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One Catholic man’s gratitude, fears over the dialogue on same-sex attractions
In recent years, Jesuit Father James Martin has been a leading, if somewhat controversial, voice on how to minister to those with same-sex attractions. I appreciate Father Martin’s compassion toward the marginalized, LGBTQ-identifying individuals. Many have felt lonely and abandoned by loved ones and members of the Church, and they are in need of loving support. But I also have been frustrated, even angry, with Father Martin.
As a man who experiences same-sex attractions and who once lived as a gay-identified individual, I have experienced similar challenges. I experienced the rejection of friends and discrimination when I began to publicly identify as a gay man in the 1980s, when the prejudice and dislike for those who identified as homosexual were much stronger than they are today. As a man who now embraces chastity, I am feeling that rejection and discrimination all over again. Once bullied for living as a gay man, I now am bullied because I don’t accept “gay” as my identity. In the articles and interviews I have seen, Father Martin hasn’t acknowledged that people like us even exist.
In a recent dialogue with Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, Father Martin said that he is trying to “encourage Catholics to see LGBTQ people as more than just sexual beings, to see them in their totality, much as Jesus saw people on the margins, people who were also seen as ‘other’ in his time.” I am grateful for this dialogue, for it helped me realize that Father Martin is not the enemy. But it also helped me identify the fear and sadness that were at the root of my anger toward him, and that still exist.
My fear is rooted in the easy morphing of the “experience” of same-sex attractions into an “identity.” Ironically, Father Martin’s embracing of the LGBTQ identity for those with same-sex attractions does the very thing that he says he is fighting against. The words in the acronym focus on the sexual part of a person, reducing their identity to a sexual attraction rather than our true identity as men and women created in the image and likeness of God. I have heard the arguments repeatedly that young people don’t understand the term “same-sex attractions.” I have heard that we need to change our wording to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and so forth in order to reach out to young men and women today. However, the problem is that there really is a big difference when we accept the experience of same-sex attractions as an identity.
Father Martin has suggested that the wording in the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding homosexuality be changed from “objectively disordered” to “differently ordered,” but this suggestion shows a fundamental misunderstanding in the Church’s definition of the phrase used in the Catechism. A 2006 document from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops clarifies: “The homosexual inclination is objectively disordered — i.e. it is an inclination that predisposes one toward what is truly not good for the human person. Of course, heterosexual persons not uncommonly have disordered inclinations as well. It is not enough for a sexual inclination to be heterosexual for it to be properly ordered.”
The Church, therefore, is not talking about an orientation that is fixed — an identity — but is talking about the inclination or desire. The document also stresses that it’s not just homosexual inclinations that are objectively disordered. A man with an inclination to cheat on his wife has an inclination that is objectively disordered. But the man who has an “inclination” to cheat on his wife is still a man made in God’s image. His identity is not “cheater.”
The document states, “It is crucially important to understand that saying a person has a particular inclination that is disordered is not to say that the person as a whole is disordered.” When we accept the experience of same-sex attractions as an identity, created by God, then the words of the Catechism don’t make sense.
I have several friends who use the LGBTQ acronym. They argue that the younger ones don’t understand the term “same-sex attractions” because the culture has brainwashed those with homosexual inclinations into thinking that one is born this way, even though the American Psychological Association states there is no proof backing this up. But, if we use the terms “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered” and the like, because we assume the younger generation can’t comprehend the term same-sex attractions, then the words of the Catechism don’t make sense because truth has already been changed. And if the words in the Catechism are changed to match the lie, then Church teaching has just been changed. That is my fear.
My sadness in reading comments from Father Martin is that there is no encouragement or discussion on the beauty of living a chaste life. Our culture says it’s impossible and harmful, yet many of us do exist who either live a chaste life or strive to do so. In fact, all of us, regardless of our attractions, are required to pursue a chaste life — to live purely as God intended. This means not using pornography, not objectifying men/women, not giving into erotic fantasies and/or masturbation, not cheating on a spouse, and not lusting for one another. Rather, we must appreciate the beauty and value and dignity of each person, including ourselves, as children of God.
For the many of us who have said “yes” to this universal call to chastity, we have found that there is a meaningfulness in life that wasn’t there when we weren’t living chastely. I have a peace regarding who I am as a child of God that wasn’t there when I was living as a gay man. Chastity does not mean celibacy. But at the same time, celibacy may be an important component to chastity for some individuals such as priests, religious, those whose marriages weren’t annulled and those who cannot have an intimate sexual marriage with an individual of the opposite sex.
Can it be lonely for those of us who are living both celibately and chastely? Yes, and that is why we need support. No one should have to carry his or her cross alone in this Christian pilgrimage to heaven, no matter what their attractions or struggles are. Father Martin recognizes this and focuses on inviting the LGBTQ community to Catholic churches with a focus on love and acceptance. But love isn’t only about acceptance, and if it’s reduced to that, it can easily lead to condoning sin. Love and truth are wonderfully and intricately intertwined and cannot be separated from each other. Jesus is truth, and Jesus is love.
I am grateful that Archbishop Chaput and Father Martin have modeled to me how to have dialogue and not allow our anger to turn into hate. I am also very thankful to God once again for helping to use my emotions and pain in a positive way to express my thoughts.
David Prosen is a graduate of Franciscan University in Steubenville with a master’s in counseling and author of “Accompanying Those with Same-sex Attractions: A Guide for Catholics.”