What Counts as "Unjust Discrimination"?

(This article is now featured in our collection of stories about Catholicism & Same-Sex Marriage)

Under the heading "You Shall Love Your Neighbor As Yourself," the Catechism of the Catholic Church considers homosexuality:

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.(CCC 2357-8)

Clear enough, though one could quibble that "tradition" could not have "always" considered same-sex sex acts as "intrinsically disordered," since that language, as far as I know, originated with the scholastics, more than half-way into the Church's history. But I digress...

Over in Kansas City, Colleen Simon, pastoral associate at St. Francis Xavier parish, manages the food pantry that feeds 70 families a month. A few blocks away, Rev. Donna Simon, pastor of St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church, is also helping to revitalize the neighborhood

St. Mark now leads or supports ministries such as an orchard at 33rd and Forest and the Bus Stop Ministry where drinks, snacks and warm clothes are distributed weekly at the city’s second-busiest MAX transfer point at 39th and Troost.

The church houses organizations such as the Workers Organizing Committee Kansas City, which fights low pay for fast-food workers, and the Traditional Music Society, which promotes community cohesiveness through dance and music.

These good works, and those of others, are making a difference on the poorer side of Troost Ave., though "even today, the average child born west of Troost will live 16 years longer than a baby born in a neighboring ZIP code east of Troost."

Colleen Simon is married to Rev. Donna Simon. She kept what the Kansas CIty Star called a "don't ask, don't flaunt" attutude, though she was up-front about her marriage.

She said she told the pastor who hired her in July 2013 (he is no longer at the parish) of her marriage. But day to day, she avoided pronouns that would highlight it, substituting “my spouse” or “my beloved.”

Clearly, she had to go. Only a few weeks after the publication of the Kansas City Star piece describing their work, the diocese, headed by Bishop Robert Finn, insisted that she be fired. (The diocese has declined to comment.) 

Meanwhile, over at America Magazine, Rev. James Martin asks: "why do so many gay people say they feel hatred from members of the church?" He contrasts the nearly reflexive linking of gay identity to sin with Jesus' attitude toward Zaccheus the tax collector, whom Jesus simply loved. He concludes:

What might it mean for the church to love gays and lesbians more deeply? First, it would mean listening to their experiences—all their experiences, what their lives are like as a whole. Second, it would mean valuing their contributions to the church. Where would our church be without gays and lesbians—as music ministers, pastoral ministers, teachers, clergy and religious, hospital chaplains and directors of religious education? Infinitely poorer. Finally, it would mean publicly acknowledging their individual contributions: that is, saying that a particular gay Catholic has made a difference in our parish, our school, our diocese. This would help remind people that they are an important part of the body of Christ. Love means listening and respecting, but before that it means admitting that the person exists.

Francis DeBernardo at the New Ways Ministry blog agrees that it's time for LGBT people to be truly welcomed by the Church, not as "a special category of sinners, but, because they are, like most people, average, garden-variety sinners." He notes: 

for the past two years we have been witnessing dismissals of LGBT people from church employment, a total devaluing of their gifts and personhood.  Yes, this type of welcome is urgently needed, not just for a positive message, but to correct the terribly negative message that firings have sent.

It’s important, too, that LGBT people’s spiritual gifts are also acknowledged and affirmed. The particular journeys that LGBT people go on to accept, affirm, and announce their identities to others often results in incredible spiritual gifts that are not as readily attained by others.  For instance, their journeys often provide them with a strong sense about telling the truth, a deep reservoir of courage to  stand up to fear and rejection, a profound sense of God’s love, and a new respect for the primacy of their consciences. Amazing gifts that they can offer to the rest of the church!

Amen. I'd add also that listening to LGBT people might include being open to the possibility that language like "grave depravity," "intrinsic disorder," "objective disorder" and the like is in need of revision and rejection. It seems to be utterly unjust to apply such harsh and hurtful language to two women who love each other deeply and share also a profound commitment to service of the poor. They set a standard for love of neighbor that all of us--gay, straight, or whatever--would do well to emulate. 

 

Lisa Fullam is professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).

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