-sex marriage does not threaten traditional marriage in any way - heterosexuals will still seek out opposite sex partners and mates, and will marry. There are certain legal rights associated with marriage, and it is really not fair to deprive committed homosexuals from having the same protections (and responsibilities). Churches would still be free to marry only those couples whom they decide are eligible in their church. If one looks at data, there are some interesting trends - the numbers of marriages taking place in the Catholic church in Boston and NH have dropped very dramatically during the last ten years - but, the marriage rate overall has gone slightly up during the same time period in those dicoeses. This implies that the young are still getting married, but are choosing to do so outside the church. It also demonstrates that legalizing gay marriage has not stopped heterosexuals from marrying (the slight upward trend in the overall marriage rate is not due primarily from gay marriages.). There has been a similar experience in Scandinavia - the marriage rate overall has gone up since gays were allowed to register their partnerships (not quite marriage, but the same protections) in a culture where marriage has been out of style for a long time. Some speculate that heterosexuals in those countries, seeing how much gay couples value marriage, have decided that maybe committing legally is a good thing, rather than a bad thing. If these speculations are valid, permittingsome kind of legalized gay marriage in the US might also have a positive effect on marriage and committment here - boosting the ''traditional'' family. Interestingly enough, more children in Sweden live with their birth parents (married or unmarried) than do children in the United States-most of whose parents were married when they were born, but aren't now. Gay marriage is not the culprit.
Gay marriage (civil) does not threaten the ''traditional'' family. Perhaps the bishops should look for real reasons, instead of setting up strawmen to oppose.
Recently as part of my ministry to hospitalized patients, one patient began our conversation with the statement that he is leaving in a day, as he will be going to a hospice facility for chemo-treatment since he is terminal. I tried to surmise how I might offer spiritual support, perhaps prayers or…, “ Don’t you know that I am condemned to hell! What good would that do—I’ve been homosexual all my life!” He was not a Catholic, but repeating what he had picked up from a fundamentalist up bringing. My God, I thought, what do I do and say now? - Well, when I left he was smiling, seemed relived and at peace and said well, “I’ll see you on the other side” and I know he didn’t mean that I too would be in hell.
When alive, my brother was a member of a parish in San Francisco, made up of predominately homosexual Catholics. Their Pastor, in part “selected” or at least “approved” by the parish was also gay. At the same time, the diocese had turned the former, and now vacant, Nun’s residence into a care facility for patients dying from Aids.
I was always moved during the Masses I attended with him, including his funeral, at the care, compassion, and love the parishioners experienced as part of that congregation.
There is necessary dogma, but then there is also, the love, compassion, openness and forgiveness lived by Christ, and expressed in the Gospels. Where do these meet?
Frank R. Siroky
People, in all their God-created variety, are not electrical plugs and sockets. The RCC's telological teaching is at odds with the reality of human existence and of the variety in which God created us.
People of good will must continue to reach out to each other in this conversation, and yes in my opinion, we must challenge each other. Prayers of words are good, but prayers of actions are much better.
Lets pray with our words and actions that reasonable people will agree that suicide is wrong. Let's also agree that honesty in persuing this violence may lead you to become unpopular in some church circles.
Rainbow Sash Movement
But here's a suggestion: read Humanae Vitae.
And, if there are any priests on staff, please reflect on the Holy Father's exhortation:
28. And now, beloved sons, you who are priests, you who in virtue of your sacred office act as counselors and spiritual leaders both of individual men and women and of families—We turn to you filled with great confidence. For it is your principal duty—We are speaking especially to you who teach moral theology—to spell out clearly and completely the Church's teaching on marriage. In the performance of your ministry you must be the first to give an example of that sincere obedience, inward as well as outward, which is due to the magisterium of the Church. For, as you know, the pastors of the Church enjoy a special light of the Holy Spirit in teaching the truth. (39) And this, rather than the arguments they put forward, is why you are bound to such obedience. Nor will it escape you that if men's peace of soul and the unity of the Christian people are to be preserved, then it is of the utmost importance that in moral as well as in dogmatic theology all should obey the magisterium of the Church and should speak as with one voice. Therefore We make Our own the anxious words of the great Apostle Paul and with all Our heart We renew Our appeal to you: "I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions"