How to Query Church Teaching

The next two posts from me will be part of a series called “Queering Catholicism” which are based on a paper I wrote while in Divinity School.  I look forward to sharing these reflections and to the conversations they spark here on the blog and elsewhere.   Viva la revolucion!

The intersection of sexuality and church teaching as a Latin@ trans-person of faith in a poly-amorous relationship with the Catholic Church is not an easy or succinct issue to address and grapple with. The Church’s treatment of sexuality is multi-layered and complex. From the marginalization of women’s voices based on biblical exegesis, to procreation as the fruit that quasi-redeems sexual desire according to both Augustine and Aquinas, to imposed chastity on those who identify as homosexual, to Augustine’s perceived self-hate of the body and its sinfulness, to Paul VI’s pro-life and pro-marriage exertions in Humanae Vitae, to the rediscovery of the body as holy in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, to progressive approaches by scholars such as Margaret Farley—sex, sexuality, sexual ethics, and gender are controversial, confusing, convoluted, and often taboo subjects that the Church has dealt with in a very black and white manner with no room for color or variation.

For the purposes of this series of entries and my sanity, I will narrow the scope of sexuality-related teachings focusing on the Church’s treatment of homosexuality. As Margaret Farley notes in her book Just Love, “it is by no means accurate to say that Christians have always judged homosexuality negatively…the historical studies of scholars like [John] Boswell have uncovered a much less univocal teaching and understanding through the centuries” (p. 277).   There are 2000 years of theological, doctrinal, and ethical discourses to sort through; these entries will primarily look at the summation and compilation of this heritage as presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (book of official Church teachings).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

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. 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. 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. (2357-2359)

Nowhere in this passage does it command Catholics to ridicule, reject, discriminate, harass, physically attack, and persecute TQBLG individuals or their supporters. Though the Church does not accept this violent malice or treatment, there is still on the official level a “very negative evaluation of homosexual relationships” (Moore, 2003, p. 12). Catholic communities tell their queer members that the intimate sexual relationships they have or seek are “aberrant, contrary to the will of God as expressed in Scriptures and tradition, to be struggled against, a source of danger rather than a potential element of that genuine human happiness which heterosexual Christians may find in marriage” (Moore, 2003, p. 12). Some argue that these sentiments highlight the Church’s prejudice and bias for they single out TQBLG individuals for stigmatization and censure, but tolerate other sins (Yip, 1997, p. 119). Who decides what is sinful and what is not?

The official Church teaching takes two different directions, expressing compassion while also stating objective disorder. The Church recognizes the humanity of the individual person but does not let them be fully human (Stahel, 1993, p. 8). It basically takes the philosophy of “hate the sin, love the sinner” but rephrases it to state “accept the condition and not the conditioned.” It has been my experience that my fellow Catholics are willing to accept homosexuality as an abstract concept but will not tolerate expressions of it, such as wearing a rainbow, much less know what to do with bisexuality, poly-amory, or transgender. Comparisons have been made between queer individuals and individuals with disabilities/differently-abled, in that the Church recognizes that both are involuntary. However, “the acts of a [mentally handicap] person are morally blameless insofar as they are produced by their handicap …. But with gay people, the condition is like a handicap, but its expression is an intrinsic moral evil (Stahel, 1993, p. 9). To an extent the Church is contradicting itself by advocating compassion but promoting discrimination and repression of a “condition” that it admits not fully understanding.

Despite contradictions and resulting tribulations of Church teaching and practice, many TQBLG activists and their allies are seeking ways to reconcile church teaching with inclusive approach to sexuality and sexual ethics. Theologians (both religious and lay) are wrestling with creating spaces for the theological, biblical, liturgical, social, and ethical renegotiations of sexual identity/expression and religious identity. Through this reconciliation, many TQBLG individuals believe that their sexuality and its expression is part of the natural design God created.

