Tuesday, November 19, 2013

In Defense of Paprocki's Exorcism Show: A Consideration of the Argument that Gay Marriage Multiplies Gravely Sinful Acts

This horse is dead, but I might as well beat it one more time: at the Commonweal blog's discussion of the Paprocki exorcism show, Deacon Jim Pauwels sums up his theological basis for defending Paprocki--and, no, I'm not making this up--as follows:

Jack - in most/all of the circumstances I can imagine, a single consensual homosexual sex act would (as the church judges these things) be a grave sin.  A gay marriage would erect legal protections around a stable household arrangement that would enable many consensual homosexual sex acts.  On that basis alone, a gay marriage would seem to be gravely sinful.

Do you see what Deacon Jim is arguing? Each and every homosexual act is gravely sinful. If we permit same-sex couples to marry, we multiply the number of gravely sinful acts being committed by same-sex couples, and we give legal sanction to those acts. Ergo, same-sex marriage is itself gravely sinful, and this is why the Catholic church must oppose it and why Bishop Paprocki is within his rights to exorcise it and those who brought it to Illinois.


This argument is silly. I hope you see that. It's downright stupid. In the first place, it reduces gay people and gay lives--and all human sexuality and intimate relationships--to the level of acts. Catholic moral theology at its best has long since departed from that understanding of human sexuality, though the magisterium remains bafflingly attached to this reductionistic way of reading human sexuality, even after Vatican II officially recognized, at the magisterial level, that marital sexuality is for the purpose of both procreation and expressing and deepening the unity of the spouses' relationship.

But the argument that Deacon Jim is advancing is silly--it's downright stupid--on other grounds, too. For a very long time now, one well-conducted empirical study after another has demonstrated that the vast majority of married heterosexual Catholics (many studies find the percentage to be over 90%) practice contraception within their marriage. Many of those couples are married not just civilly, as same-sex couples are asking to be married, but sacramentally.

Have you heard of bishops like Paprocki arguing that we need public exorcism ceremonies to deal with the heinous sinfulness of all the sexual acts contrary to nature we legitimate (and then ignore) when we marry couples sacramentally or civilly and don't require those couples to eschew the use of contraceptives? When we don't hound and check on those couples to assure that they aren't multiplying gravely sinful acts in their bedrooms, and turning their "marriages" into sham marriages in which sexuality is all about one spouse sinfully using the other for selfish gratification?

I haven't heard of bishops proposing exorcism ceremonies to deal with the many, many selfish and gravely sinful acts of intercourse occurring routinely in the bedrooms of contraceptive-using heterosexual couples, including sacramentally married Catholic ones. Have you? 

I say "many, many," because if we follow the logic of Deacon Jim's argument and start tallying up "acts" that we imagine are offensive to God because they are ipso facto gravely sinful, then surely the tally of gravely sinful acts of contracepting heterosexual couples will be considerably larger than the tally of gravely sinful acts of selfish homosexuals for whom sex is not about procreation. Simply because heterosexuals represent a far more significant proportion of the human population . . . . 

Does it seem to you that when a norm is applied rigidly and harshly to one group of people--say, a vulnerable minority group--while another group that represents the majority of people in a society or an organization is never in any way subject to the same norm though the group engages in behavior explicitly forbidden by the very same norm used to lambast the targeted minority, something is awry?

Does it seem that perhaps it's not so much the norm itself we're defending when we claim to be defending our norm, as it is the deep prejudices that relegate a targeted minority to marginal status? Does it seem that, in the final analysis, the argument Deacon Jim is offering and the exorcism ceremony Bishop Paprocki is staging are more about bashing the gays than they're about defending the procreative norms of Catholic magisterial teaching re: human sexuality?

How many married Catholic couples who use contraceptives sit in Bishop Paprocki's cathedral every Sunday, and in parish churches throughout his diocese?

As one of those who is the object of this rhetoric, it surely seems to me what Paprocki is doing in his exorcism ceremony is far more about bashing the gays than defending the procreative ethic of magisterial teaching. If the latter were his focus, he'd be busy exorcising the many married heterosexual couples under his pastoral charge who are contracepting.

And as someone repulsed by prejudice enswathed in pious theological arguments, I have come to the conclusion that if the Catholic church really does want to win over the minds and hearts of thinking people today, it needs to mount theological arguments less stupid than Deacon Jim's defense of Paprocki's exorcism ceremony. Or less silly than arguments claiming that Our Lord Jesus Christ gave dictation to St. Catherine of Siena about how homosexuality makes his stomach heave.

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