Regular readers here will know that the infamous CDF document on “homosexuals”, Homosexualitatis Problema (better known as then Cardinal Ratzinger’s Hallowe’en letter), is not my favourite Church document. Nevertheless, it does include some important features, which many people in the Catholic Church too easily forget.
In its closing paragraphs, the document reminds us of the words of Scripture: “Speak the truth in love”, and “The truth shall set you free”. It is disgraceful that the document itself ignores its own advice here, but no matter: the advice itself is sound, and there are an increasing number of Catholics, lay and clerical, who are making up for the CDF omission, by speaking the truth in love on LGBT inclusion in church. The latest to do so is Jody Huckaby, executive director of PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), in an address October 21 at King’s University-College, a Catholic institution based at the University of Western Ontario. In doing so, he reminded us of the other neglected portion of the CDF letter – the exhortation to treat “homosexual” persons with dignity, compassion and respect.
I regret that the only report I have been able to find of Huckaby’s address is from Lifesite News (but see the update below*), which is not usually renowned for its sympathy with progressive causes in general, or LGBT Catholics in particular. Nevertheless, they quote some sections verbatim, which are worth taking on board:
“The somewhat charitable act of simply reminding gay and lesbian people that they are children of God is not the same as working to achieve justice and inclusion for them,” said Jody Huckaby. “As children of God, they and we all deserve better.”
Huckaby, who was raised Catholic and attended Catholic colleges, appealed to the Church’s insistence on the dignity of every person and the duty to serve the disadvantaged. He called for the Church to make the fight for homosexual rights a key component of its social justice work, on the same level as the fight against racism, sexism, and poverty.
In his talk at King’s, Huckaby quoted the Church’s teachings on homosexuality extensively, particularly the Catechism of the Catholic Church and various letters from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) while he was head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Discussing the Church’s call for homosexuals to practice chastity, Huckaby said that while the Church prohibits unjust discrimination, “the bottom line remains that for gay and lesbian people the only way to live in grace within the Catholic Church is to live celibately and with this as their cross to bear.”
“In fact, for those who choose not to be celibate, they are sinful and somehow playing a role in the discrimination that they receive,” he continued. “Almost to the point that it seems that they might deserve what happens.”
After reading one section of the catechism he stated, “So this time around, we were taught that gay and lesbian people are intrinsically disordered, and that their actions – which one may argue, in this case, are indivisible from the person – are not to be approved.”
“All of the credible research indicates that being gay is not a choice, nor can one successfully change his or her sexual orientation from gay to straight,” said Huckaby. “Therefore, no one should be made to feel that they have been forsaken by God because of one part of who they are.”
He condemned the Church’s vocal stand against “the battle for marriage equality,” citing various letters and campaigns from the U.S. Bishops’ Conference and various U.S. dioceses. Further, he praised certain groups that have already been “building bridges of inclusion” within the Church, in his view, such as Dignity, the New Ways Ministry, and the newly-formed Catholics for Equality.
Huckaby was introduced by Fr. Michael Bechard, the college’s chaplain. King’s principal, Dr. David Sylvester, defended the address when questioned by LifeSiteNews early last month.
As a Catholic who is challenging Vatican doctrine on same – sex relationships, Huckaby is hardly alone. The orthodox teaching of the institutional church has been criticized for decades, by theologians like the Jesuit (as he then was) John McNeill and Daniel Helminiak; by scripture scholars like William Countryman and Jack Rogers, and by historians like John Boswell, Alan Bray and Mark Jordan, who have demonstrated from historical records that present teaching is contradicted by the actual practice of the Church in earlier times. The teaching has also been widely challenged by organizations for lesbian and gay Catholics themselves, such as Dignity (USA), Quest (UK) and Acceptance (Australia) – and by Huckaby’s own organisation (PFLAG), by the pastoral outreach New Ways Ministry, and by the newer groups Catholics for Equality and Equally Blessed. More generally, research has repeatedly shown that most ordinary Catholics disagree with Vatican teaching. Collectively, Catholics themselves simply do not agree that same sex relationships are morally wrong, and in many countries (including the US), they are even more supportive of legal recognition of same sex unions than the population at large.
What I find striking about this address is not the familiar words or arguments themselves, but the venue – a Catholic college. Just as in so many Protestant denominations, formal theological discussion of the place of queer Catholics in the Church is starting to move beyond quiet discussion or mutterings among those most directly affected, and deeper into the formal structures of the Church. We have seen this in the cautious suggestions for reform, and a shift in emphasis from the homosexual “acts” to the relationships and respect and dignity urged by an increasing number of Cardinals and bishops, in a steady flow of important books by theologians who are not themselves gay, by the extensive list of learned papers delivered at this year’s Trent conference on theological ethics – and by the number of Catholic colleges and journals which are increasingly willing to make space for these discussions. The move to more open discussion and reconsideration remains a minority one for all that. The lesson from the Protestant denominations though, has been that once open-minded study and discussion begin, minds are changed and movement occurs. If the reconsideration has not yet begun in the Vatican, we are not yet hearing of it – but I am certain that we soon will.
UPDATE: by courtesy of a reader (Michael), I now have a link for a report from Kings College itself, which should be better than Lifesite. (It is now way past my bedtime and I have not yet looked at it myself, but will do in the morning). Have a look here.
Farley, Margaret: Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics
McNeill, John: Sex as God Intended
Molvaer, Reidulf: Two Making One : Amor and Eros in Tandem
Salzman, Todd A. and Lawler, Michael G: The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology (Moral Traditions)
Crompton, Louis: Homosexuality and Civilization
Greenberg, David F: The Construction of Homosexuality
Norton, Rictor: My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters Through the Centuries
Ridely, Matt: The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature
Ryan, Christopher:Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality
Scripture and Homosexuality
Countryman, William L: Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today
Countryman, William L: Gifted by Otherness: Gay and Lesbian Christians in the Church
Countryman, William L: Forgiven and Forgiving
Helminiak, Daniel: What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality
Rogers, Jack Bartlett: New Testament and Homosexuality
Scroggs: New Testament and Homosexuality
- A Catholic Statement of Support for Same-Sex Marriage (The Wild Reed)
- Catholic Right Continues to Deny Magisterial Teaching about Intrinsic Disorder of Gays: I Respond Again (Bilgrimage)
- America Magazine’s New Expert to “Homosexual” Catholics: “They Can Go Elsewhere” (Bilgrimage)
- The See-Saw Act of the American Catholic Center: Back to the Term “Homosexual,” and Vs. the “Political Agenda” of Gays (Bilgrimage)
- All Souls Reflection: On Burying Our Queer Dead (Queering the Church)
- Come Out to Save Lives – Megachurch Pastor Jim Swilley (Queering Theology)
- Excluded From God’s People? (Queer Scripture)
- What British Catholics Believe vs Vatican Doctrine. (Queering the Church)
- Catholic Priorities and the English Church (queertheology.blogspot.com)