Thursday, September 15, 2011

More on the “Soft Bigotry” of Fr. James Livingston’s Recent Op-Ed

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.


bobfett11 said...

What is this about homosexuality resulting from "the Fall"? Several people have thrown this at me on another site and I don't quite understand it. Is this from Catholics who are creationists? They believe in a literal version of Genesis in which Adam and Eve ate that infamous fruit some 6000 to 8000 years ago. I fear getting into a discussion with creationists as they seem firm in their beliefs. But what of the poor aborigines who have been in Australia for 40,000 years, they predate Adam and Eve by many years? That must cause some confusion. Mark

brian gerard said...

Very well put, Michael. I will be forwarding to many friends and family. Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

I've written a response on my blog this morning.


William D. Lindsey said...

Michael, I'm logging in to offer support for what you say, and to note the lack of accuracy in Clayton's response to you (which I've read).

In recent years, it has become de rigeur among many conservative Catholics to say that the magisterium does not define gay and lesbian persons as intrinsically disordered, but that this language refers only to acts and not to persons.

I have written extensively about this on my own Bilgrimage blog, citing the pertinent passages in both Cardinal Ratzinger's 1986 CDF letter on the pastoral care of homosexual persons and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The former introduced the fateful definition of gay persons as intrinsically disordered, and once the term entered magisterial discourse through that document, it then got picked up by the Catechism.

Both specifically use the language of disorder to refer to gay persons, and the 1986 document underscores that it is doing this in response to what it regards as erroneous attempts to make the homosexual orientation morally neutral.

The 1986 document and the language of intrinsic disorder to refer to the very nature and personhood of those who are gay is clearly a direct response to the growing consensus among medical and psychological professionals that people are born with or acquire a more or less fixed sexual orientation early in their human development.

As you know, the American Psychological Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in its diagnostic manual in 1973, after extensive empirical studies failed to show any correlation at all between a gay orientation and mental disturbance or illness. The magisterial response to this growing consensus of medical professionals has been to try to salvage the term "disorder," which was specifically discarded by the APA and similar bodies, and to keep bearing down on that term as it describes the nature and personhood of those who are gay.

When I hear the ludicrous suggestion that the term "intrinsic disorder" or "inclination to evil" in magisterial teaching does not apply to persons, I ask those making this suggestion when they've ever seen disorders and inclinations walking around outside persons.

Curiously, they are never able to give me a satisfactory answer to that question--because human disorders and human inclinations cannot exist outside human persons.

When I hear the equally ludicrous claim that the church uses this language of disorder to refer to heterosexuals, since heterosexual acts are sometimes called disordered by magisterial teaching, I ask those making this claim to point me to ANY magisterial text ANYWHERE that makes the leap the church makes re: those who are gay and lesbian: i.e., from talking about disordered gay acts to disordered gay persons.

Curiously, no one proposing this equal-time-for-all theory has ever been able to point me to any magisterial text which concludes that ALL heterosexual people are disordered because heterosexual people are capable of performing disordered acts.

This language of disorder--applied to a whole set of human beings--is reserved exclusively, cruelly, and maliciously ONLY for those who are gay.

I hear these attempts to prettify the language of intrinsic disorder and to deny what it plainly says about all those who are gay in about the same way I have always heard the term "compassionate conservative."

Greyhound81 said...

Oh Clayton I read your response and although one could also go line/paragraph by line/paragraph I will not.

Just knowing you went to Franciscan University of Steubenville explains why you buy into, without questioning, that the Roman Catholic Hierarchy knows all, and is never wrong. So I am going to assume you still believe the Earth is the center of the universe because the Hierarchy believed it was so.

1) But really, to just blindly follow it without question is amazing. I am also going to assume you are straight (without same-sex attraction)which again explains why you would so blindly believe that there is no room to question the Hierarchy on the civil marriage issue.

Quit honestly, you could go to the Mall of America meet a woman and then get married the next day without knowing that women in any depth. (Much like when arranged marriages where done) Yet, we both know that the Hierarchy would never allow you to get married "in the church". Yet I have NEVER heard the current Archbishop or National Bishops conference say that such a civil marriage should never be allowed and a constitutional amendment should be passed to prohibit such a marriage.

History would show that it had a slim chance of surviving even though it is still between one man and one woman? But, because it IS still just between one man & one woman, the Hierarchy will just look the other way.

See when the Hierarchy believes it should change civil law to match it's specific understanding or human nature (law)/sexuality/psychology it needs to come up with a better argument (i.e. actual harm to others in society) then just pointing to the catechism---another form of fundamentalism.

2) When will the Hierarchy allow those with a homosexual orientation to speak for themselves. As one would learn from history, you would never assume the oppressor knows the real story. You listen to those being oppressed and hear what their experience of the oppressor actually is.

If you talked to Plantation owners they would say they treaty their "property" very nicely. If you talked to men, they would say they treat women nicely. And Clayton you would buy that. But you have to ask the slaves or women what is their lived experience to really know and understand what is a dignified and just treatment. Which the Hierarchy will never do because it would never get a large enough number that could speak of it's dignified and just treatment.

