As a teenager in the 90s, going to the March for Life, I was struck — and, frankly, disturbed — by the presence certain angry, usually white-haired men, who stood on the sides of Constitution Avenue with giant posters of horribly mutilated human fetuses, bellowing in the direction of the marchers that abortion is murder.
“Yes,” I wanted to yell back, “We know. That’s why we’ve traveled all this way. Why are you pointing those horrific images at us? We’re not the ones who need to see them.”
For years afterwards, I questioned the sanity of their approach. I’ve seen it debated in pro-life circles. I still think of those moments and wonder what these gnarled warriors for life were thinking, or whether they were just so far lost in their rage over our silent holocaust that they had ceased making distinctions.
At a recent March for Life, however, I came across a group called the Genocide Awareness Project. They were not on the main March route, not standing there terrorizing young children marching along with their mothers and fathers, but they did have a booth a little out of the way, and it featured these same kinds of images. This time, though, although the speaker seemed passionate, he was also kind, and willing to explain why they did things this way. It’s been a few years, and I don’t remember exactly what he said, but this is how they describe their purpose their website:
The Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) is a mobile display that has reached millions of students on college and university campuses in the US and Canada since 1998. The exhibit juxtaposes images of aborted embryos and fetuses with images of victims of historical and contemporary genocides and other injustices. This project is the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform’s premiere mass media outreach.
Pregnant college students frequently change their minds about aborting their babies after viewing the display and interacting with the CBR staff and volunteers who dialogue with students around the display. After one visit to the University of Tennessee CBR was told of eight women who changed their minds about terminating their pregnancies.
Other students report that GAP changed the way they think about pregnancy and abortion. The photographs help them realize that embryos and fetuses are not blobs of tissue and that abortion is not a morally inconsequential act.
The guy who was promoting the GAP project when I was there on that cold January morning said something about how only when photographs of the atrocities committed in genocides such as the holocaust were shown to people did the gravity of the situation really hit home.
Rhetorically, this makes sense. It’s hard to look at, but it can’t be forgotten. It contextualizes. It humanizes.
My friend Joseph Sciambra, a tireless crusader against the normalization of the LGBT agenda in the Church and an evangelist to the gay community, engages in a form of this same technique when it comes to the dangers of profligate homosexuality. As a convert and former actively homosexual man, he knows what the lifestyle does to one’s body, mind, and soul. And in sometimes uncomfortable detail, he talks about it, because it’s important for people to know that this is more than just a preference, or a sinful life. It’s physically destructive — and even fatal — to those who practice it:
At mid-life, with the possibility of another corrective surgery looming before me, I often get angry. During my early-30s, I spent a lot of time in recovery. I underwent a series of medical procedures meant to correct damage to my rectum and lower digestive tract. At the time, I accepted the often unimageable pain that went part and parcel with almost stitching closed the sphincter muscles. I felt as if I had died, and awoken in hell; my punishment: being tortured by the damned soul of the Marquis de Sade. Somehow, with the help of God, I got through it. Yet, I always knew that these interventions would never reverse what had already been done. My foolishness and my rebellion came with a heavy price.
Since then, I’ve proceeded through several different stages of hatred, self-doubt, and inner-torment. Following my near-death escape from homosexuality, much of my enmity I directed almost solely towards the gay male community. I was looking for someone to blame. Through the siren-song of the chorus from YMCA, they lured a lost and lonely young man with the promise of companionship, comradery, and the male-affirmation I never received. They had deceived me. Although there was some truth in this highly emotional assessment of my past, only, I had been deceived by the deceived. And those who preceded me into this vast world of illusion paid the heaviest price of all.
When I was at home listening to disco-records, the boys and young men who were called to “Go West” during the initial gay migration to San Francisco in the 1970s – would be among the first to die. A decade later, when I arrived in the Castro, many of them were already gone. As a result, due to the intense trauma they experienced, many of these same men were beginning to doubt their adherence to the gay male dogmas of unrestrained sexual liberation and freedom. As I came-out and spent most of my nights in the gay bars and dance-clubs, some gay men were leaving the centers of gay life for a more subdued life with one partner.
A few of these guys simultaneously drifted into the local gay-affirmative churches – primarily a Catholic parish located just a few blocks from the center of the Castro. I believe, they were looking for some sense of stability. A friend of mine was one of them. Unlike me, he often hated the often-excessive nature of an all-male community. I still don’t know, but I am guessing that he sought peace and reassurance from Catholicism. A priest told him to remain steadfast – he would find someone. He did. Due to his newly found domesticity and spirituality, I didn’t see him for a while. When I finally did, he was happy and excited. He gave me a copy of John J. McNeill’s book “The Truth About Homosexuality.” I pretented that I was interested, accepted the book, but I never read it. A couple of years later, I heard he died of AIDS.
Sciambra recalls re-discovering the McNeill book later on, after he had left San Francisco:
In hindsight, I could see why it had such a major impact on him. McNeill argued that the homosexual orientation “is a gift from God to be accepted and lived out with gratitude.” In other words, we are as God intended us to be. He added: “Every human being has a God-given right to sexual love and intimacy.” This included those with an attraction to the same-sex. Recently, as if the same spirit that possessed McNeill, had jumped from one body to another, the Jesuits have unleashed another gay-affirmative priest upon the world. Gaining a level of access, prestige, and respect that McNeill never even imagined, James Martin has slightly expanded upon the homosexuality as “a gift from God” theory into “God made you this way.”
When I was a teenager, I heard much the same rhetoric from a local priest. Before I met him, I already felt that my trajectory was set. Years later, after remembering my dead friend – I began to wonder. Could my life have taken a different direction? Perhaps. What this priest did accomplish – he took away some of my choices. I thought I had nowhere else to go.
