The Spiritual Friends and Amoris Laetitia

By the deafening silence, one can assume the “Spiritual Friends” are disappointed by the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, at least as related to their favorite topic, same-sex attraction.

No doubt their hopes were high when the controversial interim report was produced at the Extraordinary Synod in the Fall of 2014. It was as if sections of that troubling document were written by Wesley Hill and Ron Belgau, the founders of the Spiritual Friendship blog.

For those who have not followed the debate; Belgau, Hill, and some others with same-sex attraction formed a school of writers and activists who make the case that one can be “out and proud” about being same-sex attracted yet still be chaste according to their station in life.

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Some of them suggest that their friendships with those of the same sex can be intense like between married couples, yet never step over the line into genital activity. Some think their same-sex relationships should be solemnized by the Church. Others believe that by dint of their same-sex sexual and emotional attractions that they have special gifts that others do not have, especially but not exclusively the ability to have and maintain close friendships. Some of them want the Church to change her teachings to reflect aspects of these propositions.

Therefore, it was shocking to some of us engaged in this debate when some of their propositions turned up in the interim document being debated at the Extraordinary Synod in the fall of 2014.

Recall, when that interim document was released the world was alerted to the “fact” that the Church had changed her teaching on homosexuality.

The document had a whole section beginning, “Welcoming homosexual persons.” Even that was right out of the Spiritual Friends playbook. They hold that they are not simply “persons” but “homosexual persons.” In the bio attached to her writing Eve Tushnet identifies herself first and foremost as “lesbian and celibate.”

The controversial section of the interim document began: “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community…” Though some of this school of writers and activists deny it, this is one of their main assertions, that as same-sex attracted they have unique gifts, especially but not limited to a heightened gift for friendship.

I was in the press hall at the Vatican when that document was released and there was an explosion from the press corps, both for and against. One writer asked what special gifts did the document specifically refer to. No answer was forthcoming. This topic dominated the press conference that day.

Though the document asserted “…unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman,” nonetheless “Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.” This implies there is at least some “footing” upon which to consider same-sex couplings.

All of this must have been cat-nip to the Friends.

The document produced an expected backlash from Cardinals Burke, Pell, and many others who fought back vociferously in the meeting hall and in the press, and managed to walk all of that back.

Even so, there was more fun to be had. The following summer brought a working document to inform the Ordinary Synod scheduled for October. Other than calling for “respect and sensitivity” and a pastoral approach for those with “homosexual tendencies,” the document did not return to the initial unique “gifts and qualities” that the same-sex attracted are supposed to bring to the Church.

The summer also brought the Friends potentially to its largest audience. Ron Belgau was invited, with his mom, to speak about same-sex attraction at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia where Pope Francis spoke. He and his colleagues thought this was something of an imprimatur on their propositions. Only a few of us noticed that the person who invited him, indeed the one in charge of programming for the World Meeting, had shortly before been Belgau’s fellow blogger at Spiritual Friendship.

Hopes were high indeed.

Then came the Ordinary Synod in October, a three-week brawl that resulted in a document where the propositions of the Spiritual Friends were once more completely shut out.

At this point it became abundantly clear that the propositions were likely over and done with. The hope of some and the worry of many others was that the Holy Father would revive them in his apostolic exhortation. For the most part, attention shifted almost exclusively on what Pope Francis would say on the contentious issue of communion for the divorced and civilly remarried.

That the Friends are largely silent on Amoris Laetitia makes sense because when the document finally appeared a few weeks ago, the original craziness is no where to be found.

The pope urges that those with same-sex attraction be treated justly, as the Church has taught for some time. Pope Francis said that “homosexual unions” cannot be considered analogous to true marriage in any way. Further he said Churches should not be pressured to conform to the notion of faux marriage and neither should international aid be tied to its acceptance. Sadly, Pope Francis seems to suggest that “same-sex unions” can be considered one of many “family situations.” Other than that, the special pleading of the Spiritual Friends went unanswered.

Spiritual Friend Melinda Selmys must be especially chuffed that the pope took a swing at one of her favorite hobby-horses, transsexuality. Even today Selmys’s column—the offensively headlined “Cock-blocking for Jesus”—lashes out at those who object to biological men being allowed to use girl’s bathrooms, locker-rooms, and showers.

Presumably her anger is directed at Pope Francis who, in the exhortation, says,

Yet another challenge is posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender that denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programs and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time. It is a source of concern that some ideologies of this sort, which seek to respond to what are at times understandable aspirations, manage to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised.

Eve Tushnet took to First Things to write about Amoris Laetitia and she writes movingly about her work counseling low-income women but nothing about same-sex attraction.

It is possible that the Spiritual Friendship moment reached its pinnacle of influence with Belgau’s appearance at the World Meeting of Families. It seems that if they ever had a chance to regularize their propositions it would have been during the Synodal process and the apostolic exhortation. The Spiritual Friendship blog seems to be greatly reduced. A number of their writers have stepped away and the national debate has moved from faux marriage to men in dresses. Ahhhh progress.

(Photo credit: Wikicommons)

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