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James Martin, S.J.November 13, 2009

Here's a real pastoral question to consider: What place is there for the gay person in the Catholic church?  With the warning from the archdiocese of Washington, D.C., that it would pull out of social services in the city rather than accede to a bill that would afford benefits to same-sex spouses, a question, too long neglected, arises for the whole church: What is a gay Catholic supposed to do in life?

Imagine you are a devout Catholic who is also gay.  Here is a list of the things that you are not to do, according to the teaching of the church.  (Remember that most other Catholics can choose among many of these options.)  None of this should be new or in any way surprising.  If you are gay, you cannot:

1.) Enjoy romantic love.  At least not the kind of fulfilling love that most people, from their earliest adolescence, anticipate, dream about, hope for, plan about, talk about and pray for.  In other cases, celibacy (that is, a lifelong abstinence from sex) is seen as a gift, a calling or a charism in a person's life.  Thus, it is not to be enjoined on a person.  ("Celibacy is not a matter of compulsion," said then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.)  Yet it is enjoined on you.  ("Homosexual person are called to chastity," says the Catechism, meaning complete abstinence.)  In any event, you cannot enjoy any sort of romantic, physical or sexual relationship. 

2.) Marry.  The church has been clear, especially of late, in its opposition to same-sex unions.  Of course, you can not marry within the church.  Nor can you enter into any sort of civil, same-sex unions of any kind.   (Such unions are "pseudo-matrimonies," said the Holy Father, that stem from "expressions of an anarchic freedom")   They are beyond the pale.  This should be clear to any Catholic.  One bishop compared the possibility of gays marrying one another to people marrying animals

3.) Adopt a child.  Despite the church's warm approval of adoption, you cannot adopt a needy child.  You would do "violence," according to church teaching, to a child if you were to adopt.

4.) Enter a seminary.  If you accept the church's teaching on celibacy for gays, and feel a call to enter a seminary or religious order, you cannot--even if you desire the celibate life.  The church explicitly forbids men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" from entering the priesthood.  Nor can you hide your sexuality if you wish to enter a seminary.

5.) Work for the church and be open.  If you work for the church in any sort of official capacity it is close to impossible to be open about who your identity as a gay man or a lesbian.  A gay layman I know who serves an important role in a diocese (and even writes some of his bishop's statements on social justice) has a solid theological education and desires to serve the church, but finds it impossible to be open in the face of the bishop's repeated disparaging remarks about gays.  Some laypeople have been fired, or dismissed, for being open.  Like this altar server, who lives a chaste life.  Or this woman, who worked at a Catholic high school.  Or this choir director.

At the same time, if you are a devout Catholic who is attentive both to church teachings and the public pronouncements of church leaders, you will be reminded that you are "objectively disordered,"  and your sexuality is "a deviation, an irregularity a wound." 

Nothing above is surprising or controversial: all of the above are church teaching.  But taken together, they raise an important pastoral question for all of us: What kind of life remains for these brothers and sisters in Christ, those who wish to follow the teachings of the church?  Officially at least, the gay Catholic seems set up to lead a lonely, loveless, secretive life.  Is this what God desires for the gay person?  

James Martin, SJ 

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14 years 8 months ago
Devon, I'm glad we have some common ground. I think there is some question-begging on your part as well. Yes, from what I am able to discern with my poor powers, there is such a thing as a natural family ordained by the Creator. If you believe otherwise, i.e., there is no such thing, then on what basis do you limit sexual relationships to two persons? Why can't three, four or five bisexual adults be a family, in a committed, lifelong plural relationship? If not, aren't you being at least as arbitrary as I?
Devon Zenu
14 years 8 months ago
j.a.m., we've already been over that ground. See # 93 and # 98 above.
I note in as friendly a way as possible that you have not yet answered by question in # 141.
Devon Zenu
14 years 8 months ago
By the way, I do not wish to deny that there is such a thing as a natural family. I only want to affirm that there may be other arrangements that are also moral that do not conform to this ideal.
14 years 8 months ago
Devon, yes, we have covered the same ground on both scores. We both feel we answered the question and the other person dodged theirs. One more try:
Advocates of so-called polyamory (not polygamy or polyandry) will make precisely the same arguments same-sex advocates do. They will dispute and take great umbrage at your prejudiced assertion that their relationships are in any way less equal or less mutual than other sexual groupings or pairings. Who are you to say differently?
I'm happy to acknowledge that there are countless moral relationships and living arrangements other than the family. The point in dispute is whether it is licit to engage in genital acts outside the union of husband and wife. When everything that is knowable and observable points so strongly to the real meaning and purpose of sex and family, one is compelled to say no.
14 years 8 months ago
A question for any interested reader:
Are there compelling historical examples of changes in church teaching on matters of morality?  I am at least vaguely aware of attitudes toward slavery (formerly tolerated, now condemned) and the death penalty (formerly tolerated, now less tolerated), though I don't know whether these attitudes, present or former, rise/rose to the level of ''authoritative'' church teaching (or, of whatever standard of authority in which people take current condemnations of same-sex marriage, birth control, etc).  And it would be particularly interesting to have examples that go the other way (behaviors that were condemned in the past but are now tolerated or even praised). 
Joe Garcia
14 years 8 months ago
The temptation with which I am struggling right now and which - for the moment, anyway - I will resist admirably is to go over all of these comments point by point and expound volubly my glorious views thereon.

But I won't.

Instead, I will just say that I loved - LOVED, I tell you! - PAD's comment. I will offer up my Angelus for your intentions. God bless you and keep you.

