How the Catholic Church’s Views on Gays Might Evolve

Below is the final of a series of posts presenting excerpted videos and transcripts of an interview I conducted October 14, 2012 with my college best friend John Hazlet, whose struggles with doubt and depression were instrumental in my personal deconversion. (The full two part interview is here and here.) At the time of our interview John was a Benedictine monk, publicly discussing his homosexuality and struggles with mental illness. In June of 2013, John left the monastery. He is in a relationship with a man. He remains a Catholic.   

Dan Fincke: Earlier we talked a lot about, in the first video, we talked a lot about how the Church is constantly progressing, or at least has the potential within it to progress, that it has mechanisms within it to progress. And that even in the twentieth century, the Church has finally taken into account an intrinsic value for pleasure in sex. Now, the question is, in that whole discussion, it sounded like you had an optimism, or a hope, that a future progression would be more embracing of homosexuality, and… now, you didn’t say that, of course, I don’t mean to put words in your mouth. But I do want to ask you whether or not you … well, two things. Are there any points at which you think presently the Church is still behind in understanding homosexuality, and needs to become more affirmative, or more nuanced, that you think, Yeah, from what I understand of modern psychology, from my own experience, morality, the Church still, like, I think this is an advance that needs to become more common, or maybe some… maybe you could even point us to some authors who are pushing a certain way, and you think, This is good, we should go there. Then secondly, whether or not you feel even willing to entertain yourself making arguments for an intrinsic goodness, whether or not you think the Church is… has it within it to make that argument, or that it’s possible within the current resources of the Church to make that argument, and … that … whether or not you would even try it, would you experiment with it? And if you wouldn’t be willing to experiment with it, why not? Would … might there be some intellectual lack of guts there? If you’re not willing to go that far, are you … is there a deferentialness? Or do you think maybe over time you are willing to start to, at least as an experiment, see if you can make arguments for the Church coming to a fully accepting view of homosexuality and even marriage?

Bede (John) Hazlet: Well, for one thing, I… I wouldn’t presume to say what direction development is going to move in. Because if I were to do that, I would be untrue to my own vision of how it works. I can’t predict where it’s going to go, and neither can anyone else. Only time will tell. I was trying to insinuate that I think there are some lines of development that are already in progress that could be moved to another stage, to a more affirmative understanding of what it means to be gay, and even to live that way. And I guess… and I don’t think this is a lack of guts, exactly, but I do have deference for the tradition as it’s developed so far, and for the hierarchy, and so forth. Because I respect the role that all of that plays, just as I respect the role that disagreeing voices play, and the dialogue that then unfolds, sometimes very uncomfortably or even antagonistically. I would not be willing to preach, to sort of publicly teach as Christian teaching, the kind of account of homosexuality that you describe. I would be able to argue for it in the context of theological debate, because I think it needs to be argued for. I think this conversation needs to happen.

So without pretending to think that the view that I would sort of argue in favor of is going to be the Church’s view at some point, I would be very willing to say, this view needs to be articulated and dealt with, interacted with, theologically, if we’re going to move toward whatever developmental stage is going to happen next in the Spirit. And that may, again, seem like hair splitting, but I do think it’s important that if one is speaking as a representative of the Church, one can’t really go beyond the stage that its development has so far reached. Well, one can; one probably shouldn’t. I think that if you’re engaged in theological debate about things, you not only can, but should be challenging. Ideas of a fairly radical, even sort of wacky nature should be aired and discussed as part of the whole hashing out of the question of where development is going to happen. And I think it’s very possible that neither I nor people I’ve interacted with have what’s going to emerge as the answer, that maybe the insight is going to come from some completely unexpected quarter, and take a completely unanticipated form that will surprise us all. So I don’t know…

Dan Fincke: That’s the [garbled] state of the debate. That’s an affirmation of a humble… that you have a humble place in a larger discussion.

Bede (John) Hazlet: Exactly.

