The Death of Socrates

The Death of Socrates

Friday, 14 January 2011

Conversation with a conflicted gay Catholic

I'm a college student in the U.S. About a year ago I came to terms with my sexual orientation (I'm gay) but I'm still struggling with how to reconcile this with my Catholic faith.

Sympathy. Obviously, I know how this feels and what is involved.
I came across your website and was very interested because you raise a lot of really good points. I'm trying to discern what God's true command is regarding sexual morality and whether I agree with the Church's current stand. Obviously I don't want to reach the wrong conclusion and convince myself that same-gender sexual activity is acceptable in the context of a loving, committed, life-long relationship when it actually is a sin, simply because it's what I would like to conclude.
Quite. This is the biggie. You should beware, of course, that if the Magisterium is wrong in this matter it is this serious concern which enables it to manipulate people into toeing the line. The typical devout gay man is liable to argue "better to ruin my earthly life than my life after death." Equally, if the Magisterium is correct, it is important to follow its teaching. If one isn't morally certain that the Magisterium is wrong (and also that this is a matter of great injustice) then one has a serious obligation to conform in word and deed to its teaching.
At the same time, I know I won't have the conviction to lead an entire life of celibacy if I'm not really convinced in my heart that that is truly what is expected from God of homosexuals.
If the Magisterium's teaching is true, then you must aspire to a life of sexual continence  - not "celibacy", this just means "not getting married" (to a woman) I don't think that you would find this very onerous. The fact that you feel this would be very difficult means either that you must try very, very hard and go to confession every time that you fail and never give up; or that your conscience is telling you that this is contrary to your nature and is an inhumane and unjust imposition.

