The Filipino website GMA News has an intriguing report that two Archbishops, Paciano Aniceto of San Fernando and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz have urged gay Catholics to “come out in the open”, because they have nothing to be ashamed of.
Their full message does not depart from the formal position of Vatican doctrine, as it repeats the standard distinction between “homosexual persons” and “homosexual acts”, and repeats the warning that these “acts” because they are “contrary to natural law”, and do not flow from “natural complementarity”. In this respect, they are as offensive as many other utterances from our bishops and the Vatican. (The occasion for this remarks was the Philippines launch of the book ” Homosexuality and the Catholic Church ” by Fr John Harvey, the founder of Courage). Nevertheless, I see some good news in this report, supporting my belief that there is a gradual and welcome shift of emphasis underway. There are two elements of this shift evident in the bishops’ message.
First, is the suggestion I have put into the headline, that they are encouraging us to come out and be open – including, presumably, open and out in church. This is significant: the implicit message up to now has been to remain firmly closeted. The CDF argues that there is no need for legal provision to protect us from homophobic discrimination, because the safest way to avoid discrimination is simply to hide our sexuality. There is also an often repeated claim that by coming out we are “identifying” with the gay lifestyle, and so should be discouraged. The simple fact that these two archbishops are now recommending that we should be open is a major new development, which I would like to see more widely endorsed, and followed. If many more gay men and lesbians were to come out in church, it could have significant impact in contributing to understanding and more general acceptance. (There is no need, in being more open, to go so far as to start disclosing details of sexual practice – but that applies equally to all, of any orientation).
The second important feature is less remarkable, having been made with increasing frequency in recent years by others. This is the reminder of the neglected part of the Catechism on homosexuality – that we “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity”. This is as much a part of official doctrine as the better known insistence that homosexual acts are sinful- but has not hitherto been heard often enough, and in practice has been widely ignored by many people who really should know better. To my mind, the insistence on “sensitivity” is particularly important. It is impossible to be truly sensitive to marginalized people unless we make a determined effort to understand them. That in turn requires something that has been almost totally absent in the response of the institutional church response to LGBT people up to now – genuine listening to us, as we talk about our lives, experiences, perceptions and expectations. If other Catholics really did attempt to live according to this part of the Catechism as assiduously as they insist we live according to the teachings on the dreaded “acts” themselves, the listening process that would ensue would inevitably also contribute to a softening of the traditional hostility – just as it has already done in the other denominations that have applied formal listening and study processes.