Reaching Out From the Cross: Some Catholic Reflections on Orlando

jesus2In the wake of the massacre that took place in Orlando last weekend, a torrent of opinion has issued forth from every conceivable perspective. Among these, several unusually perceptive voices have risen to the top, peeling back the layers of emotion and grief and navigating the cultural outrage to provide a Catholic — that is to say authentic — insight into what transpired, and where we go from here.

At First Things, deputy editor Elliot Milco responds to the criticisms that Fr. James Martin, SJ leveled at the the Catholic bishops and their reaction to the tragedy. Writes Milco, “In his video, Fr. Martin expresses his dismay over the responses of the American Catholic bishops, not because the bishops failed to express sorrow, outrage, and solidarity with those suffering, but because they did not (except for Chicago’s Blaise Cupich) direct their condolences explicitly to the LGBT community.”

Martin’s criticism, says Milco, is that what the bishops did do wasn’t done with sufficient specificity, inasmuch as they identified only victims, or the citizens of Orlando, but not the “identity group” that suffered the attack. Milco then drills down:

[H]ere’s the rub: The Catholic Church and the LGBT Community have divergent understandings of human nature, personal identity, the proper use of bodies, and the requirements for happiness. As Fr. Martin rightly points out, Catholics treat the LGBT Community as “other”—not because the Church wishes to exclude members of the LGBT Community from the mercy of Christ, induction into the Church, or eventual participation in the Sacraments (on the contrary, this is one of our great hopes), but because the beliefs, practices, politics, and morals proposed by the LGBT Community as an ideological bloc are fundamentally inimical to the primary end of man.

Those on the other side recognize the divide perfectly well. This is why defenders of traditional family structure are eo ipso “bigots” in their eyes. It’s why dissent from the political demands of Gender Ideology and its current linguistic usages is so severely punished. What, then, is Fr. Martin asking for when he chides the bishops for not expressing solidarity with the LGBT Community, or with “our LGBT brothers and sisters,” as Archbishop Cupich expressed it? He’s asking, whether or not he realizes it, for the bishops to recognize and tacitly endorse the sexual identities promoted by the LGBT Community—identities bound up fundamentally with the gender ideology promoted by the Community.

This, of course, would be deeply misleading on the part of the bishops, since the Church cannot endorse this ideology. It would also be an evangelical failure, and a failure of charity. The mission of the Church with respect to the LGBT Community is to oppose the fetishization of gender identity. The bishops’ duty is to tell LGBT people that they are known and loved as more than just exemplars of a sexual type.

In his own observance, “ex-gay” Catholic writer Joseph Sciambra (see my recent podcast with him here) tackles capitulation to identity branding itself as a failure of Catholic leadership:

[S]ome in the Church, like the Bishop from Florida, continue to make the same mistakes of the past, by constantly referring to us as gay, lesbian, transgender and LGBT; we are none of those things. We were not born “gay,” and we were not born damaged; we may have been hurt along the way, but, like the rest of humanity, we can recover and heal. We do not belong to an identity, we do not belong to a movement, and we do [not] belong to a group. So don’t talk to us as if we do. We belong to God.

Is there any one brave enough to show us the way?

I see the pictures of the dead, and they remind me of the men I used to know – who died of AIDS so long ago. They, too, thought that “gay” was where they belonged. When will the Catholic Church welcome these men? But, not with false platitudes about being born “gay.” We must be welcomed into the Church – with Truth, and with Love.

The “Bishop from Florida” is none other than Robert Lynch. The same Bishop Lynch who sided against those attempting to save Terri Schiavo’s life in 2005. The same Bishop Lynch who faced his own accusations of sexual impropriety with men, leading to a six-figure settlement with a diocesan employee in 2002.

In his statement on the Orlando incident, Lynch points the finger at Catholics for helping to “create contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.” And yet, this failure to confront, in love, the realities that sinful, destructive lifestyles create for those who are seduced by them, makes the men and women who died that day — or who will die at some point in the future, in the thrall of their sins — victims of another kind. Sciambra notes that the moral failings of Catholic Church leadership are contributing

to the eventual death of some gay men and women, but not in the way this Bishop from Florida is proposing. For, it is in the laxity of (and abandonment of) Catholic teachings, not in their imagined harshness, that the Church is complicit. Because, in offering no alternative to the “gay” identity– this has not bred hate, but created outright rejection. Where the Church should be a defensive refuge from the chaos, uncertainty, and violence of the world, for many “gay” men and women, the Church has actually come to symbolize this chaos and disunity – even its hypocrisy, symbolized in the all-too-public spats and sometimes malicious disagreements among the prelates during the recent Synod. Despite what appeared on paper, the Church looked conflicted and confounded. The inability of some within the Church to present a clear and concise message on homosexuality has caused many to disregard the Church outright, and to turn to the only other world they know.

In her blog, Studio Matters, Maureen Mullarkey observes, concerning Lynch’s statement:

It follows, then, that the Church must abandon disapproval of homosexual behavior to ensure a world safe for the LGBT community. The bishop’s stance parallels that of Fr. Edward Beck, writing in Crux the day after the shooting:

Love the sinner but hate the sin simply does not satisfy those who feel as though they have nothing for which to apologize.

What kind of men say these things? Take these resentful, skewed positions? Lynch’s disordered response to the Orlando shooting raises questions. What is his stake in the targeted murder of homosexuals that was missing from the wholesale slaughter of Parisian club-goers, or travelers in a Brussels airport? Why the rush to publicize his pieties on behalf of this particular category of victims rather than endangered Christians in the Middle East and the dead among them?

