Simply Loving

Everybody knows that same-sex marriage and homosexual acts are contrary to Catholic moral teaching. Yet that same teaching also says that gay and lesbian people must be treated with “respect, sensitivity and compassion.” As more states pass laws legalizing same-sex marriage, more gay and lesbian Catholics are entering into these unions. This leaves some Catholics feeling caught between two values: church teaching against same-sex marriage and church teaching in favor of compassion. In Seattle a few months back, for example, many high school students protested the ouster of the vice principal, who was removed for marrying another man.

Most people who oppose same-sex marriage say they do not hate gay people, only that the traditional understanding of marriage is important and perpetually valid. Other opponents of same-sex marriage invoke the oft-repeated mantra, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” If that is so, then why do so many gay people say they feel hatred from members of the church?

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Let me suggest a reason beyond the fact that many gays and lesbians disagree with church teaching on homosexual acts: only rarely do opponents of same-sex marriage say something positive about gays and lesbians without appending a warning against sin. The language surrounding gay and lesbian Catholics is framed primarily, sometimes exclusively, in terms of sin. For example, “We love our gay brothers and sisters—but they must not engage in sexual activity.” Is any other group of Catholics addressed in this fashion? Imagine someone beginning a parish talk on married life by saying, “We love married Catholics—but adultery is a mortal sin.” With no other group does the church so reflexively link the group’s identity to sin.

The language of “hate the sin, love the sinner” is difficult for many gay people to believe when the tepid expression of love is accompanied by strident condemnation. And the notion that love calls first for admonishing the loved person seems to be applied only in the case of gays and lesbians. To take another example, it would be like telling a child, “You’re a sinful child, but I love you anyway.” This can end up sounding more like, “Hate the sinner.”

Look how Jesus loved people who were hated in his day. Take the story of Zacchaeus, the diminutive man who climbs a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus as he passes through Jericho (Lk 19:1-10). As chief tax collector, and thus head of all the tax collectors in the region, Zacchaeus would have also been seen by the Jews as the chief sinner in the area. When Jesus spies him perched in the branches, he calls out, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” Zacchaeus then promises to repay anyone he has defrauded. “Salvation has come to this house,” says Jesus.

Notice that Jesus shows love for Zacchaeus even before the man has promised to do anything. That is, Jesus loves him first, by offering to dine with him, a powerful sign of welcome in that time. Jesus does not say, “Zacchaeus, you’re a sinful person because you’re gouging people with taxes collected for the oppressive occupying power, but even though you’re a public sinner, I love you anyway.” He simply loves him—first.

The story of Zacchaeus illustrates an important difference between the ministry of John the Baptist and of Jesus. For John the Baptist, conversion came first, then communion. First you repent of your sins; then you are welcomed into the community. For Jesus, the opposite was more often the case; first, Jesus welcomed the person, and conversion followed. It’s not loving the sinner; it’s simply loving.

What might it mean for the church to love gays and lesbians more deeply? First, it would mean listening to their experiences—all their experiences, what their lives are like as a whole. Second, it would mean valuing their contributions to the church. Where would our church be without gays and lesbians—as music ministers, pastoral ministers, teachers, clergy and religious, hospital chaplains and directors of religious education? Infinitely poorer. Finally, it would mean publicly acknowledging their individual contributions: that is, saying that a particular gay Catholic has made a difference in our parish, our school, our diocese. This would help remind people that they are an important part of the body of Christ. Love means listening and respecting, but before that it means admitting that the person exists.

