Many years ago, as I walked back to the pew after receiving Communion, I saw the outline of Jorge kneeling in another pew, his head in his hands. ( I'm using a fake name to protect Jorge's identity. ) As Catholics often do when they see someone during Mass that they have not seen for while, I wordlessly tapped Jorge on the shoulder to say the silent hello. I was not prepared for the sight of his face. As Jorge looked up, his face was gaunt, and there were dark circles under his eyes that I had never seen before, not even the time he cried in front of me.
Several months prior to that, I drove Jorge back to his condo after Mass, where he finally opened up to me why he was refraining from receiving Communion: having recently had sex with men, he believed he was not in a state of grace, and therefore not worthy to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ. I challenged him to reconsider his self-imposed communion denial, but he would not budge: homosexual acts, not homosexual attractions, were a sin against God, and having sinned against God, he was, at least for the time being, not able to receive Communion, according to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
I was on the verge of ending our conversation, and motioning for him to get the heck out of my car, as I had heard enough of the right-wing Catholic claptrap. Then, out of the blue, Jorge told me about his deceased Cuban parents. His father, having learned of Jorge's homosexuality when he was a teenager, never mentioned the subject again, nor did it affect their relationship one way or another. The father was neither warm nor cold on the subject. His Cuban mother, on the other hand, was abundantly clear to her son when he told her of his sexuality as a teenager. She told him, "Jorge, you are my son, and I love you exactly as you are, and I am so proud of you."
And in that recounting of his mother's affection, this very handsome but now very depressed and gaunt 56-year-old Cuban man, began crying like a baby in the passenger seat of my car.
After the car episode with Jorge, I confronted a diocesan priest, as I have on way too many pointless occasion in my life, about what I firmly believe is the Catholic Church's morally absurd teaching on homosexuality. I told the priest that Jorge was denying himself Communion because of his homosexual relations. The priest, a totally self-confident liberal, told me to bring Jorge to him, and that he would set him straightnot over his sexuality of course, but over his misplaced feelings of guilt and shame for having sexual relations with men. When I asked this priest if he would publicly challenge the Catholic bishops about the absurdity of Catholic teaching on homosexuality, the answer was a no, but deftly delivered. Indeed, in the Roman Catholic Church, sometimes it's hard to discern whether some priests and consecrated religious are more devoted to their own pretensions of compassion than their own inner moral convictionsor even Catholic Church teaching itself.
As strongly as I disagree with conservative Catholics on the subject of homosexuality, I empathize with the burgeoning frustration that many of them are feeling and expressing in response to the document issued this week by the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family: The document is a tour de force of clerical manipulation, brimming with pretensions of compassion. For example, the document states:
"Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: 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. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?"
There are two forms of extreme moral and intellectual belittlement in this pretentious passage, the first of which is universal, and the second of which is particular to Catholics who try to live in accordance with the teachings of the Magisterium despite their same-sex attractions. The universal belittlement is the attempt to foist a patently illogical moral construct onto the consciences of all Catholics: namely, a construct that goes far beyond the traditional "love the sinner, hate the sin" construct by actually suggesting that the sexual desire which initiates the "sin" is something that can be "accepted and valued." It's a bit like telling a bank robber that his robbing of banks is fundamentally bad for his soul, but there nonetheless might be something purposeful to the community in his desire to put on a ski mask, enter a bank with a gun, and shout, "Everybody put your hands up!"
Such is an illogic that wouldn't pass the muster of a group of five-year-olds, and thus can only be considered a universal intellectual belittlement of all Catholics who actually value their brainsbe they liberal, conservative, or anywhere in between.
Arguably, however, the even more astonishing belittlement is the particular: namely, the belittlement of the faith lives of men and women who accept Catholic Church teaching against homosexuality, and who simultaneously struggle to conform their lives to the teachings of the church owing to their same-sex attractions, whether or not they personally identify as gay or homosexual. I've met many Catholic Jorges in my lifemen whose love for Jesus and the Catholic Church runs deep, and they are well beyond any doubts about God's love for them as His children.
For Pope Francis and this Synod of Bishops to intimate, as they certainly have in this Synod document, that these men need somehow to be cajoled, or emotionally coddled via saccahrine Vatican documents, into accepting Catholic Church teaching on homosexuality is a belittlement of their manhood and of their faith: these are men who have accepted church teaching on its face, and have also stared their own sexual desires in the face, and have offered their personal "yes" to church teaching over and above the fulfillment of their sexual desires. That they may sometimes falter in what they sincerely believe is the path to holiness does not make their belief in the primacy of Catholic Church teaching any less true, any less real.
As concerns gay Christians who do embrace their homosexuality, and yet who happen to be either fallen away Catholics or people of other traditions contemplating joining the Catholic Church, my concern is that they will be swayed by the highly misleading messages coming out of this Synod of Bishops on the Family: namely, that they will get the message that the Roman Catholic Church is somehow now a "safe place" for them to be who they are.
Well, if one's idea of a "safe place to be" is to be surrounded by priests and consecrated religious who show "mercy and compassion" simply so that they can lull you into a false sense of security with the ultimate aim of getting you to end your most intimate and meaningful relationshipsunder the banner of spiritual "gradualism"then, sadly, the Roman Catholic Church of 2014 might be a fit ... along with any number of religious cults the world over that practice similar forms of gradual brainwashing, but who don't happen to have a multibillion-dollar message apparatus at their disposal.
And this is why, though it may sound counterintuitive coming from a person who strongly believes in the sanctity of same-sex love and sexual expression, I sincerely hope the Catholic conservatives will ultimately win out in this latest showdown over homosexuality in the Catholic Church; they are the ones who are trying to save the Catholic Church from its most modern descent into the basic, axiomatic understanding of cultism: namely, the age-old phenomenon of narcissistic religious leaders whose psychological need to be glorified by others as the most loving, beneficent and merciful creatures on the planet runs so deep, and so long, that they will develop any program, employ any rhetorical manipulation, and contort logic to any degree, in order to achieve that self-serving end. In so doing, they not only sow mass moral confusion, they teach those under their sway that engaging in such manipulation is good and holy conduct.
No, such manipulation is not good and holy, and that they are now becoming all the more normative in the Catholic Church is deeply disconcerting.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that homosexual activity between consenting adults is a sinan offense to Godand at present, there is no major, and certainly no transparent, movement within the Catholic priesthood to change that fact. Believe you me, I deeply wish there was such a movement among Catholic priests and bishops, but there isn't. That's the reality.
Until such a movement emerges, it would be far better for Catholics who reject the notion that homosexual relationships are sinful to keep their eyes on the horizona time when there will be a movement to change core church teaching on homosexual actswhile staying true to the Sacred Heart of our Lord: A heart that surely wants us to build and grow authentic relationships of brotherhood and sisterhood with one another, however difficult, hurtful and exclusionary it may be at times, and to never descend into the cultish pit of human mental and emotional manipulation.
Timothy Villareal, a Miami-based writer, is a privately vowed Christian monk.