In commenting on my previous post on the “soft bigotry” of Fr. James Livingston’s recent Star Tribune op-ed, “Some People Can Make the Gay Go Away,” Clayton Emmer of The Weight of Glory says: “I didn't see any indication of Fr. Jim treating anybody as inherently inferior or sinful, sick, depraved, dangerous or immoral.”
Here’s my response . . .
That’s why it’s called “soft” bigotry, Clayton. There’s no overt name-calling or condemnation, but the whole argument is built on the belief that gay people are inherently inferior or, in the words of the Vatican, “intrinsically disordered.”
Yet, surprisingly, Livingston fails to clearly articulate this foundational tenet of his argument. Indeed, his op-ed is quite “soft” when it came to spelling out what the clerical caste of the Roman Catholic Church actually says about gay people and relationships. Perhaps this is not surprising, given that he’s writing for a secular newspaper. Most people (including Catholics) don’t buy into the Vatican’s take on sexuality – gay or straight.
So let’s be clear: According to the framework from which the clerical caste operates, homosexuality is understood as a damaged or defected form of heterosexuality, as a condition of moral weakness (akin to alcoholism) resulting from “the Fall.” It’s understood as a “disorder,” as an inclination to engage in morally evil acts. Archbishop Nienstedt is even on record as saying that those who encourage or support such acts are themselves cooperating in evil. That statement galvanized local Catholics. Indeed, over 300 of us gathered in protest on the steps of the Cathedral on a bitterly cold winter's day. I think the local hierarchy learned something from that. Hence Livingston’s “friendlier” and “softer” op-ed. It’s a strategy that, quite frankly, I find dishonest.
I mean, I had one person write to me saying that he was “glad to see that Livingston said it was wrong for the Vatican to call LGB people disordered”! That’s the impression he received from Livingston’s op-ed. Yet I seriously doubt that Livingston is in any way challenging “official” church teaching.
Speaking of which, the Vatican also teaches that gay people who fully embody their sexuality are engaging in immoral acts that separate them from God and endanger their very souls. They are also acts that supposedly threaten the common good.
Again, none of this is articulated by Livingston. Rather, he actually expresses gladness that Ron Bates, whose op-ed he is responding to, has come to accept himself as loved by God – an acceptance that Bates makes clear is linked to his acceptance of himself as a gay man capable of being in a loving same-sex relationship. Now, it could be argued that Livingston’s expression of gladness puts him at odds not only with Archbishop Nienstedt (after all, couldn’t being glad for someone and the life they’re living be construed as supporting and encouraging that life?) but also with the Vatican, in whose eyes it doesn’t matter if the “immoral” acts of gay people take place in a loving relationship and/or in a marriage sanctioned by the state. No, according to the Vatican, they are always and everywhere wrong.
And why is this? Because gay people have something deep within them that, according to the Vatican, is inherently inferior to what it is that God actually intends for humans when it comes to sexuality. The Vatican views this “something,” this sexual orientation, as broken and wrong. Accordingly, it's also viewed as dangerous. We know this because the clerical caste is spending millions of dollars supporting constitutional amendments and issuing politically-charged statements – ranging from Bishop Tobin’s hard-hitting stance to Livingston’s “soft” one – in a concerted effort to prevent not just Catholics but all members of society from recognizing and accepting gay people in their totality – a totality that includes sexual relationships. Such activism, together with the beliefs and presuppositions that it is built upon, is an expression of bigotry.
And that's a reality that, try as they might, members of the clerical caste cannot soften or make palatable.