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Sandi Sinor
5 years 5 months ago
If you hang around long enough reading the comments to these blogs, you will learn that not only are some commenters here always "right", without paying any attention to facts brought to their attention,the resort to any measure at all to assert their "rightness" and others' "wrongness". A favorite tactic is setting up straw men by putting words in others commenters' "mouths" that they can knock down in order to prove that they are "right". They also always have to have the last word. Just a friendly warning. Some of us (we who lack the christian patience and charity of Michael B) have learned to simply ignore certain people who post in order not to "feed" their need to show off how "right" they are.
David Mooneyhan
5 years 5 months ago
Thank you, Sandi!
Tim O'Leary
5 years 5 months ago
Frank - I think you might agree that ideas can be facts. You love these people would be a fact, but "I'm sure their unions are blessed" would be an idea. Isn't it a fact that we are all sinful and in need of God's grace. While We ask for God's blessing, we also ask for deliverance from the burdens of sin. I suspect you left the Catholic Church because you lost the belief that it was the only Christian community with the fullness of the faith. That might be the rejection of a fact, or an idea. Finally, it would be more charitable for you to acknowledge that those Jesuits and Catholics who believe in the full Catholic faith are trying to love their neighbor just as much as those who believe some other theology.
Michael Barberi
5 years 5 months ago
Frank, Thanks for these comments. I agree that most same-gender couples, married in a civil or religious/church ceremony, live a good moral life, are faithful to their loving, lifelong commitments and vows before God. They care for children adopted or had, and their social, psychological and spiritual upbringing are not significantly different than the upbringing of children by heterosexuals. There are some bloggers that will disagree with you, but their disagreement does not render your judgments and comments as erroneous opinion or ideology as some of their comments may imply. As a faithful episcopal priest with a significant number of years of experience in this vocation, and a Jesuit for almost two decades, there is much truth to what you say about same-gender couples who strive to love God and neighbor. I believe that the RCC should treat same-gender people with respect, compassion and sensitivity, and change its pastoral application of its teachings about homosexuality and sexual acts within a committed, faithful, loving and lifelong relationship.
Tim O'Leary
5 years 5 months ago
I would also add that some people leave their wives and set up home with someone else, and manage to raise kids and are responsible. That doesn't justify adultery. Many people today don't even marry and they raise kids well enough. But that alone is not the test for a Christian moral way of life.
Michael Barberi
5 years 5 months ago
Tim, Nor are your assertions of the so-called Christian moral way of life.
Michael Barberi
5 years 5 months ago
Tim, The June 20,1866 Instruction of the Holy Office signed by Pius IX was from two sources: 1. J. F. Maxwell, “The Development of Catholic Doctrine Concerning Slavery,” World Jurist 11 (1969–70): 306–7. 2. "Reflections on Slavery" by Diana Hayes in Change in Official Catholic Moral Teachings, Editor Charles E. Curran (New York: Paulist Press (2003), p.69. Here is the context: The U.S. Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863, the U.S. Civil War ended in 1865, and the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted at that time, abolished slavery. "Rome had never unequivocally condemned slavery, mostly out of fear of offending Spanish and Portuguese royalty. Gregory XVI finally condemned the slave trade in 1839, but not slavery itself. If pressed, the Vatican fell back on the medieval argument that, while slavery was an evil, it was not an unmitigated evil, for it allowed slaves to be Christianized. Although the Vatican was officially neutral during the Civil War, Pius IX made not secret of his sympathies for the Confederacy. However, deplorable its social system, the South at least was not infected with the virus of liberalism" (Morris, p. 78). The 1866 quotation appears in many other sources such as the Society of Biblical Literature. Also, Noonan in "Development in Moral Doctrine" summarizes the conclusions about the issue if the Church changed its historic teachings when he stated "What was forbidden became lawful (the cases of usury and marriage); what was permissible became unlawful (the case of slavery) and what was required became forbidden (the persecution of heretics". Noonan also concluded that the Church for more than nineteen hundred years did not condemn slavery per se. I did not search for the original document but relied on published books and essays that vetted the material. It was only until 1891 and 1965 that the Church condemned slavery in all its forms. Therefore, history makes clear that the Church has been morally inconsistent on the issue of slavery.
Tim O'Leary
5 years 5 months ago
