Choosing how to respond to the recent articles by Austin Ruse on what he calls the “New Homophiles,” and about the reader responses, feels like weaving the rope I am to be hanged with: however far I get, I always wish I could make it a little longer. However, since there is only so much that can be said in a single article, I will focus on a few indispensible points. I can only speak for myself—but all of the New Homophiles have expressed their ideas on the Internet where nothing is said in secret.
1. I am not seeking a change in Catholic doctrine.
Insofar as I am a New Homophile, my loyalty to the Church and espousal of her doctrine is one of my defining traits; the other being, speaking loosely, that I happen to be gay. I am no heretic: a sinner, yes, but Catholic. Everything I write, even if it were to suggest a development of doctrine, starts from the premise that the Church’s teaching is true because she has the infallible authority to teach it. If something more than publicly professed fidelity to the Catholic Church and explicit affirmation of her teaching is to be demanded of me to be considered orthodox, I’d like to be told why.
Now, Catholic doctrine must admittedly be distinguished from Catholic custom. That is not infallible, and may be questioned, not least on pragmatic and evangelical grounds: spiritual practice and our means of reaching the world with the gospel may legitimately change to some extent. And working out the full implications of a doctrine, i.e. development, is something else again. But honestly, I’m not certain that the things I’m seeking are developments of doctrine at all; I admit that they might be, I’m simply not sure. They seem to me to be simply applications of doctrine, together with differences in emphasis and style from the van of the Catholic culture warriors. (For those interested in a fuller statement of what things I want, my blog is of course available, and my e-mail is posted there as well.)
Hence, when I read assertions that we are seeking a change in Catholic teaching, I am tempted (adapting a phrase of Monsignor Knox) to reply that that is a cowardly libel. Libel, because it’s both untrue and damaging; cowardly, because it is directed at a group who cannot sue for libel. But on reflection, my conscience suggested that that did not seem like a loving interpretation. I maintain the hope that the charge is simply based on misunderstanding. I mention my reaction at all not to be passive-aggressive, but as an example of how seriously I take orthodoxy.
2. Truth is meaningless outside of a relational context.
Homosexuality does not exist in the abstract; it only exists in people. The Church’s doctrine of sexuality is precisely a doctrine about people, and about proper modes of relationship among them. And that relational character is woven into the nature of existence. I think it was Pope Benedict XVI who said that the doctrine of the Trinity is a declaration that God Himself subsists in relationship and as relationship. The same truth is exhibited in the Incarnation: God chose to draw us up into Himself by entering into relationship, not with humanity as a concept, but with an individual Woman.
If our sole mode of engagement with self-identified gay people is in the spheres of the culture wars, and not as people that we know, I believe that we have already failed the task of evangelism. For in that case, the truth we speak has no connection to the people it is about. A truth that costs us nothing will always feel like a counterfeit to the people who have to pay for it.
And that is assuming we even succeed in getting the idea across, without knowing the people we are talking about and talking to. Take, for instance, the controversial word gay. I use it to describe myself, because I know from experience that if I use same-sex attracted instead, it puts up the hackles on my gay friends, for whom the phrase has the baggage of ugly psychiatric experiments and denial. I also know from experience that virtually none of them assume I take any specific view of the origin of homosexuality, or assume anything about my sex life or lack thereof, just because I use the word gay. The odds of misunderstanding, then, are so low (in my circles at any rate), and the risk of scandalizing people—that is, moving them away from God—with a PC-for-Catholics term is sufficiently high, that I find gay preferable. Not that there is nothing to be said for PC-for-Catholics terminology; but in this case it is a bad evangelistic tool, because it is ignorant of—or deliberately ignores—its actual effects upon the audience.
It is easy to say that we are right and so they should learn to speak our language. Maybe they should, but they aren’t going to. We have to go to them; they will not come to us. Sitting in our Catholic citadel and arguing that they should is not evangelism, and love does not keep accounts that way. St. Paul, particularly in the sermon on the Areopagus, is a shining example of love’s willingness to put the work of bridging the gap first, and to ignore the question of who is to blame for the gap.
Am I saying that those who engage with gay people only through a monitor or a microphone are more concerned with their own rightness and superiority than with love? Not necessarily; perhaps a man can love his brother whom he hath not seen as he loves God whom he hath not seen. I am quite sure that that love will have no effect at all until it is put into a personal, and not solely an ideological, context. And I’d add that no one is so holy that they need be offended by an invitation to examine their conscience.
3. The idea that gayness can be a gift is profoundly Catholic.
A lot of people have voiced concerns (and rather sterner sentiments than mere concerns) about the idea that a homosexual disposition could be in any sense a gift. After all, the Church teaches that it is an objective disorder—how could that be a gift? Yet to me, such an approach to homosexuality seems as obvious as the Crucifix. What kind of piety hoists a sculpture of murder by torture in a chapel and wears it on a golden chain? What kind of devotion asks the Pope to bless facsimiles of the horror of Deicide?
Put crudely, this is Catholicism 101. O certe necessarium Adae peccatum! O felix culpa! Every evil, however great or however trivial, willed or unwilled, is an occasion for Divine grace to operate. Without confusing evil with good, God wastes nothing, not even evils, in His eternal act of creation. The supreme Artist is not put off by flaws in the medium, but displays the excellence of His skill by incorporating them into the work itself. This seems to me the natural, the inevitable Catholic approach to the problem of evil, at whatever level and in whatever context it is encountered, from stubbed toes to homosexuality to the Cross. It is also one among a number of reasons to be patient and compassionate, rather than vociferously disgusted and angry, when those outside and indeed our fellow Catholics do not live up to the moral law so finely as ourselves.
There is a great deal more to be said, about our ideas as a group and about the interchange between Catholics and the gay world in general. But I think that these three things are among the essentials for conducting any conversation at all on the subject.
(Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.)