The Jesuit magazine America carries an editorial in its current issue titled “Unjust Discrimination.” The editorial refers to the alleged injustice committed by church officials when they dismiss employees who formally enter into same-gender civil “marriages.” The editorial argues that the Church should not automatically dismiss but rather dismiss only when there was an instance of a “grave breach of loyalty” to the Church.
The editors at America make several false claims that need to be highlighted and corrected so as to promote sound Catholic thinking on the topic of homosexuality.
It should be noted at the outset that it is unclear how much the dismissal option for reason of same-gender “marriage” is practiced in the Church. The editorial states, “On the parish level, many married gay employees have been dismissed.” But the editorial has no statistics as to the frequency of this kind of dismissal, for which reason the whole editorial could be suspect. But since the editors went ahead with the editorial, this writer goes ahead with this critique.
A Double Standard in Dismissal Policy?
The editorial cites a difference in the exercise of the dismissal option based on Catholic contexts. The likelihood of dismissal is greater for employees of Catholic parishes than for employees in Catholic colleges and universities. The editorial implication is not only that this difference in the likelihood of dismissal is objectionable but also that no Catholic community or institution is served by an inclination to dismiss an employee in a same-gender civil “marriage.”
The difference between the parish context and the college context is germane. This difference can illustrate a number of things but it ought not to illustrate—as the article implies—that the Catholic colleges and universities (not a few Jesuit ones!) are enlightened whereas the parishes are not. For example, because they are a smaller context than colleges (i.e., fewer organizational members and far fewer employees), parishes are more profoundly (negatively) impacted by the instance of an employee in a legally sanctioned same-gender “marriage”; the whole context generally knows the employee’s situation in a parish, not so at the college. The potential for one employee giving scandal by his example is greater in a parish than on a more populated college campus. For another example, given the different mission of each institution—that is, the salvific mission of a Catholic parish vs. the educational mission of a Catholic college, any employee in the former context is a more authentic sign of Christ (who came to save, less so to theologize) than a college employee.
Is Dismissal an Example of “Unjust Discrimination”?
The editorial speaks of “homosexual persons,” then quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church that such persons should be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” then continues quoting from the Catechism, “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (CCC #2358).
When the Catechism speaks of showing respect, compassion and sensitivity, the Church is speaking of showing this respect etc. to a person as such and not to homosexuality. But the editorial appears not to make this distinction between the person and his homosexuality. It is a salient distinction in this context. In reality, persons are not homosexual—as though there were such a thing as homosexual being. Rather, some persons have homosexual inclinations; that is, they struggle under the influence of impulses toward same-gender sexual activity. In not a few cases, this is actually a struggle with a self-inflicted identity, namely the identification of themselves with their same-sex activity (which is not in keeping with their enduring identity as imago Dei). Accordingly, here the Catechism is calling on Church members to accept and love these persons. This kind of acceptance and love means to view the person as imago Dei; it also means that the Church must be resolute both to lead these persons out of confusion about themselves and to oppose their sinful (homosexual) actions. Moreover, it is never unjust to oppose homosexuality—one’s own or another’s, whether in the form of a thought or a desire or an action. Such opposition can be accomplished without any diminution of the dignity of a human being, even one who is attached to a homosexual (“gay”) identity.
Are Dismissals Evidence of Selective Morality?
The editorial declares that there is “selectivity” which the Church exercises in applying a “morals clause,” implying that this selectivity is insupportable. This is the selectivity of more readily exercising the employee dismissal option regarding those whose wrongdoing is same-gender “marriage” than regarding those whose wrongdoing is divorce and remarriage. The point of the editorial here is two-fold: to oppose this “selectivity” and (2) in the words of German cardinal Rainer Woelki with whom the editors concur, “to limit the consequences [penalty] of remarriage or a same-sex union to the most serious cases.”
From another German prelate, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, we read, “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.” This statement means that a person errs when in his thinking he equates any aspect of a homosexual pairing with the pairing of a man and woman. Why does he err? Because there is no substantial likeness—whether in whole or in part—between these two kinds of pairings. Accordingly, one must make a distinction between homosexual and heterosexual couples. This includes distinguishing between homosexual pairings and heterosexual pairings gone bad, as in any instance of “divorce and remarriage.” In such an instance the separation is requisite because homosexuality is always contra naturam (opposed to human nature) whereas divorce and remarriage is contra rationem (opposed to right reason). According to St. Thomas, the former is a matter of greater gravitas since it contradicts human being itself in addition to contradicting Judaeo-Christian morality.
All this (contra naturam and contra rationem) does damage to the individual because the imago Dei within the person is being dismantled (by the person himself). There is also two-fold damage done within society, in view of the offense against marriage in its essential meaning as a man-woman phenomenon; and more particularly within the Church, in view of the offense against a sacrament given by Christ. Thus, the question that fits is not “why the selectivity in the Church’s responses,” but rather, “is it ever correct not to exercise the dismissal option regarding an ecclesial employee in a same-gender ‘marriage’?” Absent his renouncing his same-gender ‘marriage’ upon being asked to do so, the answer to the question is clear. To be sure, this person is not being dismissed from membership in the Church; he is (only) being dismissed from working for the Church.
Is the Church Obsessed with Sex?
The editorial asks, “Do morals clauses account for a range of Catholic teaching, or do they give too much attention to an important but narrow range of issues related to sexual morality?” The editorial implication is clear: too much attention is being paid to sexual issues.
In the first place, the issue of same-gender “marriage” is not an exclusively sexual issue. It is that, and then some. The issue is more fundamentally a question of the nature of the human being. It is an anthropological question. (This is “anthropology” in a philosophical not a cultural sense.) What (who) is man as a created being? For what kinds of relational exchanges is he made? What is the given direction of human sexuality? Is human being itself radically distorted by the claims of same-gender sexual advocates? These are real questions nowadays. They are—all of them—implied in matters of human sexual experience. The editorial is glib when it raises the question in the precise form that it does (i.e., “too much attention?”) ….
Vatican Council II convened to reconcile the gap between Church formulations and human experience. In this the Church demonstrated an accurate grasp of “the signs of the times.” The signs of the times in the third and fourth centuries of the Church called her to demonstrate a correct understanding of the person of Jesus Christ. The Church responded in the formulations of such figures as Leo the Great and Augustine and Jerome. In the current age the Church faces profound challenges particularly in the western democracies of Europe and the United States regarding a correct understanding of “the anthropos” (i.e., the human being). A major example of these challenges is the distortion of human nature itself (not to mention society) by advocates of same-gender sex/marriage. In its formulation “too much attention,” America magazine could be accused of missing the signs of the times.