Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Heartening

I recently received an e-mail message from a young gay Catholic man named Phillip. It was a message that I found very heartening.

Why? Well, I must admit that I always feel a surge of resolve and hope whenever someone shares with me how my writing, my sharing of various experiences and insights as a gay Catholic man, has been of help and encouragement to them. In fact, it can even make the late nights and seemingly endless hours of
wordsmithing (a wonderfully evocative word, don’t you think?) seem all worthwhile!

It’s also heartening to hear from a young gay Catholic who is forging a life of honesty and integrity, and who not only expresses hope in the Church’s capacity for reform and renewal, but is willing to help facilitate – indeed, embody – such reform and renewal. Phillip is one such young gay Catholic.

And so, with his permission, I share Phillip’s recent e-mail message to me.

_________________________________


Hey Michael,

My name’s Phillip Clark and I’m 18 yrs old (well, I’ll be 19 next month) and I stumbled across your blog by chance a few days ago. I just want to let you know how great it is to find another gay Catholic voice out there on the web! I greatly appreciate your efforts to make the experiences and the situations of homosexual Catholics known in light of the current climate within the Church.

Myself and my mother converted to the Catholic Church from the Anglican Church during the Easter Vigil of 2007. It was before and during that process that I came to terms with my own homosexual orientation. At first the Church’s official stance on homosexuality seemed to make sense to me, it was more moderate than most mainline Protestant denominations but still clung to what seemed to be openly stated in Scripture. So I resolved to live as chastely as I could. I prayed and tried to resist what I saw as “temptations” for so long but as the older I got the harder it became to commit to living a life devoid of love. During the course of this incredible election cycle I was inspired so much by our now President Obama. His call for CHANGE resounded within my heart and reverberated throughout the entirety of my being. It was then that I realized, why can’t the Church change? If the Church has been able to see that not all non-Catholics or non Christians for that matter are consigned to Hell, and that not everything in the Bible has to be taken as a historical fact, why couldn’t the understanding of homosexuality be reevaluated.

It was then that I discovered theologians like Hans Küng, Charles Curran, Fr. Richard McBrien, Bishop Gumbleton, Bishop Jacques Gaillot and others within the Church who realized that change and reform must take place. I also have been reading the work of many Biblical scholars who think that the instances in which the Bible talks about homosexuality have been taken out of context. In short, the Magisterium is just clearly misguided in its teaching regarding homosexuality, as it is on many other things such as abortion, birth control, and pre-marital sex.

So now, I realize that I can be a gay Catholic, and a Catholic who questions some of the official teachings of the institutional Church and still be faithful. I have come under scrutiny from many already who call me a “heretic” and a collaborator with Satan. But I know this is not the case. Not once throughout the entirety of the Gospels did Jesus mention homosexuality. Now, I hope that as a gay Catholic I can help contribute to and influence the reform in many areas of Church teaching regarding sexuality mortality that needs to take place as well as being actively involved in advancing the rights of all regardless of sexual orientation.

So, I just wanted to genuinely think you for your blog which I hope to follow in the future with frequent interest!

In the Hearts of Jesus and Mary,

– Phillip


Recommended Off-site Link:
“For I Am Wonderfully Made” - Lacey Louwagie (
Young Adult Catholics, February 10, 2009).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Message to a Young Man of Integrity
Our Progressive Catholic Youth
Answer to a Troubled Liberal Catholic
Better Late Than Never
One Catholic Gay Parent Who Isn’t Leaving the Church

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Irish Times this morning reports a huge rate of suicide among Irish gays. If the honesty and courage of people like you had been more practiced in Ireland, and by the Irish clergy, an awful lot of misery would have been avoided. JSOL

Here is the link http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2009/0210/1233867929596.html

Clayton said...

I wonder sometimes if we want the Church to change simply so that we don't have to.

But the essence of Christianity is a personal readiness to change... and not just any sort of change, but a change in the direction of the Gospel.

I'm reminded of a passage from John Paul II's letter on the Splendor of Truth (paragraphs 104- 105):

"It is quite human for the sinner to acknowledge his weakness and to ask mercy for his failings; what is unacceptable is the attitude of one who makes his own weakness the criterion of the truth about the good, so that he can feel self-justified, without even the need to have recourse to God and his mercy. An attitude of this sort corrupts the morality of society as a whole, since it encourages doubt about the objectivity of the moral law in general and a rejection of the absoluteness of moral prohibitions regarding specific human acts, and it ends up by confusing all judgments about values.

