Do we really need to apologize?

Do we really need to apologize? August 14, 2016

Today, Vox Nova is pleased to present a guest post by Stephen Adubato.  Moderation of the comments will be handled by the regular contributors.

The phenomenon of papal statements on aircrafts has quickly become a provocative, revelatory, and apparently now regular ministry of the vicar of Christ. Pope Francis’ knack for making statements that tend to shock people both inside and outside the walls of the Church could be taken as an invitation to all “people of good will” to, rather than praise or condemn his papacy, to venture beneath the surface of these statement and engage in a serious work of self-examination (in the spirit of the first Jesuit papacy) and further their growth in personal holiness and in turn to grow in solidarity with the universal human family. Because of his  insistent tendency to express himself using colloquial jargon (often without clarity in regards to what exactly he is implying), the need for delving deeper into his comments proves itself necessary, lest we become further polarized within the Church and in society at large. His informal exhortation to Catholics to consider “apologizing to gay people” serves as an epitomic example, considering the radically divergent responses he has provoked. Since this is the case, it would be worthwhile to look further into his statement in order to develop a more full evaluation of what he meant and how it can become an opportunity for mutual understanding rather than polarization.

Pope Francis had acknowledged before making this rather blunt and simplistic statement that the members of the Church ought to consider apologizing to those whose marginalization and mistreatment they have contributed. His statement about people with same sex attractions was prompted by a question that referenced a recent statement by Cardinal Marx regarding the mistreatment of the LGBT community by the Church. Francis affirmed that many people in the Church have indeed contributed to the marginalization of gay people, in addition to other disadvantaged communities, especially the poor and exploited women.
Some lauded him for the tone of inclusivity and progressiveness, which diverges from the “typical” condemnatory one touted by his predecessors. Others were outraged and feared that he was capitulating further to the progressive agenda that seeks to silence those who uphold traditional morals. So to transcend these reductive and unimaginative responses, it would be valuable to look at the concrete circumstances that may have led him to proposing these apologies, and how his proposal might manifest in the life of the Church and in society. To do this, I will refer to the experiences of two a dear friends of mine: Anthony and Julian (they asked that I not use their real names).
Anthony was born to the children of Polish Catholic immigrants in the Midwest. They raised him and his three siblings in the Church, attending Mass regularly and participating often in parish ministries. His parents were political conservatives who fostered in their children a strong moral conscience rooted in Church teaching, as well as emphasizing the need to defend said moral truths in the public sphere. Growing up, Anthony was encouraged to participate in “boy” activities, and was reprimanded for expressing interest in activities that did not conform to socially constructed gender norms. He was also warned of the dangerous consequences of a homosexual lifestyle both in this world and in the afterlife. After starting his undergraduate career at a Jesuit university in New York City, he came to terms with his homoerotic desires and started to seek out sexual encounters with other men. A regular in the gay club scene, he had become rather “experienced” sexually and decided to adopt an “out and proud” gay identity. After being encouraged by his friends to be open with his family, he hocked up the courage to “come out” to his parents during the Christmas break of his sophomore year. Just as he had expected, they were very concerned about his lifestyle choice and started to treat him differently. While they did not reject him as a son, they did start to include him less in family gatherings, and when they did, they spoke to him in such a distant and cool tone that he began to feel that he wasn’t truly part of his own family anymore. When he returned to New York, he became more politically active in the gay rights movement and joined the Human Rights Campaign, often canvassing for marriage equality in his neighborhood. He has not attended Mass ever since that last Christmas vacation, except for the few times that he attended an Episcopal service with a few friends. He has been in a relationship with another man for about a year and a half, and is settled into his lifestyle choice. He claims to be happy now that he has accepted himself for who he is, though he wonders where his relationship with his partner will go in the near future, and is unsure of what he is looking for in the long run.
Julian grew up in a nominally Methodist household. His parents were moderate liberals who raised him with an appreciation of different cultures and for the arts. They told him from the age of eight that if he were to come out to them as gay or transgender, they would “have no problem with him”-though they did express some reservations about the dangers of contracting HIV/AIDS and of sex change surgeries. When he was thirteen, he realized that he was increasingly becoming infatuated by the men in Calvin Klein underwear ads, and was developing crushes on several of his male friends. He could not deny his attraction to the male form, which indeed had become sexual at the point that he hit puberty. He decided to come out to his parents and to his proudly progressive school guidance counselors at the age of seventeen. He became the president of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance, as well as being the star soloist of the school choir. His parents expressed how proud they were of his braveness and authenticity. As he prepared for his undergraduate career, also in New York City, he looked forward to the prospect of finding a boyfriend and getting to meet other LGBT people. He also entered undergrad with many questions about the purpose and finality of his life: what am I meant to do with my life, how can I become a good person, what’s the point of life in general, who is God? He soon was surprised that the first thing he fell in love with in his freshman year was his intro to theology class, and not a cute classmate. The class allowed him to ask his questions about life in an even more profound way. He tried attending the meetings of the Rainbow Alliance, but was put off by their militant and at times self-righteous attitude toward gay rights. He was more interested in attending the weekly “faith sharing” meetings put on by Campus Ministry. For the first time, he met people who talked about life in a profoundly beautiful and genuine way. He was enamored by these people and could not wait until the end of each week when he could see them again. When he disclosed his sexual orientation to them, they expressed little concern, but rather encouraged him to come to more of their events and to participate more actively. It was clear that as a group of committed Catholics, they did not promote same sex marriages or intercourse outside of heterosexual marriage. But they spent very little time talking about this; rather, they spent most of their time getting to know Julian and talking about his existential questions with him. After six months he decided to receive Confirmation in the Catholic Church. After “coming out” to his parents, he sheepishly told them that he had decided to stop looking for a boyfriend. Perplexed, they asked him why he would voluntarily deprive himself of romantic relationship. He explained that his desire for Christ was greater than his attraction to males, and that his relationship with these new friends allowed him to understand his desire for male companionship in a more beautiful and fulfilling way than a gay marriage ever could. They agreed to accept his choice, while remaining apprehensive and slightly concerned. Nevertheless, they proudly attended his Confirmation Mass and smiled broadly in the photos that they took with him and his friends at the reception.
What, you may ask, do these two “coming out” stories have to do with the insistence that Catholics apologize to gays? It is indeed important for all people, let alone Catholics, to make amends with someone after having condemned them, judged them, physically abused them, or led them astray from their vocation. It is also important to uphold the truth even when it may not be popular, and may be at risk of financial sanctions, to do so. But it might prove more valuable to look at the more concrete and relevant circumstances in which we find ourselves and ask how we might learn to better accompany those who have been entrusted to our care. Apologies should always be given when necessary, but more important than this is learning to live our relationships with intentionality and charitable disinterest. Our witness as Christians depends more so on this than on our willingness to make amends. For Anthony, it would not help him were his parents to “come around” and accept the moral implications of his lifestyle. Though it might help to some extent to apologize for having made him feel judged and less part of the family. Julian might have benefitted from his parents raising him with a stronger moral conscience. But what Julian most benefitted from, and what probably would have helped Anthony immensely, was, primarily, the Christians who patiently accompanied him as he discovered the truth of his identity and vocation, in addition to his parents willingness to allow him the freedom to discover his identity and vocation by his own means. Yes, his friends did affirm that they believed that Julian seeking sexual relationships with other men would be immoral, but they were more concerned about being witnesses to the Truth rather than telling him about the moral truths, and letting him discover the implications of their witness out of his own freedom and volition. They also made it their business to accompany him, to continue being witnesses to him, and to become a presence in his life, no matter what turn it took. No, the his parents’ openness does not imply that children should be encouraged to “raise themselves,” but it does imply that parents help their children most by raising them with what they hold as true and valuable, and allowing their children to discover the implications of said upbringing on their own and to decide for themselves whether they went to continue following this as they reach young adulthood.
So should Catholics feel obligated to apologize to gay people? If the need presents itself, then they should do so out of a true sense of humility, charity, and justice. But more importantly, Francis’ words should provoke us to ask: how can I offer a more authentic witness of the Truth to those in my life, how can I better accompany them as they seek to discover their own identity and vocation, and how can I become a presence of Christ in the world?

