For part 3 of his extract from Fr Owen O’Sullivan’s article on LGBT inclusion, Boundless Salvation deals with the section that tackles the official position of the CDF, as set out in the Pastoral Letter, “Homosexualitatis Problema”: it is entirely natural and morally neutral to have a homosexual disposition, but that homosexual acts are “disordered” and so are morally unacceptable. That is, It’s not wrong to be gay, but it is wrong to act gay.
Fr O’Sullivan is Irish, writing for an Irish magazine, so he uses an Irish analogy to make his point:
Imagine someone saying to a group of Irish people, ‘There’s nothing in itself wrong with being Irish. I’m not saying there is. But that doesn’t mean you may act on it. So, no more Guinness, going to Croke Park, singing rebel songs into the early hours of the morning, waving tricolours, no more craic. Close the pubs as occasions of sin, and, while you’re at it, would you please do something about your accent: it’s suggestive – of Irishness. I’m not asking you to deny your Irishness, far from it, just not to act on it.’ Would you consider the speaker to be nuanced, respectful and compassionate, or pedantic, patronising and arrogant?
This captures the problem precisely – for the Irish. For others, not so much. For them, I have another analogy which is also based in biology, not in culture. Like a homoerotic orientation, left-handedness is entirely “natural”, in the sense that it occurs freely in nature, but is “abnormal” in the purely statistical sense that it is uncommon*. The medical professionals have confirmed that both conditions are not in any way to be seen as “diseased” or requiring treatment. But like same sex attraction, left-handedness has in the past, been popularly viewed with great suspicion. Even our language illustrates this: the words “sinister” (morally dubious) and “dexterity” (denoting skill) are derived respectively from the Latin for left and right. In the past, numerous attempts were made to “reform” the obstinate schoolchildren who perversely insisted in writing with their left hands. Today, thankfully, the world has moved on. Any suggestion that it is OK to be left-handed, but just don’t write left-handed, would be met with derision.
The analogy with sexual orientation is precise – except in orthodox CDF doctrine. Most people today agree that homosexuality, like left-handedness, is entirely natural, and even most Catholics agree that homoerotic relationships and sexual activities are, in themselves, morally neutral. But the CDF continues in its insistence that “It’s OK to be gay, just don’t act gay”.
This assertion leads, Fr O’Sullivan, to contradictions and to enormous cruelty for lesbian and gay Catholics. In particular, it leads them to deny their truth. Sexuality is a fundamental part of the human condition and nature. (Even the Catechism recognizes the importance of accepting and embracing our sexual lives). The Pastoral Letter claims to teach the importance of treating “homosexual persons” with dignity, compassion and respect, but the rest of the teaching, with its impossible distinction between doing and being, makes this impossible.
The distinction between being homosexual and doing homosexual acts is phoney. It’s like saying, ‘Your sexuality is part of you; but you must not be part of your sexuality.’ Have we forgotten that the Incarnation brings matter and spirit, body and soul into one in the human-divine body of Jesus? The Incarnation is God’s answer to dualism.
Being and doing are not as separable in life as they might seem in a lecture hall. But, even in a lecture hall, Saint Thomas Aquinas said, ‘Agere sequitur esse in actu.’ (Summa contra Gentiles, 3.53, 69.) If my Latin is not too rusty that means, ‘Doing follows being in action.’
The tragedy for gay or lesbian Catholics who attempt to live celibate lives strictly within the CDF parameters, is that the practical effect is to deprive them of much more than mere physical erotic attraction. For in the real world of Catholicism, far too often people who are seen to be living in single sex coupled relationships, are simply assumed to be in a sexual relationship. To avoid this suspicion (and also the sexual temptations that might be presented in such a relationship), “faithful” gay Catholics are effectively forced to deny the possibility even of celibate unions with another, to live the lives alone, bereft of the daily emotional support that could help them to cope with the trials imposed upon them by a misguided Church rule.
Homosexuals who try to be faithful to church teaching are in danger of distorting themselves, like left-handed people forcing themselves to use only their right hands; they are in danger of developing a Jekyll-and-Hyde mentality, suppressing what is true about themselves. The statement of the CDF that, ‘Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral’ applies here. (Letter, n.15)
The pastoral rhetoric about respecting homosexuals is meaningless at best when the associated moral rhetoric undercuts a homosexual’s personhood. It means that homosexuals are neither in nor out, neither persons nor non-persons, but tolerated somewhere on the border.
(” Heterosexuality isn’t “normal” – it’s just common!” – T-shirt slogan seen at Pride)
The full series of extracts from Fr O’Sullivan’s “Furrow” article at Boundless Salvation is:
- “Homosexuality is Unnatural
- “Why can’t they just keep quiet?”
- “It’s not wrong to be gay, but it is wrong to act gay’
- “Homosexuality is fundamentally disordered”
- “What’s wrong with saying “Do your best?“
- “Our theology of sexual relationships”
- ” In the end we will be judged on how we have loved”
- “Are homosexuals showing the church and society a way forward?”
My previous commentary is at
- The Problems of the Pope’s “Condom” Interview. (queeringthechurch.wordpress.com)
- “Speaking the Truth” on Catholic LGBT Inclusion (queering-the-church.com)
- Fr Owen O’Sullivan on Gay Inclusion: Why Can’t They Just Keep Quiet About It? (queeringthechurch.wordpress.com)
- Benedict on Condoms: Confronting the Real (and Deep) Apologetic Challenges of the Catholic Church Today (bilgrimage.blogspot.com)
- More on Benedict and Condoms: Shift Occurs, I Remain Underwhelmed (bilgrimage.blogspot.com)