Monday, July 03, 2006

An Excellent Historical Overview

At Spirit of Vatican II, Joseph O’Leary (pictured at right) has reprinted an insightful article that he wrote in 1998. Entitled “Mother Church and Her Gay/Lesbian Children,” it provides an excellent historical overview of the Catholic Church’s relationship with gay and lesbian people.

The piece begins by citing two highly publicized deaths of gay men in Rome in the late 1990s – one of these men had prominent ties to the Vatican.

“These incidents,” says O’Leary, “can be construed as ‘epiphanies’ of the current relationship between the Church and her gay sons and daughters. They reveal a gulf or void where there should be a two-way relationship, a coldness where there should be love.”

Following is an excerpt from O’Leary’s article.


The objective immorality of gay sexual expression in all circumstances, along with its logical correlative, the “intrinsically disordered” character of the homosexual orientation itself, form the core of current Vatican teaching [on homosexuality]. So great has been the investment of church authority in these claims that one cannot imagine them being changed in the near future.

On no theme have Vatican documents been more strident or more forcefully backed up with practical steps: punishment of revisionist theologians and even archbishops, intervention against civic statutes favourable to gay rights, dissolution of gay Catholic organizations.

Where the human voice and the questioning intelligence have been silenced, it seems that blood has to speak instead. I am thinking not only of the blood of Italian men but of the many gay teenagers who have been pushed to suicide by the failure of parents and clergy to speak a word of acceptance.

When the Vatican formulated its official apology for the Inquisition this year, the multitudes burnt as heretics and witches were duly remembered. But no mention was made of the thousands of gay people burnt directly by the Papal States down to 1750 and executed in other states with papal approval.

“Sodomites” were demonized in exactly the same style as “witches” were, and treated with equal brutality. Sixteenth century missionaries had sodomites burnt in the Philippines at the same time as they were having Jews burnt in India. But there is no evidence that this weighs on the Vatican's conscience.

Today in Afghanistan gay men are commonly “stoned”, with the help of walls and bulldozers. The Vatican, which collaborates with fundamentalist Muslims on family planning issues, can scarcely condemn this, since in its own teaching it still gives prominence to the texts in Leviticus that call for such stonings.

The Catechism denounces “unjust discrimination” against gay people, but the Vatican nonetheless defends what it calls “just discrimination”. This category can justify any form of anti-gay legislation.

A note of decency was struck by the American Bishops in October 1997 in their pastoral message to parents of gays, “Always our Children”: “A shocking number of homosexual youth end up on the streets because of rejection by their families. . . We call on all Christians and citizens of good will to confront their own fears about homosexuality and to curb the humour and discrimination that offends homosexual persons. . . It seems appropriate to understand sexual orientation (heterosexual or homosexual) as a fundamental dimension of one’s personality and to recognise its relative stability in a person. . . Use the words ‘homosexual’, ‘gay’, and ‘lesbian’ in honest and acceptable ways, especially from the pulpit”.

The document was vigorously denounced by right-wing Catholics, and in July this year [1998] the Vatican objected that since the document was not unanimous the Bishops should have asked Vatican approval before publishing it, a procedure to be rendered mandatory by new regulations.

It is encouraging that the battle has spread beyond the tiny, easily dismissed groups of gay Catholics of 20 years ago to the upper echelons of the hierarchy.

What gays should have learned from all this, as the Jewish people had to learn, is the importance of organizing (beyond the vast but fragile world of the commercial gay scene). No liberal statement emanates from church authorities without long and hard pleading from gay groups within the churches.

The forces of homophobic prejudice – as seen in the expulsion of so many gay youngsters from their homes – are ever poised to strike, and the Church has shown herself unworthy of trust as a protection against them.

Instead of being a Christlike friend to gay people, offering richer and deeper models of community, she has all too often shown herself their devilish foe.

It may well be asked how Christ could allow his Church to be involved in the judicial murder of gay people over hundreds of years. I do not know the answer to that question.

But the human mechanisms of this betrayal of the Gospel can be reconstructed. A key factor has been clerical hypocrisy. Incapable of acknowledging openly our sexuality or gayness, we turn to the homosexual men and women in our churches a face of bland incomprehension, of pretended obtuseness.

We stifle the healing words we could so easily speak, because the Moloch of clerical conformity speaks more loudly than the blood of adolescent suicides, or than the tears of those whose lives we have poisoned by our doctrines, doctrines we refuse to discuss with them or even among ourselves.

Prudent trimming, opportune disengagement, positive concurrence in the expected lie, convenient silences, reflexes of dismissal and denial, are only some of the subtle forms of the clerical vice. The role of hypocrite is a comfortable and polished one. But it has brought endless torment to faithful Catholics struggling to carry the burdens we so calmly lay on them.

No doubt it was because he foresaw this that Jesus spoke so fiercely against the well-meaning scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23). When moral teaching becomes in principle a one-way communication, when it is couched in a condemnatory tone, and marked by a phobia about face-to-face discussion with the people addressed, then we are in a “pharisaical” situation.

Church discourse on gay people is heavily reliant on dehumanising objectifications, referring constantly to “objectively disordered tendencies” or “dispositions” or “inclinations” and to “objectively immoral acts”. When Vatican documents seek to give themselves an air of scientific respectability, as they tell gay people the “objective truth” about their sexual identities, they parody the jargon of old-fashioned homophobic psychoanalysts, who had never learned to listen to their “patients” or to let them speak from their own lived experience.

In these utterances there is no respect shown to the freedom and intelligence of the addressee's moral conscience. It is taken for granted that gay people have no moral insights of their own which could enrich and correct church tradition.

Any questioning is dismissed a priori as stemming from an erroneous conscience, which is seen as having no right to express itself (whatever Vatican II may have said on the matter).

. . . The Gospel preaches an inclusive community, where the outcast has the place of honour. The tone and content of Christian teachings on gay and lesbian sexuality should build up such community, one in which human beings can share their feelings and thoughts openly, without having to wear carefully tailored masks.

To evangelize our discourse we need first to humanise it. And perhaps to humanise it would already be to evangelise it. The prophets called not for hearts of bronze but for hearts of flesh, not for sacrifice but for mercy; they had seen enough of the ravages of inhuman law.

Jesus, in turn, rooted his teachings in one value only. We wait for the Church to address to her gay and lesbian sons and daughters a message reflecting that value in both tone and content, and showing, as a kind mother should, that love is a reality, not just a verbal pawn in a game of control and condemnation.

To read “Mother Church and Her Gay/Lesbian Children in its entirety, click

No comments: