You’ve probably heard already about the token gay man, Ron Belgau (white, middle class, and ostensibly celibate, natch), who will be representing LGBT Catholics at the upcoming World Meeting of Families, and if you haven’t here’s the link:
As per the article, Belgau and his mother is going to lead a session on “Homosexuality in the Family.”
The most obvious problem with the choice of Belgau as a presenter is that he is not representative of most LGBT Catholics. It’s probably safe to assume that most LGBT people, Catholic or not, want a relationship of some sort and don’t appreciate being told that this desire is “intrinsically disordered.” LGBT people are more likely to experience mental health issues and substance abuse problems, not because they are “intrinsically disordered” or because of problems inherent in the “gay lifestyle,” but because of the stresses of being subjected to discrimination, social disdain, and a lack of sensitivity and cultural competency with regard to LGBT needs among healthcare providers:
As I have stated before, there is simply no place for out LGBT people in “traditional religions,” celibate or otherwise. Unlike Protestantism, Islam, Judaism, or Mormonism, Catholicism doesn’t automatically assume that everyone ought to get married, but it is considered the normative state for the masses who don’t have vocations to the religious or priestly life. Since LGBT people are supposed to be banned from priestly and religious life, the primary places where unmarried Catholics could have found a purpose in life, that leaves them somewhat adrift if they want to follow church teachings. While Belgau is trying to popularize “spiritual friendships” as an alternative to conventional same-sex relationships for LGBT Catholics, I’ve seen enough complaining from straight conservotrads and evangelicals about the concept to suggest to me that there’s really not a place for sexual minorities, celibate or otherwise, in these religious groups:
As an asexual, I believe that celibacy is a perfectly valid option if you’re inclined in that direction. However, the number of asexuals is quite small, and forcing non-asexuals into life-long celibacy is as inappropriate as demanding that asexuals be sexual to be considered “normal.” There are quite a few people in the asexual community who identify as LGBT in the sense that they are romantically attracted to people of the same-sex, but are not sexually attracted to such people. Separating out romantic and sexual attraction can seem rather unusual if you aren’t used to thinking from an asexual perspective, so I would recommend this section on the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) on relationships if you want further clarification:
Thus, I think the only people who might really flourish in a “spiritual friendship” model are LGBT Catholics with an asexual orientation who wouldn’t be interested in a conventional sexual relationship in the first place. However, I don’t think that Belgua presentation will interest asexual Catholics of any romantic orientation, since the Catholic church doesn’t recognize that asexuality exists. Like allosexual LGBT people, the anecdotal evidence on asexual LGBT that I’ve seen on AVEN suggests that they do better psychologically when they aren’t trying to fit themselves into the narrow anthropology posited by “traditional religions.”
The main problem with Belgua’s appearance at the World Meeting of Families is not Belgua himself, but the fact that Pope Francis is surrounding himself with people who are going to tell him exactly what he want to hear, rather than the truth of what’s actually happening with the majority of LGBT Catholics in the United States. It would be one thing if “spiritual friendships” were a widespread phenomenon among LGBT Catholics, but it appears to be relatively fringe as far as I can tell. It’s not uncommon to find Catholic churches where same-sex couples and their children are normal part of parish life (I can think of at least three such parishes in Atlanta off the top of my head where I know I’ve seen out, partnered gay people). To act like same-sex Catholics and their families don’t exist is a mixture of wishful thinking and willful blindness.
While the atheist may question why same-sex couple and/or their families would be interested in being part of an organization that continually belittles their very existence, the fact is that many of them do, and we should support their fight to be recognized by the hierarchy. Catholics in the West have the luxury of picking and choosing teachings, but in parts of the developing world the bishops are still influencing the legislative process. Consequently, changing theology can have a major impact in changing public policy or at least, public attitudes about important issues. Even if the lived experiences of rank and file LGBT Catholics is going to be excluded from the World Meeting of Families, the elephant, so to speak, will be in the room. This pope and the current set of bishops can ignore the LGBT elephant all they want, but surrounding themselves with yes-men isn’t going to make it go away.