On a recent episode of Catholic Answers Live that invited callers to explain why they’re “pro-choice,” a few pro-life listeners told our call screener that they objected to our use of that term. They preferred we use the term pro-abortion, and some even accused me of making legal abortion sound more defensible by using the euphemism choice.
In the short amount of time we had left on the show, I explained that by using my opponents’ preferred term I was able to have productive conversations—heard by thousands of other people—that might not have been possible if I had insisted on using pro-abortion. I added that although I generally do this, I don’t always do it. Sometimes it can do more harm than good and even distort the message I am trying to share.
An example of this can be found in Fr. James Martin’s newest book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. Although it offers some helpful suggestions for priests and bishops (and a few light admonishments of homosexual critics of the Church), there is no call for Catholics with same-sex attraction to “cross the bridge” and embrace God’s plan for their sexuality.
Worse, even though he doesn't call explicitly for the Church to change its teaching on homosexuality, Fr. Martin does seem to suggest that it should change—or at least become more ambiguous and malleable for those who want it to change. This is especially evident in his recommendations for how we talk about homosexual behavior and persons who are attracted to members of the same sex.
On “gay Catholics”
One of the book’s drawbacks is that there is no clear articulation of the Church’s teaching on homosexual behavior. Fr. Martin repeatedly cites the Catechism’s insistence that people with deep-seated homosexual tendencies “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (2358), but he never cites the preceding paragraph, which says that homosexual acts represent “grave depravity,” “are contrary to the natural law,” and that “under no circumstances can they be approved” (2357). In fact, Fr. Martin says it is wrong to say homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.”
Concerning the use of labels like “LGBT Catholics,” I could see where, in a private setting, one might use such terms in order to facilitate a conversation. But even in such a case I would always try to not reduce a person’s identity to his sexual attractions, and I would especially not promote the idea one can be an “LGBT Catholic” through a public venue like blogging or radio appearances. That’s because such actions can confuse people and make them think the Church has no moral opposition to homosexual behavior, or that one can be an “LGBT Catholic” in the same way one can be an “Irish Catholic.”
In his book’s rebuttal to Catholics who do not agree with using such labels, Fr. Martin offers this argument:
Some Catholics have objected to this approach, saying that any outreach implies a tacit agreement with everything that anyone in the LGBT community says or does. This seems an unfair objection, because it is raised with virtually no other group. If a diocese sponsors, for example, an outreach group for Catholic business leaders, it does not mean that the diocese agrees with every value of corporate America.
The problem with this argument is that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the concept of “business.” There are immoral businesses, but the idea of business or commerce itself is not wrong. A better comparison for the label “LGBT Catholic” would be “pornographer Catholic,” or “polygamous Catholic.” Moreover, the “LGBT” labels reduce a person to his sexual behavior, which would be dehumanizing even if that behavior weren’t disordered. A person should be defined by his vocation and status as a child of God, not by his sexual proclivities.
But, says Fr. Martin, simple respect means we should use the labels people choose for themselves. He writes, “[R]espect means calling a group what it asks to be called. On a personal level, if someone says to you, ‘I prefer to be called Jim instead of James,’ you would normally listen and call him by the name he prefers. It’s common courtesy.”
This is a bad comparison. Using a variant of someone’s name does not reinforce the mistaken idea that a disordered action is an essential part of that person’s identity. Sometimes respecting someone means not following his wishes, if following them would cause him harm.
Likewise if his request were dishonest. For example, I do not refer to people who received Ph.D.s from unaccredited universities with the title “Dr.” That kind of person hasn’t properly earned that title, and to refer to him that way would involve propagating a lie and cheapening academic degrees in general. In the same way, if I consistently referred to someone as a “gay Catholic,” I would be telling a lie about that person, reducing his identity to a disordered desire. I would have also conjoined the person’s Catholic faith with a serious sin. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith puts it this way:
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. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she 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.
On “intrinsically disordered”
According to Fr. Martin, “Saying that one of the deepest parts of a person—the part that gives and receives love—is ‘disordered’ in itself is needlessly cruel” (47). In an interview with the Religion News Service, Fr. Martin suggested instead that “the phrase ‘differently ordered’ might convey that idea more pastorally.”
I would argue instead that this expression conveys the idea more ambiguously and is not a sound pastoral approach to homosexuality. If a friend is constructing a barbecue grill and has placed the flame jets so they shoot at his knees instead of the food, you wouldn’t tell him the grill had been “differently assembled.” For the sake of his health you would tell him that he’s using the grill wrong and should stop what he’s doing.
If we love someone with same-sex attraction, we will correct him and urge him to conversion when he engages in behavior that is destructive to body and soul.
Some people think that pastoral means “nice” or “friendly,” but the word’s roots are related to shepherding. Along with being kind, shepherds have to be tough and fight predators that try to destroy his flock while assertively keeping the flock from going astray. The goal of pastoral outreach is to lead someone to Christ; and a person can’t be led to a joyful relationship with Christ if he places a disordered desire at the center of his identity instead of his relationship to God.
To conclude, I’d like to quote Daniel Mattson, a gentleman who is attracted to people of the same sex but refuses to let this define him. (See his recent book, Why I Don't Call Myself Gay: How I Reclaimed My Sexual Reality and Found Peace.) Concerning the CDF quote I referenced earlier, he adds:
With confidence in the Church, I embrace this teaching about my identity in the same way that I have accepted the word “consubstantial” in the Creed. I accept all of the words of the Catechism concerning who I am in nature and in grace. I take no umbrage at the phrase “ objectively disordered” and feel no shame that it truthfully describes my sexual desires. I view my same-sex attraction as a disability, in some ways similar to blindness, or deafness, and I view it with the same hope communicated by Jesus about the man born blind: It has been allowed in my life, so that God’s work would be made manifest in me (cf. John 9:3) . . .
The gay community will become family when those of us in the Church who live with the inclination accept it for what it truly is: a deep wound within our persons which we joyfully choose to unite with the Suffering Christ, on behalf of those we love so dearly in the gay community. By his wounds we are healed, and by the acceptance and transformation of our wounds, through the love of Christ, the Holy Spirit will draw them home to their Heavenly Father.