Sciambra admits to finding it difficult to blame gay men for their afflictions when they’re not only subjected to rhetoric like this, intending to persuade them that what they’re doing is right and natural, but who are often the victims of sexual abuse in childhood:
What is unspoken, but has become abundantly clear – there is a strong association between childhood sexual abuse and later emergence of homosexuality.
46% of the homosexual men in contrast to 7% of the heterosexual men reported childhood homosexual molestation.
26% of gay men reported sexual experiences before age 17 with someone at least 5 years older.
In the current cultural and political climate, a discussion concerning the intersection of childhood molestation (especially in men) and homosexuality is taboo. At the same time, there is an enlightened movement within some sectors of journalism and medicine (particularly by women) to critically explore the transgender movement; Professor Lisa Littman, Dr. Debra So, and Abigail Shrier have articulated their concerns, specifically about girls who suddenly identify as transgender. However, any sort of discussion around the topic of “restorative therapy” – mislabeled as “conversion therapy” – inevitably descends into an argument concerning homophobia and religion. Abused boys have been abandoned once again. The message of society – “Go be gay.” From the Roman Catholic Church – “God made you that way.”
Informed observers of the contemporary transgender phenomena point to the irreversible damage and side-effects caused by hormone therapy and surgeries. They advise caution, particularly with regards to medical professionals, parents or friends, during the process of guiding or counseling a minor who claims to be transgender. Typically, there is no such restraint shown when a young man comes-out as gay; in fact, James Martin utilizes the same scare-tactics playbook devised by LGBT-activists, who declare unequivocally that a child who is not affirmed in their sexual identity will kill themselves. Although these sometimes-visible outward manifestations of the trans-person are undeniable, the effects of male homosexuality, except during the most tragic years of the AIDS crisis, are almost completely hidden from view. Yet, those who live with the repercussions – know they are all too real. I am one of them.
Sciambra goes on to expose the extraordinarily high incidence of various kinds of disease in gay communities, and the aftermath of this way of living in his own, post-conversion life:
I am constantly reminded of the excesses of my past. The bathroom has become a torture chamber. Basic biological functions are excruciating and painful. In my case, this is the last laugh resounding from the depths of hell. In the gay world, the public restroom is oddly eroticized. In our youth, that public-private space was sometimes the setting for sadistic forms of persecution and harassment; when I was a kid, an older male student assaulted me in the boy’s restroom at my grammar-school. At a gay bar, a Castro disco, and even in a landmark movie-theater, the restrooms served as hook-up hubs, venues for voyeurism, and semi-secluded places to have name-less quick-sex. When I first showed up in San Francisco, I regarded this practice as semi-disgusting. The propensity of certain bars to only have urinal troughs in their bathrooms was revolting. I swore I would never sink so low. In a few years, I would be sitting on the lid of a public toilet, my feet resting on the edges of the seat, waiting for any man to enter through the open door of the stall.
I suppose that chapter of my story could have had a different ending; I might have drifted out of the gay scene and settled-down with one man; a Catholic priest advised me to do so. I could have died. But I didn’t. Now, I am frequently sick and discouraged. I suffer from the conditions that are oftentimes peculiar to gay men, but with none of the transitory benefits of sexual activity. I would like to think that I gave-up that part of myself, because I wanted to aspire towards something morally virtuous; in reality, I couldn’t go on anymore; my body had given-up.
Of late, Sciambra’s greatest lament has been the complicity of the Catholic Church in the growth of the homosexual movement:
I also occasionally reveal the pain that no one can see. Not to draw attention to myself – because the injuries that continue to plague me are awkward and embarrassing to expose. But especially in a Church, crowded with voices trying to suppress those who do not agree with them, sometimes it’s the only way to say: “Look, I am here. I exist. My pain is real.”
As an earthy institution, the Catholic Church has taken part in a deception. They have hidden the truth; in a neurotic need to appear compassionate and sympathetic, a number of priest and prelates abandoned all forms of admonition for total affirmation. They do not accompany – they tell people where to go; if someone experiences same-sex attraction, they are gay.
How many boys and young men turned towards the gay male community – because they were sexually abused by priests, or told by a priest that “God made you that way?” We will never know. Because many of them have been permanently silenced.
Although I’ve excerpted a lot of his essay here, there are difficult sections that I’ve intentionally left on the cutting room floor. Like the images of dead babies torn asunder, I wonder how much is too much to show to an already sympathetic audience who didn’t come here to see this.
But even though visitors to his blog usually know what they’re in for when it comes to Sciambra’s brutal honesty, I sense that he, too, has held back. He could have been much more descriptive than he is, even though what he relates is graphic enough.
Why does he do it? Because like the genocide of abortion, people need to know what they’re condoning. They need to contextualize it. To humanize it.
The reality is, nobody who says they care about others has an excuse to promote a way of life that kills the souls of those who practice it. And while those who have abandoned their religious impulses will likely never listen to reasoning like that, there is another, more visceral reality in play. The physical ravages of sodomy – the disease, the destruction, the painful surgeries, the too-young deaths; the psychological torment from abuse — these cannot merely be euphemized as a perfectly acceptable mode of “love,” while the repercussions are hidden away in psychiatric offices, operating rooms, hospices, and funeral homes.
These misguided souls are seeking affirmation and fulfilment by means of hedonistic and reckless self-harm.
And so, a deeper question arises: why does the Catholic Church, which exists to save souls, not only not rescue these individuals from danger, but often put them in harms way? Why do they so often hand them over to the death of body and soul?
And why is a voice like Sciambra’s so willfully ignored by our shepherds? What conclusion can we reach except that they have sold their own souls, and are content to feed their flocks to the wolves?
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.