Saturday, November 7, 2009

A response to a second E-mail from someone of the religious right,

Geoff - I am the original anonymous. I prefer to stay that way, if you don't mind.

If I had know you were going to post what I wrote, I would have taken greater care writing it!

I don't care if you identify as gay or straight. As long as you are celibate, what does it matter?

When you changed your primary identity from being a Catholic Priest to a gay activist, that was the point I was referring to as abandoning your vocation. You really can't be both, because there are two contradictory belief systems at work. I got the impression at the time that the gay part of you had won the internal struggle over the ordained part. I didn't understand that, and still don't, given the celibate nature of your vocation.

I'm sure I know a great many gay priests. I actually think it's a very honorable vocation for a gay man. But, when you feel the need to identify more strongly with that part instead of the Catholic, ordained part, that is where the conflict comes in.

St Damien was my favorite "holy person" growing up. I thought what he did with the lepers in Hawaii was totally selfless. Yes, he did rejoice when he became "one of them" and contracted leprosy. There's an analogous situation here somewhere. I'm not quite sure what it is, though. Perhaps you could get past the details (leprosy is not same sex attraction) and share some insight.

Dear Anonymous,

You speak of an “internal struggle” in my life. The truth of it is that struggle began for me, as it does for almost all LGBT persons, when I went through puberty and discovered that I was “different.” The 1999 Center for Disease Control study “Youth at Risk” found that 33% of gay adolescents attempt suicide. Such a startling figure shocks a person into asking, “Why?!?” The reason is that society has said that to be attracted to someone of the same sex is deviant, wrong, disordered and immoral. Where does society draw these conclusions? For centuries the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has condemned homosexuality as sinful and drove homosexuals to live silent and lonely lives. Many homosexual Catholics became priests and religious (monks, nuns, etc.) As you correctly point out “I know a great many gay priests.” It logically follows that there are then a great many gay bishops since; bishops are drawn from the ranks of priests.

On a human level this is totally understandable, because homosexuals are conditioned to deny their orientation in order to “pass” and survive in society. The personal cost of this denial of who you are is self-loathing and this is then projected out towards others who are gay. The most homophobic people are repressed closeted homosexuals. Note the radically different stance taken by Episcopalian bishops on this same question. Ironically, part of the reason that they are more empathetic to LGBT people is because most Episcopal bishops, unlike their Roman Catholic counterparts, are straight.

When you speak of the “gay part of you” and of the “ordained part [of you].” You yourself belie a disjointed psychological, emotional and spiritual mentality which is the product of such twisted self-loathing. The whole point of authentic spirituality is to become whole. Integrity. To learn to love God and your neighbor as yourself requires that you learn to love yourself as the Creator has made you and move towards unity within yourself, with others and with God. A theology which reduces sexuality to physical acts as being determinative of their morality ignores the intent of the moral agents and dehumanizes both sexuality and society. In the Catholic Church today, we have such a theology of sexuality. This theology does not serve people, but demands that people serve this theology.

With regards to homosexual people, consider frankly what it is that this theology demands of them in their personal lives. It means that an adolescent is required to never date, never fall in love; never marry someone to whom they are attracted. It means a life lived alone; a life lived in shame and fear. This same theology which reduces human sexual acts to only their physical component also afflicts heterosexual Catholics.

A brother priest related a story to me of a straight married couple in his parish. They were very traditional Catholics and attempting to follow the Church’s ban on artificial contraception. He told me of the woman in her early 30’s who would lock herself in her a bedroom with her eight children while her young husband stood outside of the locked door demanding that she come out. She wouldn’t until he would go off and pray away desire, or “take care of himself.” Her Sister-in-law found herself in an identical predicament and had so many births in such rapid succession that she required a hysterectomy, since her uterus had been so extensively damaged. Imagine the idea of marriage that those children locked in that bedroom with their frightened mother now have of marriage. Imagine how that young woman views herself, sexuality, her marriage and her husband as a direct result of this “theology” of sexuality which they are required to serve blindly.

Most Catholics in the USA, Canada and Europe simply ignore the prohibition against the use of artificial contraception. Most priests do not preach about the subject and in my twenty three years of active ministry, I have very, very rarely encountered a priest who insisted upon Humanae Vitae in the Confessional. I never once heard a Cardinal or a bishop deliver a sermon urging Catholics to follow Humanae Vitae. The content of the statement on Prop 8 that I delivered at the end of Mass on October 5th, 2008 is pretty much what most American priests would say to someone in the confessional, or in an office appointment. What was radical about the statement which I made that day was that I made it in a public forum and the institution cannot permit a public challenge to its authority. They can permit their “theology” to be ignored, but they can never admit that it is wrong. Bishop Geoffrey Robinson explains why in his book entitled “Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church” [ISBN 978-0-8146-1865-3]on page 236 he states:

"Far too often the Catholic Church has believed that it had such a level of divine guidance that it did not need the right to be wrong. As a result, both theologically and psychologically it can be bound to decisions of the past. It can be unable to move forwards, even when clear evidence emerges that earlier decisions were conditioned by their own time and that the arguments for them are not as strong as they were once thought to be. It has not been able to face the idea that on important issues and for centuries of time it might have been wrong."

One need only to consider the apology which the late Pope John Paul II issued to the scientific community for the mistreatment of Galileo to begin to understand the truth of what Bishop Robinson is saying. One has to wonder if it will also take four centuries for the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to apologize to heterosexual couples for Humanae Vitae and to homosexuals for the abuse they have suffered as a direct result of the hierarchy’s inability and unwillingness to simply admit that they have been wrong.

