Thursday, August 1, 2013

L'Esprit d'Escalier

I was going to add this to Tuesday's post, but time got away from me again.

As I've said before, I'm baffled by how many people, even non-Catholics, even some secularists, think Pope Francis is a sweet old guy.  It's still too early to tell, he might surprise me, and he has said some appealing things about clergy who live luxurious lives, but he still thinks that homosexuality is a sin, and is intransigent on the ordination of women.  He seems to be ready to loosen up on adulterous men, however.  Funny, that.

But I wanted to get more into the background.  I remember when the new catechism came out and how many gay people were thrilled because the Church had come into the nineteenth century.  Which is progress, of a kind.  So let me quote some Mark D. Jordan at you, from The Silence of Sodom (Chicago, 2000). Referring to the Vatican's 1975 "Declaration on Certain Questions concerning Sexual Ethics," he wrote:
It is the rhetoric of nineteenth-century Science that explains the much-discussed distinction in the document between two kinds of homosexuality. Some Catholics wanted -- and want -- to hail this distinction as a great advance in official teaching. The Vatican was finally admitting that a homosexual disposition is not itself sinful! I don't think that the Declaration does that. Rather, it adopts a nineteenth-century model of the "causes" of homosexuality. The Declaration distinguishes curable homosexuals from incurable ones; it then asserts that the pathology in the former comes from transitory causes, in the latter from permanent ones. This is hardly ground-breaking moral thought.

Views of homosexuality as incurable pathology appear in other Vatican documents from these same years, most notably in opinions on annulments. From 1967 on, the Vatican's appellate courts for marriage case began to hold that "perpetual" or "incurable" homosexuality produced an "incapacity" either to consent to marriage or to achieve its union of souls and bodies. Something like this view was written into the 1983 Code of Canon Law, though in much vaguer language. Medical language runs through these texts, which reminds one too often of the cases in Krafft-Ebing where an anxious "homosexual" seeks a cure in order to be properly married.

We should not celebrate the fact that the church is now ready to regard homosexuality as an incurable disease [29].
And on the 1986 US Conference of Catholic Bishops' "Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers":
The bishops do say that Catholic parents should urge the child to stay in the Catholic church. This means that they should offer her or him a life of sexual abstinence, frequent penance, religiously informed therapy, and diocesan support groups (289a, 290b, 291a).

What if the child decides against these options? What is the Catholic parent to say then? And what if the Catholic parent should want more for the child -- say, an ordinary human life with loving, intimate relationships? "Our children" remain "our children" only so long as they dwell in the melodrama of coming out - but not when they begin living as lesbian or gay adults.

Lesbian and gay Catholics frequently find that church documents speak as if there were none of them already in the church, especially in positions of church leadership. Always Our Children is no exception. The letter assumes that no Catholic parent could be lesbian or gay, as it pretends that no [46] Catholic pastor has any personal acquaintance with gay cultures. It tells priests: "Welcome homosexual persons into the faith community." As if they weren't already there, presiding at the altar [45].
During Barack Obama's first presidential election campaign, he made the same error the bishops did. In an interview with the Advocate he said, to justify his "outreach" to antigay bigots:
Part of the reason that we have had a faith outreach in our campaigns is precisely because I don't think the LGBT community or the Democratic Party is served by being hermetically sealed from the faith community and not in dialogue with a substantial portion of the electorate, even though we may disagree with them.
As I pointed out at the time, it takes a special kind of stupid to think that either the Democratic Party or the LGBT community is "hermetically sealed from the faith community."  Any division that exists is the work of antigay elements in "the faith community."

In 1992, just a few years after the Bishops' letter, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued "Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons."  While protesting that the Church opposed "unjust discrimination" against homosexuals, it stated,
[II.]10. "Sexual orientation" does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc. in respect to non-discrimination. Unlike these, homosexual orientation is an objective disorder (cf. "Letter," No. 3) and evokes moral concern.
11. There are areas in which it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account, for example, in the placement of children for adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment.

12. Homosexual persons, as human persons, have the same rights as all persons including the right of not being treated in a manner which offends their personal dignity (cf. No. 10). 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 behavior 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.
Of course, many people focused on the statement's assertion that homosexual persons, "as human persons, have the same rights as all persons", ignoring the examples of domains where discrimination is not "unjust."  (There's a fierce irony here, in that at the time this statement was issued, the Catholic Church around the world was protecting Catholic priests who preyed sexually on the young.)  Notice too that the statement distinguishes between sexual orientation and qualities like "race, ethnic background, etc. in respect to non-discrimination."  I wonder what that "etc." points to -- religion, say, which is covered by civil rights legislation in the US?  That, too, is not comparable to race, ethnic background, etc.

The Church and its spokesmen have occasionally made conciliatory noises with respect to gay people, welcoming us into the Church as long as we submit to its authority.  And why not, after all, since it expects everyone to submit to its authority?  But these carefully crafted messages should not be confused with actual acceptance of gay people as gay people.  I've had some revealing disputes with gay and lesbian Catholics who tried to burnish the Church's image, and became indignant when I confronted them with the Church's actual positions.  Most hadn't even heard of the documents I've just mentioned, which undercuts their claims to know what they were talking about.  So, again, I exchanged some words with someone on Facebook yesterday who insisted that Francis' remarks on that plane constituted some kind of "first step" toward acceptance of gay people in the Church.  Not when "acceptance" is as qualified as it is here.  (Or when the nice old man in the beanie proceeded to declare that "the door is closed" on the ordination of women.  I'm not a one-issue guy myself, and even if the Pope did mean to change Church teaching on homosexuality, it's not the only problem with contemporary Catholicism.)

Maybe time will prove me wrong.  We'll see.  But for now, it's too soon to get excited about changes that haven't happened yet, which is the usual response to media moments like this one.