Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum novarum and Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Quadragesimo anno are considered the foundational documents of modern Catholic Social Teachings (CST). Catholic progressives and traditionalists both look to Rerum novarum and Quadragesimo anno as blueprints for a fairer, more human, and more Catholic social order (conservotrads tend to ignore CST to worship at the altar of the invisible hand).
Any illusions that Western Catholic might have had that the Synod on the Family might at least open up discussions on LGBT rights or loosening up restrictions on divorced and/or civilly remarried Catholics from taking communion were dashed when conservative bishops, led by what one might call “the African contingent” railed against such people as “the smoke of Satan.” It was Cardinal Francis Arinze who gave us these immortal lines, “Most people in continental Europe or even North America, when they hear of a synod they think immediately of divorce-remarriage and will they receive Holy Communion. And they even mention homosexual unions,” Arinze said in an interview. “Africans say ‘Lord help us! Is that what you understand by family? This synod is on the fa-mi-ly.”
Clearly, divorced Catholics and LGBT people are not part of the “fa-mi-ly.”
Progressives have been up in arms in the past couple of days ever since finding out that Pope Francis had a private meeting with faux Christian martyr Kim Davis during his recent visit to the United States:
That Francis would provide moral succor to a woman who represents the religious right’s continued attack on the civil rights of LGBT Americans while refusing to meet with any LGBT Catholics was a rude awakening for progressives who thought that Francis might be steering the Catholic church on a more compassionate path. My answer to those who have been blindsided by this revelation, is why is this such a shock?
When Hurricane Katrina hit, I was actually in RCIA classes, not at St F (which, as a traditionalist parish, considered RCIA to be an “innovation” of Vatican II), but at the first stop on my religious misadventures, St A, which was mostly black. Many of the parishioners at St A had a familial connection to Louisiana in general and New Orleans in particular, and an influx of evacuees arrived at the parish after Katrina. During RCIA classes, we would discuss theodicy as it related to New Orleans and Katrina. At the time, the usual suspects were claiming that New Orleans was targeted by god because of its randy Mardi Gras celebrations, and the ever-present problem of “the gays.” It’s not surprising that fundamentalist Protestants like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson would beat up on New Orleans, but this article by Richard John Neuhaus illustrates the ambivalence that conservotrads had towards the United States’ most Catholic city:
Last Sunday, while addressing Rock Hill Missionary Baptist Church, a black church in rural South Carolina, GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee asserted, “I hear people say we’ve got racial problems. We don’t have a skin problem in this country, we have a sin problem in this country.” In a 1997 speech commemorating the desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High, Huckabee expanded on this “sin not skin” notion by saying:
Government can do some things, but only God can change people’s hearts. Government can put us in the same classrooms, but government can’t make classmates go home and be friends when school is out.
Government can make sure the doors of every public building are open to everyone. Government can ensure that we share schools and streets and lunch counters and buses and elevators and theaters, but let us never forget that only God can give us the power to love each other and respect each other and to share life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I imagine that these statements went over quite well, given that they were uttered in the Bible Belt, where people of all races love god-talk, but they’re quite silly, given that 1. Christianity and racism have aided and abetted each other throughout the centuries 2. prejudice surrounding skin color most certainly is the problem, not “sin.”
I seem to recall that the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s website used to post the addresses of abortion clinics in the metro Atlanta area so Catholics could go pray the rosary outside of them. Nothing more radical was recommended, presumably to avoid any legal liabilities or charges of stalking, but there was a general idea that a near-constant Catholic presence at abortion clinics would somehow be a positive influence on those entering and leaving the facilities in question. I couldn’t find that page on the Archdiocese site today, but I’m sure that the practice of saying the rosary in front of abortion clinics is still being encouraged.
