There is a group of Catholics who experience same-sex attraction. They accept the teachings of the Church on sexual morality. They do not act on their same-sex desires. They are chaste. They live lives of prayer, brotherhood and friendship, along with a sexual chastity that is proper to their station in life.
You might think that I would loathe these people, hate them, despise them, and want to drive them from the Church. You might think that their desires alone are enough for me to want them to simply disappear from the Church and from society
You might think this if you read Damon Linker on my recent column about the New Homophiles. You might think so if you read the comments of blogger Mark Shea, who said my column was “appalling” and much worse. You might think so if you read the comments by Maggie Gallagher who said my column was “vile.”
But the thing is, I have never written a cross or even critical word about the men and women I describe above. These are men and women of the Catholic apostolate Courage.
This Church-approved apostolate is filled with heroic men and women working hard to live according to Catholic teaching. I celebrate them without reservation. There should be Courage chapters in every diocese in the world.
So, what’s the difference between the New Homophiles and Courage? First, I do not consider the New Homophiles as “enemies or fifth columnists or half-breeds” as Mark Shea said. I consider them brothers and sisters in Christ who should be embraced but whose ideas ought to be resisted. I have said the New Homophiles are 95 percent there in terms of Church teaching and that the last 5 percent is surely problematic.
Understand that the “5 percent” that is problematic refers in no way to sinful temptations. We all have those and we are called upon to resist them, though most of us do not expect huzzahs for doing so.
The “5 percent” refers to certain propositions they espouse that are at odds with the Church. Holding these propositions are not damnable any more than holding the narrowest understanding of “no salvation outside the Church” damns anyone. The “5 percent” remain a problem, however.
This group insists on their gay identity, indeed they put a spot light on it. That’s kind of the point of their movement. WE ARE GAY AND CATHOLIC. Some of them go even further and insist on calling themselves “queer.” The Church teaches there is no “gay identity.” We are children of God—first, last and always, and the Church frowns on anything else.
Even more dangerous than insisting on a “gay identity” is their implicit support for “coming out.” Recent studies have shown that 80 percent of those who as adolescents identified as “gay” are fully heterosexual by their mid-twenties. Studies show that same-sex attraction is remarkably plastic, particularly but not exclusively in women. To urge a teen to “come out” is profoundly harmful and even dangerous. Scholar Robert Oscar Lopez has written on his blog “English Manif” how these young men are targeted for what can only be described as sexual abuse by older men.
The New Homophiles insist that God made them gay, though the Church does not teach that. They insist that they have special gifts given to them through their same-sex attraction. That is certainly not in Church teaching. And they want Church teaching to reflect these assertions, which would amount to a change in Church teaching.
The apostolate Courage and the people in it make no such assertions. The apostolate Courage rejects the “gay identity.” They accept the simple moniker “children of God,” no more, no less.
The apostolate Courage does not argue that a disordered desire has given them special gifts unique to the disorder, gifts not necessarily available to others. Chief among these gifts are gifts for friendship. If this were so, you would see these gifts manifested in some way in the larger homosexual world, but what you hear time and again is that world is far from friendly, that it is mostly shallow and even predatory.
And those in the apostolate Courage want nothing more than to live the faith as best they can and make no special pleading for changes in teaching to suit their temptations.
Those in Courage experience temptations just like those among the New Homophiles. None of us, I certainly don’t, reject people with temptations. Indeed, the Church teaches only two human beings were ever born without the temptation to sin. The Church is for not only the tempted but also those who have fallen to temptation. There is no distinction between any of the sexual sins in that regard. To say, as Linker does, that I expect a lack of original sin from the same-sex attracted or anyone else is simply false.
The New Homophiles do not much like the apostolate Courage. They seem to think it is for dead-enders, sad-sacks, old guys, those who have hit rock bottom in the bath-houses or on Grindr, and the only way out are dreary weekly meetings and going through 12 steps or psychological counseling.
The New Homophiles reject the notion that same-sex desire can or should be treated with psychological counseling, though the Church clearly teaches that same-sex desire has a psychological origin. The New Homophiles do not believe there is anything wrong with their attractions, only acting on them sexually. For those keeping track of tone, psychological counseling is one of the many things snarkily dismissed by Eve Tushnet in her book Gay and Catholic.
Perhaps there are things in Courage that need improving. They certainly needed a better website and they got one. Perhaps it skews older and needs to better engage those in their 20s.
The head of Courage—Father Paul Check—is a remarkable man, an intellectual, and a pastor. He is not immune from criticism. He may even admit there is something to at least some New Homophile criticism of Courage.
I can say without hesitation that the apostolate Courage needs the New Homophiles, their energy, their smarts, and their marketing savvy. But the New Homophiles need Courage, too, including its more humble approach.
The New Homophiles should consider taking down the spotlights, closing their blogs, and rather than inventing new teachings, truly engaging the teachings as they are. Rather than rejecting the New Homophiles, as some suggest, I argue the Church needs them, dirty socks and all.