When Will the Catholic Church Repeal Its Own DADT?

My colleague Bart and I clearly think along the same lines. This was his response to my post on the repeal of DADT:

When is the Catholic Church going to follow suit? The way the Church leadership is dealing with the issue of the gay clergy within its ranks is similar in many ways to the DADT story in the American military. When will the Church enter the 21st century?

As his comment came through, I was halfway done with preparing a full post on precisely this theme. It was this observation by Rep Tammy Baldwin that initially set me thinking:

Integrity is a hallmark of military service. Yet, for 17 years, we have had a statutory policy that requires some in our military to conceal, deceive, and lie.  This is an inexcusable affront to all who wear the uniform.

Change a word or two, and precisely the same thing could be said about gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church. If it is true (and it is) that integrity is a hallmark of military service, so it should be even more so in the Church. DADT in the Catholic church most directly affects our gay priests, presenting them with a major challenge in any attempt to live honest lives of integrity. This is the continuing theme of Bart’s own excellent series on gay priests and his personal struggles with coming out, so I leave the discussion of DADT and priests entirely to him (the next instalment will appear tomorrow morning).

However, Catholic DADT also affects all gay and lesbian lay people, and it this aspect that I address here.

Scripture tells us, and the CDF reminds us, “The truth will set you free”, and “Speak the truth in love.” But it seems that the only “truth” we are permitted to speak is the distinctly flawed version promoted by the CDF.

It is not only that we are not permitted to speak honestly, it is formal Vatican doctrine that we should live dishonestly. This is implicit in the Vatican argument that anti-gay discrimination legislation is not necessary, because we can all avoid discrimination by simply hiding our sexuality. This claim directly contradicts both the Catechism, which states clearly that we should all acknowledge our human sexuality, and the recent observations by Pope Benedict that celibacy “becomes possible” for priests when they live in community with other priests to help and support them in their struggle. The corollary surely is that for men living alone with such support, voluntary celibacy may not be possible – and that is precisely what the church seems to demand of gay men and lesbians. Not only are we expected to remain entirely celibate, because homosexual acts are said to be grave sins, but the Church expects that we should live alone, pretending to be confirmed bachelors /spinsters. Where we do not, and live openly with partners, our fellow Catholics too easily assume (even without evidence) that the relationship is sexual, and then may use this as an excuse to pillory us and bar us from active participation in the life of the Church – as with the Canadian altar server who was barred from service, even though he insisted that his relationship was strictly celibate, or the Colorado lesbian mums who had their children barred from a Catholic school for their mothers’ honesty.

The Church insists – indeed, instructs in the Catechism – that we be treated with respect, compassion and “sensitivity”, and that unjust discrimination is wrong. Yet in its own practice, as the Jesuit James Martin has pointed out, the church enforces five distinct forms of discrimination against gay men. Introducing his question, Fr Martin began by observing five actions that most people would regard as standard life experiences or choices, but which are prohibited to gay Catholics if they wish to conform to standard Church teaching.  Briefly, these actions are:

  • To experience  romantic, sexual love
  • To get married
  • To adopt children
  • To seek ordination
  • To take employment with the church or its agencies.

To avoid these forms of discrimination, gay Catholics must either find a local church community which is willing to ignore the official guidelines of the Church – or live a life in the closet, a life which is dishonest and harmful to mental health.

And so many priests, and also many special ministers, liturgists and church musicians, live a life in the Catholic Church exactly comparable to that of gay soldiers under DADT. We all know that they are there, often we know who they are. We know that the Church could barely function if it really did lose all its gay men: but still we continue with the pretence that men who are open and honest about their gay sexuality are not wanted, forcing them to live lives that are patently dishonest and psychologically damaging.

And so I ask of the oligarchs of the Church:

When will the Catholic Church follow the example of the US Senate, and repeal DADT in church?

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