This is an apology, but not a retraction. My most recent post—confessing to mixed emotions about the Supreme Court’s decisions on same-sex marriage—seems to have created as much confusion in my readers as there is in my head.
Some people are concerned that I personally believe what I said I feared: that my Church sees homosexual persons not as sinners, but as sin itself. I know that’s not Church teaching, far from it. But it is, in my experience and observation, all too often Church practice. And there’s a reason for that, rooted in the incredibly difficult task, in the instance of homosexuality, of “loving the sinner, hating the sin.” In no other case do we so utterly presume the sin based on the very presence of the person. Unmarried heterosexual individuals having sex, heterosexual married persons having affairs, adults committing child abuse—all of these and many other sinners of every stripe can and do sit in the pews (and even, we know to our sorrow, minister at the altar) and receive Communion and are welcomed, because the presumption is that they are good. We know most heterosexual couples, even Catholic couples, live together before marriage, but do we assume every single adult in the parish is fornicating?
There is also the attitude shared by many Catholics that homosexuality is itself an immoral choice of “lifestyle,” even though Church teaching is clear that the causes of homosexuality are not understood. This attitude reveals itself in statements like “there can’t be gay marriage because there’s no such thing as a gay person,” or in so-called reparative therapy.
I believe my Church professes the dignity and worth of every human person, and the potential for every sinner to receive the grace of reconciliation and the strength to walk the lifelong journey of conversion. I just don’t think we have found a way to say that to people who are homosexual, let alone heterosexual persons who are unmarried (including those vowed to celibacy)—a language that speaks to our worth in God’s eyes, our capacity for holiness, our longing to bring all people into joyful communion in Christ.
That very lack of language on my own part has caused many readers to dismiss what I wrote as catering to sinners, and to dismiss me as not truly Catholic.
For my lack of clarity, I am deeply regretful. But I hope we keep trying for the right words, the right actions to let Love grow. In the meantime, I want to offer links to the words of two writers who have said it so much better than I, with a Tip of the Cowl to My Friend the Hermit for both these gems.
Writing at First Things, Ron Belgau calls attention to two scriptural models of “Condemnation, Forgiveness, and New Life”:
7. If we are to be Christ’s ambassadors in the world, we must approach others with the same compassion and kindness that Christ showed the woman taken in adultery (though at times we must also speak with the boldness and unflinching courage with which he opposed the proud and hypocritical religious leaders of His time). We must speak with humility that recognizes that we, too, have sinned, that we cannot cast the stone at others’ for their sins, even if those sins are judged more disreputable than ours in the eyes of society. And we must show the gentleness and patience with which God responds to all of our sins.
8. This is not a “liberal” call for tolerance of sin. The surprising thing about the teaching of Jesus and Paul is that they are both much kinder and much more demanding than the scribes and Pharisees. In His teaching about lust (Matthew 5:27-30) and His teaching about divorce and remarriage (Matthew 5:31-32; Matthew 19:3-12), Jesus presented a very demanding call to holiness.
What a wonderful reminder to be ambassadors of Christ who are at one and the same time “both much kinder and much more demanding” than the scribes and Pharisees! We will never have the chance to witness to the demands of the Christian life if we do not have the radical kindness to reach out to those in need of what we have to share!
And at the USCCBlog, Sister Mary Ann Walsh writes with her usual practical wisdom about how, in this and every other case, listening and speaking are gateways:
So, like it or not, the fact is that my obscenity-spewing caller is a brother in pain, just as the sweet mother struggling with her daughter’s lifestyle is a hurting sister. So too are the legislators and judges who weigh the issues that can form the culture and affect our lives. The Church needs to minister to them all.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus warns us not to turn back once we’ve set our hands to the plow. Me, I’m taking that to mean that as we do the work it takes to Let love grow, we need to cast aside the distractions the Tempter throws in our path by way of exaggeration and bias. That means remembering that the street theater and purposefully provocative sexual anarchy often on display in Gay Pride celebrations today is no more an accurate characterization of all homosexual persons than the Friendly Atheist‘s portrait of the Church as a criminal child-rape ring is an accurate characterization of who we are. That there are blasphemous LGBT folks and abusive clergy covered up by cowardly bishops are both facts, through the most grievous fault of the perpetrators themselves and to the sorrow of all.
Pray that we do not let the extremes of sin outshout the depths of our kindness or the authenticity of our witness.