Originally published here: http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otc.cfm?id=1139
By Dr. Jeff Mirus
One of our supporters notified us that The Advocate(an LGBT publication) has named Pope Francis Person of the Year. The LGBT community has a special appreciation for the Pope because he has emphasized the dignity of each person and insisted that it is not possible to devalue another human being based on our understanding of that person’s sins.
Any well-formed Catholic understands that this would, in fact, be a fundamental hypocrisy, for we are all sinners. And to its credit, The Advocate recognizes that “Pope Francis is still not pro-gay by today’s standard”. At times the editors seem to understand that what we have in Pope Francis is simply a “stark change of rhetoric”, and they are well-aware that it may go no further than that. But at the same time, The Advocate completely misunderstands the fact that Pope Francis and his “homophobic” predecessors (their term for Benedict XVI and John Paul II) actually believe exactly the same thing.
Thus the editors make the usual quantum leap from the question of whether LGBT people should be treated as possessing the same innate dignity as all persons to the question of whether their sexual behavior should be approved as good and their “right” to marry should be recognized. For example, the article cites the “Rat letter”, for which John Paul II was picketed when he visited the United States in 1987, as “an unprecedented damning of homosexuality as ‘intrinsically evil’.” This was the instruction written by Cardinal Ratzinger, Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on October 1, 1986. But of course this is not what Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, nor has the Church ever taught such a thing. The Catholic teaching is that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil; the homosexual inclination is simply a disordered inclination, like greed or a tendency toward alcohol abuse. It is the decisions we make about our disordered inclinations which determine whether or not we behave morally or immorally.
The Advocate further confuses the essential issues by regretfully noting that Pope Francis, in his first encyclical based in part on work done by Benedict XVI, reiterated that “marriage should be a ‘stable union of man and woman’.” Once again we see the problem: It is not that marriage should be a stable union of a man and a woman. The point is that this is what marriage is. This is why Cardinal Bergoglio was able (wisely or not) to consider supporting same-sex unions in Argentina as the lesser of two evils (hoping to stave off gay “marriage”) but, even as Pope, he cannot endorse gay “marriage”, which is a contradiction that can only undermine an accurate perception of reality.
Predictably, however, the editors move seamlessly from the Pope’s affirmation of the value of LGBT advocates as persons, including his willingness to bless them, to the question of whether the US Supreme Court justices, “six of whom are Roman Catholic”, will “ever cast a far-reaching ruling that makes marriage equality legal in all 50 states”. Once again this confuses two separate issues: On the one hand our preciousness as children of God who are called to flourish in His love, and on the other hand our behavior, which may be good or bad, and which may under appropriate circumstances be restricted by government for the common good.
Under the first heading, the saint and the sinner are both worthy of love; under the second, some of the activities which make us sinners may be restricted by law. To argue that basic fairness demands the recognition of same-sex marriage is exactly the same as arguing that basic fairness requires us to recognize stealing as a property right. Both attempt to put the violation of a natural good on the same level as the good itself. In so doing, they approve what is morally wrong, destroy the truth-bearing quality of human language, and fracture the mind’s correspondence with reality.
Making Sense of Catholicism
The Advocate closes its Person of the Year essay by quoting from a statement by the LGBT organization Equally Blessed, which betrays exactly the same confusions:
Catholic leaders who continue to belittle gays and lesbians can no longer claim that their inflammatory remarks represent the sentiments of the pope. Bishops who oppose the expansion of basic civil rights — such as an end to discrimination in the work place — can no longer claim that the pope approves of their discriminatory agenda. Pope Francis did not articulate a change in the church’s teaching today, but he spoke compassionately, and in doing so, he has encouraged an already lively conversation that may one day make it possible for the church to fully embrace gay and lesbian Catholics.
Now I have never heard a “Catholic leader” belittle gays and lesbians. But perhaps all one can say in response is that this whole statement fails to capture the Catholic understanding of either persons or communities. First, it is the advocacy organizations, not the Church, which choose to define people in terms of their disordered inclinations. The terms “gay” and “lesbian” are demeaning whenever (pro or con) they seek to exhaust the meaning of a person through identification with particular aspects of that person’s fallenness. The Church, in contrast, recognizes that we are all fallen, that we are a mass of weaknesses and imperfections, and that we all have need of grace, healing, support and honor. But we do not want to ask others to treat our disorders as good. It is just as wrong to recognize the dignity of a sinner based on approval of the sins as it is to deny that dignity based on a disapproval of the sins.
Second, discrimination (which simply means discerning differences) is not at all unjust when it is necessary to protect the community from harm. It is no more unjust to deny a teaching position to someone who embraces homosexuality as a lifestyle than it is to deny a driver’s license to someone who embraces alcoholism as a lifestyle, or to deny a ministerial position to someone who sexually abuses those under his spiritual tutelage. Sound communities take reasonable steps to protect themselves from the problems posed by those who either insist their own disordered inclinations are good or repeatedly fail to control their disordered inclinations in situations where that lack of control harms others. Sometimes, in fact, a single failure is a sufficient disqualification for a position.
Some have argued, of course, that it is the Pope’s own fault that such confusions exist. On the whole, however, I would say this is not the case. While truth, like the reality it mirrors in the mind, is all of a piece, we can grasp and articulate it only piecemeal. To emphasize one aspect of the truth is always to throw other aspects into the shade. People constantly mistake parts for the whole, especially when they have a personal interest in doing so. If we are thinking in terms of “culture wars” we will be reluctant to mention homosexuality without pausing to emphasize the attendant moral evils; if we are thinking in terms of inviting someone into the healing presence of Jesus Christ, we will be equally reluctant to mention homosexuality without pausing to emphasize the deep miracle of God’s love despite all of our disordered inclinations, and the sins to which they sometimes lead.
No matter what is emphasized, a more complete exploration of the underlying reality is always necessary. The Advocate seems to have at least one eye open when it comes to Pope Francis; the editors are prepared, in the long run, to be disappointed. But their preparation for disappointment would be far less necessary if they opened both eyes by seeking to make sense not just of Francis but of the Redeemer he represents—the Lord who loves them, the Lord who alone can make all things new.