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  • Alexandra

    OK. So you believe that it’s OK to deny the right to marriage to all people who happen to have been created gay?

  • brian martin

    I think your stories get to the heart of what the Pope is talking about. He is constantly talking, and more importantly demonstrating the idea of being in relationship with people, talking with people. When people engage in dialogue and get to know each other, there is less likely to be condemnation and criticism and more likely to be mutual respect, even if there remain differences. The heart of the matter is that Francis envisions, and presents a more pastoral, relational church rather than an authoritative one

  • brian martin

    I’m sorry, the word authoritative should actually be authoritarian, as that more appropriately describes my meaning.

  • This is a disappointing post for a blog which usually hosts high quality content. The two people written about in the post are standard tropes used by gay-negative Catholics; whether they are even real and are rather caricatures is unclear. To speak of attractions or lifestyles should no longer be considered credible in Catholic discourse. These are scientifically and theologically discredited concepts of sexuality, and as such they enter the grounds of insensitive and pastorally harmful discourse. The author’s understanding of coming out and of pride are deficient, and the contrast set up between LGBT people and Christians is false. They are so many LGBT Christians, and Catholics, who have rejected the false dichotomy employed here (as in other non-affirming pieces) between faith and sexual/gender identity. Frankly, this piece skirts the line between respectful discourse into homophobia. It should really be reconsidered.

    • Alexandra

      Thanking you for posting this, Bob. I agree with you that this piece crosses the line into homophobia and should be seen as such.

  • No middle ground anymore, is there? You certainly tried, and you got name-called. I’m afraid worse may be coming, much worse.

    • Christ lives in the imagination of Christians; so, too, do most of our love-attractions, whether they be “straight” or “gay”. If you doubt it, read Proust, read Dante, read Shakespeare. I don’t believe there’s any intentional homophobia in David’s piece, but I DO believe that there’s considerable romantic naivete in it: “Julian” is actually “in love” with a number of people in his Catholic youth group–probably most of them male. This “love” is honorable and decent, and probably, in some cases, as self-sacrificial as as any other profound romantic commitment. The Catholic Church would only condemn it when it finds physical expression, and that is absurd, because “same-sex-attraction” is as much God-given as “opposite-sex-attraction.”

