Of Many Things

One of this month’s most frequently tweeted links is to an Easter Sunday interview with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York. In an appearance on ABC, the cardinal was asked to comment on the fact that many gay and lesbian Catholics feel “unwelcome” in the church. Cardinal Dolan responded: “We gotta do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people. And I admit, we haven’t been too good at that.”

Some among the Twitterazzi immediately suggested that the cardinal’s remarks reflected a “softening” of the church’s teaching on homosexual acts or same-sex marriage. Cardinal Dolan, of course, intended nothing of the kind; at least twice during the interview he made it clear that the church remains firmly committed to the traditional definition of marriage. Even the cardinal’s expression of sympathy for the pastoral situation of gay and lesbian people was not a departure from tradition; his statement, in fact, was an example of the church’s teaching that gay and lesbian people “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

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Still, by acknowledging that the church has failed to display such sensitivity and respect, the cardinal has by implication called the church to account for the uncharitable and unjust prejudices among her sons and daughters. This could serve as a welcome invitation to repentance and renewal for the church in the United States. And by church I do not mean just the bishops; I mean all of us. By “uncharitable or unjust prejudices,” I do not mean church teaching; I mean the attitudes of its members.

It is clear to me that one of the main reasons why gay and lesbian people feel unwelcome in the church has less to do with the church’s formal teaching and more to do with the informal bigotries among Catholics. The issue, in other words, isn’t necessarily what’s in the catechism, as important as that is, but what’s in our hearts.

Too often, for example, when the conversation concerns gay and lesbian people, the catechism is invoked as if it were a penal code that simply proscribes acts and prescribes punishments; the catechism, though, is a holistic treasury of the church’s living tradition, one that prompts us all to holiness. Too often, for example, the pastoral sensitivity that is extended to other people in unconventional living situations is withheld from gay and lesbian Catholics. In the one instance, a full pastoral response begins with, “It’s a complicated world and people lead complicated lives; they’re doing the best they can.” In the case of gay and lesbian Catholics, the pastoral response frequently begins and ends with, “Their lifestyle represents a radical social agenda that must be repudiated.”

Too often, in short, gay and lesbian Catholics are more quickly suspected of sinful behavior and more fiercely condemned for it. Gay and lesbian people are human, of course, and can also be prejudiced. It is unfair, for example, to assert that a person who supports traditional marriage is ipso facto a bigot. For people of good will, it’s much more complicated.

Cardinal Dolan told ABC that we need to listen to those who don’t feel welcome. The cardinal is spot on. We need to listen—all of us. In order to open our hearts more fully to the love and mercy of the One we follow, we must open our hearts to one another. We need to listen in order to learn how the church can be more supportive of gay and lesbian people while remaining faithful to its tradition.

Ideas matter, as do public policies. In the end, though, it is not ideas or public policies that make the world an unjust place. The world is unwelcoming mainly because we fail to love one another. If we’re going to follow the cardinal’s good advice, then we would do well to re-member that.

