Last week was Holy Week, so sure enough there were many critical issues in the news that needed attention but we in the Church were off doing more important things like worshipping God and pondering our need for salvation. Permit a brief summary and some predictions from me based on the latest unpleasantness in Indiana last week.
I am not a lawyer and neither know nor understand all the legal implications of the law signed by the Indiana governor and then later amended. I speak more to the cultural concerns raised by same-sex attraction, the redefinition of marriage in civil justification, and the rapidity of all of these things and how they affect the Church.
Regarding cultural concerns and the political landscape, as is often the case, Ross Douthat summarizes the situation best:
One of the difficulties in this discussion, from a conservative perspective, is that the definition of “common sense” and “compromise” on these issues has shifted so rapidly in such a short time: Positions taken by, say, the president of the United States and most Democratic politicians a few short years ago are now deemed the purest atavism [a recurrence of or reversion to a past style, manner, outlook, or approach, something strikingly archaic], the definition of bigotry gets more and more elastic, and developments that social liberals would have described as right-wing scare stories in 2002 or so are now treated as just the most natural extensions of basic American principles. … But the pace involved is unusual, and its rapidity makes it very easy to imagine that scenarios that aren’t officially on the table right now will become plausible very, very soon. the only remaining question in the same-sex marriage “debate” [is] what kind of space, if any, an ascendant cultural liberalism would leave to Americans with traditional views on what constitutes a marriage. … [T]he choice of exactly how far to push and how much pluralism to permit would [seem to] be almost entirely in the hands of liberals and supporters of same-sex marriage. That’s … basically how it looks to me today. 
Indeed, as an “American with traditional views on what constitutes a marriage” it is hard not to feel bullied and outgunned. Most of our opponents feel secure politically, culturally, and legally in labeling us the worst sort of bigots and threatening legal sanctions. It is not merely that we must be “pitied” or considered “out-of-date”; we must be removed from the scene or forced to comply. The high horses are out in force and those who ride them seek a clean sweep of all who utter so much as a word of dissent. I wonder with Terry Mattingly if the horses would be quite so high if a “gay” Episcopalian caterer refused to cater a convention of “ex-Gay” Americans; outrage and coverage thereof by the mainstream media might be very selective.
From the few reports I heard, it seems many reporters are poor at distinguishing Catholic views from those of some (not all) Evangelicals. The Catholic position distinguishes same-sex attraction from same-sex behavior (i.e., homosexual acts) in ways that many Evangelicals do not. We should not countenance any business turning a “gay” American away simply because he or she is known to be “gay.” And I do not know anyone who says that someone should be turned away simply because he or she self-identifies as “gay.” That would be unjust discrimination, which the Catechism speaks against. However, when a Catholic is asked to contribute to or benefit from an event that celebrates same-sex acts or same-sex “marriage,” the situation is much different.
There are some situations in which a Catholic business owner’s cooperation/participation in such an event would be remote and thus not construed as approving sinful activity. In such cases the owner can proceed with a clear conscience. However, when cooperation in such an event would indicate support or approval of what Scripture and the Church teach as sinful, Catholics have duties and rights to stand back and not cooperate. To some degree there are prudential judgements involved in determining what constitutes remote vs. direct material cooperation. However, the norm remains: Catholics should not directly materially cooperate in doing what is sinful or wrong in any matter, be it issues of invalid marriages, illicit sexual union, or any number of other moral issues forbidden by Scripture and Church teaching.
For the record, this is the Catholic position on same-sex attraction is stated in the Catechism:
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, [Cf. Gen 191-29; Rom 124-27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1 Tim 1:10], tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” [CDF, Persona humana 8]. 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.
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.
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 (Catechism 2357-2359).
This teaching is not going to change no matter how much pressure this latest cultural juggernaut brings to bear. Individual Catholics [and even some bishops] may cave in to the pressure, but the teaching cannot and will not change; it is firmly held in the sacred deposit of faith and consistently taught by the Magisterium.
But as for the Church, I think predictions of our demise (if we do not comply with current social pressures) lack historical understanding. More specifically, many say that if we don’t update our teachings on same-sex attraction, contraception, divorce and remarriage, etc. we are going to become “irrelevant” and our pews will empty. I have a few thoughts on these gloomy predictions:
- The Catholic Church has endured 2000 years of “social pressure” to change almost every one of our teachings, dogmatic and moral. Consider the Judaizers of St Paul’s day. Consider the Trinitarian and Christological heresies of the first few centuries. Consider the great Eastern Schism of the 11th century. Consider the Soteriological and Ecclesiological errors of the 16th Century. Consider modernism in our own time and all its offshoots such as relativism, discontinuity, reductionism, scientism, deconstructionism, and any other “ism” you can think of that takes one thing and makes it the whole thing. But here we still are. Empires have come and gone, nations have risen and fallen, philosophies and fancies have been tried and found wanting. Here we still are. Where are Nero, Julian the Apostate, Napoleon, Marx, and Stalin? Where is the USSR? All these political forces, people, and movements had an agenda they pressured us to adopt. They are gone and the Church and the Gospel are still here. All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25). And from Luke, Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. So, be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap(Luke 21:33-34). So this age has its agendas and is warning the Church that she will fade and die if she does not conform. I think I’ve heard that one before!
