In an article a couple of weeks ago entitled “This I Believe: Created in God’s Image,” a Jesuit brother of mine, Damian Torres-Botello, affirmed the dignity of all LGBTQ men and women. He also expressed his solidarity with them as a gay man, a man who fully accepts that he is gay and has been created in the image and likeness of God. He accepts that he is more than his skin color, his sexual orientation, or any of these other deeply important characteristics, and that the most important facet of his being is that he is a human being made in the image and likeness of God.
I am on record saying that I think it is a good thing for priests to be able, in appropriate circumstances, to “come out” to their parishioners and other people they serve. It can be a deeply consoling thing for a person who experiences same-sex attraction to hear that a priest has experienced the same thing, and yet, as Damian says, refuses to restrict himself to that facet of his experience.
The concern that I have with Damian’s article – and I write this entirely in the spirit of fraternal dialogue (believe me, we discuss this topic a lot!) – is that articles such as this and “Fine By Me” in The Jesuit Post can come off as sounding as if they accept a commonly understood LGBTQ lifestyle, a lifestyle that includes homogenital expression. For example, in “Fine By Me,” the author speaks approvingly of songs such as Macklemore’s “Same Love,” a song whose message runs contrary to Church teaching on married love. Another article about the coming out of NBA basketball player Jason Collins also speaks approvingly of “Same Love.” Macklemore’s message, to be clear, is that “underneath it’s all the same love.” But if this were true, then the Church should accept the right to gay marriage.
So while the sentiments are warm and positive, are they fair to a gay person? Is it fair to express agreement on a widely read Catholic website that it’s all the “same love?” There is a heavy emphasis in many TJP articles that address questions of sexual orientation on acceptance, tolerance and the fact that many gay people do not feel welcome in the Catholic Church. And this is true: many gay Catholics feel judged by fellow parishioners and do not feel comfortable worshiping side by side with other Catholics. That should not happen. That is clear.
But when the emphasis falls entirely on acceptance, on “same love,” and on the judgmentalism of the Church, the impression (in my reading) that can remain to a reader is that a gay lifestyle that includes homogenital expression is an acceptable lifestyle. I’m not saying that Damian or anyone else at TJP thinks this. I’m saying that the impression can be that this is the case.
For someone like Damian, affirming the dignity that he has as a gay man and as someone who has taken a vow of chastity can be a very affirming thing. But what about gay men and women who have not taken a vow of chastity? When they read such articles, will they conclude that they too are invited to live a life of chastity? Or will they conclude, rather, that if they are not in religious life, the Church should welcome them along with their lifestyle of homogenital expression, a lifestyle that the Church cannot condone?
I think that an article such as Damian’s has to do much more than emphasize: “The Church needs to accept everyone, including all LGBTQ people, without judgment.” While this is true of the person, it is only half of the truth. The other half is that LGBTQ people who are members of the Church have to accept the Church’s teaching in regard to their own personal lifestyle and vocation. As Eve Tushnet – herself a lesbian – explains so well in her recent book “Gay and Catholic,” LGBTQ people are not “called” to abstinence. Callings are not to a negative but to a positive. She explains:
In my view everyone has a vocation, and probably more than one. A vocation is the path or way of life in which God is calling us to pour out our love for him and for other particular human beings. Vocation is always a positive act of love, not a refraining-from-action. So celibacy, in and of itself, isn’t a vocation in this sense, although it can be a discipline that frees one up for one’s vocations.
While LGTBQ Catholics must live a life of sexual abstinence, they are also called to live a rich vocation within the Catholic Church. One crucial component of their dignity lies precisely in this calling to live out a vocation that incorporates these important elements of their identity into a vocation that serves the Church. Without an explanation of this vocation, a gay person could read these articles and get the impression that the Church must welcome both them and their lifestyle of homogenital expression. That it at least a concern that I have. What the Church welcomes, rather, is the person, that person’s dignity, and that person’s vocation, a vocation that incorporates many facets of what it means to identify as LGBTQ, but which does not include homogenital expression. This is a challenge to many, but a challenge about which we must always be level lest we foster confusion.