The Problem of “Catholics for Equality”

I have many Catholic friends who don’t understand how self-proclaimed Catholics can identify as “pro-choice,” “pro-marriage-equality,” etc, etc, etc. How can such incompatible beliefs as Catholicism and “pro-marriage-equality” be held within one person? How can one claim a religion as his or her own, while holding views that are directly opposed to the teachings of that religion, teachings that do not appear to be liable to change?

Some suppose that such teachings may change, based upon the general popularity of such positions as “pro-choice,” “pro-marriage-equality,” etc, etc, etc. They suggest that a grave injustice has arisen in the “bishops’ decision” to not be tolerant of such views, as if the Church committed a serious error in not assimilating into itself such beliefs as Arianism, which most self-professed Christians identified with at one point in the Church’s history.

Catholics who see with clarity and believe with faith in the Church’s authority ought not be surprised by their friends and peers who identify as both Catholic and, for example, “pro-marriage-equality.” It has been a historical fact that most people will be driven on by their general feelings and sentiments, and then form beliefs based upon these emotions. If a teaching presents a “difficulty,” fallen man’s first assumption is that the error must be with the teaching and not with the person experiencing such a difficulty. This assumption is neither surprising nor new in the history of the Church or in the history of man.

Still, this assumption must give pause and concern to Catholics. Men and women who hold themselves to be both Catholic and “pro-marriage-equality” do not only have a stinted view of what marriage is or of what the Church teaches. They have a stinted view of who and what God is, and of what religion is.

They have failed to realize the nature of an eternal and unchanging God, and of a religion that claims to be the earthly presence and bride of such a God. They have failed to realize that, were a view such as the commonly-held “pro-marriage-equality” view to be true, the Catholic religion would be false, now and forever. Were the “pro-marriage-equality” view to be true, such a truth would be the invalidation of the Catholic religion.

Thus, we find that the failure of catechesis in the world today is not only a failure to teach Catholics the various applications of Christian doctrine. It is a failure to teach Catholics what religion is. Catholics persist in views incompatible with their religion because they don’t know what religion is to begin with. If we think that the errors of today’s Catholics would be solved by a reiteration of the Church’s teachings on life, sexuality, etc, we have a very narrow view of the problem at hand. We must begin with the basics: What is God?

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7 Comments

  1. Chris, There is another possibility that is worth considering: perhaps many Catholics DO understand God and are quite well-grounded in the Faith. The failure, in such a case, would be not due to poor catechism but rather a hierarchy and a grasp of doctrine that have yet to catch up to the lived experience of the faithful (witness the USCCB’s missed opportunity this week to welcome so many of same-sex orientation).

    Before we dismiss this possibility, we need to seriously consider the ages-old truth in the Church’s history that, long before doctrine becomes codified, it first is a lived experience of the faithful. The process is not a matter of popularity or of popularly held beliefs–but of the faithful living a reality that can be expressed doctrinally only after it has been lived well enough and long enough to be expressed in terms of dogma.

    In your last post, you noted just such a truth about the Immaculate Conception and the Thomistic view of abortion. These weren’t just rationally “figured out” with the addition of new biological or theological data, but were lived through decades and centuries before we the Church were even cognizant that they were experiences to be codified within the Magisterium.

    The experience of the faithful cannot be dismissed as being merely “driven on by their general feelings and sentiments” anymore than the USCCB be characterized as merely “inept” when it issues errant letters on subjects it knows nothing about–such as economics, human sexuality, nuclear weapons, or budget policies. In fact, the USCCB ought to issue such letters. How well those letters correspond to what the faithful are actually living out will determine, via the unfolding of history, whether a given letter was prophetic or just another miss. Church history is replete with both.

    But more importantly, even when, say, the USCCB is flatly wrong about an issue, the Church, per se, is not “wrong.” For the Church is not solely the USCCB. Nor is it solely the Vatican (as Pope Francis has been at pains to note and whose Curia he is in the process of reforming). True, the world wants sound bytes, but the lived experience of the faithful yields itself no more easily to media snippets than it does to brand-spanking-new doctrinal statements.

    Yes, God has fully revealed Himself in Christ Jesus, and we the Body of Christ continue to organically live and breathe that revelation deep into the fruition of history, the USCCB, the Vatican, AND the lived experience of the Faithful–no one any less than the others. Thanks for hearing me out, Chris.

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  2. Certainly, Church history attests to the fact that bishops are often quite wrong, such as the original condemnation of the teachings of Aquinas or the original suppression of many of Newman’s views. The difficulty comes, however, in the response when one has strong reason to believe he is right, while his bishop is wrong. Certainly, one has an obligation to one’s conscience, as Newman suggests when he says that, were he at a dinner party, he would toast first to his conscience and secondly to the pope.

    Given such a statement, one might be surprised my Newman’s radical obedience to both his pope and his local bishop, an obedience which included a serious and deliberate willingness to have his writings censored by ecclesial authorities. Newman, lacking the particular apostolic role of the Magisterium, did not see himself as a member of the “people of God,” but, rather, as a part of a mystical body, with a head that he was not, as part of a community into which he enters into rather than creates. The principle that has given life to the work and beliefs of the laity has always been a principle of obedience to the Church’s established authorities. Thus, teachings on matters of faith and morals and the other matters that touch faith and morals have always been the starting point of lay thought and life. They are the foundations upon which the work of the rest of the Body of Christ is built.