The Hierarchy is just untethered.

bobfett11 said...

Clayton: I just want to let you know that I read what you wrote on your blog and you stated your ideas very well. I think an important point is that the Church does not consider people to be disordered but does consider some actions to be disordered. Mark

Michael J. Bayly said...


It's a very good discussion taking place here re. the distinction between the homosexual orientation and homosexual people. Thanks to all for their contribution.

I've come to see such a distinction as, not only a ridiculous exercise in "splitting hairs," but another form of "soft bigotry." Oh, we love you but not your orientation which is disordered and therefore dangerous and wrong. For this reason we're going to work to deny you your civil rights and view and treat you as being burdened with a terribly 'disordered' affliction. We can never support or celebrate with you your seeking and building of a loving sexual relationship. That would be like giving an alcoholic a drink! But, hey, we still love you.

Mmm, thanks but no thanks.

The fact is our sexual orientation is a deep, intrinsic part of who we are. It's first and foremost about our relational capacity as humans, not about specific sex acts.

The Vatican and those who unquestioningly support its stance on homosexuality, expend a huge amount of time and effort attempting to make a distinction that those of us who are gay (or know and love someone who is gay) find untenable. For a start, the Vatican's understanding of sexual orientation does not align with the insights and findings from contemporary human sexuality studies.

As Gabriel Moran observes: In its attempts to talk about the homosexual orientation, the Vatican "tosses about 'inclination,' 'tendency,' 'condition,' and other words whose meanings are not clear. But whether these words appeal to an assumed common sense or whether they are rooted in medieval theories of the person, they are not equivalent to what the contemporary world means by 'sexual orientation'."

And here's what Robert Nugent says about this issue in an essay entitled "Sexual Orientation in Vatican Thinking" (from the 1988 book The Vatican and Homosexuality: reflections to the 'Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Person':

"It is to the Vatican's distinct advantage in arguing its case against any psychological or moral acceptance of homosexuality to link as closely as possible -- even at times to collapse -- homosexual behavior with the homosexual condition. In this way both may be included in the one inclusive moral judgment of 'disordered.' . . . But once again the document betrays a serious misunderstanding of homosexuality as an orientation. Sexual orientation is not fundamentally or even primarily a tendency toward acts, but a psychosexual attraction (erotic, emotional, and affective) toward particular individual persons. . . . To affirm the concept of a homosexual orientation in all of its psychological, sociological, and anthropological implications is to pave the way for a positive affirmation of the homosexual identity even apart from any overt genital expression. For most people a positive judgment on the orientation coupled with a negative evaluation of embodied genital expressions is an inadequate solution to the tensions many feel between the lived experience of their sexuality and their church membership."



Donna said...

The idea of separating a person from their sexual orientation is ridiculous. It's wacky ideas like this, along with the hierarchical Church's own sordid and dysfunctional conduct re. the clergy sex abuse scandal, that ensures it has zero credibility when it comes to speaking about sexuality or sexual morality.

bobfett11 said...

Excellent comments, Bill. That 1986 letter is problematic. What you say is very informative. Thanks for more clarification, Michael. You are educating us on this matter. I go on another site and the one woman keeps going on about ACTIVE homosexuals, always capitalizing the word active. Sigh. How do you explain relational capacity to someone like this?


Anonymous said...

Thanks, William, for your response to what I wrote in my blog post.

I may have gone too far with the distinction between disordered acts/inclination and disordered persons, as it relates to what the Church teaches. I plan to go back and re-read the documents you cited in light of the critique you provided.

It's very possible that the Church teaches that all people, as inheritors of original sin, are disordered... The disorder has to have its genesis somewhere -- and I see your point about de-personalized disorders and inclinations.

I was looking over some sections of the Cathechism and came across this one about man in paradise (paragraph 377):

"The 'mastery' over the world that God offered man from the beginning was realized above all within man himself: mastery of self. The first man was unimpaired and ordered in his whole being because he was free from the triple concupiscence that subjugates him to the pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods, and self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason."

I read this text as saying that the "ordering in his whole being" was lost in the Fall. That would suggests that persons subject to the effects of original sin are disordered.

If this is the case, it does raise the question of why the language of disorder is not more broadly used in the Church's treatment of morality.

At any rate, thanks for your feedback, and as I look at this more closely, I will probably go back and refine my blog post.

The larger point would seem to remain: If we are all disordered, then the question of inferiority is not really germane.


CDE said...


I don't believe it's helpful to decide what someone else believes or thinks simply by looking at the school they graduated from. I've known for quite some time that Michael went to school at St. Catherine's University, but it would be rather silly of me to decide that having that one piece of information tells me everything I need to know about his views.

Anonymous said...

To compare god-given homosexual orientation with alcoholism is hardly all that "soft" as bigotry goes".

The whole idea that God originally intended an exclusively heterosexual universe is theological hubris at its most blasphemous.

The irresponsible Fr Livingstone is pushing gay men into marriage, oblivious of the misery that will ensue for all, especially the wives.

It all reminds me of the headline on B16 in Der Spiegel: Der Unbelehrbarar -- The Unteachable.