Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter

O Almighty God, who alone makest the minds of the faithful to be of one will: grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Monday, January 5, 2015

An Open Letter to Austin Ruse

Merry Christmas and happy New Year, Mr Ruse. God grant you many graces.

In writing this, I want to begin by invoking the grace and the mercy of Christ, from which and in which and under which we live as Catholic Christians. I would also invoke the prayers of the Mother of God, especially in her character as the Undoer of Knots; my own special patron Saint Gabriel, who first proclaimed the entry of the Word into the limitations of time and place (not the conversion of the Godhead into flesh but the taking of the manhood into God); and, indeed, the prayers of all faithful Christians who read this. I am not advanced enough in love, or humility, for this to be easy to write, and I need all the prayers I can get. And if I might have yours also, Mr Ruse, I would be in your debt.

The way you have been writing about me and my friends is wrong. I do not say this primarily because of your tone; though I would go as far as to say that when fellow Catholic bloggers and activists like Maggie Gallagher, P. E. Gobry, Elizabeth Scalia, and Mark Shea (a man not noted for being mealy-mouthed or timidly nice) all separately take issue with your tone, it is probably worth considering whether the problem really is with the world around you, and examining your conscience. After all, love is not rude, and the fruit of the Spirit is, among other things, kindness, goodness, gentleness, patience, and self-control.

But as I said, that isn't my chief concern, and for that matter I seem to have been bothered by it a bit less than others have been. My chief concern is that the things you have been saying about us as a group simply aren't true.

I don't want to accuse you of deceit or mendacity. I can concede that our language, for Catholics in this time and place, is rather irregular, and that can be off-putting. (I can even admit that there have been times, reading my own work, when I've thought to myself something along the lines of, Who is this leftist creep? Oh, right.) But the fact remains that you represent us as thinking and saying things that we not only don't, but that many of us have contradicted repeatedly in words of one syllable. It is probably not irrelevant to this to note that, of the six articles you've written for Crisis Magazine over the last year and some dealing with "the New Homophiles" (an appellation that, in a rare instance of unanimity, we all entirely wash our hands of), only the first two actually quote us directly, and even these quotes are not sourced or linked.

You claim that we need to be engaged. Is this your idea of engagement? I'd remind you that, in the early days of last year, you offered to interview me, in response to my complaints of misrepresentation and incomplete information in your articles. When I asked that an interview be published in full, you replied that "your terms are just unrealistic" and that "I'm not sure they [Crisis] are interested in running a Q&A. And I'm not either." Now, I'm not saying that publishing a long interview is an immediately attractive prospect; but when you are willing to charge us with being doctrinally problematic -- something I for one take with the utmost seriousness as a question of personal, intellectual honor -- I feel that it is only justice to give us the opportunity to explain ourselves in full (knowing, not least as Catholics, that a lack of context can result in crucial misunderstandings). Under the circumstances, your professed lack of interest looks more like intellectual irresponsibility than a manly contrast to a politically correct culture. If only for the sake of your own reputation, Mr Ruse, I'd ask you to rethink your approach.

Turning to the specific charges you lay at our feet, there are, to get it out of the way early, socks.

Some of my socks, for the record. Though I disclaim responsibility for the hideous couch they're on.

But I'll leave that issue to the combox warriors. More significantly, you write the following:
This group insists on their gay identity, indeed they put a spotlight on it. That's kind of the point of their movement. WE ARE GAY AND CATHOLIC. Some go even further and insist on calling themselves "queer." The Church teaches there is no "gay identity." We are children of God -- first, last, and always, and the Church frowns on anything else. Even more dangerous than insisting on a "gay identity" is their implicit support for "coming out." Recent studies have shown that 80 percent of those who as adolescents identified as "gay" are fully heterosexual by their mid-twenties. Studies show that same-sex attraction is remarkably plastic ... The New Homophiles insist that God made them gay, though the Church does not teach that. They insist that they have special gifts given to them through their same-sex attraction. That is certainly not in Church teaching. And they want Church teaching to reflect these assertions, which would amount to a change in Church teaching.
None of what you have said about us in these paragraphs is true. I'd prefer to believe that it is a matter of misunderstanding, but it wants correcting regardless. (As far as the recent studies on sexual fluidity that you mentioned, a link would be greatly appreciated -- not least because, though it may well be true, what you have to say here conflicts with even the most optimistic estimates of ex-gay groups that I've hitherto read, to say nothing of the APA's studies on the subject.)