Oh, and William Lindsey: I'm betting this discussion will hit the archives after the 212th comment.
Devon Zenu
14 years 8 months ago
The authoritative study on this is John Noonan's A Church that Can and Cannot Change. If I recall he examines the issues examines the issues of slavery, usury and divorce.
Devon Zenu
14 years 8 months ago
My contention is that the principle of exclusivity in sexual relationships is separate from and not dependent on the priniciple of heterosexuality. Thus to question the latter does not undermine the former. My reasons for thinking this:
- negative argument: The heterosexual character of polygamous (not polyamorous) relationships has not automatically led to a belief in the exclusive (limited to two people) nature of marriage in many cultures past and present.
- positive argument: If marriage is a commitment and gift of one's whole self to the other then, regardless of whether it is a heterosexual or homosexual couple, I think logic and experience compel us to understand that one can't give one's total self to more than one person at a time.
It would seem from your answers thus far that your concern about permitting gay marriage has nothing to do with the nature of gay marriage itself, but only about a slippery slope from gay marriage to other froms of sexual practice (e.g polyamory)that are immoral. My guess though is that you do have specific objections to gay marriage itself. I would like to hear what they are.
William Lindsey
14 years 8 months ago
I think this thread has already reached the archives, and any responses now may well be moot.
But since I see that you made a comment to me before it went archival last evening, Joe G, I'd like to respond.
You noted that you LOVED PAD's posting.  I'm struck by something vis-a-vis PAD's posting and several other postings here that is - how to put the point? - an indicator of a certain disparity in the levels of self-revelation at work in the thread.
It's interesting, isn't it, that we don't really know who PAD is?  She didn't choose to disclose her identity.  Not as I've done, or Jim McCrea, or Eric Stolz.  Or quite a few other posters, for that matter, who include their full name, or, as you do, include links to a website that permits us to know who you are.
I was struck by this same point when Brett (last name and identity never disclosed) chose to make rude comments about Eric Stolz's (full name and full identity disclosed) hometown, Los Angeles.  We don't really know who Brett is, where he lives, where he works.  We know all of this in Eric's case.
Certainly PAD and Brett have a right to their viewpoints, and I fully respect any self-revelations they've made on this thread.  I take what they have to say seriously.  But I find it rather difficult to evaluate those self-revelations with any reliability when I don't really know who is making these very partial self-revelations, in the expectation that they will be listened to with the same seriousness as those who put their lives on the line in this conversation apparently thought we'd be listened to.
There's a lack of mutuality in some of these exchanges that's rather troubling, given 1) the seriousness of these issues to many of us, and 2) the fact that some people who put themselves out on Front Street in the dialogue were countered by purportedly self-revelatory testimony by those who kept their identities hidden.
Terence Weldon
14 years 8 months ago
In addition to the well-known examples of slavery, usury and the subjugation of women, church teaching has also changed very notably on this very subject, homosexuality.  See John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (amongst others), or have a look at my post above, #118, where I present a snapshot of Boswell's main findings, or at my regular blog, Queering The Church, (http://queeringthechurch.wordpress.com) where I have several posts on this changing teaching   .
Jim McCrea
14 years 8 months ago
Translation time as requested in 131:
L = Lesbian
G = Gay
B = Bisexual
T = Transgender
For extra credit:
Q = either Queer or Questioning
14 years 8 months ago
I know what B and T mean, but Jim referred to "LGBT couples". What is a "bisexual couple"? Wouldn't that just be a regular old couple, i.e., one member of each sex and hence bisexual? Or if it means a pair of so-called bisexual individuals, is it not of necessity the case that each member of the couple is at least temporarily non-bisexual de facto? In the same vein, how can a couple be "transgender", since a "couple" has no gender (i.e., sex) in the first place? Does it mean the couple itself is acquiring a sex? Does it mean both members are going from A to B or B to A (same sex to same sex), or one member is going from A to B while the other member goes from B to A (opposite sex to reverse opposite sex), or one member is going from A to B or B to A but the other member is staying put (same sex to opposite sex, OR opposite sex to same sex). Or perhaps both members "perform" gender as their fancy strikes them, so some days they are married in all fifty states and other days five.
14 years 8 months ago
What this discussion (not only here but in society) highlights more than anything is the perhaps surprising wisdom of arranged marriage, and the foolishness of contemporary notions of romantic love, which indeed more often than not is merely egoism a deux. How much wiser to let the family or community choose your partner and then just get on with life.
peggy doherty
14 years 8 months ago
Hi William,
If it helps to have a name with the PAD post, its Peggy. To what difference that makes I am not sure. But if its more personal for you to have a name there you go.
Blessings on your evening
William Lindsey
14 years 8 months ago
Thank you, Peggy.  I honor your right to share or not share any personal details about yourself.
You say you don't understand what difference our varying levels of personal disclosure makes.  In my view, it makes two differences.
Some of us have shared deeply personal stories at a personal level, and have disclosed our identity in the process.  When we do that, we make ourselves vulnerable.  When those who tell stories designed to counter the stories of those who disclose their identity do not disclose their identity, they do not share in the vulnerability of those who fully disclose their identity.
Without full disclosure of identity, it's also impossible to assess fully the credibility of the speaker disclosing hs/her story.  Much information is easily available about me to anyone who wants to know who I am, the groups with which I'm affiliated, the causes I support, and so forth, because I have used my full name in my postings.
With those who do not choose to do provide full disclosure (and that's your right, and I respect it), it's not possible to know who you are, the groups you affiliate with, the causes you support, and so forth.
And yet you clearly expect your story to be regarded as a significant commentary on what you call the gay lifestyle, and as a credible counter to the stories of those of us who have a different understanding of our "lifestyle," and who have made ourselves open books by sharing our identity with the thread.
There's a lack of mutuality at work here.  We can evaluate the credibility of one set of stories because we know who's telling them.  The other set, well, we take on faith that the person telling them is being truthful in what he/she says . . . .
peggy doherty
14 years 8 months ago
It would seem that this conversation has gone like most conversations that deal with homosexuality and the church one party trying to convince the other party about what is truth.
I only speak from my own experience, which included 18 years of living a life with another woman. The longer one lives a sinful life regardless of the nature of that sin we become desensitized to it. It feels good, we have friends who support it, we find theory to rationalize it but in the end there is only one God, and when I meet God at the gate it will be alone. Our salvation is personal, and we will all be held accountable for the choices we have made. There is only one truth handed down by the one true God, outlined for us as catholics, in sacred scripture, tradition and the magistarium.  God appointed a succession of popes to up hold those teachings. You must decide for yourself if its true.
My faith might seem a bit simple to some of you but it works for me and I have a freedom and peace in my life today that I never had when I was living with another woman. It was enough for me to be asked if I was willing to risk my soul on such a way of life. I was not. God used that and has shown me the redeeming power of His love.
I ask you, if God came to you tonight in a dream and asked you to give up the relationship you were in for the sake of the kingdom, and eternity with Him, if He extended to you a personal invitation what would you say? God calls us to a radical way of life, but His generosity will never be out done.
Again God's peace to you. I share only out of desire to offer hope, and to share with you on a personal level that there is happiness in choosing to live for the Lord. I am not alone, lonely or secretive.
William Lindsey
14 years 8 months ago
Thanks, Peggy.  It's interesting to me that our experiences are very different.  I find my nearly 40-year committed, monogamous relationship with another man not an occasion of sin, but a source of grace.  I'm happy you've found faith and peace.  As I have, in accepting and celebrating who God has made me, and the gift of love God has poured forth in my longstanding relationship.
And so we both tell our stories, and where does that leave us?  Well, it seems to me we need to evaluate the theological (and political) presuppositions from which both of us are working.
But that's not easy to do when my identity is an open book to this thread, but yours is not.  And yet you're telling your story to counter mine, and to convince people that my experience is not what I claim it is - an experience of grace - but an example of a "sinful" gay "lifestyle."
Something troubles me about the disparity in self-disclosure here, and the expectation of those who use these kinds of tactics to discredit the experience of their gay brothers and sisters that they will be believed and listened to, simply because they reinforce unfounded prejudices about the gay "lifestyle."
peggy doherty
14 years 8 months ago
