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BY BISHOP THOMAS J. TOBIN
Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel! (I Cor 9:16)
“When our grandson was sixteen, he announced that he liked boys, not girls.” That’s the rather startling statement contained in a letter I received recently, a letter written in response to some stories in the “Rhode Island Catholic” explaining the Church’s firm opposition to so-called “gay marriage.”
The gist of the letter, however, is found in this paragraph: “Many men and women could not find themselves in love with a person of the same sex unless God made them that way. What is very serious is the attitude of disapproval and even violence that is often extended to gays. We are called to love everyone and not to be judgmental. When Church leaders speak out, it gives silent permission to others not to love gays.”
Whether homosexuality is the result of biology or culture, nature or nurture – or a combination of both – is still a hotly debated question. It will be resolved someday (perhaps) by medical experts and social scientists. The question is well beyond the scope of this column. In any event, however, the origin of homosexuality is ultimately irrelevant to determining the objective morality of homosexual acts – which the Christian Church has long condemned as seriously sinful.
But the letter I received points to a broader dilemma for the Church, a dilemma the Church faces just about everyday as she navigates her way through the trials and turmoil of the contemporary world. The question is this: How does the Church preach the truth of the Gospel without harming or alienating people whose lives are touched by those issues?
For example, how does the Church preach about the immoral nature of homosexual acts without alienating persons with a homosexual orientation?
How does the Church speak about the sin of abortion without wounding women who have had the abortions, sometimes under mitigating circumstances?
How does the Church explain the destructive nature of embryonic stem cell research without seeming callous to folks who are looking to that flawed technology for a cure to disabling accidents or debilitating illness?
How does the Church promote Christ’s teaching regarding the sanctity and permanence of holy matrimony without hurting those who have been through painful separations and divorces?
It’s quite a challenge for the contemporary Church.
In responding to the letter mentioned above, I tried to explain that while the Church has insisted that homosexual acts are immoral, it has been equally clear that persecution of people with a homosexual orientation is totally repugnant. I pointed to the Catechism of the Catholic Church that says: “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” I recalled words I’ve personally written on several occasions: “Hatred, persecution, prejudice and ridicule of homosexuals is a grave sin and must always be treated as such.”
The point is that the Church teaches the immorality of certain actions, first of all, because they are intrinsically wrong – contrary to the natural law and God’s will – and followers of Christ who are commissioned to be “the salt of the earth and the light of the world,” have an obligation to apply the Gospel of Christ and the tenets of our faith to these issues. “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel,” St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians. And indeed, woe to us if we shirk our responsibility to preach and live the Gospel.
In addition, however, we preach the truth of the Gospel with such insistence precisely because we love other people, including those involved in these morally challenging situations. That means, then, that the preaching of the truth must always be infused with love, a gentle and compassionate love.
What parent, because they love their children, does not teach them about right and wrong, challenge their harmful behavior, and encourage them to live a better, more Christ-like life?
In its ground-breaking 1997 message to parents of homosexual children, “Always Our Children,” the Bishops of the United States wrote, “Our message speaks of . . . accepting and loving your child as a gift of God; and accepting the full truth of God’s revelation about the dignity of the human person and the meaning of human sexuality. Within the Catholic moral vision, there is no contradiction among these levels of acceptance, for truth and love are not opposed. They are inseparably joined and rooted in one person, Jesus Christ.”
As I wrote to my correspondent, the fact that the Church has love and respect for homosexual persons does not mean that we can ignore the immorality of homosexual acts or the homosexual culture. Nor does our respect for homosexual persons mean that we should sit back silently while a highly-organized political movement seeks to hijack the institution of holy matrimony and change its definition as a union of man and woman – a definition that comes from God and has existed from the beginning of mankind.
You see, we speak about the immorality of homosexual acts and culture, not because we disdain persons of that orientation, but rather because we love and respect them; because we want them to embrace a better and more life-giving path; and because we want them to do what is good and holy in the sight of God. And what parent or grandparent would ever do less?