13 October 2014, The Tablet

From the synod, a sea change in Church’s discourse on gays

by Mark Dowd

I have never thought being gay was unnatural. I came out to my parents unwittingly at the age of 13 when they heard me utter the name of a strikingly attractive boy at school in a dream. What could be more “natural” than that? I have also undergone the experience of same-sex love, yes both platonic and not so platonic and I don’t think I’m deceiving myself to say that these have been rare moments of grace, or encounter – a call to live beyond myself, to embrace the “other”.

That has been my lived experience. Yet for decades my Church has labelled such love as “objectively disordered”. And not just sexual acts, but even the orientation has been labelled flawed because it has the potential to lead to physical behaviour which is not open to procreation and therefore not part of God’s plan.

Now, today’s revelation of sections 50-52 of the relatio document – the report issued halfway through the bishops’ Synod on the Family in Rome – herald a sea-change. No, it’s not the final destination, because my love is still not deemed equal in dignity, I am denied equality in marriage and gay unions still present “moral problems,” but it is as if the Synod has nervously stepped onto a conveyor belt – and it is not quite sure where it will take them.

Gone is the language of disorder, as though Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Catholics were merely defective heterosexuals. Banished is all the talk of “doing violence to children” through gay adoption. Instead, we have the following;

“ Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home.”

You don’t have to be a genius to conclude that this is tantamount to a confession: that we have very often been denied such fraternity and welcome. But this brings with it the call towards a new visibility and openness for LGBT Catholics in the life of the Church.

This is why I have never “left” or lost my Catholic faith, because if being gay is a simple natural minority variant of the human condition, then it means the Church still needs LGBT women and men to discover and pay witness to the full truth of the rich, pluralistic variety at the heart of God’s creation.

Instead of trying to cram us all into an a priori model, there is enough in these three short paragraphs to suggest that Pope Francis’ insistence that clergy listen to their hurting flocks may produce considerable results. Plato with his abstract worldview may have lost and the more observational Aristotle may have won – if the upshot of these statements is that the Church will be less keen to force us into an ill-fitting straitjacket and relax enough to study creation and ask, is this actually part of God’s rich plan?

If the answer to that is “yes,” then this could be the start of a long and interesting journey ahead.

That of course is the fear of our opponents. “Give them an inch and they will not stop until they have got want they want.” On the other hand, lapsed LGBT Catholics will see this as, at best, a half way house, grudging words that gay couples do have some merits, even if as far as the Church is concerned, they can never marry.

But this has always been about the long game. What’s at stake is nothing less than the truth. And at last, I think the Magisterium is now curious and less fearful to learn that truth. That conveyor belt may yet take us all to some interesting and surprising places.

Mark Dowd is a writer and broadcaster and the former chairman of the gay Catholic group Quest

What do you think?


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User comments (4)

Comment by: robinmolieres
Posted: 17/10/2014 07:14:18
It’s just not possible to measure the depth and breadth of the love of God or the effects of God’s grace on our world. We can, however, begin to appreciate the power of love and grace by noting and giving thanks for the little miracles we come across in daily life. Among the many that could be listed are the faithfulness of marginalized Catholics like Mark Dowd to a Church which has let them known, through its disciplines and practice, that they are not wanted.
Scripture (selected passages), Tradition and the Magisterium are often used to maintain the status quo and the dominance of a male, heterosexual institution. Holding the line and battening down the hatches is not the style of the Holy Spirit which has, from the beginning, hovered freely over the waters, seeking to draw order out of chaos, and illumine our darkness.
The Church is the Pilgrim People, the Body of Christ. It is Us and it is Ours, not by virtue of anything we have done, but through the grace of God poured out in Baptism which made all of us priests, prophets and kings and the children of one Father. The Holy Spirit moves through the lives of us all, regardless of our canonical credentials, and will not be frustrated by the frightened and powerful who seek to stifle a deepening of understanding of the nature of God and humanity. The Spirit even prompts those beyond the Church and those people who might be considered to have no faith but who seek the Truth with an open and sincere heart. The Church should never dismiss or disregard truths found by the wider society.
Things change, including the teaching of the Church. That is not to say that old laws should be overturned at a whim. As our understanding of ourselves in relation to God and one another changes, so the need to adhere to old conventions also changes. While Leviticus demands we stone adulterers, and avoid eating shellfish and wearing mixed fabrics, the Church has decided that these laws, along with many of the proscriptions of St Paul, need no longer underpin our lives today. Current teaching on marriage is the result of an evolutionary process from the time of Abraham to the present day and its development continues; it is not immutable, never has been and never should be. Even within the context of Tradition with a big “T” there is room for a deepening of understanding and change. For example, the Church’s teaching on abortion and slavery hasn’t always held what we hold today. Even the divinity of Christ was a contentious matter in the patristic period.
It is quite extraordinary that gay men and women, and married people who have suffered the trauma of marital breakdown and divorce should continue seek communion with those good Catholics who are so quick to condemn from the comfort of their well-ordered lives. Given the unbelievable burdens imposed upon us by our Church, the fidelity of divorced Catholics and gay and lesbian Catholics to their personal relationship with Christ is the truest witness to the love of God in our broken world. Either that or the wildest folly.
Comment by: Vincent Couling
Posted: 14/10/2014 14:15:53

St Augustine: “The writings of bishops may be refuted both by the perhaps wiser words of anyone more experienced in the matter and by the weightier authority and more scholarly prudence of other bishops, and also by councils, if something in them perhaps has deviated from the truth; even councils held in particular regions or provinces must without quibbling give way to the authority of plenary councils of the whole Christian world; and even the earlier plenary councils are often corrected by later ones, if as a result of practical experience something that was closed is opened, something that was hidden becomes known.”

Comment by: Vincent Couling
Posted: 14/10/2014 14:15:02

Dear Bob,

Should we blindly accept all aspects of Scripture, Tradition and Magisterial teaching?

Joseph Ratzinger: “Not every tradition that arises in the Church is a true celebration and keeping present of the mystery of Christ. There is a distorting, as well as legitimate, tradition … Consequently tradition must not be considered only affirmatively but also critically.”

The Pontifical Biblical Commission's “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church”: “Fundamentalism also places undue stress upon the inerrancy of certain details in the biblical texts … . A non-critical reading of certain texts of the Bible serves to reinforce political ideas and social attitudes that are marked by prejudices … quite contrary to the Christian Gospel. The fundamentalist approach is dangerous, for it is attractive to people who look to the Bible for ready answers to the problems of life. It can deceive these people, offering them interpretations that are pious but illusory … fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide. It injects into life a false certitude, for it unwittingly confuses the divine substance of the biblical message with what are in fact its human limitations.”

Comment by: Bob Hayes
Posted: 14/10/2014 00:45:56

In this article Mark Dowd exhibits a common trait amongst those who do not accept aspects of Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterial teaching of the Church. He refers to 'my Church', seemingly oblivious to the fact that Holy Mother Church is neither his, nor mine, nor 'ours'. The Church is not some sort of representative assembly open to policy proposals from the 'membership'.

To his credit Mr Dowd is honest about his objectives stating in the final paragraph, 'But this has always been about the long game. What’s at stake is nothing less than the truth'. He wishes to see the triumph of the LGBT 'truth' over the teachings of Our Saviour, St Paul and the Magisterium of the Church down the centuries. Does he propose removing so-called 'homophobic' texts from Scripture?

The Church is the Bride of Christ and we - all God's people - are called to be members. In answering that call we must daily strive to live our lives according to the Scriptures and teachings of the Church - not try to make the Church conform to our individual desires.

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