Over a hundred Catholic officials, including many priests, have publicly declared themselves to be LGBT and have demanded the Church “end discrimination and exclusion” of people who identify that way. This isn’t surprising, given that last May, priests in nearly a hundred German Catholic churches defied the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and proceeded to bless same-sex unions.
“I don’t want to hide my sexual identity any more,” Uwe Grau, a priest in the diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, was quoted on the group’s website as saying.
“We are part of the church,” added Raphaela Soden, who works in pastoral care for young adults and identifies as queer and non-binary. “We always have been. It’s time to finally make it clear that we exist and how wonderfully queer the body of Christ is.” The statement called for “free access to all pastoral vocations”, and an end to what the signatories called a “system of concealment, double standards, and dishonesty” surrounding LGBT issues. “Entering into a non-heterosexual relationship or marriage must never be considered a breach of loyalty and, consequently, an obstacle to employment or a reason for dismissal,” they said.
As Catholics, we should be compassionate toward those who struggle with same-sex attractions, but we should also challenge people who have adopted an obstinate or rebellious attitude toward God and his Church.
Notice that these Catholics are not “coming out” in the sense of asking for mercy as they struggle to live chastely in accord with the Church’s teachings. There is no acknowledgment of sin—like what we see when St. Paul confesses, “I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Rom. 7:15, 22-24).
Instead, this is a celebration of disordered sexual attractions and a demand that the Church do the opposite of what Paul advised in Romans 12:2 and conform itself to this world and its sinful ways. So how should we respond?
First, we should not encourage this kind of attitude through terms like gay Catholics. This reinforces the idea that any sexual desire is a core part of a person’s identity that should be recognized and even celebrated. According to the CDF:
The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation . . . . [The Church] refuses to consider the person as a “heterosexual” or a “homosexual” and insists that every person has a fundamental identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.
When priests with same-sex attractions say they don’t want to “hide their identity,” they have failed to understand both their true identity as children of God and their identity as spiritual fathers to God’s children. Given that nearly all Latin-rite priests—meaning nearly all priests—have taken vows of celibacy, why would their sexual attractions be a part of their public identity? Celibate priests with opposite-sex attractions wouldn’t consider their prudent decision not to publicly talk about their sexual attraction to women to be a “denial of their identity.” Celibate priests with same-sex attractions should have the same attitude.
Second, we should strip away euphemisms and talk about blunt realities. A non-heterosexual relationship or “marriage” refers to the sin of sodomy or to sodomy that the State erroneously calls a marriage. If a person can be in good standing with the Church in these kinds of relationships, then why not defend the rights of adulterers or polygamists to enter into “non-monogamous relationships”?
Third, we should distinguish between just and unjust discrimination. The Catechism says with regard to people who identify as homosexual that “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (2358). Firing someone from a lay position merely because he has a same-sex attraction could be unjust discrimination, just as it could be unjust to fire someone merely because he struggles with racist thoughts. But it’s an entirely different matter when a person publicly makes a disordered or evil attraction a core part of his identity, and he wants others to praise it, and he engages in that evil behavior, and he even encourages others to do the same.
Keep in mind that there are cases where it can be just to discriminate against a person because of his attractions rather than his actions. A Catholic university might require a live-in residential adviser for an all-female dorm to be female herself to avoid occasions of sin (or at least awkwardness) and even the appearance of impropriety. Likewise, the CDF has said that those with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” may not be admitted to the priesthood, which makes sense, given the psychological criteria outlined by the CDF and the practical difficulty of priests living and working together in close quarters.
Finally, we must remember that the burden of having disordered attractions is like other crosses we humans carry through no fault of our own—things like sickness, temptations to drugs or alcohol, coping with the death of a loved one, dealing with spousal abandonment, or the need to care for a disabled family member. In these and all cases of trial, our response must be to turn to God and away from the idea that following a temptation to sin will be easier.
This means the cross is not incidental to our call to follow Christ, but rather an essential part of it. That’s why Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). If anyone should be modeling that for Catholics, it should be priests, who stand before a cross every day and re-present Christ’s one sacrifice on the altar.
And if they are not willing to do that, then competent ecclesial authorities should compassionately offer them spiritual rehabilitation and prudently prevent them from leading the faithful astray.