A gay reader shares some uncomfortable questions aroundthe Church and a gay lifestyle.
As a practising gay Catholic (practising both my faith and my sexual orientation) one gets used, not entirely comfortably, to coping with ambiguity.
The Catholic Church could never be described as a welcoming place for gay Catholics; this is despite the fact that many priests (and bishops) are themselves gay.
To be a gay Catholic is to listen to a lot of emotive condemnatory rhetoric from people within your faith community who have little or no experience of struggling with the fact that what is described by the Church as ‘unnatural’ and ‘gravely disordered’ is entirely natural for a person with a homosexual orientation.
But to be a gay Catholic is also to listen to diatribes from some gay groups against the Church that, despite it all, one goes on loving.
Many gay people I know have simply walked away from the Church. Walking away has never been an option for me.
I cannot compartmentalise a part of myself that is not Catholic: it cuts to the very core of my being, as does homosexuality.
I am one with the Church, even if not completely one. I have always considered the idea of ‘my gay self’ and ‘my Catholic self’ being separated as ludicrous. There is only one me.
This article is not intended as a condemnation of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. Nor is it intended to justify my own lifestyle.
By any objective measure the way in which I choose to live my life is at clear variance with the Church’s teaching and traditional Christian morality. This is the space in which I stand and, if I’m honest, sometimes squirm.
Too often debate in the Church about homosexuality gets lost in a battle between absolutes on each side of the divide. On the one hand, homosexuality is gravely disordered, plain and simple, end of.
At the other end, all love comes from God and if two people love each other where’s the harm? Both positions in my view mask the complexity that gay Catholics live with.
A new article in the Catholic journal The Furrow (January 2012) by Irish Jesuit Fr Bart Kiely raises challenging and uncomfortable questions.
Fr Kiely is responding to an earlier article by Fr Owen O’Sullivan OFM Cap. in the same journal which was popularly received and, among other things, said ”if God is love, and if sex is loving, then sex between two people of different or the same gender can only be looked upon lovingly by God”.
I know that many gay people take comfort from such sentiment and that the comments are undoubtedly motivated by pastoral sensitivity, but is it really as simple as that?
Fr Kiely charts the dramatic change in thinking within the world of psychology when it comes to homosexuality.
He writes, for example, about how the American Psychiatric Association (APA) decided under pressure in 1973 to stop describing homosexuality as a disorder.
Whatever the merits of the decision, it appears largely to have been motivated by concerns to be politically correct rather than scientifically rigorous.
He notes how the 1967 edition of the Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry understands homosexuality as sexual immaturity.
Is it the case that gay people might be immature in their sexuality? It is a question that we ought to be able to discuss calmly. This is, of course, not to imply that heterosexual people are ipso facto more mature in their sexuality. Evidently this is not always the case.
He poses a very serious question: ‘are homosexual persons fulfilled my homosexual acts?’ He argues, based on his contention that many gay men have hundreds of sexual partners in a lifetime, that ”such men were searching for something that they were not finding”. But promiscuity is certainly not limited to the gay community as a stroll around Dublin’s Temple Bar on a Saturday night or a conversation wih any general practioner will indicate.
In a paragraph that may upset many gay people he insists that ”homosexual relationships may provide satisfaction for a time and homosexual acts may provide a temporary relief from tension or loneliness. But it is only temporary, and the promiscuity of gay men is a clear sign of insatiability.
”When other circumstances are favourable, the lifestyle of a homosexual may seem to go well enough for a time. But the situation of an elderly homosexual man, who has lost his youth, good looks and perhaps social status, can be very sad indeed”. Any visitor to a gay bar whether in Ireland or abroad surely cannot fail to notice such men well past their ‘sell-by’ date craving the affection of younger men: a sad sight indeed. His belief that gay people only find temporary respite in relationships is too much of a generalisation for me.
I wonder too if Fr Kiely’s contention that gay relationships are not healthy in the long-term an excessive idealisation of heterosexual relationships? I know many heterosexual couples webbed in complex, sometimes co-dependent, dysfunctional relationship that do little for their own personal enrichment or for the wellbeing of their children.
Fr Kiely’s article raises real and uncomfortable questions that, in my view, should cause any reflective gay Catholic to stop and think. I am not saying that he is right, nor am I saying that he is wrong. The issue is too complex to be either or.
What gay Catholics what from their Church, however, is language based on respect.
I will nail my colours to the mast in that I believe the conflict between Catholicism’s moral code and homosexuality is insoluble.
But the Church can embrace a credible sexual morality articulated in terms of ideals rather than as practical and inflexible proscriptions.
The call of Jesus is demanding but it is also compassionate. We gay Catholics understood that we are called to be perfect, that we aspire to perfection, and that a moral code that does not distinguish between aspiration and concrete, lived reality is inhuman.
The author wishes to remain anonymous but is known to the editor.