It was precisely because I am a priest that I was driven to speak out on behalf of the people whom I was called to serve. I said this in my original statement the full text may be found on this site, it is the very first post “How it all began.” For me to have done as my bishop asked and promote a “yes on Prop 8” position from the pulpit would have been for me to have become an accomplice to a moral evil which strips gay and lesbian people not only of their civil rights, but of their human dignity as well. To speak out on behalf of the oppressed and marginalized is not to “abandon” your vocation; it is to live it out authentically.

You raise the issue of celibacy in your E-mail. On a personal level, I did come to a practical accommodation with celibacy as many priests, bishops, cardinals and popes have done. This was never the central issue for me personally. As far as celibacy as a general issue for the Catholic Church is concerned, this requires a long response and so, I will refer you to a book by Father Donald Cozzens, PhD.
He is a psychologist; the former President-Rector of St. Mary’s Seminary in Cleveland Ohio and currently teaches on the faculty of John Carroll University. His book “Freeing Celibacy” ISBN-13: 978-0-8144-3160-7 offers a very honest and through treatment of the subject of celibacy and the real difficulties it represents in the life of the Roman Catholic priesthood and Church.


Anonymous said...

Love this man, I was a R Catholic, and I have left the church, but not my Faith in God. I feel Gods Love more by not listening to the Lies of the Church. I feel the we can no longer look for salvation through seperation, Only through the unity of man kind. I get so angered that the Church spends money on there issues rather than the ones of God. The poor, sick, homeless. just to name a few. However in the Love of Christ, we will go forward, until the religous accept us as part of human race. Deserving of Love and relationships..

Jarred said...

Beautifully said Fr. Geoff. I'd also note that reducing human sexuality to nothing more than physical acts ignores who sexuality affects all forms and manifestations of human intimacy -- even non-sexual/non-romantic intimacy. A gay person who cannot accept their sexuality finds it exceedingly difficult, even impossible, to for truly intimate and meaningful friendships. This is because they have to deny and hide their true selves, pretending to be something else. How can one hope to have even a friendship when one's entire life is based on such dishonesty?

Anonymous said...

Fr. Geoff,
I’ve been reading your blog for a little over a month now. I don’t quite know how to form all the questions that I’ve been having since then. I admire what you are doing; it is truly prophetic. Very few people have the courage to do what you have done. Clearly, I don’t. I go through so much anger at God for this vocation. I hate the way this sounds—so na├»ve and immature, but has that happened to you?
Do you still feel that you were called by God to be a part of the Catholic Church? I still very much do. (Both for me and for you.) I can’t get beyond this question; it leads to so many more. It makes me angry that God would call people to this and then at the same time create them gay and allow the church to be so anti-gay.
I could be wrong. What would that mean? That God didn’t call me? I don’t think that is the case. So many other people think the call is there. I think a lot of people believed the same for you. How could you have been in ministry for all those years and not have had God call you to it?
Did God make a mistake? I don’t think that is much of a possibility.
I do believe the church is wrong. But what does that mean then. Do I just pretend that I’m not called to be a part of it? It gets me back to the anger at God for calling me.
Thank you for all you are doing. I’m taking a class on the prophets right now and we’re covering Jeremiah at the moment. I can’t help but think of you in that same context. I wish you didn’t have to go through all this.
Maybe when I sort things out more, I’ll be able to write you an email that would make more sense. Anyway, thank you again.

Br. August

Jackie said...

As usual, your answer is right on the money. I think that Jesus leads our lives where he wants them to go for our benefit and that isn't always in a straight (sorry, couldn't help myself) line. We must always try to listen to what He is saying to us, rather than what "the rules" are telling us we must do.
It seems to me that I have enough trouble taking care of my own life, without thinking that I need to tell others how to live theirs.
For example:"I don't care if you identify as gay or straight. As long as you are celibate, what does it matter? " God complex much?? Who would I be to tell you or anyone else what is right for them?
It must be very difficult for someone like Br. August to feel compelled toward the monastic life, but then feel as though the Church has let him down. From my experience a a Catholic Convert I think that I am now being led toward a liturgical church that is inclusive and accepting of all who wish to know Christ.
Sorry, didn't mean to write a book.
Take care and find joy and happiness each day.

Sister Mary Agnes said...

What did you think of Maureen Dowd's column on Catholics one week ago Sunday?

Mareczku said...

Father Geoff, this is an excellent article and the comments here are also very good. I do take issue with a couple of things you said. You said, "The most homophobic people are repressed closeted homosexuals." I don't think this is true but it is a stereotype. You would consider me repressed and closeted but in no way do I consider myself homophobic. I think that my orientation has tended to make me a more compassionate person. I don't think it is as much that a lot of (closeted) gay people are homophobic but that they are afraid of homophobes. There is a difference here. Your comment about Episcopal clergy being more compassionate towards gay people than Catholic clergy because so many Catholic clergy are gay is a big put down in my opinion. I agree with a lot of what you said here but that one paragraph hit a sour note with me.

pax58 said...

Father Geoff,
After 24 years of ministry I gave up my ordination and left the United Methodist Church. In part because I could no longer live in two parts, one gay, one religious. After a few years of living openly gay and being active in an Epicopal Church, I am just getting to the point of true integrity-both parts of me are united.
My prayers are with you on your journey. Your courage is to be admired.

Peace and Grace by brother

Joe said...

Fr Geoff, what a mature and seasoned response! You are well able to handle all these issues and if our befuddled bishops had any sense they would be knocking at your door for advice.