I am not sure it’s ever going to “get better” for me. I am going on 60 years of age this coming December, and I find myself still filled at times with rage and a deep sense of aloneness within my life as it stands currently. The reason I say so is that I seem to not quite fit the mold, either from a Church or secular standpoint, on an issue near and dear to me. That issue is homosexuality.
The short story is that I, after 35 years of being away from Rome, returned to the Catholic Church in 2005, exactly one decade ago this coming fall, and unlike what some may have believed or assumed, had previously embraced a celibate lifestyle a few years previous to that time. Since the story of my return is in print elsewhere, I will simply link to it both here and at the end of this article.
I do not, nor will I ever, regret my decision to come back to Catholicism. At moments, however, I have struggled with what I believe are very inconsistent attitudes towards issues on my levels, and in particular with issues that have affected me personally, such as the topic at hand and my place in the Church as an aging (not aged!) man with SSA (same-sex attractions).
Much of my blog and other writings have been devoted to this issue and its impact in my life, and as we begin what is likely the final sprint towards legalized same-sex marriages nationwide, I think it is the right and proper time for me to share my views more fully and articulate my understanding of a topic I have studied from many perspectives.
Many people think that there are only two possible answers to this ever-thornier question—one is either to be “for” or “against” gay marriage on a legal level. Those against it will not even refer to it, on a civil level, as a “marriage,” even though the Church has clearly done so with other irregular living situations such as those married outside the Church or even, in some cases, those who may be co-habitating without a legal license issued by the state. Those for it often come from the opposite extreme, stating that any full equality of SSA/LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) persons must necessarily include the legal right to marry, to adopt children, and to collect governmental benefits such as Social Security when the time comes.
I think that both sides have some merit, and that each side has some peril. I believe so because I am of the opinion, after having often gone all over the map in order to reconcile my beliefs and Church teaching, that there is another answer we may not be considering, and which I, although a non-official theologian, believe is most likely the healthiest approach, as well as the rarest.
I will state here that I support Church teaching as written in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (called going forward in the article the CCC), and do so without reserve. In case you are not aware of that teaching, which is basically 3 short articles in a book of over 2800 basic theological tenets of the Faith, I am reprinting it below for easy reference:
Chastity and homosexuality
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (2333)
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (2347)
In the above doctrinal statement, a number of points are often glossed over or simply re-interpreted, again by both opposing sides, and I wish to make mention of some of these in this article. The first is the term “intrinsically disordered,” from section 2357, referring specifically to sexual acts between those of the same gender, in the traditional sense of the word. The actively LGBT community leadership tends to hate this terminology, but what has been often overlooked by the traditional Catholic and other Christians who use it as a battering ram against SSA/gay persons is why it is so very upsetting to those of us with this characteristic, condition, orientation, or whatever term you wish to use.
I have heard said to others, and also to me at times, that I have the “SSA disorder.” To which I would blithely say bleh. Not so. I have several disorders, in the modern and non-theological sense of the term, such as poor eyesight, diabetes, and some chronic upper GI/gastric issues. However I am currently working 2 jobs, one which is in frontline customer service, something long proven to be one of the most stress-inducing careers that exist, and have done so in one capacity or another for over one quarter of a century now. I am a regular part of my church parish, and involved in community outreach such as block leader in my urban residential area, as well as assisting in some small way at least in dealing with several personal family crises such as my dad’s illness. I was married for 13 years and managed, certainly with the help of God’s grace, to re-establish a friendly relationship with my former spouse. I wear glasses and take my insulin, and have lost 15 lbs. in the last 2 years.
The implication that, because I am attracted romantically to men and have been aware of this since before puberty, which is nearly a half century ago at this writing, and have yet been celibate for the last 15 years speaks more of a strength God has given to me, not a weakness. And this is by no means meant to be bragging, since I have certainly failed God in many, many ways, including such things as thought life and custody of the eyes, but rather to point out that I am not some wild young buck looking for a quick hook-up. In short my SSA is not a disorder for me, at least not in the mental health context which is implied by misusing the term as I have unfortunately seen it used by ignorant but hopefully well-meaning believers in the same Lord Jesus Christ who I do.