Returning to Milco, we are offered a conclusion that hints at the deeper understanding Catholics must have when handling this third rail of gender identity politics:

Fr. Martin says that gay people are “invisible” in the Church. To an extent, he is right—the Church, like Christ, refuses to mistake the mirage of sin and ideology for the reality of the people it encounters. What it sees is only each child of God: suffering, waiting, longing for absolution, created for the possibility of eternal union with God.

That is the ultimate goal here. The Church must learn not to confirm these people in their sin, but to challenge them and call them forth out of it. As I wrote in my own reflection on Orlando:

The great tragedy of our time is the loss of the sense of sin, and the life of truth and grace. We have descended back into a dark age of barbarism and depravity, where the idolatry of hedonism again reigns supreme. “For many walk,” as the apostle St. Paul tells us in his first epistle to the Philippians, “of whom I have told you often (and now tell you weeping), that they are enemies of the cross of Christ; Whose end is destruction; whose God is their belly; and whose glory is in their shame; who mind earthly things.” (Phil 3:18-19)

This abandonment of the concepts of good and evil, the disavowal of the existence of sin, and the worship of pleasure, make death all the more terrifying in the eyes of believers who love souls. Compounding the problem is our technological progress, which has extended the human lifespan and made it possible for us to stave off the fatal consequences of injury and disease in many cases. The constant prospect of a sudden, unexpected death that haunted so many of our forebears has been muted, and with it, the salutary reflection, “Memento mori…” — “Remember that you have to die…” Even those who know, deep down, that they need to amend their lives, often put this off, confident that they will have time once they have had a chance to “have their fun”.

I think here of men like Milo Yiannopolous, a flamboyant, often vulgar, but also highly articulate advocate for a number of conservative causes who is even now rising to prominence in the wake of the Orlando shooting as a thought leader among “gays” who wish to protect themselves from the Islamic threat. Milo is an active and unapologetic homosexual. He is also a self-identified Catholic – and an obviously conflicted one. He recognizes that there is something wrong and harmful in the life he has chosen, but can’t seem to find the courage to get out. In a recent speech, he touched on this internal struggle:

It’s men like this that the Church is failing. Men like this who could be drawn into the transformative mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, if the Church would only stand firm on the teachings of Our Lord. These men need to be challenged, called to conversion and truth, and reminded that they do not know the day nor the hour. Putting off these changes, remaining broken for the temporary benefits they believe it provides, is no different than playing a daily game of eternal Russian Roulette.

Yiannopolous seems to understand he is a living contradiction, and wrestles with a Church he believes in and its call to abandon a lifestyle he wants. But what if he did want to give it all up and come home? What if he did want to return, like the Prodigal Son, from a life of debauchery into the welcoming embrace of his Heavenly Father? When Joseph Sciambra made that decision, he was met with opposition to his conversion from the Catholic clergy:

I never contracted HIV, nonetheless I spent much of the 1990s on a constant cycle of antibiotics, trying, sometimes ineffectually, to stave off the endless sexually transmitted infections that kept coursing through my body. When I left “gay,” not by any choice, but because of the impending reality of death, I inexplicably, and almost immediately, went to speak with a Catholic priest. I explained everything I had been through over the past decade and how I wanted to leave San Francisco and the Castro. When I finished talking, he let out a sigh and said: “But, you were born gay, that’s where you belong.” He critiqued some of my methodology, that I had gone about being “gay” in a somewhat erratic and reckless way, and that I should try to “settle down” with one man.

Today, on certain points, many priests and prelates would agree with him; one recently said: “I believe people are born the way they are born and I believe that God creates us as we are.” But, even more disturbing is this statement: “For me, this inclination is a question mark: It does not reflect the original design of God and yet it is a reality, because you are born gay.” This is probably the worst sort of misdirected paternalism in the guise of liberal mercy. It’s an epic fail: while appearing to uphold Catholic teaching that homosexuality is ultimately not part of God’s plan, at the same time, they also condemn us to it – because, after all, we were “born gay.”

This cannot be allowed to continue. The infiltration of the Church by active homosexuals is aided by the additional and seemingly infinite supply of non-homosexual clergy who nonetheless accommodate this sin, and the disastrous consequences — both temporal and eternal — that it inevitably engenders.

As with all else in this time of great moral crisis, we find ourselves mostly alone, without the help of the clergy or the successors to the Holy Apostles. We stand before the very real possibility now, in fact, of being prosecuted for merely re-iterating what Our Lord and His Church have always taught on these matters.

But love is not about nice feelings, or solidarity, or going along to get along. Love is about willing the good of the beloved, even if that means a confrontation. What friend sees another with a destructive drug habit, and out of love tells him he accepts and supports him in it because it’s what he wants to do? What spouse of a diabetic, out of love, feeds their husband or wife all the sweets they desire, telling them that they just want them to be happy? What kind of Catholic, seeing that someone they care about is in the throes of a sin that will harm their bodies and destroy their souls, out of love offers them accepting acquiescence, or continues to feed them the lie that this is who they are and all they’ll ever be?

“Love wins.” We hear this message repeated constantly. But the people who use this phrase do not understand what love means. Love is overcoming our passions, not being slaves to them. Love is dying to self, not living a life only for self. Love is an outpouring of all we are and all we have, not a take-all-we-can-get if it feels good mentality.

Love is the Cross, and the Man who died upon it so that we could be free. He reaches out from it, not to push us away from His pain, but to draw us into it, annihilating our brokenness in the white-hot fires of redemption.

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