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