In my last essay at First Things, I echoed the words of Pope Benedict writing about the pastoral care of the homosexual person by saying, “only what is true can ultimately be pastoral.” Rev. Wojciech Giertych, O.P., the Theologian of the Papal Household, last week echoed the words of Pope Benedict when he said, “the best way of treating people with dignity is to tell them the truth, and if we escape from the truth, we are not treating them with dignity.” This truth, which is blunt, precise, and difficult to hear, yet honoring of man’s dignity, is that “homosexuality is against human nature.”
The Papal Theologian provides a valuable contribution as well to the ongoing debate here at First Things about the acceptability of a gay identity within the Church’s anthropology:
[I]n the American language you have a distinction between the word “homosexual” and “gay”. A homosexual is a person who has, to some extent, this homosexual condition. And somebody may have this difficulty, and his friends, his neighbors will not know about this. He’s dealing with this in cooperation with the grace of God and may come out of this difficulty and come back to normal human relationships. Sometimes adolescents, in the moment when their sexual sensibility is appearing, and if they have been distorted by others, they go through a phase of difficulty in this field. But as they mature they will grow out of it. Whereas a “gay” is somebody who says, “I am like this, I will be like this, I want to be treated like this, and I want special privileges because I am like this.” Now if somebody is not only homosexual, but a gay, declaring, “This is how I am, and I want this to be respected legally, socially and so on,” such a person will never come out of the difficulty.
In order to come out of any difficulty, one naturally must first recognize that it is one. In my first post here on the subject, I contend that the only way to fully receive the grace the Church has to offer is to understand homosexuality as a wound: The good that comes from homosexuality is the redemption Christ brings as a result of the wound. Recently I quoted Cardinal Ratzinger cautioning against viewing homosexuality as being in anyway good. As we know from our savior, bad fruits are the result of bad trees, and the Catechism tells us that the root of homosexuality has a “psychological genesis.” The Papal Theologian echoes the teachings of the Catechism and Benedict when he calls homosexuality a “distortion of humanity,” and views it as a negative condition which he calls a “trap” that people fall into “for various reasons, and not necessarily for a fault of their own.” He describes one possible reason by saying, “there are people who are emotionally fragile, because they come from broken families, because contraception and abortion has destroyed families, has generated divorces, people who are born and unloved, and not formed well—notice, they are emotionally fragile, and they easily fall prey to sexual deviations.”
Contrary to beliefs reflected in the recent reparative therapy ban in California, the Papal Theologian makes it clear that the condition is neither innate nor immutable. He says the condition “is not necessarily permanent” and that some are “passing through a stage” and that “not every person will always be with that difficulty.” That being said, he emphasizes that “the important thing is to help such people find themselves, to return to an emotional and moral integrity.”
Here in America, more and more members of the hierarchy reflect a similar disapproval with choosing to identify as “gay.” It seems no accident that the Vatican appointed the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ point man on the defense of marriage to become Archbishop of San Francisco. While Bishop of Oakland, Salvatore Cordileone censured the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry as not being “authentically Catholic,” in part because “the terms [lesbian and gay] weren’t in the church’s vocabulary, and were promoted by groups opposed to the church’s moral teaching.” In a recent article on so-called same-sex “marriage,” Archbishop Charles Chaput eschewed the terms “gay” or “lesbian,” or even, in his case, “homosexual,” in favor of variants of “same-sex attracted.” When asked about those who choose a gay identity during a Q & A in 2011, Cardinal Raymond Burke, America’s leading prelate in the Vatican, said that those who claim a gay identity must say to themselves that this “is not [my] identity, but an aspect of my life which I need to address, which is out of sync with the way God has made me and called me into being.”
The Papal Theologian echoes Cardinal Burke’s comments on identity when he says,
[T]he important thing . . . when somebody has a homosexual tendency, is to tell such an individual, “this is not everything that you are. There are many other qualities in you which are good. You may be an artist, you may be a writer, you may be good in your work, you may be a sportsman, [or] you are charitable. There are many aspects of your being.” Whereas a “gay” focuses on this condition, and makes out of it the supreme sacrament, the supreme justification, the supreme expression of the identity of the individual. Well, once that is elevated and is treated as the supreme [and] the most important bit of information that we have about the individual, such an individual will never free himself from this perverted state, and he will never be happy.
Happiness is freedom to live as God created us to be. Pope Benedict XVI tells us that man is “a creature having an innate ‘message’ which does not contradict our freedom, but is instead its very premise.” Benedict describes modern thinking on sexuality, and particularly the notion of “gender” versus “sex,” as “man’s attempt at self-emancipation from creation and the Creator. Man wants to be his own master, and alone – always and exclusively – to determine everything that concerns him. Yet in this way he lives in opposition to the truth, in opposition to the Creator Spirit.” St. Paul tells us that, “it was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Benedict points us to where our freedom is fulfilled:
Man . . . has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled.
Fr. Giertych reassures us that the “grace of God heals whatever distortions we may have, whatever difficulties we may have, on the condition that we initiate, we commence the pilgrimage, we start the journey of living out our lives with the grace of God.” Christ teaches us that in order to be truly free, we must first be taught the truth, and be humble in acknowledging it. I believe that a necessary step on the journey towards freedom for people with same-sex attraction is to embrace a radical and counter-cultural “coming out”: a “coming out” from all sexual identities contrived in the mind of man, and instead humbly acknowledging and accepting the fullness of what it means to be made male and female, in the image and likeness of God.