To begin with, I don't know of a single one of us who insists on the term gay. Most of us do, in fact, use it, and most of us tend not to use phrases such as same-sex attracted; though that is precisely a tendency, not a settled decision. I, and some others, prefer the word chiefly for its communicative value to those outside the Church: same-sex attracted, outside of Catholic circles, has some very ugly baggage from psychiatric experimentation and personal histories of repression and denial. And while gay was a pretty political term twenty years ago and more, it just isn't now. That's not to say that a different word might not become preferable at some later point in time; nothing is more likely. But, in the limitations of our time and place, it seems to me to be the best word, because in the vernacular -- i.e., how the majority of people I've ever met or interacted with have understood gay, as opposed to fellow Catholics, whose language is often different from popular language -- it doesn't carry the implications of advocacy or identity politics that you attribute to it. It just means "a guy who's interested in guys, not girls," and mutatis mutandis of other orientations.

Why does this matter? Because this is one of the biggest areas of misunderstanding between the Church and the surrounding culture right now, and using a word that is confusing or offensive to those outside the Church can cripple her ability to evangelize. It isn't just a question of evangelizing the LGBT community, either, though they should certainly be on our gaydar. Popular sympathy for LGBT-identifying people is sufficiently high that looking like a homophobe, even if you're not one, is frequently enough to lose the hearing even of people who are as straight as an arrow.

In other words, as P. E. Gobry said in his recent piece, it is very largely a matter of semantics -- which doesn't mean that it's unimportant, but it does mean that I and those like me shouldn't be charged with a difference of substance when what we differ on is accidents. And the reason that I for one do differ about those accidents is because I want to be all things to all men, and to put no stumbling block in anyone's way to the gospel. And after all, it isn't as though we were likening God to an unjust judge, or advising people to make friends for themselves by unrighteous mammon, or saying that we should model our behavior on schismatic heretics.

Will the word gay call for explanation in these evangelistic contexts I'm supposing? Sure. So will any other word. Because so will Catholic teaching. The advantage of the word gay is that it doesn't alienate the audience.

Now, regarding "the gay identity." Again I would reiterate Mr Gobry's observation that this is chiefly a semantic question. I would speak (and have done) about having a gay identity only in the same sense that I'd speak about having an American identity or a bookworm identity: i.e., it's a part of me in the sense that it's deeply important to my experience and to how I relate to others, but it's not a part of me in some transcendent or ontological sense. I don't know of any traditional queer-identifying Christian who would say otherwise (though of course I can't speak for them all). I regard gay identity, so to call it, as nothing more than a moderately useful concept, and see no reason to relegate it to a special category of either exaltation or rejection.

That is certainly not to say either that other people who happen to be homosexually attracted are obligated to find it an important part of their experience, as I do. Granted, I'd be a little surprised if it weren't that important to them, but that is of no real consequence. Though, as I've said before, I haven't the slightest taste for its approach myself, I imagine that such a person would find Courage very helpful and appealing, and I have nothing to say against that. For even I am not silly enough to believe that my personal dislike of Courage's approach is an objection to it. Quite the contrary -- I am glad that Courage exists, and would be perfectly happy to see it expand; though I would add that I don't think its approach to homosexual attraction is, or ought to be, or could be expected to be, the only way for a Catholic to deal with it. Nor, so far as I can tell, does Courage make any such claim for itself.

Returning to your words above, you repeat here a claim you have been making since the beginning: that we believe there is something spiritually special or even superior about being gay, which you've referred to in the past as "gay exceptionalism and charism." I sincerely haven't got the faintest idea where you get this from. The only source for it that I recall you citing is the playwright Larry Kramer, and I really can't see how he comes into it one way or the other. Certainly we believe that we can meet God in our sexuality in spite of, and even in a sense by means of, its imperfection; but that notion is as old, and as unexceptional, as the Cross. O felix culpa, "O happy fault ..."

How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace.

Nor do I agree with the idea that this is in some way building oneself around one's brokenness, any more than, say, noting that one is deaf and perhaps participating in deaf culture is building oneself around brokenness; still less do I agree with the (apparent) assertion that there is nothing good to be had out of gay culture. If Israel could plunder the Egyptians and Saint Paul could take everything thought captive, if St Thomas could baptize Aristotelianism and St John Paul II could baptize phenomenology, I suggest that we may at the least consider baptizing LGBT culture, without a preliminary circumcision. And, while they haven't put themselves forward for the role, I can certainly think of worse godparents for it than Joshua Gonnerman and Eve Tushnet -- myself, for instance, as the, ah, Magdalene of the group.

