Before entering into any discussion of the Church’s stand on homosexuality, it is critical to understand that there are two Catholic Churches, something that is terribly troubling to people like our own Daniel Cardinal diNardo. There is the Church that exists in the parish churches with their pastors, and there is the Church that exists in the bubble of the hierarchy. The former is rooted in the day-to-day life of reality, while the latter is rooted in the fantasy of ancient mystical times that never existed.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the huge difference between Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict. Pope Francis came out of direct contact with the laity, having been consigned to work in a poor parish as a learning experience and penance during his priestly formation. His emphasis on serving the poor, himself, on washing the feet of inmates, clearly shows a different focus than you find with Pope Benedict and his liege, Cardinal diNardo.
Pope Benedict never did any substantial parish work; he spent virtually all of his time as a professor of theology at various universities. For less than four years, he was Archbishop and Cardinal of Munich and Freising, his only experience in dealing directly with the laity. After that, he was elevated to Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in the Curia. Not much contact with the realities of daily human life there. Yet, a very large proportion of the existing Archbishops and Cardinals, including our own Daniel Cardinal diNardo were chosen by him.
With that as a backdrop, we have to understand that the official, dogmatic stance of the Church is summed up in the Catechism of the Catholic Church §2357 which defines homosexual activity as “intrinsically disordered.” That was published in 1995, having been preceded by the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons in 1986 by the then-Josef Ratzinger in which he stated
15. … No authentic pastoral programme will include organizations in which homosexual persons associate with each other without clearly stating that homosexual activity is immoral.
17. … All support should be withdrawn from any organizations which seek to undermine the teaching of the Church, which are ambiguous about it, or which neglect it entirely. Such support, or even the semblance of such support, can be gravely misinterpreted. Special attention should be given to the practice of scheduling religious services and to the use of Church buildings by these groups, including the facilities of Catholic schools and colleges.
In the history of DignityUSA and DignityHouston, this led to having LGBTQ+ Catholics, who had had religious services in parish churches for decades being expelled from those churches. When later appointed Archbishop of Galveston/Houston, Daniel Cardinal diNardo would use this material as a basis for imposing loss of position as a parish priest, loss of retirement annuity, loss of health benefits, and other loss of benefits on priests who in any way supported LGBTQ+ persons.
Thus, those living in a bubble, detached from all reality of life, all evolution and enlargement of civilization have condemned LGBTQ+ people and made it incredibly difficult for priests and others attempting to adhere to the message and teachings of Jesus to minister to the needs of LGBTQ+ people.
On the other hand, the overwhelming number of those 1.2 billion Catholics are the laity who are supported by parish priests. These laity, especially in the United States, pay little attention to the bubble folks with who they rarely, if ever see or have contact, in any case. There is always that ubiquitous Guttmacher statistic that shows that 99% of all women of reproductive age who have ever had sex — including 98% of such Catholic women — have used some method of contraception other than natural family planning. Thus, despite all the threats of expulsion by the hierarchy, Catholic laity has proceeded in ways that align with contemporary reality, and it is clearly evident that they present no problem to their parish priests in doing so.
It is much the same with views on LGBTQ+ people. LGBTQ+ people exist in virtually every parish. In a very large percentage of parishes, their same-sex orientation presents no problem to the other laity in the parish. When LGBTQ+ people find themselves in a parish that condemns them, they generally have no problem finding a parish that is more receptive, unless they are in a rural area where distance presents a challenge.
The problem, of course, comes when a parish’s acceptance of LGBTQ+ Catholics becomes known to the Archbishop. Then retaliation starts to take place, priests lose their jobs and benefits, and an onerous regime of retribution is imposed. Ignorance is bliss only as long as it remains ignorant.
To make matters worse, we now have a pope in Pope Francis who seems to be moving toward a more accepting stance. That places the archaic hierarchy, such as Daniel Cardinal diNardo, in a vice grip. They get pressure for change from the top and the bottom. Since they are frozen in time and space, they are exceedingly threatened. Having worked so hard and so long at obtaining the position of power that they have, suddenly they are threatened with a loss of the power. And being mostly older men long accustomed to the comforts of wealth, luxury, and power that go with their position and virtually no chance of obtaining that in any other position, they feel embattled and compelled to fight for the status quo with everything they have.
As a result, they rigidify while receiving pressure from above and below to become more flexible and accepting — a situation that is reminiscent of the Pharisees and Sanhedrin at the time of Jesus who were being threatened by similar exigencies.
That is why DignityHouston is critical to the Catholic experience in the Houston/Galveston area. Things are changing, albeit ever so slowly precisely because there are ways to “work the system,” but they will only ever make it to an acceptable situation in a reasonable time if pressure continues. Even more important in a time of change, DignityHouston works to find new ways to express the Catholic experience and worship borne out of the LGBTQ+ experience. That work will enrich and expand the Catholic experience for all, not just LGBTQ+ Catholic folks.
By Larry E. Lutz, President, DignityHouston