The National Catholic Review

The Los Angeles Times reports on a Mass offered for the twenty-fifth anniversary of a ministry program created by Cardinal Roger Mahony catering to those hit by the HIV crisis:

The [then] relatively new Roman Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles, Roger Mahony, spoke to an audience of gay and lesbian Catholics about the scourge that was racing through their community. He spoke of treating victims of HIV/AIDS with "dignity" and "respect" and called for the creation of outreach ministries to care for them and to foster "a spirit of community and fellowship among gay Catholics."

Those were not words gay Catholics were used to hearing.

"It was bold," Schaefer recalled Saturday night after singing at a Mass celebrating the 25th anniversary of the gay and lesbian ministry that Mahony established on Feb. 2, 1986. "I'm very grateful to Cardinal Mahony for doing that."

Much has changed in the intervening quarter century — and some things not at all.

Mahony is retired as archbishop. HIV infection is no longer an automatic death sentence. Society is far more tolerant of homosexuality. Same-sex marriage is legal in some states, a development that was scarcely imaginable in the mid-'80s. Some Christian denominations ordain clergy who live openly in same-sex relationships.

And the Catholic Church? Its position on homosexuality was clarified in October 1986 by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Homosexuality, he wrote in a letter to bishops, is an "objective disorder," and "a person engaging in homosexual behavior … acts immorally."

That is still official church policy. Unlike some evangelical churches, however, the Catholic Church acknowledges that some people are intrinsically gay, and its policy is to welcome them as members of the community — with the understanding that they should remain celibate.

That puts the gay and lesbian ministry, overseen by Father Chris Ponnet of the St. Camillus Pastoral Center, in a rather difficult position.

What struck me from this short article is the language used by Mahony 25 years ago when he spoke to "gay Catholics." Church leaders today seemingly do not use that kind of language; they tend speak about "homosexuals," but rarely engage in dialogue with "gay Catholics." Has the Church's language harshened over the past couple decades? Would a ministry such as the one profiled in the article get off the ground today?

Comments

Liam Richardson | 10/26/2011 - 2:48pm
Oh, we are coming up on the 25th anniversary of the Hallowe'en Letter....
Michael Barberi | 10/25/2011 - 8:47pm
The ministry to gay/lesbian Catholics is indeed problematic. Without arguing over complementality and other theories, I view the issue of "forced celibacy" as a teaching in contradiction.

Celibacy has been, and continues to be proclaimed by the Church as a special Gift from God that is bestowed upon the very few. Celibacy must be a free and voluntary choice as a requirement for the priesthood. Celibacy for married couples after children are had and no more are wanted for good reasons, must be a freely chosen act of chastity and love. However, in each of these cases celibacy can only be sustained through a special Gift from God which is bestowed upon the very few.

On the other hand, forced celibacy has never, and can never work. It cannot be imposed upon individuals by the Church. Even if all gay and lesbian individuals want to practice celibacy, the grace necessary to sustain this virtue is not, ipso facto, infused by God upon everyone. For this reason, forced celibacy is unreasonable and not an answer.

If being gay or lesbian is truely a "objective disorder" then the treatment for this pathology is not celibacy. If homoseuxal behavior is truely instrincially evil, then the pastoral solution to this so-called sin, is not celibacy either because celibacy cannot be sustained and what you end up with is an habitual sinner. This becomes the problematic. Read on.

Based on the law of graduation, habitual sinners such as those who practice contraception (97% of married women) must confess their sins to a priest before he will give them absolution. However, if you are a habitual sinner, it is foolish to confess your sin week after week in perpetuity. Hence, most do not. Thus, they ignore the confessional and receive Holy Communion each week.

Unfortunately
, the penitential law of graduation for habitual sinners, does not apply, in contradcition, to other habitual sinners such as homosexuals....or for that matter to divorced and remarried Catholics. If indiviiduals who practice "intrinsically evil" contraception can receive Holy Communion, based on their conscience, and priests who know 90% + of people who are standing in line each week to receive the Eucharist are practicing contraception, and they freely give them Holy Communion, why not give known homosexuals who practice illicit sex the Eucharist as well.

Until the inconsistency and contradicition of these theological and pastoral principles are resolved, forced celibacy will continue to be an unreasonable cross to bear and not the solution.
Bill Mazzella | 10/25/2011 - 5:04pm
The climate of the times now from 25 years ago is different. The backlash against the 60's and 70's was just getting some steam while the former liberals like Newhouse, Novak, Ratzinger (and even Mahoney) were not fixated into anti-everything that they believed in. It has been a reactive 25 years which has blown up in the restorationists face with the acts of criminality in the episcopate and Rome.