Back to Basics
“See the Person” is relevant and interesting. However, the four elements that “should mark a new stance toward homosexuals and homosexuality” are a bit complicated. Why not just return to the basics of seeing all persons whom God has created? The catechism says it all: “Nothing exists that does not owe its existence to God the Creator” and “Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection.”
From the beginning of our Catholic education, we have learned that we are all made in God’s image and likeness. Even homosexuals! What don’t we understand about that? Does God create second-class creatures? Does God give only part citizenship to some? Is God making mistakes?
Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart…and your neighbor as yourself.” To me that means there are no exceptions!
I quite agree that we should look to the human person rather than the person’s sexual orientation. After all, what does it matter to me, or the church, since sexual orientation may change according to a person’s circumstances? But when it comes to sexual activity—that is another matter. Not only the moral teaching of the church but also the common sense of most human beings, until only a few years ago, has been directed against sexual activity of all kinds outside a marriage between a man and woman.
In the pope’s off-the-cuff remark— “Who am I to judge?”—he echoes the words of Shakespeare’s Henry VI, “Forbear to judge, for we are sinners all.” What he means is no mystery. We are not to judge the persons but only the actions, including not only murder and adultery but also sexual activity outside marriage. That is surely the long and short of it.
My friend John Langan, S.J., a splendid moral philosopher, has given some very insightful suggestions. I would suggest, however, that the most significant change implied by Pope Francis’ comment is a change in perspective from the point of view of moral philosophy or moral theology (which characterized the writings of his two immediate predecessors) to a pastoral perspective that Francis seems to be urging on his bishops and priests today.
A pastor is not primarily concerned with moral philosophy or moral theology, although he is expected to know these. His primary concern is with the sins and the holiness of those entrusted to his care. The question “What is sinful?” is not the same as “What is morally wrong?” Sin, like holiness, has its place only in the heart and conscience of a particular human being. It is Christ alone who searches hearts and knows what is or is not in accord with conscience, and therefore finally what is or is not a sin. Who is a pope to judge this?
A field hospital is full of sinners who need to have their wounds bound up and their pain relieved. Skilled pastors of souls are needed for this work, it seems to me.
Truth Is Medicine
Thank you, Father Langan, for this very thoughtful article. I am particularly moved by the title, “See the Person,” and the last paragraph about Pope Francis’ metaphor of a field hospital. But a doctor (as I am) who hides the diagnosis from the patient is not a good doctor. It is even worse if he withholds the correct medicine from the patient. Truth is the church’s medicine, along with the sacraments.
Thinking about the issue pastorally, Jesus is always our best guide. In two of his meetings with women who had sins relating to sexual relations, Jesus did not condemn either woman, but loved them more than we could. Yet he did not hold back in either case from verbally recognizing their sin.
The church has a divine obligation to tell the whole truth about the human condition and about sexual immorality. At the same time, when dealing pastorally with individual souls who are truly struggling to know God’s will and to live the whole teaching as well as they can, providing that the truth is not denied, an approach full of love and mercy and forgiveness seven times seven is the divine medicine.
Love and Fidelity
While “See the Person” approaches the topic very nicely from a theological perspective, allow me to add the experience of lay people. My husband and I have been together for over 30 years. We met right after college, built a house together, put each other through graduate school and have maintained a stable, loving relationship that is held up as a role model in our extended families. We know of many other gay couples who have also lived lives of commitment and faithfulness and who, like us, have struggled to stay in the church despite what we perceive as its tone-deaf and abusive teachings (“intrinsically disordered” and so on).
There is a great hunger for God’s love in the L.G.B.T. community, a ripe field for evangelization. If the church could find a way to extricate itself from the anti-gay rut in which it is stuck, it would be amazed at second chances it might be given by gays and lesbians, not to mention their families and friends who are also alienated by the ham-handedness of church teaching on this topic.
Take a Firm Stance
The first problem with Father Langan’s view is that he doesn’t realize that if you have to decipher a pope’s mind or what he is saying, you already have a problem. Pope Pius XI’s encyclical on Christian marriage, “Casti Connubii” (1930), explicitly, accurately and unambiguously defines the church’s position. If Pope Francis is unable to do likewise, the least he could do is just keep quiet.
In case nobody’s noticed, the secular media, sitcoms, movies, etc., as well as major corporations, schools and universities, all seem to be pushing the “gay agenda” pretty hard. There couldn’t be a better time for a pope to take a firm stance on the church’s position. However, as Father Langan pointed out, we are left wondering what side the pope is on.
How God Made Me
Father Langan writes, “The principal change would not be in the teaching of the church on the moral acceptability of homosexual activity, but in affirming and practicing pastoral ministry for persons engaged in irregular or questionable unions.” With all due respect and a recognition that this is a shift from absolute condemnation, I continue to be insulted by the refusal to even consider the possibility that my natural God-given inclination to love someone of the same gender is somehow irregular. It is the way God made me. As long as the church refuses to accept this reality, it clearly does not accept or want me in its fold.
Thank you, Father Langan, for this outstanding article.
We need a way to welcome into the Catholic Church those with a same-sex orientation without the negative juridical injunctions against sexual behavior. For those born with a same-sex orientation, the litmus test for being a member of the Catholic Church cannot be a lifetime of sexual abstinence. Celibacy or lifetime sexual abstinence is a gift from God given to the very few. In order for it to work, it must be voluntarily chosen and not forced or imposed on people by authority.
Frequently, people with a same-sex orientation want to enter into a lifelong, loving relationship of fidelity with another person with the same goals as heterosexual couples of educating and rearing children (through adoption or in vitro fertilization for lesbian couples).
This article is a good first step as a guiding principle for a pastoral solution to this most pressing problem.
The following is an excerpt from “Jesuit Scholar Assesses Pope Francis’ Approach to LGBT Issues,” by Francis DeBernardo, at Bondings 2.0, the blog of New Ways Ministry (3/1). The post is in response to “See the Person,” by John P. Langan, S.J. (Am. 3/10).
Langan provides a very commonsense assessment of what effects Francis’ words can realistically have in the coming months and years.... I, however, may be more optimistic than Langan about the possibility of doctrinal change. While he suggests that the hierarchy should not change the teaching simply because public opinion on lesbian and gay people has shifted, I think he misses the point that, at least for Catholics who support L.G.B.T. issues, the shift has occurred...because they have applied their faith to this new reality, have prayed and examined their consciences, and they have discerned that L.G.B.T. equality is consonant with how they understand the Gospel....
Langan’s real contribution is that he has laid out a road map for how we can get to future doctrinal development by providing four “guideposts.” We’ve seen amazingly rapid change in American society and law over the past 15 years, due mainly to the fact that people started talking with L.G.B.T. people about the issues that concern their lives. Dialogue is a powerful force, and now that Pope Francis has initiated such a period of dialogue in the church, explicated so well by Langan, who knows where the discussion and reflection will lead?