Instead, we should take to heart the message of the Gospel parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (cf. Lk 18:9-14). The tax collector might possibly have had some justification for the sins he committed, such as to diminish his responsibility. But his prayer does not dwell on such justifications, but rather on his own unworthiness before God's infinite holiness: "God, be merciful to me a sinner! " (Lk 18:13). The Pharisee, on the other hand, is self-justified, finding some excuse for each of his failings. Here we encounter two different attitudes of the moral conscience of man in every age. The tax collector represents a "repentant" conscience, fully aware of the frailty of its own nature and seeing in its own failings, whatever their subjective justifications, a confirmation of its need for redemption. The Pharisee represents a "self-satisfied" conscience, under the illusion that it is able to observe the law without the help of grace and convinced that it does not need mercy.

All people must take great care not to allow themselves to be tainted by the attitude of the Pharisee, which would seek to eliminate awareness of one's own limits and of one's own sin. In our own day this attitude is expressed particularly in the attempt to adapt the moral norm to one's own capacities and personal interests, and even in the rejection of the very idea of a norm. Accepting, on the other hand, the disproportion between the law and human ability (that is, the capacity of the moral forces of man left to himself) kindles the desire for grace and prepares one to receive it. "Who will deliver me from this body of death?" asks the Apostle Paul. And in an outburst of joy and gratitude -- he replies: "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom 7:24-25)."

* * *

There is a notable contrast in tone between the letter from Philip above, and what has been posted by John Heard over on his blog this week.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks for that link, JSOL.

Peace,

Michael

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

I often read your blog. The comments of Philip are good. You do a great service.

There is an important book you ought to recommend. It is reviewed in the Feb. 6 of NCR. The Sexual Person, the best summary of current and past teaching about sexuality from a Catholic perspective.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

You note that “the essence of Christianity is a personal readiness to change . . . and not just any sort of change, but a change in the direction of the Gospel.”

And what is the Gospel message as exemplified and embodied by Jesus? Would you agree with me that it's all about "good news" to the oppressed and downtrodden; liberation, in other words? Does not Jesus invite, as he did Lazaras, each one of us out of our various tombs, our limited (i.e., closeted) ways of thinking and living so that we may experience abundant life?

When LGBT people make the decision to “come out,” to be true to what they (after an often long, painful, and imprisoning process) have discerned to be the God-given gift of their sexuality, they take a liberating step and make a profound change “in the direction of the Gospel.”

The idea that LGBT people come out so as not to change is ludicrous. It’s one of the biggest and most proactive and positive changes we'll probably ever make. As theologian and poet David Weiss notes, it's a profound act of holiness. And as I say here, it’s not a one-off event, but a lifelong process that for the LGBT Christian, brings him/her into ever deepening relationship with self, others, and God.

That this life-giving and life-changing experience of LGBT Catholics is dismissed and maligned by the institutional Church is, to my mind, a great tragedy and a deep injustice. I also believe it's a sign of the institutional Church's spiritual blindness and intellectual dishonesty.

As eloquent-sounding as Pope John Paul II’s “Splendor of the Truth” is, it cannot hide the fact that it’s an attempt to make palatable and justify an impoverished theology of human sexuality. An overwhelming number of Catholics – gay and straight – know this, and faithfully dissent from the Church’s teachings on sexuality.

The "sense of the faithful" is that these teachings fail to acknowledge or reflect the presence of God in the lives and relationships of believers. In other words, they fail to draw from or reflect the collective wisdom of the people of God when it comes to matters of sexuality.

Accordingly, I faithfully dissent from the teaching that any and every “homosexual act” is a sin. I faithfully dissent from the institutional Church’s view that homosexuality is an “intrinsic disorder,” and against “natural law.”

I (and many others) view such teachings as scandalous, and believe they cause great harm to people and obstruct the experiencing of that “abundant life” in which Jesus invites us to participate. (This reminds me of a recent University of Minnesota study shows that “the degree of internalized homo-negativity (negative attitude towards homosexuality) among homosexual men is what predicts poor mental and sexual health — not the act of being homosexual.” Simon Rosser, one of the researchers involved in this study, notes that: “the old advice to gay men to fight, deny, or minimize their homosexuality likely only increases depression, greater isolation, and poorer sexual health. In short, viewing homosexuality as a disorder is not only inaccurate, it may be harmful as well.”)

As I’ve documented previously, the Church’s teachings on sexuality “comprise a discriminatory ideology; a closed system of ideas and beliefs that starts with a premise already inside the system. For the architects and guardians of such a system, no experiences, insights, and questions that arise beyond the system can be tolerated. Indeed, they are routinely condemned and actively discriminated against. This is because experiences beyond their view of ‘objective reality’ are viewed as acts outside the laws of nature, as acts that are shameful, embarrassing, wrong, and the result of humanity’s fallen state.”

