DignityHouston exists at the intersection of Catholic and LGBTQ+. Before we can understand what that really means, we have to come to some understanding of what it means to be Catholic and what it means to be LGBTQ+. So, let’s dig in.
What is a Catholic?
The definition of Catholicism can be a total enigma. Ask any two well-respected Catholic theologians that question, and you are likely to get two very different responses. Part of that is because the Church has grown and evolved over time, and part of it is because the Church has never been as monolithic as some might wish to believe. There are some characteristics, though, that can be said to be universally held. These are:
- The Bible has equal authority with the Church and tradition. Unlike many, Protestant denominations, Catholics do not hold the Bible as the supreme authority. Indeed, many Catholics find much basis in the Bible, itself, for the rejection of the Bible as the sole authority on faith.
- Catholic Tradition is the teachings of the Church as they have been handed down from generation to generation from the Apostles through holy people, scholars, theologians, and others in ways that have stood the test of time but have evolved as human culture and civilization has evolved. Thus, the Catholic faith structure is an evolving one. Tradition, coming from the likes of Saints Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, and Benedict, has been shaped and continues to be shaped as faith is practiced by living human beings.
- Catholics look to their Church as a central point of authority. That does not mean that they believe the Church, made up of fallible human beings, is inerrant. Instead, they believe that, over the course of time, the Holy Spirit will guide the Church on the best path of goodness that mankind can understand and live within.
- Because of the multiple and evolving sources of the definition of faith, Catholics carry a special burden not found in the more fundamentalist denominations. Catholics are charged with a continuous journey of discernment, constantly attempting to discover what the meaning of the message of Jesus is in the contemporary world and in each unique situation.
What does it mean to be LGBTQ+?
Back in 1969 at the time of the Stonewall Rebellion, it was relatively easy to know what “gay” meant. It was simply men who had sexual relations with other men exclusively or, more often, most of the time and by preference. Now, we have terms like bisexual, transgender, asexual, polyandry, pansexual, non-binary and literally hundreds more, all occupying the same minority space. It’s little wonder that so many people, within the LGBTQ+ space and without, are so confused.
Once a pejorative term, “queer” has been proposed as a replacement for the confusing jumble of initials and terms. Here are some of the meanings proposed for the term queer:
- An umbrella term for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community
- A political statement, as well as a sexual orientation, which advocates breaking binary thinking by recognizing that both sexual orientation and gender identity are potentially fluid
- A simple label to explain a complex set of sexual behaviors and desires (For example, a person who is attracted to multiple genders)
- A term that also includes intersex individuals, people who are born with anatomy that doesn’t necessarily fit the “typical definitions of female or male”
- A term that also includes non-binary people who may have an androgynous (both masculine and feminine) gender identity, and intergender identity (between male and female), multiple gender identities, such as bigender or pan gender, gender identity that varies over time, known as genderfluid, weak or partial connection to gender identity, known as demigender.
Put simply, “queer” describes any expression of sexuality or gender identity that is outside the “norm” of exclusive heterosexuality. In that, we are back to the original definition of queer which was “strange or odd, from a conventional viewpoint, unusually different.”
In addition to looking at sexual behavior and gender identity, it is important to realize that there is also a cultural component involved. For instance, many people in heterosexual marriages routinely engage in extramarital homosexual behavior. Yet, they do not participate in the LGBTQ+ culture by associating with other LGBTQ+ individuals (except for purely sexual purposes), nor do they identify themselves as “gay.”
Others may be heavily involved in LGBTQ+ cultural activities and events and identify themselves as “gay,” but rarely if ever participate in same-sex activities.
Where do Catholic and LGBTQ+ intersect?
For the most part, DignityHouston’s community is both Catholic and queer. The problem with that arises with the fact that the Catholic Church has steadfastly maintained that homosexual acts are gravely depraved and intrinsically disordered (Catechism of the Catholic Church §2357). Although there is no Biblical basis for such a statement, the Church maintains that it is clearly rooted in Tradition. On that basis, some bishops would deny Sacraments (a vital part of the life of the Church) to queer people. The Church fights against and will not sanction same-sex marriages, and forcibly excludes queer people for the life of the Church in many other ways. (See The Church’s Stance on Homosexuality for more information.)
That would seem to suggest that the only recourse for queer Catholics is to leave the Church. However, in that same Catechism §2116, it also states that all forms of divination including horoscopes and astrology, are to be rejected, yet we know that Popes routinely maintained astrologers as part of their households, and the Vatican observatory was built precisely because of a belief in astrology. Time changes tradition.
As Catholics with the responsibility for discernment, the DignityHouston community believes that it has a responsibility to:
- Find new ways to incorporate the queer experience into the Catholic faith, ways that will enlarge the faith and make it better. We then have an obligation to share those ways with the Church as a whole.
- Work to educate the other members of the Church on why the Tradition, based on archaic notions and reasons, must change and how it must change. Advocacy through education does change the Church.
For the members of DignityHouston, that is where our faith and our lifestyle converge.