What should a gay catholic do?

Author: James Martin, S.J.

Here’s a real pastoral question to consider: What place is there for the gay person in the Catholic church?  With the warning from the archdiocese of Washington, D.C., that it would pull out of social services in the city rather than accede to a bill that would afford benefits to same-sex spouses, a question, too long neglected, arises for the whole church: What is a gay Catholic supposed to do in life?

Imagine you are a devout Catholic who is also gay.  Here is a list of the things that you are not to do, according to the teaching of the church.  (Remember that most other Catholics can choose among many of these options.)  None of this should be new or in any way surprising.  If you are gay, you cannot:

1.) Enjoy romantic love. At least not the kind of fulfilling love that most people, from their earliest adolescence, anticipate, dream about, hope for, plan about, talk about and pray for.  In other cases, celibacy (that is, a lifelong abstinence from sex) is seen as a gift, a calling or a charism in a person’s life.  Thus, it is not to be enjoined on a person.  (“Celibacy is not a matter of compulsion,” said then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.)  Yet it is enjoined on you.  (“Homosexual person are called to chastity,” says the Catechism, meaning complete abstinence.) In any event, you cannot enjoy any sort of romantic, physical or sexual relationship.

2.) Marry.  The church has been clear, especially of late, in its opposition to same-sex unions.  Of course, you can not marry within the church.  Nor can you enter into any sort of civil, same-sex unions of any kind.   (Such unions are “pseudo-matrimonies,” said the Holy Father, that stem from “expressions of an anarchic freedom”) They are beyond the pale.  This should be clear to any Catholic.  One bishop compared the possibility of gays marrying one another to people marrying animals.

3.) Adopt a child.  Despite the church’s warm approval of adoption, you cannot adopt a needy child.  You would do “violence,” according to church teaching, to a child if you were to adopt.

4.) Enter a seminary. If you accept the church’s teaching on celibacy for gays, and feel a call to enter a seminary or religious order, you cannot—even if you desire the celibate life.  The church explicitly forbids men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies”from entering the priesthood.  Nor can you hide your sexuality if you wish to enter a seminary.

5.) Work for the church and be open.  If you work for the church in any sort of official capacity it is close to impossible to be open about who your identity as a gay man or a lesbian.  A gay layman I know who serves an important role in a diocese (and even writes some of his bishop’s statements on social justice) has a solid theological education and desires to serve the church, but finds it impossible to be open in the face of the bishop’s repeated disparaging remarks about gays.  Some laypeople have been fired, or dismissed, for being open.  Like this altar server, who lives a chaste life. Or this woman, who worked at a Catholic high school.  Or this choir director.

At the same time, if you are a devout Catholic who is attentive both to church teachings and the public pronouncements of church leaders, you will be reminded that you are “objectively disordered”, and your sexuality is ”a deviation, an irregularity a wound.”

Nothing above is surprising or controversial: all of the above are church teaching.  But taken together, they raise an important pastoral question for all of us: What kind of life remains for these brothers and sisters in Christ, those who wish to follow the teachings of the church?  Officially at least, the gay Catholic seems set up to lead a lonely, loveless, secretive life.  Is this what God desires for the gay person?

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