Lastly, the assertion that we want a change in Church teaching. That is precisely what we do not want. This again is one of the few things about which we are, so far as I can tell, completely unanimous. It is our acceptance of Church teaching that, on the one side, defines us as a category, however loose the category may be. Lest there be any ambiguity, I have posted on my blog as a constant feature the protestation of faithfulness to the Church's teaching office made by Saint Teresa: In all that I shall say, I submit to what is taught by Our Mother, the holy Roman Church; if there is anything in it contrary to this, it will be without my knowledge. What I am trying to do, and what others like me are also trying to do, is find a way to do justice to our experience as gay people within the context of Catholic teaching, and to find a way to do that which is both comprehensible and winsome to those outside that Catholic context.

In your articles -- in December 2013, twice in January 2014, more obliquely in May of that year, and twice more last December and this month, all of which I have sourced so that my audience can read your own words and judge whether I am being fair about them -- you have shown virtually no real engagement with anything that any one of us has said. An attentive reading of some of the major posts on this blog, or Spiritual Friendship, or Sexual Authenticity, or Eve Tushnet's blog, would in my opinion serve as an adequate reply to most if not all of your concerns.

Thus far, we have from you a series of repeated claims about us and our beliefs that are incorrect about matter of fact, and in at least one instance your own statement that you're simply not interested in listening to us. If you change your mind about that, then I for one am willing to talk. But until and unless that should happen, I don't propose to waste my energy and time in fruitless endeavors to communicate.

Nevertheless. We are brothers in the eternal Love, and that may yet bear fruit. So I pray and hope, and I conclude with this:


  1. Well, I don't know if you can expect Austin Ruse (fitting last name BTW) or his magazine to print an entire interview verbatim.

    But when it's been pointed out to him over and over that those he calls the New Homophiles accept Catholic doctrine on homosexuality, for him to continue asserting that they want doctrinal changes — without citing specify doctrinal declarations and quoting explicit calls from NH's for changes to the doctrines — it seems likely that Austin Ruse is either a dishonest man, unconcerned about being truthful, or living in his own fantasies. I'd be willing to consider a more benign explanation if anybody can invent one.

    And considering that the Catechism says that there are "[h]omosexual persons," it's just stupid of him to quibble about people who fall within that category a.) stating that they do and b.) using a readily understandable colloquial word to refer to the category.

    IOW, the man isn't worth worrying about anymore. It's too bad he misrepresents us to his readers, but plainly he will not be persuaded to do otherwise as he has become too convinced of his mistaken vision. It has become obvious that trying to get him to do either is wasted effort. It's a case of invincible ignorance on his part.

    1. His surname is admittedly unfortunate, but that is not his fault (nor, strictly speaking, a fault at all). People have lived down worse names -- Saint Gertrude, for instance.

      As far as his being either dishonest or living in a fantasy world, I don't think either hypothesis is necessary; and I'd gently remind you of the first two commenting guidelines here. People wind up with incomplete or misleading information all the time for perfectly innocent reasons. I'll concede that it's becoming difficult to believe in Mr Ruse's bona fides due to the unpleasant treatment he has offered us, and it seems highly probable (not certain) that he is guilty of rash judgment, but I don't think we need to make further assumptions than that. After all, it is unfair assumptions about ourselves that this piece is largely complaining of.

  2. Do you know where the study is that Ruse quotes? I've read about it in a lot of anti-gay christian blogs but I can't find it anywhere. I suspect either the study was very badly done or it is being used incorrectly. But since i can't find it, I can't read it so I have to assume it was made up?

    1. Let's wait for a link before accusing anybody of so serious a sin as lying.

    2. I wasn't actually accusing him of lying. I was thinking more along the lines of an urban legend kind of thing. I've seen the so called study referenced in a wide variety of evangelical blogs but I have never been able to track down its origin and no one ever seems to provide a link to the study.

      Given that 3-4 percent is the usually accepted number of gay people in society, if 80 percent of teen boys who identified as gay identify as heterosexual by adulthood, that would put the number of self identified gay boys at around 15 to 20 percent. That is a pretty high number.

      But it does match the number of males who engage in some kind of sexual experimentation with another boy during adolescence.

      That says to me that someone probably took the number of boys who have had a sexual encounter with another boy (usually mutual masturbation) and then relabeled them as "identifying as gay" and then compared that to the number of self identified gay adult men in order to reach the conclusion Ruse makes.

      So, no, I don't think he was lying. But I do think he is of such an anti-gay state of mind that he was willing to accept and urban legend as true without doing the basic research that any legitimate author would do.