Section 2358 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about the plight of LGBT people in this well-known and often quoted text:
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
What we have is the church trying to maintain a “middle road” between the notion of “gay liberation” and the hardline evangelical view that considers LGBT people as an existential threat to “traditional values” and “traditional Christianity.” Conservotrads like to use this passage to show that the church really does care about LGBT people and doesn’t wish them any harm. However, if this is true, then why is it that the Catholic church always supports measures that aim to codify discrimination against LGBT people? Conservotrads would probably answer by saying that these “religious freedom” bills are necessary to protect religious organizations and religious people against discrimination lawsuits. But if your actions are putting you at risk for lawsuits, doesn’t that mean that you are by definition engaging in discrimination? I would say so.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines discrimination as, “the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people.” Refusing to serve someone because of their sexual orientation constitutes treating a group of people unfairly. As many people have pointed out, even if a business owner find gay people objectionable from a religious standpoint, it begs the question of why he or she isn’t refusing service to other categories of “sinners” like divorcees, gluttons, heterosexual adulterers, Sabbath breakers, liars, inhospitable people, etc. Why is the “sin” of homosexuality to be treated so differently than others? I suppose that much of this is due to the fact that LGBT people are a relatively small minority, whereas divorcees and gluttons are so numerous that their “sins” don’t even seem like “sin” even to other religionists.
Discrimination is nothing less that institutionalized violence by the legal system against a particular group of people. For the Catholic church to assert that it doesn’t wish violence onto LGBT people while at the same time supporting laws that legalize discrimination against them is the height of absurdity. It’s even more ridiculous, given that prelates in Africa have gone on the record as supporting “kill the gays” bills or laws that would jail LGBT people for simply congregating in one place. One is reminded of the behavior of Yasser Arafat, who used to say one thing in English to the Western media and would then say the exact opposite in Arabic to the Middle Eastern press. However, the Catholic church in the West is still advocating for violence against LGBT people like it is in Africa, just in a different way.
The fundamental problem with the way the Catholic church deals with LGBT issues is that it regards such people as being outside of its moral concern, much in the same way it traditionally regarded Jews and similar to how the church in America traditionally viewed black people. LGBT people are a social and moral problem, not individuals in their own right, similar to how Western societies once spoke of “the Jewish question,” “the Negro question,” and even “the woman question.” While it is unclear if any of the a fore mentioned questions have adequately been answered, it is obvious that in 2015 “the gay question” is the major moral and political issue of our time. Since Catholic moral theology has traditionally seen homosexuality as a sin to be repented of or a crime worthy of death, it can’t easily assimilate the “gay liberationist” framework into its thinking. Given how much time and energy the church has investing in trying to spread the notion of LGBT people as “objectively disordered” it can’t exactly back away from its position without alienating conservotrads or looking stupid. My guess is that in 50 years or so, the “objectively disordered” language will be de-emphasized, and conservotrads will insist that the church always taught LGBT equality. Until then, the Catholic church can’t claim that it is against violence towards LGBT people while support legalized violence against them.
Some time ago when I was still a conservotrad Catholic, I read Raymond Arroyo’s fawning biography of Mother Angelica (which I would actually recommend if you want to understand the history of the culture war divisions within the Catholic church in America) and came a curious passage in which she said that she basically considered herself to be asexual and had never had much interest in the opposite sex. As a fellow asexual, I was hoping for some further exposition on this matter, but I was disappointed; as soon as that statement was thrown out, the book went back to discussing Mother Angelica as culture warrior. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised, since I doubt that many people who are of Mother Angelica’s generation ever spend much time parsing out their sexual identity, as millenials are apt to do.
Some threads on the Catholic Answers Forum on asexuality indicate that most conservotrad Catholic don’t know what to make it, although some seem to interpret asexuality to mean that it could be a sign that one has a vocation of some sort:
As one would expect from the gang at Fish Eaters forum, some think it’s a “disorder,” others think it means a vocation, and most don’t seem to what to think about it:
There haven’t been any official or even any semi-official statements (e.g., off the cuff remarks to reporters, speeches, interviews) from the pope on asexuality either. In a way, I’m not surprised that the Catholic church, an institution that takes a perverse sort of pride in being behind the times, would not have anything to say about asexuality, especially since it doesn’t recognize the concept of “sexual orientation” in the first place. But as I think about the example of Mother Angelica shows, I think that the people who really enjoy the priestly or religious life and don’t have any problems with the celibacy requirement are those who would fall somewhere in the asexual camp.
