Synods Welcome: Short Takes on Gay Catholic Whatnot

Synods Welcome: Short Takes on Gay Catholic Whatnot October 14, 2014

based solely on the relatio so far since I wrote this early this morning. Gotta do Russian homework but will read the other stuff coming out of the Synod asap. I am but a hamster in the whirling news cycle.

Obviously the “relatio” is not official Church doctrine etc etc etc, and I have no idea how much it even reflects the conversations and thinking of the bishops. I tend to expect the worst from them; put not your trust in princes of the Church and all that. Still, on the specific subjects I know most about, the relatio basically heartened me. Here are a few thoughts.

This Washington Post piece quotes me at the very end (thanks!) but doesn’t quite capture what I found so striking about the relatio’s praise of the love and care within many gay couples. “Mutual aid” is a kind of bloodless phrase. The relatio actually notes the sacrificial love present in many gay relationships. That cuts against the gross psychological stereotyping that gay people are narcissistic and the rhetoric that same-sex couples don’t share “real” love.

The whole bit is, “Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.”

All of that is totally right and, not to lean on the horn, lines up nicely with what I say in my book. If more people in leadership and pastoral care knew this stuff, fewer people would get told that e.g. God requires them to break up their children’s home.

I’m personally left fairly cold by the language of “valuing” sexual orientation in itself. That may be due to the fact that I’ve never experienced shame or self-hatred based on my sexual orientation. If I needed more reassurance that being gay didn’t make me unworthy of God’s love, or that my orientation was not something to be loathed and destroyed, that language might speak to me a lot more.

For many of us our sexual orientation does flow out into expressions of love. For example, I agree with Wesley Hill that for some gay people it’s precisely our orientation which makes us unusually attuned to same-sex friendship. That may be especially true in our particular cultural moment, in which homosexuality is quite public and friendship relentlessly shunted into the private and even the trivial sphere. And I obviously don’t mean that gay people have “better” or deeper friendships than the rest of you people! Nonetheless I think the language of gay people having “gifts to offer” may help gay Catholics explore how our sexuality can be expressed, rather than repressed: how it can be channeled into friendship, artistic creation, teaching, etc.

Who is the synod for? On one level of course it’s for everybody. But the bull’s-eye of the target audience has got I think to be people who want to live as deeply in the faith as possible. People who are willing to do what they have to do—if they weren’t willing I don’t know how much they’d care about the yammering of the Catholic Church.

So I get that man is a rationalizing animal. But if your initial response to the relatio is to think of all the ways it can be used to rationalize sin, I would suggest that a) some people really are humbly trying to be closer to Christ—not everything is rationalization. And b) lots of stuff can be rationalized, including self-righteousness, anger, and machismo. (A lot of that “The Gospel is hard—I don’t get a pass on my sins and neither should anybody else” stuff has a whiff of machismo to me, and also, if it’s allowed to fester, a whiff of self-pity. But I realize that I have now swayed not only into Internet diagnosis but also meta-Pharisaism so I should probably sway right on back out.)

And on a final, related point, of course anything the synod says will be misunderstood. You can already see it in the breathless headlines about how the Pope is gonna be doing gay marriages any minute now. But if we focus on the ways the message of mercy and gentleness can be misunderstood, we need to focus just as intently on the ways the message of obedience and chastity can be misunderstood. “Holding the line” has been misinterpreted (I hope it’s misinterpretation…) as rejecting gay people, encouraging people to hate their sexuality, and blaming us when people discriminate against us or attack us.

That’s at least partly Christians’ own fault. Christians are at fault (all are responsible for the sins of all anyway, but here we are specifically at fault) when our morality is misinterpreted as judgment and rejection, because we have often acted in judgmental, rejecting ways. And we’ll also be at fault when our mercy and gentleness are inevitably misinterpreted as relativism, if we act as if the moral law doesn’t matter.

These misinterpretations don’t affect either the truth or the importance of the moral message—and the message of mercy.


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