There's quite the discussion going on over at America Magazine around Fr. James Martin's article "What should a gay Catholic do?" A number of contributors to this blog have added very good comments in response.
There was one conservative commenter who cited the 1998 USCCB pastoral letter "Always Our Children" as proof that the Church does care about it's gay members. I hadn't read this letter in a very long time, and so took this comment as a 'nudge' to reread it.
I admit that at the time it came out my reaction was different from some of my gay priest friends who saw it as a hugely positive sign. I saw it as a personal exercise on the part of the bishops to open a discussion with their own parents about their own sexuality. Even in that sense I still took it as a positive step, because I had heard from a number of priests that the real hang up they had with coming out of the closet was not so much the reaction of their parishioners, but the reaction of their parents and families.
One priest was so conflicted over this that although he had come out to his entire family- except his parents- he swore his siblings and nieces and nephews to secrecy. One of his fears was that his mother in particular, would see his priesthood as a function of his being gay, rather than a function of a call from God. He was very enthusiastic about this pastoral letter but it didn't do his parents much good. You see, they didn't have any gay children, but they did pity those poor parents who did.
I must be in some sort of strange mood this morning because another set of comments that actually made me laugh came from conservatives whose concern was for the souls of their gay brethren and sisters. Gays had a special cross that if they freely took up would sanctify their souls and join them to Christ's suffering on the Cross. The unstated corollary is that this would be good for them and their suffering good for the Church. What a gift gays could be.
I imagined a priest giving a homily in which he credits chaste gays as a great gift for the Church. He spoke glowingly about people who freely accepted their unchosen gift from God by living a partnerless, sexless life for the sake of the Church and it's people. Imagine the glory due to them he says, as these chaste gay men and women not only sacrificed any special love for themselves, but also any formal relationship with the Church itself, as this special gift from God made them ineligible for any religious orders in which their chaste life style would be honored, supported, and exalted. On the contrary, rather than being supported in any institutional setting, gays would be given the additional holy burden of witnessing more or less on their own in a hostile discriminatory secular society.
"Who amongst we heterosexuals", my mythical priest says, "could honor God in this way, when there is so little offered by the Earthly Church or society itself, in compensation. Truly our gay brothers and sisters should be exalted for their generous personal sacrifices and sublime obedience to God's mysterious call for this singularly marginalized life. The grace and blessings these lives must bring to the Church through this difficult personal sacrifice, this inique living of the way of the Cross, must be many." Then my priest says, "Let us thank and acknowledge our dear gay brothers and sisters for their incredible and faith filled sacrifice. Please stand my fellow gay Catholics that we may finally acknowledge your lives."
Of course, no one does stand. The organist, the lector, numerous Extraordinary Eucharistic ministers, choir members, some CCD teachers, youthful altar servers, Parish council members, liturgy committee members etc,etc, know what will happen. They will be let go, fired, voted out, and marginalized even more, for standing in their truth. Just as surely as their congregations will never call out sexually active bishops of either orientation or hold them accountable for their blatant hypocrisy, gay Catholics know what being transparent about their sexuality will do for them. So they stay seated, silent, closeted, in order that they may continue their service to the Church they love in their 'special sacrificial' way.
The gay question will not go away, and the battle will get sicker and sicker because gayness has become the metaphor for the cancer of the cultural power of male heterosexual domination over the feminine. When the Church talks about not ordaining men with a severe homosexual orientation, they are talking about the submissive feminine gay man. They are not talking about the more masculine, basically misogynist, and domineering gay man. The seminaries still have more than their share of that type of gay man, and that is an inbred pathology being made more pathological. The battle may seem to be about gay men, but it's really about dominating the feminine in order to bolster the primacy of the masculine. It's certainly not about love or sacrificial suffering.
The real question (fear) for the hierarchy, is what happens when gay Catholic males, who know the truth of the hierarchy, come to the conclusion they should tell their truth--all of it. The only protections the hierarchy have is reinforcing the necessity for an unquestioning obedience from the laity and overt gay bashing. It's purely offensive--pun intended. Like all pathological strategies based in fear, as this fear rises these strategies will be taken too far. It may already be happening.