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April 4th, 2013

Envisioning Radical Hospitality for All


An artist's rendering shows the U.S. Supreme Court in session for oral arguments in a case challenging California's Proposition 8. (CNS photo/Art Lien, Reuters)

An artist’s rendering shows the U.S. Supreme Court in session for oral arguments in a case challenging California’s Prop 8. (CNS photo/Art Lien, Reuters)

Notice a proliferation of red on Facebook last week?

Many of your friends, and perhaps you yourself, may have changed their profile pictures to a red equals sign, showing their support for same-sex marriage as the Supreme Court heard arguments in two pivotal cases. Tuesday, the justices listened to arguments surrounding California’s law that banned same-sex marriage there, known as Prop 8. The next day, they heard arguments challenging the constitutionality of the Clinton-era law known as the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in states where they are legal. A woman whose partner had died, resulting in a staggering estate tax bill of $362,000 that a heterosexual couple would not have been charged, brought the case to the court.

What struck me about the Facebook campaign was the diversity of my friends who changed their profile pics that day. Of course, my younger liberal friends showed support, but even my more center-right, orthodox Catholic friends got in on the action. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. A recent poll exploring attitudes toward same-sex marriage among religious folks shows that 62% of Catholics under 34 support same-sex marriage.

Some prominent Catholic leaders, however, are clear in their opposition. Many Cardinals, bishops, priests, and laypeople lead the movement to preserve what has been dubbed traditional marriage between one man and one woman. The archbishop of San Francisco, Most Rev. Salvatore Cordileone, spoke at a rally in front of the Supreme Court building to the National Organization for Marriage, reiterating the Church’s teaching. The Church, he said, isn’t opposed to anyone, but instead strives to support the traditional definition of marriage.

But are there changes in the wind on how the Church approaches this sensitive issue?

As the world dove into the Pope Francis’ past, exploring his actions when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, one item caught the eye of many Catholics. In 2010, as Argentina was considering legalizing same-sex marriage, then Cardinal Bergoglio (now the pope) tried to broker a deal with his fellow bishops: The church would support civil-union legislation as a compromise, reserving marriage for heterosexual couples but giving same-sex couples the legal protection he felt they needed. His brother bishops rejected the compromise, reportedly the Cardinal’s only defeat during his term as head of the Argentine bishops conference. The compromise has been portrayed as both pragmatic and exemplary of the Church’s view that all people, gays and lesbians included, are to be treated with respect and dignity.

Fast forward to today. Recognizing perhaps that the Church is losing its young members on the issue of same-sex marriage, and perhaps understanding that the battle may be lost entirely, some leaders are beginning to soften their tone. Remember, there’s two parts to the teaching in the catechism: homosexual acts are immoral, we’re told, but all gay people must be treated with respect and dignity. Perhaps the Church is beginning a campaign to emphasize the latter after so many years of touting the former?

David Gibson writes at Religion News Service that following the events at the Supreme Court, some church leaders had some surprising thoughts to share on the Sunday talk shows. New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who also serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told ABC News that the Church must be more welcoming to gays and lesbians, and always be reminded that God loves them. Further, Gibson writes:

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, and his predecessor, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, were also on Sunday morning news shows addressing the issue of gay rights and stressing that the Church needed to be welcoming. As McCarrick put it, the Church could be open to civil unions as an alternative to gay marriage.

If the Catholic Church were to support civil unions, it would be a watershed moment for how it reaches out to gays and lesbians. Of course, society has seemed to move beyond civil unions, but the gesture would be welcomed by the so-called millennial generation.

What, though, can the Church do today, without changing any of its teachings, to make gays and lesbians feel welcome and part of God’s community?

As Pope Francis continues to demonstrate so powerfully, symbolism matters. So imagine the powerful image of a senior Catholic prelate sitting down to share a meal with a gay couple and engaging in friendly dialogue about how the Church might make their family feel more welcome in parish life. There’d be no implicit approval of same-sex marriage or conversation about moral theology. Instead, just a pastor and two faithful Catholics exploring ways to live out radical hospitality. Though it seems obvious at first glance, engaging gay and lesbian Catholics in dialogue about their experiences would be a radical shift in how the Church approaches these issues.