Of course, there are many folk (gay or breeder) who do aspire to such a life and enter the cloister in pursuit of it. The monastic life is a valid and valuable vocation, but it is not for everyone and for someone who is not called to it to pursue it is hubristic. The Magisterium's teaching amounts to the idea that all gayfolk are called to be consecrated virgins, and yet are not (any longer) allowed to become such - certainly not bishops, priests and deacons!
I haven't got a chance to read the whole site but I've read a lot of it and I have a question, mostly about the "Homosexuality and Tradition" part. You point out that when it comes to moral teaching, just because a Church Father teaches something doesn't necessarily mean it is apostolic because it could have been influenced by any number of things, but that "Nevertheless, any overwhelming and clear consensus: especially if it has Scriptural backing, would generally be viewed as significant."
Yes. Note that I say "would generally be viewed as" rather than "is". To be honest, though, if such a combination did exist, I would be one of those who would "view it as significant"; but not absolutely definitive.
You then conclude that "As it happens, we shall see that there is no such consensus in the matter of ‘homosexuality’". I have trouble seeing how you arrived this conclusion though. Well, kind of.
1. There is no consensus among the Fathers apart from "pederasty is wrong" (and sex, in general, is problematic) - wow!
2. There is no clear Biblical statement that homosexual genital activity is wrong: not even "pederasty"!
Hence neither part of the combination exists, let alone both!
It definitely seems there is a lot of support for the idea that same-gender relationships can be incredibly spiritually and emotionally intimate and can even include close physical intimacy. Your many examples are proof of this, and I definitely agree that the Church's stance today completely ignores and undermines this reality, which is sad.
However, after reading the many examples it seemed to me that I couldn't really find any active support for same-gender genital intimacy, only condemnation.
I think the matter is never covered one way or the other: except after Vatican II and then only indirectly. The Magisterium is very coy about sex even when talking about sex.
It felt like time after time when I read another example of same-gender love/intimacy/friendship, once again you'd make a statement like "There is no reason to suspect they were ever genitally intimate". Even the men who clearly displayed close same-gender bonds, including physical affection, and may have even written letters/poems with erotic themes/imagery, as far as I/you could tell did not cross over to genital contact.
Indeed, but the same would have been true if a male-female relationship were on display - unless children were discussed. People don't often write explicitly about such things in love letters and poems: only in pornography! One can't look for such proof; but recall the prayer in one of the "Union Liturgies": "That they be joined in spirit MORE than flesh." This makes it abundantly clear that this liturgy envisaged a "joining in flesh" - whatever that might mean.
Is this really only because many of them were monks/religious? Would any of them, then, have actually given their approval of same-gender genital contact for those who were not monks and had therefore not made a vow of celibacy? (i.e. would even St. Aelred, Paulinas, or any of the other example really agree with your assertions?) How can we be sure?
We can't. Certainty in such matters is a luxury which we cannot aspire to. In any case, this isn't the point I was trying to make. Such testimony can only serve to set a context which presents homo-gender romanto-eroticism (not just "dispassionate chumminess") as a positive and wholesome reality. This flatly contradicts the Vatican's view: that eroticism is essentially heterosexual because it is essentially about procreation and any deviation from its constitutive and unique teleos is depraved. Once this view is rejected, the Vatican's supposed rationale for its condemnation of most of the sexual activities which it condemns falls to the ground in a heap.
Is there ANY example in Church tradition of Church leaders, saints, Church Fathers, etc. ACTIVELY affirming same-gender genital contact in some type of context? (The Ralph of Tours example is interested but unfortunately more of a passive/indirect approval and thus not very satisfying because maybe there were other motives. Also the story of Sergius and Bacchus, except that the assumption of genital intimacy hinges entirely on the word "erastoi" and the story seems to have legendary elements to it already.)
Frankly, it would be amazing if there were; simply because people don't talk about such matters. On the other hand, some of the Fathers are very clear that male-female intercourse is an undesirable and disreputable thing and is only ever justified by the supposed necessity to procreate. Given that they held such views (in radical disagreement with the teaching of P-VI and JP-II) it is absolutely certain that they would have been dead-set against homosexual activity, as it could not possibly be justified by the need to procreate. This certainty tells us nothing useful, however - except that some of the Fathers had some serious sexual hang-ups and would have benefited from counselling/therapy.
I know you write a lot about your own reasoning for why same-gender genital contact is not immoral for people in life-long committed relationships on another part of the site, but as far as Church history and tradition is concerned, until there appears to be some example of ACTIVE affirmation of specifically same-gender genital intimacy, wouldn't it appear that there in fact WAS somewhat of a consensus on the issue of homosexuality in the early Church, the consensus being that "the line" not to cross was genital contact?
No. Silence tells one nothing. If one used this kind of argument, one would be able to prove any amount of nonsense. In any case, I think that if you'd asked the Fathers many or all of them would have agreed with you - because they had such a repressed and twisted view of sex, resulting from the general depravity of the culture in which they (as now we) live. As I have explained, such an agreement would have signified nothing so far as the content of the Apostolic Tradition is concerned. Rather, I think that it is providential that they never got round to putting the answer to your question in writing.
