Columnist: Conservative Catholics Cannot Expect Gay People to Disappear

Damon Linker

2014 was a landmark year for LGBT rights in the United States as marriage equality grew rapidly and polling showed record high rates of acceptance. In the church, Pope Francis and the Synod of Bishops opened up discussions of LGBT issues which were unprecedented. And along the way, conservative Catholics have strongly resisted each new development.

For the good of LGBT people and the good of the church, a new approach is needed going forward, says columnist for The Week Damon Linker. He writes:

“I have also made the case that opposing gay marriage is not prima facie evidence of anti-gay bigotry. I still believe that — though a recent egregiously anti-gay article in the conservative Catholic magazine Crisis is enough to inspire some doubts.”

Linker’s article was a response to recent publicity gained by lesbian and gay Catholics who choose celibacy which, in their opinion, helps them conform to the hierarchy’s articulation of Catholic teaching around homosexuality. Bondings 2.0 has covered this topic, which feature figures like Eve Tushnet and Joshua Gonnerman. Linker rightly suggests that conservative Catholics would treat celibate gay people as “heroes or saints” for adhering to church teaching and acting counter-culturally.

However, that is not always the case as the Crisis piece by Austin Ruse reveals. Setting aside Ruse’s ad hominem attacks against Tushnet and Gonnerman, he suggests these “New Homophiles” are wrong in serious ways. According to Linker, Ruse thinks they are wrong for the following reasons:

“First, they affirm a gay identity. Second, they think that this identity gives them distinctive spiritual gifts. Ruse thinks both assumptions are false, because they treat homosexuality as something fixed or given, and even as something positive in certain respects. The truth, for Ruse, is that homosexual desires are the problem — and they shouldn’t be granted any from of validity. On the contrary, they should simply be overcome, transcended, cured. Like a disease.

“This is nothing new. Variations on this view have been espoused by anti-gay bigots for a very long time. But that doesn’t make it any less grotesque. Especially for a Christian.”

Linker criticizes those Ruse and others like him for forcing lesbian and gay Catholics into a “stark choice…leave the church for good or somehow make their homosexual desires vanish. Exile or erasure.” This position forces LGBT Catholics to meet a higher standard than their heterosexual counterparts, while contributing to poor theology which ignores “a mountain of scientific evidence” and many experiences. Linker concludes:

“That’s why Tushnet and Gonnerman irk Ruse so intensely — because despite their manifest devotion to the church, and willingness to endure the deprivations of celibacy for the sake of their faith, they nonetheless insist on treating their homosexual desires as givens that may possess a particle, a grain, a tiny scrap of dignity, rather than as traits that deserve to be denied, explained away, or consigned to oblivion.

“In the end, the problem for Ruse and like-minded Catholic conservatives is that homosexuals refuse to disappear…

“If the Catholic Church hopes to avoid seeing the gates of hell prevail against it, it will have to follow their example — and make abundantly clear who the real ‘bad Catholics’ are.”

I would add that Ruse and other Catholics who treat homosexuality so disparagingly that lesbian and gay Catholics who do not choose celibacy but remain faithfully committed to the Catholic Church provide the same powerful witness. Their lives, their relationships, their families, and their existence in our faith communities challenge the anti-gay elements within the church at least as much as those who choose celibacy do.

Further, violence and discrimination due to one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity is an all too prevalent reality in our world, even in places where legal equality is expanding. Whether celibate or not, LGBT Catholics are wonderfully present in our church and our world, and Catholics must find newer ways in 2015 to extend a welcome and provide opportunities for dialogue. I affirm Linker’s point that the institutional church must clearly condemn voices like Ruse that are viciously anti-gay, even if differences remain about legal rights or affirmation of same-sex relationships.

If you are interested in Bondings 2.0‘s ongoing coverage of the debate around celibacy and homosexuality in the Catholic Church, click here.

Also, if you have not already done so, take a moment to vote for the best and worst Catholic LGBT stories of 2014 by clicking here. The results will be forthcoming before the New Year!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

8 replies
  1. robinrisa1025
    robinrisa1025 says:

    Each and every single one of us are created by a loving God; and we each bring a unique set of gifts and talents to the table. To choose to IGNORE or SPURN a person because of the way they are wired is to also ignore ALL of the gifts they possess! Being gay is NOT a choice; it’s the way you ARE; but only one facet of WHO you are — would you spurn me because I happen to have blue eyes?

    • Friends
      Friends says:

      Strongly agree with you, Robinrisa! With all due admiration for Bob’s great work, the article above is a kind of rhetorical thicket — which I needed to read three times, to try to figure out “who said what about what to whom” in this rather futile debate. To be best of my knowledge, ALL CATHOLICS have a fundamental right of privacy, and a fundamental right of conscience, in their personal lives. Do heterosexual married couples shirk from (or find themselves excluded from) participating in the Mass, since they use non-abortive medical contraception — as the vast majority of them certainly do? This double standard being applied only to faithfully-bonded same-sex couples — be they celibate or sexually-bonded — is insulting and ridiculous and viciously discriminatory, as long as heterosexual married couples who use birth control are never questioned about their private lives. ANY professing Catholic has full rights of participation in the Mass. And if some reactionary priest discriminates against you at Mass because of your private relationship, you have two choices: 1. find another parish, or even better: 2. go directly to the Diocesan Chancery, and raise a bloody ruckus about the discrimination you’ve experienced. It might just help. If not, become a practicing Episcopalian — until and unless the far-right-wing zealots in the RCC are overcome by the sacred oversight of the Holy Spirit, and by the example set by Pope Francis himself.

