What’s wrong with this picture?
Woe to those Catholic households where, despite the best-laid plans for coordinated indoctrination, a child confesses having “homosexual inclinations.” A mother known to me, let us call her Gloria, had a son of seventeen who confessed to such inclinations. Upon hearing this, Gloria passed through many stages of grief.
First, angry denials: “No child of mine could possibly be gay!” And threats: “Remember your teaching, son. Sexual sins are always mortal. Repent and confess them to a priest or, God forbid, you will go straight to hell.”
Second, there comes bargaining with God: “God, how could you have permitted this? I have been a faithful believer and have supported your true Church all my life. What must I do to get this unwanted sickness in my child’s life reversed?”
Thirdly, some months down the line after Gloria’s ceaseless prayers and novenas did not get the miracle she wanted, self-doubt emerges: “Where did I go wrong? Or my husband? Or his teachers?”
Then, her son leaves home and travels over a thousand miles away: “For the first time, I can breathe freely without my mother continually hounding me and prying into every aspect of my private life.”
With her son’s absence, Gloria becomes emotionally fragile. She breaks down in tears multiple times every day and, invariably, whenever anyone asks about her son. She seeks therapy.
Then she unexpectedly finds great solace in a support group of parents of homosexual children. For the first time, she hears from parents who have arrived at the point where they accept the sexual orientation of their children. She is horrified initially, but then she comes to realize that this acceptance enables parents to return to a supportive relationship with their children after a horrible period filled with harsh judgments and heart-breaking estrangement.
As a result of this realization, Gloria begins to avoid her parish priest entirely because she no longer wants to hear “any judgments he might have regarding the conduct of her son.”[i] Gloria gradually stops going to her parish church entirely because she cannot tolerate the “self-righteous pity” expressed by certain “busy-bodies who are praying for Tony’s (not his real name) conversion and return to the Church.”
Tony writes a letter of a few pages each month. At the end of three years, he writes a long letter describing how he met Joe, “a courageous and sensitive young man,” and how, over the course of time, they gradually became great friends. Then Tony describes how they gradually became lovers and how they finally “pledged their undying love to each other.” Then, for the first time in years, Tony acknowledges that he sorely misses his mother and, “if and only if she would agree to accept him as gay and to bless the love he has for Joe” then both of them would want to explore how they might visit for a few days right after Christmas.
Gloria is ecstatic!
At this point, Gloria tells me that she is ready to accept her son “just as God created him, no more and no less.” This readiness came from her association with members of her parents support group. As she became more and more at ease with their positive assessment of homosexuality, she at the same time became resentful of how the teachings of the Catholic Church had pitted her against her own son.
“Even before his leaving,” she said, “I should have been blessing him every day and assuring him that I will be there for him in whatever path God calls him—whether as a gay or as a straight.” To this very day, she cannot understand how “bishops and priests teach us that loving our Creator and loving our neighbor are the heart of Jesus’ message and then, twisting this beautiful message, they go and teach my son that his deepest desires for intimacy are ‘disordered’ and that lovemaking between same-sex partners is always[ii] a mortal sin.” In fact, she tells those who sympathetically hear her whole story that “those parents [in her support group] who seldom went to church taught me more about the depth of God’s love than all those Catholics who went to church every Sunday and firmly believed that Tony was destined for an eternity in hell.”
[i] At this point, Gloria completely distanced herself from the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding homosexuals. In fact, she deeply resents the fact that her parish priest had set her against her son’s homosexuality and against any same-sex union that he might try to make for himself.
[ii] While some moral theologians sometimes say that sins against the sixth and ninth commandments deal with “serious matter” and, accordingly, infractions result in a mortal sin. Even in classical moral theology, however, the conditions for committing a mortal sin always require, subjectively, that the person “recognizes the seriousness of the matter and then goes ahead and does it anyway.” In the case of homosexual acts, however, even Cardinal Ratzinger acknowledges that those naturally inclined to such sex acts are less culpable than those who are heterosexuals who do the same thing while they are emotionally repulsed by the act.
Furthermore, when two women use sex to express and celebrate their mutual love, they frequently do not see this as sinful at all. In fact, they often engage in sex because they judge what they are doing as “lovemaking” and experience their mutual sex as a “source of grace.” Cardinal Ratzinger would intervene here saying that, due to the fact that the procreative aspect of sexuality is missing, there must always be a degree of moral guilt. Such a judgment, however, would follow from Ratzinger’s essentialist thinking and his attempt to take a rule used to evaluate heterosexual acts and to apply it indiscriminately to homosexual acts. Furthermore, even in the case of a venial sin, one must judge the action as a minor deviation from what God expects. Something which is regarded as a “virtuous deed” cannot subjectively be “a sin” at all. Here again Ratzinger’s disordered thoughts on homosexuality bring him to conclusions which conflict with classical moral theology.