December 10, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - On Wednesday evening I attended a debate on gay “marriage” proudly hosted by Catholics for Equality at Georgetown University. Broadcast as a “family conversation,” the gig pitted Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage against Atlantic writer and gay Catholic Andrew Sullivan.

By the end, moderator E.J. Dionne politely concluded that dialogue had been successfully engaged. I doubt that most people in the audience agreed.

That’s because the event wasn’t about marriage, and it wasn’t about homosexuality, either.

The entire setup was not for the sake of dialogue, but was simply one of the nascent group’s first forays into mushing together the ideas of Catholicism and the gay agenda, and making them stick, inside young brains.

The tone for a not-so-honest discussion was set even before the fact. Another illegitimate gay “Catholic” group, the Rainbow Sash Movement, had proudly tooted the event’s horn in a press release claiming that Cardinal Wuerl had a “change of heart” by allowing the group on campus. The archdiocese angrily denied the claim.

Of course, the battlefield was largely won to begin with. The room at the Intercultural Center was full of mostly Georgetown students, the vast majority of whom, when polled on their support for same-sex “marriage,” shot up their hands. The cheers and howls that ensued trended decidedly in Sullivan’s favor.

The debate was mostly civil, and completely disjointed. Gallagher explained the rational basis for legal marriage as a manifestation of the state’s interest in procreative unions, a point altogether undermined by Sullivan’s heartfelt plea for a truly Catholic and inclusive love for gays, which delighted his audience.

In fact, Sullivan’s talking points were very similar to the position of the Church, whose teachers have held that a sincere love for gay persons is the only proper response to them. However, the Church’s view is that such love also forces us to confront homosexual activity as truly degrading and harmful to those who practice it - a notion too large to do justice to here.

The Atlantic writer’s intent, on the other hand, was not to agree with Catholic teaching, but to redefine it, and in so doing he offered a description of his personal “conversion” to the lifestyle as a prayerful Catholic experience.

“The first person I came out to was God,” said Sullivan, who also declared that, “I’m openly gay because I’m a Catholic.” After all, the Church, he said, was always in pursuit of “new data” and a truly dynamic church would recognize that “the world is bigger and wider than we once believed.” He ended by “prais[ing] God for the great phenomenon of homosexuality” and condemning discrimination against homosexual relationships, a deed he called “wicked.”

It was only when Sullivan talked about any Catholic other than himself that the warm rhetoric surrounding Catholicism began to grow ice cold.

The vast majority of the Catholic hierarchy, Sullivan asserted, cruelly suppress homosexuals (and “the reason they’re not OK with gay people is because they’re gay.”) Thanks to them, the hierarchy is rife with pedophiles - which, Sullivan acknowledged, were homosexual priests with a more twisted appetite.

As for the pope, words appeared not to be strong enough to express Sullivan’s anger. “The current pope, knowing that a child under his auspices had been raped by a priest under his authority, covered it up and sent that rapist to go rape other children,” he stated, referring to media accusations against Joseph Ratzinger regarding Rev Huellerman of Munich. The room, in a moment that will forever blacken the history of Georgetown, erupted in applause.

In any event, the lesson appeared to be that the pope, hierarchy, and the dogma they taught were far less Catholic than Sullivan himself.

I wondered what it was that defined Sullivan’s idea of “Catholicism.” It was unlikely to be the Bible, given Paul’s statement to Roman Christians that God punished mankind with “degrading passions” in which “their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another.”

So who decides what Catholicism is? After reducing the name “Catholic” to a mere shell (not unlike “marriage,” which Sullivan tellingly asserted “is what you believe it is”), why even keep the name? That, it seems, was the unasked question at the crux of the show.

The answer is easy from a historical point of view, as this same drill has been acted out over and over by upstart social movements since the turn of the 20th century or so. Social reformers, such as those behind liberation theology and feminist theology, understand the power behind the name “Catholic:” fusing a new idea to the old Catholicism, or replacing one with the other, is now an almost textbook procedure for gaining trust on a large scale. 

In a relativistic world, what was once a measure of truth works awfully well as a hollow stamp of approval. It was only a matter of time before the gay rights movement became “Catholic.”

I ran into the same train of thought at the Women Deliver conference in June, when Elfriede Harth of Catholics for the Right to Decide explained with great ease how abortion is not only permitted by the God of Catholicism, but that a woman should feel guilty for not aborting her child if it would threaten the wellbeing of herself, a child of God, in any way.

“They [the hierarchy] are always trying to say we’re not real Catholics, which is wrong, because the criterion to say you’re Catholic is that you’re baptized. That’s all,” she explained. “And I don’t accept that other people pretend that they define what is Catholicism. You know? The way the Vatican presents Catholicism is incomplete.” I could easily imagine these words at last night’s “family conversation.”

After Wednesday’s event concluded, I had only one thought. I approached the stage to offer Sullivan, as a journalist and a fellow Catholic, more information on the media accusations against the Holy Father. Sullivan’s presentation had been even-tempered and rational for the most part, so I expected a polite, if not enthusiastic reception.

I was wrong. In a bizarre exchange, I found myself defending against, among other things, the accusation that I denied that the sex abuse scandal ever occurred, which of course I don’t. Why Mr. Sullivan appeared so defensive against an exchange of information I honestly couldn’t conceive.

“I don’t believe, I know,” he told me firmly of his conviction of the Holy Father’s guilt. Respectfully, and especially since nothing but circumstantial evidence was ever brought against the pope in the case, I was forced to wonder how the New York Times ended up more infallible than Sacred Scripture.

I hope that one day, someone will get a straight answer from Catholics for Equality and their ilk about exactly why they cling to the name “Catholic” while emptying it of recognizable meaning. They might learn a lesson about honesty from the 16th century Protestant reformers.