Michael - I know you relied on secondary sources and not the primary sources. There is an inherent danger in doing this as the bias of the secondary author cannot be removed. But, I have presented several other secondary writers (Dulles, Panzer, etc) that disagree with Noonan, Maxwell et al. The only way to resolve the dispute is to go through the primary source. I accept you don't think that is necessary. You believe your secondary sources and that is sufficient for you. Very smart Catholics and Protestant Academics use the same primary sources when studying Scriptural passages and come with diametrically opposed interpretations (e.g. On the Eucharist, Apostolic Succession, the Petrine Ministry and moral Theology), so even going to primary sources is not definitive. That is why academic methods to resolving doctrinal disputes are weaker (human authority) than listening to the Magisterium.
Michael Barberi
5 years 5 months ago
Tim, To imply that these prominent theologians somehow did not read and interpret correctly the original document is being disingenuous and inappropriately condescending. Some theologians, as you mentioned, my disagree but this is far from claiming the truth about this teaching merely because some one claims that their version is correct. What you do not appreciate is the fact that published essays in theological journals and published books go through rigorous reviews by several independent theologians with expertise in the subject matter. Additionally, after at least two independent theologians have approved an essay, it goes to an independent editorial review board that also reviews it and must approve it. Therefore, published essays in theological journals or books that are published are appropriately vetted. Your continued belief that human agency, e.g., prominent scholars, cannot be trusted to resolve doctrinal disputes, and that the Magisterium can be trusted to articulate the absolute moral truth is a circular argument. By this standard, there should never be any debate by theologians on magisterium teachings because magisterium teachings can only be reformed by the same authority that proclaimed such teachings to be the truth to begin with. This is ridiculous. I am afraid we are debating, once again, the difference between your world view and mine.
Tim O'Leary
5 years 5 months ago
Michael - I am well aware of the peer-review process. My point is that several scholars see the Church's teaching as a development of doctrine, and others do not. Theological disputes are common and cannot resolve themselves. That is why we have a Magisterium, with popes and councils. But, when an author says the popes never condemned slavery outright BECAUSE of fears of upsetting the Spanish and Portuguese, they are making a leap from fact to interpretation. Do they have a document where several popes give this reason? No, they just presume it. And the prior papal criticisms specifically directed at subjects of those nations contradicts their view. Don't you think that Cardinal Dulles also read his sources when he came to a different conclusion than Noonan or Maxwell, and Dulles is a more notable theologian. Again, my general point with your arguments is that they are essentially piecemeal criticisms and suffer from not offering any alternative scheme for what you say you believe. Some examples: 1. You say Jesus meant to protect the Church and not the Magisterium from doctrinal error, but then say the Church has reversed itself several times on doctrine, implying the Church has not been protected. Which is it? 2. You seem to declare some very limited doctrines are known with certainty (e.g. the Trinity, Real Presence) but most others (the ones you oppose) are reversible. Who gets to decide which doctrines fit into which group?. 3. You get very upset if I say your approach is fundamentally Protestant, yet you think a Jesuit who leaves the Church for the Episcopalians is still among the faithful? Is there a Church on earth that has the whole fullness of the faith the Apostles left us, or are we truly left spiritual orphans? Are all Christian churches in the same unprotected boat, or is one the true Church Christ founded? If the former, when churches disagree on doctrine, how is this resolved? 4. Finally, a very specific dissonance. You say homosexuals are offending the Natural Law if they have heterosexual sex, resting your harsh judgment on a different sexual nature. But you say, bisexuals should choose one or the other. You abandon the Natural Law obligation for them and replace it with a lifestyle choice. This is what I mean by half-baked. I could go on as your posts haven given me a lot of inconsistency to work with. Despite all this, I think you are sincerely trying to find your way. God bless.
Michael Barberi
5 years 5 months ago
Tim, Your criticisms are equally relevant to your authors as well. You fail to recognize or accept that there are legitimate disagreements on the issue "if the church ever changed its teachings on slavery, usury, the freedom of religion and the torture of heretics". My previous objection and comment focused on your claim that one cannot trust human agency, e.g., any theologian's work on such subjects, and therefore, we should all trust and obey the magisterium. This is your world view and not mine or the majority of Catholics. Also I correct what you claim I said. 1. I never said that Jesus meant to protect the Church and not the Magisterium. I said, please read this carefully: Jesus was referring to His Church, and Church is the people of God, inclusive of the pope, clergy, theologians and the general laity. I also said that how the Holy Spirit protects the Church is not precisely known with certainty and is a mystery. This is far from your erroneous claim, once again, about what I said. The fact that teachings have been changed is a testament to the fact that the Holy Spirit moves us all to the truth in both agreement and disagreement. This is something you reject because it is not you world view. This is not surprising to me or anyone else who follows our arguments. 