Gay in the Pew: LGBT Catholics and Church Teaching

We should choose to stay in the Church while embracing Christ's guidance -- ask questions, seek answers and never stop knocking -- because one day the door will be opened.
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It intrigues me that gay Catholics either fall victim to being called a "heretic" or a "living oxymoron" depending on whose company you find yourself in. In fact, in the wake of my previous article ("LGBT Catholics March Not in Defiance, but in Love," June 27), I received a number of emails, tweets and Facebook messages that have questioned why I don't just become an Episcopalian or argue that I should leave the Church because of my apparent lack of devotion to the Magisterium (the teaching authority of the Church). Are gay Catholics really heretics or are they merely people who love being ostracized by their religious leaders? I don't think either of these accurately characterize gay Catholics or queer spirituality for that matter. Either way, it appears that some people on both sides of the debate want LGBT people out of the Catholic Church. In reflecting on this, I can't help but witness the call for LGBT Catholics to stay in the pew.

At its core, the Church is open to all people without exception. This is clearly articulated in the Gospel According to Luke, when Jesus says, "And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened" (Luke 11:9-10). Amid this call to inclusiveness, the realities of the Church's teachings on homosexuality are all too clear. So what does this mean for gay Catholics? It means that we should choose to stay while embracing Christ's guidance -- ask questions, seek answers and never stop knocking -- because one day the door will be opened. Perhaps we should start asking these questions and seeking answers with regards to the application of Church teaching on the issue of homosexuality.

Although some argue that the Magisterium offers a clear teaching on homosexuality, I would argue that its teaching is ambiguous and contradictory. Consider for instance the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), which calls for "Every sign of unjust discrimination" in regards to gay and lesbian people to "be avoided" (CCC# 2358); however, the Church (with few exceptions) discriminates against celibate gay men in its consideration of applicants for the Catholic priesthood. Isn't this an unjust roadblock in one's discernment of God's will?

The ambiguity continues with regards to the Church's view on same-sex partnerships. The Catechism refers to "homosexual acts" as "objectively disordered" (CCC# 2357, 2358, 2359), but does not explore the question of a committed union between same-sex persons. In what appears to be a response to the Catechism's lack of discussion on same-sex relationships, a 2003 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith explained that "Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil." As evidenced by the Catechism and the 2003 document, the Magisterium's focus on sex and its failure to witness homosexual relationships in their entirety limits the Church's own witness to the genuine good that is found in same-sex relationships -- including in many instances the raising of a family. The notion that the Church refers to same-sex relationships as "evil" represents an illogical presumption in light of the Church's teaching and raises serious questions. Can a God-given trait be evil or, for that matter, would God call two people to a love that is evil?

In light of these questions and what I view as the Church's contradictory teachings on homosexuality, it is apparent that the Church needs to discern how to live out its pastoral mission with regard to LGBT Catholics in a way that considers the whole person and the beauty found in an LGBT relationship. This call to exercise a loving pastoral approach is not something new for the Church. For instance, "Always Our Children," a 1997 pastoral letter published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, began to work toward such an approach, by seeking to encourage love as a parent's response to their gay or lesbian child. In this powerful witness to the Church's call to social justice, the bishops urged ministers to, "Welcome homosexual persons into the faith community, and seek out those on the margins. Avoid stereotyping and condemning. Strive first to listen" and called on the parents of LGBT people to "Urge [their] son or daughter to stay joined to the Catholic faith community." When the Church refuses communion or a funeral to a LGBT Catholic, how are they welcoming people "into the faith community"?

In considering these statements, we can only wonder how powerful a listening session between LGBT Catholics and the Archbishop of New York would have been during the marriage equality debate. Perhaps this is a dialogue that will one day take place; for it is by embracing the social justice vision of Catholicism and its pastoral focus that will lead to a willingness to listen to the stories of LGBT Catholics. By listening, the Church will come to discover a deeper understanding of Christian love, rather than resorting to the hurtful language that has come from the Church's hierarchy in recent years on this issue. My hope is expressed well in an editorial from the Buffalo News by Bishop Joseph Sullivan (ret.) of the Diocese of Brooklyn, who wrote, "Catholic teachings compel us to work toward the elimination of unjust structures and to treat people with dignity, regardless of their state in life or their beliefs. My own understanding of this community has also evolved over the course of four decades of ministry."

So where does all of this leave LGBT Catholics? In the pews. The realities call all LGBT Catholics to live our lives as examples of Christian love. By living our lives prophetically, we can continue to help others evolve in their understanding of our community. As people who believe in the all welcoming and loving message of Christ, we must remind ourselves and others that LGBT Catholics and their allies, in the words of Bishop Sullivan, "are not rebels in their churches, but people who have taken spiritual messages of inclusiveness and welcoming to heart."

By staying in the Church and living our lives, we are expressing our belief in the inclusive message of Christ; we are choosing to ask, seek and knock with the hope that one day "the door will be opened" (Luke 11:10).

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