Lately, within the last 2-3 years especially, a grassroots movement has been quietly taking hold within certain circles of Catholicism. There is a group of people who, like me, have same-sex attractions (SSA) and are looking for legitimate ways to cope with their feelings while remaining true to Church teaching. So far so good. Their umbrella name? Spiritual Friendship.
It is not my goal here to fully determine, nor am I at this point qualified to do so, if each or any of those individuals are within Catholic orthodoxy or not. As with any grassroots group, I am sure some within their ranks are closer than others. In any case, others have written on this topic extensively and I frankly think that the near-war of words within the celibate SSA community is far over the top on both sides of the subject. Instead I wish to address a number of the issues at hand and let the reader ponder and pray with me on it.
Who are they?
Names are not at issue here and this post is not directly aimed at individuals on either spectrum of this religious battleground. I wish instead to discuss, perhaps in more broad-brush terms, those within the Church who would seem to fit this category of individuals. And my first and most salient point is that they are our brothers and sisters in Christ and the Church. If that point is forgotten or even de-emphasized the battle for any kind of sane dialogue is lost—and, sadly, that has very nearly happened on several occasions.
But who else are they? As I mentioned, most of them deal with SSA in their daily lives. Unlike officially-sanctioned apostolates such as Courage, and numerous other Roman Catholics with SSA who quietly live out the teachings of the Church, some over-identify with their sexual desires. Many such people would not, in fact, even refer to SSA as a “cross” or disordered passion, although the Church clearly does so both in various Vatican documents and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Why is this a problem? Not a few of those espousing this understanding of SSA insist on referring to themselves as “gay,” “LGBT,” or even “queer.” Something unsettling happens when this occurs. For that very reason, Courage stays away from this terminology in order to assist same sex-attracted Catholics focus on being strong believers and part of the larger Catholic Christian community. For example, I am not, in the eyes of the Church, a “gay” person at my core, but rather I have SSA. I live with something but it does not define me at my core. Though celibate, those within this movement have seemingly embraced themselves as part of the struggle itself, and the subtle danger with this thinking is in allowing it to become who we are instead of what we have. I am not a “queer Catholic.” I am a Catholic Christian man who happens to deal with SSA. I am not my condition.
We are all Disordered
I wholly agree with my Spiritual Friendship sisters and brothers that we should not vilify the SSA condition itself. In regards to sin, it is in fact neutral. The Church in numerous documents refers to it as “intrinsically disordered,” and that can sound at first glance as if we who carry it are somehow more disordered than others. I get that. At this point it is worth noting, though, that the Church began using that particular term centuries before Freud or other modern psychiatrists did. In this context, it does not mean psychological disorder as one may think of in today’s terms. This is a hugely important point in that those of us with SSA, even those who are celibate, can all too easily be over-scrutinized by those who consider themselves “normal.” Further, it should be noted that every individual has disordered passions. For instance, a person who happily believes he or she is normal may secretly be interested in child porn or serial adultery. All disorder comes from original sin and the Fall of humankind. But that is not the same as suggesting that passion is in itself a sin, unless it is given in to or acted. Instead of embracing one’s disordered desires, however, St. Thomas Aquinas tells us how to build opposite and positive qualities—virtues—from them. And they are for all of us.
I concede too that some aspects of who I am have been shaped by this particular struggle in my life, and in a positive way. An example would be, hopefully, a deeper understanding of the pain and isolation that so many from the actively “LGBT” world experience. However, I can either use that potentially positive outcome to help those with similar wounds; or I can remain stuck in it, making it a permanent part of me. On this I differ from those in the SF movement. I agree that there is positive meaning in my struggle. So do most of them. However, just because God brings order from chaos does not make it any less disordered, and unfortunately many SF folks think otherwise.
Accepting not Reveling
To scream (or type) loudly that I am “gay and it’s okay,” while at the same moment rejecting the lifestyle or activities that generally go with it, unwittingly glorifies something that is not God’s first intention for my life nor ever was. It also plants a deep and abiding contradiction within. God did not “make me” this way. He allowed it. There is a fine but crucial line between accepting oneself and embracing our darker tendencies. Again, that may seem like spliting linguistic hairs, but I would ask the reader to ponder this a step further. Those of us with SSA are in no way second-class believers, and our very struggles do indeed enable us to help others. But never should we ignore the fact that “gayness” was not God’s original plan for us. Accepting our struggles does not necessitate that we revel in them. That, in essence, is the difference in understanding between the two sides of celibate Catholic Christians with SSA. One leans dangerously close to such embracing, while the other is sometimes far less than charitable with those who do so. Neither represents Catholicism at her best, in my opinion. Whatever the view, I am mortified at the anger and the stone throwing of some within the Church. I can only imagine a seeking but actively “LGBT” person who reads and watches this ongoing debacle (and that would have certainly included me a decade ago) and frankly being convinced that few from either camp are aware of the pain that person is facing daily—or worse, that they do not care. I hope and pray that is not the case. The loss of the individuals who are seeking Truth, not which terminology one does or does not use, is the real and deepest tragedy here. Winning arguments and losing souls is never God’s way.
The Answer is…
I only wish I fully knew. I will just say that two camps who have so much in common, sisters and brothers in Christ who each desire to obey His Church, ought to be more able to work through the thorniness here. There are ways to do so but that is not happening at the moment. I pray that changes. Otherwise no one wins the long race ahead. And right now no one is even close to the finish line.
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