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Double Standards and Unjust Discrimination
Nathan Turowsky just wrote an excellent article for Where Peter Is titled, “Double Standards, Hyper-Suspicion, and Sexuality As Idol.” He began with this observation about how gay men and women are often viewed in the Church:
“There is often a double standard in many Catholic spaces in how gay and straight Catholics are perceived to engage in sexual sin. Many commentators seem to treat being or identifying as gay as being inherently unchaste or as presenting a uniquely strong or even insurmountable obstacle to chastity. Chastity itself then becomes the sole virtue of importance when discussing or interacting with gay Catholics. The perception that this creates is that lacking or not cultivating this virtue is the overriding problem for gay people, something that is not widely believed about practically any subset of straight Catholics.”
I recently spoke with Eve Tushnet about the suspicion and spiritual abuse that gay Catholics regularly experience in the Church. It’s not uncommon for Catholics to hear that gay sins are somehow worse that straight sins, to be given the impression that gay men and women are extra depraved, or to be taught that homosexuality is a psychological pathology.
In Eve Tusnet’s book, “Tenderness: A Gay Christian’s Guide to Unlearning Rejection and Experiencing God's Extravagant Love,” she writes:
“God offers himself and his ardent love to his gay children, and he offers us as gifts to our churches and loved ones—but Christians have made it unnecessarily hard for gay people to trust in God’s tenderness. Thus, even—especially—gay people who grew up loving God often need to rediscover him, uncovering his hidden, tender face.”
Echoing that sentiment, Nathan said in his article:
“One would expect people subjected to the level of suspicion described above to be stressed, hypersensitive, and lonely. Indeed, many gay Catholics are, sometimes for sex-related reasons but other times for other reasons like addiction, money headaches, run-ins with the law, or difficult relationships with friends and family. There are other gay Catholics, however, who are remarkably breezy and self-confident, especially considering their precarious positions within both the Church and the LGBT community. Some gay Catholics are sexually chaste, others are not but make frequent recourse to the confessional or decline to present themselves for communion, and still others interact with the Church and the sacraments as if their sexual behaviors do not present a moral problem.”
Then he goes on to say:
“The astute reader will have noticed, by now, that almost every word of this describes straight Catholics as well…Some make an idol of sex, to be sure, but so do some—many—straight Catholics.
The pointedly and enormously different treatment deployed against these two forms of the sex idol needs to stop, because it is warping Catholic culture into a shame-based minefield that encourages baseless censure and hyper-suspicion of others. If Catholics keep doing this, they are going to keep driving away earnest, God-fearing people, boxing them into impossible positions from which the only possible avenues of escape are giving up on their faith or forcing themselves into a level of self-annihilation that almost nobody would think it reasonable to demand of any other broad category of Catholic believer.”
To treat gay men and women with extra suspicion is a prime example of the “unjust discrimination” that the Catechism not only condemns, but goes so far as to say that “every sign” of such discrimination needs to be avoided (CCC 2358).
I think Pope Francis is taking steps to undermine this unjust discrimination in the Church.
Speaking to the British comedian Stephen K. Amos in 2019, Francis said:
“Giving more importance to the adjective [gay] rather than the noun [man], this is not good. We are all human beings and have dignity. It does not matter who you are, or how you live your life – you do not lose your dignity. There are people that prefer to select or discard people because of the adjective. These people don’t have a human heart.”
Then a couple of months ago, in a letter he wrote to “Outreach” clarifying some comments he made about homosexuality in an earlier interview, the Holy Father said (referring to homosexual sexual activity):
“When I said it is a sin, I was simply referring to Catholic moral teaching, which says that every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin. Of course, one must also consider the circumstances, which may decrease or eliminate fault. As you can see, I was repeating something in general. I should have said ‘It is a sin, as is any sexual act outside of marriage.’ This is to speak of “the matter” of sin, but we know well that Catholic morality not only takes into consideration the matter, but also evaluates freedom and intention; and this, for every kind of sin.”
The pope is clear here that homosexual sins aren’t particular evil or horrible, but are sins like “any sexual act outside of marriage.”
This is also present in the CDF’s 2021 document prohibiting ministers from blessing same-sex unions. That document said “it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage…as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex.”
Again, gay sins are not understood to be any worse or different from straight sins. The CDF document went to say, just like in opposite-sex sexual relationships outside of marriage, that there can be “positive elements” in that relationship “which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated.”
A former pastor of mine wrote a booklet for his parishioners several years ago about the Church's teaching on homosexuality. At one point he addressed the community and challenged them to stop being suspicious of their gay brothers and sisters. He said:
"We owe our homosexual brothers and sisters, with whom we share Catholic Faith, the unqualified assumption that they are committed to, and are striving to order their lives by the Word of God and the teaching of the Church – at least as much as we are, if not more. In the Church, Christ gives us to each other, both in our commitment of Faith and in our striving to live it, not as objects of mistrust, but as a source of inspiration and encouragement. As we see God’s grace at work in transforming others, we come to renewed confidence that grace will work successfully to the redemption and transformation of our own lives. We receive each other and the work of God’s grace in us as a gift – with joy and appreciation."
May God purify his Church, and my heart, from double standards, unjust discrimination, and suspicion of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.