Clapback Comes for the Archbishop, Part Two

Clapback Comes for the Archbishop, Part Two September 25, 2019

Part One

And now, let’s pivot to my dissatisfaction with Archbishop Chaput’s column. He lays out several discrete concerns about Fr Martin’s ministry, helpfully numbered. Let’s begin at the beginning.

1. Father Martin suggests that same-sex attracted people and people with gender dysphoria should be labelled according to their attraction and dysphoria … But while the Church does teach that the body is integral to human identity, our sexual appetites do not define who we are. If we are primarily defined by our sexual attractions, then, in order to be fulfilled, it would follow that we must identify with and act on our attractions.

The first problem with this is that Fr Martin didn’t say that. I dug up the article to which His Excellency alludes, and what Fr Martin in fact said is this:

Naming LGBT people what they ask to be named is part of the “respect” called for by the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This may be the most important reason to use the term LGBT … Refusing to call a group by the name that most in the group prefer borders on disrespect. LGBT youth, who are often harrassed, bullied, and “called names,” are especially attentive to disrespectful language.

The difference between His Excellency’s “should be labelled by their attractions” and Fr Martin’s “should be labelled as they prefer” is enormous. The one presumes that the label is philosophically reductive (thus incidentally showing the author’s unfamiliarity with LGBT activism and literature); the other recognizes that it is common politeness to address people as they ask you to. And common politeness is the form that respect most often takes.

As for the Archbishop’s theoretical basis for refusing to use such language, well, Fr Martin addressed that too, in the same piece.

When people describe themselves as LGBT it does not mean that they consider their sexuality or [gender] identity the dominant trait of their personhood, any more than people who refer to themselves as “Italian Catholics” or “elderly Catholics” consider this the dominant trait. … Using an adjective is not equivalent to defining a person or group in terms of one characteristic. Likewise, the term does not constitute a declaration of support for a political ideology or theological position. For example, when a young person identifies as “gay” or “lesbian,” he or she is simply expressing a part of who he or she is, not making a claim about any controversial issues.

Speaking from my own experiences as a gay man and occasional activist before and since converting to Catholicism, Fr Martin is completely correct. In fifteen years as an out queer person, I can count literally on the fingers of one hand the number of queer-identifying people who consider LGBT language to imply any specific philosophy of the human person; it isn’t even usually a philosophy of sex. Anyone who has spent time in queer spaces will tell you that holding labels lightly and being willing to alter our usage (and, especially, respecting the labels others use) is accepted etiquette among us, precisely because we don’t reduce ourselves or one another to these labels—precisely because these labels are personal and social rather than ontological, and are governed by the rules of social interactions accordingly. And two of the big rules of social interactions are: don’t tell other people what they mean, and don’t ignore them when they ask you to address them as they prefer.

Excursus: LGBT Language

Images via Pixabay


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  • “[T]hus incidentally showing the author’s unfamiliarity with LGBT activism and literature”.

    I should hope so. A bishop has far better things to do with his time than familiarise himself with “LGBT activism and literature”, as does everyone else.

  • Irksome1

    If you don’t or won’t understand a particular subculture, then you won’t be able to evangelize it, assuming you have a genuine interest in doing so.

  • Naters

    Well you certainly would make a terrible evangelizer if you’re not going to read LGBT literature.

  • I am not going to watch paint drying or grass growing either, so I suppose I might as well not bother evangelising painters or gardeners.

  • Irksome1

    Perhaps that’s just as well since you’re so reductive as to look for the values and aspirations of painters and gardeners in things such as grass growing and paint drying.

  • Naters

    Martin says he speaks the way he does because he says gays often hear about how “disordered” they are, and often times that’s the only thing they ever hear from the Church, and I don’t really blame them. When the Church insists on using “intrinsically disordered”, it doesn’t really matter how many times they claim they love gays. Using that term is a mark of privilege for people who aren’t attracted to the same sex.

  • Irksome1

    The term is “objectively disordered.” It is a term applied to the predisposition to engage in same-sex sexual activity alone. It is a technical term meant to describe a human faculty that has been misdirected (“disordered”) towards an improper goal (“object”). What term would you rather use that preserves this meaning?

  • Naters

    Pope Francis uses the word “inadmissible” instead. Eve Tushnet gives a really good insight into how problematic “intrinsically disordered” is: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/evetushnet/2010/06/719.html

  • He might have better things to do in general. But when speaking to or about a group of people, being familiar with the language and culture of that group is not optional, whether you approve of them or not. The alternative is ignorance; and ignorance about any group of people is a bad place to work from when you’re trying to be an evangelist, an apologist, a teacher, or a shepherd — tasks that are either implicit in the Archbishop’s office or that he has taken upon himself voluntarily.

