From CEIDE 2:1 (Sept./Oct. 1998)
On January 6, 1998, Enrico Sini Luzia (67) was found dead in his Roman apartment, his skull crushed in. An aristocrat, prominent in the Vatican protocol corps, he was the latest victim in a spate of murders of gays. Arcigay, the dynamic and well-organised gay network, argued that the Vatican itself must take some responsibility for this string of crimes, as having created a climate of hatred toward gays.
Scandal struck again on January 13, when Alfredo Ormano (39), a Sicilian, inflicted fatal burns on himself in St Peter's Square, as a protest against the oppression of gay people. In a dismal response, the Vatican denied that this suicide had any reference to the Church; the dead man had failed to couch his protest in the proper bureaucratic style.
These incidents can be construed as "epiphanies" of the current relationship between the Church and her gay sons and daughters. They reveal a gulf or void where there should be a two-way relationship, a coldness where there should be love.
The objective immorality of gay sexual expression in all circumstances, along with its logical correlative, the "intrinsically disordered” character of the homosexual orientation itself, form the core of current Vatican teaching. So great has been the investment of church authority in these claims that one cannot imagine them being changed in the near future.
On no theme have Vatican documents been more strident or more forcefully backed up with practical steps: punishment of revisionist theologians and even archbishops, intervention against civic statutes favourable to gay rights, dissolution of gay Catholic organisations.
Where the human voice and the questioning intelligence have been silenced, it seems that blood has to speak instead. I am thinking not only of the blood of Italian men but of the many gay Irish teenagers who have been pushed to suicide by the failure of parents and clergy to speak a word of acceptance.
When the Vatican formulated its official apology for the Inquisition this year, the multitudes burnt as heretics and witches were duly remembered. But no mention was made of the thousands of gay people burnt directly by the Papal States down to 1750 and executed in other states with papal approval.
"Sodomites" were demonised in exactly the same style as "witches" were, and treated with equal brutality. Sixteenth century missionaries had sodomites burnt in the Philippines at the same time as they were having Jews burnt in India. But there is no evidence that this weighs on the Vatican's conscience.
Today in Afghanistan gay men are commonly "stoned", with the help of walls and bulldozers. The Vatican, which collaborates with fundamentalist Muslims on family planning issues, can scarcely condemn this, since in its own teaching it still gives prominence to the texts in Leviticus that call for such stonings.
The Catechism denounces "unjust discrimination" against gay people, but the Vatican nonetheless defends what it calls 'just discrimination". This category can justify any form of anti-gay legislation.
Thus in Nicaragua the Church is reported to be behind Mrs Chamorra's draconian new laws (8 years for "anal penetration"; 3 years for same-sex "concubinage").
A note of decency was struck by the American Bishops in October 1997 in their pastoral message to parents of gays,"Always our Children": "A shocking number of homosexual youth end up on the streets because of rejection by their families". "We call on all Christians and citizens of good will to confront their own fears about homosexuality and to curb the humour and discrimination that offends homosexual persons". "It seems appropriate to understand sexual orientation (heterosexual or homosexual) as a fundamental dimension of one's personality and to recognise its relative stability in a person". "Use the words homosexual, gay, and lesbian in honest and acceptable ways, especially from the pulpit".
The document was vigorously denounced by right-wing Catholics, and in July this year the Vatican objected that since the document was not unanimous the Bishops should have asked Vatican approval before publishing it, a procedure to be rendered mandatory by new regulations.
It is encouraging that the battle has spread beyond the tiny, easily dismissed groups of gay Catholics of 20 years ago to the upper echelons of the hierarchy.
What gays should have learned from all this, as the Jewish people had to learn, is the importance of organising (beyond the vast but fragile world of the commercial gay scene). No liberal statement emanates from church authorities without long and hard pleading from gay groups within the churches.
The forces of homophobic prejudice - as seen in the expulsion of so many gay youngsters from their homes - are ever poised to strike, and the Church has shown herself unworthy of trust as a protection against them.
Instead of being a Christlike friend to gay people, offering richer and deeper models of community, she has all too often shown herself their devilish foe.
It may well be asked how Christ could allow his Church to be involved in the judicial murder of gay people over hundreds of years. I do not know the answer to that question.
But the human mechanisms of this betrayal of the Gospel can be reconstructed. A key factor has been clerical hypocrisy. Incapable of acknowledging openly our sexuality or gayness, we turn to the homosexual men and women in our churches a face of bland incomprehension, of pretended obtuseness.
We stifle the healing words we could so easily speak, because the Moloch of clerical conformity speaks more loudly than the blood of adolescent suicides, or than the tears of those whose lives we have poisoned by our doctrines, doctrines we refuse to discuss with them or even among ourselves.
Prudent trimming, opportune disengagement, positive concurrence in the expected lie, convenient silences, reflexes of dismissal and denial, are only some of the subtle forms of the clerical vice. The role of hypocrite is a comfortable and polished one. But it has brought endless torment to faithful Catholics struggling to carry the burdens we so calmly lay on them.
