To mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights this past December, the European Union delegation to the United Nations, led by France, introduced a declaration condemning the criminalization of same-sex relations. Homosexual activity is illegal in over 80 countries, concentrated in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, with punishments ranging from imprisonment to torture, and in at least six countries, execution. Before this non-binding legislation was submitted, the Vatican officially objected, claiming that the declaration could harm traditional marriage by eventually being interpreted in a way that would call for the decriminalization of same-sex unions.
With this latest proclamation from the Vatican, it seems that gay and lesbian people are becoming ever more marginalized, and many of them feel that they are being pushed out of the Catholic Church.
During the past few years, some church leaders have used gay men as a scapegoat for the priest sex abuse scandal; claimed that humanity needed to be saved from homosexuality in the same way that the rainforest must be saved from destruction; spent millions of dollars to rescind civil marriage rights; and have tried to ally the church with Russia, China, Iran, and other infamous human-rights abusers by objecting to the anti-discrimination measure that may save lives.
There are millions of gay and lesbian Catholics in this country and around the world, and rather than seeing the church as a spiritual sanctuary, they often see the church instead as emblematic of the hostility that they face each day in their lives. Imagine the powerful message of Christ’s love for all people that would have been manifested had the Catholic representative to the UN supported the EU declaration. Imagine if instead of pouring millions of dollars into the fight against same-sex marriage, Catholics had spent that money to care for gay and lesbian teens made homeless by non-accepting families. The church is consistently a tireless advocate for human rights, unless, it now appears, those rights are to be extended to this increasingly marginalized group of people.
Indeed, the Catholic Church’s record on gay and lesbian issues has been such that even the smallest acts of charity would be interpreted as momentous gestures of love. The church has made clear its stance on the “objectively disordered” nature of gays and lesbians, while at the same time calling on Catholics to affirm their dignity and to treat them with love and respect. Imagine the possibilities for radical demonstrations of God’s love if the church spent more time and energy on the latter.
The anger and hurt that felt by gay and lesbian people in the church is very real and understandable. Yet if the church is willing to offer an embrace to these wounded people and their families, it can continue to be the authentic, worldwide advocate for the protection of human dignity.