I wrote yesterday that I find it very interesting that so many "liberal" Catholic academics and media commentators continue to find one way after another to assist conservative groups within the Catholic church and society as a whole as these groups seek to stigmatize and demean gay people. I focused on a meme that has developed in some "liberal" Catholic circles as the synod is being discussed, which argues that it's not so bad, after all, that the leaders of the Catholic church found themselves unable to say the word "welcome" to gay Catholics at the synod, since the word "welcome" is — just as the conservative faction at the synod argued — ambiguous. Better to speak of "providing for" gay Catholics . . . .
As I noted at the end of this posting yesterday, another post-synod meme now emerging in some "liberal" Catholic circles is that the leaders of the Catholic church may, ironically, be closer to blessing same-sex unions than to lifting their ban against use of contraceptives by heterosexual married couples. This is not a new meme. It is one that has long had resilience in both right-wing Catholic circles, where conspiracy theories about a powerful lavender Mafia within the hierarchy abound, and in "liberal" Catholic circles, where the rights and needs of women are frequently played against those of gay Catholics, with insinuations that the hierarchy is dominated by closeted gay men who hate women but are willing to cosset gays, and, in particular, gay men.
One would think that this meme, which tortures facts and twists reality in extreme (and very mindless) ways, might be difficult to maintain in a period of Catholic history in which gay folks are being fired right and left in Catholic institutions — while heterosexual Catholics using contraceptives are never similarly hounded, and when there was no shameful public discussion at the synod about whether contracepting heterosexual Catholics can be welcomed by the church, or whether they should leave the church because they reject magisterial teaching. One would think, that is to say, that people with sound academic and media credentials might be downright embarrassed to try to shop this tired, old mendacious meme around now all over again following the recent synod, precisely because it is so frayed and so little serviceable any longer.
But, unfortunately, there the meme is all over again, popping up at "liberal" Catholic discussion boards, pushed forward by "liberal" Catholics who have publicly opposed the right to civil marriage for gay Catholics, and who have a long history of trying to insinuate that gay men and the closeted gay Mafia within the hierarchy are hostile to the needs of women and children, and this is why Catholic leaders refuse to deal with the contraception issue.
What's disconcerting about this meme's reappearance right now is that we have long had reason to know better. After all, it was over a decade ago that Peter Steinfels wrote the following in his book A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2003):
In many respects, the society’s anxieties surrounding homosexuality are really only a projection of issues surrounding heterosexuality — once the tight link between sex and procreation is broken. Homosexuality becomes the obvious battleground for addressing questions about nonprocreative heterosexuality. The relatively small gay and lesbian portion of the population bears the brunt of unresolved moral and cultural questions facing the more than 90 percent that is heterosexual (p. 273).
Do you see Steinfels's point? Gay people, gay lives, have become battlegrounds for a battle that was never really about homosexuality in the first place: it's about the severing of the link between procreation and sexuality, a severing that has long since taken place in heterosexual marriages. Gay human beings, who are a minority group, one with a long history of being discriminated against, are made to bear the brunt of discussions about the severing of procreation from sexuality as if that severing hasn't taken place primarily within heterosexual marriages.
So that to discuss where gay folks fit in the world is, ipso facto, to discuss the "meaning" of marriage and procreation and sexuality. It's ipso facto to discuss contraception and the use of contraceptives by heterosexual couples. If Steinfels is correct, there simply is, in any sane Catholic conversation, no us-heterosexual-contraceptive-users over against those-pesky-gays. The same moral rules that condemn the latter also condemn the former.
So that Catholics advocating a change in the rules regarding contraception have every reason to make common cause with their brothers and sisters who happen to be gay . . . . And to stop treating them as that strange "over-there" group against whom authentic Catholicity is defined . . . .
Add to what Peter Steinfels says the following observation by Margaret Farley in Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (NY: Continuum, 2006), and I hope you will see my point:
Still, however, the motifs of a procreative norm and gender complementarity continue to appear in, for example, evangelical Protestant views of marriage and family, and in official Roman Catholic negative assessments of homosexual activity. In the latter, the procreative norm is relativized for heterosexual relationships (following the acceptance of some forms of contraception such as "natural family planning"), but it is absolutized once again when homosexual relationships are at issue. For many Catholics and Protestants, the view of sexuality as an indomitable and chaotic drive needing above all to be tamed is gone for heterosexual sex, but it appears alive and well in judgments made about gay and lesbian sex. Construals of male-female gender hierarchy and complementarity are moderated for general social roles, but the importance of gender complementarity undergirds the final barrier against an acceptance of same-sex relationships (279).
Given what we've long known from the probing analysis of powerful contemporary Catholic thinkers like Peter Steinfels and Margaret Farley, it is mind-boggling to me that some Catholics, and especially well-educated "liberal" ones who support the use of contraceptives for themselves but oppose open welcome of gay folks on the ground that gay unions are non-procreative, continue to try to develop the meme that gays (and especially gay men) are the problem. That they're hostile to women and children. That they're the antithesis of what being Catholic is about.
We should know better.