    3. That is possible. If and when a link is posted, a better evaluation will of course be available.

  3. Mr Ruse's "15 minutes" graffito really does not show him in a favourable light. He should be aware of a few things:

    1. Same-sex attraction is not a matter of scant consequence to the person who has the tendency, celibate or not; and one's attractions are not easily erased or muted by opening up the catechism and reading to oneself the pertinent paragraphs.

    2. He scorns today's gay Catholic writers for thinking that they've discovered the spiritual benefits of chastity. In a very important way, they have. Are not the timeless truths of the faith in constant need of being rediscovered, from generation to generation? Isn't that what makes modern conversion stories (C. S. Lewis, Merton, Heather King) so compelling? Do we scorn those writers for thinking they've discovered Christianity?

    3. To take issue with Republicans does not make one a Democrat. This one seems obvious, but I begin to think that Mr Ruse is (pardon the internal rhyme) obtuse.

    On the other hand, you, Mr Blanchard, may just be one of the best writers on the planet. I shall moderate the praise a bit: in your laudable attention to nuance and detail, your solicitous verbal precision, your agility of intellect, you remind this reader of the best moments in the writing of the late Fr Richard John Neuhaus.

    Please pardon all errata of orthography, for which auto-correct, and not my own dimwittery, is doubtless to blame.

    1. > Are not the timeless truths of the faith in constant need of being rediscovered, from generation to generation?

      Exactly. I've always imagined that when St. Francis appeared, more than a few catholics probably would have shaken their heads with suspicion and perhaps scorn: "Don't we have twelve centuries of saints and monks before us? Do we really need this extravagant guy to teach us something new, does he really pretend to having discovered what christian poverty is about?"

    2. That is almost exactly what did happen; both the Franciscans and the Dominicans, when they were first minted, were very much looked askance at by many contemporary Catholics, the established religious orders not least, given the extreme divergence between the ideal of a monk and the ideal of a friar (as G. K. Chesterton touches on in his excellent biographies of St Francis and St Thomas). Much the same thing happened when Aquinas proposed an Aristotelian, as opposed to a Neo-Platonic, Christian philosophy.

      As to being compared to Fr Neuhaus, gosh. I don't know what to say. I'm very flattered.

  4. Sorry, if I end up posting twice..i thought I just did but it disappeared..trying again..

    First, many thanks for the good jokes about my name. I sure can learn "tone" from you guys!

    Second, all of what i have said has already been cited in previous columns of mine and others. Still, I will gather them all up and publish them in a new column. Of course, the response of the NH will be along the following lines: "We don't all think the same things in the same way." "That is not what we mean." "You don't understand us." and so on..." Still, i will put it together..already regathering quotes.

    By the way, are you now really comparing yourselves to St. Francis and St. Dominic? Or are you going to deny that one too? Hubris anyone?

    1. It might curtail the protracted, mutually-frustrating back-and-forth if you have further dialogue with the writers at SF or Gabriel before writing the article. If you're thinking they'll just dismiss or qualify whatever you're going to write, why not bring it to them first and arrive at a place where they say to you, "Yes, that is a good explanation of what I believe" before posting something that claims to represent their views but leaves them feeling misrepresented? Seems like that would benefit everyone.

  5. Hi, Gabriel:

    I have seen Austin Ruse's articles and been wanting to say something but couldn't figure out what to say. Seriously. Pascal Emmanuel Gobry has probably said what needed to be said.

    Guess I can say, I think you and your friends are awesome.

    This may seem a bit off-topic, but it points to the bigger picture - look at things in the light of the divine immensity. Here's an account I ran into of a young man who died over 30 years ago but you can see something incredible in him, even in the little photo attached to the article. The article is associated with a Christian pacifist web site.