No doubt it was because he foresaw this that Jesus spoke so fiercely against the well-meaning scribes and pharisees (Matthew 23). When moral teaching becomes in principle a one-way communication, when it is couched in a condemnatory tone, and marked by a phobia about face-to-face discussion with the people addressed, then we are in a "pharisaical" situation.
Church discourse on gay people is heavily reliant on dehumanising objectifications, referring constantly to "objectively disordered tendencies" or "dispositions" or "inclinations" and to "objectively immoral acts". When Vatican documents seek to give themselves an air of scientific respectability, as they tell gay people the "objective truth" about their sexual identities, they parody the jargon of old-fashioned homophobic psychoanalysts, who had never learned to listen to their "patients" or to let them speak from their own lived experience.
In these utterances there is no respect shown to the freedom and intelligence of the addressee's moral conscience. It is taken for granted that gay people have no moral insights of their own which could enrich and correct church tradition.
Any questioning is dismissed a priori as stemming from an erroneous conscience, which is seen as having no right to express itself (whatever Vatican II may have said on the matter).
Paul VI struck a pastoral tone in his birth control encyclical and in his interventions to ensure that it was not applied in a crushing manner, notably a letter to Cardinal O'Boyle stressing that "objectively immoral" actions could be "inculpable, diminished in guilt, or subjectively defensible".
The 1975 Declaration on Sexual Ethics stressed that great prudence must be exercised in judging the culpability of gay people. This was glossed by Fr Visser, one of the three authors of the Declaration. to mean that a gay person who otherwise faced severe personal or social difficulties could be encouraged to seek a stable relationship as the best solution (text in The Tablet, 30 May 1998).
Such pastoral latitude has been almost imperceptible in the aggressive interventions of recent years.
Paul VI also to some extent encouraged debate on his sexual teachings, confident that the truth would emerge through open discussion. Now, a paragraph added this year to the Code of Canon Law threatens 'just punishment" to theologians who air revisionist views on these matters, and implicitly excommunicates them.
The fact that the revisionist proposals are so tame and reasonable only makes them all the more treacherous in the Vatican's view, as it strains out every conceivable gnat.
Building on the above-mentioned pastoral liberalism, revisionists deduce that the "objective evil" of contraceptive or homosexual acts in natural law is not a positive malice (as in the case of incest) but only an ontological deficiency, a failure to fully realize the natural procreative and unitive dimensions of sexuality. They propose that loving same-sex relationships, which strive towards fidelity, can participate in, even if they could not fully express, the values of marriage – not procreation, but creativity of another kind; not the union of the sexes, but a loving union cemented by physical expression; not the sacrament of Christ's love for the Church, but a sign nonetheless of the creative presence of God's love in the world.
They interpret the homosexual orientation not as a totally negative “anomaly” (as the Vatican sees it) but as sharing in its own way the goodness of the sexual order in general. Sexuality may have a dark side, due to "original sin", but it is in its essence good. Its orientation to the values of love, creativity, and pleasure is inherently moral, and should be responsibly guided, not unreasonably thwarted.
Despite Vatican denial, we are here in presence of an open question or "quaestio disputata" in Catholic ethics. It is not going to go away. The revisionists are few in number and are not encouraged to develop their case with the requisite scholarly sophistication. But their discourse gains persuasion from the priority it gives to the gospel values of mercy, compassion, freedom, and love, over the Vatican's "morality of the sacrosanct semen" (Yves Congar).
Their discourse engages with the human situation of gay people, marked by sin and grace, and helps them find a path of responsibility and creative fidelity between sexual anarchy on the one hand and the Vatican strait-jacket on the other.
The Gospel preaches an inclusive community, where the outcast has the place of honour. The tone and content of Christian teachings on gay and lesbian sexuality should build up such community. one in which human beings can share their feelings and thoughts openly, without having to wear carefully tailored masks.
To evangelise our discourse we need first to humanise it. And perhaps to humanise it would already be to evangelise it. The prophets called not for hearts of bronze but for hearts of flesh, not for sacrifice but for mercy; they had seen enough of the ravages of inhuman law.
Jesus in turn rooted his teachings in one value only. We wait for the Church to address to her gay and lesbian sons and daughters a message reflecting that value in both tone and content, and showing, as a kind mother should, that love is a reality, not just a verbal pawn in a game of control and condemnation.
APPENDIX (CEIDE 2:3)
The above article drew an interesting response from a Northern Ireland woman. As we do not often hear gay issues discussed from a mother's perspective. I think that what she has to say is of particular value:
"My son, now 36, has been in a committed relationship for eleven years. He didn't tell us he was gay for about six years into the relationship. After the initial shock and private tears I sat and wrote to him and assured him I loved him no less and to bring his partner over from London to visit us.
“They come twice a year. I never had a doubt and was rewarded. The partner is a lovely young man, Jewish and five years younger. It's as if they can't love us enough for the acceptance; they say we will never be able to understand how much it means. The whole extended family, in-laws etc., have all accepted them.
