I meant to write you after your mea culpa, but it appears someone else beat me to it. I’m happy that you’re asking about the possibility of more effective pastoral outreach to men and women in the Church who experience same-sex attraction. I think, however, the invitation for another approach in the comments section, particularly by those experiencing same-sex attraction, is an invitation for those men and women to paint a bullseye on themselves. I know I’m not especially interested in proposing something else and having to defend it from every strained, hypothetical scenario a paranoid mind might contrive. I think, for some, there will always be a reason not to try something new, and it will always seem preferable to those same people for those making the proposal to just conform themselves to the status quo.
That said, some of the things I’d like to see are the following:
1. Deemphasize the reliance on psychological models of same-sex attraction. There is nothing, to my mind, that has poisoned the outreach to those with same-sex attractions than this. It has allowed too many to conflate the theological and psychological meanings of the term “disorder,” allows limitless rationalizations for nearly any type of discrimination and has absolutely no bearing on the Church’s promotion of chastity. To my mind, every etiological theory that has been proposed ought to be accorded the type of respect that C.S. Lewis attempted to illustrate with the theory of vitamins: if it doesn’t work, drop it. My supposition, from a casual glance at the state of general regard for the Church’s teaching on this matter, is that it’s been a disaster and has allowed that teaching to become linked to vastly overstated claims and outrageous therapeutic procedures.
2. Allow for the use of the terms “gay” and “homosexual” used as a noun. There are few things that I can think of that are more arrogant than the idea that the use of one of these words, in casual conversation, gives anyone a window into a person’s ontological self-definition, the quality of his commitment to chastity or his fidelity to Church teaching. This is simply not always the way these words are used in the common culture and, without explicit evidence to the contrary, no one ought ever assume that this is how they’re meant.
3. Canonize a gay saint. Those with same-sex attractions need the concrete example of someone who has known the unique and often lonely struggle they endure and has come out of it successfully. To say that there may be some anonymous gay saint is woefully insufficient as it invites the making of an imaginary construct suited to encompass whatever faults an individual would rather not work on. If the only other example you can point to is a few smoldering corpses beneath the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah, then you’ve utterly failed to communicate anything other than a wrathful God.
4. Be able to offer a tangible alternative to the life offered by homosexual activists. The fact is that the moral theology of same-sex attractions is a mess, governed mostly by the armchair speculations of those who’ve never known a moment of same-sex attraction in their lives. As a result, virtue, in the lives of those men and women with same-sex attractions tends to be abstract and hyper-spiritualized, void of any corporeal dimension. Too often the message is communicated that to the extent that the body represents anything other than an avenue for sin, it points to an eschatological reality that a homosexual has been granted no subjective hint of. In contrast, the gay community offers intimacy, companionship and, even if statistically unlikely, the possibility of a stable family.
5. Never use the Theology of the Body as an apologetical tool for same-sex attractions unless you are also prepared to answer some of the grim, unsavory implications that flow from it. The fact is that John Paul II’s series of talks doesn’t explicitly mention homosexuality, nor is it designed to other than to propose a Catholic vision of human sexuality. That vision states that the proper use of the sexual faculty will always be total, faithful and fruitful, even in the celibate state as practiced by priests and religious. The person with same-sex attractions, however, is saddled with a degenerate sexuality (see item 1) and while he may pantomime the celibate state, it will always be qualitatively different. While the priest’s or religious’ celibacy points towards eschatological man, the celibacy of the homosexual person appears to point right back to him and his brokenness. Taken to its logical end, the only thing the Theology of the Body offers those with same-sex attractions is a beautiful vision of sexuality that they themselves are too depraved to participate meaningfully in. Shallow though the alternative offered by the gay community may be, the parched will settle for meager offering of a shallow puddle if they think the river is out of reach.
6. Actively promote Courage as a social outlet. It never ceases to amaze me how sparsely attended every Courage meeting I’ve been to is. The list of active chapters that Courage lists online is horribly out of date, many having disbanded. Even in dioceses with active chapters, finding meeting places and times is a hassle; they’re not in any bulletin I’ve seen, nor are they announced from the pulpit or listed on the parish or diocesan website. If Courage really is the great thing that so many online seem to believe it is, perhaps, once away from the keyboard, you ought to stop behaving as though you’re ashamed of it.
Anyway, those are my preliminary suggestions. I realize that many are vague and negative, but I think that sometimes that’s needed. Given the track record of the past 30 years, it may be time to stop everything we’re doing and critically assess the effectiveness of what we’ve done so far.
As somebody who has no interior experience of this sort of attraction, I would be particularly interested in hearing from gay readers who are attempting to live as a Catholic disciple of Jesus. If straight readers could restrain their impulse to refute, correct, rebut or otherwise stick their oar in, I would appreciate it.