- The denominations that have adopted the “give the people what they want” stance (be it women clergy, approval of abortion, approval of homosexual acts, approval of gay “marriage,” etc.) are far emptier than is the Catholic Church, which by the way continues to grow worldwide. Surely secularism has taken a toll on the Church in many parts of the country, especially the old cities of the Northeast. But in the South many parishes are bursting at the seams and new parishes are being built. Most of the old, mainline Protestant denominations that have taken the “be relevant and permissive” advice are now quite divided and increasingly empty, whereas Catholic parishes and Evangelical denominations that have resisted this (though the Catholic position distinguishes attraction from sinful acts) are either holding their own or growing.
- Many say that the Catholic Church’s own members do not follow Catholic teachings on sexuality. This is true in varying degrees depending on the specific area. But many also do not follow our teaching against greed. Very few confess it and many seem to think it never applies to them. Should we change this teaching? Many fail to be as generous as they should be to the poor and very few confess this. Perhaps this teaching should be set aside as well since it doesn’t seem very popular and the poor are still with us. And boy, I’ll tell you a lot of Catholics struggle with the forgiving thing and loving their enemy! When forgiveness is preached many think that they have a good reason not to forgive and that God will understand in their particular case. So is it out with forgiveness, too? And despite many decades of dissent and scoffing at her teaching on contraception, the Church has not changed her position and it looks more right than ever given the confusion that contraception has caused about the purposes of sex. Right now our culture’s big obsession is with sexual misbehavior and thus the demands that we change the ancient, tested, biblical teaching on sexuality loom large. But when the current madness is finished or (more sadly) this culture exits the scene (by sexual suicide) the Church will still be here and the Gospel will remain unchanged.
- Despite the charges against her of bigotry and unfairness, the Catholic Church has one standard for everyone based on Scripture: chastity. (I will write more on this tomorrow.) For the married this means fidelity of mind, heart, and body. For the unmarried it means no genital sexual contact, ever. Those of same-sex attraction may protest that marriage is not possible for them under our teaching. This is true unless they are able to develop an attraction to the opposite sex. But even many who are not same-sex attracted either delay marriage significantly or never find a suitable marriage partner. They might object to simply being told that they have “options.” And frankly, as a vowed heterosexual celibate, I find objectionable the notion that living without sexual intercourse is worse than a death sentence. My life is full and happy. I have good friendships and can say firsthand that the Lord and the Church do not ask too much of the unmarried to refrain from sexual intimacy. Such a continence is not impossible. In the 26 years of my vowed commitment, I have never strayed with anyone, not even once. So the Church has one standard for everyone. And this is a sign of respect that is in contrast to the “soft bigotry” that would ask less of someone because he or she has an attraction that does not conform to the purposes of sexual activity.
The Church does have work to do in reaching out to those of same-sex attraction with a message of compassion that does not contradict the truth of God as revealed in Scripture and Natural Law. In August I will be attending a conference organized by Dr. Janet Smith that seeks to address this very task. Though I will be a mere “back-bencher” among many fine scholars and clerics, I was asked to submit a paper on pastoral challenges related to same-sex attraction. I will present excerpts from that paper tomorrow on the blog.
Meanwhile, I would like Cardinal George to have the last word. Please pray for the good Cardinal, who is currently hospitalized with extensive cancer. Always so careful but clear, Cardinal George writes,
In recent years, society has brought social and legislative approval to all types of sexual relationships that used to be considered “sinful.” Since the biblical vision of what it means to be human tells us that not every friendship or love can be expressed in sexual relations, the Church’s teaching on these issues is now evidence of intolerance for what the civil law upholds and even imposes. What was once a request to live and let live has now become a demand for approval. The “ruling class,” those who shape public opinion in politics, in education, in communications, in entertainment, is using the civil law to impose its own form of morality on everyone. We are told that, even in marriage itself, there is no difference between men and women, although nature and our very bodies clearly evidence that men and women are not interchangeable at will in forming a family. Nevertheless, those who do not conform to the official religion, we are warned, place their citizenship in danger .
(Cardinal Francis E. George, who was the Roman Catholic archbishop of Chicago for 17 years passed on to the Lord on Friday, April 17. He was 78. RIP beloved and loyal servant of God.]