Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Jumping the Shark: Why Pope Francis Isn't Approving Gay Marriage

Pope Francis says "Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?", and the media interprets this (and broadcasts it) as "Pope Francis approves gay lifestyle; encourages Christians to be gay."

I am not going to debate whether this blatant error on the part of the media is intentional or merely made in an extreme ignorance.  What has been more disturbing and frustrating to me about this whole debacle has been the extreme ignorance on the part of Christians, specifically Catholics, who buy what the media has to say and don't recognize basic contradiction to Catholic teaching in such a statement.  Furthermore, many of them wouldn't care even if they did recognize it. 

Fulton Sheen said 
"The enemies of the Church often do not hate the Church: they only hate what they erroneously believe to be the Church." (from Love One Another). I firmly believe that in this day and age he is correct.  
But here's the real question: How many Catholics even know what the Church is anymore?

The impression I get from many Catholics (and Christians) is that they prefer not to think/argue much about the 'gay issue' because they haven't been able to think through the ramifications of attempting to juxtapose Christ's command to love and forgive all, and the Biblical morality that condemns homosexuality.  The truth of the matter is that there's no contention between the two, but, for a whole slew of reasons that would be too tangential to include here, many lack a. the desire or b. the critical thinking skills to reason through the problem.  

The Ghost of Christmas Present 2.0, revealing Ignorance and Apathy
Thus, rather than reaching a fruitful conclusion ripe for evangelization, many Catholics take a kind of 'Well, as long as it isn't in my backyard' stance, but with a sick twist that can only come out of a culture so in the thrall of moral relativism and ignorance. Many of these people are sincere in their intention to love their neighbor, so, lacking the proper formation and understanding of the Church's teaching, they think that this insular perspective of 'You love who you want to love and I won't judge you' is actually what their Faith calls them to enact.

In fact, that's how many sincere Christians/Catholics managed to see nothing wrong with the media's very mistaken interpretation of the Pope's words.  "The Pope saying he won't judge people with homosexual tendencies" easily becomes "The Pope won't judge people living gay lifestyles" or "The Pope approves gay priests" when there is no understanding of the nuances of Church teaching.

Predicated on the above, then, the purpose of this post is to clarify and explain a little about the Church's views on homosexuality and gay marriage. I know I'm only adding a drop to the bucket of Catholic responses that have flooded the blogosphere since Pope Francis made his remarks, but it's my little contribution to the conversation.

Back to Basics: What does the Catechism Say?
"[Homosexuality is] contrary to the natural law. [Homosexual acts] 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." (Catechism 2357)
 But what does the Catechism Mean?

Human sexuality for Catholics requires "successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being" (Catechism 2337). In other words, your bodily and spiritual circumstances, eg, your gender, age, and vocation in life, and sexual activity etc must complement one another.  If you are single or ordained, you practice celibacy. If you are married, you engage in procreative marital union.  These and a few other types (consecrated virginity, for one) of acceptable, chaste, sexual states integrate the different but complementary characteristics of the two sexes with their vocation in life. 
"All Christ's faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life." (Catechism 2348)
Let's take a quick timeout to differentiate between sexuality and sex.  Sexuality is a "Physical, moral, and spiritual" (Catechism 2333) characteristic of someone's identity, which, as mentioned above, must contribute to the inner unity of the person as a whole, including their physical gender, station in life, etc. Sex, on the other hand, I will use here to indicate the actual acts of sexual intercourse.  

The purpose of sex is to produce children, and, secondarily, to promote sacramental union between husband and wife (Catechism 1643), which is why one's vocation dictates the chaste avenues for sexual activity or lack thereof regardless of gender or so-called 'orientation'. Since procreation cannot occur between two members of the same sex, and since marriage is defined by God, the Bible, and the Church as being between one man and one woman, homosexual acts of all kinds are unchaste--they cannot be enacted in such a way as to be integrated into a natural, chaste partnered sexuality (And active sexuality, eg, sex, is innately partnered, since its end is procreation).  Thus, all homosexual acts are condemned as gravely sinful in all circumstances, and under no circumstances are they acceptable.  

This includes the obvious, like sodomy, but logic extends it further than sex.  While it may not seem innately sinful for a person with homosexual tendencies to 'date' or actively 'like' someone of the same sex, the purpose of dating or romantic interest is ultimately to discern a suitable partner for sacramental marriage, which cannot occur between two of the same sex, for the reasons discussed above.  This prompts the Catechism to say: 
"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." (Catechism 2359, emphasis mine).
Something to note here is that in just a few paragraphs, the Church sensitively addresses 1. the issue of physical sexual acts between same sex persons; 2. the issue of marriage between same sex persons; 3. the issue of same sex persons having relationships outside of marriage, whether 'merely' romantic, or also sexual. 

