Thursday, December 06, 2007
Why We Gathered
The approximately 325 Catholics who gathered at the Cathedral of St. Paul on Sunday, December 2, for the Vigil of Solidarity with LGBT Catholics, had a clear message they wished to send to the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, to the wider church, and to society.
This message can be best summarized via the following points:
(i) We disagree with the Catholic Church’s methods of authoritative teaching as such methods do not include participation of the laity. Accordingly, and in particular, we disagree with Archbishop Nienstedt’s expression of the church’s moral teaching concerning homosexuality.(1)
(ii) We disagree with the church’s teaching on homosexuality, as it does not reflect the lived experiences of many Catholics, or the consensus of the scientific community. Accordingly such teaching is inadequate and lacks credibility.(2)
(iii) Church teaching on homosexuality does not reflect or facilitate for LGBT persons that “fullness of life” spoken of by Jesus.
(iv) LGBT people can and do experience loving, sexual relationships marked by justice, wholeness, and life-giving love. We believe that if church teaching on homosexuality is to be relevant and credible, these experiences - along with the findings of modern science - must be considered and utilized as resources in its ongoing formulation.
(v) We want our church’s teaching on human sexuality to provide wisdom and compassion. Accordingly, we want it to be informed by the presence of God as discerned and experienced in the lives and relationships of LGBT persons and their families.
(vi) We call upon Archbishop Nienstedt to renounce the discredited and unscientific positions and statements of The National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH), to begin educating himself on the topic of sexual orientation, and to be the prophetic voice for the much needed reform of the church’s understanding of homosexuality.
(vii) In the area of human sexuality, interaction with the world rather than reaction, is the responsible and compassionate action for the church. Accordingly, if it is to remain relevant and meaningful in the lives of its members, the church must dialogue and explore with the many human disciplines (endocrinology, genetics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, ethics, etc.) that are responding in credible and respectful ways to the diverse reality of human sexuality.
(viii) We want the church to “grow up”! The institutional component of our church is prone to reactionary outbursts to issues of sexuality because its whole structure of authority is plagued with sexual immaturity, sexual repression, and fear of sexuality. (3)
(1) The belief that the laity should be consulted in matters of doctrine, especially when teachings concern their lives intimately, is part of Catholicism’s rich heritage. For instance, the great English theologian Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-90) wrote that: “The body of the faithful is one of the witnesses to the fact of the tradition of revealed doctrine, and . . . their consensus through Christendom is the voice of the Infallible Church.”* To date, in its “formulation of doctrine,” the church is yet to consult gay Catholics or their families.
With regards to the issue of homosexuality, the “body of the faithful” is still very much engaged in the journey towards “consensus.” And in other areas relating to human sexuality, the consensus that has been reached is at odds with the teaching of the hierarchical church. For instance, even the US Conference of Catholic Bishops concedes that 96 percent of married Catholics use birth control, which, like “homosexual activity” is declared an “intrinsic evil” by the church hierarchy. Clearly, the church’s teachings on a range of sexual issues are not set in stone. This shouldn’t be surprising, for as Jesuit Philip Endean reminds us: “Dogmas of tradition exist not as truths complete in themselves, but rather as resources for helping us discover the ever greater glory . . . of the God whose gift of self pervades all possible experience.”** And “all possible experience” includes gay people’s experiences of love, intimacy, and relationship.
* Newman, J.H., On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine, (1859), ed. John Coulson (London: Collins, 1961), p. 63.
** Endean, P. (Ed.), Karl Rahner: Spiritual Writings (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2005), p. 27.
(2) It is false to say that the church’s teaching on homosexuality cannot change. Teachings and dogmas of the Church can and have changed over the centuries. Examples include teachings related to infallibility, primacy of conscience, scriptural interpretation, religious freedom, ecumenism, the Jewish people, slavery, democracy in the Church, theological dissent, women in the Church, married clergy, contraception, divorce and remarriage, evolution, the solar system, usury, and war & peace.
Maureen Fiedler (co-author of the book Rome Has Spoken: A Guide to Forgotten Papal Statements and How They Have Changed Through the Centuries, notes that: “Change is a sign of life. Inertia is the mark of fossils. . . . Roman Catholicism may change slowly, but it has changed and it does change. Those who claim change is impossible need to reacquaint themselves with church history.” In reviewing Rome Has Spoken for Commonweal, Pat McCloskey writes that the book “demonstrates that the Roman Catholic Church, living within human history, has evolved in its teachings about issues vital to the life of individuals and the entire community.” McCloskey also observes that, “mature believers can deal with both change and continuity.”
(3) In part, this sexual immaturity, repression, and fear of sexuality is the tragic result of efforts over the last eight hundred years to universalize and mandate celibacy within the church’s authority structures. Accordingly, we have, in the words of Eugene Kennedy, an “unhealed wound,” one that for the sake of being faithful to the mission of the Gospel, we must address and heal.
We also believe that the majority of Catholics are intuitively sensing the truth in statements like the following by National Catholic Reporter editor, Tom Roberts, who in January 2006 wrote that: “[Some insist] that current thinking that is tolerant of homosexuality [is] ignoring ancient wisdom. I happen to think that current wisdom that welcomes homosexuals is, more correctly, finally dropping centuries of ancient ignorance.”
The editors of the 1994 anthology, Sexuality and the Sacred: Sources of Theological Reflection, suggest that this ignorance stems, in part, from the fact that “throughout most of Christian history the vast majority of theologians who wrote about sexuality tried to approach the subject from one direction only: they began with affirmations and assertions of the faith (from scriptures, from doctrines, from churchly teachings, and so on) and then applied those to human sexuality. Now, theologians are assuming that the other direction of inquiry is important as well: What does our sexual experience reveal about God? About the ways we understand the gospel? About the ways we read scripture and tradition and attempt to live out the faith?”
Such questions, to be sure, can be unsettling. But it is not the Catholic way to shy away from them and to retreat instead into some fantasy world where, despite evidence to the contrary, we insist that we have all the possible answers (and thus knowledge) available to us about what it means to be human.
For more images of Sunday’s Vigil for Solidarity, click here.