2. I never said that certain teachings are reversible. I said that certain teachings should be the subject of a rethinking and this can mean a responsible change in the teaching or a change in the pastoral application of the moral norm underpinning the teaching. However, some teachings are considered a reform of a teaching, and slavery is one of them. You can disagree but your arguments are not persuasive. 3. At present, the only person or group that can change a teaching is the pope or the magisterium, meaning all the bishops in union with the pope. This does not mean that the works and voices of the laity, theologians, and priests cannot, and do not, influence the decisions of the pope or magisterium. History has demonstrated this. Thus, the Holy Spirit moves us all in respectful debate and scholarly work forward towards a better understanding of truth. We all, including the pope and magisterium, do not see the fullness of truth in every moral teaching. 3. We are all God's children. He wants us all to be with him in heaven. He is merciful and his grace is given to everyone, something that is a mystery. Frankly, I don't care if you call my arguments Protestant, Jewish or any other name. This approach is name-calling and name-calling is not relevant to the discussion on the issues we have been discussing. 4. I never said, once again, that homosexuals are "offending" the natural law if they have heterosexual sex. I said that heterosexuals that voluntarily choose homosexual sex are going against their nature, a nature they were born with. By going against nature does not ipso facto mean the moral or immoral. Go back and reread my many comments on this. I am not going to repeat them. This is another example where you take liberty with my remarks and conflate them to suit your argument. 5. As for bi-sexuals, this has nothing to do with those who are born with a homosexual or heterosexual orientation. Bi-sexuals might have a homosexual and heterosexual orientation, but this does not mean that they are equally born with both. I have no idea. For one thing, a marriage is a committed, faithful, loving and lifelong relationship between the agents who enter into it. If a bi-sexual marries a person of the same gender, or opposite gender, then they must abide by the same vows, obligations and responsibilities as any homosexual or heterosexual couple who enter into a marriage as well. To be clear, my arguments do not fall or rise on bi-sexuality. We were discussing same-gender marriage and sexual acts within a committed, faithful, loving and lifelong relationship. You want to claim that because I don't have all the answers, or answers to bi-sexuality, that my arguments are half-baked and erroneous. That is non-sense. You only see what you want Tim. God bless.
Tim O'Leary
5 years 5 months ago
Hi Michael – I agree the criticism about secondary sources apply equally to Dulles and Panzer, except that they might be willing to give longer quotes and less interpretation to what Pope Pius said, since they are favorable to him. I said below that I agree there is an active dispute on the issue, with authors on both sides. Hence, my call to go to the primary sources. You say: “I never said that Jesus meant to protect the Church and not the Magisterium. “ Here is the direct quote from below (your post marked 5/28, 5:35p) “To wit, how many times have I said to you that the "Church" is protected by the Holy Spirit from error, NOT the magisterium.” You say: “I never said that certain teachings are reversible.” I think you are saying that reforms that are not reversals can happen. OK. I think we can agree here. I would probably use Dulles’ terminology that these are developments of doctrine, which he juxtaposed to reversals. You say “At present, the only person or group that can change a teaching is the pope or the magisterium, meaning all the bishops in union with the pope. This does not mean that the works and voices of the laity, theologians, and priests cannot, and do not, influence the decisions of the pope or magisterium.” I agree. As for a novel understanding of the Natural Law regarding gender, I think you have to cover all the letters in LGBT to have a fully-baked challenge to the Tradition. I never said your thinking was Jewish (far from it), but I do believe there is a certain individualistic “protestant” way of coming to the truth that you and several of your allies have. I do not mean it to be name-calling, but descriptive, meaning when one’s personal considered opinion (“for good reasons”) becomes the final arbiter of what true doctrine is. I have many Protestant friends and have spent considerable time in their bible discussion groups, etc. I have a love for many of our separated brethren, even if we debate & disagree. I believe all Christians can have a relationship with Jesus, and I use the word Christian to cover our separated brethren, our dissident brethren and our faithful brethren. The Pope is the shepherd of all Christians, even though most do not follow his teaching. It will probably always be so, until the parousia. FYI - You need not keep saying that my arguments are not persuasive to you as this is obvious and goes both ways, or we wouldn’t be continuing to debate. Michael - I try hard to keep to the topics under discussion and stay away from any personal criticism, but I sometimes fail to do that when I think the Magisterium is being unjustly attacked or insulted, or its character is attacked. I will try to do better on that part, as this website is so much better for these doctrinal discussions and debates than almost everything else out there, where ad hominem insults (like David's below) are the norm. I think I am done now. God Bless.
