Tom Nash is a Contributing Apologist and Speaker for Catholic Answers, a Contributing Blogger for the National Catholic Register and a Contributor for Catholic World Report. Tom formerly served as a Theology Advisor at EWTN and is the author of What Did Jesus Do?: The Biblical Roots of the Catholic Church (Incarnate Word Media) and The Biblical Roots of the Mass (Sophia Institute Press). He is also a Regular Member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars.
When the opposition not only caricatures the Church’s teaching on a particular matter, but also anyone who espouses that teaching, you know they’re running from the truth. After all, if you’re not fearful of what your opponent professes, you can let him have his say, confident you can carry the day persuasively through a charitable, honest witness.
But, unfortunately, that’s not what happened in the latest episode of Blue Bloods, the hit TV series that airs Friday nights on CBS and which stars Tom Selleck as Frank Reagan, the police commissioner of New York City. Frank is also the head of the Reagan clan, an Irish-Catholic family with long and deep roots in serving in or assisting the men in blue of the New York Police Department (thus, the show’s title and play on the term “blue blood”).
Like a good number of Catholics I know across several states, I’ve grown rather fond of the show, now in its fifth season and consistently in the overall top 20 in the weekly TV ratings over the last few years, including the new season.
That’s, in part, because Blue Bloods seems to be the only modern television series that regularly takes seriously the Catholic Church and her teachings, having run several poignantly inspiring episodes showing respect for priests and bishops in general and the sacrament of reconciliation in particular.
On the other hand, Blue Bloods can’t be accused of being owned and operated by the Church. The series realistically shows the struggles many Catholic families experience today. Members believe in God to one extent or another, but not necessarily with the assent of belief and moral rectitude with which one might hope. In addition, executive producer Leonard Goldberg has shown in various ways that he disagrees with the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.
But until now it has been more indirect. For example, Detective Danny Reagan (played by Donnie Wahlberg) made sure that a famous actor’s hidden homosexual lifestyle was not made public in one episode.
But in “Burning Bridges,” the episode that aired Oct. 10, Goldberg and Co. decided to mount a full, frontal assault on the Church and her teaching on homosexuality. But it was an anemic one, as my anger ultimately gave way to amusement: It was evident that the producers and script writer were too afraid to give the Church real equal time in addressing the controversy.
The Church has always distinguished persons with same-sex attraction (SSA) from related homosexual acts, always preaching love for the person and opposition to sin. The Church teaches that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2357) and of “grave depravity,” because of the inherent absence of complementarity in them. It’s self-evident that there can be no communion in homosexual acts — no genuine giving and receiving — which is in stark contrast to the marital act. And the Church also teaches that those with SSA should be supported in a living a liberating chaste lifestyle (John 8:31-32), that they “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity” and that “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (Catechism, 2358-59).
Unfortunately, none of that comes through in the program. The Church’s teaching is either caricatured or perfunctorily affirmed, and anyone who espouses that teaching is presented as moral Neanderthals and/or hidebound authoritarians.
The show revolves around Detective Alex Fuentes, who makes his Blue Bloods debut in this episode and whose secret homosexual lifestyle becomes public when he has to testify against the brutal murder of a man who was targeted because he was a homosexual. (Detective Fuentes witnessed the crime while patronizing an establishment in a homosexual business district.) Fuentes steps to the fore to testify, and his secret becomes public. His partner rejects him for awhile, and his family — apparently of Catholic-Hispanic heritage — does so indefinitely.
Could Catholics or other Christians with SSA be ostracized by their parents? Possibly. But is it automatic? No. And if they are ostracized, is it because their family members are following authentic Christian teaching? No.
But the show really launches its attack on Church teaching on homosexuality when a reporter looking to put the Catholic commissioner on the hot seat misrepresents Church teaching by confusing SSA with actual sexual acts.
“The Catholic Church condemns homosexuality as a sin, and the commissioner is famously Catholic,” the reporter says. “How do you line up your anti-gay faith with your role as an equal-opportunity employer?” Commissioner Reagan replies, “What my men and women do in private is their own business.” He completely misses the opportunity to correct the reporter on his doctrinal error, as well as noting that a faithful Catholic could actually be the best supervisor a police officer dealing with SSA could have.
“So you only condemn homosexuality on Sunday?” the reporter illogically replies. Again, the commissioner fails to set the record straight on Catholic teaching about homosexuality as he feebly responds: “Well, I do believe the Church is a little behind the times on this. But then, I still miss the Latin Mass; so next question.”
Driving home the belief that Church teaching is backward, Cardinal Brennan, who debuts as a leading prelate in Season 5, seems to agree with the commissioner. “Yes, Frank, alone. In private. Just between us men,” he says, indicating he may just be toeing the ecclesiastical line publicly but doesn’t really assent on this doctrinal matter. Frank the Commissioner persists, saying, “I do believe the Church is backwards on this. And of all the stands to hold onto, in the midst of the scandals of the past decades!” Further, the commissioner rejoins, “The Pope himself has begun to move the needle on this.” “The Catechism of the Catholic Church,” the cardinal concludes, “remains firm on the matter, Frank.”
So no explanation of the Church’s teaching, just a superficial affirmation that the teaching can’t change. (The oversight, writing and editing in this episode were notably deficient.)
Frank ultimately decides he can’t go against his dissident convictions and issue a public apology to satisfy the cardinal. Because of his stance, he receives the praise of Sister Mary, who serves at his boyhood parish school, St. Dominic’s. Sister provides the coup de grace with a surprising admission: She had a lesbian lifestyle before entering religious life, has seen no need to repent since and thus is grateful that Frank held fast to his convictions.
“Commissioner, the day I entered the convent started on the train platform in Madison, Wis., where I kissed my girlfriend good-bye,” Sister Mary says. “Now, there’s not a day I regret answering Our Lord’s call or a day when I’m ashamed of who I was before. So thank you.”
In marked contrast, Courage, the great apostolate that serves Catholics with SSA, has produced a powerful and soberly edifying documentary — parental advisory: adult themes — that the homosexual lifestyle does not, in fact, lead one to fulfillment in God.
I’ve made similar observations elsewhere.
In their efforts to foster “reform” in the Catholic Church, the producers of Blue Bloods have needlessly alienated many of their viewers. In the process, they also showed they don’t want to grapple honestly with the Gospel because they’re afraid of confronting the moral demands that it entails.