The next two posts will be part of a series called “Queering Catholicism” which are based on a paper I wrote while in Divinity School. I look forward to sharing these reflections and to the conversations they spark here on the blog and elsewhere. Viva la revolucion!
The intersection of sexuality and church teaching as a Latin@ trans-person of faith in a poly-amorous relationship with the Catholic Church is not an easy or succinct issue to address and grapple with. The Church’s treatment of sexuality is multi-layered and complex. From the marginalization of women’s voices based on biblical exegesis, to procreation as the fruit that quasi-redeems sexual desire according to both Augustine and Aquinas, to imposed chastity on those who identify as homosexual, to Augustine’s perceived self-hate of the body and its sinfulness, to Paul VI’s pro-life and pro-marriage exertions in Humanae Vitae, to the rediscovery of the body as holy in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, to progressive approaches by scholars such as Margaret Farley—sex, sexuality, sexual ethics, and gender are controversial, confusing, convoluted, and often taboo subjects that the Church has dealt with in a very black and white manner with no room for color or variation.
For the purposes of this series of entries and my sanity, I will narrow the scope of sexuality-related teachings focusing on the Church’s treatment of homosexuality. As Margaret Farley notes in her book Just Love, “it is by no means accurate to say that Christians have always judged homosexuality negatively…the historical studies of scholars like [John] Boswell have uncovered a much less univocal teaching and understanding through the centuries” (p. 277). There are 2000 years of theological, doctrinal, and ethical discourses to sort through; these entries will primarily look at the summation and compilation of this heritage as presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (book of official Church teachings).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (2357-2359)
Nowhere in this passage does it command Catholics to ridicule, reject, discriminate, harass, physically attack, and persecute TQBLG individuals or their supporters. Though the Church does not accept this violent malice or treatment, there is still on the official level a “very negative evaluation of homosexual relationships” (Moore, 2003, p. 12). Catholic communities tell their queer members that the intimate sexual relationships they have or seek are “aberrant, contrary to the will of God as expressed in Scriptures and tradition, to be struggled against, a source of danger rather than a potential element of that genuine human happiness which heterosexual Christians may find in marriage” (Moore, 2003, p. 12). Some argue that these sentiments highlight the Church’s prejudice and bias for they single out TQBLG individuals for stigmatization and censure, but tolerate other sins (Yip, 1997, p. 119). Who decides what is sinful and what is not?
The official Church teaching takes two different directions, expressing compassion while also stating objective disorder. The Church recognizes the humanity of the individual person but does not let them be fully human (Stahel, 1993, p. 8). It basically takes the philosophy of “hate the sin, love the sinner” but rephrases it to state “accept the condition and not the conditioned.” It has been my experience that my fellow Catholics are willing to accept homosexuality as an abstract concept but will not tolerate expressions of it, such as wearing a rainbow, much less know what to do with bisexuality, poly-amory, or transgender. Comparisons have been made between queer individuals and individuals with disabilities/differently-abled, in that the Church recognizes that both are involuntary. However, “the acts of a [mentally handicap] person are morally blameless insofar as they are produced by their handicap …. But with gay people, the condition is like a handicap, but its expression is an intrinsic moral evil (Stahel, 1993, p. 9). To an extent the Church is contradicting itself by advocating compassion but promoting discrimination and repression of a “condition” that it admits not fully understanding.
Despite contradictions and resulting tribulations of Church teaching and practice, many TQBLG activists and their allies are seeking ways to reconcile church teaching with inclusive approach to sexuality and sexual ethics. Theologians (both religious and lay) are wrestling with creating spaces for the theological, biblical, liturgical, social, and ethical renegotiations of sexual identity/expression and religious identity. Through this reconciliation, many TQBLG individuals believe that their sexuality and its expression is part of the natural design God created.
Though I believe that there is a bridge between by Catholic and sexual identities, there is a soul-wrenching disconnect when it comes to the Communion Table. Despite the inclusivity of several Catholic communities created through theological counter-narratives, I do not feel that my personhood in its wholeness and holiness is welcome at the Communion table. I am mindful that is not possible to truly live by every teaching put forth in the Catechism. Because I am knowingly and willingly not living or expressing what the Church teaches (disobeying her), I feel like I am no longer in communion with the Church and therefore should not partake in Communion (out of respect and a love-hate relationship with her). Who am I is othered and fractured by the Church’s rhetoric on sexuality and gender; in order to receive I feel a pressure to deny my desires which are an integral part of who I am as a wholly and just sexual being.
There are many who would disagree with me on my personal practice, I believe it reflects the complicated and messy work of intersecting religion and sexuality. I am mindful that in progressive Catholic circles, I am invited to the open table but part of me is not ready even for that—perhaps it comes from the little conservative nun who lives inside who is not truly ready for alternative yet equal expressions of liturgized and ritualized breaking of bread. As one of many activist-scholars engaged in this issue of faithful yet critical deconstruction and reinterpretation of Church doctrine, it has taken hitting many bumps on the road to arrive at a place where I am not guilty (as Augustine and many Church Fathers would advocate I should feel for giving into desire) of embracing being a Catholic, sexual being. The journey of building the bridge between sexuality and faith is a continuous one—I am a being in process who can proudly proclaim and rant that I may not be the norm but the ability to love beyond the norm is not a mistake or disorder but another piece in the divine scheme of things.
featured image found at: http://heysonnie.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/god-made-me-queer/