Michael Barberi
5 years 5 months ago
Tim, I think that you think I am misguided as when I say that Jesus never said that the magisterium was protected from error. Do you truly believe that you are giving all my comments an honest reflection? We are blogging Tim. See the larger context. You believe that every magisterium teachings are the absolute moral truth with certainty and you base your convictions on the interpretation….meaning that Jesus said this when he was speaking to Peter and said.. upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I don't interpret Scripture this way. Most theologians, informed Catholics and many priests and bishops also don't believe the Magisterial is protected from all error in every one of its moral teachings, taught as truth. When I said that the Church is protected for error but not the magisterium, I meant the magisterium per se. In other words, Jesus was not singling out the magisterium, nor a specific individual or group, but his Church as His Body, which is the People of God, inclusive of the pope, bishops, priests, theologians and laity (this includes the magisterium but the Church is not the magisterium). This is your world view Tim and I respect it. But, kindly don't think that you are right merely because your point of view agrees with the magisterium. I have offered legitimate, intelligent and compelling arguments for a rethinking of certain moral teachings. We live in a profoundly divided Church and in a crisis of truth. Don't you think the magisterium plays a role in this? Don't you think that if the magisterium is protected from error and teaches the absolute moral truth that they also are responsible for providing a convincing moral theory in support of these teachings they claim are certain and the absolute moral truth? When we have profound non-reception is this merely because the secular culture has a better explanation, or that all the arguments by prominent theologians, Cardinals and priests, and informed Catholics that disagree with certain teachings are misguided? Or do are you merely saying that no one can trust human agency (scholarly works, et al) and, therefore, it is morally imperative that all Catholics obey every teaching of the magisterium? If you do, and I believe this is your point of view, then we, and many others, disagree for good reasons. I don't have to cover all the letters in the LGBT to have a fully-baked challenge to the Tradition. My arguments don't rely of the letters in the LGBT. Also, not every Protestant, Jew or Muslim should be described by a very negative and demeaning term such as dissident. It is a very loaded term that can come across to our Christian brothers and sisters as insulting. I do appreciate your comments especially the one where you said you will try keep the discussions on point, and do a better job with respect to any personal criticism. That would be a significant improvement and will go a long way in our exchanges in terms of keeping things positive and respectful. You should realize by now Tim that I do not unjustly "attack or insult" the magisterium or any pope. I disagree for good reasons and these reasons raise legitimate arguments that certain teachings, claimed to be the absolute moral truth, should be the subject of a rethinking….and this means a responsible change in the teaching or a change in the pastoral application of the moral norm underpinning the teaching. I do think that JP II was wrongheaded about certain teachings, but this should not be interpreted as being irresponsibly insulting or degrading. Thank you for being done for now. I am also done. God Bless.
Bruce Snowden
5 years 5 months ago
"Good grief!" as Linus might say! The conversation on this site of which I have contributed goes on and on reflecting as it were, the "Godhead!" - it seems to be everlasting! There has been enlightenment at least for me, so that's good - I love back and forth, but has very much else been accomplished? Of course there's always the satisfaction of expressing one's point of view, a good thing. Maybe the following old adage makes some sense here, . "Everything is received and expressed in accordance with the personality of the one who receives it." Oh well, I thought I was done - am I now? Please God, Yes!
Ryan Hoffmann
5 years 5 months ago
Thank you, Fr. Martin, for this wonderful reflection. We applaud priests like yourself who do not shy away from talking about important pastoral issues to God's people. Further, we stand in solidarity with you in your affirmation of LGBT people and their faithfulness. Here at Call To Action, we continue to work for the day when all our brothers and sisters, regardless of sexual orientation, can rejoice in the Church they love!
Tim Reidy
5 years 5 months ago

Folks, since this conversation is now taking place among just a few individiuals, feel free to take it offline. There will be other opportunities to take up this topic, I'm sure. The comments thread here is now closed.

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