I faithfully dissent from this type of ideology, this way of thinking about God and human experience. And I have to say that I’m a better man for it. I’ve grown in consciousness and compassion. Isn’t that what it’s all about? My journey of “faithful dissent” has been one of openness to and experience of God’s transforming and liberating love in my life as an “out” gay man.

I’m truly sorry that folks like yourself and John Heard are unable and/or unwilling to recognize this transforming and liberating action of God in the lives of LGBT people.

Peace,

Michael

Michael J. Bayly said...

Anonymous,

Thank you for alerting me to Todd Salzman's book, The Sexual Person. I look forward to finding and reading it.

Are you familiar with Margaret Farley's Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics? It's another book on the issue of sexuality from a Catholic perspective that has received much attention and praise. (A review of it can be found here.)

Peace,

Michael

Clayton said...

Michael,

I won't attempt to respond here to every point you made in your twelve-paragraph reaction to my comment.

I just want to clarify something: My point was not to make a moral judgment about the merits of 'coming out.' I don't recall any Church teachings which formally address this decision. It seems to me that disclosing one's sexual orientation is a matter of personal discretion, and I certainly didn't intend to suggest some sort of blanket judgment about it.

What I was responding to what Phillip's self-described epiphany that the Church's moral teaching is misguided in a number of areas:

In short, the Magisterium is just clearly misguided in its teaching regarding homosexuality, as it is on many other things such as abortion, birth control, and pre-marital sex.

I thought that my link to John Heard's essay would have made it clear the distinction I was making was not between closeted and out, but between a man seeking to make sense of his life in the light of Church teaching, and a man who decided he had to abandon Church teaching to make sense of his life.

I don't find the latter scenario heartening, but very sad.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

Actually, the vast majority of Catholics have "abandoned" the Church's teaching on sexuality in order to experience affirmation in the beautiful and complex truth they've discerned in and through their sexual lives and relationships. They're not necessarily abandoning their relationship with God, however. This fact reminds me of a related observation by Brian Coyne:

While there has been a massive slide in participation in the spiritual and sacramental life of the institutional Church, this is not matched by any catastrophic decline in interest in spirituality and belief in God or Jesus Christ more generally.

Could not the level of faithful dissent be the work of the Spirit prompting and leading the Church toward the discovery and articulation of teaching that actually reflects the truth of human sexuality as discerned and experienced in the lives and relationships of believers?

Wouldn't such a development of our "living tradition" be a good and heartening thing?

In my work with CPCSM I definitely see such a development taking place at the grassroots. All sorts of folks are engaging in it - from theologians to young people like Phillip; from priests to so-called "dissidents."

Furthermore, there's a wonderful sense of renewal and energy around this development. It's just such a pity that the institutional Church has chosen not to participate in any dialogue in relation to this energy and the development it's facilitating throughout the Church as people of God.

Why is this? Does the institutional Church see its sexual theology as non-negotiable? Should Pope John Paul II's "Theology of the Body" be considered an infallible teaching?

Peace,

Michael

Clayton said...

Actually, the vast majority of Catholics have "abandoned" the Church's teaching on sexuality

And from that sociological data, what follows? A certain critical mass of defection = faithfulness?

Could not the level of faithful dissent be the work of the Spirit prompting and leading the Church toward the discovery and articulation of teaching that actually reflects the truth of human sexuality as discerned and experienced in the lives and relationships of believers?

Wouldn't such a development of our "living tradition" be a good and heartening thing?


Your understanding of the Spirit seems very akin to Hegel, implying that the Spirit contradicts itself over time on its way to some higher synthesis -- in short, a dialectical model of history. It's not a philosophy I buy into. And the social experiments that adopted it in the 20th century produced some very oppressive regimes -- most notably, Marxism. It is the substitution of one oppressor with another.

The whole project of discerning the truth of human sexuality based on wholesale rejection of past understandings seems less like progress than a reversal. If there are no enduring principles of discernment, how can one be sure that anything but rationalization has come into play?

Does the institutional Church see its sexual theology as non-negotiable?

This doesn't seem to be the question at hand. The question implies that the institution speaks only for itself, and not for the human person as such.

You imply some kind of caricature of the situation -- that there's a small group of celibate old men alone in Rome, isolated from real human life, holding onto some narrow-minded superstition about human sexuality. What about the people in the world ( both religious and non-religious) who quietly go about their lives... who never approach a microphone, hold a press conference or write a position paper... but who take for granted that heterosexual relations are at the foundation of human history, family life and culture? Homosexual activists don't speak for them, and no one really knows how many there are, but because they don't have money, power, or publicity, are considered irrelevant by today's activists.

