People are responsible for their actions. The degree to which one is either blamed or praised for those actions is determined by a number of factors. In moral theology, one such factor used in weighing culpability for an evil act is ignorance. Literally, “ignorance” means “not knowing,” and usually refers to something one should know. If I get behind the wheel of a car and start to drive, I may not know the speed limit of the road I’m driving on, but I should know that speed limit.
Invincible ignorance is the type of ignorance that cannot be overcome, while vincible ignorance can be overcome with a relatively normal amount of effort and diligence. Vincible ignorance does not typically reduce culpability and it is this type of ignorance that we should strive to overcome throughout the course of life. Diminishing vincible ignorance is at the heart of education and every pursuit of knowledge. Knowledge at the horizon is advanced not by mere repetition of what has been received and maintenance of the status quo. On the contrary, it is advanced by constructive and thoughtful criticism, by asking questions, by challenging accepted notions and seeking greater understanding as new data – including the data of lived experience – become available.
It is this type of ignorance — vincible ignorance — which seems so frequently to be present in most of what comes from official church statements about God’s gay and lesbian children and same-sex relationships, including ongoing debates about public recognition of those relationships in marriage.
I continue to be so very saddened by the un-Christlike actions of our episcopal leaders who seem to be stuck in a state of vincible ignorance when it comes to gay and lesbian people. They seem not only to be blind to the truths about sexual orientation that we are learning from all areas of science, but they also are unwilling to implement a Catholic approach to scriptural theology when it comes to discussing what Sacred Scriptures really say about same-sex attraction.
And — perhaps what is saddest of all — is that they seem to think that love, all of which comes from God, is a zero-sum reality.
On the first two points, the bishops and others who oppose the recognition of numerous civil rights for gay and lesbian people — especially marriage — have begun to use the term “sexual difference” instead of “sexual orientation” as they put forth their arguments. In their lingo, “sexual difference” simply means that males and females are different, and that this difference has predetermined goals, ends and purposes that are the same for everyone. In their minds, the purpose of “sexual difference” is the creation of family — men and women coming together in exclusive, lifelong partnerships, for the raising and rearing of children. Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, the current voice of the American bishops’ opposition to the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), uses the term in this way: “There is no corresponding duty, however, for society to disregard the meaning of sexual difference and its practical consequences for the common good; to override fundamental rights, such as religious liberty; and to re-define our most basic social institution.'” To put it bluntly, the “meaning” of sexual difference and one of those “practical consequences” is simply that every man and every woman should be heterosexual and should have an inherent desire to seek out an opposite-sex partner for a life-long spousal relationship.
This, of course, is where Bishop Cordileone and his confreres completely miss the boat and express their vincible ignorance. They continue to try to retrofit a square peg into a round hole, and refuse to consider the perspective in which all the pieces fit together – a perspective which honors fundamental Christian anthropology and incorporates the lived and valid experience of God’s gay and lesbian children.