New U.S. Bishops’ Document on Homosexuality
Today’s issue of USA Today reports on the new document by the U.S. Catholic bishops addressing the question of the pastoral care of homosexuals. (You can find the document here.) In the article, Bishop Arthur Serratelli (Patterson, NJ) says:
Homosexual acts are never morally acceptable.
Such acts never lead to happiness,” he said, because they are
“intrinsically disordered,” meaning they are not directed to the bonds
of marriage and the goal of procreation that are “part of God’s design.
But having an inclination that is disordered does not in any way
diminish human worth.”
“All of us are damaged by original sin, and all of us have desires disordered in various ways,” he said.
I’m assuming that the bishop is not being disingenuous. Of course, the superficial reasonableness of the [UPDATE: last part of the] bishop’s statement is undermined when you remember that Bishop Serratelli’s very necessary (and true) concession that “[a]ll of us are damaged by original sin, and all of us have desires disordered in various ways” does not (according to the hiearchy) prevent some of “us” from being excluded from the Church’s ordained ministry. Apparently, not all disordered desires are created equal, or at least some disordered desires are more equal than others.
What is most interesting (at least to me) about Bishop Serratelli’s comment is that he seems blissfully unaware of any tension between the hiearchy’s words and actions on this score. Sure, the bishops frankly assert in their new document that homosexuality is not like race or gender and, therefore, that it is not “unjust” to treat homosexuals differently in certain respects, e.g., by denying the status of “marriage” to homosexual relationships. But refusing to recognize homosexual marriage is a far cry from discriminating against someone, considered as an individual, just because he falls within the category of persons with “deep seated homosexual tendencies.” What exactly does it mean to say that Christians should not discriminate against homosexuals, as the hierarchy has repeatedly asserted, if they can be denied access to the ministry, notwithstanding their willingness to live a life of celibacy and to tow the Church’s line on homosexual chastity? (I can understand why few gay Catholics would want to submit themselves to these conditions for admission to the priesthood, but I can’t understand how it is just to deny them the opportunity to do so, should they so choose.)
The hierarchy does not really seem eager to grapple with the apparent inconsistency of its statements (repeated again in this newest document) to the effect that everyone — the Church included — must respect the dignity of each individual, even those who have homosexual inclinations (or Bishop Serratelli’s statement that we are all disordered, after all), while at the same time treating homosexuals collectively, and by virtue of their possession of their particular “objective disorder,” as damaged goods not worthy of ordination. But the hierarchy’s failure to confront this issue head-on does us all a disservice, especially those of us who dissent from the Church’s entire approach to homosexuality. If there is some knock-down case for why these two positions are not, in the end, inconsistent with one another, wouldn’t we all be better off knowing what that is?
UPDATE: I modified the post above to make clear that I did not at all think that Bishop Serratelli’s off-hand comment that homosexuality never leads to happiness is at all reasonable. That appears to be an empirical assertion that is, at least in my own personal experience, almost certainly false. I know many perfectly happy homosexual men and women. to the extent that they have trouble being happy, it’s because of people (like some Bishops) who go out of their way to make it more difficult for gay people to have access to the resources, legal and otherwise, helpful for living normal and fulfilling lives. The idea that homosexual people would be MORE happy if they simply repressed their sexual orientation and lived celibate or, worse (for them), heterosexual lives strikes me as laughable.
UPDATE II: I am aware that the word “happiness” has a variety of meanings, particularly in the theological context. One comment below believes that Bishop Serratelli intended to use happiness in a strictly theological sense that is “something different than what Prof. Penalver, and most modern Western society does.” That is certainly possible, but it hardly seems like the only way to read his comments. After all, he is talking to USA Today. Why use a word in that context in a way different from the way “most of modern Western society” understands it? If his meaning were purely theological, there are a number of other technical terms he could have used to make his point (e.g., “flourishing”), terms that are often preferred in academic discussions to avoid precisely the ambiguity to which the comments are pointing. I’m happy to stipulate that if Bishop Serratelli meant the word “happiness” to mean something more like “flourishing,” then his comment is merely a restatement of the Church’s position that gay sex can never be virtuous. I would disagree with that too, but the point of disagreement would be a different one.