Though I believe that there is a bridge between by Catholic and sexual identities, there is a soul-wrenching disconnect when it comes to the Communion Table. Despite the inclusivity of several Catholic communities created through theological counter-narratives, I do not feel that my personhood in its wholeness and holiness is welcome at the Communion table.   I am mindful that is not possible to truly live by every teaching put forth in the Catechism. Because I am knowingly and willingly not living or expressing what the Church teaches (disobeying her), I feel like I am no longer in communion with the Church and therefore should not partake in Communion (out of respect and a love-hate relationship with her).   Who am I is othered and fractured by the Church’s rhetoric on sexuality and gender; in order to receive I feel a pressure to deny my desires which are an integral part of who I am as a wholly and just sexual being.

There are many who would disagree with me on my personal practice, I believe it reflects the complicated and messy work of intersecting religion and sexuality. I am mindful that in progressive Catholic circles, I am invited to the open table but part of me is not ready even for that—perhaps it comes from the little conservative nun who lives inside who is not truly ready for alternative yet equal expressions of liturgized and ritualized breaking of bread.  As one of many activist-scholars engaged in this issue of faithful yet critical deconstruction and reinterpretation of Church doctrine, it has taken hitting many bumps on the road to arrive at a place where I am not guilty (as Augustine and many Church Fathers would advocate I should feel for giving into desire) of embracing being a Catholic, sexual being. The journey of building the bridge between sexuality and faith is a continuous one—I am a being in process who can proudly proclaim and rant that I may not be the norm but the ability to love beyond the norm is not a mistake or disorder but another piece in the divine scheme of things.

featured image found at:  http://heysonnie.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/god-made-me-queer/

delfin bautista is a member of the CTA 20/30 Leadership Team and the CTA Board of Directors; delfin is also a member of Dignity’s Young Adult Caucus and is co-chair for Dignity’s Trans Caucus.  delfin currently serves as the Director of the LGBT Center at Ohio University.  delfin “preaches” on their own blog “Mi Lucha, Mi Pulpito” and  is a contributor to the Young Adult Catholic Blog and to Believe Out Loud.

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the struggle is real

delfin_lucha1In reflecting over my ongoing sojourn with faith and sexuality, I realize that who I am and the area I seek to evolve is one that both disturbs and is disturbed, changes and is changed. As I look back at my life in an effort to re-remember my re-membering as I wrestle with church teaching, CCD classes, retreats, a home that reinforced what the church expounded, my continuous coming out, and personal beliefs about faith, I am mindful that 12 years ago if I knew what I knew today I would have condemned myself. In searching the hogar within, I realize that growing up I knew that there was something different about me. I had a feeling that I did not feel right in my own body and I was not like other boys or girls. I was confused for a long time and decided not to deal with it. Rather than reconcile my faith and my sexuality, I repressed many feelings that did not fit into the black and white paradigm of gender/sexuality that stemmed from growing up Cuban, conservative, and Catholic. Twelve years ago, this reflection that critiques the Church’s teaching would not have been written, much less having attended Yale Divinity School, being the director of a LGBT Center, and much, much, much less showing my hairy legs and painted toe nails in a skirt I bought I Lane Bryant. In order to survive I unwillingly conformed to the standards imposed on me because I was scared of the ramifications if I did not—I hid behind the smile of the good Catholic boy who was going to be a priest. Being Hispanic, Catholic, and queer did not mesh well. I feared burning in hell, being beat up, and most tragically being a disgrace to my family and their memory. The world was to be black and white with no room for color or even variations of gray, period, no questions asked.

As I began to venture into the world of sexuality and gender, questions, doubts, and issues with gender binaries and expectations began to rise. I began to query my history, cultural worlds, family story, church teaching, and society’s dominant narrative. When I came out in my early twenties, I said I was gay because it was all I knew at the time and it seemed to fit; it was also slightly safer.   I was an oddity in a world of dominating and hierarchical notions of sacred whiteness and holy maleness. I did not fit the stereotype of gay maleness perpetuated by society and the media due to something more that was evolving, growing, and desiring to be birthed in me and in the world. As I learned about the T of LGBTQ, I had a second coming out to myself and to GOD. I was birthed, came into voice, and claimed that I am both/and—I am not an antagonistic dualism. AHHHHHHHH!!!!!! OHHHHHHHH S***!!!!!!!!!

