Gay-friendly cardinals and the disconnect in Catholic pastorality
April 17, 2018 (Joseph Sciambra) – Recently, Austrian cardinal Christoph Schönborn met with and praised Vienna "Life Ball" founder and organizer Gery Keszler. The event was a charity concert called the "Red Ribbon Celebration," held at Vienna's prestigious Burgtheater. Cardinal Schönborn said he was concerned not with where he and the Church stood on homosexuality, but with "our shared humanity." "I am not the Catholic Church and Gery Keszler is not the Life Ball. We are first and foremost human beings," he said. "I said on the stage that I was presumably the only person in the Burgtheater (that evening) who has prejudices. I do have prejudices, but they have melted away," Schönborn later told the Austrian Press Agency.
While an incredibly noble cause – the Life Ball raises millions of dollars for AIDS charities – the event ordinarily goes incredibly pornographic. The highlight of the Life Ball is the opening gala, attended by international celebrities – a limited number of highly desirable tickets are issued to the general public – which allows all attendees to walk the red carpet. Here, fellow revelers often try to outdo each other in terms of featured costumes or lack of clothing. Yet these antics were completely overshadowed last year by the 2015 "Life Ball" poster, which featured a naked image of a transsexual model (male to female) who sported both breasts and a penis.
I think this incident is symbolic, for it reveals a disconnect experienced by many within the Church between Catholic teaching and so-called "pastoral" practices. For it is often the case that the commonly repeated maxim "love the sinner, hate the sin" becomes perverted into a very lethargic version that I would describe as "love the sinner, ignore the sin."
Oftentimes this latter approach is preferable for many churchmen and family members of "gay" men and women because it avoids the difficult realities that must be confronted, as well as the tough conversations that should take place. Especially with "gay" men, in addition to the continuing scourge of HIV, there have emerged other dire health concerns associated with homosexual activity. These uncomfortable questions are difficult to discuss and are therefore often ignored.*
In these problematic times, I think it is always helpful to keep in mind this excerpt from the Vatican's 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons:
Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living. This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent.
In other words, homosexual persons, even if they are sexually active, are capable of great acts of compassion and kindness – and it is this which we must remember so that the Catholic never loses sight of the inherent goodness within each "gay" man and women. But, in doing so – we must also never forget that our loved one is taking part in an activity beneficial for neither his body or his soul.
Many of us within the Church have neglected to balance our love for the individual and our sacred duty to aid those in need. If we capitulate, if we ignore, if we remain resoundingly silent, the homosexual person will inevitably stay locked within a "gay" orientation that, as the 1986 letter describes, "is essentially self-indulgent." This desperate swerve toward self-destruction is nowhere on greater display than in the public spectacles of the LGBT community – for example, the New York City "gay" Pride parade, San Francisco's Folsom Street Fair, and Vienna's Life Ball.
Cardinal Schönborn says, "I am not the Catholic Church," but we are all members of the Mystical Body of Christ, and we must struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. To do so is to embrace Christ and to become more like Him. Conversely, when one embraces "gay," we become even more "gay" – eventually coming to the point where we incarnate the extremes of homosexuality. We would all like to hope that our family members and our friends who are "gay" remain wholly untouched by the often deadly world they have chosen to align themselves with, but that is neither honest nor rational. Because, just as it is unhelpful to look at only one aspect of a person's life, his homosexual orientation, it is equally ineffectual, in a "pastoral" sense, to singularly focus on the good while dismissing one's involvement in the larger "gay" community.
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I understand the lure of dissociating someone, whom we utterly love and empathize with, from his often disastrous life choices; I remember a very charming and comical friend whose night-time persona as "gay" sex slave always seemed so incongruous with his personality. Only the two suddenly clashed when he became infected with HIV and later died of AIDS.
The message of Christ was challenging. He showed mercy to the "the woman caught in adultery," the Samaritan woman at the well, and the sinners He shockingly ate with when He imparted the story of the "prodigal son," but He also told them to abandon their former lives.
We must always be a witness to the presence of Christ in each individual, but to ignore the fallen circumstances of the lost and the confused is to deny them the healing power of God. For how can we help someone to be healed if we are unwilling even to recognize that he is sick?
* "Unprotected anal sex at least once in the past 12 months increased from 48% in 2005 to 57% in 2011."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)
"HIV Testing and Risk Behaviors Among Gay, Bisexual, and Other Men Who Have Sex with Men — United States"
November 29, 2013/62(47);958-962.
"75% of the men had abnormal anal cytological/histological results. 41% presented with low-grade, 24% with high-grade anal dysplasia…"
"The male ScreenING Study: prevalence of HPV-related genital and anal lesions in an urban cohort of HIV-positive men in Germany."
Fuchs W, et al.
J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2016 Feb 1.
"One third (35%) were positive for STI."
"Beyond Anal Sex: Sexual Practices of Men Who Have Sex With Men and Associations With HIV and Other Sexually Transmitted Infections."
Rice CE, et al.
J Sex Med. 2016 Feb 4.
Published with permission from Joseph Sciambra.