US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Can "respect, sensitivity, and compassion" go with "instrinsic disorder" when it comes to gay Catholics?

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Like a little bomblet of silliness, in one week we get a story about a Massachusetts diocese declining to sell a mansion to a gay couple because gay weddings may take place there, a priest rebuked by his bishop for attending a cousin's same-sex union, and the Franciscan University of Steubenville including "homosexuality" on a list of "deviant" behavior, along with rape and murder, in a social work class. The latter led Commonweal commentator Eric Bugyis to wonder whether Franciscan University wasn't confusing catechesis with social work.

Perhaps the professor at Steubenville could be forgiven for his or her confusion. 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 is 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.