The Church’s Gay Obsession
REPEATEDLY over the last year and a half, I’ve written about teachers in Catholic schools and leaders in Catholic parishes who were dismissed from their posts because they were in same-sex relationships and — in many cases — had decided to marry.
Every time, more than a few readers weighed in to tell me that these people had it coming. If you join a club, they argued, you play by its rules or you suffer the consequences.
The rules of this particular club prohibit divorce, yet the pews of many of the Catholic churches I’ve visited are populous with worshipers on their second and even third marriages. They walk merrily to the altar to receive communion, not a peep of protest from a soul around them. They participate fully in the rituals of the church, their membership in the club uncontested.
The rules prohibit artificial birth control, and yet most of the Catholic families I know have no more than three children, which is either a miracle of naturally capped fecundity or a sign that someone’s been at the pharmacy. I’m not aware of any church office that monitors such matters, poring over drugstore receipts. And I haven’t heard of any teachers fired or parishioners denied communion on the grounds of insufficiently brimming broods.
About teachers: When gay or lesbian ones are let go, the explanation typically cites their contractual obligations, as employees of Catholic schools, not to defy the church’s strictures, which forbid sexual activity between two men or two women.
But there are many employees of Catholic schools nationwide who aren’t even Catholic, who defy the church by never having subscribed to it in the first place. There are Protestant teachers. Jewish ones. Teachers who are agnostic and, quite likely, teachers who are atheists and simply don’t advertise it. There are parish employees in these same categories, and some remain snug in their jobs.
“Is it more important to believe in the church’s teaching on same-sex marriage than to believe in the Resurrection — or even that God exists?” asked the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and the author of the 2014 best seller “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.” “I don’t hear anyone calling for the firing of the agnostic parish business manager.”
The blunt truth of the matter is that during a period when the legalization of gay marriage has spread rapidly in this country, from just six states in 2011 to more than three times that number today, Catholic officials here have elected to focus on this one issue and on a given group of people: gays and lesbians.
Their moralizing is selective, bigoted and very sad.
It’s also self-defeating, because it’s souring many American Catholics, a majority of whom approve of same-sex marriage, and because the workers who’ve been exiled were often exemplars of charity, mercy and other virtues as central to Catholicism as any guidelines for sex. But their hearts didn’t matter. It was all about their loins. Will the church ever get away from that?
Pope Francis seems inclined to do so, and is nudging other Catholic leaders with his carefully chosen words and artfully orchestrated symbols. He’s probably not telegraphing any major shift in church teaching — which, by the way, changes plenty over time — but he’s signaling that Catholics who run afoul of it needn’t be vilified.
Just three weeks ago, he presided over the marriages of 20 couples from the Diocese of Rome, including brides and grooms who had already been living together or been married before. One bride had a grown child conceived out of wedlock.
The pope’s actions don’t jibe with the way many Catholic leaders in the United States are treating gays and lesbians. The National Catholic Reporter said recently that it could find, since 2008, about 40 public cases of employees’ losing jobs at Catholic institutions in this country because of issues connected with homosexuality or same-sex marriage. Seventeen of these occurred just this year.
When I discussed the issue with Lisa Sowle Cahill, a professor of theology at Boston College, she wondered aloud if Catholic superiors would dismiss someone or deny him or her communion for supporting the death penalty, which is against Catholic teaching. She and I alike marveled at how little we heard from American church leaders during all the news months ago about botched executions.
Cahill noted. She said that they were “staking out a countercultural Catholic identity” that doesn’t focus on “social justice and economic issues.”
“It’s about sex and gender issues,” she said, adding that it might be connected to the disgrace that church leaders brought upon themselves with their disastrous handling of child sexual abuse by priests. Perhaps, she said, they’re determined to find some sexual terrain on which they can strike a position of stern rectitude.
“They’re trying to regain the moral high ground, no matter how sure it is to backfire,” she said. Having turned a blind eye to nonconsensual sex that ravaged young lives, they’re holding the line against consensual sex that wounds no one.
It’s crucial to remember that in many cases in which the church has punished same-sex couples, their homosexuality and even their same-sex partnerships were widely known and tacitly condoned for some time beforehand. What changed was their interest in a civil marriage, suddenly made possible by laws that are evolving more humanely than the church is. The couples in question stepped up and made loving commitments of a kind that the church celebrates in other circumstances. For this they were spurned. It’s shameful.
And it contradicts Catholic principles apart from those governing same-sex relations, as Martin observed in a column in the Catholic magazine America earlier this year. Catholic teaching, he wrote, “also says that gay and lesbian people must be treated with ‘respect, sensitivity and compassion.’ ”
Some American church leaders indeed question what’s going on. Asked by a reporter recently about the banishment of gay workers, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston said that the situation “needs to be rectified.” No time like the present.
What’s happening amounts to persecution. And it’s occurring not because the workers in these situations called any special attention to themselves or made any political fuss. No, they just loved in a fashion displeasing to many church officials, whose concerns with purity are spasmodic and capricious. . . . (source)