  • brian martin

    Try as I may, I don’t see homophobia in the post. But then we seem to be entering a point where any disagreement with particular viewpoints are seen not as honest philosophical disagreements, not honestly held beliefs, but bigotry and hatred toward others. In regard to Bob’s comments about attractions or lifestyles being discredited scientifically and theologically, I would like clarification. Who has discredited the ideas of attraction and lifestyles?. Perhaps I should be asking how you define the terms, maybe that would help me better understand what you are saying. Also, for something to be theologically discredited, the question is, by whose definition? Certainly not the Catholic Church. So for someone to say..the theology is discredited because I personally am convinced it has been…well, when you get to be Pope…
    As far as a set up in the article of a contrast between Christians and LGBT people…it wasn’t there. The contrast was how different Christians were dealing with the issue. Really, I am not even sure we are reading the same post.

  • Mark VA

    If homophobia is defined as an “Irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals” (Merriam-Webster definition), then I don’t see it in this piece. However, if homophobia is “in the eye of the beholder”, then I suppose it can be found just about anywhere, as for example, when counseling chastity.

    There is a dilemma though, in my opinion: the “God given sex drive” side does have a point, up to a point, as does the chastity side. The latter’s concerns, however, are much broader than just the issues affecting homosexuality, and are mainly centered on the concepts family formation, lifelong fidelity, procreation of the species, civilizing the young, old age needs – in other words, the very foundations of our Christian Civilization. I think the Church needs to explain these concepts in a more contemporary style, with more appeals to logic. Also, the homosexual people have every right to ask that these concerns include them, as the Church has every right (and duty) to protect Dogma.

    For example: can we say that “heterosexuality = homosexuality” (when “=” means every property on the left of the sign exists on the right, and vice versa (Tarski, “Introduction to Logic, Chapter 3))”? If yes, then this needs to be justified – a tall order, in my opinion. If no, then how do we discuss this issue in our current cultural climate, to our mutual satisfaction, and without descending into recriminations?

    One minor point about this post: I too dislike examples that smack of “personality composites”. The juxtaposition of enlightened and affirming WASP Methodists with benighted and rigid Polish immigrants (with unequal outcomes to drive the point home) is just too affected, if not outright campy (full disclosure: I am a Polish immigrant).

    • “…The latter’s concerns, however, are much broader than just the issues affecting homosexuality, and are mainly centered on the concepts family formation, lifelong fidelity, procreation of the species, civilizing the young, old age needs – in other words, the very foundations of our Christian Civilization…”

      Here’s the problem: each and every one of the things you mention are, or long have been, in a process of development and change. Family structures are not what they were when Sacred Scriptures were written; procreation of the species will not continue for long to depend upon conventional sexual congress (e.g. artificial insemination, genetic engineering, etc.); “old age needs” will be extended long past what they once were, etc.etc.The question now is, “Can the standards and values of Christian Civilization be made adaptable to modernity and too previously unfathomable scientific breakthroughs?” I believe they can, but it would take greater imagination, humility, charity, and–I would say–faith–than most Christian Fundamentalists seem capable of exemplifying.

      • Also, “homosexual persons” may be considered just as capable of chastity as heterosexual persons, so long as it is understood that “chastity” is NOT “celibacy,” and that what “chastity” most essentially implies is a self-sacrificial attitude toward physical relations, so that any person’s sacred human form is never “used” merely for egoistic gratification, but is revered as a quasi-supernatural being.

      • Mark VA


        I think we should distinguish between “Modernization” and “Westernization”. I’m sure that in your global experiences outside the Western World (the English, French, and German core cultures, plus their satellites – see Norman Davies “Europe”), you’ve encountered the idea: “Modernization Yes – Westernization No”.

        Most of the world is not likely to follow every Westernism du jour – emancipation from cultural colonialism is real. I think that we in the United States should likewise view the Western World from a greater emotional distance – keep what’s universally valuable (Mozart!), junk what’s not (pride). Let’s also remind ourselves that the Catholic Church is not a Western institution. At any rate, this is a venerable old idea:

        “Bo Paryż częstą mody odmianą się chlubi,
        A co Francuz wymyśli, to Polak polubi.”

        (Adam Mickiewicz)

        • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS

          According to Google translate, the quote says, roughly,

          “Because Paris fashions a common variant of the glory,
          And what comes up Frenchman, a Pole will like.”

          Very rough, but you get the idea.

        • Alexandra

          A slightly more manageable translation: “Because Paris is proud of changing styles (or fashions) often, and what someone from France comes up with, a Polish person will love.”

        • Mark VA

          Thank you, David!

