You've likely seen the reports and headlines proclaiming some variation on the following theme/discovery/finding/spin:
And so forth and so on. My first reaction was, "I bet there is a big difference in the numbers between Catholics who go to Mass once in a while and disagree with a number of Church teachings and Catholics who attend Mass each week and seek to follow Church teaching, period." Why? Because that is almost always the case in polls intent on showing how "Catholics" don't like/ignore/disdain/are clueless about Catholic teaching.
I didn't have time to look through the Public Religion Research Institute poll touted by the stories; thankfully, Thomas Peters has been all over this story:
Last week I began to expose the coordinated efforts of well-funded gay-rights groups to subvert the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and marriage by funding groups, including “Catholic” groups, whose sole purpose is to change our minds about these issues.
In that post I focused on a single organization – Arcus (Latin for “rainbow”) – which alone has contributed almost $700,000 to these subversive efforts in the past few years.
This week Arcus was at it again, this time funding the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) to release a poll covering Catholic attitudes on Gay and Lesbian issues. I’m guessing most of us have seen the resulting headlines this week proclaiming that “Catholics support same-sex marriage.”
The first important thing to realize about the results is that the less Catholics care about their faith, the more likely they are to support same-sex marriage:
Do read his entire piece at CatholicVote.org. Also, Dr. Jeff Mirus of CatholicCulture.org has written a piece, "Catholics and Gay Marriage: Caution with Numbers", that also analyzes the data more carefully than most non-Catholic news outlets:
In other words, what the survey is really telling us is that Catholics committed enough to attend Church weekly or more (that is, practicing Catholics in the traditional sense) overwhelmingly oppose gay marriage, but these same people are not quite prepared to rule out any possible form of legal recognition of what we might call gay households, with attendant civil benefits. Insofar as the results lead us to question the Catholicity of the frequent church-goers, they actually tell us very little about the Faith of the respondents. Instead, they reveal a characteristic Catholic and American reluctance to deny to others what the Faith does not insist be denied. This may be an unfortunate generosity, but it is not a doctrinal issue. (That I believe Catholics should have a keener sense of the demands of the common good in these matters is made eminently clear in a previous On the Culture entry, The End of Paralysis.)
Indeed, one of the points made in the study is that the more a particular survey question emphasizes that it is asking about some legal recognition other than true marriage, the less Catholics are concerned about it. Put another way, the more often people go to Church, the keener they are to reserve true marriage for heterosexual couples, as the Church teaches they must.
Bryan Cones of the U.S. Catholic, however, has a different perspective, what I'll kindly call "confused":
The faithful disagree with the church's teaching for some reason. I think this is just as likely as No. 2. After all, many Catholics know gay and lesbian people, have gay and lesbian children or relatives, or are themselves LGBT--we do baptize regardless of sexual orientation, after all. The experience of the faithful is telling them that same-gender relationships are capable of being loving, fulfilling, and life-giving. Many same-gender couples raise children as well. It's hard to square that experience with church teaching that says a same-gender sexual orientation is an "objective disorder" to an "intrinsically evil act." Nor do they see why these families should not be afforded some legal protection, whether marriage or a marriage-like arrangement.
Unfortunately, what is called for here is conversation in the church about this issue, even if that doesn't immediately lead to consensus on how best to move forward--a point I argued in a column some time ago. That conversation must start by separating the civil and religious dimensions of the question, but it quite frankly can't stop at the civil ones. Indeed, if we are not going to take the experience of LGBT Catholics seriously, we should stop baptizing them--an option equally stupid, impossible, and contrary to the will of God and the practice of the church.
There are several problems here, including:
• The important distinction between homosexual orientation/inclination and homosexual acts is blurred. Both are, the Catechism teaches, disordered, but the inclination is "objectively disordered" (that is, oriented to an objectively sinful act), while "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered" (par. 2357), that is, they are sinful in and of themselves. Having the inclination does not require acting upon that inclination, just as the man who is inclined to commit adultery or view pornography has a choice when it comes to giving in to the temptation to commit such actions.
• Church teaching about homosexual acts is so clear and straightforward—they are "acts of grave depravity" and "are contrary to the natural law" (CCC, par. 2357)—that a call to "conversation in the church" is simply a way of either buying time, avoiding the obvious, or figuring a way to reject the truth. Any conversation aimed at undermining Church teaching, rather than explaining it to the confused or uneducated, is not conversation; it is dissent.
• The appeal to "experience" is a common and tired practice. Alcoholism and viewing pornography and committing adultery are increasingly common—should we also consider the "experience" of those who are alcoholic, addicted to pornography, and commit adultery in order to deny the grave and objective sinfulness of those acts? Right. I didn't think so.
• Saying that "if we are not going to take the experience of LGBT Catholics seriously, we should stop baptizing them" is, frankly, one of the most ridiculous things I've heard in a while. It can only be said, I think, if the author really believes that homosexual acts are morallly acceptable (unless we are supposed to believe, like idiots, that "LGBT Catholics" who wish to be "married" have no intention of engaging in homosexual acts with their "spouse"). Last time I looked, the sacrament of Baptism cleanses from both original and (in the case of a person of the age of reason) personal sin. Baptism also makes us children of God, who are called and enabled to live holy lives, able to reject sin—whether it be homosexual acts, stealing, adultery, alcholism, etc. Put another way, baptism comes with both rights and responsibilities. Far from being a free hall pass, it is a call to holiness and chastity.
• In the end, Cones apparently puts more stock in the "experience" of "LGBT Catholics" than he does in the teachings of the Church, the power of the sacraments, and the grace of God. The problem, then, runs even more deeply than this or that moral issue, however important they are.
In light of that, it's worth quoting this from the Catechism:
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. (pars. 2358-9).
Related on Ignatius Insight:
• Authentic Freedom and the Homosexual Person | Dr. Mark Lowery
• Contraception and Homosexuality: The Sterile Link of Separation | Dr. Raymond Dennehy
• Sexual Orientation and the Catholic Church | Dr. Charles E. Rice
• Privacy, the Courts, and the Culture of Death | An Interview with Dr. Janet E. Smith
• Human Sexuality and the Catholic Church | Donald P. Asci
• The Truth About Conscience | John F. Kippley
• Practicing Chastity in an Unchaste Age | Bishop Joseph F. Martino
• Homosexual Orientation Is Not a "Gift" | James Hitchcock
• Can I Quote You On That? Talking to the Media About Homosexuality and the Priesthood | Mark Brumley