I set out some time ago to write a post in response to a rather widespread conception that Catholics are “anti-gay.” Because I know, and love, more than a few people who identify themselves as gay, this issue strikes close to home for me. But as I thought about it, I realized that my attitudes toward gay people and the gay lifestyle are really no different from my attitudes to other people and lifestyles. So I am going to speak more generally.
As a person with a very clear position and principles, I am naturally going to be “anti” other positions and principles that are incompatible with my own. This is not me being close-minded or prejudiced. The same thing is true of anybody who has a clear position and principles–and I should think and hope that that would include all of us. So, I am against the gay lifestyle, as well as the lifestyle that many heterosexuals live in our society–lifestyles that involve extra-marital sex, artificial contraception, infidelity, divorce, an overall cavalier attitude toward marriage, an unwillingness to have children, and, far too often, abortion.
I am against these things because I am for different things: chastity–which for the unmarried includes total abstinence from sex–purity, modesty, fidelity, life-long marriage, openness to children. I believe that sex is not just a pleasurable activity, nor is it a right, but rather it is a privilege and responsibility that is integral to marriage and family, and hence, to the preservation of society. I believe that the natural complementarity of man and woman should be respected. I believe in the equal dignity of man and woman, although they differ in ways not only external but internal. I believe it is a grave evil to divorce sex from its natural result–the procreation of children, and an especially grave evil to violate a child’s right to life once they have been conceived. There are acceptable means for a couple to exercise some control over when they have children, and there are acceptable means for a parent who cannot or desires not to be a parent to have the child taken care of by adoptive parents.
All of these beliefs are based in the teachings of my Catholic Church. I believe these teachings to be correct. In many cases, I have come to these beliefs through great personal thought, examination, and yes, struggle. For a number of years, I lived an unchaste life. I had the same attitudes toward sex and marriage that so many of my age-mates have. I didn’t see anything wrong with artificial contraception or even abortion. I didn’t see anything wrong with the gay lifestyle or any other. And these attitudes didn’t change over-night. But they did change the more I studied, examined myself honestly, and seriously, open-mindedly considered the alternatives taught by the Church. Gradually, I came to see the goodness and soundness of those teachings and decided that I wanted to embrace them and live by them for the rest of my life. Note that this process came about largely by use of my reason–not by supernatural revelation or some numinous “faith.” At that point, I couldn’t easily be persuaded by such things. And I didn’t have to be.
So yes, I am against certain things. But it’s because I am for certain things. Catholicism isn’t all about saying “no, no, no.” That’s a popular caricature. But for every “no,” there is a “yes” to something else.
And let me also say that just because I am necessarily against certain things, I am not against people. Even if I think people believe in very erroneous, harmful, sinful things, that doesn’t mean I hate them for believing as they do, or that their freedom to believe as they do should be violated. After all, I am a sinner too, and chances are that at some time or another, I have held the same erroneous, harmful, sinful beliefs as anybody else. I feel complete solidarity with my fellow man. And I learned that too from the Church. I learned that every one of us is a child of God. Every one of us is a sinner. Every one of us was redeemed by Jesus Christ. Every one of us has the possibility of sainthood. Every one of us has the possibility of spending eternity in Heaven, with God and with each other. Fundamentally, we are all very much alike. We all have will and freedom. We all have bodies, minds, hearts, and souls. We all have a natural inclination to seek out and do good. We also have a fallen nature susceptible to evil.
So understand that if, in my weakness, I lash out against a person or group of persons, if I treat anybody unlovingly or unjustly, if I act angry or disgusted or hateful toward anybody… it’s because I’m human, not because I’m Catholic. I’m a sinner, not a saint (yet). My God and Church must not be blamed for my faults. To the contrary, my God and Church urge me to acknowledge, repent of, make reparation for, and ultimately overcome my faults.
So let us return to the “anti-gay” example. Are Catholics anti-gay? If by anti-gay you mean I am against the gay lifestyle, then I would answer “Yes, insofar as it is incompatible with my beliefs as a Catholic.” But if by anti-gay you mean I am against gay people, then the answer is “No. No matter how much I may disagree with or disapprove of somebody’s beliefs or lifestyle, I do not hate that person.” If by anti-gay you mean that I am against homosexual people, the answer is a double no–“No, I am not against any person,” and “No, because homosexuality in itself is morally neutral.” People are not defined by sexual orientation, but by how they live. I have known homosexuals who are practicing Catholics just like I am, and they strive to live their lives by the same principles I do. They strive for sainthood and Heaven and struggle against sin. I know that the gay lifestyle gets a lot of attention, but it is not by any means the only lifestyle lived by homosexual persons.
With all of this said, however, I will say that there is one sense in which the Church may understandably be thought to be especially prejudiced against gay persons and the gay lifestyle. I have heard the question asked, “If the Church doesn’t care about how heterosexuals have degraded marriage and family, then why do they spend so much time preaching against gays?” I’ve heard this question asked by homosexuals and heterosexuals, Catholics and non-Catholics. I ask this question myself. It does seem to me that many of my fellow Catholics, both clergy and laity, spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy worrying about how the gay movement is threatening marriage and family, while not seemingly worried about cohabitation, fornication, divorce, artificial contraception, and abortion–among other things–that run rampant in society, and within the Catholic Church. The fact is that the gay lifestyle, and particularly gay marriage, are only the very latest errors to seek normalization from society and the Church. A whole succession of others have effectively been ignored, and in the eyes of some, divested of their wrongness and sinfulness.
I think the Church must get back to preaching against all the many other errors and sins that have brought about ruin to marriage and family, not to mention the disheartening situation of single Catholics who are seeking suitable spouses. I do have hope that this will happen, especially with the “JPII generation” growing up and exerting more influence, proclaiming the Theology of the Body, and giving assent, rather than dissent, to Humanae Vitae.