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VIRGINIA RYAN
4 years 7 months ago
Sorry, but the statement that "It is clear to me that one of the main reasons why gay and lesbian people feel unwelcome in the church has less to do with the church’s formal teaching and more to do with the informal bigotries among Catholics" just doesn't stand up from a moral or pastoral point of view. This kind of detangling of "formal teaching" from informal attitudes doesn't help us face what we need to if we are to become the community that follows Jesus of Nazareth. It's a softer version of "love the sinner, hate the sin," and Catholic teaching on homosexual "acts" must be challenged. It's not enough to move around the edges of this anymore. Too many wonderful people cannot, with integrity, be a part of a church that teaches that same-sex sexually intimate relationships are sinful. It doesn't matter how "welcoming" the people are, you can't expect that women who love women or men that love men can simply leave this most basic part of their lives and the door of the church and still fully participate in the church's life.
Ed Knauf
4 years 7 months ago
But, Virginia, what if what the Church teaches is right and true? Does a sin cease to be a sin even if the Church deems it so? It is God who establishes right and wrong; the Church is charged with the right and responsibility of receiving and teaching that revelation. I think the main reason that same-sex attracted Catholics are reluctant to come to the Catholic Church is that they do not wish to change their lifestyle and repent of their sins. But is there really a way to "have your cake and eat it too" here, as I infer Fr. Malone thinks? I could be wrong, but it seems to me that same-sex attracted folks seem to wish a Church that loves the sinner and embraces the sin, as you do, Virginia. Is that the mission of the Church, the work of the Gospel of Christ? Should those afflicted with same-sex attraction who are unwilling to divest of the "gay lifestyle" really expect to be welcomed and NOT called to repent and change? I, for one, cannot think of anything more loving, more Christlike, more supportive than to welcome gay and lesbian persons, and like she does with all of us sinners, call each of us to repent, change our lives and be saved! We ALL need to continually hear that call! For we are ALL sinners; we all have twisted, disordered psyches to some extent or another. We are ALL in need of redemption and life change. The Church calls each of us, as Our Lord did, to repent and be healed. But for someone who refuses to recognize his or her need for repentance and healing, the Church is not a very interesting place, I'm afraid.
Dan Hannula
4 years 7 months ago
Ed: "It is God who establishes right and wrong." These types of comments always remind me of the Euthyphro dilemma: Does God forbid it because it is wrong? Or, is it wrong because God forbids it? God may "establish" right and wrong, what ever you mean by that. But, is it also not our moral obligation to figure out the right and the wrong or is the gift of a brain of no use in making moral choices? (Please note that I am well aware of Augustine's rejection of the dilemma--i.e., God's very nature is the standard for value, which, frankly, leaves me cold. So, spare me.) Moreover, I think your patronizing comment that "...we all have twisted, disordered psyches to some extent..." is a bit insulting. We know what you mean.
Ed Knauf
4 years 7 months ago
If you feel insulted, let me put it another way: We are all fallen, broken sinners, called to repent of our sins and live lives of holiness. Part of living lives of holiness includes, for those in the married state, living holy sexuality. Sexual activity is reserved ONLY for the married state, and by nature must be ordered toward the procreation of children. Homosexual sex can never (by nature) be so ordered, and can never be holy and good. It's simply not the way God created us. This is and has alway been the teaching of the Church. If our Church is concerned about the salvation of souls, then she must invite ALL sinners to the sheepfold, and call ALL sinners to repent. None of us are exempt from that call to repentance and holiness.
Dan Hannula
4 years 7 months ago
Well, thank you for putting it another way. In addition, Perhaps, when we are grounding our arguments "in nature" about what is permitted in living holy sexually, we'd actually try from time to time to determine what really "is" by nature, prior to writing detailed prescriptions as to the "ought" that springs from such nature.
Thomas Rooney OFS
4 years 7 months ago
@Ed - By this line of reasoning, the Church must also exclude from marriage heterosexual couples for whom it is impossible to have children; those beyond child-bearing years, those who are for any reason sterile. Sex between these couples cannot, by definition, be ordered toward the procreation of children.
Mike Evans
4 years 7 months ago
It's complicated! Most of the issue of same sex love has nothing to do with sex acts as it does with simple caring and companionship, of being with a significant other with whom to share life and experiences. Even the desire by many to actually marry or register as domestic partners indicates a long-term relationship is what they want, the ability to be treated as both lover and beloved through all life's exigencies, especially medical, financial and end of life plans. Perhaps we could broaden the discussion to recognize these ideals instead of terms which brand them as sinners, people with disoriented psyches, and victims of disordered thinking. Fortunately, there are some parishes across the U.S. where these brothers and sisters are welcomed and valued.
