A Catholic’s Prayer for his Fellow Pilgrim
By Michael J. Bayly
May 14, 2005
By Michael J. Bayly
May 14, 2005
The "primacy of conscience" is a core teaching of the Catholic faith. It's a teaching that the new pope, as Father Joseph Ratzinger, eloquently expressed in 1968 when, as chair of dogmatic theology at the University of Tubingen, he noted that "above the pope as an expression of the binding claim of church authority, stands one's own conscience, which has to be obeyed first of all, if need be against the demands of church authority."*
Many Catholics are hoping that as Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger will honor the role of conscience and be open to the presence of God contained within the insights and experiences of all who have been true to their conscience. In particular, we pray that he will be open to the wisdom of gay and lesbian Catholics who have followed their conscience against the church's demand for lifelong celibacy, and built loving, committed relationships that are expressed and experienced both sexually and sacramentally.
In this time of new beginnings, we also pray that the new pope will be open to the forgiveness we offer all within the church who have promulgated misguided, fearful and hurtful words with regard to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) people, their lives and their relationships.
Such damaging words stem from the current closed-circuit nature of church teaching on human sexuality – teaching that, accordingly, is woefully deficient in light of both modern science and the experiences of GLBT individuals who have followed their conscience. Yet there is hope, as many GLBT Catholics, in a spirit of love and forgiveness, are open to helping the wider church discover and appreciate another part of the unfolding fullness of God's truth.
Being open to having church teaching shaped by new insights – be they of either science or conscience – is not succumbing to "relativism," but rather acknowledging the incarnational aspect of our faith, one that recognizes God's ongoing revelation through the conduit of human life. Accordingly, many faithful Catholics contend that the relational lives of GLBT persons who are following their conscience constitute a teaching moment for the church – one that should not be ignored or discounted, but rather welcomed and celebrated.
Unfortunately, however, many religious traditions are dominated by what theologian Marcus Borg terms, "conventional wisdom" – with its emphasis on rewards and punishments; its penchant for hierarchies, literalism and absolute answers for everything; its fear of ambiguity; and its suspicion of those who follow their conscience. Such elements of conventionality are all too easily propped up as idols, which is why Jesus, when condemning the Pharisees of his day as "whitened sepulchers," identified the way of conventional wisdom as the broad path to spiritual death.
As GLBT Catholics, our prayer is that through respectful dialogue and the sharing of our experience of God's presence in our lives, we may, like our brother Jesus, invite all to embrace an alternative, life-giving wisdom – one grounded in an experience of God as abundant, surprising, gracious and compassionate. Such qualities lead to understanding religion not as unquestioning obedience, but as trustful openness to God who is very much present throughout the vast arena of human life and relationships. It is within this arena that we are called to continue our journey together as God's pilgrim church.
In facing the enormous task of leading such a pilgrimage, Pope Benedict observed at his inauguration that, "I am not alone. I do not have to carry alone what in truth I could never carry alone." In a spirit of trustful openness, may the pope recognize that GLBT Catholics who have followed their conscience "against the demands of church authority" have something to offer that is both beautiful and holy when it comes to the daunting yet exhilarating task of being part of the living, evolving Catholic Church.
* From a commentary on Gaudium et Spes (“The Church in the Modern World”) in Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, Vorgrimler, Herbert (Ed.), Burns and Oats, 1969, p. 134.