In responding to the Orlando massacre at a same-sex nightclub, Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg found religion, including Catholicism, responsible for the slaughter. He wrote, “sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people.” And he is right that we were wrong; but he is right for the wrong reason. Our contempt was not in words spoken but in those left unsaid.
To hold someone in contempt is to look down on him or her as somehow less worthy. It is to judge some as unable to meet basic human standards of behavior, or to doubt that others might be capable of genuine sacrificial love. Many Catholics are guilty of this contempt. This contempt, however, is not rooted in the magisterial teaching of the Church but in the Catholicism practiced and preached by most Catholics, lay and clerical, in the modern Western world. It is the contempt of low expectations, a contempt whose current casualty is true sexuality.
The patrons of the Orlando nightclub dedicated to same-sex relationships were not responsible for the demise of sexuality. They, themselves, were victims of its demise long before the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12. They were the victims of each one of us who bought into the lies of the misnamed Sexual Revolution. The Sexual Revolution was not about the transformation of sex but the rejection of what is truly sexual. It cast itself in the aura of light and love, but it was really about death and darkness from its very beginning. Broken families, same-sex “marriage,” and gender confusion are the natural end of a sexuality already rejected. They are not its cause.
Sexuality is about the creation of life. Its very root is the biological marriage of sperm and egg. This simple union creates life in the image of God and from this union we are defined as male and female. In accepting the significance of two complementary cells that create fully human life, a man and woman rise to the fullness of love, gifting themselves for a good greater than themselves. In our sexuality, in cherishing ourselves, and each other, as potential mothers and fathers, we all participate in God’s creation.
The Sexual Revolution rejected the creation of life as merely incidental to shared pleasures. In rejecting life, it chose death. Real babies died real deaths at clinics designed for death. Real men died real deaths from the ravages of AIDS. In a society where cigarette companies were depicted as moral monsters, the inherently deadly practice of sodomy was normalized. Beyond physical death was moral death. The Sexual Revolution brought the death of innocence, the death of marriages, and the death of families. In rejecting sexuality, the Sexual Revolution was really about the death of love itself, the death of the gift of oneself freely given. No longer did we ask, “What can I give?” Rather, “What’s in it for me?” called forth from every variation of erotic desire. There is no path to love that begins with a question centered on self. The patrons of Orlando’s tragic nightclub were victims of a revolution that held man himself in contempt as one incapable of true love. They did not create the lies, they were victims of the lies already lived by those whose sexual attractions were considered normal.
The parable of the talents makes clear that more is expected from he who is given more. It is Catholics who always had more. It is Catholics who held the light and love needed to answer the death and darkness of the Sexual Revolution. While many were blinded by the golden calf of false love, it is Catholics who were in the unique position to see the way toward the beauty and love of sexuality truly lived. While many had no teaching to guide them, the Church gave Catholics the light of Humane Vitae, a light shunned as Catholics, en masse, turned toward darkness. Bishops, priests, and lay people rejected as too difficult the call of our sexuality to gift ourselves completely to another. In relegating Humanae Vitae to a doctrine untaught, Catholics accepted the doctrine of the Sexual Revolution that men and women were not capable of the call to love that God placed in their very biology. Rather than invest our talent so it could grow in value, we became the servant who buried his.
Humanae Vitae was neither radical nor revolutionary but, instead, an affirmation and clarification of existing Church doctrine. The Church always considered marriage and the marital act sacred. Until 1930, Catholic and protestant were united in this belief. At the 1930 Lambeth Conference the Anglican Church approved sexual contraception in limited circumstances. Pope Pius XI responded with the encyclical Casti Connubii, which affirmed the marital act as sacred and artificial birth control as a violation of its sanctity. In 1968, in response to the advent of the birth control pill, Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae again asserted the inviolability of the marital act and the iniquity of artificial birth control. The Church understood what we chose not to understand, that contraception was the rejection of our sexuality. Contraception does not enhance the marital union. Rather, it allows us to step outside of our marriages, to take breaks from the challenges of loving each other as sexual people. Contraception literally takes the life out of sex. The sexual act purposely sterilized is no longer really sex at all.
Contraception is the line crossed from sexuality to non-sexuality. It is the line crossed from meaning to meaninglessness. A marital act contracepted is a marriage contracepted, one with no meaning beyond its participants. It is an open invitation to others to redefine sex and marriage according to the desire of the day. When sexuality means nothing, all “sexualities” stand equal. All are equally meaningless. Instead of seeing and sharing the beauty of a true sexuality, we have largely remained silent.
Our silence we portrayed as virtue, but it was false virtue. Under the guise of not being judgmental we have judged men unworthy of truth and meaning. Under the guise of mercy, a mercy meant to reflect well on ourselves, we have not restored meaning to lives without meaning. Instead of shining a guiding light, we have left the “forgiven” to wander lost in the desert. This is contempt for the man God created and contempt for our very selves.
Our contempt for those who died in Orlando was not in words spoken but in the rejection of words we knew, words we chose not to speak with our voices or in our lives. We Catholics are responsible for the recent tragedy, more so than many others. In hiding our light under a bushel we have been complicit in the destruction of human relationships. In not living our sexuality truly we have participated in the destruction of the unity that comes from a sexuality fully lived. The damage goes beyond human relations to the Church itself. Our contempt was not only for ourselves but for a Church whose wisdom we rejected. In rejecting Humanae Vitae Catholics have placed their Church on indefensible ground. The proponents of the Sexual Revolution will assert the high ground of love while attacking the Church as a perpetrator of hate. What its members have already rejected, the Catholic Church will find difficult to defend either in the public square or in the inevitable court challenge it will meet. In our silence we have chosen a side, and it is the wrong side.