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"Pronoun Trouble", Writes a Reader

09/08/2013 Comments (123)

er, scratch that, Noun Trouble.

I think I understand you better with respect to gay Catholics. I see your point about the struggle that gay Catholics have, and the curiosity that orthodox Catholics might have about whether or not these openly gay Catholics are living chastely.

The problem is that both "gay" and "Catholic" are ambiguous terms.Yes, it is ambiguous whether or not the gay person is chaste or not. More importantly, both terms are, unfortunately, ambiguous about whether a person is loyal or docile toward the Magisterium. As lay people, we can't say a person is, or isn't Catholic, no matter how much that person dissents from the Church. The word "gay" also carries an additional negative stigma, as it was signaled by the Holy Father when he referred to the "gay lobby." My first impression upon hearing "gay Catholic" is the rainbow sash movement. It may be a mistaken one. If so, I would love to hear that most gay Catholics are not sympathetic to the rainbow sash movement, but are instead docile toward the Church's teachings.

So, I think we can borrow from the Holy Father in making a distinction between gay as a temptation, and gay lobby as something opposed to the Magisterium. We hope that they are chaste, but that is a matter between them and their confessors. But it is entirely legitimate to wonder whether a gay Catholic is loyal to the Magisterium. Neither word tells us that this is so. Catholic is a very watered down word with respect to orthodox belief, and a mere sampling of the news media will leave most with the impression that identifying as gay means a person is hostile toward the teachings of the Catholic Church.

So the question regarding a gay Catholic is not whether or not he or she is living chastely, but rather whether of not he or she accepts, and embraces the Church's teachings, which is the Word of God, that is, Jesus Himself.

In this, I'm thinking no differently about gay Catholics than other Catholics. I wonder, because the Church contains so many who have accepted modernism, whether or not a particular Catholic is orthodox. I say this not because I think dissenters are less human than the rest, but rather to identify the sort of evangelization needed within the Church.
What do you think?

I think we're roughly on the same page.  As a general rule, I don't make it my business to inquire into somebody's sex life.  If somebody tells me they are gay and Catholic, I don't assume "Rainbow Sash" and I don't assume "Courage member".  I assume nothing till I have more information, precisely because of the ambiguity of the word "gay" in modern English.  It may mean "same-sex attracted" or it may mean sexually active.  It may even mean "defiantly sexually active" (though even that is not a given since catechesis in the Church is sometimes so bad that a gay Catholic may be under the sincere impression that the Church's sexual teaching is one of the many things that "went out with Vatican II" in favor of the all-excusing appeal to "primacy of conscience" for whatever you want to do with your groin today).  If so, a person may be a sexually active homosexual (or, far more often, heterosexual) who is oblivious to the fact that the Church still teaches that sexual intercourse is intended only for lifelong, heterosexual marriage and nothing else.

("Primacy of conscience" is the all-excusing buzzword on the Left just as "prudential judgment' is the all-excusing buzzword on the Right.  Both mean, "Feel free to blow off the clear, obvious, and authoritative teaching of the Church if it harshes your mellow."  Lots of people have been indoctrinated into both methods for ignoring the Church's teaching and have no idea they've been sold a bill of goods.  Never attribute to malice what can be sufficiently explained by ignorance.)

As a general rule, when I meet somebody for the first time, I don't feel an immediate impulse to regale them with my sexual history.  Nor do I find that most people, gay or straight, feel a similar impulse. 

For similar reasons, I don't have a burning need to follow up a first handshake with somebody by asking, "So, are you gay or straight?  And if so, are you sexually active?  A Catholic?  Please fill me in on all the details."  Thus, I have often found that I remain blissfully unaware that the person I am talking to is gay, or a fornicator, or what have you, for years. My mama raised me not to probe into such questions. Most other people's mamas did too. On those rare occasion when the question of somebody's sexual orientation and religious affiliation does come up, I tend to respond to such personal revelations only when the person A) speaks of it in order say "I'm same sex attracted/gay and I'm trying to live the Church's teaching" (in which case I say, "Bully for you!  We need more witnesses like you!") or B) when somebody says "I'm gay and to hell with the Church's teaching" (in which case, I say, "I decline to endorse your wrong opinion.  I believe the Church's teaching and here is why..."

As a general rule, if somebody is disposed to inform me that they are gay and Catholic, they usually make super clear in about one nanosecond after this revelation whether they agree with the Church's teaching and are trying to live it or not.  It's not generally hard to figure out since people who out themselves as gay and Catholic usually do so precisely in order to make clear where they stand on that question.

My basic approach to people who are sexually active is to point out what the Church actually says if I sense they honestly believe that "primacy of conscience" means "You can ignore the Church's teaching".  On some occasions, this is still news.  One most occasions, the response is "Who cares?" and the sexually active homosexual is here to evangelize and demand approval, not tolerance (which they already have).  My take on tolerance is basically that I think laws against homosex are stupid since the state mechanisms required to enforce them would be massively intrusive.  I have no interest in telling homosexuals what they can and cannot do in the privacy of their home, and certainly not with using the armed might of the state to interfere.  Not all sins should be crimes.  At the same time, I think laws licensing the fantasy of gay "marriage" are also stupid for the same reason I think law licensing the fantasy of "marriage" to a roller coaster, warehouse, dolphin, the Eiffel Tower, or one's self are pernicious.  Redefining "marriage" to mean "Whatever relationship we like" is another way of saying "marriage" is a word with no meaning at all.  Draining the word "marriage" of all meaning is a poor way of defending marriage and the family.  Voiding marriage and the family of all meaning is a short and quick ticket to civilizational destruction, since the family is the building block of civilization.

With gay Catholics who make clear that they are seeking to live out the Church's teaching, I think we should be abundantly encouraging and little else. In this, I agree with Michael Voris about the cross chaste gay Catholics bear:

There are intramural squabbles among chaste gay Catholics about things like whether to self-identify as "gay" and so forth (some don't think it's a big deal, others feel it is marking oneself by one's disordered sexual appetites and ask, reasonably enough, if straight Catholics go around identifying themselves as "lustful" Catholics.  I choose, as somebody for whom this particular disordered appetite is one of the few I have never experienced, to absent myself from that bit of inside baseball and to simply try to support any gay Catholic who is trying to be faithful to Jesus and his Church.  I believe that the cross such folk bear is heavy enough without Catholics tying up heavy burdens for the backs of their struggling gay brethren and not lifting a finger to help.  So my attitude is, "If you are attempting fidelity, that's enough on your plate.  I'm not going to ask any more than that or cross-examine you to make sure you're pure enough."  I know I hate it when the Inquisitors come out off the woodwork to accuse me when I confess a weakness or struggle with some sin or temptation, so I refuse to do it to others.  If somebody tells me they are striving for chastity, I just take them at their word.

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About Mark Shea

Mark Shea
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Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.