Two Rainbows — What Is and What is Yet To Be

Double Rainbow

Double Rainbow

“But some things you know deep in your heart: that all human beings are made in the image of God…” That’s from Andrew Sullivan’s wonderful essay on yesterday’s historic Supreme Court ruling. It also includes a phrase that is the title of these pages and expresses a belief I’ve “known in my heart” for as long as I can remember.  The new header above — a double-rainbow after a Spring thunderstorm here in Florida just a few weeks ago — seems to me symbolic.

The lower, brighter rainbow is more clear, more brilliant. It seems closer to the Earth, closer to home, and for me symbolizes the wonderful progress God’s LGBT children have made in seeking recognition and acceptance within civil society. The upper rainbow — less clear, less brilliant, but still there — to me symbolizes the progress that has yet to be made within the Church. I pray for the day when both rainbows will be brilliant and bright, expressive of the full diversity that is within God’s human family, and the welcome, love and acceptance that all People have for one another.

The Sensus Fidelium of Catholic Ireland

(Source: The Irish Times)

(Source: The Irish Times)

Ireland is a country with a huge Catholic majority. Though recent data indicate a decline in those who identify as Catholic, at least 84% of the population still do (Central Statistics Office Ireland, 2011). Ireland has also just become the first nation in the world to approve same-sex marriage by popular referendum. This historic change came about not by legislation passed by elected officials and not by judicial decree. It came about through the most democratic tool available to a free people.

Termed a “national act of inclusion” by former tánaiste (deputy prime minster) Eamon Gilmore, in Catholic theological language Friday’s vote can also be seen as an act expressing the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country where religious faith is deeply embedded in the lives and culture of the people.

Is there a lesson here for Catholic leaders both in Ireland and around the globe? Perhaps this vote is telling the world that as Catholic Christians, Irish men and women have a deeper understanding of the Gospel than those whose role it is to preach it. Perhaps this vote is telling the world that the Gospel of Jesus — so strongly interwoven into the everyday lives of a faithful, evangelized people — challenges people everywhere to recognize that all persons, regardless of sexual orientation (or race or ethnicity or language or skin color or….), are children of God called to live lovingly, openly and honestly — just as God created us.

As an Irish-American, I am so very proud today of the country where my grandparents were born; so very proud of my many cousins and “relations” whose grandparents never left “the auld sod” and today are part of a new Ireland that has spoken loudly, clearly and forcefully.

Has a Catholic school teacher ever been fired for … greed? gluttony? advocating war?

When asked why long-time Catholic high school teacher Ken Bencomo was fired, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles had this to say:

“‘However, if a teacher or school employee makes a public display of behavior that is counter to church teaching – such as homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, having a child outside of marriage – that can impact their employment status,’ said John Andrews, diocese spokesman.” [emphasis added]

KenBencome-MarriageBencomo, who is gay, married his partner in a civil-ceremony when same-sex marriage became legal in California after the US Supreme Court’s recent ruling on California’s Prop 8.

Why do institutional Church leaders always limit their understanding of “church teaching” to things related to sex?  Is this what they understand Christian life to be mainly about? Is this what they believe Jesus suffered and died for, i.e. so that gay people wouldn’t have sex and that the Church’s rules about marriage would be followed?

How many Catholic school teachers or administrators have been fired  for inadequately living up to the Gospel values of faith, hope and love? What Church workers have been disciplined for failing to do works of charity, or putting into practice the demands of social justice?  How many diocesan employees — including bishops, priests, deacons, and religious sisters and brothers — have lost their jobs because they failed in doing the corporal works of mercy of …

  • feeding the hungry?
  • giving drink to the thirsty?
  • clothing the naked?
  • sheltering the homeless?
  • visiting the sick?
  • ransoming the captive?
  • burying the dead?