      • robinrisa1025
        robinrisa1025 says:

        neodecaussade: robin risa is my daughter, who passed away in 2001 after six years of illness and pain. She is one of God’s Saints and a Martyr to her pain. I ache to hold/talk with/ touch her again. Robin would be 27 years old. Parents burying their children is simply OBSCENE. Part of me died with my baby. I wish to thank you for a very eloquent, well-considered post! I can see change coming, but, sadly, probably not in our lifetime. It will take the actions of and pressure from the generation my GRANDCHILDREN (10 and 6) belong to in order to really MOVE on this issue! Thankfully, my daughter is raising my grands to treat ALL people equally and not to judge. I (grandma) am a living, breathing example of the same view point. Surviving daughter has friends (as do I…) in the LGBT Community and the fact that this has to be an issue at all makes me sad! I am active in the autism community (I do HUG cards for Autism) and have met quite a cross-section of humanity there. We are ALL God’s children…that is all we need! But, like sooo many, I come from and married into an extremely conservative bunch (who would absolutely FLIP if they read this. Know what? This is how I feel and I’m sticking to it! Sorry for TMI; I wanted you to understand where I come from. May God bless you richly and may 2015 mark INCLUSION and ACCEPTANCE! Signed: Robin’s Mom

  2. Richard Rosendall
    Richard Rosendall says:

    I certainly agree that we cannot be expected to disappear, because there is nothing wrong with being gay. But those who continue essentially to demand our erasure are willfully blind, so there’s not much point in beating against those gates. The biggest obstacle in the Church at this point is closeted priests and bishops who overcompensate by being harshly repressive. Right-wing cardinals luxuriate in their gold-embroidered vestments and indulge their own carnal desires while denouncing those of us who are honest. The result is corruption and abuse.

    I have never agreed, btw, that opposition to gay marriage is not a sign of anti-gay bigotry. I have heard that a thousand times, mostly from gay conservatives. Granted, a little diplomacy never hurt anyone, and as a leader of the successful fight for marriage equality in DC, I made every effort to build bridges and not burn them. But of course bigotry was behind the opposition. Our staunchest opponent was the Archdiocese of Washington, and we beat them. This graduate of St. Catherine Labouré Elementary School in Wheaton, Maryland (Class of 1970) is justly proud of that achievement.

    The Archdiocese did not just oppose marriage equality; they vehemently opposed domestic partnerships and legalization of sodomy before that. Their pretense of victimhood notwithstanding, we have always been more respectful of their rights than vice versa. As a gay rights activist I consistently say that any minister in any place of worship must have the right to bar me from his sanctuary, deny me his sacraments, and denounce me from his pulpit. That is because I know that the Constitution does not only protect those who agree with me. But Holy Mother the Church, Inc. (as a friend who is also a Catholic school alum puts it) has made every effort to impose its doctrines on everyone else using the power of the state. I have always thought this short-sighted, given the history of anti-Catholic bigotry in America; my alma mater, Villanova, is west of Philadelphia rather than in the city because the Augustinians were driven out and their church burned by anti-Catholic riots in the early 1840s. Yet they cling to their authoritarian, privileged approach as if Christ drew the blueprints. They apparently expect us to be ignorant or silent about such things as the medieval origins of the celibacy rule, which was about protecting church property. In earlier centuries there were popes who were sons of popes.

    The current pope is a breath of fresh air, though his immense pastoral gifts, and even his salutary exertion of backbone against Cardinal Burke, do not necessarily betoken an intention to change doctrine on gays and women. The bottom line is that this is who we are, and it is a blessing. We have nowhere to retreat to. So we stand our ground. And we have integrity, as many of our loudest detractors do not.

    Happy Christmas,

    Rick Rosendall Dupont Circle

    Sent from my iPad


  3. Kathleen Fallon
    Kathleen Fallon says:

    Padon me Mr. Linker. Although Ruse is totally closed-minded and self righteous in his views, this doesn’t make him “conservative”. Please refrain from using close-minded and conservative as the same. This isn’t about politics after all. This is about love, much greater than politics.

    • robinrisa1025
      robinrisa1025 says:

      Sorry, but I would definitely put closed-minded and conservative in the same sentence. My husband is a very educated man who is both of these. We are polar opposites.

  4. Annette Magjuka
    Annette Magjuka says:

    I am not gay. I am almost 60. My problem is that the church I was born into, the church of all my relatives that encompasses my core beliefs and cultural practices–this church is actively doing harm to a group of people based on their biology. When I say I am Catholic, my family knows what I mean. They know that I love the mass, I believe in the core principles of the church, and that I have been a member my entire life. But when I am out in the world, if I say I am Catholic, people have reason to assume that I agree with firing, marginalizing, and legislating against gay people. In fact, I am horrified by the firings, the marginalizing, the politicizing, and the discrimination that is being perpetrated by the Catholic church. I do not stand with any of these behaviors. What is happening to gay people happened in Nazi Germany to Jews. We all must speak up. We must demand that our church acts Catholic and not like Nazis. Firing gay people who have given years of their lives to teaching in Catholic schools? Banning gay people from parish involvement? Are you kidding me?! NO. People of conscience and decency must say NO, NO, NO. I do not have to be gay to see this. I do not have to have a gay child to see this. It is a simple matter of decency. We need to get back to what Jesus told us to do: Love. We must insist on it from the church leaders. They must be called to task at every single slight, every single discrimination.


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