          Sorry for not providing a translation – here is a superb remedy from Kenneth R. Mackenzie, a translator of “Pan Tadeusz”:

          “For Paris boasts her frequent change of fashion,
          And what the French invent is Poland’s passion”

          “Passion” is wee bit strong for “polubi”, which is closer to “like”, but it’s nice when things rhyme. This is a small sample of Mickiewicz poking fun at certain post-Napoleonic tendencies of Polish elites.

          Isn’t it interesting, though, how Paris became a she when the Muse of Poetry desired this change – but I digress. Back to our all serious discourse on homophobia ; )

          P.S. Legend has it that this Chopin Ballade was inspired by a work by Mickiewicz:

  • The accusations of homophobia above are troubling. It makes one wonder what the working definition of homophobia is. It should go without saying that the editors do not necessarily endorse everything said in every guest post, but we would certainly reject anything homophobic. This accusation baffles us.

    The accusations of homophobia (and of fabricating stories!) leveled above seem more like ways to short circuit any real conversation than an actual engagement with the ideas presented. This is indeed a troubling trend in public discourse in general today.

    At Vox Nova we value substantive conversation and so will publish thoughtful pieces from a variety of points of view. Our one litmus test, beyond coherent writing and argument, is whether someone is attempting to think with the Church. We particularly value a tone that invites discussion. In our view the author of this piece was faithful, respectful and thoughtful in his attempt to think out a tricky issue.

    [This comment was written by Brett, but shared with the regulars prior to posting. David Cruz-Uribe and Julia Smucker both want to explicitly align themselves with it.]

    • Alexandra

      A common dictionary definition of “homophobia” is “dislike of or prejudice against homosexual people”.
      To suggest that the way that the Catholic Church sees LGBT people (as being fundamentally disordered) is OK seems to me to be very prejudicial against LGBT people.
      To suggest that there is something good in stating that living in a loving, intimate physical relationship with another ought to be reserved only for heterosexual people (because sex outside of marriage is forbidden, and same-sex-marriage is also forbidden) seems to me to be very prejudicial against LGBT people.
      Because the piece proposes ideas which I consider to be very prejudicial against gay people, I consider the article to be homophobic.
      And, as a side matter, I do believe that the institutional Church does have much to apologize for to LGBT people. For starters, it ought to apologize for years of teaching that gays are “fundamentally disordered” and for the numerous firings of gay people by Catholic institutions.

      • According to the understanding of the Catholic Church, people are not even the kind of thing that could be disordered. Actions might be disordered. Inclinations might be disordered. (I have committed any number of disordered actions and continue to incline towards many such myself.) But not people.

        Of course, if the Catholic Church has ever given the impression that certain people are disordered it should clarify and apologize. But then that would also apply to those to misrepresent Catholic teaching in their opposition to it.

    • I more or less agree with you Brettsalkeld,. However, included in the definition of “homophobia” should be an inclination to discount the lived experience of lbgt people, just as it is included in the definition of “racism.” I won’t go so far as Alexandra below, because I don’t think that David’s piece actually DOES stridently insist that “heterosexuality” is the only thing that’s “natural,” but I DO feel that it comes very close to that. Mainstream Catholics, even “liberal” ones such as David, are having a great deal of trouble accepting the FACT that “homosexuality” is just as much God-given as “heterosexuality” is. (I put all those words above in quotes, because they are all 19th century neologisms.)

      • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS

        Just to clarify: though the post appears under my name, I am not the author. It is a guest post by Stephen Adubato and he is solely responsible for the contents.

        • Alexandra

          And I find it more than interesting that Steve Adubato has not seen fit to participate in any of the conversation that his post engendered.

          • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS

            We have had regular contributors who did not respond to comments on their posts, so I do not think you can read anything into his silence.

    • I am disappointed that, upon review, the editors have chosen to stand by this piece.

      You’ll note that I said the piece skirts the line into homophobia, and I do not believe their is intentional malice behind the author’s words. But describing it as homophobic would be similar to describing something as racist or sexist, namely that it denigrates people based on their identity and in so doing relies upon false information, myths, or negative stereotypes.

      Using scare quotes around “out and proud” or “come out” would constitute this, as would use of the term “lifestyle” and “lifestyle choice” are examples. And Alexandra points out well the dangers of using these stereotypical characters which, conveniently, make the author’s implied point about condemning same-gender relationships and supporting the idea that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered,” as the Magisterium so violently puts it.

      Would this contrasting narrative be acceptable using any other identities than gay/straight (simplified terms, admittedly)? No. So why is it acceptable for gay/straight contrasts? The underlying homophobia in the piece.

      Acknowledging this is not an attempt to “short circuit any real conversation,” but would rather free us to have real conversations about the reality of diverse sexual identities instead of these trope-like stories employed to make a very gay-negative point.

  • Alexandra

    For some reason, Brettsalkeld’s post does not appear on my screen. However, to those who find unreasonable the suggestion that the piece crosses the line into homophobia, I would like to suggest a mindgame. Imagine that, instead of gays, we were talking about African Americans. Let’s suppose that there is someone who presents stories about 2 young, light-skinned, African Americans who were adopted by white parents. One is raised by racist parents, who will not tell the youngster that he is African American and then, once he discovers and accepts his true heritage, the treat him as Anthony is treated. The other, is raised by parents who recognize his true heritage and rear him accordingly. Then, he goes to college, finds the local BLM people too strident, and finds friends who accept him as he is, but who openly speak about the fact that being white is “normal” and acceptable to god, but that being African-American is not.
    And then, at the end, the author would state something along the lines that there is no need to apologize (or apparently, even admit, although this is not stated explicitly) for the racism in our society.
    I would think that most people would find such a story to be racist. So …..

