To March or Not to March?

Forget about the classic Shakespearean question, "To be or not to be?" The question of the day is, “To march or not to march?” Recently, there has been a great deal of discussion regarding the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City next year. At issue is the admission of a gay advocacy group that will march under its own banner walking behind Grand Marshal Cardinal Dolan. Upon hearing this announcement, there were plenty of good Catholics who, for lack of a better expression, were scandalized and expressed their dismay to him. In the course of the last few days, the Internet has exploded with those expressing their thoughts on the matter. For me, it is ironic that just as I put the finishing touches on a post asking Michael Voris to see Cardinal Dolan in a new light, his Eminence released a statement justifying his choices of late. Having read it with the eyes of a moral theologian, it would have been better had the Cardinal left us in suspense. The following is submitted for consideration in my capacity as a moral theologian.

It is important to note that the particular group that was permitted to march in the parade is an outreach group at NBC Universal advocates greater “inclusivity” and “tolerance” of gays. While a great deal could be said about the deeper meaning of these politically charged words, suffice it to say that the group is not in the business of promoting chastity or self-mastery. Yes, the organization is strong in promoting respect for homosexual persons, which is an important part of Church Teaching, but beyond that it does not appear their goals or aspirations are in league with Catholic Teaching. For the record, in 2003 the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) made it clear, “The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior.” That would include any form of approval, whether verbal or tacit. Since the group is not itself a Catholic organization, there is no expectation that they should adhere to the rules or guidelines of the Church.

That being said, the CDF statement does apply to members of the Church, and it especially applies to Her shepherds. As already noted, Cardinal Dolan released a statement regarding the decision made by the parade organizers to allow this group to march openly, and his decision to remain the Grand Marshal. While the parade has Catholic overtones, it is generally accepted as being a celebration of Irish ancestry. For the record, any public statement made by a Cardinal, even though it is not a formal declaration, still carries the demands of orthodoxy that come with the office. In my examination of his statement, I discovered some inaccuracies and theological errors that I wish to address.

It is interesting how often a Catholic selectively quotes the Catechism to justify a position, much the way a Protestant selectively quotes the Bible. In this regard, there are Catholics who tend to paraphrase a section of the Catechism that helps in the current argument, while overlooking other sections that contradict the point being made. While I have the utmost respect for the Cardinal, and what he is hoping to accomplish, I believe he has shortchanged the situation by not appreciating the fullness of what the Catechism teaches on this subject. In this regard, there are three paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church dealing with homosexuality (2357-2359). I think it best to quote them in their entirety and make commentary following. The first paragraph states:

2357 - Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

In his public statement, Cardinal Dolan claims, “Homosexual actions are – as are any sexual relations outside of the lifelong, faithful, loving, lifegiving bond of a man and woman in marriage – a moral teaching grounded in the Bible, reflected in nature, and faithfully taught by the Church.” The first thing to note is he never actually states what the immorality of homosexual acts is. As the paragraph from the Catechism notes, “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” This statement indicates the nature of the immorality. In my capacity as a moral theologian I am obliged to note that, in the sentence above, Cardinal Dolan has misrepresented the Teaching and did not do justice to It as outlined in the Catechism.

Furthermore, the sinful nature of homosexual acts is not the same as the sinful nature of certain acts between a man and woman, such as fornication, which it appears he is implying. In this regard, the Catechism (2353) teaches, “Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children.” The nature of the immorality in fornication is not derived from the heterosexual act itself, while it is in homosexual acts. To imply that the two are the same is misleading.