what would you like to know. I don't really know your story William nor do I mean to pass judgement on the way you are living your life, I have been there so there is no room to judge. If you feel judged I apologize as it is not my intention. Nor am I trying to convince you to change your ways. Again our salvation is personal and we will be held accordingly, to all the sin in our lives and we will do it alone. I ask are you or anyone else reading this exchange willing to risk your soul on it. Please don't make this personal.
Many would have looked at my life and seen it as a life that was full of grace as well, it was with the same partner for the last 11years, we had our dream home, we traveled, we had GREAT friends, and again the white picket fence, however internally there was no peace.
peggy doherty
14 years 8 months ago
Joe thanks for the prayers I appreciate them and will say one for you also.
William Lindsey
14 years 8 months ago
Good morning, Peggy, and thank you again for replying.  I am not usually up this early, but cannot sleep today because I have quite a sore throat - the start of my annual bout with bronchitis, which is like clockwork this time of year.
You ask, "What would you like to know?"  What I'd like in this conversation, if I had my druthers, is that we be honest.  It seems to me that this conversation is too important for us not to seek completely honesty in it.  It can't go anywhere productive otherwise.
You say, "Please don't make this personal."  And yet honesty demands that we both note it IS personal.  This thread began with my sharing my deeply personal story at a deeply personal level.  You then told your personal story.
The conversation obviously matters to both of us at a deeply personal level.  It would be less than honest to say it's not personal.
And then you say you don't want to judge me.  But your previous posting says you'd been following the blog for several days, so you know that I asked posters on the blog to think about what they are doing to their gay brothers and sisters when they use the term "gay lifestyle."  And yet your posting uses that term repeatedly.
You say you don't know me.  But you have summed up my life - a rich, complex, human life, and a graced one - as a "lifestyle," with associations that in no way reflect my experience.  I want to take your own testimony of grace seriously.  I'm happy that you have found peace in your new life.  As I have told you, my experience moves in the opposite direction.  I have found peace and love by accepting who God has made me to be, and then building a life around my faith that God is active in my life and my love.
Your posting also says that you think the church has not really done well by its gay children (actually, you use another clinical term that, in my view, furthers the alienation of gay folks from the church, a bogus pseudo-psychological term called "same sex attraction").  But I have in all honesty to ask you, how do you think your own "outreach" to all of us who are gay on this thread has helped us, when you lump us all together under categories like "gay lifestyle" and "SSA"?
And if we have asked not to be identified in this way - if we've asked to be considered as human beings with real human lives and rel human stories - how do you think the lack of respect shown to us by those who insist on using these terms, while claiming to be about love and compassion, is going to help matters?
peggy doherty
14 years 8 months ago
first of all william, while i have followed the blog for several days I did not spend any time on any one individuals post, I don't have that kind of time. I scrolled through just enough to know that this was going to be a no win situation for some. I am not out to change anyones mind, my story is personal as is yours.
If you are offended at the term gay-lifestyle how would you like it referred to? Would homosexual lifestyle be more accepting to you?
My desire to share comes only from a place to say that one can move beyond the struggle of same sex attraction, the gay lifestyle, homosexuality. I am one of many who have found that freedom. If my email doesnt work for you then move on, read past it etc.
My exchange isnt with you, my source of hope comes from what the catholic church teaches and holds fast too, I have found freedom in the Holy word. I don't need you to try and change my mind about those teachings, tell me they are flawed, aren't up with the times etc.
I am sorry that you have felt/feel unaccepted, unwelcomed, and hurt by the church. I don't spend time hoping,wishing, praying, and advocating for them to change their mind in this area. That in of itself leads to a lonely, bitter life. That might not be what you are experiencing but the tone of your emails would lead me to think you aren't completely happy and if you aren't completely happy until the catholic church accepts,blesses or allows you to marry the man you have shared life with for 40 years maybe you should ask yourself why you can't let it go. Why worry what the catholics think or the church thinks. Could it be in the end William that there is one small space in your heart that worries about your own salvation. Its only a question you can answer and if you aren't worried about your salvation then trying to convince others of how great your relationship is shouldn't be on the forefront of your life.
I answer to the Lord and I shared from a very personal level of my own if it isn't helpful for you move on. It justmight not be meant for you.
Blessings on your day, I hope you feel better.
William Lindsey
14 years 8 months ago
Thanks again, Peggy, for your response, and for your wishes of blessings, which I offer to you in return. 
I have to admit, your reply surprises me.  You're telling me that you logged onto a thread discussing a very serious pastoral issue (that's the way Fr. Jim Martin seemed to me to frame the discussion with his posting), and you didn't read carefully the postings in which people poured our their hearts in response to the invitation to discuss this serious issue?
But at the same time, you want your testimony to be taken seriously?
I'm sorry you didn't read the numerous postings noting the shortcomings of the term "gay lifestyle," and how use of that term doesn't promote productive conversations, in the mind of many of us.  I'm surprised that, as someone who lived that "lifestyle" for many years and has been healed of it, you have never encountered these criticisms before.
Your initial posting argued that the church needs to do better by its gay members.  I have to ask you again, is the church really going to engage in effective pastoral outreach to a community that it stereotypes through using a demeaning term, "gay lifestyle," when those being stereotyped in this way ask for more respectful treatment?
In the final analysis, what I hear you saying, Peggy, is that God is on your side and you don't really have to listen carefully to what those you intend to save think, feel, or have to say.  If that's your position, I'm troubled by it.  It seems to undercut the pastoral intent you're professing. 
You tell me you don't know me, and yet you keep claiming the right to tell me that I am a sinner - specifically, a sinner because I live the "gay lifestyle" - even though I have told you that my experience is very different from yours.  You tell me you have found freedom and peace by rejecting the "gay lifestyle."  I tell you I've found freedom, peace - and, most important to me as a believer, love - precisely by accepting and celebrating who God has made me to be.
And so where does this leave us?  We have two stories.  On the basis of your story, you want to tell me I am a sinner and to "move on," another response that strikes me as less than pastoral.  I'm not intent on telling you that you are a sinner or that your experience of grace is false.
Why is it important to you and others to do this in my case, I wonder?  Is it possible that there is more than one way to read the scriptures, and to be a faithful Catholic?  And is it possible that the church's refusal to listen carefully to the graced experience of its gay members is unjustifiable, and that the church is wrong about this matter, as it has been wrong about some important other moral issues in the past?
William Lindsey
14 years 8 months ago
P.S. Just to be clear: your last posting mentions emails a number of times, Peggy.
But I haven't emailed you and don't have your email address, since your identity is not public on the thread (and that's your right, and I would, of course, never email people out of the blue as a result of a discussion like this, unless they invited me to do so).
I'm pretty sure you mean "postings" where you say "emails," but I wanted to clarify that point, since readers might assume that we've exchanged emails.
Liam Richardson
14 years 8 months ago
Coming late into this discussion....but I think Peggy has failed to grasp the concept that there are gay Catholics who sincerely and deeply fear that to reject their sexual orientation is a gravely sinful act of defiance against the God who created them. Their confirmation of this fear is that their faculty of love - the ability to love not only another human being but God himself - is fundamentally impaired when they reject their orientation. This may not be true for some people, like Peggy, but I know from personal witness that it is true for others. This issue - which to my mind is the truly fundamental experiential issue - is often elided. Even Fr Martin doesn't address it. Certainly the bishops and popes ignore it. Until this issue is addressed in concrete rather than abstract ways, the teaching Peggy is promoting is incomplete and lacking a significant measure of credibility for people thus affected.
Jim McCrea
14 years 8 months ago
"How much wiser to let the family or community choose your partner and then just get on with life."
j.a.m.:  sounds as if you are volunteering.  Have at it!  Not for me and most people I know, though.
Good luck with someone making that decision for you.
Brian Killian
14 years 8 months ago
You know that saying of Jesus, that it is the narrow road that leads to life? Well, in sex too there is a narrow way, and it leads to life-literally! It's narrow and difficult, and few there are that can be found walking on it (even among heterosexuals). It's narrow because its natural function, its purpose, is procreation. In so far as you can even put those two words ''sex'' and ''love'' together, it is only possible in and through that relationship of sex to procreation.