Furthermore, is this not exactly where "the line" is drawn for homosexual relationships even in Church teaching today? I know this seems like an unsatisfyingly arbitrary "line" to set, as you point out in your Chapter 4 of your site. Yet it seems this assumption would fit pretty well with any of the examples in Chapter 2 of your site in either content or tone, whereas the idea that same-gender genital contact could be morally allowed would seem to contradict several of the people you quoted at least in tone, even if arguably compatible with the content/context.  After the quote from St. Basil, for example, you state that "clearly it is directed towards preventing sexual activity among monks who are vowed to celibacy, and does not deal with the general case." Really? I suppose that's technically what he was talking about, but what, then, might St. Basil have said about the "general case"? Is it really prudent to think he would have been any more approving of the "general case"?
I don't know. I am not aware of Basil's general stance on sex. As I have explained, other Fathers would undoubtedly have taken the line that you indicate; but this would have been because of beliefs about sex in general which are in radical contradiction with both implicit Old Testament understanding and explicit C20th papal teaching.
Even looking at examples from the Bible, the same issue seems to come up. Is it not possible, for instance, that even David and Jonathan thought that "the line" God did not want them to cross was genital intimacy? For example, some people interpret "until David exceeded" ("gadal") as meaning that David had an erection and reached orgasm. Isn't it just as possible, though, that the men kissed passionately and shared close physical intimacy literally "until" David exceeded - that is, until he started to "grow" (gadal) an erection - after which they found it prudent to tone down the physical intimacy , so as not to cross "the line"?
This is all possible, but it has no rationale apart from a desire to systematise something which has no interior cohesion. I would, however, complement you on your ingenuity. This clearly shows that you are in good faith and are not at all trying to force the facts to fit your desires,
Once again, setting, the boundary at "no genital contact outside marriage", as arbitrary and unsatisfactory as it may seem, does seem to avoid contradicting anything in scripture or early Church tradition, whereas permitting it would seem to make at least some opponents.
Indeed; but you have said it yourself: this is “arbitrary and unsatisfactory”. Is this what we would expect from a good understanding of the Natural Law or of Apostolic Tradition? I think not!
I guess what I'm saying is, if the Church's teaching on homosexual activity really is in error (I'm talking the hard-line specifics here of what does and does not count as sin, not the theological babble about "intrinsically disordered" and all that), then why did the Holy Spirit allow Scripture and Tradition to seemingly align so well with it?
The fact that you are willing to describe the contemporary teaching as “theological babble” (I think that this is a little unkind, I have more time for it than that!) tells you all that you need to know about these matters. The Magisterium’s position is based on this “babble” not on either Scripture or Tradition. If you think that its account of the Natural Law is incoherent, then you have no choice but to evaluate the contemporary teaching as fundamentally flawed.
Holy Spirit has not allowed anything of the kind. All that we have in Scripture and Tradition is a natural human reticence to talk of genitalia. Hence it is never stated what it is right or wrong for a man to do with his penis – not even with his wife. Hence it is never stated that it is right for a man to do anything with his penis that does not involve a woman. Hence it can be argued that it is wrong for a man to do anything with his penis that is not open to procreation because the only reason for thinking that it is right for a man to do anything at all with his penis is that God explicitly approves of procreation. This argument is, however, laughable once it is made explicit.
For example, if same-gender genital contact really is permissible for committed relationships like David and Jonathan's, why didn't the David and Jonathan story make it more explicit, or why didn't some Church Father actively affirm it? Did they really just think it should have been obvious?
I think they just wanted to ignore the whole matter. They were generally so hung-up about sex that they avoided any issue that would have threatened their general prejudice.
But how could they think it would be obvious, with some other contemporary Church Fathers making anti-homosexual assertions even long before the shifts in public perception of the 12th century?
Anti pederasty, actually. Amusingly, David might have been little more than an adolescent when he got together with Jonathan; so their relationship was – perhaps – verging on the pederastic.
Or did they just see it as being not that important or not that serious of a sin? This is still not reassuring, because sin is sin. In summary, it seems that there either WAS a consensus, in which case the consensus would seem to have been that genital contact is "the line" not to cross for homogender relationships, or there WAS NOT a consensus, which would imply that there were people on BOTH sides of the debate, and yet where, then, were the people speaking ACTIVELY in favor of same-gender genital intimacy, either in the Bible or during the early Church?
I have explained, that I suspect there was a silent consensus along the lines that you suggest; but that this consensus tells us nothing worth-while and that the providential action of Holy Spirit was to ensure that this consensus was never represented on paper, so that no-one could ever use the Fathers to justify homophobia. This is more than Holy Spirit “managed” in the disgraceful matter of AntiSemitism, so we should be grateful for small mercies.
You have started out on a process that is liable to be somewhat protracted. Don’t try to be convinced of anything. Just consider the evidence and arguments that are advanced in the matter. Eventually, your conscience will speak clearly. Then you must follow what your conscience dictates – but respect those whose consciences differ from yours. Conscience is not infallible, but must be obeyed without question nevertheless.

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