This new school of writers and thinkers that I have called the New Homophiles are not without their critics. How could they not be? After all, while they want a warmer embrace from the Church, they want more than that and some of it seems at variance with the wishes and perhaps even the teachings of the Church.
Some of their critics come from their own ranks, those with chaste same-sex attraction but who also believe the New Homophiles have gone too far.
Terry Nelson runs a blog called “Abbey Roads in Ordinary Time” where he regularly takes after New Homophile propositions. In an October 2010 post he wrote about the idea that St. Aelred was gay or at least same-sex attracted. This is a major point among the New Homophiles who believe Aelred’s book “Spiritual Friendship” offers a treatise for how to be gay and chaste and still experience intensely loving relationships with another man.
Aelred wrote, “It is no small consolation in this life to have someone you can unite with in an intimate affection and the embrace of holy love, someone in whom your spirit can rest, to whom you can pour out your soul, to whom pleasant exchanges, as to soothing songs, you can fly in sorrow … with whom spiritual kisses, as with remedial salves, you may draw out all the weariness of your restless anxieties.”
Sounds pretty gay to my modern ears, and to the New Homophiles, too.
Terry Nelson begs to differ, as do Aelred scholars. He says the Aelred-as-gay meme is of recent vintage, “…a novel theory postulated in the mid-twentieth century … those who make this claim are looking at this from our nineteenth–twenty-first century perspective and contemporary understanding of same-sex relations as posited by gay culture today.”
He accuses the New Homophiles of playing something of a “doctrinal shell game” where “just about every time a couple of them write anything ‘ground-breaking’ they seem to be challenged by readers as to their orthodoxy. Subsequently they appear to backtrack and present voluminous explanations of what they really meant to say … it seems to me the underlying intention is to normalize homosexuality and to declare gay is good.”
This gets to the most serious problem with the New Homophile proposition, their insistence on maintaining their gay identity. Melinda Selmys, a formerly active Lesbian who publishes books at Our Sunday Visitor, now married with six children, actually calls herself “queer.” She and her friends want to be known as gay and they want the Church not just to welcome but to celebrate their gayness.
Not a homosexual himself, Michael W. Hannon comes to the debate from a more academically rigorous point of view than Terry Nelson but he, too, takes issue with this main proposition of Ron Belgau, Chris Damian and the rest, that it is perfectly fine to maintain a gay sexual-identity.
In a First Things essay last fall, Hannon criticized Pope Francis for his casual use of the term “gay people.” He calls the concept of homosexuality “unmerited by its pedigree” because it was constructed in the nineteenth century when the classical notion of the sodomite “was set up as the bearer of a distinct and pervasive psychological persuasion.”
Hannon believes the heterosexual-homosexual construct is “masquerading … as a natural categorization, applicable to all people in all times and places according to the typical objects of their sexual desires.”
He says, “…this framework puts on airs, deceiving those who adopt its distinctions into believing that they are worth far more than they really are.”
Hannon warns, “Our young people … now regularly find themselves agonizing over their sexual identity, navel-gazing in an attempt to discern their place in this allegedly natural framework of orientations.”
Paul Scalia wrote a widely read essay in First Things nine years ago called “A Label that Sticks.” A well-regarded priest in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia and at the time chaplain to the Courage chapter in Arlington, Scalia offered a warning about the dangers of young people identifying themselves as gay.
He said educators uniformly try to keep kids from labeling themselves and others as such things can “reinforce prejudices.” The exception, however, is for those who experience same-sex attraction. For them there is a whole educational apparatus waiting to identify, encourage, label and then lock them under gay amber for all time.
Scalia says at a time of general adolescent confusion about almost everything, such labels are tempting to the child because he wants to belong somewhere and to others “because of their convenience and efficiency. They are common, close at hand, and make quick work of a difficult issue. But they also identify a person with his homosexual inclinations. They presume that a person is his inclinations or attractions; he is ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’.” He insists—in keeping with the Church—“People’s sexual inclinations do not determine their identity.”
The most prolific of the New Homophile critics is Daniel Mattson, a working musician and himself same-sex attracted, also living chaste, but insisting he is not “gay” but rather simply a man and a child of God. He says the word “gay” does not accurately describe who or what he is. Those who use it, like the New Homophiles, are not faithful to the theological anthropology of the Church.
Mattson sees the New Homophile embrace of the gay identity as “counter to the truth of man and therefore an obstacle to authentic self-knowledge.” He says “Though people may describe themselves by using terms like ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ which are commonly used in today’s culture, as Christians who believe in man created in the image of God, we should ask if these cultural terms are, in fact, true ontological categories of the human person, in accord with the blue print of human existence.” Mattson insists the “clear definition of our sexual identity [is] revealed to us by Scripture and the Church.”
Mattson says “Since I am Catholic, the sexual identity I am called to embrace is my maleness; my true sexual orientation is towards women, my true sexual complement.” He says his attraction to men is not a new essential orientation but a “disorientation” that “does not exist within God’s blue print for humanity.”
In 1986, then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger issued the “Pastoral Letter on the Care of the Homosexual Person” where he wrote, “Today the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a ‘heterosexual’ or a ‘homosexual’ and insists that every person has a fundamental right Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.”
Mattson says he takes no umbrage at the phrase objectively disordered, something the New Homophiles bristle at, and that he views his same-sex attraction as a disability “in some ways similar to blindness or deafness.”
Against the New Homophiles he does not see same-sex attraction as a gift “in and of itself.” He insists that any goods “supposedly unique to homosexuality are common to man, and all that is good in man is the result of being made in the image and likeness of God.”
He opposes the New Homophile notion of “gay exceptionalism” flowing from the supposed good of homosexuality. “No,” he says, “the good is the redemptive healing work of God that begins when we honestly acknowledge that homosexuality is a wound” and he says that if same-sex attracted persons take this view they can become “wounded healers.”
Most people were not even aware the New Homophiles were even out there. Most of us discovered it when they were given a regular home at First Things last year, something that has concerned any number of faithful Catholics. Mattson was given a few chances to engage their ideas there but then he was mysteriously dropped without a word last summer.
What is needed now is for serious Catholic theologians to engage the New Homophile proposition. These folks are not going away, and neither should they. But should their ideas be bandied about without real heavyweight consideration? Most of them are only recently decanted PhDs, not that there is anything wrong with that, but they are proposing things that are new and even esoteric and are going largely unchallenged.
And even if they cannot convince the Church to develop or change the teaching on homosexuality, and they probably can’t, the real problem is their ideas are circulating and, according to one priest who deals with these issues, undermining the pastoral work of the Church. This priest bluntly told me, “They are in their ivory towers, they are not pastors and they are not only undermining our work but they are undermining the wishes of Catholic families.”
Think of it this way. Your 14-year-old son feels different from the other guys at school. For whatever reason, he always has. He confides this to a counselor who asks him about his sexual orientation. Your son says that maybe the difference he feels is that he is gay. The apparatus kicks in to place him under the gay amber for life.
Now, do you want your son to talk to Chris Damian, one of the New Homophiles who has said he would tell that young man to “Seek to draw yourself more fully into the Church and to discern how this might be a gift in your life and in others’ lives.”
Or do you want him to meet Daniel Mattson and Father Paul Scalia who would tell the boy, “You are not your sexual inclinations. You are not ‘gay.’ What you are is a man and a Son of God.”
At first blush there seems to be very little difference between the two, but as you gaze more closely at all that is packed into the New Homophile Proposition, you realize the difference is immense and may be profoundly harmful.