Dan Fincke: But would you … are you inclined to advocate out of … at least … you know, even if you qualify that this is just your hunch, would you be willing to say … you know, this is your viewpoint you want to dialectically interact with others. Would you be willing to take as your viewpoint, homosexuality is… or, at least, you know, on some spectrum, I know you don’t like the word … that these spectrums of feelings in relationships are good, and worth … and deserve the sacrament of marriage. Would you be willing to say that, even if it’s only your own conscience, that you are inclined towards that, and that you want to argue, and develop arguments for it?

Bede (John) Hazlet: Well, in my conscience, I really don’t think I have the answer. I think that’s part of what I’m trying to get at. I do think that our current way of articulating this set of issues is inadequate, both ecclesially and secularly. I’m waiting for something clearer, something more deeply insightful. And I have some ideas about what form that insight might take. But they don’t yet take the form of anything I would want to advocate for as my own deepest conviction about it.

Dan Fincke: You’re not convinced, though, that there could never be a sacrament for gay marriage?

Bede (John) Hazlet: Well, that’s actually a different issue. Even if I were to say that gay relationships can be good and blessable, which is something I think needs to be discussed and argued about, and I have very deep respect for people who are living those kinds of relationships as Catholics in a conscientious way, I don’t think marriage is the appropriate category for it. I think marriage as an essentially sort of heterosexual, potentially procreative institution, understood as a sacrament, is something that should probably remain intact. And that was even my conviction when I was in an Anglican context thinking much more progressively about these issues. I think the nature of desire between the sexes, and desire for a member of one’s own sex, is just very different. So I don’t think marriage is the right paradigm to be thinking in terms of.

Dan Fincke: But what about … because, you know, if you don’t think in terms of marriage, do you at least allow for the adoption of children, so that someone’s being inclined towards a homosexual love, a homosexual romantic connection, doesn’t preclude their also being allowed to be… to have the human experience and fulfillment of children?

Bede (John) Hazlet: That’s something I feel very divided about. On the one hand, I think there is something important to be said for the fact that children naturally emerge from the context of men and women together. On the other hand, I also think it’s true that just in the course of human history, children have been reared in highly unconventional, sort of, environments. That, having been brought to birth by a man and a woman, one sometimes ends up being brought up in a very different sort of situation. So I don’t know. There again, my ideas would still be very much in flux.

Dan Fincke: Okay, thank you.

Bede (John) Hazlet: I’m sorry. I’m sympathetic with both sides of the debate, I guess.

Dan Fincke: Sure. Well, thank you so much, John, for coming on here. Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?

Bede (John) Hazlet: No. Thank you for inviting me. And we’ll probably do something like this again.

Dan Fincke: Great, I’d love to have you back. It would be wonderful.

Bede (John) Hazlet: Thank you.

Dan Fincke: Okay, well, that’s it for The Camels With Hammers Show, October 14, 2012. This is our fourth episode, and I hope to see you next week, when I should have on The Heresy Club, a blog run by a bunch of … mostly British skeptics and atheists, including several who have made the news quite ambitiously. And they’re very excited, and I’m very excited that they’re gonna be here next week. They’re gonna pick the topic, and we’re just gonna have a free-for-all, a freefall… yeah, a freewheeling discussion that hopefully does not go into freefall, about various issues

Bede (John) Hazlet: Freefalling is actually quite fun! [both laugh]

Dan Fincke: … that they’re interested about, so, thanks again, John, and good luck.

Bede (John) Hazlet: Thank you, bye!

Below, in chronological order, are the nine other posts of video segments and transcripts in this series:

How My Best Friend Helped End My Faith and then Became an Openly Gay Monk
Out of the Closet for the 1st Time, at Oxford
On Anglicanism and On Celibate Love
How Catholic Moral Teaching On Sexuality Is Evolving
Does A Good God Guide The Catholic Church? A Debate
Is The Catholic Church’s Treatment of Gays Morally Defensible? A Debate
Does Celibacy Infantilize and Create Child Molesting Priests?
A Gay Monk Argues Against Reparative Therapy
On Treating Mental Illness, Rather Than Romantically Theologizing It

The transcripts in this series were created this summer by Josiah “BibleName” Mannion. He donated his time to produce the more than 22,000 word transcript of the entire interview. 

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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