Regardless of what some Catholics insist, church teaching does in fact change. And history will not be kind to the church about its treatment of LGBTQ people once teachings on gender and sexuality do change, writes Franciscan Fr. Dan Horan, OFM.
In his column for the National Catholic Reporter, Horan strongly criticizes the present teachings on sexuality and gender. He writes:
“The church has rightful shame and remorse for some things the institution has done, views it has espoused and teachings it has taught over the centuries. These include the Crusades and its adjacent Islamophobia, justification of chattel slavery, complicity in colonialism, prohibition of religious liberty, portrayal and treatment of women, and its history of antisemitism, among others.
“Over time we have come to recognize these attitudes and behaviors to be indefensible. And I believe that, in time, history will likewise judge the discrimination against and treatment of LGBTQ persons by the church and many of its members as similarly reprehensible.”
Horan acknowledges recent comments by Luxembourg’s Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, who seeks reforms in the church’s teachings on homosexuality, as the “minority view,” at least among church leaders. But, the Franciscan priest notes occasions in church history when the minority “may turn out, in the end, to prevail against some seemingly long-standing theological perspective or social convention.”
One example of such a change is a mid-16th century debate among Catholic theologians over whether Indigenous people discovered by European colonizers were “natural slaves.” Though it took time (indeed, too long), ultimately, the position of those who affirmed Indigenous people’s humanity won out. Horan explains:
“I mention this historical case not because I wish to make a false equivalency between the slavery, mistreatment and murder of Indigenous peoples in the 16th century and the discrimination and treatment of LGBTQ individuals today.
“However, I do believe there are at least three points worth noting for our time and in this contemporary case. First, church teaching develops and, in fact, changes. It doesn’t happen often, but teaching has and ought to change when we realize that the remote possibility of error in non-infallible teaching is discovered. The church’s view on slavery and religious liberty are just two of many examples where this has been the case. And it is likely that the current institutional views on the treatment of LGBTQ individuals not only should, but will also change.
“Second, it can be difficult in the actual historical moment of debate to make sense of which response is correct. We should resist maintaining the status quo merely because ‘that’s the way it’s always been.’ It is quite possible that the way it has been is correct and should be sustained, but it is also very likely that there is something seriously wrong that needs to change.
“But the only way we will come to know the right answer in this case is by engaging in theological research and dialogue that takes seriously the experiences of LGBTQ individuals in a way analogous to the seriousness that de las Casas took the experiences of Indigenous Americans. In the meantime, all people should be free of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender at Catholic institutions and faith communities.”
On the topic of discrimination, Horan mentions the firing of LGBTQ church workers as one particularly harsh way the church mistreats the queer community. The priest concludes his essay:
“The church can and must do better, and the time is now. I hope that Cardinal Hollerich’s brother bishops, especially the bishop of Rome, embrace the Holy Spirit’s call to do the right thing sooner rather than later. The current synodal process is one such providential opportunity to align church teaching on LGBTQ persons and relationships with reality grounded in the best of medical and psychological research.
“Not only will history judge the church’s past and current treatment of LGBTQ persons, but more importantly God is judging the church too.”
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, April 4, 2022