For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.
– Matt 18:20
That’s any two or three – including two or three gay and lesbian people.
Catholic teaching on LGBT people is crystal clear: we are to be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity, should be free of any unjust discrimination, and must be protected from any malice or actual violence, in speech or in action. It also includes, as Pope Francis recently reminded us, that it is not up to anybody else, even for himself, to judge others – including gay and lesbian people.
The experience of far too many gay and lesbian Catholics sadly, is that very many ordinary Catholics, and some priests and even bishops, simply ignore these compassionate elements of teaching to focus exclusively on the best known part of Vatican doctrine – that all genital acts outside of marriage and not open to procreation, are prohibited. That prohibition of course, applies equally to everybody – but those who rant and rail so frequently against homosexuals in the Church, are usually strangely silent on that.
Another important element of Catholic teaching applicable to people of any orientation and spelled out clearly in the Catechism is that sexuality is an important part of our human make – up, which needs to be integrated into our personalities.
“Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.” (2333)
“Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another” (2337)
Teaching also tells us that we should respect the findings of both natural and social sciences, which affirm that same – sex attraction and interactions are entirely natural, non – pathological conditions found in all human societies, and in all branches of the animal kingdom. Vatican documents agree that the “condition” is natural, and not sinful. Science also tells us that an active sexual life in a loving relationship confers distinct benefits on both physical and mental health. Yet, Vatican doctrine insists that the “integration” of our sexuality into our personalities that it so strongly recommends may be done only in heterosexual marriage – while also recognizing that this is not a suitable option for gay or lesbian people. The doctrine, in other words, is riddled with internal contradictions.
So, just how is a gay or lesbian Catholic fully to integrate his sexuality into his personality, as the Catechism commands, in accordance with the findings of science about sexuality, nature and health, and also with the words of the Lord, in Genesis?
It is not good for man to be alone. I will make him a companion.
These contradictions, together with the contradictions between the compassionate elements of Church teaching and the hostility and condemnation sometimes encountered in practice, leave gay and lesbian Catholics (and their counterparts in other denominations) in greater need than others to meet with each other, in the Lord’s name, for mutual help and support in reconciling two important parts of their lives – their faith, and their natural sexuality. For over forty years, gay and lesbian Christians of all denominations, from Catholics to Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, have been forming support groups to promote inclusion or ministry to each other American Catholics have Dignity, Anglicans have Integrity, Presbyterians have More Light Presbyterians, the Metropolitan Community Church have their own, iindependent and recognized denomination. London Catholics had the Soho Masses (now integrated into the Farm St parish in Mayfair). British Catholics countrywide, have Quest.
Yet when LGBT Catholics do come together in the Lord’s name, for worship or discussion, some people and groups take it on themselves to object. We saw it for years in the hostility to the Soho Masses, we saw it recently at the blog “Protect the Pope”, where Deacon Nick Donelly was appalled at the effrontery of gay and lesbian Catholics attempting to meet – and at the letter of welcome we received from the local bishop. (For a site that calls itself “Protect the Pope”, I find it surprising that Deacon Nick appears to be so deaf to the words of the pope himself. If the pope feels himself unqualified to pass judgement – then what qualifies Deacon Nick to do so?)
However, that’s a digression. I would normally simply ignore the nonsense emanating from sites such as that, but I am disturbed that I have also encountered too much ignorance and misperceptions about Quest among people who really need to know better – British gay and lesbian Catholics themselves. I suffered under these misperceptions myself, until I attended conference last year. Then, and even more this year, I came away seriously impressed with the current activities and even greater potential of the organization.
I have heard claims that Quest is too docile in meekly accepting the Church’s doctrines on compulsory celibacy for gay people – and also that it is in flagrant and public dissent, actively campaigning against those doctrines. I have heard that it is too political – and that it is not political enough. These cannot all be true. I also heard, when I first arrived in the UK, that although Quest initially was a strong organization doing valuable work, it had in recent years become little more than a social group, mostly for aging, middle -class white men, and even for that group, was in fact doing very little beyond arranging an annual conference. And so, I made no attempt to explore the opportunities of Quest, and immersed myself instead in working with the Soho Masses, and this blogsite.
The reality of Quest is very different from these misperceptions. As an organization, it is neither too accepting, nor too critical, of Church teaching. Instead, it simply encourages its members
….. to proclaim the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ so as to sustain and increase Christian belief among homosexual men and women by:
i) associating lay men and women who are seeking ways of reconciling the full practice of their Catholic faith with the full expression of their homosexual natures in loving Christian relationships and providing opportunities for them to meet together for worship, discussion and study;
ii) establishing and extending a dialogue between homosexual Catholics and members of the clergy through which the insights and experiences of each may gradually be interwoven and so achieve better mutual understanding both of the moral teachings of the Church and of the characteristics of its homosexual members;
iii) seeking wider opportunities, in the Catholic press and elsewhere, to promote fuller and more public discussion of the spiritual, moral, psychological and physiological issues involved; and
iv) providing a point of contact for any homosexual Catholic in need of reassurance and support, so that he or she may both gain from and contribute to the purpose of QUEST.
To go into a full description of how Quest sets about promoting this integration of faith and sexuality, while remaining faithful Catholics, is beyond the scope of this introductory post. I leave that fuller discussion for a follow – up, which I have scheduled for publication tomorrow (and another, on who Quest and the Soho Masses / Farm Street LGBT community are complementary, not competing, for later this week).
(Cross – posted at Queering the Church)
- Come Out, Stand Proud (The Catechism Commands It)
- A New Beginning for Gay Catholics and the Scottish Church? (queeringthechurch.com)
- The Catholic Heterosexual Lobby (queeringthechurch.com)
- Some Very Queer Saints and Martyrs (questgaycatholic.org.uk)
- After 40 Years, Entry into the Promised Land? (queeringthechurch.com)
- Responding to Pope Francis, on Gay Integration (queeringthechurch.com)
- Is Francis Cracking Down on Catholic Homophobia? (queeringthechurch.com)
- Father James Martin, SJ, on Pope Francis’s New Style of Mercy as Substantive Change for Church (bilgrimage.blogspot.com)
- Pope Francis’s Gay Remarks as Something New Under Papal Sun: Commentators Who Say Nay (bilgrimage.blogspot.com)
- Commonweal Admits Defeat re: Marriage Equality, Commonweal Hears an Earful in Response (2) (bilgrimage.blogspot.com)