The Deacon's Bench

The opening paragraphs of this piece at Huffington Post by Michele Somerville certainly got my attention:

I attended a Roman Catholic baptism about two weeks ago. A crowd of young parents and others of all ages stood in semi-circle around the font. The atmosphere was reverent yet festive. Toddlers squirmed. The church was exquisite. Blades of late-morning light slid down through colored glass. The priest exuded hope and delight as he kicked off the rites. As the two parents approached the font to offer their child to the church, I began to tear up. My 11-year-old daughter Grace, not unaccustomed to my poet’s penchant for being capsized by moments so tender, saw my waterworks start up, rolled her eyes as adolescents do, smiled, and handed me a tissue. As I often do when my emotions get the best of me in the presence of my children, I get all pedagogical on them. I whispered sidebars to Grace: “That’s litany of the saints, it’s beautiful when sung in Latin… And that the part about Satan and the empty promises — it’s technically an exorcism!”

I didn’t have to explain that it was no ordinary baptism we were witnessing. She knew it was extraordinary, because I had taught her. The two parents at the font were bravely (or so I believe) demonstrating their desire not to throw the baby out with the baptismal water.

They were two gay dads asking a church governed by bullies to bless their child.

My daughter later asked how it was that gay people could have their children baptized in Catholic churches but not be married in them. Good question. I broke it down for her. I told her a far greater percentage of Catholics support gay marriage than support the Vatican. I characterized the failure of my church to offer gay Catholics marriage in the church as just that — “a failure.” And a sin.

Well, it’s all downhill after that.

In Somerville’s view, since  people in the pews evidently support gay marriage, those stodgy homophobes in the Vatican need to get with the program and go with the flow — all of which seems to ignore a basic tenet of most religions, which is that moral principles aren’t really decided by popular vote.   She goes on to cheerfully toss around statistics and make wildly unfounded assumptions, evidently drawing on whatever pops into her head:

Most Catholics know that the church is in a unique position when it comes to the question of gay marriage for several reasons, not the least of which is that by many estimates, more than 50 percent of Catholic priests are gay. Many Catholics know that many of the bishops who set the homophobic agenda are themselves closeted gay men grappling with the psychological fallout of growing up gay in a hostile homophobic world and church.

Say what?

The gist of it all is Somerville’s underlying view that the Vatican never tires of preaching a gospel of hate — “God hates fags,” as she artfully puts it — and that Rome’s agenda is driven by rampant homophobia because, you know, , well, the Church thinks that God hates fags.  Which, evidently, is the sum and substance of Catholic teaching on this subject.

Again: say what?

Somerville might want to take another look at the catechism’s teachings on sex, where she will find this: 

All the baptized are called to chastity. The Christian has “put on Christ,” the model for all chastity. All Christ’s faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life. At the moment of his Baptism, the Christian is pledged to lead his affective life in chastity.

 2349 “People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single.” Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence.

If Somerville is curious about the subject of homosexuality, she’ll find that the catechism makes a distinction between attraction and behavior:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,140 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”141 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

Finally, there’s a document put out a few years ago by the USCCB, “Always Our Children”:

To live and love chastely is to understand that “only within marriage does sexual intercourse fully symbolize the Creator’s dual design, as an act of covenant love, with the potential of co-creating new human life” (United States Catholic Conference, Human Sexuality: A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning, 1991, p. 55). This is a fundamental teaching of our Church about sexuality, rooted in the biblical account of man and woman created in the image of God and made for union with one another (Gn 2-3)….

…Respect for the God-given dignity of all persons means the recognition of human rights and responsibilities. The teachings of the Church make it clear that the fundamental human rights of homosexual persons must be defended and that all of us must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice, oppression, or violence against them (cf. The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986, no. 10).

Yeah, lots of “God hates fags” stuff there, alright.   

The document concludes:

To our homosexual brothers and sisters we offer a concluding word. This message has been an outstretched hand to your parents and families inviting them to accept God’s grace present in their lives now and to trust in the unfailing mercy of Jesus our Lord. Now we stretch out our hands and invite you to do the same. We are called to become one body, one spirit in Christ. We need one another if we are to ” . . . grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:15-16).

Though at times you may feel discouraged, hurt, or angry, do not walk away from your families, from the Christian community, from all those who love you. In you God’s love is revealed. You are always our children.

Catholic teaching on sexuality is more complicated and nuanced than many realize. And, despite what writers like Somerville may think, there is a moral framework on which that teaching is built — a framework constructed on something truly radical, and audacious, and sacred, a framework that not only offers dignity to those people who experience same sex attraction, but which also demands that they be treated with Christian love.

But, of course, it’s simpler to just decide that it all boils down to “God hates fags,” and leave it at that.

UPDATE: Comments on this thread are now closed.

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