Yes, that's the biological purpose of sexual complimentarity. But the spiritual purpose of sex can only rest on it, it can't be separated. It is in the fertile power of sex, that the sexual love of men and women lives and moves and has its being. There is, however, one way that homosexual and heterosexual marriage is alike.
And that is if we swallow the understanding of sex that is implicitly buried in contraception. If we  accept this form of behavior, which we have as a society, then we accept that sexuality need not have anything to do with procreation or fertility. We accept that sex need not be 'open to life'. And then, under that view of sexuality, homosexuality and heterosexuality really do become equal. Once contraception was socially adopted, homosexual marriage was a done deal. Where were the bishops when the seeds were being planted?

But that fertile power of sex, that natural orientation of heterosexuality to bear living fruit, that life-giving power; homosexual marriage has absolutely no resemblance to it. It is in this way that heterosexual marriage is utterly unique, and utterly irreplaceable. And there is no 'unitive dimension' to sex, there is no sexual love that is not mediated by this life giving power. Sexual love does not depend on the act being fertile in fact, it depends on a quality of will and intention on the part of the actors. A quality of will and intention that could be called reverence. It is respect for the nature of sex, respect for the fact that sex is that kind of act which naturally leads to new life. It is within that sacred nature of sex that the human will must draw the raw material for expressing love. How? 