  • Rather, it is a statement of fact. As the saying goes, facts do not care about feelings. Paedophiliac and bestial desires are also intrinsically disordered. By your logic, calling them that is a mark of privilege for people who are not attracted to children or animals.

  • Naters

    Pedophilia and bestiality are not comparable to homosexuality. The first two involve perversion, and the other, not so much.

  • Naters

    I already posted a link to one of Eve Tushnet’s blogs explaining why the term is problematic.

  • Naters
  • If the phrase is really that confusing, then certainly a case can be made for using a different phrase that means exactly the same thing.

  • What in the world are you talking about, Naters? Homosexuality plainly involves perversion, unless you think having sex with members of the same sex as oneself is somehow not perverted.

  • Irksome1

    Pope Francis used “inadmissible” to refer to the death penalty specifically. My take on that being that the death penalty, in itself, is not morally problematic, just that the circumstances that would render its use legitimate no longer exist today. Same-sex sexual activity, however, is something that is evil in itself. Circumstances do not exist under which this moral judgement can change. So, what term, other than “objectively disordered” would you prefer?

  • Naters

    That I’m not sure of, but I think I should refer you over to Spiritual Friendship for this one. I think this and what Eve says point out the problems more than I could: https://spiritualfriendship.org/2013/08/04/intrinsically-disordered-how-not-to-talk-about-homosexuality/

  • Naters

    But what you fail to understand is that homosexuality is more than just sex. Pedophilia and bestiality are all about sex and only sex.

  • Naters

    I think Eve said it best that you can’t just separate sexual desire from non-sexual love, because eros doesn’t work that way. Gays are who they are because of their orientation.

  • As is homosexuality.

  • Irksome1

    Yeah I’m familiar with the arguments against the Church’s language on this issue. In fact, there’s a problem generally concerning language on this issue. Ron Belgau has pointed this out a few times. I think there are those with an axe to grind who prefer it this way. If we’re going to say that a certain way of describing the teaching is counter-productive or too easily mistaken for something else, it seems that the person making such a claim ought to be able to suggest an alternative. I know Father Martin has, though I don’t think his suggestion illustrates the grave nature of what we’re discussing.

  • Irksome1

    That’s interesting. Father John F. Harvey, the founder of Courage and therapist to many homosexuals actually said a great many times that homosexuality had very little to do with sex. The entire corpus of NARTH’s approach to homosexuality made obvious that it was about so much more. I’m interested to find out why you think differently than therapists who spent their entire lives seeing these people and a priest who founded the only apostolate for these people that is approved by the Church.

  • Naters

    Spiritual Friendship says that using moral absolutes would be better instead of using a very waffly term like “intrinsically disordered”. Some bishops such as Cupich have said that kind of language is ham-fisted.

  • Because I know the definition of homosexuality.

  • Naters

    Wow, you really don’t get it. Homosexuality can involve sex, but it can also involve a lot more.

  • Irksome1

    Right, and seem to dissent from the Church’s distinction between act and impulse.

  • No one could dissent from that distinction, which is, after all, a matter of common sense.

  • I suspect our disagreement has now come down to one about the meaning of “about”, which does not seem like a profitable avenue to pursue. No doubt a homosexual inclination can lead a person to do other things than engage in homosexual sex acts, if for no other reason than that it is often (although not invariably) necessary to build up a relationship with another homosexual against whom to commit such acts. Granting that, however, the distinction you draw between homosexuality, on the one hand, and paedophilia and bestiality, on the other, still fails. A person who commits sex acts against children or animals would be equally entitled to maintain that his or her inclination towards such acts can also lead him or her to do other things. In that regard, paedophilia and bestiality can also be said to be “about” more than just sex. It does not follow that they are not perversions.

  • Irksome1

    Well, it’s either one or the other, isn’t it? Homosexuality is either solely about the act, by definition, or as the Church, Courage, and psychologists who have spent a lifetime studying the subject hold, it is more complicated than such a crude simplification which sees everything in terms of disordered sexual acts.

  • Naters

    But what you don’t understand is that there are perfect examples of gay eros that can be compatible with Catholic tradition, whereas there is no man-animal eros that can be reconcilable.

  • Illithid

    As someone who has been in love with a man and with a woman, I disagree. The feeling is the same, and it’s not just sexual attraction.

  • I do not see any reason to accept that assertion. It seems to me that either a) all disordered sexual desires must be capable of leading to actions that are compatible with Catholic tradition or b) none of them can.

  • Naters

    I’m just going to leave you with this because obviously you’re not listening: https://spiritualfriendship.org/2013/04/23/on-reading-richard-giannone/