The U.S. Catholic hierarchy’s insistence on opposing same-gender marriage distracts its leaders and laity from speaking out against other moral shortcomings, says a Commonweal editor in a recent column.
Mollie Wilson O’Reilly, Commonweal’s Editor At Large, said what she thought many Catholics are afraid to say: not only is the Church’s stance on gay people wrong, but it is harmful to the LGBTQ community, the Church, and the wider world. The fear that stops people from naming the doctrine as harmful needs to be confronted and overcome in order for there to be change.
O’Reilly points to the lived reality of LGBTQ Catholics as the inspiration for her unafraid condemnation of the Church’s teaching. She acknowledges that same-sex relationships are occasions of grace, the same as heterosexual relationships, and she decries the wounds the Church inflicts on LGBTQ youth, laments the loss of faith for those who are wounded, and marvels at those whose faith is unshaken:
“And I have seen LGBTQ people so drawn to Christ’s presence in the church that they look past all the dismissals and insults to fight for their place at the Eucharistic table. Their faithfulness inspires and challenges me. Their witness convinces me the church is wrong to condemn them.”
O’Reilly believes it is time for the rest of the faithful who disagree with the Church’s teaching on LGBTQ people to speak up. She recognizes that people remain silent on the issue for a number of reasons: the expectation that the Church does not care what individual Catholics think, the desire to remain civil and not cause trouble, and fear.
In light of the real harm the Church’s teaching inflicts on LGBTQ youth and adults, O’Reilly concludes she cannot choose civility over moral fortitude.
And here is where she distinguishes herself from the institutional U.S. Church. While the Church in the U.S. continues to take up defense of marriage as its most pressing issue, O’Reilly documents the flagrant betrayals of Christian morals unfolding in the U.S., on which the Church as a whole has remained largely silent.
O’Reilly, in looking to the U.S. bishops for a clear moral voice to condemn policies that directly attack the dignity and worth of the poor and marginalized, is left dismayed. Instead of the bishops speaking with a unified voice against the hatred espoused against immigrants, Muslims, and Jews, they choose to speak vaguely in support of religious freedom.
The U.S. bishops are spending their time and money in defense of religious freedom in ways that will allow them to continue to discriminate against LGBTQ people, but not ways that have defended Muslims from the vitriol and discriminatory policies of the current administration. Such selective support of religious freedom betrays its true value.
In all of this, the bishops insist that Catholics must see this fight—religious freedom and the defense of marriage—as central to their Catholic identity in the U.S. By focusing primarily on this harmful Church teaching, the breadth and beauty of the rest of the Church’s teaching on morality, peace, and justice is ignored. O’Reilly says:
“As I see it now, the church’s condemnation of homosexuality isn’t just an error that needs fixing. It is an obstacle that stops Catholics, leaders and laity alike, from speaking clearly about urgent moral crises and from being perceived as credible when we do.”
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, commented: “The one weakness of O’Reilly’s column is that there is an underlying presumption that no one has confronted the bishops on this issue before. In reality, lots of Catholics have been speaking out for years, and some have paid a big price for doing so. Just look at all the people who have been fired from church jobs because of being married, intending to get married, or speaking in support of marriage equality.”
In order to return to the path of justice and morality—the path of Jesus—the Church needs faithful like O’Reilly to decide enough is enough and call the Church’s teaching on sexuality what it is: harmful and a distraction from the Church’s true mission.
Those of us who remain faithful Catholics believe the Church has something to offer the world. We are called, as heirs of Jesus, to participate and continue his gospel: to “bring good news to the poor…proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” We cannot continue to build the Reign of God in justice and truth when we are entirely focused on defending an indefensible doctrine that continues to cause harm.
—Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, January 12, 2020