The next paragraph in the Catechism tends to be the one most often quoted, albeit out of context. It is in this paragraph the faithful are reminded that a person is always a person, and as such are always treated with respect and dignity due to every human person. This paragraph states:

2358 – The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

In light of this paragraph, Cardinal Dolan states, “So, while actions are immoral, identity is not!” For some reason, the Cardinal chose to use the word “identity,” which is misleading and inaccurate when speaking about a person with a homosexual inclination. One’s “identity” is not derived from sexual preference. On the surface, this statement appears to be true, but in context seems to imply that the homosexual “inclination” could actually be considered moral. This particular theological error has been around for some time, and the current strain of it stems from mistaken interpretations of the 1975 Declaration on Sexual Ethics. Unfortunately, there were many priests who were formed under this error. To address the error, in 1986 the CDF took issue with it and noted, “an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” It is wording similar to this statement that made its way into the Catechism.

Again, the Cardinal, for whatever reason, misstated the Teaching and only presented a selective view. While the inclination (read identity), which is not an act itself, is not sinful, there are still concerns when speaking of those who have this inclination. In the objective order, the inclination is disordered. While human beings have many different inclinations, the Natural Law determines how those inclinations are fulfilled, which is how moral ordering is determined. An inclination that can never fulfill its end is intrinsically disordered. The identity of which we speak as Catholics is human personhood, not sexual inclination. The person is not immoral, but the acts a person commits can be.

In this light, the Catechism and all the Church’s documents dealing with this issue do not stop at identifying the moral disorder alone, because a person is a person and every person has an inherent dignity. Thus, Cardinal Dolan correctly states, “In fact, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, people with same-sex attraction are God’s children, deserving dignity and respect, never to be treated with discrimination or injustice.” We need to be constantly reminded of this fact. I would also point out that the way he restates this section of the paragraph alters the meaning as found in the Catechism. The Catechism states that we must avoid “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard,” which is different than saying a homosexual person should “never be treated with discrimination or injustice.” Note that the word discrimination in the Catechism is modified by the word “unjust.” This is a very important distinction that has deep roots in the cardinal virtue of justice, a fuller treatment of which is beyond the scope of this post. Suffice it to say, however, that this particular part of the Church’s Teaching cannot be stressed enough. When any human person is before us, our first attitude and response is Love, a Love that is ordered to the Good of the other.

The third paragraph is brief and to the point. Although a short statement, this one may be the most difficult to appreciate and understand, and certainly has implication in this discussion. It is the content of this paragraph that is omitted by secular advocacy groups, and its omission is the source of scandal for the faithful. It states as follows:

2359 – Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

As I noted earlier, a secular group is not necessarily bound by Catholic Teaching, and often such groups do not espouse the Splendor of Truth contained therein. Those who are members of the Church, however, are bound by it. In this regard, every Baptized person, whether homosexual or otherwise, is called to strive for Christian perfection. It should be made clear that the call to chastity and self-mastery is to every human person, not just to those who are homosexual. Any chaste and self-mastered person does not flaunt his or her sexuality, and certainly does not put it on display. By giving credence to groups that ignore this part of the Teaching, it is taken as a tacit approval of their method and message. Living in a culture that encourages sexual excess, the Teaching on chastity becomes an imperative for the Church today in order to warn the sinner and instruct the ignorant. In situations like this, we have the opportunity to do just that.

To keep this conversation in perspective, we must recall that Cardinal Dolan is the Archbishop of New York. While certainly the Catholics in the Archdiocese look to him with great admiration, respect, and trust, this same disposition is offered by the faithful across the country. It was Cardinal Dolan who said just before being elevated to the office of Cardinal, “The new evangelization is urgent because secularism has often choked the seed of faith, but that choking was sadly made easy because so many believers really had no adequate knowledge or grasp of the wisdom, beauty and coherence of the truth.” It was at this point where he reminded us of the urgent need to “combat catechetical illiteracy.” In this regard, we have to take the opportunities given us to share the Splendor of Truth with those in our care. Many Catholics in the United States do not know me, but they surely know Cardinal Dolan. Those who expressed dismay to the Cardinal know something is amiss, even though they cannot say what it is. I hope and pray that at some point Cardinal Dolan reread 1 Corinthians 8 and recall how important it is to avoid giving scandal to the Christians in his care, whose faith may be weak. 

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