As a Catholic, I feel that I am constantly having to prove myself and my Catholicity. It is a constant struggle of becoming, yet a becoming that is never affirmed, accepted, or celebrated as good enough. Becoming and existing as a person who is both/and is especially hard in the Catholic world that is still figuring out what to do with G and L, much less attempting to engage BTPPQQ and everything else. It is a place where many are quick to silently judge, label, and dismiss my personhood causing this little freak in a skirt to go back into the closet out of fear and survival. My experience thus in life have helped me realize that the grappling of living into and out of one’s faith and sexuality is an on-going one. I realize that I am not alone, there are those who have paved the way before me through their brave questioning of church teaching such as Margaret Farley, Hildegard of Bingen, Gloria Anzaldua, and Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz; and there are those who are paving the way with me like my mother, my beloved, and all I meet along the way of this quirky journey of life.   My lucha is to bare witness to the Catholic Church and take on her teachings; finding ways to be catholic. Coming into my own publicly through the birthing of this delphic delfín will be a labor of revolutionary resilience where GOD is my midwife birthing and re-birthing truth-telling in me and through me.   Amen.

 I have been witness to marvels that affect the nature of the mystical body, for we too, gay men that we are, are also members of that same body…and mind by mind, soul by soul, heart by heart, we are building a consensus fidelium that one day will set us free…for such is the promise of our common baptism and the rights we derive from that sacrament. –E. Stoltz

 In all those times of wrestling with tough issues, with Church leaders, with each other, with disease, I have been pinned down and squeezed, touched, massaged, embraced, cuddled, and, yes, pleasured by a challenging and ever-loving GOD. I have been transformed and reconciled. No longer frightened or ashamed, I am learning to confide in GOD’s love and the love of my fellow wrestlers. After the match is over, I look forward to walking humbly with my GOD, even if it is with a limp. – K. J. Calegari

What Makes Someone Catholic Enough?

Old Men in Skirts and Womens Health

Last week, I did an interview with a reporter about why I believe the Catholic Church should allow “artificial” contraception, or perhaps even better, just stay out of the contraception discussion altogether. I dream of a world where the Church presents all the facts that might be relevant to Catholics making a moral decision, and then leaves that decision up to them.

In my interview, I cited marriage research that says more sex equals happier marriages, and that relying on NFP alone can lead to unnecessary and unhealthy sexual tension and resentment. I talked about framing the primary benefit of sex being its ability to cement a relationship and improve bonding rather than procreation, and how “unnatural” (not to mention somewhat cruel) it is to expect women to forgo sex when they want it most (during their fertile window) month after month after month, year after year after year, if a couple does not want to have children. And then I cited research about how “unwanted” (what a horrible word) and “mistimed” children suffer throughout their lives in contrast to their “wanted” counterparts.

I thought I’d made a pretty good showing. He asked some demographic questions, like my age, and how long I’d been married, and whether my husband was also Catholic.

Then he asked if I currently belonged to a Catholic parish.

Continue reading

Being a gay Catholic at 27: Taking Stock

Rainbow_at_Faith_ChurchToday I want to break from the homily-style format of my first two posts and simply take an inventory of what being a gay Catholic means to me at 27 in the Green Bay, WI area. I’m trying to be neither positive nor negative here — just realistic. I’m sure your experience has been different (surely there are better and worse places to be a gay Catholic than northern Wisconsin), and perhaps this post will encourage you to share.

What does being a gay Catholic mean for me right now? Continue reading

There’s More Than One Way to Objectify a Woman

While I was looking for podcasts to listen to at work, I came across The Catholic Underground. The word “Underground” gave me hope

The best women have to offer?

The best women have to offer?

for something subversive, a hope which remained sadly unfulfilled. Instead, I got the same old party lines rife with contradictions. (You can listen to the whole show here, but I can’t say I recommend it unless you have 75 minutes to kill and want to do so listening to three guys shoot the breeze and occasionally mention something relevant to Catholicism.)

One of the news items discussed is the Gates’ Foundation’s new technology that puts birth control on a microchip. The article I just linked is the one referenced in the show, and a link to it appears on the show’s page, but one of the hosts made sure to include the disclaimer that the website supports birth control “for all of the usual, silly, illogical reasons” that they’ve gone into before.

When it comes to Catholicism, there’s not much that raises my ire more than three men sitting around calling birth control “illogical” and “silly.” I could fill a whole post with a rant about that (I sort of already did here and here), but that’s not what I’m here to write about. Not exactly.

Later in the show, the hosts discussed brain research showing that when men view images of tools and images of scantily clad women, the same brain area lights up: the area associated with using objects to attain goals. (When men viewed images of attractive but fully clothed women, the brain response was more complex, involving more systems). The hosts used this as an opportunity to bemoan the habit of seeing women as “objects” rather than as full people. I concur that this is unfortunate, even sinful, and that spiritual people especially should avoid cultivating this habit.

Continue reading

Why the Defeat of DOMA Gives Me Queer American Pride

flagsWhen I think about the progress of marriage equality in the U.S. this year, I cannot help but feel proud, and grateful, to be an America.

My girlfriend is not a U.S. citizen. She’s Brazilian and attends college here on a student visa which expires when she graduates. Before DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) was struck down a year ago, I’m not sure we would have been able to stay together in the States and get married.

Now that our rights are the same as opposite-sex couples, the federal government will recognize and honor our union and allow my girlfriend to stay in the country with a marriage visa.

That being said, our marriage still won’t be easy. The struggle towards full equality continues, but today I want to focus on what we’ve gained.

As my girlfriend once said, “I am really thankful for what I have, not for what I don’t have.”

I wrote a poem and wanted to share it with you today. Please share it with anyone who feels overwhelmed by the darkness of this world. Sometimes we get distracted by the negativity around us and we don’t see the good. But God brings light to the darkest places. Continue reading

Resources for More Inclusive Faith Communities

A little over a year ago, I traveled to New York to attend a colloquium about the intersection of bisexuality and faith. The Religious Institute was calling together bisexual ministers and people of faith from diverse religious backgrounds to start a discussion that would ultimately inform their creation of Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities, a guidebook for congregations to use in welcoming, affirming, and ministering to bisexual people. One of the women spear-heading the project emailed me several times before officially inviting me to the colloquium, mentioning that my name “kept coming up” in relation to Catholicism and bisexuality. I laughed and told her it was because I was the only Out Catholic Bisexual in the World. (Luckily, that isn’t true.)

While at the colloquium, I learned that the Religious Institute’s work targets “mainline” denominations who are already open to issues of progressive sexuality, and that their intent was not to “change the Pope’s mind” on anything. Still, I know that I and thousands of others have stayed connected to the Catholic Church precisely because we have found others–Sisters, monks, priests, or congregants–who are not waiting for the Pope to change his mind, but who are living a message of Christlike love and acceptance already. As such, this book might be especially needed by those CCD and Catholic High School teachers or priests or others officially affiliated with the church who sometimes feel like the only voice for an open and affirming vision of human sexuality. The Institute also has guidebooks relating to other issues of sexuality, such as reproductive technologies, sexual education, GLBTQ inclusivity, etc.

The book features a short excerpt from my essay about being bisexual that was published in Unruly Catholic Women Writers, as well as well as a reflection on Roman Catholic sexuality teachings by Kate Ott. It’s a great resource for those Catholics who strive to make the circle of acceptance within our denomination wider.