Jesus revealed the secret when he used an image of fertility to reveal the Paschal Mystery (''unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.'') Hence, the procreative nature of sex is meant to symbolize the oblative love of the husband for his wife in an analogous way to Christ's love for  his Church. That's why St. Paul said that the spouses 'one flesh' union refers to the great myster y of Christ and the Church. Sexual love is a sign of the oblative love of God as revealed by Christ and his Church. It occurs in and through the 'falling into the earth' of the seed into the soil.

Like Peter whispering to Jesus ''you don't have to go to Jerusalem, you don't have to die'', all forms of sexuality not open to fertility whisper to us ''there is no need to die, the seed need not fall into the earth and die, it can still bear fruit''. But just remember Jesus' reply to Peter: ''Get behind me Satan!''
John Edwards
14 years 8 months ago
Thank you William and Liam for saying very clearly what is also on my mind and heart. 
Edward Burton
14 years 8 months ago
I have waded through these many comments and find some of the usual. The answer each person has to a certain question, can make each of the posted opinions comfortable for the person voicing the opinion.
It is apparent that for some folks the language of the Catechism is perfectly clear, the conclusion that gay sex does not engender reproduction is inescapable, and that's the end of the conversation.  
For some other folks it is rather awful to deny the societal and familial benefits most enjoy to some of us who by reason of immutable genetics cannot conform in honesty to an external standard. 
It's rather Pharisaical to recite Catechism as end all and be all of decision-making. Jesus criticized many things Pharisaical, but he did not say the Pharisees were always wrong; indeed, Jesus was a Pharisee. On the other hand, it's rather self-centered to ignore the Catechism, and Jesus was critical of people who were self-centered, but Jesus also was very supportive of the outcasts and socially disreputable, and if a rather large component of society is genetically nonconforming, would Jesus really say 'So what, grin and bear it' ?
Subsumed in those positions is that real question. Is being gay a matter of choice, whether or not a conscious choice; or is being gay truly involuntary, dictated by immutable genes. If the former, what is the Christian response? If the latter, what is the Christian response?
If what is immutable for the person is inconsistent with sexual release in accord with the Catechism, that's one huge and splintery cross to be nailed to. 
It would be more useful, really, to find a common answer to the question whether being gay is a matter of choice, or is immutably genetic, and then do our theological work with the 'actual fact' established.
Stephen SCHEWE
14 years 8 months ago
As John Noonan so brilliantly discussed in his book A Church that Can and Cannot Change: The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching, the Church's perception of the morality of certain behaviors and practices changes over time; Noonan uses slavery and usury as examples where the Church's outlook has shifted 180 degrees over the centuries.  The 1997 letter from the American Bishops called ''Always Our Children'' appeared to begin such a reconsideration by describing how gay Catholics are to be treated by their parents; at the time, many of us hoped that the next step would be a letter describing how gay Catholics could see themselves.  ''Always our Children'' is still on the bishops' web site, but the Church has distanced itself from that teaching in the last ten years.
What will change the hearts of the men who make church policy? The Gospels say ''by your fruits you shall know them.''  Whereever gays and lesbians are living openly, productively, and peacefully, in couples and with their children, it will become more and more difficult for moral theologians and others to dismiss them as perverse or ill.  Eventually, I hope that science will provide us with greater understanding that homosexuality is part of the natural order of things.  In the meantime, with Teilhard de Chardin I can only advise my Catholic gay brothers and sisters to trust in the slow work of God, and for their individual mental and spiritual health to seek out a temporary place in a welcoming parish of the Episcopal Church. 
William Lindsey
14 years 8 months ago
Thank you for asking the obvious questions - and doing so out loud, Fr. Martin.  I appreciate the pastoral concern, as a Catholic who doesn't have to imagine myself gay.
I am gay, and have long since come to terms with that gift in a celebratory way.
What to do?  I hang on with my fingernails, at the same time that I distance myself - powerfully so - from an institution that is toxic for me (and for many others). 
It's clear to me that many in the church want me to disappear, but I can't make my very humanity vanish without throwing the gift of myself and my life back in the face of a loving God who has made me as I am and who wills that I be who I am.
And so I live with the sadness of what the church does not merely to me and my sort, but to many people-and I do so with relative grace on one day or another.
The biggest sadness is being treated as if I am not here, not fully human, not capable of offering insights and testifying to the grace that is in me.  I expect that treatment from those who stand on the political and religious right.
But, ironically, those are the folks who do recognize that I am here, who listen to me if only to combat what I say, and who want to shove me as far as possible out of the room.  It's my brothers and sisters of the Catholic center who mystify (and, yes, deeply sadden) me, by carrying on as if I do not exist, as if my absence from liturgy and church dialogues means nothing at all, as if it's possible to talk about God, salvation, communion, the church, while pretending I'm/we're not here.
I appreciate your willingness to open a space for a dialogue that entertains the possibility I/we might just be here, and that our humanity still counts in some way for you.
Eugene Pagano
14 years 8 months ago
The choice that I am very seriously considering is the Episcopal Church.  There have been hearing the Holy Spirit on this question better than the Roman Catholic Church.
14 years 8 months ago
Fr. Martin,
I have to ask: why the extreme focus on the material or ephemeral conditions of homosexuality as opposed to its eternal implications? 
Why focus on sexuality as the determining factor in personal identity as opposed to caritas/agape from God?
Why focus on the carnal aspect of love when our entire society is obsessed with sexual freedom and licence and instant gratification?  In turn, is your vow of celebacy lonely, loveless and secret?  Is it not an offering to God?  Are your implyig that homosexuals are not receptive to grace in a similar form that your are?
Why the implied claim of scientific determinism in terms of sexuality when it is clearly false  and especially so when viewed in light of the theology of free will.
Why the focus on the theraputic wellness rather than the love and peace that comes from obedience to God and his natural law.
Why are you a priest and not a therapist or social worker? 
Your emphasis one material and social conditions in regard to homosexuals denies both faith and logos to this particularly small minority of the church.
Joe Garcia
14 years 8 months ago
This is an issue where one side can really misinterpret the other and, therefore, the possibility for discussion to devolve into "a-mudfight-at-best" is great.
So, I will try to choose my words carefully and I hope they will be, as St. Ignatius asked, be taken in the most charitable possible light.
I have always tried to make a distinction between "gay" and "homosexual" with the difference being between embracing and experiencing same-sex attraction. While the following analogy is rudimentary and wildly imperfect, I believe it will take me as far as I need to go: there is a difference between experiencing a craving for, say, cigarettes and smoking two packs a day. One's enjoyment of the former, regardless how honest and sincere does not lessen its detrimental impact. If we're talking cigarettes, on the lungs; if alcohol, the liver and if homosexuality, the state of one's own soul.
This is something I very rarely see in these discussions, a concern for the souls of individual persons. One side wants to tar the other as bigots, and the charge of libertine flies in return. Or worse.
The usual template is the Church has developed these "rules" because "they" harbor a malicious hatred of homosexuals. I'll be the first to admit the unfortunate usage of Vaticanese (where X means something different than in commonly used language) reinforces that perception. That some hurl epithets isn't exactly helping, either.
The question at the headline is extremely important, because it demands - very precisely - that we go and seek that one lost sheep. This has two very important factors to keep in mind, that we must always look for the lost sheep, and that we acknowledge the sheep we seek is lost.
I can't speak for anyone else, but I would like those who are struggling with this that at least there is one person out there who is prayerfully worried about the state of your soul.
[flameproof suit on]
14 years 8 months ago
Good post and good questions.  I hate where the Church is going on the issue of homosexuality.
Anthony Tramontano
14 years 8 months ago
Dear Father, ... you must be kidding. One cannot be ''gay'' and a Catholic. The term ''gay'' is a political term, it assumes the acceptance of definitions about human nature, and a politcal ideology that are utturally opposed to a Catholic anthropology.