    • If anyone were to assume that the analogy between race and sexual orientation were workable enough, they probably would find such a story racist. But the actual attempt to replace the language about sexual orientation/desire with equivalent language about race highlights just how poorly this analogy actually works.

      E.g., what kind of analogous term could meaningfully replace “came to terms with his homoerotic desires” in such an exercise?

      Or how is the parental decision to keep a child’s racial heritage a secret while being racist themselves meaningfully analogous to the decision to teach a child (whom the parents have no idea is or could be gay) that homosexual activity is destructive? I mean, one might think that both parental decisions are wrong, but they are not the same kind of thing.

      The closer analogy would be to teach a kid (whose race you don’t know) that certain “African American actions” (I have no idea what that could even mean – that’s how poor the analogy is) are wrong and, nota bene, that they are wrong even when committed by non-African Americans (though they tend to be associated with African Americans because certain other actions, which most non-African Americans tend to choose, are not available to African Americans for reasons of physiology). This gets unintelligible real fast.

      This analogy, which is so terribly flawed as to be unworkable, is responsible for a huge amount of fuzzy thinking around this issue.

      And, in any case, Julian was never told by his friends that being straight “is normal and acceptable to god and that being gay is not.” You’ve already accused people of saying things they never said even before you try to point out that if these very things were said to other people in other contexts they would be wrong. In other words, the analogy is so far off that you need to start fudging with the first term of the analogy in order for the second term to illuminate it in the way you desire.

      I’m going to need more than the race analogy to discern anything homophobic in this guest post.

  • Mark VA


    It seems our discussion is beginning to revolve around the definition of homophobia. I think it would be good if this definition was close to the universal ideal, and as free of the clutter of particular cultural influences as possible.

    In this vein, could we agree on the following three things:

    (a) We, as a species, have evolved while differentiated into male and female subsets (in other words, this differentiation is a biological, and not a cultural artifact);

    (b) The libido of one subset of our species is directed (mainly) outward toward the other. Moreover, the outward “vectoring” of this energy is biological (i.e. is “wired”), and need not be consciously or unconsciously taught. What are taught, are the particular cultural rituals and taboos of its expression, but not its outward direction;

    (c) Based on the above, homosexuality may be defined as the turning of the libido inward toward one’s own subset. Whether this is taught (consciously or unconsciously), is biological, or is some mix of the two, is unclear at the present level of knowledge.

    Before I write more, I would like to know if we agree on the above three propositions. I regard these as the “primitive” or “undefined” statements (in the formal meaning of these words – Tarski, “Introduction to Logic” Chapter 6), to be used as some of the foundation blocks of any further analysis.

    For example, if we disagree that there are such biologically determined things as “female” and “male”, or one of us proposes that these are fluid, strictly cultural constructs, then the current terms of our discussion fall apart, and we will have to seek some other primitive terms.

    • Why do the terms have to be “primitive”? Don’t you mean “basic.” For example, I think science IS challenging this, to a certain but significant degree–or is, at least heavily qualifying it:

      if we disagree that there are such biologically determined things as “female” and “male”, or one of us proposes that these are fluid, strictly cultural constructs, then the current terms of our discussion fall apart, and we will have to seek some other primitive terms.

      In what I have emboldened above, I chiefly challenge only the word “strictly.” Homosexuality is normal in the human (and other animal) species, has always existed, and has, in some places and in some human cultures, been culturally normative; in fact, if Boswell was right, supported by what Montaigne observed in papal Italy, it was even acceptable in certain Christian environments.

      I refuse to be drawn into your legalistic qualifications.

    • Alexandra

      I am not sure that we know enough about human sexuality to be able to say with certitude that the “libido of one subset of our species is directed (mainly) outward toward the other. Moreover, the outward “vectoring” of this energy is biological (i.e. is “wired”), and need not be consciously or unconsciously taught.”
      Therefore, I am not sure that we can go on to the third proposition.
      I think that we are now discovering much more about human sexuality, and it is possible that this sexuality exists along a spectrum.
      So, unfortunately, I cannot agree with your premises.

      • Mark VA

        Thank you, Alexandra and Dismas, for your replies.

        I think the arguments you are making run along these lines (please correct them as needed):

        Argument One:

        “In the past, it was necessary to promote heterosexuality, since it was the only known way to propagate the human species (survival instinct). However, today, with the advancement of science, heterosexuality is becoming less and less necessary for procreation. Hence, by continuing to foster heterosexuality, the Catholic Church defends an increasingly reactionary way of thinking, and stands athwart progress”;

        Argument Two:

        “Science suggests that the direction of the individual libido is not fixed (i.e. “..sexuality exists along a spectrum”)”.

