Catholic theologian (and priest) Gabriel Daly commenting in The Tablet on the deeply Catholic theological underpinnings of the recent yes vote for LGBT equality in Ireland:
In the light of the Gospel, voting "yes" was caring for a wounded minority who were strangers in their own community. A new perspective could refocus attention on the human condition rather than on abstract ideology. In this new perspective, voting "no" would amount to passing by on the other side of the road (Luke 10:25-37).
Strangers in their own community: as John McNeill and others have persistently testified, one of the most significant and immediate results of the 1986 Vatican document "On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," which defined gay human beings as intrinsically disordered human beings, was a mass exodus of gay Catholics from the church.
This pastoral letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under the leadership of Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, communicated to gay Catholics in no uncertain terms that we were not welcome in our own church. It made us strangers in our own community.
It did this quite deliberately. The document urged Catholic parishes and dioceses to expel groups engaged in pastoral ministry to LGBT Catholics from Catholic premises, if those groups raised critical questions about whether church teaching on issues of sexual orientation is correct — if they asked, for instance, whether a gospel-centered Christian community would ever define a group of human beings as intrinsically disordered in their very nature due to their sexual orientation.
The 1986 pastoral letter produced an exodus of gay Catholics from the church because it was a purge of gay Catholics from the church. Gay Catholics who had clung to connection to the liturgical and institutional life of the church as groups like Dignity reached out to us received a loud, clear message that we were not welcome in the Catholic church when Dignity and other similar groups were expelled from Catholic premises following the 1986 letter.
A people with deep historic Catholic roots, given the chance to vote about what the leaders of the Catholic church have chosen to do to those who are gay under the last several popes, chose to make a statement that moves in the most direct way possible counter to the teaching of Ratzinger's 1986 pastoral document. The Irish Catholic statement to those who are gay is, You are welcome.
You are part of us. We suffer when you are excluded. You and your gifts belong every bit as much as we and our gifts belong.
American Catholics as exemplified by their centrist intellectual leaders (e.g., the Commonweal crowd) who remain determined to collaborate with the political and religious right in sending messages of unwelcome to LGBT human beings continue not to get the catholic message about those who are gay. Many leading American Catholic intellectuals associated with leading U.S. Catholic journals like Commonweal continue proudly to resist equal rights for LGBT people and haughtily to exclude the testimony of LGBT Catholics from their dialogues about what constitutes authentic Catholic identity in the U.S. in the 21st century.
These lay Catholic leaders continue to send signals of unwelcome and disdain to those who are gay, continue to refuse to adopt a pastoral approach that reaches out to include and affirm those who are gay, continue to use rhetorical ploys designed to demonstrate contempt for those who are gay as they dissect gay lives in discussions of those lives that do not welcome the direct testimony of those who are gay.
These American Catholic lay leaders, who have had strong influence on the course of the American Catholic church in the period in which the top pastoral leaders of the church deliberately sent gay Catholics the message that we are strangers in our church, stood by in total silence as the purge took place. They did not raise their voices about the injustice being done to their fellow human beings who happen to have been made by God gay.
They continued to parse the meaning of Catholicity and to defend the church's top pastoral leaders without noting how the attack of those leaders on a segment of the human community, on a targeted minority group, totally undercuts all that those pastoral leaders say about human rights and the preferential option for the poor. And now, as Gabriel Daly notes, the Irish people have taken a different tack, a Catholic one . . . .
One that recognizes that, if I pass by the wounded stranger on the side of the road, I have not understood what the parable of the Good Samaritan is all about. And, in that case, I am surely hardly a credible witness to what Catholicity is all about, am I?
The graphic: George Frederick Watts' artistic rendition of the Good Samaritan parable; the original is at the Manchester art gallery (via Project Gutenberg).