Firstly, if one is ''Gay'' and ''celibate,'' what's the big deal? You're not having sex, homosexual or heterosexual. You can love whomever you want, you're celibate! (Perhaps a lot of self-described ''celibates'' are actually practicing homosexuals? Maybe that's the problem?)

Any ''gay'' person can marry and have children. They just have to do so with someone of the opposite sex. Fact: the alimentary tract is not a reproductive organ.

Yes, ''gay'' people should not be representing the church. If you don't believe what a organization stands for, don't join. This is not rocket science. Are'nt the recent sex abuse scandal enough evidence that homosexuals should not be in an all male, celibate institution?
14 years 8 months ago
I am pretty sure the last comment was made by someone supporting homosexual lifestyle acceptance in the Church and providing a caricature of opposition arguments...
14 years 8 months ago
14 years 8 months ago
Is hewing to a passing, faddish and silly ideology (i.e., "gayness") more important than gaining eternal life?
Answer that, and you will have the answer to your question.
James Lindsay
14 years 8 months ago
Fr. Martin, thank you for the excellent post. You have put the issues in stark contrast and I hope this does not lead to trouble for you.

You have hit on an important point which I would like to amplify and which will answer those who blythly insist that gays accept chastity as their lot. No one should be forced into martyrdom. It must be freely chosen. Indeed, it is sinful to wish it upon another (which is also something the Pro-Life Office should look at when it makes pronouncements on acceptable therapies for ectopic and dangerous trisomic pregnancies and birth control and sterilization for those who would be in grave danger from childbirth).