        Regarding the second argument: I feel my grasp of “…sexuality exists along a spectrum” is tenuous. I can read it as implying that an individual has control over its direction (I think this is what you mean) – but it could also mean control over its magnitude only, or magnitude and direction – please clarify.

        • I suspect that an individual is born with almost EVERY “inclination,”(bisexuality is the strongest potential in the individual human, I suspect) and that his/her environment (meaning exposure to the phenomena of human biology as much as impressions of the world around him/her) and his/her spiritual development, as well as his/her personality traits, induce him/her to make so early a choice–so long before the “age of reason”–that he or she could only make any significant change if his/her conscience told him/her that it was warranted. In other words, a homosexual orientation becomes “hard-wired” long before one is responsible for “choices” because it is natural and available, now, in the social sphere. Our culture and many of our spiritual systems (the Oriental, as well as the “New Age” and liberal Christian ones) are telling young adolescents–and properly so–that there are other, more important “fish to fry” in developing higher consciousness and good character. The intellectual struggle against “same-sex-attraction” in the West is over, and the Catholic Church, for the sake of its survival among many niches of society, had better throw in the towel, and try to “minister” to the homosexual population, in such a way as to help to shape a “Christian lifestyle” specifically for them, because their allies in Western civilization now far outnumber the Church’s.

  • brian martin

    You made the following statement: “To speak of attractions or lifestyles should no longer be considered credible in Catholic discourse. These are scientifically and theologically discredited concepts of sexuality”
    As this is a Catholic blog, please show me where in Catholic theology these concepts are discredited? Perhaps clarify what you mean when you say to speak of attractions and lifestyles as being discredited concepts. Perhaps I am not understanding what you mean.
    It seem to me that if one accepts as sinful (based on Church teaching) Sexual activity between people of the same biological gender..then one is open to a charge of being homophobic or a bigot, simply based on that belief, whether or not one believes that they have the right to impose their values on others. Of course then I suppose any acceptance of a belief that defines something as wrong would suggest discrimination against those who do not see the behavior in question as wrong.
    I guess anyone in a group that is engaged in a behavior not accepted by the in group can make a claim that the in group is biased against them.

    As far as dismasdolben’s statement that “homosexuality” is just as much God-given as “heterosexuality”. If I understand correctly Catholic teach is that things that are different from original creation are present due to sin, not due to his creating it. So sexual attraction whether born or chosen or being “fluid and changing” that is outside of that between a male and female is not simply God’s creation, but God’s creation changed by original sin. I will grant that my understanding of theology is limited, and I know there are individuals here who study Theology. Brett, perhaps you can clarify this for me?

    • Two quick points of clarification. First, while it is true to say that sexual activity between two persons of the same gender is wrong in the Catholic understanding, it is also a misleading. It gives the impression that what is wrong is the gender or orientation of the people. In fact, the sexual actions that two people of the same gender could imaginably undertake are regarded by the Church as not leading to human flourishing no matter who commits them. That is, the Church is concerned with certain actions, not certain people or pairs of people. I am a sacramentally married man, but the Church says that the same acts it believes to be bad for homosexual persons are bad for me (and my wife).

      Second, it is not established Catholic teaching that homosexuality as an orientation is necessarily the result of the fall. The Church is officially agnostic on the question of the the genesis of homosexuality, saying only that at this stage it is poorly understood. Of course in the general sense any sexual activity outside of married love open to life is seen as problematic and any such actions or inclinations towards such actions can be traced, finally, to our sinfulness and therefore to Original Sin. That is, lust is a result of the fall, no matter what outward form it takes. But it is a mistake to identify homosexuality per se with actions or inclinations towards actions or to make it a subcategory of lust. Gay people are not people who are inclined to specific actions. They are people who are sexually inclined towards other people with whom only certain actions are available.

      • brian martin

        I appreciate your clarification. Thats why I like it here. Anything that I said above that is not in line with what Brett said should probably be disregarded.

    • Mr. Martin, I understand, but do not accept your premise that man is preternaturally “fallen.” “Original sin” is one of the chief stumbling blocks for me in accepting orthodox Christian theology. I have less difficulty accepting the “Real Presence” in the Eucharist, actually, because of my great exposure, in the second half of life, to the Hindu concept of “prasad” and the presence of the Divine in all phenomena of the natural world. Ever read THE MASTER AND MARGARITA by the Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov? He has his Christ-figure “Yeshua Ben Nazroti” asserting, over and over again, to the consternation of his interlocutor, Pontius Pilate, that all human beings are intrinsically “good”–proving, I guess, that long before I lived on this earth, many individuals quite favourable to Christ and His teachings were having a hard time with “original sin.”

  • Mark VA


    You wrote: “The intellectual struggle against “same-sex-attraction” in the West is over, and the Catholic Church, for the sake of its survival among many niches of society, had better throw in the towel, and try to “minister” to the homosexual population, in such a way as to help to shape a “Christian lifestyle” specifically for them, because their allies in Western civilization now far outnumber the Church’s.”

