Some Straight Talk on Catholic Homophobia

Some Straight Talk on Catholic Homophobia June 20, 2017

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Father Longenecker’s most recent post talks about the release of two different Catholic books on homosexuality (Fr. James Martin and Dan Mattson both put out titles this month). Longenecker basically lays out a very familiar approach to dealing with the problems raised by LGBTQ people with regard to the Church’s teaching on sexuality:

a) The Church’s teaching is simple and clear.

b) The Church’s teaching applies equally to everyone and is difficult for almost everybody.

c) There are plenty of straight people who can’t get married and they are expected to be celibate also.

This straightforward approach misses one really important aspect of the problem: straight people and their sexual sins are not treated the same way as gay people and their sexual sins. It doesn’t matter how often Catholics state and restate the fact that the Catechism is pretty much equal-opportunity in its condemnation of most people’s sexual behaviour, because the actual Church on the ground is not equal-opportunity in terms of tolerating the fact that almost nobody really accepts the teaching in practice.

I recently wrote specifically about the problem of homophobic firings within Catholic and Christian institutions. I also wrote about the fact that the Catholic media-sphere tends to get way more up-in-arms about portrayals of homosexuality than about unmarried heterosexual behaviour. I could add the fact that except in a very small minority of hyper-Catholic communities you can be twice married, sterilized and/or living with your opposite-sex partner and nobody will bat an eye. Nobody will say anything. Nobody will make uncomfortable comments in your presence. Nobody will question whether you should be involved in ministry to the youth. And you probably won’t hear anything about it from the pulpit.

In the many years that I’ve worked as a Catholic writer, I’ve met a number of married people who work for the Church or teach in Catholic schools who haven’t felt the slightest need to conceal their use of contraception. In some cases these are folks who I’ve met exactly once…yet I know that they don’t follow the teaching of Humanae Vitae. That’s how not worried they are that if anyone ever finds out they will lose their jobs. Why? Because everybody knows that if the Church suddenly fired everyone who uses contraception we would face a Catholic schoolteacher crisis, a finance officer crisis, a music-director crisis, a children’s liturgist crisis, and a parish secretary crisis to go along with the oft-lamented vocations crisis.

LGBTQ employees of Catholic institutions, on the other hand, do know that they have to stay in the closet or risk losing their jobs, because LGBTQ people do routinely get laid off because of their sexual choices – or in some cases, just because of their sexual orientation.

Now, it’s true that the Church’s teaching is consistent. And that it is insanely demanding for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. Yes, if you’re gay and you want to be obedient to the law of the Church you have to either forgo sex or enter into a mixed-orientation marriage. But if you’re straight, and you’re married, you have to be willing to pop out a kid every time NFP fails you – even if it puts your health at risk. (Or, alternatively, you could be married and have a brood of kids to take care of and still be expected to live “as brother and sister” with your spouse.) I’m not 100% convinced that permanent celibacy is always the more onerous cross here.

Which is why pretty much everyone deals with the demands of Catholic sexual morality by either ignoring it, or being unaware of it, or using the “frequent recourse to the Confessional” method of fidelity to the teaching. So far as I can make out that’s pretty much how it’s always been done, at least going back as far as the formal institution of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Folks who have sufficient sexual self-control to actually put the teaching into practice are about as common as folks who perfectly exercise justice towards the poor, folks who never covet their neighbour’s goods, and folks who literally pray without ceasing. We all know we’re commanded to do these things, and mostly we all know that we stand more in need of mercy than of plaudits.

But when it comes to homosexuality, suddenly that’s no longer okay. If you’re gay you can expect to subjected to an inquisition by random internet trolls with handles like SuperApologeticsMan or CatholicusMaximus or SledgehammerOfGod. You may be called upon at any time to publicly endorse the most harshly worded phrases from random Vatican documents concerning your sexuality. You might be literally asked to sign a document confirming your acceptance of the Church’s teaching before you can rent space in the parish hall.

If you’re gay, the usual ways that Catholics deal with sexual desire are no longer sufficient: you must be constantly on guard against every vestige of homosexuality, and your sole purpose in life must be the crucifixion of same-sex Eros. Anything less and you’re a heretic who is probably being paid by George Soros to advance the gay agenda.

I’m not saying that this is how Longenecker sees things (he mentions that most people struggle, and points out that Confession is an option.) Rather, I’m saying that the simple fact that LGBTQ people do consistently meet with this kind of toxic double-standard in Catholic culture has to be taken into account. It’s not enough to say that this is a “one-size fits all” teaching when the truth is that the teaching being given out to straight folks is made out of super-stretchy material and nobody says anything when it really doesn’t fit, while the one being given out to gay people is a hairshirt adorned with spikes and chains.

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