    One may act contrary to some statements of bishops and the pope, when their statements extend beyond principles and their intellectual competence (so that JPII’s condemnation of the Iraqi War did not bind American Catholics against participating in the war), but the Magisterium’s teachings on principles are binding on Catholics. Further, Catholics who may wish to promote applications of Christian doctrine that are contrary to episcopal statements have a grave responsibility to ensure that they have the competence necessary to do so, and usually these Catholics are unwilling or unable to take the steps necessary to gain such a competence. This partly stems from a refusal to take up the principle of community, being a principle that invites us into something that will have demands upon us, including intellectual demands.

    The push for change in the Church always requires perseverance and persistence, but the spirit of such a push put forward by the great theologians of history has always been a spirit of humility, an understanding that proposals for change have always been proposals, subject to the judgment of the Magisterium. By their nature, proposals put forward for change are always as narrow and partial-minded as the men and women making such proposals. So the Church has a responsibility to not take up such changes too quickly. Time is needed to determine the consequences and diverse applications of these changes. In the meantime, proposals must be made, but the spirit of such proposals must always be one of obedience and a humble willingness to be persecuted by Church authorities, while still maintaining a devotion to them. This is certainly not easy, but this is one reason why such men as Aquinas and Newman are saints.

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  3. Besides the majority of catholics do not form the “better part” from which the sensus fidelium “sense of the faith” may be taken from. Were talking about those who would die for the faith they profess. Not any old joe are maggy on the street, its the sense of the faithful, those who believe and profess all of what the church teaches. If you believe with divine and catholic faith this extends to all of which the Church founded by God and guided by the Holy Spirit teaches. This basically tells us that many even most of our Catholics don’t have Catholic Faith. They don’t believe in God who cares for them. Honestly, this is a matter of Sacred scripture not some small obscure judgement which can change. No this is God’s revelation itself and they need to ask God for faith for their salvation is in big trouble. Heb 11:7 For without faith it is impossible to please God. I.E. NO heaven for those without Faith.

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  4. I appreciated this post and the subsequent discussion about doctrinal flexibility within the context of submission to authority. My question below is posed in light of this discussion as well as your last post about Newman’s thesis on the development and doctrine.

    I am wholly committed to Catholic orthodoxy, but I find reason to doubt the Ordinary Magisterium’s current understanding of same-sex attraction as being “intrinsically disordered.” I was wondering what your own opinions on this formulation are.

    The second part of my question concerns the fact that I will be serving in something of a pastoral role at the student ministry on my campus next year. As one of my aims, I will strive to minister in a special way to those who are gay. Unfortunately, I have had gay friends who have left the community because they have found within it an air of heterosexism. In pastoring to students next year, would I be disobedient if I defended orthodox understandings of marriage and chastity, but openly questioned the language about intrinsic disorder? What would you do in such a situation?

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    1. There’s quite a bit to unpack there. I don’t find the “intrinsically disordered” language particularly helpful either. I can understand why it would have made sense given the cultural context 20-30 years ago, but I don’t think that it is particularly helpful today. The Church needs further interpretation on what exactly is “intrinsically disordered”–whether it is all homosexual desire, or only those desires that we would associate with lust (my very strong inclination is that it would be the latter). We also need to think more about what “homosexual desire” is, outside of inclinations towards lust. So, I agree with the language of “intrinsically disordered” within a certain context, but we need to articulate what exactly that context is. If this context is only, or primarily, lust, then “intrinsically disordered” is actually a very small part of homosexuality, just as lust is a very small part of heterosexuality.

      Regarding your question about pastoral ministry, I must say that I am entirely unqualified to give advice, but I can offer a few thoughts. First, regarding questioning the “intrinsically disordered” language, I don’t think that you would necessarily have to “question it,” if you say that any sexual activity outside of marriage (homosexual or heterosexual) is a diminishment of the full meaning of human sexuality and, more or less, leave the “intrinsically disordered” question at that. So, homosexual lust and heterosexual lust are both forms of “intrinsically disordered” desires.

      The concern about heterosexism is not an unfounded one. I don’t know how exactly I would respond to that. I guess one thing would be to focus on the universal call to chastity, rather than just focusing on how men need to be specifically chaste towards women. Friendships, too, can be unchaste on a variety of levels. I would focus on forming strong bonds of friendship in your ministry, especially bonds of same-sex-friendship, founded first upon love of God and secondly upon love of neighbor. Focus on forming friendships that are based in adoration towards God and that are, fundamentally, Eucharistic (so an outpouring of thanksgiving).

      I also think that it may be helpful for “youth groups” to focus less on talking on and on about sex and chastity, and to focus more on cultivating good habits of daily life and a regular, well-formed prayer life. Focus on things that are universal and of help to anyone, homosexual, heterosexual, or anything in between. The cultivation of a good life of prayer and study will enable one to encounter any struggles in a more supernatural (and, ultimately, more human) way.

      I’m not sure if that’s helpful at all, those are just some of my musings.

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  5. It was helpful, thanks! I’ve just read your post on the nature of attraction, too, which helped to clear things up for me. This gives me space to be able to affirm the Church’s teaching on “intrinsic disorder,” while also to express my opinion that the language pertains to lustful attraction, and not to other forms of attraction.

    I think that you’re very right about prayer and friendships. I’ve also noticed that the language that we use as a community matters. When a heavy emphasis is placed upon dating relationships, it is easy to see how those not attracted to the opposite sex can feel alienated. Likewise when they, many of whom are questioning how their faith relates to their sexuality, constantly hear denunciation of same-sex marriage from the lectern and don’t hear any counteractive words of encouragement. It is easy from that angle to mistake opposition to same-sex marriage for homophobia of a more personal and malicious sort.

    Thanks for your feedback and your thoughtful posts!

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