"To see them in their flat together, and to be at the Sabbath meal in the partner's family home - lit candles, Hebrew prayers, glass of wine, the yomulkas on the male heads - was a very emotional experience for me. All I can say is that for me God is present in our lives and there is no way I can see how he is not present when my son and his friend are here.
"It upsets me that it is considered such a dreadful thing that nobody talks about it. I keep on wondering why it is never mentioned.
“I love making people grapple with it. I fee I am pitied by some. It never seems to occur to them that they could have a son that they don't know about.
“I made a decision to tell my friends and neighbours.'The truth shall set you free' is really true. I wrote to a bishop and told him in ten pages about the 'silence' of my son's growing up and the silence of Church and State as regards myself. Such a nice sympathetic letter came back.
"I read once an interesting comparison between the man born blind in John's Gospel and the gay man, invisible in society; the Pharisees (Church) have no insight into the fact that the gay person could possibly have anything to offer them about God.
“I've read a book called 'Is the homosexual my neighbour?' It was very useful as it went over all the biblical texts in a new light, which gave me a bit of courage to grapple with the Church's strictures down through the years.
“It's as though the Church says to the gay person: if you want to enter God's Kingdom you must forgo a sexual life. It seems so inhuman.
"Compassion is the word for what is absent in the Church. It is all very well condescendingly to say the homosexual person must not be discriminated against, but the Church does nothing to see that they are not discriminated against.
“I enclose a cutting from ‘The Universe’ (PRIEST WARNS OF GAY DANGER...) He dismisses the 'Gay' identity as a deceptive hope, a dead end and unworthy of human beings... ‘Homosexuals will never find the love, peace and acceptance they deserve unless they forsake godless philosophies and hedonistic lifestyles’.
"It was from the like of that that my son hoped to spare me by not revealing himself for so long. I am now in the same position as a homosexual always is, i.e. an invisible minority, listening to snide remarks, reading anti-gay data etc., feeling very isolated in the Church on Sunday, especially a male-run Church, my head bulging with thoughts and opinions, always on the receiving end of things.
“Isolated too at the mere mention of "family". Never once did anyone point out that the Nuptial Blessing's assumption about seeing one's children's children could be challenged by 'Nature' itself, and the person would then be detested as being against nature and unnatural.
"For myself the whole thing is the mystery of God, the One who can't be packaged by Canon Law or finite minds.
“I once came across a quote that went something like this: 'Those who share the Christian conviction that human life is profoundly distorted by human alienation from God, need to be especially open to the possibility that non-conforming individuals may be different because they are alert to aspects of goodness that the culture as a whole is neglecting’"'
I would like to add a few comments:
(1) My correspondent rightly deplores the conspiracy of silence which has had such an insidious undermining effect on gay people, especially in the vulnerable period of adolescence, when it is often a causative factor in suicides or suicide attempts.
(2) Same sex love is often celebrated as a vehicle of divine charity in Christian tradition, building on the insights of Plato; for example, Augustine's Confessions, Book IV, or Aelred of Rievaulx " Of Spiritual Friendship”. Why is this tradition so often hidden under a bushel?
(3) The sexual expression of such love, particularly in the context of such a faithful relationship as my correspondent describes, would be "tolerated" even if not "approved" by many moral theologians. In any case. moral theologians often point out that a much higher degree of force and certitude attaches to the basic principles of Christian morality (e.g. the primacy of love) than to the detailed applications of such principles (e.g. teachings about homosexuality or birth control); this leaves a large field open to moral reflection and to conscience.
Of course moral theologians are dogged by vigilantes who delate them to their bishops or the Vatican. One can only marvel at the patience with which they attempt to do justice to the insights of tradition while at the same time defending the individual conscience. If they sometimes fall victim to a self-censorship that leaves the faithful in the lurch. that is not surprising.
(4) My correspondent is an educated and articulate Catholic. She and her son have been able to cut through the thickets of mystification and bullying, to choose a mature and warmly human attitude to the ethical conduct of life.
Others, less privileged, have a sadder story to tell - a story of how benighted attitudes have poisoned family relationships and caused the ability to love to be squandered and misdirected.
How many of the simple faithful have been alienated, or enslaved, by peremptory and oppressive presentations of faith and morals!
(5) The riddle of silent discrimination is with the gay person from adolescence and perhaps only rarely gives rise to lucid and confident anger. The mother's outrage, when she sees from the outside the injustice of the situation, is fresher.
Recently the world has reacted with outrage to the murder of a gay student in Wyoming. Some will warn against stridency. and appeal for a more nuanced and serene approach. Gays, fearing that they will be stereotyped, may take too much heed of those warnings, complicating the issue by a self-deprecating irony or humour.
What is needed is a simple word of justice and anger, of love and acceptance. Such words are understood by all, "one touch of nature makes the whole world kin."
It should not be forgotten that homophobia is mainly based on simple ignorance, and that the best weapon against ignorance is open and clear communication.
Joseph S. O'Leary