My point is not that anyone should lose his/her job for failing to do these things, or otherwise inadequately putting into practice the mandates of the Gospel — because every Christian falls short in one way or another of our call to discipleship.  And yet, even if one accepts the particular “Church teaching” Mr. Bencomo is supposed to have violated, did Jesus Himself ever condemn or punish or harm anyone whom He believed to be failing in some virtue or Gospel value? For those unfamiliar with the Gospels, the answer is No. Even to the so-called “woman caught in adultery,” Jesus says, “Nor do I condemn you.”

Despite Pope Francis’ recent declaration of “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gay priests, apparently many Church leaders feel quite well-equipped to judge and condemn their gay brothers and sisters.

Dolan is Disingenuous re: LGBT People and “Defense of Marriage”

NYC archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan

NYC archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan

“We gotta be – we gotta do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people.”  These words from NY Cardinal Timothy Dolan sound friendly and encouraging. They sound as if they echo his earlier statements in the same interview with George Stephanopolous recognizing even gay people are created in God’s “image and likeness” and that he (Dolan) loves gay people too.  All well and good! But if Dolan and other Catholic leaders claim that their “defense of marriage” is not an “attack on gay people,” then why did we never hear about bishops “defending marriage” until the issue of public recognition of same-sex unions and civil marriage became a viable reality in the US? Why is it that the high divorce rate among heterosexual Catholic couples wasn’t enough to spur the bishops to “defend marriage”?  Why is it that the economic pressures on the American family practically demanding that both parents work outside the home — leaving so many children to essentially raise themselves — didn’t cause the bishops to speak out and “defend marriage”?

Dolan’s Irish joviality and good-natured humor make him a darling of the media. We want to believe him and take what he says as true. Facts and history, however, tell a different tale.  The truth is that the Church’s “defense of marriage” is a direct response to the recognition by the majority of Americans and people of good will around that world of a truth that the bishops will one day regret not recognizing sooner.  That truth is this:  all persons, including God’s LGBT sons and daughters, are created in the divine image and likeness; and by this very fact, every human person has the right to live his or her natural and God-given sexuality as he/she understands that gift to be.

Until Cardinal Dolan and other Catholic leaders own the truth that their so-called “defense of marriage” is nothing but an “attack on gay people” and that their words and actions don’t mesh — not until then will LGBT Catholics be truly welcomed in the religious home that is ours and that we refuse to give up.

Priest-Mayor and Gay Marriage in France

ElieGeffray

Elie Geffray, priest and mayor of the village of Eréac in Brittany

What a great story from the French countryside! This evening’s All Things Considered tells the story of a Catholic priest who supports same-sex marriage in France and — when that becomes law — will officiate at civil weddings in his capacity as mayor.

French Catholic Priest Plans To Marry Same-Sex Couples In New Job As Mayor

The Holy Family: Non-Traditional Family Values

HolyFamilyIconIn the Catholic liturgical calendar, today is the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Ironic, isn’t it, that this feast — in which Catholics hold up for reverence a three-person family where a man marries a woman and raises a child not his own — is used by religious leaders to condemn the dire, unforeseen consequences of allowing God’s LGBT sons and daughters the right to form their own loving, committed relationships and families. A letter from the Catholic archbishop of Birmingham (England), Bernard Longley, which is being read today in parishes throughout that diocese, is the latest example of a Catholic bishop reminding us of what peril awaits should the UK move forward with Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposal to legalize same-sex marriage.

Ever since the struggle for gay rights began to focus on the right to marry the person one loves, opponents of gay rights have shifted their arguments from attacking gay people directly to seeing such demands as an “attack on the family.” By seeking the same rights to form loving, committed, marital relationships as their heterosexual brothers and sisters, gay people were accused of undermining “traditional family values” in which a wife and husband raise the offspring of their union in the “the traditional family.”

As the iconic non-traditional family, perhaps the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph should become the new poster symbol in the continuing struggle for gay rights.