Gay activists are free to have their opinions, and to live as they choose, but it's a bit tyrannical to demand that religion, culture, and the human family restructure themselves around a narrow set of interests.

I imagine you think that the Vatican is the real tyrant. I don't buy into that view. I don't believe that the legacy of Western civilization and of Christianity is an oppressive force that must be vanquished in pursuit of some imagined liberation of the human person.

We simply disagree on essential, foundational understandings.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

Thanks for continuing with the conversation.

I have a somewhat different take on the Spirit at work within and throughout the Church - one that takes into consideration events long before the arrival of Engels and Marxism.

This understanding has nothing to do with the Spirit contradicting itself but rather with humanity growing in awareness with regard to all manner of things.

Perhaps the best way to demonstrate what I'm saying is to share an excerpt from my previous post on the Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent - a post that reports on last year's visit to the Twin Cities of scholar and author Robert McClory, and, specifically, his keynote address at CPCSM's Second Annual Prayer Breakfast for Hope and Justice.

And as you and others read this excerpt, ask yourself: Are the examples that McClory shares of changes in various authoritative teachings of the Church evidence of the Spirit contradicting itself? Or do they bear testament to our living (and thus growing) faith and to the Church's ongoing development in its understanding of various matters related to faith and/or morals?

McClory . . . gave a number of examples of teachings concerned with faith and/or morals that have changed. For instance, it was once taught and believed that the Earth was the center of the universe and that all the planets and stars revolved around it. The Fathers of the Church were unanimous on this belief. Accordingly, it was regarded as an article of faith and promoted as such. “Nobody doubted or contradicted it,” said McClory, “until Copernicus and then Galileo, who scientifically proved that it was not true. Nobody in Rome today says the Earth is the center of the universe.”

The Church’s changing attitudes and teaching on usury were also discussed. McClory noted that for 1600 years the taking of interest on a loan was considered sinful because Jesus says, “Give, asking nothing in return.” (Also, as John Noonan, Jr. notes, “charging interest was seen as contrary to the very nature of money. Treating something sterile as though it were productive was going against nature.”) For these and other reasons, usury was forbidden until the sixteenth century and the birth of capitalism, at which point the teaching began to change. In 1850 the pope himself borrowed (at a substantial rate of interest) some fifty million francs from the Rothschild banking house for remodeling and repairing St. Peter’s Basilica. “And now in the Code of Canon Law (1983),” said McClory, “it is stated that every head of a Catholic religious institution is obliged to take the money left over from the activities of that organization and put it into a bank account to earn interest.” In short, “that which was formerly deemed intrinsically evil has come to be regarded as a serious moral obligation on the part of Church management.”

And then, of course, there is the moral issue of slavery. “The Church always opposed the abuse of slaves,” said McClory, “but at no point up through the 1800s, and even after the Civil War, did it oppose slavery itself.”

“The Church never said that slavery was evil,” McClory continued, but rather viewed it as a “peculiar institution,” a “regrettable but unavoidable condition of fallen human nature.”

“Some Catholics,” said McClory, “even understood slavery as a good way to help those ‘poor, uneducated, savage people’ to become Christian.”

McClory then drew gasps from the audience when he shared an excerpt from an 1866 document from the Holy Office: “Slavery itself is not at all contrary to natural or divine law because the sort of ownership a slaveholder has over a slave is understood as nothing other than the perpetual right of using the work of a slave for one’s own advantage.”

“This is a statement from the Holy Office that makes no sense,” said McClory. “Just two years after this statement was issued Pope Leo XIII declared that slavery always was and always will be morally reprehensible. It may be used for no reason or under any consideration.”

So what can be learned from such examples of change within the Church? McClory insists that any educated Catholic knows that the Church at one time held some things to be doctrinally absolute, and that these things turned out to be wrong. Accordingly, “one cannot be an intelligent Catholic,” he insists, “without saying that doctrine can be wrong in the future and, more to the point, can be wrong in the present.”



Also, I have to say that I think it's a bit rich of you to say that I'm making caricatures of the men in the Vatican when caricaturing is exactly what you're doing when attempting to describe "gay activists."

Actually, an increasing number of those people you describe who are "in the world (both religious and non-religious) [and] who quietly go about their lives... who never approach a microphone, hold a press conference or write a position paper..." are supportive of gay people and of change in Church teaching on homosexuality. (This is especially true in the younger generations.) Are all of these folks "tyrannical"?

Truth is, my friend, the days of painting all of us who are calling for change as placard waving, microphone clutching "activists" are long gone.