Many of your conservative readers are under the misapprehension that morality exists to please God, rather than for the happiness of man. Such a view denies the perfection of God, reducing our relation to the Divine to a state of codependency. God does not need us, we need God. It is ridiculous to insist that homosexuality is disordered for one who is naturally ordered toward same sex attraction. This is especially important for gay youth, who sometimes believe what they are told and end their own lives rather than see beyond the error of the Church's teaching on this subject. Their blood is on the hands of those who insist that this teaching cannot change, who will surely face the harshest of punishments in the next life (especially those readers who now cannot claim not to have been warned of their sin).
Daniel Smith
14 years 8 months ago
To the above poster ''Brett'', why do you cloak Fr Martin's words with your own characterization of them as code for ''license, instant gratification and carnality''?  I'm pretty sure that Father did not advocate for those things.  Second, if gays are bound by God's law and the church's teaching to be celibate or risk ''moral disorder'' (read: mortal sin), how can there be the grace of accepting celibacy as a gift from God if it is coerced on them from their earliest years?  And third, judging by your slinging around of the technical language of theology, you are a committed member of your church; so where is the respect for our clergy when you try to disparage Father Martin's priesthood by suggesting he be a therapist or a social worker?  Shouldn't a priest be those things in addition to his calling as a priest?  Please show some respect for our priests in a discussion such as this.
One final word; in this whole discussion about the church and homosexuality, where is the focus on the poor of Washington, DC (where I live) who will no longer have access to services provided by Catholic agencies because the Church is willing to deny these to maintain its integrity on the gay marriage issue?  Do you know how this makes us look?  Do you know what Christ commanded us to do for the poor?  Clothe the naked, feed the hungry, ring any bells for you?  Instead of worrying about the souls of the gays who decide to follow through on their sexual instincts, maybe you should do a little more worrying about the souls of the poor and the soul of our Church when it is not following through on it's explicit mission in the world.
Brian Thompson
14 years 8 months ago
Michael: I just had my mind blown. How can you attest to a morality of happiness and at the same time make the fundamental error of natural law that "my impulses/desires = what is natural"? Unless the understanding of natural law is objective and contains the correct content, a morality of happiness (especially of the best kind, where moral activity is constituative of happiness) will fail to laed to human flourishing
I agree with many others here, we are destined for eternity. That must never be forgotten; we should never ignore that on pain of sin and loss. On the other hand I am fully aware and my heart goes out to those who are afflicted with this or other disorders which preclude them from many of the common joys in life, and I fully belive a pastoral approach needs to be developed. However, it must be one that does not shy away from the fact that these disorders are disorders, nor should it seek to authorize or excuse immoral behavior.
Helena Loflin
14 years 8 months ago
William Lindsey, regardless of the "teachings" of the Catholic Church (or those of any other religion), I know that the God who created you loves you and the totality of who you are.  All of us are created in His image.  
As long as the ruling hierarchy of the Church is comprised exclusively of males, the Church will continue to teach that homosexuals are "objectively disordered" and that homosexual sex is an abomination.   
Whereas homosexuality is not a disorder, homophobia is.  Institutionalized homophobia never festers alone.  I think that the hierarchy of the Church continues to think that women are misbegotten males, something less than men.  It's all about maintaining power and control.  In addition to being a disorder, homophobia is a choice. 
Very little gets those in power (or those who have intrinsic power by virtue of being heterosexual male) more riled up than perceived threats against their power.  Homosexuality and feminism are just such threats and must be vilified as sinful and dangerous. 
Oh, and artificial birth control and divorce benefit heterosexual men, so those things are okay. 
William Lindsey
14 years 8 months ago
Christina, thank you-for engaging my points, as though they (and I) count.  You do so in a really convincing way.
And you help me conclude that I'm on the right track in wondering why the need to demean gay people (who are normally imagined as gay men rather than lesbians, as these arguments spin forth) seems to arise overwhelmingly from many men in the churches and society today, rather than from women.
Though I do know that there are powerful women willing to do men's work in this regard-as a Methodist friend of mine says, the old boys come in all genders.
Thank you.  And blessings on you.
Eugene Pagano
14 years 8 months ago
The choice that I am very seriously considering is the Episcopal Church.  It has been hearing the Holy Spirit on this question better than the Roman Catholic Church.
William Lindsey
14 years 8 months ago
I wonder why those so intently concerned about the souls of gays and lesbians don't focus that concern (and turn the, frankly, insincere rhetoric about concern) to the much larger group of married Catholics who practice artificial contraception.
And who have long since determined that the church's teaching on sexual ethics is simply flawed, and who will not go back to a worldview in which they are hell-bound for using contraceptives.
I wonder, as well, why my brothers (interesting who always jumps into these conversations right away, isn't it, to save gay folks) so intently concerned about saving marriage and impose Catholic teaching about sexuality in the secular sphere haven't tried to enact laws to prohibit the sales of contraceptives and to make divorce illegal.
On the face of it, divorce would appear to be the far larger threat to the stability of heterosexual marriage.  Why is the church spending millions of dollars to keep gay folks from marrying, whiile doing nothing to outlaw divorce?
The question underlying all of these questions is why this preponderant, absurd focus today on gay and lesbian human beings, particularly on the part of many heterosexual males in church and society?  What drives that interest?
Somehow, I find it hard to see whatever is driving the interest as a concern for salvation of souls.  And I think that until those churches who continue to demean, exclude, and harm a stigmatized group of human beings come to terms with what is really driving them in this crusade, those churches are going to keep on undermining their most fundamental assertions about morality and the gospel.
And it continues to interest me that my brothers and sisters of the center, many of whom have long since accepted the use of artificial contraceptives in marriage, and have critiqued the ethical norms prohibiting that use (which are precisely the same as those prohibiting homsexual activity), remain silent about this challenge facing the churches.  And about the ongoing pain of their brothers and sisters who are gay or lesbian, and who will no more go back to that unconvincing little world of ill-considered certainties about everything and misplaced interest in the afterlife than married Catholics using birth control will.
How do churches work themselves into places when such obvious cruelty appears holy?  They did so during the Crusades, in the period of pogroms, in the slave period, in the years of European colonial domination of the rest of the world, in the centuries in which women were regarded as misbegotten males.  And they continue to do so in the case of LGBT human beings.
How does this keep happening?  And why does it not intently concern us, more than the salvation of the souls of others whom, in charity, we ought to permit to work out their salvation without expressions of spurious concern, when it's evident that they are, indeed, seeking God in and through the humanity God has been pleased to give them?
Helena Loflin
14 years 8 months ago
William, blessings on you, too.  And yes, old boys do come in all genders. 
Jeffrey Miller
14 years 8 months ago
