Summary of the Law (said at every Sunday Mass)

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Dona Eis Requiem, Part III

I did a long, fascinating interview, in which the interviewer is a secular progressive. He found aspects of my book intriguing, but at one point he said, ‘Look, I need to push back on you a bit here. … You want to reduce stigma against not only gay people, but same-sex affection—men holding hands, for example, signs of affection which majority American culture reads as sexual. But can you really reconcile reduction of stigma with upholding Catholic morality?’ … What I pointed out to this guy—after rambling a bit—was that Jesus attempted this same trick. He made the prohibitions on lust more strict, and yet welcomed and succored prostitutes and adulteresses.

Part of how He squared this circle was by prohibiting judgment. Spending your time imagining what those hand-holding guys might be doing is itself immoral. Acting to stigmatize and humiliate them is itself immoral. This obviously makes building a nice Christian society really hard. The tools of shame and social pressure which all societies use to maintain their boundaries suddenly become moral problems, not solutions. … So much Christian discourse around gay people focuses on what is being rejected. There’s a kind of terror of any hint of acceptance: If you give them an inch they’ll take an ell! Everything gay people do is viewed as sexual and therefore everything churches do to welcome gay people is treated as suspect. This isn’t how Jesus operated.

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Now that you have prayed for the dead of the shooting at Pulse—you haven’t yet? Okay, go do that first. I’ll wait.

Good. Thank you. Now then, the next thing I’ll address is terminology. I am not going to critique the language of the Catechism, as for instance Fr James Martin SJ does, expressing reservations about phrases like objectively disordered: on the one hand, I don’t think a theological textbook should be our normal evangelistic resource in the first place; while on the other, when read in the Thomistic register its authors wrote in, the offending phrases mean something totally different from what laypeople think they mean anyway.1 No, the terminology I want to start with is the Deplorable Word itself: g—

Ahem. Gay. And, by extension, lesbian, bisexual (though for some reason nobody seems keen to attack this one), queer, and all the rest of the alphabet soup. I mean, we joke about it and they were all our idea.

In popular speech, the words lesbian, gay, and bisexual mean ‘a woman who’s attracted to women,’ ‘a man who’s attracted to men,’ and ‘someone attracted to both sexes,’ respectively. They do not signify the moral, religious, or political affiliations of the persons so described,2 and for most people outside the Church and many within her, they are the preferred terms.

I belabor the point because the moment the subject comes up, Catholics are falling all over themselves to discourage the word gay. I’ve been told ‘You’re not “gay”,’ in person and in print, more times than I can count. ‘There’s more to you than your sexuality’—yes, I know that, and so do most of us; that we have a word for it doesn’t mean we reduce ourselves to it, any more than heterosexuals all reduce themselves to their heterosexuality. ‘It normalizes it.’ Yeah, well, homosexuality’s pretty normal. It’s existed for all of recorded history, in every society, and while Scripture teaches that gay sex is wrong, it doesn’t bother about whether it’s weird. ‘Why is it anyone else’s business?’ Is your marriage any of my business? More importantly, if you want credible witnesses to the Church’s teaching about chastity, is it really in your interest to keep those witnesses from saying anything? While on the other hand, if there is injustice against gay people—and unless you think we should be tortured to death for being gay, you have to admit that it’s possible to treat us unjustly—who would know of it better than we would?

This leeriness of public acknowledgment of our sexuality, regardless of our orthodoxy,3 is part of a larger scandal. LGBT people are overwhelmingly distrusted by Catholics. I don’t know all the reasons: maybe it’s a sense of political vulnerability, maybe it’s feeling like our values are too alien for d├ętente,4 maybe it really is homophobia (i.e., a belief that gay people, as such, aren’t trustworthy). But wherever it comes from, it’s both unfair and damaging—unfair to LGBT people, and damaging to both them and the Catholic Church.

I hope the unfairness is obvious, at least in principle. We are no less likely to be honest and intelligent than anybody else. The damage to us comes in two ways: first, if Christian parents of gay or trans children absorb this notion that their children can’t be trusted, that frequently issues in abuse; sometimes, horribly, abuse with the very best of intentions. And second, if the Church looks like a deeply homophobic institution—and I’m afraid she does—then her power to evangelize a culture that is generally gay-friendly is hamstrung. Yes, there will always be people who regard any traditional view of sexual ethics as homophobic, but that’s not the point. The point is that when you can’t stand to talk or hear from or about gay people, or can’t do us the courtesy of using the words we explicitly prefer,5 the accusation of homophobia becomes credible to the fair-minded person too. With that, the good will and trustworthiness of the whole Catholic edifice becomes suspect. And that is precisely a scandal:

Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. They are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or to ‘social conditions that, intentionally or unintentionally, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible.’ This is also true of teachers who provoke their children to anger.6

The constant ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ used on LGBT people in general, and LGBT Catholics in particular, is wounding and exhausting. And if you are a Catholic that should matter to you. We are supposed to love one another at least as much as we are supposed to be chaste and truthful, and if you don’t care that you’re hurting us, then your love isn’t worth the javascript that expresses it.

Please stay with me, and keep listening. We need so much more, but we need you to start with prayer and we need the next step to be you listening to us. Those two things are part of what authentic love looks like. If you’ve got it, let’s see it.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of wickedness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. If any man among seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
—James 1.xix-xxvii

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1Indeed, though I would trust the Church to do so intelligently, I’d be reluctant to see her fiddle with this terminology. In Thomist philosophical parlance, objectively disordered is an exact equivalent of misdirected, which is a fairly harmless and completely unavoidable view of same-sex sexual desire if Catholic sexual mores are accepted in the first place. The problem arises in vernacular English, which uses phrases like objectively disordered (if it uses them at all) to mean ‘mentally sick, as anyone can see.’ This is not what the Church teaches and is, cough cough, not very helpful.
2They used to, say, forty years ago. However, just as the term Negro has changed its significance from being a preferred term to being an archaism or a term of mild abuse, so these words have shifted too.
3Up to and including written attacks and firings, not only of LGBT Catholics who espouse heterodox views, not only of those who don’t espouse heterodox views, but of those who make their celibate fidelity to the Church’s doctrine public.
4We don’t all have the same values, obviously. But the Catholic subconscious is as prepared as any other to play tricks on its ostensible master.
5I realize not all of us prefer the same words; I am generalizing for convenience. The principle of courtesy stands.
6The Catechism of the Catholic Church, §§2284, 2286.


  1. Thank you so much for this post. I really enjoy reading your blog because you cut through the fog around contentious issues and touch the heart of the matter

  2. If the Faithful were capable of behaving in the way you prefer, then they wouldn't need the Church, would they?

    1. I'm not sure I follow you. I mean, if Catholics improved in their treatment of LGBT people that would be a wonderful change, but it would leave every other problem untouched. Or, if you mean that if all Catholics were perfect, then certainly we wouldn't need the Church; and if the sky fell we would all catch larks. Hence my uncertainty whether I'm tracking with you.