The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declare their recent document, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination, to be “positive, pastoral, and welcoming”. In it they also praise those gay Catholics who are “ardently striving”, by means of chasity, “not to fall into the lifestyle and values of a ‘gay subculture’”.
Of course, this “lifestyle” and these “values” are never defined – nor is there any indication of awareness, on the part of the bishops, that just as there are diverse attitudes and behaviours among heterosexuals towards all aspects of life, including sexual relationships, so too is there a wide range of perspectives and behaviours among homosexuals. Indeed, I think it’s misleading to talk about a “gay community” or “subculture” as, in reality, there are many and varied groups and communities of gay people. As a result, sweeping generalizations that effectively lump all gay people into a “lifestyle” or “subculture”, do not resonate with most people.
Yet in typical broad brush strokes, the bishops paint gay people as either suffering celibates or promiscuous deviants. (Someone please direct them to Somewhere In Between.)
Of course, the extremes do exist, and I was reminded of this when I read an excellent commentary written by Leonard Pitts Jr. and published recently in the Miami Herald.
Entitled “A Twisted View on ‘Flaunting’ Gay Identity”, Pitts’ commentary contrasts the recent coming out of actor Neil Patrick Harris (of Doogie Howser, M.D. fame) and the ignoble goings-on of disgraced Christian evangelical Ted Haggard.
Pitts notes that Harris, in talking about his homosexuality, has declared: “I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest.” Pitts also notes that for some people, such calm acknowledgement amounts to “flaunting” one’s homosexuality.
In comparing Haggard and Harris, Pitt’s commentary does an excellent job at exposing the destructiveness wrought to self and others by living a lie, as opposed to accepting and integrating one’s homosexuality, and thus getting on with happily living life to the fullest – even if such living is considered by some as “flauting it”.
“Wouldn’t you much rather be Neil Patrick Harris than Ted Haggard?” asks Pitts. “In other words, wouldn’t you rather be a content gay man living life to the fullest, than a closeted gay hypocrite living lies to the fullest?”
Pitts then goes on to make some incisive observations: He maintains that what social conservatives (and I would add Catholic bishops) miss is that “in a culture that allows gay people room to be gay people, there is no need of lies. In a culture that does not – i.e., theirs – lies are rampant. And that’s unfortunate, not simply for the person in question, but for all the people in his or her life. And here, I'm thinking of Gayle Alcorn. She and Haggard have five children. They’ve been married 28 years. That’s a long time to sleep next to a lie. I bet she wishes he had ‘flaunted’ his homosexuality a long time ago.”
In reading Pitts’ insightful analysis of Ted Haggard’s life of lies and the destruction it has wrought, I was reminded once again of the similar parallel that exists between the horrendous sexual scandals that have plagued the Catholic church for decades, and this same church’s deeply dysfunctional sexual theology – one that “lives a lie” in its ignoring of the experiences and insights of gay people who have accepted their sexuality and are committed to living their lives to the fullest.
Also, when Pitts ponders, “Can’t we now safely assume that any conservative who rants about the homosexual agenda is a lying hypocrite gayer than a Castro Street bar?”, I was reminded of Richard Sipes’ “preliminary review of sexual orientation of some American bishops” on his extensive and insightful website, Priests, Celibacy, and Sexuality.
In posting names of bishops in his “review”, Sipes makes it clear that there is no accusation of sexual activity on their part. Rather, listed are “opinions of sexual orientation”. “Each name”, says Sipes, “has been closely vetted based on some – usually public – facts that can lead to a reasonable opinion”.
Collectively, these “reasonable” opinions on the sexual orientation of U.S. Catholic bishops leads to the equally “reasonable” conclusion that the majority of these men are themselves gay, or in the language of the Vatican, “objectively disordered”. Not surprisingly, the bishops' guidelines discourage “general public self-disclosures” of sexual orientation. How convenient for them.
Richard Sipes, a well-respected researcher, lecturer, and author, is adamant that in light of such a situation, to “neglect open and honest dialogue leaves the church and clergy open to ridicule, and worse, hypocrisy”.
Sipes is also critical of the Vatican’s teaching on homosexuality: “I do not believe – in fact, I emphatically reject – the Vatican statements that declare that homosexual orientation is an ‘objective disorder’”, he says. “This opinion has no scientific merit, it is not a position of ‘human reason illuminated by faith’. It is simply false. It is wrong-headed. Homosexual orientation is not an objective disorder.”
In reality, gay people participate in the very human process of being true to themselves and to the God they discern in such journeys of integrity. As a result of such journeys, many are compelled to courageously seek, build and sustain a loving, committed relationship with another of the same gender – a relationship that is experienced and expressed in a myriad of ways, including sexually.
All such endeavours of integrity and love are undertaken with a purity of heart – making them embodiments of the God of Love proclaimed by the Catholic Church.
Interestingly, this “purity of heart” is the real meaning of chastity. As the bishops correctly point out, “Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of [each person] in [their] bodily and spiritual being”.
Accordingly, when the U.S. Catholic bishops praise gay Catholics who are “ardently striving” to live lives of “chasity”, they’re actually praising many of the people they’re simultaneously condemning! After all, for the vast majority of LGBT people, integration of their sexuality and the subsequent experiencing of bodily and spiritual well-being, are facilitated through a loving, committed (and sexual) relationship with another of the same gender.
Chaste living, the bishops remind us, is an affirmation of all that is human. Accordingly, when LGBT people violate the dictates of their own human nature, they will suffer. Of course, the bishops are not meaning to affirm LGBT people, their sexual orientation, and such orientation's sexual expression. Nor do they mean to warn against the suffering that comes from denying one's orientation and living a closeted life. I'm therefore left dumbfounded that they can say such words yet totally misunderstand and distort their meaning in relation to the lives of LGBT people.
It’s up to us, to Catholics of informed conscience and generous compassion to be the prophets and teachers within our church. It is up to us to provide enlightenment and guidance to those who are in positions of authority yet who so clearly lack authority in matters of human sexuality.
“To be a Catholic requires a certain choice,” said Bishop Arthur Serratelli, chairman of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Doctrine Committee. It does indeed, but it’s not a choice of blind obedience to church doctrine, but rather compassionate engagement with others.
After all, each and every one of us is a living, breathing, spirit-infused vessel within which God’s “good news” can be found. And collectively, we embody a living, growing, spirit-infused church. As lay Catholics we must never tire of inviting our clergy to see and treat themselves and us as such bearers of good news. We must encourage one another in the engagement necessary to reveal such liberating and healing good news. And when some refuse to join in the dance, we must joyfully perseverve and model this engagement wherever we find ourselves to be within the church.
Through such holy work we will contribute to, and one day witness, the emergence of a church document on ministering with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons – a church document that will be truly “positive, pastoral, and welcoming.”
And I say we name it: Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay!
See also the previous Wild Reed post, When “Guidelines” Lack Guidance.