Archbishop John F. Noll created Our Sunday Visitor to respond to attacks against the Church from outside groups. Unfortunately, 105 years later, we are finding similar attacks taking place within our own ranks.
We have spoken out before in this space against assaults on organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, the humanitarian arm of the U.S. bishops that serves millions of people around the world. More recently, personal attacks have taken place against Father Jim Martin, the well-known Jesuit writer, whose book “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity” was released this spring.
There is no room for vitriol among the body of Christ. If we allow ourselves to speak with contempt toward one another, what kind of witness are we offering to non-Catholics?
This recent tension is a manifestation of how divided the Church is on how to approach the issue of homosexuality and how to respond to those who are same-sex attracted. This has not been a strong area for the Church. Poor catechesis and formation on this topic have left most Catholics unable to articulate what the Church teaches and why. Adding to that is a general disinclination by Catholics to engage such a sensitive and challenging topic. Who wants to be dismissed caustically as bigoted and uninformed, as happens so often? Apostolates such as Courage and Encourage have provided strong, helpful, individual support for those with same-sex attraction and their families, but — understandably — have not been as focused on catechizing other Catholics.
Because the Church has struggled to catechize effectively on this topic — both our call to the truth of the teaching and our call to charitable treatment of the individual — gaps have opened in our discourse. Father Martin’s increasingly focused ministry has helped to fill this space, but we would encourage Father Martin, who is widely respected by many, to take the time to clearly state what the Church teaches on the topic. His large and very active social media platform offers an ideal place for such a conversation that has great potential to be rich and rewarding.
The conversation should begin here: While the Church teaches that homosexual desires are “disordered” — that is, outside the order of nature — people who experience such desires “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2358). The Catechism goes on: “These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”
This carrying of the cross is no easy task. Nor is it one that is limited to persons struggling with same-sex attraction. Ask any couple struggling with natural family planning, or anyone who carries the deep regret of a past abortion, or myriad other examples. Great freedom is to be found in Christ’s truth and great joy in sharing it with others.
Father Martin is correct that dialogue is an important first step to engaging with individuals on difficult topics, and we have repeatedly championed the importance of such dialogue. Without engaging the thoughts and feelings of others, we get nowhere. But we must remember that the end game is not just a conversation — even a long one, over time. The end game is to gain eternal life with Jesus in heaven, and to bring as many souls as possible along with us.