So where is the “intrinsic disorder” then? I have always loved time travel stories, and for this one you will need to move backwards to the 13th century, and to one St Thomas Aquinas. Much of the writings of this “angelic Doctor” of the Church refer to disorder coming from the original fall of humanity. Since his writings predate Dr Freud by somewhere near 700 years, he was clearly not referring to psychoses. He was talking about the human weaknesses we all share through original sin, and our tendency towards making that sin personal. For some that might be lusting after the opposite sex (the popularity of the “50 Shades” series and movie would be a prime example for women, as well as the Playboy mentality for men which predated this by over 60 years), and for some of us, and as CCC article 2357 rightly explains as well, due to a “psychological genesis (which) remains largely unexplained,” a romantic desire for those of our own gender. One is not worse than the other nor better. But I think it is safe to say that, in the original Eden, there was no confusion of gender. In that sense, and in that sense only, I accept and own the feelings I have in that area as disordered. Another topic for another time is why we with SSA feel as we do, and the CCC again wisely presents it as “largely unexplained.”
Aside from a very few very conservative psychologists and MDs, most would agree that the jury is out as to whether the cause is physical (which by the way is not limited to genetic issues), environmental, or a combination of both factors. What is known, however is that it is not, in and of itself, a form of mental illness, does not cause child molestation, and that there are SSA or actively LGBT persons in every walk of life, whether highly educated attorneys, those in active ministry including priests, and the whole gamut otherwise. We really are “everywhere,” and you rub shoulders with us every day, whether at the supermarket or your parish congregation. And very likely in your own family. A great video, even if you disagree with some parts of the theology regarding this, is called The Bible Tells Me So, which follows several families who have dealt heroically and lovingly with this in their own lives. And before you assume it is only some Nazi/Communist propaganda, at least one of the major families in question are clear that they do not accept their daughter’s lesbian relationship. But they accept her, as well as her partner, and that brings me to the heart of why I write this.
For a long time I vacillated on my views regarding the legalization of same-sex marriage. My next sentence may lose some of my audience but I hope not. I believe, at this time in our history, the legalization of such relationships, whether one calls them “marriage” or sin, or both perhaps, is a social risk we must face and, while not embracing it, accept as part of the social landscape we live in. Why do I think so? As stated above, I believe in Church teaching first and foremost. But part of that teaching, from CCC section 2358, states the following: “They (homosexual persons) must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” Pretty much anyone from my generation, if intellectually honest, can attest to the fact that the above attitude from the Church as well as society in general is in fact rather recent. If I had told anyone in my small rural Minnesota town that I liked men, I would have been, even as a celibate, most likely dismissed from my parish community, made fun of mercilessly, possibly beaten or even killed, and no one from the Vatican to the local police would have frankly given a damn. Most of us stayed in the closet for a long time for a reason. When we today hear of people coming out publicly, (we forget or else never knew) how completely rare that would have been in the 1950s and 60s. It started to occur in the 1970s somewhat, but before that time there was simply no one to turn to with such an announcement. No one. Not friends, not family. And certainly not one’s church for God’s sake literally.
In saying all of this I am not “supporting” gay marriage. I am not suggesting that one must accept everything in the so-called “gay agenda” proposed by some LGBT leaders. But I am saying something more nuanced. I believe that the “marriage equality” movement is filled with messy litigation and at times justified fears in greater society. I am not wishing for a return to polygamy, such as the territory of Utah once allowed before becoming part of the Union, and I do not wish to see business persons violate their consciences. But, more than that, I do not wish to go back to the time when I as a person with SSA must be silent about it, or be afraid as someone approaching my senior years to walk down the street. And, at this point, that is what is likely to happen if our nation and the world forbid such unions. Just a few weeks ago a person in the Middle East was thrown off a building for being homosexual. If that were an isolated incident it might be one thing, but this is a common occurrence in many nations still. That should matter to us as Christians. Yet I hear almost no outrage about it among the more orthodox-leaning Catholic or evangelical Christians. I wonder why? We rightly are outraged, and even in some cases ready to go to war, when we hear of such horrific events as the 21 Christians beheaded by ISIS. But I wonder who would go to war for a gay person? Not many even in our supposedly enlightened age.
I do not believe churches must administer Holy Communion or give leadership positions to openly (and actively) gay members. Nor do I think, quite frankly, that the entire marriage equality movement is without its faults. But I think it is time that the Church recognize her part in causing this entire movement to occur. Usually, and definitely in this case, when a movement based upon those who (rightly or wrongly) believe that they are disenfranchised, it is for a reason. And I do not have time in this one article to name all of those reasons but within the LGBT community there are many, some which I did briefly touch on here and a host of others.
I think it is time to stop fighting, no matter your view, and to find genuine and creative ways to work together, legally and otherwise. This does not mean to stop evangelizing or working for the good of traditional marriage. Not at all. It simply means that the future is not coming. It is here. And souls are at stake on both sides.
 Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 566). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference.