Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Detroit Free Press Article About Gay Couple Who Are Active Catholics: An Image of the Divided U.S. Catholic Church

If you're looking for a rather neat snapshot of the two theological universes that coexist uneasily in American Catholicism today, especially vis-a-vis the question of welcomingly openly gay people and married gay couples in Catholic parishes, I'd highly recommend Patricia Montemurri's report in Detroit Free Press today about Bryan Victor and Thomas Molina-Duarte, a gay couple who married this summer in an Episcopal church in Detroit, but who are active members of a Catholic church in Detroit. Montemurri indicates that Victor's uncle Rev. Ronald Victor, a Catholic priest, attended his wedding along with other family members, and supports the couple, noting that the Catholic community "needs more examples of gay holiness."

As she also reports, Victor's parents join the couple for Mass each Sunday, sitting with them in church, and the parish itself has been welcoming to and supportive of them. She cites Rev. Ronald Victor's theological justification for affirming his nephew and his marriage: he maintains that, while gay unions may not be life-giving in a biological sense, they are clearly life-giving in other ways — and those ways deserve the recognition and support of the Catholic community.

She also notes that his practice as a pastor is to welcome people to the eucharistic table rather than seek to peer into their hearts and try to determine their unworthiness to receive communion. As he notes, he doesn't (and can't) know all the sins or transgressions of those who present themselves for communion, and (this is implied but not stated), adult Catholics have a right to make decisions of conscience about whether they should or should not approach the eucharistic table — a position with which the parishioners in the parish to which Victor and Molina-Duarte would appear to agree.

Contrast this with the position taken by Catholic moral theologian Janet Smith, who teaches at Detroit's Sacred Heart Seminary and is an advisor to the Vatican's Pontifical Council on the Family. Montemurri cites Smith to say that though Jesus wanted sinners under his roof, he told those who "were misusing their sexuality" to repent of their sins (I don't find a citation of a gospel passage cited by Smith to support that contention and language, however). 

Regarding the reception of the eucharist, Smith has the following observations to make:

To receive the Catholic sacrament of communion at mass, said Smith, Catholics should be in a state of “sanctifying grace.”  That means, said Smith, that “you don’t have on your soul any of what we call sins that involve serious rejections of God’s plan for the world, including the church's teachings on sexuality."

As I say, a snapshot of two very different churches coexisting very uneasily side by side. One refuses to isolate LGBT members, including married same-sex couples, by accusing them of sin in an exclusive way that singles them out (let's be real: what Catholic parish anywhere in the country today really takes the position espoused by Smith, singling out married couples who contracept as unrepentant sinners "misusing their sexuality" and denying them communion?). The other wants to zero in on the presumed "sins" of loving, committed same-sex couples and to make a point of telling them they are unwelcome at the Catholic eucharistic table — which is to say, they are unwelcome in the Catholic community, period, because turning people from the communion table is turning them away in the most decisive way possible.

Because they have sins "on their souls" — childish language echoing the formulations of the long-outmoded and rather childish Baltimore catechism, and suprising language to hear from a trained Catholic theologian and seminary professor who sits on a Vatican advisory council for the family . . . .

Unfortunately, many gay Catholics, including gay and married ones, do not have the option to find welcoming and affirming Catholic parishes in their local communities akin to the one to which Victor and Molina-Duarte belongs. And so the Catholic church in the U.S. loses them and their gifts and talents . . . . 

I seriously doubt, however, that, as Montemurri and several of those she interviews suggest, Pope Francis really wants to address that loss in any proactive way. If he did, surely the firing of openly gay and married employees of Catholic institutions would have stopped by now.

I haven't yet seen the news bulletin telling me it has stopped — and I suspect that, like Steve and me, a lot of LGBT Catholics will keep looking elsewhere for a welcoming church community and eucharistic table.

I find the image of a divided church at many blogs online; it's not clear to me where it originates or who deserves credit for it.

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