    Several observations:

    If by the “West” you mean much of the English, French, and German cultural elites plus their allies, then I agree, in this context the “same-sex-attraction” question looks settled. I’ll even throw in the question on the number of genders (I think Facebook recognizes 51 at the moment);

    I think your advice that the Catholic Church “throw in the towel” on the above is more problematic. The Catholic Church is a global institution, not a Western one, and She is under no obligation to take Her cues from cultures. To do so may compromise received teachings, make Her captive to often contradictory fashions, and jeopardize Her future in Africa and the Far East (think China);

    The world outside the Western sphere of cultural influence doesn’t seem preoccupied with “sexuality theories” (much of Islam excepted). Well meaning Westerners who force this issue may be viewed as cultural colonizers, and could be harming the legitimate interests of the West;

    I believe that we, in the USA, should rethink our frequently exclusive identification with “the West”. In some ways this identification is becoming an increasingly “entangling alliance”. It would be refreshing to see more American intellectuals question what the English, French, and the German cultural elites invent – when justified (kudos to Vox Nova);

    Much of the world is preoccupied with the economic and cultural development and connectivity, as should we. For example, China’s construction of the “New Silk Road” is one such global project in which I believe we should become players:

    Arguing about how many genders can dance on the head of a pin seems like such a waste of time…

    • On almost every issue but “how many genders can dance on the head of a pin,” it seems to me that the Christian churches of “the West” have a more “Christian” position than those of Asia and Africa. It would be a shame, and a grievous loss to a supposedly “universal” ecclesia to lose their input. However, it seems to me that “conservative” Catholics like yourself are willing to lose those contributions, in order to preserve an archaic sexual morality whose “naturalness” science is consistently undermining–not a very “traditional” Catholic view. I cannot, for the life of me, understand your blase attitude toward this sacrifice.

      • Mark VA


        In all our discussions, you have not defined your concept of the “West”, yet it is consistently used as a universal measuring stick. So I ask you, what is your definition of the “West”?

        Yes, I do not fret over losing the input of those Christian churches which clearly became captive to their cultures. It is easier to get such information straight from the source (the culture), than from some middleman;

        Regarding the “archaic” sexual morality of the Catholic Church, I would say that “punkt widzenia zależy od punktu siedzenia” – “point of view depends on where you sit”. From where I sit, if the present USA trends continue, we will all soon live inside a permanent “Burning Man” festival;

        So please define what you mean by the “West”. Here is my “less is more” geographic core definition:

        The West = West London + Central Paris + some parts of Berlin.

        • Your definition is a bad joke. I will define “the West” as “those areas of the world wherein Christendom’s values and mores were modified and refined by the determinations of the European Enlightenment,” and I think that covers much more territory than your caricature of it.
          Now, let me put this to you bluntly: I think that you and folks like you are doing a disservice that is inestimably damaging to the Catholic Church by resisting the efforts of her more “progressive” elements to discern and propagate a spiritual discipline of a chaste but non-celibate lifestyle for the many homosexual persons who are capable of sacrificial love and who wish to be loyal to the Ecclesia of their formation, but who cannot live alone for a lifetime. The rest of “the West” are watching this cruelty, and, frankly, we cannot stomach it.

        • Mark VA


          The identification of “the West” with “Enlightened”, is the habitual way in which the West, for the past 250 years or so, has been acting on the world stage. Please also notice that today, Christianity in these enlightened core cultures (the English, French, and German) is, for all practical purposes, a relic;

          Thus again, the Catholic Church is not a Western institution. She is not encapsulated by any man made philosophy or ideology, although She may make use of them at times. In this vein, the “chaste but non-celibate” proposal would have to be much better defined, before it could be evaluated according to the Church’s received teachings, Magisterium, and Tradition.

