There’s a reason that my title is so unwieldy. It has to do with the fact that I’m trying to parse out several things from the standpoint of a non-professional on these matters. When it comes down to it, I know very little about same-sex attraction, whether psychologically, biologically, or sociologically. What I do have are some friends who have taught me a lot about it, some articles I’ve read, and some ideas I want to throw around to get some feedback.
My basic starting point is that, while I accept the Catholic Church’s teaching on same-sex acts, I seem to interpret that teaching very strictly. I say “seem” because I have many Catholic friends who seem to interpret it much more strictly. My interpretation is that the teaching of the Church extends only to same-sex genital acts and does not refer to the sexuality as a whole. In other words, if sexuality is primarily about relationship, as some psychologists describe it, then there is much more to a sexuality than its genital expression. So what I’m not going to do here is speculate on why the Church thinks the genital manifestation of this sexuality is wrong. I’m going to take that for granted right now. I just want to explore how it seems to me that many other aspects of homosexual sexuality are very rich in their manifestations.
To borrow an example and then probably to mess it up completely, James Alison gives the following analogy:
Think of it this way. There is a distinction between left-handedness and the act of writing left-handedly. For most of us the distinction remains exactly that, and has no moral consequences. We would understand that a left-handed person forced to write right-handedly owing, say, to having their left arm in a plaster cast, or a right-handed person forced to write left-handedly for analogous reasons, would, with some difficulty, be able to learn to do so. These people would in some sense be acting “contra natura”. But the use of the hand appropriate to their handedness would be entirely unremarkable, and if we used words to describe it at all, they would be words like “typical” or “natural”. Now, imagine that, involved in a Catholic discussion, you find yourself addressing a left-handed person. You say: “Any left-handed writing you do is intrinsically wrong; and in fact the inclination we call left-handedness must be considered objectively disordered.”
I think what I’m saying, to continue with the left-handed metaphor, is that the index finger of the left hand has disordered inclinations such that it can’t point right, for example. However, the whole hand is not disordered as a result, and if the index finger is taped together to the other fingers, it can contribute very well to, say, shooting a basketball. It can make a very positive contribution.
To some degree, I think that’s what is being said over at the Spiritual Friendship blog. They say things like:
Our same-sex love can “express itself as chaste friendship or mystical approach to God rather than as gay sex.”
What we, in modernity, have chosen to call a “homosexual orientation” (or “being gay”) includes much of what Scripture and the Christian tradition commend as Christian virtues.
One of these virtues is the ability to form bonds of deep friendship with members of the same sex. He concludes that writers at Spiritual Friendship understand
“same-sex attraction” or “being gay” as broader, more inclusive categories that can’t be reduced to the behavior, or even the desire for, gay sex. Just as chaste chivalry, to take just one example, can be an expression of heterosexuality, so we’re suggesting that chaste friendship (or a number of other ways of expressing love) can be an expression of homosexuality.
I find this position attractive and probably another good reason why we should be wary with Michael Hannon of the category of “orientation.” There is so much to homosexual sexuality that cannot be put into the orientation box just as there is so much to heterosexual sexuality that cannot be put into that same box.
Within the broad category of “relationality,” spirituality, friendship, and apostolic effectiveness come to mind.
Spirituality. In my experience, there is a richness to homosexual expressions of spirituality that are entirely separable from the desire for genital expression. For me, it’s almost enough to read John of the Cross’ Spiritual Canticle to make this point. Stanza XXVII for example:It seems apparent to me there is 1. A beautiful spiritual expression here of same-sex attraction and love that 2. Does not have to have anything to do with “orientation,” and which 3. I’m not capable of having. This is not my spirituality, pure and simple. It makes me uncomfortable. But it is quite comforting to many others and has been a profound source of a rich spirituality throughout the centuries.
There He gave me His breasts,
There He taught me the science full of sweetness.
And there I gave to Him
Myself without reserve;
There I promised to be His bride.
Friendship. It has been my experience as well that often friendships with those who have same-sex attractions grow and develop richly as a result of those attractions and not despite them. There is something helpfully intuitive about friends with same-sex attractions that allow them to emphathize with other men in ways that many heterosexual men cannot do. Which leads to…
Apostolic Effectiveness. Many men with same-sex attractions have been profoundly successful in ministry, both within the priesthood and outside of it, again, as a result and not despite their particular sexuality. That is at least my observational experience.
So what I ask and welcome are any helpful comments about how to think about these realities, beginning from what the Church teaches. I’m curious as to whether others interpret the Church’s teaching in the same way and what they think it means practically. I’m also curious as to whether others have found my observational ramblings to match their experience.