The full interview I gave to the Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Free Press today published an article “Vigneron softens his tone on Communion for Catholic gay supporters”.  I come off as being kind of mean.  Drat.

Below is the full interview.

1)   Please address why this conference takes on added significance since it comes so shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down states’ bans against same-sex marriage? Does the decision change, in any way, how you deliver the church’s teachings?

Until quite recently there has been near unanimous agreement within our culture and other cultures as well that it is wrong for men to have sex with men and women to have sex with women. Our cultures and others have never questioned that the only true form of marriage is of a man to a woman. We are now a culture (and not all other cultures join us) that is more and more accepting of sex between men and sex between women and also of a man marrying a man and a female marrying a female, the ground has shifted radically. Not so long ago—within 25 years or so, the prospect of approving of males who have sex with males and females who have sex with females and of legalizing marriages between two men or two women would have served as an excellent example of something unthinkable.

It is more than a little likely that soon marriages of one or several men with one or several women and multiple numbers of men and multiple numbers of women with each other — as well as incest — will be deemed legal. Of course many people will protest that that won’t happen but logic leads in that direction – why must the number of those be married be only 2 if groups of people want to make marital commitments to each other. If a father and daughter wish to marry each other and believe their happiness lies therein, what objection can be made against such a marriage? Lawsuits are already being filed to force some of these.

So we are now teaching to a culture that does not share the view of the Church that only sex between males and females is moral and that the only true marriage is that between one male and one female, but to a culture that rejects these traditional views and regards those who hold the traditional views as being intolerant and hateful. That is a big challenge, of course, since we can no longer presume that most people understand why marriage has always and everywhere been thought to be possible only between an adult male and an adult female. We more or less have to prove that the sky is blue and the grass is green, to those who think the color of things is a matter of opinion.

The Supreme Court also advances the view the happiness is not possible for those who don’t marry. Catholics believe that happiness if found through living loving lives of complete self-giving and that is possible for anyone, married or not married.

Our conference, however, is not designed to determine how to teach the Church’s teaching but how to serve those who find that elements commonly found in the gay lifestyle – promiscuity, anonymous sex, heartbreak, sexually transmitted diseases — is not for them. Many men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women eventually find those relationships not satisfying and find the whole gay culture not in accord with the truths of their being. When they turn up at the Church door, how do we receive them? Some have already found Jesus and even accept the Church’s teaching but find it challenging to live in accord with it. We want to help them. Not all those who show up at the Church door will be ready to leave that lifestyle, but they are looking for Jesus and for love and we hope we can find ways to lead them to Jesus and to a path of seeking holiness, which includes being chaste. As Pope Francis says, the Church is a “field hospital.” All of us in the Church are wounded and need healing. We find healing through the truths of Christ, through the sacraments and through the love of others. We want to make sure that all Christians – an really everyone — experience the love of Christ, especially through the love of their fellow Christians.

Andy Comiskey, who himself experiences same-sex attraction will report on programs he has developed to help parishes be welcoming to those with SSA.

2)   Was the conference planned for Detroit in anticipation of a Supreme Court ruling? Did you take the lead in planning the conference here? When did you start working on compiling the book “Living the Truth in Love: Pastoral Approaches to Same Sex Issues.” Are most of the authors in book from the Archdiocese of Detroit or Michigan dioceses?

The conference, planned largely by myself and Fr. Check, the director of Courage International, was not planned with the Supreme Court Decision in mind. It was planned with the Synod on the Family in mind which asked for guidance on developing good pastoral approaches for those who experience same sex attraction. The book was begun early in the Spring; we were not looking for authors particularly from this area but many of the experts we needed, in fact, live in the Detroit area.

 

3)   Many people, including those with same-sex attractions, believe same-sex orientation is something that people are born with? Do you believe people are born with that same-sex attraction?

My beliefs are irrelevant, actually. The fact is that there are no good studies that even remotely establish a genetic link. For instance, one would think that if homosexuality were genetically based, identical twins, who share the same genes, would both experience same sex attraction. They do not.

 

4)   Now that it’s legal for gay people to marry each other in civil ceremonies, what do you consider behavior appropriate to church teaching in the following situations? For example, is it sinful for a practicing Catholic to attend the wedding ceremony of a gay couple?  Should observant Catholic parents of a gay son or daughter attend their offspring’s wedding? Should they refrain from receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion if they support such a wedding, attend such a wedding, etc.? Should Catholic business operators – be they cake bakers, or wedding venue owners, or florists – be allowed to refuse the business of a same-sex couple?

These are questions that sound to Catholics like “would you decorate your living room with round squares?” We don’t believe that “weddings” or “marriages” are possible between a male and a male or a female and a female. Attending those ceremonies would create great confusion for everyone involved since people would rightly understand one’s presence as approval. Parents should always express and live out unconditional love for their children, for those who are living in accord with God’s plan for sexuality and those who are not. But this does not mean that parents must violate their own beliefs to accommodate those of their children. One of our speakers, Monsignor Charles Pope will deal precisely with these questions.

The understanding of religious liberty in this country has always allowed people to refuse to provide nonessential services if providing them would violate their deepest religious convictions.

5)  Do you think “homosexuality” can be cured or repaired? Are there any speakers at the conference who advocate such an approach?

There are certainly people who have for long periods of time been solely attracted sexually to members of the same sex (and who thought that their attraction was inborn) who are now solely attracted to members of the opposite sex. There are certainly people who are not entirely free from same sex attraction who are able to sustain happy marriages with a person of the opposite sex. Some of them report that therapy helped them; others attribute their change to prayer; others, to a combination of both. There are others who have undergone therapy and who have prayed ardently, who have experienced no change in their attractions, but find happiness in the celibate life they have chosen. We will be hearing from people from all these categories. The speakers at our conference will be speaking to all these situations.

6)   You speak very eloquently about the need to treat people with same-sex attraction with courtesy, love and compassion. Is it possible for two gay people, who are Catholic and together for decades and faithful to each other, to be examples of holiness, fidelity and God’s love? Many Catholics know people just like that.

Chaste homosexuals can certainly be examples of holiness and even heroic holiness. They know God’s plan for sexuality; they know the true meaning of love. But those who are sexually involved with each other cannot, no more so than heterosexuals who are not living in accord with God’s plan for sexuality.

It is likely that most of us know heterosexuals who are cohabiting who are lovely people; filled with kindness and generosity, who approach life with responsibility and a concern for all. They may have had several children out of wedlock and may be quite decent if not very good parents. They, in fact, may be much better examples of more kinds of good behavior than heterosexuals who are not violating the Church’s teaching on sexuality. Those facts, however, do not mean that they are holy or faithful to God’s plan for sexuality. In short, no one who is living in ways incompatible with God’s plan for sexuality can be examples of holiness.

 

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org

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Prof Janet E. Smith teaches moral theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.  She has a webpage at www.janetesmith.org.

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