The Church and Cardinal Sarah Love Gay People Enough Not to Lie to Us

By Joseph Sciambra Published on August 31, 2017

God bless Cardinal Robert Sarah. I welcome his Wall Street Journal commentary on the topic of homosexuality. It’s a hopeful sign that some members of the Church hierarchy have heard the cry of the faithful. To be specific: Of those who live with same-sex attraction, who sought compassion, coherence, and truth in the Catholic Church. Too often we found only confusion and tacit or outright approval of homosexual acts as well as “gay marriage.”

Treated Like Dirt?

The impetus for Cardinal Sarah’s op-ed? The recent statements made by “some Catholic priests such as Fr. James Martin, SJ.” See Martin’s 2016 essay for America magazine, “We need to build a bridge between LGBT community and the Catholic Church.” Or read his recent book.  It has almost the same title: Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. Martin claims that LGBT Catholics have been “treated like dirt.” If he meant that many of those with same-sex attraction are purposefully misled by priests and Catholic LGBT ministries, he would be right. They have been treated like dirt. On a crucial spiritual issue, they’ve been deceived.

James Martin

Rev. James Martin, SJ

For instance, Martin praises as a “successful” example of Catholic LGBT outreach the New York City parish St. Paul the Apostle, and its LGBT ministry, “Out at St. Paul.” Martin spoke at the parish twice in 2017. Yet, in an ambitious video series posted to YouTube, “Out at St. Paul” promotes open dissent from ancient Jewish and Christian teachings on homosexuality. In the opening video of the series, a “gay” member of “Out at St. Paul” said:

I think what’s interesting is that the Catholic Church probably thinks that it is accepting of gay people, because its message is ‘gay people exist and we should love them and not discriminate against them. But because the Church also tells gay people essentially that they need to be celibate, what the Church is saying is ‘you cannot live fully. You can be gay but you can’t live that life.’ And so that inherently is discriminatory.

Love the Sin? Then You Hate the Sinner

But this sort of obvious distortion of Catholic teachings is not exclusive to a single parish or its outreach. Listen to Arthur Fitzmaurice. He consistently describes as “gravely evil” Catholic teachings on homosexuality — including the language of our Church’s Catechism. Fitzmaurice gets invitations every year to speak about LGBT issues at the massive Los Angeles Religious Education Congress. It’s the largest such gathering of Catholics in the United States.

Then there’s that pastor from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. During an address by James Martin to the pro-gay marriage advocacy group New Ways Ministry, the pastor asked Martin if he would like “to collaborate in developing a pre-Cana course for gay and lesbian couples.” Martin didn’t point out the scandalous nature of the request. Instead, he offered encouragement.

I was a student in “Catholic” schools for twelve years. The one consistent teaching I received? That there are no absolute truths, except those pertaining to social justice (poverty, immigration, etc). When I confided my same-sex attraction to a priest, he told me that “God made me this way.” That “God understood.” He taught me that the totality of my moral obligations with regards to sexuality amounted to practicing safe-sex and finding a long-term partner. At the time I agreed with him, but he wasn’t offering anything I hadn’t heard before. I already knew I had to follow my own conscience. Secretly, I’d hoped his advice would be different. I wanted to know the truth, but no one was brave enough to share it with me. For nearly a decade, I never stepped inside a Catholic church again.

As Cardinal Sarah writes in the Wall Street Journal

[I]t is precisely because the Church loves with the heart of Christ that she wants us to know the truth, even when it may be hard to hear. Those who speak on behalf of the Church must be faithful to the unchanging teachings of Christ because only by living in harmony with God’s creative design do we find deep and lasting fulfillment and happiness.”

A Cloying, Phony “Welcome” Based on Lies

In 1999, for some unknown reason, as a broken and lonely man, I decided to reexamine the tepid faith of my youth. I don’t remember my state-of-mind or expectations, except for being extremely desperate. Up to that day, my life had become more and more chaotic and unsustainable. I wanted to live, and I wanted someone to show me how. So I stumbled into a nearby church, battling shame. I looked up at the rainbow-flag waving in the wind just outside the doorway. It made me feel welcomed, yes. But it was also somehow … revolting.