  6. The problem Mr. Ruze is that the tone of your articles often comes off as less than charitable (although I assume that wasn't your intent). I appreciate your depictions of identity in Christ first and foremost. It is also important to constantly evaluate ourselves and to make sure that is our first priority. However, (and this may be a generational thing) many of the homophiles are not using descriptive terms like gay as a primary description. It is at best tertiary and often is used to help evangelize many who have already left the church. However, rather than jumping to conclusions about a terms connotation, ask what they mean by the term. Then, we can have a debate about the pros and cons.
    Additionally, I can appreciate the concerns of hubris and martyr complexes. It is important for any person to avoid falling into the sin of pride. However, the Church’s culture (Not the orthodoxy) has been less than ideal for people who aren’t called to the marriage vocation or to the religious vocation. Attacking people who carry the cross of same sex attraction and telling them to basically shut up, suck it up, and hide in the corner isn’t going to help. There are lots of questions that we are going to have and support from the Church and its members are essential sustaining in this struggle. Now there is a happy medium between being fixated on the issue of homosexuality/Same sex attraction and dealing with other important issues in Church culture, but for many years it has been treated as THE ISSUE that must not be talked about.
    Finally, there seems to be a strong push for people with this cross to seek reparative therapy. Reparative therapy has harmed many individuals in the past and caused them to lose faith, and it is has helped some making it a very loaded issue. I understand that Christ has the ability to take away from same sex attractions (and he has done it for some which should be celebrated). However, he doesn’t necessarily promise that. It is possible that this will be the thorn in my side for the rest of my life. He does promise to give us the grace to overcome and resist any temptations (but not that they will necessarily go away). I hope this gives some perspective from a young male (24) dealing with this particular cross and builds some bridges to conversation between all of us to help us grow in our faith.
    P.S. Hopefully this is somewhat eloquent (I’m an engineering major) on the topic although not necessarily succinct. :)

  7. Among Augustine's greatest defenses of orthodox Christianity was his insistence that humans can only respond to God through His grace. This entails, of course, that God works through human faults, as he works with, well, humans. Paul was a murderer and proud, but when Christ called to him, he called to him in his entirety, his murderous past, pride, and all. Augustine saw this truth as necessary for the distinction between human frailty and divine sovereignty. If Ruse has a difficult time accepting that God might be able to take an intrinsic disorder and bring good from it, then Ruse's problem is most importantly with God and His Church, and only secondarily with anyone else. (I hope the conditional nature of that last sentence is clear enough; it isn't a condemnation of anyone particularly)

  8. Would you be surprised to know that you, Gabriel, have said some of the things you now say you've never heard the New Homophiles say?


    1. I would, yes. Would you furnish me with an example?

  9. I will be publishing a column and will include them.

    1. I'm not sure having a conversation with people like Ruse is really productive. Gabriel, I think you can certainly defend your stand against people like him. But a conversation is pretty useless. He really doesn't have any biblical ground to stand on and is working for his own presuppositions more than anything else. And I find people like that are not very good at reading for content or having a conversation. They tend to pick up on a word or phrase that sets them off and then not be able to let go, which I suspect his upcoming column will be full of, as his past ones have been. Overall, though, let him rant. What he is doing is showing such a pitiful attitude that he is actually turning people away from his point of view.

    2. Surely we are all working for our presuppositions. Otherwise, why go to the trouble of presupposing them? Admittedly, if we're unwilling to surrender such presuppositions no matter what evidence is presented to us, that's problematic, but we don't know that of Mr Ruse.

      Now, I'll concede -- I have conceded, in writing the above post -- that I have not been impressed with his work on this subject to date, and have said in so many words that I won't continue trying to converse, unless he begins interacting in a way that shows a clear endeavor to communicate with the fairness and thoroughness proper to the subject (and to the stated or hinted-at charges of our being less than orthodox). However, the upcoming column, which we ought not to pass judgment on before we have read it, is precisely such an opportunity; if it proves fruitful then we have all gained something. And if not, well, we can burn that bridge when we come to it, if there's nothing else to be done.

  10. Well spoken, Blanchard. I found his writing off-putting in the extreme. Even if he were to object to our terminology, it seems repulsive to put the word gay in a state perpetual quotation through a piece meant to address us. Very few CHristians these days (thank heavens) pop down to the local mosque even to proselytize with little leaflets of "You 'Moslems,' as you might like to call yourselves..."

    The condescension is bested perhaps only by the sort of imperialist rhetoric that spawned the White Man's Burden. It's the siege-complex, portcullis Christianity that the world has rightly rebuffed us for. Mr Ruse, we do seek engagement, but not combat. Lower your arms; we bring none.


  11. "The advantage of the word gay is that it doesn't alienate the audience."

    I completely disagree. You've entirely alienated me.

    1. I'm quite sorry to hear that. Would you mind explaining why and how a little more?

  12. The real tragedy is that there are people who'd rather want gay people (celibate or not, Christian or not) to simply not exist in God's good earth. That's why they try so hard to deny and silence us, ruin our reputation and credibility as best as they possibly could. Hence, the uncharitable articles written by Austin Ruse and comments made by people like him. That's is exactly what is happening in Uganda, Russia and other countries who will at all cost persecute, rape, torture, and exterminate gay people.