Cardinal Timothy Dolan, made some blunt comments regarding the Catholic Church’s outreach to gays and lesbians this past week, telling reporters from ABC that “we haven’t been too good at that.” Dolan’s comments followed an earlier statement saying that the Church needed to be sure it’s defense of marriage as being an institution between one man and one woman didn’t degenerate into an attack on the men and women who deal with a homosexual affliction.
Dolan’s statements—especially the latter—hit the nail on the head and represent the challenge the Church faces. The questions that come to my mind are first of all, how does the Church reach out to gays and lesbians without compromising unchangeable Catholic teachings, and what level of success should be expected.
I’ll start with the second question—I think we’ve got to be realistic and say that at least for the short-term, the success rates won’t be high. The movement of gays and lesbians is exceptionally militant right now, and as much as we might genuinely believe in the human dignity of everyone who deals with same-sex attraction, the leadership of the gay and lesbian movements have chosen to define themselves exclusively by their sexual attraction, and to further define the legalization of marriage as the only way they feel their dignity is being upheld. We can’t give in on either point, creating an impasse that it will require a lot of prayer to get through, before we can reach the point of significant progress.
But “significant progress” is usually measured by worldly standards—be it huge numbers of people who change their minds, political victories, etc. The Catholic Church is above worldly standards and is in the mission of saving individual souls. And behind the media noise of today are going to be men and women who wrestle with same-sex attraction, don’t really want to live that way and are looking for a place of spiritual refuge to work things out.
These aren’t the people who will get on television, start up a blog or have reporters looking to talk to them. They’re just the ones who are really looking for what the Catholic Church has to offer—the graces that pour out through the sacramental life and the certitude that comes with embrace of infallible doctrine, unchanged through two millennia. Cardinal Dolan is right—if a rigorous defense of the true nature of marriage comes off hostile, these people are likely to stay away.
It’s difficult not to feel hostile when the leadership of the current gay and lesbian movement feels the need to stick everything in your face, to judge your motives and to, in effect, play God, by damning the intentions of their opponents at every turn. Such is the state of politics in America today. But behind the politics are people who are hurting, need help and need to know there’s a place they can go. If the leadership of the Catholic Church keeps this type of person at the heart of its ministry, and doesn’t measure its success by dramatic and sudden shifts of public opinion, then the day of the Church’s inevitable victory will be hastened, and a lot of people behind the scenes looking for an answer to same-sex attraction will be better for it.
P.S. A similar theme was hit by CV blogger Tim Shaughnessy in his fine piece about Starbucks, Chick-Fil-A and the gay marriage debate.
Dan Flaherty is the author of Fulcrum, an Irish Catholic novel set in postwar Boston with a traditional Democratic mayoral campaign at its heart, and he is the editor-in-chief of TheSportsNotebook.com