In an interview James Martin said: “God made you this way. You are wonderfully made, just like Psalm 139 says. You were knit together in your mother’s womb this way, you know, it’s a mystery why you were made this way, but this is part of your identity.” In his book, Martin wrote: “Saying that one of the deepest parts of a person — the part that gives and receives love — is ‘disordered’ in itself is needlessly cruel.”

Really? Is candor cruel?

The Painful Truth of the Cross

I walked out of the “welcoming” parish. With nowhere else to go I went home to my parents’ house. They owned a copy of the church’s Catechism. I immediately turned to the short three paragraphs pertaining to homosexuality. I read them slowly, thinking of what I’d seen in the gay lifestyle.

  • I’d watched friends die of AIDS.
  • I’d had numerous loving relationships, every one of which had ended.
  • My body began to deteriorate from sexual acts it was never designed to carry out.

I was more than willing to consider chastity — or at least give it a serious try. But I did bear a grudge against a God who’d created me with these desires. Who’d deemed that I could never act upon them or even take pleasure in their mere presence. As the young man from “Out at St. Paul” stated – I felt that I could never “live fully.” Therefore, even as I managed to be chaste, I was also angry.

Fellow Jesuit John J. McNeill, a precursor to Martin, wrote in his landmark book The Church and the Homosexual:

Since most gay people experience their homosexual orientation as a part of creation, if they accept this Church teaching, they must see God as sadistically creating them with an intrinsic orientation to evil. Most gays would prefer to see the Church teaching as wrong, rather than believe God is sadistic.

As early as 2014, Fr. Martin claimed that “of course doctrine develops and obviously we can change our teaching on these things.”

The “Born Gay” Fable

Cardinal Robert Sarah

Cardinal Robert Sarah, center.

After a while, I decided to speak with another Catholic priest — this one, from my parent’s parish. He agreed with the Fr. Martin thesis, and assured me that I’d been “born gay.” Instead of reassuring me, this alienated me further. I was about to walk away from the Catholic church for good. Then I met a very different pastor.

This priest didn’t look very friendly. He wasn’t popular. But he had a quality of … confidence and conviction. As Cardinal Sarah remarked, the truth that he offered was “hard to hear.” It was the Church’s truth. And I listened.

Still I struggled. I was willing to give up sinful sex. But I couldn’t walk away from what I thought was my identity. From everything that I thought made me unique — made me who I am.

Cardinal Sarah writes:

In her teaching about homosexuality, the Church carefully distinguishes three things: the person, who is always good because he or she is a child of God; homosexual attractions, which are not sinful if not willed or acted upon, but which are nevertheless not in harmony with our human nature; and homosexual actions, which are gravely sinful and tremendously harmful to the well-being of the human person. Those who identify themselves as members of the LGBTQ community are owed this truth in charity, especially from clergy who speak on behalf of the Church about this complex and difficult topic.

A clear and concise statement. It exposes the danger posed by those, like Martin, who espouse the “born gay” theory. It helps us realize that the theory itself is scurrilous. Why, indeed, would a loving God create within “the deepest parts” of a person, within “the part that gives and receives love,” a desire and an identity which is “not in harmony with … human nature?” If we accepted Martin’s premise, the Church would have to be wrong and its teachings would need to change. But what if his premise is false? What if our gay temptations are just one type of the brokenness that every person suffers in this still-fallen world?

The Courage to Admit You Need God

I started spiritual direction with the stalwart priest and he quickly recommended a group called “Courage.” I was trepidatious at first, but after attending my first meeting I felt a deep sense of hope. I had never met such men. In the “gay” community, my friends and I often complained about the endemic problems in our lives. But we never linked them with homosexuality.

Like me, many of the guys involved in Courage understood the failures of homosexuality — often through the devastation of their experience and intense, prolonged suffering. Because of the lasting friendships I made with these all-too-human albeit brave men, I too began to look deeper into my life. I looked past the comfort that came from accepting a supposedly divinely ordained gay identity. Finally, I could acknowledge not only the truth in the teachings of the Church, but the often painful hidden truths in my own life. (For my conversion story in depth, please see my previous columns.)

Thank you, Cardinal Sarah. Your words will encourage those good pastors, and I know many, that have the fortitude to love those with same-sex attraction as Christ loves all of us. As you beautifully stated: “To love someone as Christ loves us means to love that person in the truth.”

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