Furthermore, the portion of the Catechism on homosexuality falls under the same heading as other sins against chastity.  Thus, while homosexual acts are intrinsically different both physically and morally, from heterosexual lust, fornication, or other promiscuity, they are rooted with them in a lack of compatibility between one's God-given sexuality (which, remember, encompasses physical gender, identity, and vocation or station in life) and the act of sex (which is intended for procreation and union of spouses in the carefully and specifically defined sacrament of marriage).

The Church's teaching which condemns homosexual activity of any and all kinds does so based on the logic of the natural laws governing procreation, and the truths of Christ governing marriage and sexuality.  This teaching has remained the same for the 2,000 years of the Church's existence.  It is a moral teaching, and will not change. Period.  If you ascribe to the name of Catholic, you accept these teachings. If you do not, you are not Catholic. I'm looking at you, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi.

So what did Pope Francis  Really Say?

Contrary to what the media would like to portray, Pope Francis did not change the Catholic position on gays, nor does he intend to.  He did, however, make a comment that implicitly referenced another paragraph of the Catechism section which deals with homosexuality:
"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." (Catechism 2358)
Here, the Catechism--and the Pope--highlights the proper Catholic response to people with homosexual tendencies.  It does not excuse their behavior, or approve it.  It does not say 'Look the other way and let them do what they want'.  But it does acknowledge that, for those seeking to live chastely, these tendencies are a very painful and difficult trial.  I'm sure priests suffer from temptations against chastity when they strive to live their vows of celibacy. The Church views homosexual tendencies in the same way.  The temptation is not sinful. Acting upon it is. But in the meantime, those struggling should be treated with compassion and understanding.

The fact that the Pope says we cannot "marginalize" people struggling with homosexual tendencies, and the Catechism says "every sign of unjust discrimination...should be avoided", is rather self-evident.  The Church never condones unjust discrimination or lack of charity to any person.  The Pope's statements reflect that without changing Church teaching at all.  His emphasis, which is not only consistent with Church teaching but also with the tone of his Papacy thus far, is on charity.  The fact that so many are so erroneously interpreting what he said is a sign of a vast ignorance of Church teaching.

Charity vs. Permissiveness, and Tendencies vs. Lifestyle
Keep in mind another tenet of Catholicism that the Pope has paraphrased on other occasions, and which certainly does not cease to apply in light of his present remarks: presenting the truth, and an intolerance of sinful behavior, to our neighbor is often the way in which we practice charity. St. Thomas says 
The correction of the wrongdoer is a remedy which should be employed against a man's sin. Now a man's sin may be considered in two ways, first as being harmful to the sinner, secondly as conducing to the harm of others, by hurting or scandalizing them, or by being detrimental to the common good, the justice of which is disturbed by that man's sin. (Summa Theologica, Question 33 On Fraternal Correction)
 In other words, out of love and respect for the dignity of the human person we are addressing, it is not only morally obligatory but also charitable to point out the problem with their behavior and encourage them to turn away from it.  In the Summa, St. Thomas continues, 
"Now to do away with anyone's evil is the same as to procure his good: and to procure a person's good is an act of charity, whereby we wish and do our friend well."
So, Charity does not mean 'letting a person do whatever they want' or 'not calling them out on sinful behavior because you don't want to hurt their feelings'.  In fact, quite the contrary. You have an obligation, especially if you are a Catholic, to respect and care for the soul and value of all people! How can you do that if you condone destructive, disordered behavior?  This is the kind of non-judging Pope Francis is talking about.

Furthermore, he includes a deliberate caveat: "Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?" The Pope here is not withholding judgment from homosexuality, or humbly shrugging off judgment on the lifestyles of those who blatantly reject chastity and support or engage in homosexual acts. Rather, he is refusing to deny charity and compassion to those who sincerely wish to find the Lord despite--or even in--their difficult struggle against temptations to homosexuality.  


This charity and humility is the message of Pope Francis' pontificate, not just to gays, but to the entire world: "Even if you have been far away", the Lord still has "open arms" for you.

But those 'open arms' are predicate on you 'accepting' them.  'Accept' is an active verb, both grammatically and in terms of its definition.  Christ denies no one, but plenty of people deny Christ. Pope Francis wants to remind Catholics of their duty always to encourage their brothers and sisters to turn back to Christ.  Such a duty by necessity includes a call to speak plainly and honestly to them about their lifestyle, and to support all movement towards Christ with love.

The first step in being able to do that is to understand why we believe what we believe.  If more people struggling with homosexual tendencies understood that the true and proper Catholic response to them is one of love and support, and a burning desire to distance a beloved brother or sister from a lifestyle that will harm them, they might be less hostile to the Church, and stop running from Christ.  Pope Francis' remarks not only confirm Church teaching and remind us of what it means to live as a Catholic, but act as a public example of what that looks like in action.

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