Defining deviancy down: Andy Warhol refashioned as an “intentionally celibate” Catholic

 

My Patheos colleague Marc Barnes asserts on his Bad Catholic blog that Andy Warhol was not only “gay and Catholic,” but was also “intentionally celibate” in a manner that reveals “an effort at communion with the teachings of the Catholic Church”:

Whether his understanding of the amoral nature of art (by which recording and artistically expressing a sinful thing not necessarily sinful in itself) is some sort exoneration is not important. It’d be a fool who’d make him a Saint — it’s difficult to get people who flirt with cocaine on the Calendar — but it’d be the greater fool who’d make Andy Warhol a proud sinner.

For the Church Andy Warhol loves did not and does not teach that it is a sin to be gay, to carry with oneself same-sex attraction. The Catholic Church teaches that homosexual actions are detrimental to the human person, and thus sinful. For Andy Warhol to be openly gay (he mentions he’d “always had a lot of fun with that — just watching the expression on people’s faces…) and at the same time intentionally celibate seems to represent a certain peace about the man, an intellectual separation of the sinless same-sex attraction and the sinful homosexual action, and an effort at communion with the teachings of the Catholic Church. If it is sinful from the Catholic perspective, it is only sinful in that he may have lead others astray, those who did not know of his intentional celibacy. [Marc Barnes, "Andy Warhol, Gay and Catholic"]

I wonder if such assertions stem in part from a misunderstanding of Blessed John Paul II’s Catechesis on Human Love (aka theology of the body). John Paul’s catechesis, which is often cited by those wishing to defend nudity in photographic media as a form of “art,” in fact draws a bright line between the depiction of the naked body in fine arts and in photographic media. Whereas the fine artist has the means at his disposal to depict the nude in a manner that is faithful to the truth of the human person, the photographer, filmmaker, or videographer, regardless of intention, is at a very high risk of turning the subject into “an anonymous object”:

It should be added at once that when artistic reproduction becomes the content of representation and transmission (on television or in films), it loses, in a way, its fundamental contact with the human body, of which it is a reproduction. It often becomes an anonymous object, just like an anonymous photographic document published in illustrated magazines, or an image diffused on the screens of the whole world [John Paul II, General Audience of April 15, 1981, "The Human Body, Subject of Works of Art"].

Another very important point of John Paul’s catechesis that is often missed by those doing apologetics on behalf of images of nudity is that the pope’s entire teaching on the theology of the body is about how the body enables communion of persons—and that “communion of persons” for John Paul, whether human-with-human or human-with-God, is never defined as being “body to body.” Rather, the late Holy Father always describes communion of persons as “face to face.”

What, then would John Paul II have made of Warhol works of “art” such as the notorious “Torsos and Sex Parts” series? Or the artist’s euphemistically titled “Blue Movie”? Or his enthusiastic (and sadly prophetic) promotion of home video as a means for individuals to “make the best pornography movies“? (“It’s going to be so great,” he enthused in a 1966 interview.) Or his constant public display of his fascination with transsexuals, voyeurism, sadism, and sexual exploitation? Or his putting on his payroll Paul Morrissey, whose claim to fame was a film that sadistically exploited a 14-year-old boy? Can anyone truly believe that the pope who approved a document equating pornography with media depictions of “sadistic violence” would have considered such actions to reflect “intentionally celibate” mindset?

Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a product of John Paul’s pontificate, has to say about pornography:

Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials. [CCC 2354]

Andy Warhol spent a lifetime creating works of “art” that consisted in “removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties.” And now he is a role model of intentional celibacy? Is this where promoting the “gay Catholic” label leads? If so, I can’t help but believe that Daniel Mattson is right when he writes that the claim for such a thing as “gay Catholic” identity does not do justice to the Church’s teaching of the fundamental identity of the human person as a child of God in Jesus Christ. Mattson writes:

I too am a Roman Catholic, living with a homosexual inclination and committed to chastity. But I do not identify as “gay.” Rather, I say that “I live with same-sex attraction.” Like “consubstantial,” it is an awkward phrase, nearly absent from common usage. I refuse to identify myself as gay because the label “gay” does not accurately describe who (or what) I am. More fundamentally, I refuse to use that label because I desire to be faithful to the theological anthropology of the Church. [Daniel Mattson, "Why I Don't Call Myself a Gay Christian"]

If you want to praise Andy Warhol for his daily Mass attendance, or for anything else he did to practice or show respect for Catholic faith, I will gladly join you. But don’t tell me that Andy Warhol was not “a proud sinner,” as Barnes seems to say, let alone that he was “intentionally celibate.” To make such a claim goes against the Church’s constant teaching, in the words of Augustine, that “the virtue which makes the life good has its throne in the soul, and thence rules the members of the body, which becomes holy in virtue of the holiness of the will” (City of God, I.16). A “celibate” person who encourages others to commit sexual violations is no celibate at all.

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