          So now that you’ve defined “the West”, what do you think “chaste but non-celibate” means as an idea, and in practical terms? Please include both heterosexuality and homosexuality in your considerations.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    It is fascinating, as a gay man and a erstwhile commenter here as well, to read this post and the comment field. There has been quite a lot of evolution for some of the denizens here. Good for you! Steps in a good direction.—- Can I just say that really what gay people want more than anything from the Catholic Church is that they find a theological rational and confirmed praxis of NOT getting in the way of gay rights in general society. Some of the writing here makes it sounds like they have already accomplished that critical step, and it has not been taken.—- With respect, there is a lot of brilliance in the history of the RC church, so it defies credibility that the institution cannot find a more reliable and consistent position on this issue in the legal sense in society than they have. If you are in the mood for apologizing, think of that. For I simply don’t believe that with all the bright minds in your world you cannot have done better than the circus (there is no other word truly) that they produced in fighting gay marriage in advance of recent court decisions and ballots. .—- Now they have lost, and badly. To put it admittedly a little uncharitably, they know now that they looked completely nasty and foolish. They were even forced to stumble into rationales and propagandas that often betrayed their own best theology (against fine notions like –“According to the understanding of the Catholic Church, people are not even the kind of thing that could be disordered. “— which is very well put!!) —-So, having said all this, it might seem a little odd that I think they are kind of apologizing too much in the abstract, and not nearly enough in the particular. Look, Catholics have a right to their beliefs, and moral assessments, and that is NOT something anyone should ask others to apologize for. To give a sort of odd analogy, I think the so-called “musical” Hamilton is heinous as an aesthetic matter, and that is tantamount to heresy in this society right about now. I am not going to apologize for my musical views, for which I have a lot of background. Granted, morals are more serious than aesthetics ultimately, but there is a similarity in position in society. I would not work to proscribe people from loving Hamilton….THAT would be something I would have to apologize for if my aesthetics got in the way. —-But I really think the more serious issues for Catholics is this, and I say this having been Catholic and having been considerably trained in its theology in a pontifical degree program no less. Namely that the drive to apologize is really part of a need to be taken seriously intellectually. I understand, because there has been so much that is serious intellectual in the history of Catholic theology. But, as I see it, though some strides have been made, not nearly enough. And if you read some of Charlie Curran’s more recent books, my former prof, his careful anatomization of the history of theological training in the RC church in the 19th and early twentieth centuries gives a clue why things are in such a precarious state. To a great extent Vatican II, impressive as it was institutionally, was NOT an organic development in the evolution of RC Church theory. It was a sort of forced issue, and God bless them for forcing it, or things would have been even worse for this ancient institution. But there was a heady anachronism to it all in the analytical sense of that term. This is why, IMHO, that the whole field has a very jerry-rigged feeling about it. There are sops in all sorts of directions, and attempts to sound decent in light of current understandings, but the disjunctive nature of the rhetoric and the praxis, and even more important the de facto attitudes of ordinary Catholics which are more often than not at odds simply with their own Church, has brought that feeling of a jerry-rigged feeling to a kind of apotheosis of silliness. Had I not been involved myself at one time, i would say simply, as others often do, that it is all silly hypocrisy. But I am not even tempted to say that because I have deeper commitments to freedom of religious belief, even if my anecdotal experience also confirms that it is not hypocrisy. It is a great religious system in dire theological and practical trouble. It looks silly, but is not ultimately. And the many good people in it are the reason it is not, as well a a sometime very impressive edifice of thinking.. I don’t envy the path ahead for those with these commitments and historical perplexities.

    • I agree with everything Peter Paul has said, without reservation, and I would like to suggest that one theologian who could help the Catholic Church to get over this problem is James Alison, who I don’t think is being so carefully listened to as he should be.

  • “Chaste but not celibate” is easy, as a definition: it means sexually active at times that are mutually respectful, putting the other person’s needs and feelings first, and refraining from using the other person’s body as an object of pleasure, but, rather, as the embodiment of an eternal soul. It is, at all times, self-sacrificial, and it certainly is in the spirit, at least, of Christian marriage. I think “same-sex-attracted” people are completely capable of it, so long as human sexuality is accepted as a good thing in itself, apart from Judaeo-Christian discomfort for it, outside of procreative purpose. In short, the “self-sacrifice” is to the OTHER and not to some child who does not yet exist.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    Somehow I feel I should interpolate that famous old observation on sex in marriage, and I think it goes for gay or straight, and informs notions of chastity for sure, pragmatically speaking. It goes something like this, as I remember it—- If a newly married couple put a dime in a jar for every time they had sex in their first year of marriage, and then in later years took a dime out of the same jar for every time they had sex after that, they would likely never empty the jar.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS

      A canard about married couples. All the research shows that married couples have more and more fulfilling sex.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    If memory serves, I think the research you are referring to mostly compares married people to single people in terms of sexual fulfillment. There is no surprise in that , as being with the person you love is better in every way, IMHO, and makes you feel fulfilled all the way around, with sex being just a part of that. (And as people mature there is often more power in a deep kiss than in many other activities! )—- I guess why I quote the canard you objected to is just the sense I see everywhere, and ironically from religious people often quite forcefully, that over-estimates what sex is, and how it can fulfill. I have personally experienced sex as sometimes very important, and powerful, and yes, hot. But, c’mon, there is just practical commonsense missing in many of the apotheoses of sex in the religious sphere, and I think it does a disservice to people. It makes them unhappy, and feel they are lacking. It freights the experience with a much greater gravity than it can possibly support. I am NOT saying that it cannot have deeper meanings, but I think it is just human sexual nature that it mostly does not. This is not something that can be proven, of course. But I think given the fraught nature of sex in human society down through the ages, I think if people really want to assert the opposite, the burden is on them to show it, and they would need more than a “Theology of the Body” discerned by by a celibate man.—- What such theories never take into account is what is readily apparent to any remotely honest adult on such matters. Sex is largely stupid, and that is not a bad thing intrinsically. It is not always so, and can be much more, and can lead to the best things in life. But it does so in a very variegated way and not often with moments ready for theological reflection. Requiring that is a recipe for despair. And in terms of Catholics on these matters, having worked in a marriage tribunal as a seminarian many years ago, I saw that tragedy quite distinctly in the Catholic realm in particular. No offense to anyone’s cherished notions, but if you are going to talk in an open way about sex, gay or straight, one has to honestly prefer the average experience for Ockham’s Razor deductions about its nature, not pie in the sky theology..