In the Closet

We constantly hear in the Catholic media how the Catholic church has a “compassionate” stance towards LGBT people and doesn’t advocate violence against them (we’ll just ignore for the moment how the Ugandan Catholic church was instrumental in advocating for the infamous “kill the gays” bill several years back). Yesterday, I found these astonishing quotes from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI when he was Joseph Ratzinger that put these views into greater context:

The ‘revised statement’ of 1992 was mostly a repeat exercise of his letter of 1986 but there were some interesting additions. In Section 12, for example, he wrote:

Among other rights, all persons have the right to work, to housing etc. Nevertheless, these rights are not absolute. They can be legitimately limited for objectively disordered external conduct. This is sometimes not only licit but obligatory. This would obtain moreover not only in the case of culpable behaviour but even in the case of actions of the physically or mentally ill. Thus it is accepted that the state may restrict the exercise of rights, for example, in the case of contagious or mentally ill persons, in order to protect the common good.

Two clauses later, Ratzinger moves from associating homosexuality with disease and madness to pondering the question of coming out, or remaining in the closet. Ratzinger makes clear that he favours the closet.

The ‘sexual orientation’ of a person is not comparable to race, sex, age etc also for another reason … An individual’s sexual orientation is generally not known to others unless he publicly identifies himself as having this orientation or unless some overt behaviour manifests it. As a rule, the majority of homosexually oriented persons who seek to lead chaste lives do not publicise their sexual orientation. Hence the problem of discrimination in terms of employment, housing etc, does not usually arise.

These passages encapsulate how conservotrad Catholics imagine that they can be magnanimous towards LGBT people, namely by encouraging them people to stay in the closet. As Ratzinger says above, if your sexuality is a secret, known only to you and perhaps your confessor, no one can discriminate against you. Genius! It reminds me of something Rod Dreher said a couple of years ago, when he said that LGBT people should be like they were when he was a child in small-town Louisiana, where everyone knew that two particular guys who were “roommates” were a couple, but no one said anything about it, since the men in question weren’t “flaunting their sexuality.” Essentially, Dreher wants same-sex couples to be put in the same category as the crazy cat lady or the guy who lives in a house made of old beer cans: local weirdos everyone tolerates, but no one really likes.

Since the ex-gay movement has gone down in flames (see this recent article for more information:, religiously based homophobia has to find other ways of handling “the homosexual question.” This is where the language of “intrinsic disorder” comes into play. Of course, homosexuality was dropped as a mental disorder back in the 1970s, so the Catholic church’s insistence on calling same-sex attraction a “disorder” is just as wrong from a medical perspective as “reparative therapy” is.

The fundamental problem facing the Catholic church and other conservative religious bodies is how LGBT people can be integrated into the narratives these communities tell themselves. As it stands, it’s not really possible, unless you live in a large city that has religious institutions open-minded enough to embrace LGBT people. Holy Redeemer parish in San Francisco has been quite open about its ministry to LGBT people, and it’s gotten a lot of crap from conservotrads because of it. But churches like Holy Redeemer are an exception to the rule; I imagine most Catholic churches operate on the “don’t ask, don’t tell” system. If we take Ratzinger’s words at face value, then one must conclude that LGBT people can only be accepted in the Catholic church if they remain closeted to the point where no one knows their sexual orientation. Since being in the closet leads to self-loathing, mental health issues, and promiscuity, it’s hard to see how this is much of a “solution.”

The Mormon church actually encourages “mixed-orientation marriages” in a prime example of the mistaken belief that heterosexual religious marriage can solve any and all problems related to sex:

Interestingly, the article only mentions gay men married to straight women, saying nothing about lesbians. I’d be curious to know what kind of “advice” is given to Mormon lesbians who want to remain in the church. I suspect the Mormon “solution” of mixed-orientation marriage is probably the most common method that conservative religious groups use to deal with members who are LGBT. I once read about an Orthodox Jewish rabbi who encouraged gay men to marry lesbians so both partners involved would understand the struggle of the other (I can’t seem to find a link. Sorry). I guess that’s marginally better than being a straight person married to someone who will never find you sexually appealing, but it still requires both parties to pretend that they’re straight to the rest of the world.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that many LGBT people decided to move into the “none” category. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they stop believing in god or some other supernatural force, but they drop out of organized religion. One reason is because religious groups want LGBT people to remain in the closet, which is becoming increasingly unpopular and untenable. Since there’s no place in the community where LGBT individuals fit, they choose to find community elsewhere.