Contradictions in Catholic LGBT Teaching and Practice



Contradictions in hierarchical attitudes towards LGBT issues and people were the theme of two commentaries this week from Catholic writers.

Bryan Cones

The first piece is a blog post from Bryan Cones, managing editor of U.S. Catholic, entitled “Can ‘respect, sensitivity, and compassion’ go with ‘instrinsic disorder’ when it comes to gay Catholics?”

Commenting on three recent news stories–the Worcester Diocese refusing to sell a mansion to a gay couple, the Connecticut priest reprimanded for assisting at his cousin’s wedding, the Franciscan University of Steubenville course which labels homosexuality as “deviant behavior”–Cones reflects on a contradiction that is at the heart of all three cases:

“Every Catholic institution when faced with these controversies (usually of their own creation) will parrot the line from the Catechism that ‘homosexual persons’ must be treated with ‘respect, compassion, and sensitivity,’ then go on to justify any behavior on the basis that a homosexual sexual orientation is an ‘objective disorder.’ Anyone else see the conflict? I don’t think any gay person in these situations (or their family members in the case of the priest at his cousin’s union ceremony) feel treated with ‘respect, compassion, or sensitivity.’

“Catholic teaching is of two minds on this question: On the one hand it upholds the fundamental dignity of every human being, each of whom is made in God’s image and likeness. On the other it insists that a small but consistent subset of human beings are unusually marked by sin in their created sexuality. Inevitably church institutions–Franciscan University, the Diocese of Worcester–get tangled up in in the conflict by clumsy people who try to say both things at the same time and end up embarrassing themselves and their institutions.

“The problem is, the two teachings really don’t go together, and the sooner we all realize that and agree to it, the sooner we will be able to find a new and hopefully more lifegiving way to talk about sexuality and lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in particular.”

Richard Giannone

The second piece is a Huffington Post blog entry from Fordham University Professor Richard Giannone entitled “True and False Religious Freedom.”  Reflecting on the marriage equality and religious liberty debate, Giannone notes:

“Liberty for the bishops is a synonym for power and control, their power, their control. They aim to impose unquestioned submission to their self-styled rectitude. Unlike Jesus’ freedom to challenge the elders and scribes, liberty by contemporary authoritarian lights deprives others of their rights. Such unchristian Christianity adds a new type of suffering on LGBT people.

“I am a 78-year-old man gay man who is a practicing Catholic. The older I get, the more clearly I see how official church teaching on sexuality presents a false idea of freedom and misconstrues Christianity. As in scripture, intolerance in daily life binds and traps. Subjugation comes early. Ecclesiastical homophobia burdens a LGBT child with recrimination and shackles the child in religious censure. Prejudice effectively cuts off young gay people from themselves, others, and God.”

I agree with Cones’ assessment that there is a deep tension between these two aspects of official church teaching.  While one stresses the importance of having positive behaviors towards gay and lesbian people, the other presents a strongly negative judgment about their sexual orientation.

I believe that church leaders are aware of this tension.  The problem, however, is that to resolve the tension, they favor the negative judgment over the positive behaviors.  There is no reason why it can’t be the other way around.

I think that Giannone poignantly describes the problem that such negative judgment produces.  It produces a prejudicial attitude that “effectively cuts off young gay people from themselves, others, and God.”

I agree with him that “Unlike Jesus’ freedom to challenge the elders and scribes, liberty by contemporary authoritarian lights deprives others of their rights.” Christian leaders should always be mindful of the paradox that they live as leaders since Jesus, their model, was certainly critical of institutional religious leaders who used theological principles to burden and oppress people.  Institutional authority creates a conundrum for Christian leaders that often encourages arrogance when it should inspire humility.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


6 replies
  1. Annette Magjuka
    Annette Magjuka says:

    Of course, respect, compassion and sensitivity all lead to marriage equity. God made gay people, including their sexuality. I think the church is missing the boat with its rules oriented treatment of all aspects of human sexuality. As a 56 year old mother of three, I had to go “off script” when it came time to talk to my children about their sexuality. As the culture changes (women are no longer property, the role of women is not only to provide heirs, women have careers), the “rules” must support a moral life in this context. The insistence on the dignity of all life, and the seriousness of the sex act are both relevant. But when people marry after 30, is the insistence on celibacy appropriate? I say no. Now that we know that sexuality is god-given, NOT a “choice,” we have to make our religious teaching appropriate to this knowledge. The church loses all credibility when clinging to rules that are antiquated and irrelevant to the real lives our children lead. We should be talking about sexuality in the context of positive mutual regard, love, and respect. This is a big conversation that is blocked by bickering about antiquated rules no one follows anyway, even the clergy. Of course gay people deserve full rights and respect. They deserve access to all sacraments including marriage. And we must begin talking way more about love and respect and stop the hate and injustice that is a shameful relic of the old world.

    I just read today that some old-school rabbis who circumcise babies suck the blood off the penis. Even though science has proven that herpes and disease can be transmitted this way, they are suing to be able to continue this “religious” practice. There was a quote that some Jewish people would not consider their children truly Jewish without the practice. Again, let the antiquated, anti-science beliefs go. Incorporate the knowledge that has been revealed!

    Gay people are gay from birth. Respect, compassion and sensitivity requires full support, equality, and love from their families and church communities. The Holy Spirit has made many Catholics know that this is the truth, despite what some bishops may say. It is shameful that the church hierarchy is on the wrong side of this issue.


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