Peace,

Michael

Clayton said...

supportive of gay people and of change in Church teaching on homosexuality

One can be supportive of gay people, as people, without any change to Church teaching. You are presenting a false dichotomy that sounds like some of the rhetoric proposed in After the Ball.

You're right. I'm sure gay activists and those who support a modified sexual ethic come in many variations. I can only describe those I have encountered in the media.

As far as the Church teachings that McClory mentions... to compare the Galileo controversy with the Church's teaching on human sexuality is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. McClory also equivocates the meanings of usury. Finally, on the issue of slavery and Church teaching, I offer this article. Among other points, it notes:

"A development of Church teaching in one area that would now forbid what was once tolerated (chattel slavery) doesn't imply or require a development in Church teaching in another area (sexual morality) that would allow what has always been forbidden (contraception and abortion). To argue that it does is a non sequitur."

RIck Notch said...

Clayton, what the church has to say about gays is just plain wrong. The teachings of the church in this matter are informed by hatred, fear and the desire to control others. Very much like the nearly 2000 years of naked hatred of Jews promoted by the Roman Catholic Church.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

The key question remains unanswered: Do the examples of change in authoritative Church teachings cited by folks like McClory, Noonan, and others, imply that the Spirit has contradicted itself? If not, then why must it be said that the Spirit would be contradicting itself if the Church changed its teaching on homosexuality?

Also, I question if one who adheres to the Vatican’s teaching on homosexuals can really support gay people (“same-sex attracted,” maybe, but not “gay.” And in the case of the former, the “support” tends to focus on helping them conform to the “no sex” teaching of the Vatican).

I consider the supporting of others to involve acknowledging and respecting their experiences of flourishing. It also means being open to allowing such experiences to shape and change one’s own perspective. I don’t see this type of support being expressed in the words and actions of the institutional church.

Rather, I’m reminded of the observation of gay theologian James Alison:

“[In Vatican documents], we are only a ‘they’ – objects referred to. . . We are not capable of being subjects by virtue of our having ‘come out,’ our having come to regard being gay or lesbian as part of our lives to be welcomed. The only ‘homosexual’ persons who might be subjects in such discourse are those who accept that [in the language of the Vatican] their inclination is a more or less strong tendency towards acts which are intrinsically evil, and must therefore itself be considered objectively disordered.”

Peace,

Michael

Clayton said...

The key question remains unanswered: Do the examples of change in authoritative Church teachings cited by folks like McClory, Noonan, and others, imply that the Spirit has contradicted itself? If not, then why must it be said that the Spirit would be contradicting itself if the Church changed its teaching on homosexuality?

The examples McClory cites are not examples of change in Church teaching (the first example cited isn't even an area in which the Church teaches authoritatively -- it's a matter of scientific theory). He has chosen data selectively for the purposes of his argument, as the links I cited above indicate.

The Catholic's attitude to the gay person should be the same one the Master demonstrated to the woman caught in adultery; love for her, but not her sin. These two attitudes are not incompatible, as Jesus himself shows us. In fact, love for the sinner requires that sin be named for what it is. Love should not be confused with permissiveness.

And James Allison is engaging in the kind of "they" language (as in, the Vatican as boogeyman) that he claims the Church uses with homosexual persons. Generalities and scapegoating aren't helpful, wherever they occur.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

No serious church historian would say that the church’s teaching on, for example, usury, hasn’t changed. (And since you clearly have issues with the scholarship of Robert McClory, I suggest you read John T. Noonan Jr.’s A Church That Can and Cannot Change.)

I do not support the view that each and every sexual act of the homosexual person is a sin. Indeed, I find it untenable given the science of sexual orientation and the lived experience of gay people - experience that embodies the Gospel "good news" of liberation.

I take heart in the reality that a growing number of people find it erroneous (and, quite frankly, insulting) to equate adultery with the faithful and loving relationships that, for example, are shown here.

Also, if it all comes down to “love the [homosexual] sinner, hate the sin [of homosexual ‘activity’],” then why not save time and effort and simply say that from the get-go? Although I appreciate your willingness to discuss this matter, I nevertheless have to wonder what the point is when, in your view, the church’s teaching on homosexuality is non-negotiable.

Perhaps we simply have to agree to disagree on, as you say, “essential, foundational understandings.”

Oh, and I agree that generalities and scapegoating aren’t helpful, but before you start accusing James Alison of such tactics, perhaps you should look carefully at how the Vatican views and speaks about gay people – including gay priests.

Peace,

Michael

Clayton said...

Perhaps we simply have to agree to disagree on, as you say, “essential, foundational understandings.”

I agree.