Nancy Vanni
4 years 7 months ago
Just what if the Lord let you know that he "created" ALL people, just like you. Just what if you realized that people don't "choose" their sexuality? I want you all to tell me when you chose to be heterosexual. Do you remember the moment? Tell me.
LEROY PACHECO
4 years 7 months ago
It is interesting that the readers who responded to the article in the comment section fell into exactly the same 'non-listening' trap that the article's author and Cardinal Dolan's interview were describing as the problem with this issue in the church. This exchange doesn't leave me hopeful that the tide will be turning away from this deafness and division anytime soon.
robert hergenroeder
4 years 7 months ago
Try compassion as a means to walk in the other shoe and things might be seen differently
J Cosgrove
4 years 7 months ago
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.
Tim O'Leary
4 years 7 months ago
Excellent (and balanced) piece by Father Malone. To love the sinner and hate the sin (especiallly our own sins) is indeed hard, and all Christians find it hard to do (how many can truly say that we love our enemies, especially those who hurt us or those we love). Yet this distinction is essential for salvation. We must love the sinner and hate the sin. They are two sides of the same coin, because all sin is a negation of love. As St. John says: "Whoever says, 'I know him,' but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person." (1 Jn 2:4). The fact is that everyone, since the Fall, has disordered desires. No "heterosexual" is free from desires (orientations) that are sinful. It is a blessed day when one can get through it without failing. As Jesus warns: "But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matt 7:14). The point is that we cannot save ourselves. We are all doomed without the Savior. But His grace is greater than our sin, if only we can accept His forgiveness. The great scourge of our day, threatening so many souls, is the denial of sin. To deny sin or deny God is to close off our only hope.
C Walter Mattingly
4 years 7 months ago
Tim: "The fact is that everyone...has disordered desires." That's a crucial point when we consider issues such as homosexuality and abortion. SInce the late 20th century, the biological sciences, especially through genetic findings, have established the scientific consensus that 1/ homosexuality is not merely a question of choice but commonly includes a genetic component which disposes the person toward homosexuality, and 2/ that the life of the developing human being begins with fertilization. The second clarifies the moral and ethical issue of abortion; our concern here is with the first. All of us have to acknowledge that gay persons commonly are so inclined by their genetic makeup. Also that the Church's position on moral law appears to derive as much or more from theological argumentation rather than direct biblical citations. Not so, however, the issue of the definition of marriage as heterosexual, permanent, and exclusive. That definition is given very clearly in the gospel texts. As Jesus stated, marriage is an indissoluble and exclusive bond between a (one) man and a woman. As Tim O'Leary suggests above, most of us realize that not all men/women are naturally inclined toward either monogamy nor the opposite sex. Those so afflicted are "disordered" to the words of Jesus Christ. Yet refusal to accept those words would not be in accord with the teachings of Jesus Christ as we have received them, something generally required of Christians. Following Chrsit means not heading off in the other direction whenever we are so inclined to do so.
robert hergenroeder
4 years 7 months ago
So you want us all to love and support each other and refrain from name calling. Yet, as we attempt to do so, you maintain the right to tell me that God's grace and love in my life cannot be part of your sacramental church and then you go so far as to reserve the right to fight on the civil side of life to make sure that my marriage does not benefit from the same legal and tax codes available to the marriages of my heterosexual peers. The pastor of my parish, in his spirit of love and support, decided that I should be removed from both parish liturgy and education committees as well as refrain from distributing communion and from acting as a lector. He deemed me to be a public scandal. And you want me to refrain from using the classification "bigot". So, then what is my role and accepted disposition in this church of yours? As a Gay Roman Catholic in the 13th year of my faithful and God graced marriage, I object. Bob Hergenroeder Houston AND....in the event you are taking a poll, when I refrain from entering a church for services, it is due to the overwhelming anxiety related to "what crazy thing is going to be said this time that will be insulting or even assaulting and will have no foundation in scripture nor church teaching, simply ignorant ?" So yes, even if I am able to go into denial on the church teaching part, I refrain for fear of the personal assault. AND....this presumption that I am worthy of the label "sinner" due to my sexuality is quite disturbing. It is quite similar to the Red Cross assuming that I am at high risk for HIV simply because I am gay. And if I am in denial of my sexuality and report to be straight, they are happy to take my blood, quite similar to the behavior of the Catholic Church.

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