This is not a fun moment to be Catholic, I know, and we are all grasping for sense and answers. But here’s the thing: Using an abuse and accountability scandal to scapegoat Catholic queerness is not O.K.
Take, for example, this letter from Bishop Robert Morlino. I trust the bishop has the best intentions, but some of his most scorching indignation aims not at the abuses of power and accountability he is supposed to be talking about but at homosexuality, in general, which he reminds us the church regards as “intrinsically disordered” and that “cries out to heaven for vengeance” and possibly—the referent is not fully clear—is to be “hated with a perfect hatred.” Whatever theological truth may lurk in these words is about as pastorally presented as if I were to nail Acts 2:44 to the door of a bishop’s mansion. There are other concurrent truths, too.
Using an abuse and accountability scandal to scapegoat Catholic queerness is not O.K.
Our friends (and I do regard them as friends) at First Things, meanwhile, know the classiest way to discriminate is to find a member of the class in question to assent to discrimination. Daniel Mattson, who identifies as a man with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies,” contends that “men like me” should be systematically excluded from the priesthood.
Each time I read something like this, I think of how, over and over, the people who have saved my faith when it was on the brink happened to be queer folks. I suspect this is not an accident. I cannot be sure, but I expect it was their experience of marginalization and their humanness against it that helped me see where God is.
Some of these people have been of the left, some of the right. Some have been on TV, some will never be so seen. Sometimes things have even gotten inappropriate. But that was not because they were queer. Straight folks in the church cross boundaries, too, just as much.
The people who have saved my faith when it was on the brink happened to be queer folks.
I came into this church right in the heat of the Boston Globe revelations. I was baptized in 2003. Many times I have been grateful to have been called to this church as an adult (barely, I was 18). But I was old enough to know the difference between the nonsense and the glory.
I would not have begun to know God were it not for a person, harbored in holy orders, whose life could only be described as queer, and who drew me in, safely and respectfully, when the straight dudes wanted to drive me out.
I never noticed queerness in one of the people I looked to early in my Christian life as a guide and model. But years later I ran into him with his partner at a famously welcoming evening Mass, on the other end of town from where he lived.
In years when nothing made sense and the hypocrisy got overwhelming, the testimonies of people whose gender experience most of the world did not bother to understand showed me how tiny my quibbles were in God’s eyes.
The universal church will not be any use if it is rooting out and driving underground all kinds of queer experience.
And it was from some corners of this church, believe it or not, that queer experiences seemed to make the most sense. From one corner, a nun had to keep her ministry to the trans community secret. From another, the sweetest friendship I have ever seen was between a famous, withering Jesuit and a woman whose husband, while dying from AIDS, the two of them had tended to decades earlier.
I am not calling the church to some crass conformity. I do not think mainstream, progressive, affirming culture has queerness all sorted. Not by a longshot. We need ancient wisdom to figure this crazy stuff out. But the universal church will not be any use if it is rooting out and driving underground all kinds of queer experience. We need to be present with that experience if we are to learn from it, together, to enlarge a bit our pitiful grasp of God.
When Pope Francis talks about a pastoral approach to these matters, some people think it is a slippery slope to heresy, and some think it is mere talk. But no: Accompaniment is the only way we can learn what God is trying to tell us—to hold the challenge in our midst. To see it. To confront it, and to embrace it.
In a sense, there is some truth that the problem of abuse has to do with a problem of queer sexuality. It is the problem of a repressed, denialist, immature queerness that discovered itself a little after Vatican II but was not able to go beyond that.
There is a revelation at hand here. It is not a liberal revelation or a conservative one. It is something else, something ancient. Blindness to it has caused so, so much pain. It has caused good people and good leaders to be their worst selves.
We need more penitence and healing. But we also need the courage to confront evil with love, to confront ignorance with the willingness to learn and to embrace.
This essay was adapted from a series of tweets.