In The National Catholic Reporter, Mark Levand, a sexuality researcher and educator, penned a report and commentary on a recent Fordham University conference on clergy sexual abuse. Central to Levand’s analysis of the crisis is the Catholic Church’s deficient approach to sexuality in general, beyond celibacy, clergy, and abuse issues. Though he does not mention LGBTQ people specifically, his ideas clearly apply to this community. Three paragraphs from his essay highlight the problem.
“I propose we consider not just ‘sexual abuse’ but ‘abuse of sexuality.’ By that I am referring to how we as an institution of Catholics foster an atmosphere of ambiguity, indifference, secrecy, ignorance and harm around sexuality, not just around bodies and genitals. I am referring to the use and misuse of teachings about sexuality that encourage maladaptive sexual development, the perpetuation of Catholic messages that can be harmful to others, and the perpetuated ignorance of sexuality that harms entire groups of people.
“Clergy sexual abuse is only one aspect that comes from this Catholic abuse of sexuality and must be discussed and addressed on scales both big and small. But malformation around sexuality is bound to continue without addressing multiple systemic realities in the Catholic faith. To foster sexually healthy Catholic adults that together foster a sexually healthy community, here are four broad components of Catholic sexual culture we should address.
“Catholic erotophobia, or the fear of talking about sexuality, has held Catholic institutions back from effectively addressing the many ways sexuality exists in our society. It is no wonder a group of people who likely did not have adequate sexuality education in their schools struggles with how to address matters of sexuality in their institutions. Catholic leaders have likely not had adequate sexual and relationship education in ways that help them make sense of sexual coercion, talk about sexual health, or even understand healthy and abusive relationship patterns. Instituting comprehensive sexuality education can help protect children from sexual abuse.”
Levand’s essay reminds us that changes in church doctine on LGBTQ issues need to be connected to the larger issues of reforming the way that the Catholic Church thinks about the whole of sexuality and gender. Indeed, no changes will happen in the area of LGBTQ teachings unless the church rethinks the wider issues. Theologians have been pointing in this direction for decades. As regular readers of Bondings 2. 0 will know, at least the church in Germany is waking up to their ideas.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 4, 2022