Why Benedict XVI is wrong on same-sex marriage

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

According to Pope Benedict XVI, God actually does make mistakes. Despite what most religious people from practically every tradition have believed for millennia, the all-knowing and all-powerful Creator of the Universe isn’t quite perfect after all. That’s the only logical conclusion one can reach if one takes at face value Benedict XVI’s recent statements regarding same-sex marriage during his annual Christmas message to the Roman Curia. (The full text in the media and from the Vatican is worth reading, as well as the story as reported, with excerpts, in the Vatican’s Daily Bulletin.)

Referring to “a very detailed and profoundly moving study” by the Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernstein, that describes “the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family,” Benedict states that:

“…it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. … According to this philosophy [of gender], sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. … People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God.”

Benedict is clearly an intelligent man, but there are so many problems with his words here that it’s almost hard to know where to begin. The fact that he questions sex as something that we have “to personally make sense of” boggles the mind and makes one wonder how, or if, the pope has ever explored his own sexuality! Gender or sexual identity is not something that people “make…for themselves,” nor is it given to individuals by society. It is, rather, something that individuals discover for themselves. Certainly one’s physical body is an essential element of this discovery, and for many millions of individuals, this journey of discovery follows a similar trajectory, finding themselves attracted naturally to members of the opposite sex and forming relationships that lead to what is so facilely labeled “the traditional family.”

HoldingHandsBenedict, however, seems unable to recognize that within the immense diversity of God’s creation there is more than one possible expression of human sexuality, more than one possible path our journeys of self-discovery take. In addition to the physical body we each have, our own individual psychology and character, indeed our very souls, are essential in that self-discovery, helping find answers for ourselves to the eternal question, “Who am I?”  The nature of the individual person fully includes one’s body, but it is not defined by one’s body; reduced to a sort of biologism that is behind this line of papal thought. One’s sexual identity is part of who we are as individuals, and it is an identity that is discovered and embraced, not created or chosen at will.

Who among us has stood back from our own life and experience, surveyed a smorgasbord of gender options and pondered the question, “Hmmm? What gender should I choose for myself?” and then moved into action based on that choice? Ask any human adult on the face of this earth, “when did you choose your sexual orientation? what factors went into your deciding to be attracted to men/women? how old were you when you said to yourself, ‘I think I’ll be heterosexual (or homosexual, etc)’?” Any honest person will say, “I never did such a thing; I never made such a choice. It’s simply something I came to know about myself; it’s my nature and part of who I am.”

Benedict goes on to state his continued critique of what he understands as a flawed perspective even more bluntly:

“From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be.”

The pope claims that those who recognize the reality of gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation have reduced the human person to a mere abstraction. For those who are familiar with the pope’s appeals to Natural Law theory in support for his condemnation of the rights of God’s homosexual sons and daughters, could the papal logic be more mixed up than this?  It is precisely the “abstract human being” that the pope himself wants individuals to be, fitting into his notion of a generic version of human nature, based not on the lived experience of flesh and blood human beings, but on his abstract and generalized pictures of male and female. Human persons, however, are not abstract; we are concrete, individual, flesh and blood creatures — billions and billions of us as diverse as are the combinations of genes that make us who we are.  And, each and every one of us as individuals — not abstracts — represent the image and likeness of the Creator.

The pope’s words reveal a conflict between two positions that the Church wants to hold — two positions that are inherently contradictory. The first is the Church’s rightful recognition (as seen in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC) that sexual orientation is a God-given reality; and the second is subsequent statements that a homosexual orientation (or “inclination,” to use the Church’s word) is “disordered.”

You can’t have it both ways — unless you believe in a God who make mistakes. If sexual orientation is a choice (and no one is claiming that it is), then Benedict’s conclusions about a homosexual orientation/inclination as “disordered” could arguably be correct (but then it wouldn’t be correct to describe it as an “inclination,” would it?).  If, on the other hand, sexual orientation is not a choice, but a God-given reality, then by that very fact it is good, no matter where on the spectrum of possibilities we find ourselves as individuals.