I am not the best person to contribute to a symposium on “The Future of Catholicism” because while I believe in Catholicism, I don’t really believe in the future. I have the predictive ability of this Time magazine cover.
So instead of doing predictions I’ll briefly sketch out my dream scenario, and my nightmare. I’M SORRY THIS IS SO LONG.
The dream: The challenge of shepherding gay and same-sex attracted Catholics has forced us to rediscover hidden treasures of our faith. Ordinary Catholics visit monasteries and look to monastic models to guide them in their own vocations. We’ve revived the Scriptural vision of celibacy for the kingdom. There’s another wrenching monk or nun movie like every year.
Those vocations are widely varied, and everybody knows about them. Priests give homilies about pouring your life out in service, or in devoted friendship. Most Catholics know someone who lives in community, whether lay or religious. Catholic institutions have developed practical ways to support caregiving outside of marriage.
We’re open about the suffering that comes with the Catholic sexual ethic for almost everyone who practices it. We don’t police the acceptable ways to describe your struggles with NFP, with sexual fidelity, with adolescent desire and confusion, with gender identity; with infertility, or with exhausting fertility. We don’t judge people for questioning, struggling, or sinning. We just want you to stay in the fold. “Keep coming back,” as they say, because you need the Church and She needs all her lambs.
Parishes and other networks, like lay movements and friendship circles, come together to serve. If you’re a new mom they’ll bring care packages–to single moms, too. If you’re going through a divorce they’ll come together to make sure you don’t face it alone. If you’re in a celibate partnership they’ll bring your partner food when you’re in the hospital. (My dream future is a land of casseroles.) They’ll help you talk through the frustrations and challenges of marriage, friendship, celibacy, parenting… and trying to figure out if you’re ever going to do any of those things in a way you find fruitful.
You’ll notice I haven’t said the word “gay” since that first sentence. That’s because in this dream future, gay Catholics are not set apart. We are not treated as Fifth Columnists or super-holy mascots (as long as you say what we tell you to say!) or anything other than ordinary Christians working out our salvation in fear and trembling.
The nightmare: There are two camps in the Church. If you go to Our Lady of Feelings, they’ll do “partnership blessings” or “friendship ceremonies” which everybody knows are covert gay weddings. If you confess gay sex they’ll tell you you should confess homophobia instead. The recessional at every Mass is Madonna’s “Express Yourself.” The most recent assembly speaker at the parish high school was Stephen Fry. Middle-school kids learn that condoms are God’s way of getting us into a good college. Everybody receives Communion at every Mass.
If you go to Our Lady of Teen Suicides, all the homilies are about gay marriage and how it has caused legalized abortion, bird flu, and a rain of frogs from the sky. Every other month there is a speaker who gives a talk called, “I’m Not Gay and So Can You.” (It’s never the same speaker because they keep mysteriously leaving the Church or dying.) Middle-school kids learn that most of their classmates are used chewing gum or tape that has lost its stickiness, or a Kleenex metaphor that I have blessedly forgotten. There are underground, unlicensed therapists who promise that they can hug you straight. Everybody’s pro-life and yet for some reason you never see a pregnant teen. Everybody receives Communion at every Mass–with nervous glances.
The reality: Both of these scenarios are already with us, kind of. I think the future of orthodox gay Catholics is both embattled and flourishing. Being in the middle of a cultural uproar–being a human shibboleth–can drain your faith away. But I do think our noisy future is better than our covert past. Silence = Death, y’all, don’t shut up.