Here's a real pastoral question to consider: What place is there for the adulterous person in the Catholic church? With the warning from the archdiocese of Washington, D.C., that it would pull out of social services in the city rather than accede to a bill that would afford benefits to adulterers, a question, too long neglected, arises for the whole church: What is a adulterous Catholic supposed to do in life?Imagine you are a devout Catholic who is also an adulterer. Here is a list of the things that you are not to do, according to the teaching of the church. (Remember that most other Catholics can choose among many of these options.) None of this should be new or in any way surprising. If you are adulterous, you cannot:1) Love. You can not have fulfilling love with one or more adulterous partners. From their earliest adolescence many, anticipate, dream about, hope for, plan about, talk about and pray for having sex with multiple partners. A lifelong abstinence from sex with people other than your spouse and a call to be chaste within your married life.2.) Marry. The church has been clear, especially of late, in its opposition to divorce and remarriage. Of course, you can not marry your adulterous partner within the church. Nor can you enter into any sort of civil, oppisite-sex unions of any kind. They are beyond the pale. This should be clear to any Catholic. The Catechism even claims: " Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery"3.) Adopt a child. Despite the church's warm approval of adoption, you cannot adopt a needy child. You can not leave your family to start a new family with another person despite how needy the child.4.) Enter a seminary. If you accept the church's teaching on chastity for married, and feel a call to enter a seminary or religious order, you cannot-even if you desire the celibate life. In fact no only does the Church deny the priesthood to adulterous males, it extends the ban even to married men who are not part of the adulterous lifestyle.5.) Work for the church and be open. If you work for the church in any sort of official capacity it is close to impossible to be open about your adulterous lifestyle. You can not brag about your sexual conquests among your co-workers. Laypeople have even been fired as principles of Catholic schools and other positions for having adulterous affairs.At the same time, if you are a devout Catholic who is attentive both to church teachings and the public pronouncements of church leaders, you will be reminded that your actions are a "grave offense against the natural law" and "a deviation from God plan for marriage."Nothing above is surprising or controversial: all of the above are church teaching. But taken together, it raises an important pastoral question for all of us: What kind of life remains for these brothers and sisters in Christ, those who wish to follow the teachings of the church? Officially at least, the adulterous Catholic seems set up to lead a secretive life. Is this what God desires for the adulterous person?
Except for my obvious substitutions this is pretty much Father James Martin S.J. article "What Should a Gay Catholic Do?" This was a parody on his post which in turn was a parody on Church teaching.
This bit of propaganda tries to make pastoral issues trump the fact that homosexual acts are indeed intrinsically disordered. It totally leaves out "Go and sin no more" and the universal call for holiness. Certainly same-sex attraction is a very heavy cross, but we must all pick up the cross daily if we are to grow in holiness as we grow closer to Christ. As sinners we certainly do not need priests making excuses for our sins. It is not an act of charity in anyway to make the Church teaching on God's plan for sex only between a husband and wife to seem like a sequence of negatives.
Fr. Martin has pounded only on negatives and makes no mention of what our brothers and sisters in Christ with same sex attraction can do. No mention of Courage and other Catholic apostolates to help people with same-sex attraction. Plus while father mentioned that those with deep-seated homosexual tendencies can no enter the seminary, it also certainly is not true that all people with some level of same-sex attraction fit that category. There is a lot in our culture that confuses people on the most basic of things making them think that if they have some level of same-sex attraction that they must give in to it. Fr. Martin does not mention that we are all called to chastity. Those that are not married must be celibate. The person who has attraction to the opposite sex must be just as chaste as those who have attraction to the same sex.
No doubt Fr. Martin writes this with the best of intentions. But undermining Church teaching to excuse sin is simply evil. That marriage is only between a man and a women and is indissoluble is part of God's plan. To say otherwise is to oppose God.
It is also rather ridiculous to frame those who actively live the homosexual lifestyle as being a devout Catholic. I am not speaking of those with same-sex attraction who do not fall into sin. An active fornicator or adulterer is not a devout Catholic, they are a Catholic who has fallen and needs to repent and confess their sins. What Fr. Martin has written will help no one who currently follow the homosexual lifestyle to repent. He ends up preaching Christ without the Cross and does a disservice to those suffering. I wonder if he has ever been to a Courage meeting and if he would describe those attending as leading a lonely, loveless, secretive life? One of the priests of my parish runs the local Courage apostolate and he is doing more for our brothers and sisters in Christ than anybody who makes excuses for sin.
I don't write this as an attack on Fr. Martin, I am a fan of his book "My Life with the Saints" and some of what he has written. But of course he identified himself in the progressive camp in the New York Times and this bit of homosexual agitprop just further shows this.
14 years 8 months ago
Christina lets the cat out of the bag: The obsession with legitimizing sexual immorality is just another politically correct fad, like radical wymynism.
Hardly something on which to hang one's hopes for eternity.
William Lindsey
14 years 8 months ago
When I began reading your post, Jeffrey, I was certain you were leading up to the obvious point that how the church chooses to treat adulterers (or those who practice contraception, for that matter) is clearly worlds away from how it chooses to treat its gay children.
But that's not the point you wanted to make.  Yet in the process of making your point, I think you reveal very clearly the double standard.
Adultery seems to me far more of a threat to ''traditional'' marriage than is opposite-sex marriage or homosexual behavior.  Yet church leaders seem fixated today, with a preoccupation that strikes many folks as pathological, ONLY on gay people and gay sexuality.
You don't see the church spending millions of dollars to outlaw or enact criminal punishments for adultery.  You don't see it spending millions to make divorce illegal.
It's only the gays who seem to get attention when we talk about threats to the sanctity of marriage or the undermining of sexual mores.  In my entire life as a practicing Catholic, I heard only one sermon condemning married folks who practice artificial contraception.  And people-quite a few of them-walked out in protest at that homily.
But I heard, and have heard about, umpteen homilies attacking gay folks.
Why this fixation, I wonder, and what does it say about us as a Christian community?  If we're going to police the Eucharist and forbid communion to openly gay folks and gay couples, are we going to do the same for anyone engaging in adultery, for married couples using artificial contraception, for heterosexual couples living together without benefit of marriage?
If we're not, and our focus remains razor-sharp on the gays, then it seems concern to uphold magisterial teaching is not what's really driving all of this.
Homophobia is what's driving it.  And the double standards, not to mention the cruelty and gross injustice and anti-catholic shoving away of a whole demeaned group of brothers and sisters (and the silence of the liberal center as this continues), are radically vitiating the church's claims to have much of anything to say about anything at all.
14 years 8 months ago
''I hope that science will provide us with greater understanding that homosexuality is part of the natural order of things.''
Lust is ''part of the natural order of things'', and what does that prove? Does it follow that all acts based on lust are moral?
All sin is rooted in our common sinful nature. That doesn't mean God intended sin.

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