It’s not hard to see why an asexual would feel at home in the priestly or religious life: you can devote your life to study, service, evangelization or whatever the charism of your particular order might be, your celibate state will be lauded as a sign of holiness, and living in community provides a substitute family. Conservotrads like to obsess over the so-called “lavender mafia” in the hierarchy, but I have to wonder whether there might have been an “sex-repulsed asexual mafia” in the early church period that imposed their personal dislike of sex onto the development of Christian ethics. I’ve always read Jerome as a sex-repulsed asexual, which would explain why he would say things like the only positive aspect of marriage was that it created more virgins (in comparison, Augustine of Hippo, Origen, and Tertullian seem more like self-hating heterosexuals). Although the Catholic church is trying to make itself seem more sex-positive by touting John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” (i.e., the metaphysical awesomeness of heterosexual married sex), the traditional ideal was that as many people as possible ought to aspire to be asexual in practice by being priests, monks, or nuns. Even the Holy Family that is held up as the standard that all Catholic families should aspire to, consists of a married couple whom we are told never have sex. (this is particularly odd, since Josephite marriages are outlawed under the current canon law, despite being extremely popular during the days of early Christianty).
However, I eventually concluded that Catholicism isn’t really the place for an asexual. Post-Vatican II Catholicism is really stressing the “vocation of marriage,” perhaps because of dwindling interest in the priestly and religious life. Even traditionalists, who do push the idea of priestly and religious vocations to their children, are obsessed with heterosexual marriage and babies, presumably as a reaction to the widespread use of birth control among rank-and-file Catholics and the rise of LGBT rights. Since the Catholic church doesn’t recognize sexual orientation as such, openly identifying yourself as anything is looked down upon in conservotrad circles. This is why so many of the posts on the Catholic Answers Forum threads on asexuality are like, “Why does this need be to a ‘lifestyle’? You’re just single, okay? Don’t try to be special about it.”
I think that the concept of asexuality as a legitimate sexual orientation contradicts the belief prevalent among many conservotrads that states that the effects of original sin are such that everyone is walking around with their proverbial pants on fire (i.e., concupiscence), which is why society needs stringent rules regulating sexual behavior. However, celibate asexuals, particularly those who openly identify as non-religious, throws this narrative into question. While Catholic teachings say that everyone who is not heterosexually married should be celibate anyway, the idea of someone being perfectly content to be perpetually celibate as their default position is problematic, since said teachings imagine that people should be struggling with concupiscence as Jacob wrestled with the angel in Genesis. Supposedly, the only people who haven’t struggled with concupiscence are the Virgin Mary and Jesus, and the church isn’t going to admit that a secular asexual could possibly have the same “heroic virtues” as those two. To admit the existence of asexuality would be admitting that the nature of original sin and human nature in general as defined by the Catholic church is off. About ten years ago, I read an article that was posted on the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) about a Catholic priest who flat out said that humans couldn’t be asexual for this very reason.
To me, the refusal of the Catholic church to acknowledge the existence of asexual people is symptomatic of a larger problem with religion in general, of not wanting to change teachings as new information becomes available. The church’s use of the phrase “person with same-sex attraction” rather than gay or lesbian is indicative of its refusal to buy into modern discourse on LGBT rights. That may make conservotrads feel morally superior that they aren’t buying into “modernist” notions of gender and sexuality, but it means that the church is voluntarily opting out of having anything relevant to say on the topic by not even using the standard terminology. If the church doesn’t recognize asexuality, then it doesn’t recognize me, and that’s not an institution worth supporting.
After I finished yesterday’s post on the curiously woman-free plenary assembly on “women’s cultures” (see https://extraecclesiamestlibertas.wordpress.com/2015/02/04/womens-culture-as-defined-by-men/) I thought some more about the second theme of the conference, “‘Generativity’ as a symbolic code,” and decided that this section deserved its own post.
The Vatican’s Council on Culture has started its discussion on “the woman question” today. No actual women were invited to the meeting entitled “Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference,” which probably explains why this questionable image is being used to advertise it on the Pontifical Council for Culture’s website: