Fr Owen O’Sullivan on Gay Inclusion (Pt 3): Is It Wrong to Act Gay?

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:

My previous commentary is at

 

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“Speaking the Truth” on Catholic LGBT Inclusion

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:

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Our Stories As “Sacred Texts”.

Our stories, in their simple unadulterated truth, offer the best defence we have against the lies that are the fragile foundation of formal Vatican teaching on same sex relationships. These plain lies are manifold, from the claim that our sinfulness is demonstrated in the story of Sodom (not so),  or the claim that it is “indisputable” that Scripture disapproves (immediately contradicted by the many theologians who have so disputed), or the bland assertion that homosexual “acts” are purely self-indulgent self-gratification. This last assertion, based on absolutely no evidence, is perhaps the most egregious of all.

Even conservative Evangelical theologians, grounded in their own personal experience of how a personal, sexual relationship can lead both partners through mutual self-sacrifice closer to God, have recognised that precisely the same process can work in same sex couples. Vatican bureaucrats, starved in their own lives of this particular path to the divine, fail to recognize it in others.  Yet basic mathematics has a simple remedy: to disprove a proposed universal rule or law, all that is required is a single counter-example.

In my own life, I have already provided that counter example. My own experience was that the attempt to live strictly within Vatican rules on sexual ethics led me to drift away from the church. Living honestly as gay led me back  in.  Of  course, the counter argument could be that the proposition was never intended to be universal, just a general norm: then we need more than a single counter-example. We need a mass of them, all testifying and bearing witness to the error in the teaching.

The Vatican itself, in “Homosexualitatis Problema” urges us to remember the Biblical injunction to “Speak the Truth in Love“, and “The Truth Will Set You Free“. There are both theological and political reasons for telling our stories: there is a clear biblical instruction to do so, and doing so will go a long way to undermine the bland, entirely unjustified assumptions underlying Vatican hostility. Destroy the foundation, and we can pull down the entire edifice. This  Saturday, 12th June, I shall be going in to London for a meeting of the RCC of the LGCM (“Roman Catholic Caucus of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement”), where this precise idea, of telling our stories. is the major theme for the day.

The principle, as I have summarised it above. is one I have long promoted. Duigan McGinley,   in “Acts of Faith, Acts of Love: Gay Catholic Autobiographies As Sacred Texts“, goes one step further. He says that  telling our stories is not merely helpful, it is sacramental. The tales that we tell, he says, deserve to be taken seriously, as sacred texts.

“For too long, gay Catholic lives have been shrouded in the secrecy advanced by official Catholic teaching. For many gay Catholics, the “closet” remains a powerful metaphor for the secrecy and shame which keep many of us to keep our sexual identity hidden. At times, the decision to remain “in the closet” is carefully calculated and deliberate. At other to,es, the closet is forced upon us from outside. Yet it is in this context that gay Catholic must reconcile their sexual and spiritual lives.  Gay Catholic autobiographical acts reveal the delicate interplay between  sexuality, spirituality, and the many other components of identity which make a person unique.These acts of self-disclosure – of confession – stand as revelations of God’s intervention and actions in hay Catholic lives.  I offer an interpretation of Matthew 10:27, on open and fearless confession:

What I say to you in the dark,  tell in the daylight. What you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops.

When a gay Catholic takes the risk of narrating his gay identity, transforming what was once secret and publishing it for public dissemination, his public act becomes a “whisper from the housetop”.

So, I say unto you…….

Obey the voice of Scripture, obey the clear command of the Church: tell it like it is, even if (especially if) in this respect, it is not what the ivory tower Vatican moralists want to hear.

Speak the Truth in Love: Write Your Bishop.

The Lord Jesus promised, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (Jn. 8:32). Scripture bids us speak the truth in love (cf. Eph. 4:15). The God who is at once truth and love calls the Church to minister to every man, woman and child with the pastoral solicitude of our compassionate Lord.

-CDF, “Homosexualitatis Problema”

“Speak the truth in love”, advice which the institutional church singularly fails to follow itself. (See “Excluded From God’s People”, for a description of this failure). The advice, however, remains sound. Vatican teaching on sexuality has the remarkable characteristic of being distantly removed from any grounding in the facts of real human lives. This is especially so for gay, lesbian and trans lives, but is hardly surprising, given the ivory tower manner in which Catholic theology is developed and preserved. Yet it should not be so. The Church claims to be a listening church, and pays at least lip service to the place of reason, science, and the continuing revelation by the Holy Spirit, speaking to us through experience, in developing Church teaching. But this of little value unless there are voices speaking from that real experience to which the Church may listen.

 

The Road to Emmaus

The gay Catholic theologian Michael B Kelly has argued convincingly that for many, possibly most, lesbian or gay Catholics it may be necessary to leave the church, literally, or figuratively, for a time. Thereafter, he says, we need to return and speak to the church in prophetic witness to the truth of our lives. We must, he says, take the road to Emmaus, away from the established rulers, but after meeting the risen Christ take the road back again. (One of the ways he is doing this himself by conducting research on gay men’s erotic experience as a path to spirituality, and writing about what this experience can teach the wider church about spirituality.) Read the rest of this entry »

Gay Catholics & “The Church in Four Dimensions” (Part I)

A comment to my recent post at the Open Tabernacle ,“Excluded from God’s People: the Problem with Homosexualitatis Problema” puts the question, “Why not just join the Anglican Communion?”, a frequent question whenever I write about the flaws in the official Vatican line on “homosexuality”. (This is odd, as I have never yet seen the same question put to people who question the teaching on contraception, for instance.)

My short answer was:

Why, indeed? I may disagree (strongly) with the Vatican on certain issues, but the Catholic Church is far more than just a handful of power obsessed clerics in Rome, and far more than the bizarre teachings on sexuality. I will be writing more on this shortly.

My longer answer goes along the lines clearly expressed by the Australian Catholic theologian Michael B Kelly, in an address he gave in the Melbourne City Hall, at the invitation of the Cultural Affairs Office of the city of Melbourne in January 2004. This is contained in his excellent book, “Seduced by Grace: Contemporary spirituality, Gay experience and Christian faith”, which I was reading just yesterday, and which I summarize below.

 

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