Two prominent American priests recently made important statements that indicate an attempt to shift the Catholic discussion about homosexuality.
Taking their lead from former Justice Anthony Kennedy, the father of constitutional rights for same-sex couples, Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego and Fr. James Martin, S.J., have both spoken recently of “hatred”—even the “demonic”—animating those who uphold traditional Christian teaching on human sexuality and chastity in regard to homosexuality. They chose a fitting model; Kennedy’s technique was massively effective.
Over several years, Kennedy wrote the majority opinions that established the Supreme Court’s same-sex jurisprudence. The first was Romer v. Evans in 1996, in which the majority overturned a Colorado ballot initiative prohibiting antidiscrimination laws on the basis of sexual orientation. Kennedy there first played the animus card: “the amendment seems inexplicable by anything but animus toward the class that it affects; it lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests.”
Colorado’s voters were, lacking reason, motivated by “animus.” That’s a neat maneuver, discrediting motives before getting around to the legal arguments. That would sustain Kennedy for nearly twenty years. In his final triumph, Kennedy adopted a gracious posture in Obergefell, which created a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. “Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here,” wrote Kennedy.
Yes and no, for Kennedy continued that when “sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the state itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied.”
“Animus” returns again, this time rooted in a supposedly “decent and honorable” desire to “exclude,” “demean and stigmatize.” It is clear that Kennedy thinks decent and honorable people really think the way that he does. Those who don’t are motivated by something other than reason.
Fr. Martin writes at Outreach, “An LGBTQ Catholic Resource” run by the Jesuit America magazine, which is more or less an LGBTQ Catholic Resource itself. Fr. Martin recently employed one of his favorite techniques, which is to report in detail the nasty things that nasty people say about him on the internet. If you wish to find animus somewhere, the internet is a good place to go fishing.
In a commentary upon his own commentary—a good bit of self-referentiality here, to use the favored term of Pope Francis—about the same-sex marriage of Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Fr. Martin singles out opposition to his agenda as fueled by a special kind of hate:
The idea of two people of the same sex getting married repulses some people. . . . There is something about same-sex marriage, and same-sex relations, that unhinges some people, that infuriates them, that drives them to hysteria, enough to threaten death to people who say that it even exists.
. . . no amount of clarification will be enough for people whose rage is fueled by homophobia and hatred. No issue enrages some Catholics—not the Latin Mass, not the Synod, not Pope Francis, not women’s ordination—more than LGBTQ people. It is what sociologists call a “moral panic.” More basically, it is hatred.
These “some Catholics” do not have names, having been collected off the internet, but Fr. Martin’s point is clear. His gay-friendly Outreach is a kind of butterflies in the meadow operation over against the unhinged, hysterical rage of hate-filled homophobes. That he does not produce a credible author who is unhinged, hysterical, and hate-filled makes it easier to hurl the charge.
Meanwhile, Cardinal McElroy writes that the ongoing Catholic synodal process on synodality for a synodal Church is an excellent time to jettison various Catholic teachings, including the requirement that homosexual people strive to live chastely. I gave my view on that novelty here.
Writing in the dialogue-promoting pages of America magazine proper, Cardinal McElroy borrows a page from Fr. Martin in his estimation of those who might be attached to the Catholic tradition on chastity and other quaint virtues.
“It is a demonic mystery of the human soul why so many men and women have a profound and visceral animus toward members of the L.G.B.T. communities,” McElroy writes, deploying the same sensitive animus-detecting antennae that his fellow Californian Justice Kennedy has. “The church’s primary witness in the face of this bigotry must be one of embrace rather than distance or condemnation.”
“Demonic,” “visceral animus,” “bigotry,” “distance”—all this from McElroy in the same essay in which he includes a ritual lamentation of “polarization” in ecclesial life. It would be interesting to know whether McElroy considers the two California archbishops—Jose Gomez in Los Angeles and Salvatore Cordileone in San Francisco—to suffer from these deplorable afflictions.
There was a time when it was fashionable in self-consciously progressive Christian circles to incant the slogan that “the world sets the agenda for the Church.” In relation to homosexuality, for the likes of Martin and McElroy, it is the Court that sets the agenda for the Church—and not only the agenda, but the strategy and tactics as well.
Raymond J. de Souza is a priest in the archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario.
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Image by Brianna Swank licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.