Can the Catholic Church handle its queer history?

Can the Catholic Church handle its queer history?
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Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of love [i.e., children]. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

–Roman Catholic Church Catechism 2357

So if the Roman Catholic Church declares that “homosexual acts are acts of grave depravity” and “are intrinsically disordered” and therefore, “[u]nder no circumstances can they be approved,” then how will Church officials and laypeople alike counter the cognitive dissonance aroused by Jesuit priest, Father James Martin SJ based in New York City, who announced this past April on his Facebook page when referring to Catholic saints: “Some of them were probably gay. A certain percentage of humanity is gay, and so were most likely some of the saints. You may be surprised when you get to heaven to be greeted by LGBT men and women.”

While others both inside and outside the Church have made similar claims in the past, what makes Fr. Martin’s assertion particularly notable is that he currently serves as the Vatican’s officially-appointed consultant on LGBTQ issues, who has ignited a virtual firestorm among the flock.

The Church can square the good Father’s statement in several ways. The most obvious way is to clarify that Fr. Martin does not maintain that these supposed “gay saints” engaged in “homosexual acts.”

According to Catechism 2359:

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

In this regard, Pope Francis wrote on the archdiocesan website, July 1, 2016:

Those with predominant same-sex attractions are therefore called to struggle to live chastely for the kingdom of God. In this endeavor they have need of support, friendship and understanding if they fail. They should be counseled, like everyone else, to have frequent recourse to the Sacrament of Penance, where they should be treated with gentleness and compassion.

As written in Catechism 2358:

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. 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.

How can one seriously reconcile the Church’s paradox, though, by labeling us as “objectively disordered” on one hand while calling for acceptance “with respect, compassion, and sensitivity”?

As historians know only too well, the times and cultures in which the saints lived severely condemned and criminalized same-sex sexuality with penalties ranging from social ostracism, to flogging, incarceration, and death. The Church itself also inflicted many of these penalties on the accused in addition to excommunication and defrocking.

Therefore, the sexual histories of people who lived before the modern era are sparse and incomplete at best. In addition, our lives, stories, and overall histories have been intentionally hidden by socially-dominant individuals, groups, and institutions through neglect, deletions, erasures, omissions, bans, censorship, distortions, alterations, trivializations, the changing of pronouns signifying gender, and by other means.

Not only have people speculated about the sexual activities of the saints, but also about the Popes as well, including the homosexual or bisexual expressions of Pope Paul II (1464-1471) and Pope Julius II (1503-1513).

In his Facebook messages, Fr. James Martin also opined on the maltreatment of trans people:  “It saddens me that a #trans student cannot choose what bathrooms to use. A basic need. It’s an affront to their dignity as human beings.”

In this short and frank statement, Fr. Martin challenges his Church’s longstanding history of oppression against gender nonconformity. The Catholic Church, as one religious institution, has wronged and at times murdered those who have advanced beliefs that ran contrary to Church “teachings.”

Joan of Arc, the teenager who helped defeat the English in her native France, became one of the greatest war heroes in French history. In spite of this, the Catholic Church tried Joan on the charge of heresy for rejecting Church authority in preference for direct inspiration from God, and, more importantly, by donning men’s clothing. Joan died by burning at the stake.

The Vatican hierarchy recently fenced off Alex Salinas, a 21-year-old transman from Cadiz, Spain, by informing him that it had denied his request to become the godparent of his nephew because a transgender identity is incongruent with Catholic teaching.

According to the Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, its doctrine-enforcing agency, transgender status “reveals in a public way an attitude opposite to the moral imperative of solving the problem of sexual identity according to the truth of one’s own sexuality. Therefore, it is evident that this person does not possess the requirement of leading a life according to the faith and in the position of godfather and is therefore unable to be admitted to the position of godfather or godmother.”

The Church’s conflation of sexual identity with gender identity and expression in this statement betrays not only a prejudiced sentiment but also a clear misunderstanding of the realities of real human beings’ lived experiences.

Additionally, in his April 2016 letter focusing on marriage and the family titled Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), Pope Francis sternly warned against gender transition procedures when he stressed that “conditioning children into believing a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse.”

So, I restate my initial question: How will Church officials and laypeople alike counter the cognitive dissonance aroused by Father James Martin’s Facebook claims?

Some options specifically for the Church include: ignore the Father’s statements, dismiss them as unsubstantiated and unproveable, dismiss Fr. Martin from his role as Church consultant on LGBTQ issues, defrock him on charges of heresy.

On the other hand, the Church can conduct further historical investigations into the content of Fr. Martin’s assertions (though historians most assuredly have sufficient documentation to generally substantiate his claims). Or, the Church can state unequivocally that the Father’s statements ring true.

What, though, would be the consequences of the Church “coming out” and setting their doctrine not-so-straight? What would be the consequences of the Church altering its dogma related to human sexuality and gender? Basically, the house of cards on which Church teaching rests would fall crashing down.

First, since the Catechism defines homosexual expression as “intrinsically disordered,” and if the Church concedes that some saints did, in fact, engage in same-sex sexuality, does this mean that they too were intrinsically disordered? If so, what does this say about the divine sanctity of the saints? Is not at least a segment of the foundation on which the qualifications for determining the saints undermined?

And what does this say to other religions, since there is often a synergistic relationship between religions, and especially between denominations within similar religious traditions?

If the Catholic Church wavers on its past condemnations related to the expression of same-sex sexuality and gender identity, might this call into question, for example, the Southern Baptist Convention’s conclusion that “Homosexual behavior is intrinsically disordered and sinful,” or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ determination that “Homosexual behavior violates the commandments of God, [and] is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality…”?

In addition, would other cards in the house of the Roman Catholic Church fall from its patriarchal rafters if it finally reevaluates its oppressive gender hierarchy that denies ordination and full equality to women?

And what about its conclusion that no man supposedly had anything to do with the conception of the historical figure of Jesus according to its own teachings? How can the Church continue to justify its patriarchal tyranny, which it has done all these many centuries?

Father Martin evokes so many intrinsically ordered questions within his stunning message to his Facebook friends. Stay tuned for the transpiring dialogue.

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