“We are called by name, not by category”

That is the closing line in theologian James Alison’s response to a question about same-sex marriage. A gay man, priest and former Dominican who describes his current canonical status as “anomalous,” Alison responds to questions about his thoughts on a variety of issues about the hierarchy’s teaching about homosexuality. The Commonweal magazine interview is definitely worth a read, but requires some distraction-free time to take it in fully.

There’s a lot to take away; here are a few things that jumped out at me:

On forms of idolatry:

Spending time, as I do, with people on both sides of the Reformation divide, I find strict parallels between the temptations to which either side is prone. Protestantism is tempted to bibliolatry, and Catholicism is tempted to ecclesiolatry. Both are forms of idolatry that involve some sort of grasping of security where it is not to be found. This grasping ends up by evacuating the object grasped (whether the Bible or the church) of meaning, turning it instead into a projection of the one grasping. The nonidolatrous approach is when we allow ourselves to be reached and held by a living act of communication from One who is not on the same level as either Bible or church, but of whose self-disclosure those realities can most certainly become signs.

In response to the question: “Are there things that Catholics who support your view on homosexuality do that drive you crazy?

Such things [many kinds of protests and demonstrations] feed ecclesiastical delusions of holy victimhood. They effectively give church leaders an excuse to put off the slow, humble task of beginning to imagine forms of truthfulness of speech.

From my experience, I would add to this the casual, frequent, and not apparently thought-through attempts at re-defining core elements of Catholic faith and practice that occur in some circles. In particular, the areas of sacrament and liturgical practice — largely because it’s what most of us DO as Catholics — seems sadly subject to this.

On the distinction between the institutional Church’s condemnation of homosexual acts as “disordered,” but not the condemnation of homosexual persons as persons:

This does seem to me somewhat of a Ptolemaic discussion in a Copernican universe. Of course there is a notional distinction between talking about what someone is, and talking about what someone does. The question is not “Does the notional distinction exist?” but “What use is being made of the fact that such a distinction can be formulated?” When the distinction is made in the discussion of gay people to which you refer, it is subservient to a conviction brought in from elsewhere—that of the objectively disordered nature of the inclination….

…it seems to me quite patent that here we have an unwieldy bid to fit a reality into an acceptable framework, rather than learning from reality how to adjust a now unreliable framework…

And finally, as a closing thought to where things currently stand in the institutional Catholic Church and where we might be headed in the years again, given what we have:

Until all this is resolved, people like me find ourselves, I guess, muddling along in this messy transitional period in the life of the church, resting in Our Lord’s good cheer!

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