Also, a shift in emphasis could make a huge difference in how young adults relate to the Church on an issue that they view as one of social justice. Reemphasizing the part of canon law that demands all people are treated with dignity and respect is the first step. Imagine the Church denouncing laws that condemn gays and lesbians, sometimes even with the death penalty, in places like Uganda and Russia. This kind of advocacy would fit with the Church’s teaching on social justice issues and would require no change in Church teaching on gender or marriage.

The Catholic Church has historically been, and remains in many ways today, a champion of the marginalized. While a cursory glance at headlines might suggest that gays and lesbians seem to enjoy universal support in the United States today, there are still many, many cases of unjust discrimination, hate, and often violence committed against them. What can the Church do to fight this injustice? How might Catholics mobilize and witness to the profound love and radical hospitality preached by Jesus for all? And, if the Church soon finds itself in a new reality where same-sex marriage is legal nationwide, how might it partner with those who want to strengthen marriage for all?

These are not easy questions to answer, but we as Catholics must strive to live out Christ’s commandment to love one another in whatever context we find ourselves, no matter how quickly it seems to change.

The Author : Michael O'Loughlin
Mike O'Loughlin is a writer living in Washington, D.C., covering religion, politics, and culture. In addition to Busted Halo, his writing appears in the Advocate, National Catholic Reporter, Foreign Policy, Religion & Politics, and America. He's also appeared on Fox News and MSNBC. Follow him on twitter at @mikeoloughlin.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Michael

    The problem here is that when one says that homosexual acts are immoral or depraved or disordered, the gay community will not tolerate this as being welcoming. Yes, respect the dignity of the human person, but in no wise can the church condone the homosexual behavior or lifestyle. And Michael O’Loughlin stating that “just a pastor and two faithful Catholics exploring ways to live out radical hospitality” exposes this fallacy straight away, since unless the gay couple is living celibately, they certainly are not ‘faithful’ as Catholics.

  • Sandy

    I wholeheartedly agree the Church should be more embracing of homosexuals and fight against discrimination toward them. However, in your example of a pastor sitting down to dinner with a gay couple who are faithful Catholics…what does this pastor do when this couple attends Mass and comes to receive Communion? I say he administers the Sacrament, but some would say no. I want to believe my Church is a big tent and all are welcome. If people are in sin, that is between the individual and our Lord. Jesus taught us it is not our place to judge, but it is our place to love.

  • JJ

    Great article. I strongly agree that it is time for the Church to move away from messages of condemnation and towards messages that reflect God’s love for ALL people. There are few groups of people who are more marginalized, and I believe that we need to stand in solidarity, saying that Jesus came for all of us. Everyone is welcome at His table.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bernadette.reis SrBernadette Reis

    I would be interested in knowing the real motivations behind the recent comments of some US Cardinals regarding the possibility of the Catholic Church accepting civil unions, rather than an assumption that they are afraid of losing younger people. Also, I believe Cardinal Schonborn invited a gay couple to dinner, just as you suggested would be great that a senior Catholic prelate should do–and he was a major author of the Catechism….

  • http://www.facebook.com/phil.gallery.1 Phil Gallery

    Giving gay unions the equal protection of the law is a constitutional necessity. Equating gay marriage to heterosexual marriage would be another step down the road to a society where all acts are considered equivalent and where informed judgement is therefore an irrelevancy. I don’t think we want to go there. I think we probably will.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.fratello Stephen Fratello

    PS – I’m gay, I should know… :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.fratello Stephen Fratello

    The teaching “homosexual acts are immoral” needs to be changed…plain and
    simple. End of discussion. These teachings are ignorant, outdated and
    harmful. There is no negotiation otherwise. You cannot say on one side
    that gay and lesbians are welcomed and respected and then condemn their
    relationships. It simply does not work. It’s sad and frustrating to see
    such ignorance. If God wanted gays and lesbians to be straight he would have made them that way. The end.

    • http://www.facebook.com/phil.gallery.1 Phil Gallery

      Catholic theology teaches that heterosexual sex is the final step in God’s plan of creation. No one has a right to sex. In marriage, men and women have the right to cooperate in creation. I don’t know why God allows homosexuality. But then I’m not God.

    • Michael

      Why should the Church change this teachings?… and upon what basis should the teaching change? Why not change other morally illicit sexual relationships, such as fornication, adultery, incest, polygamy, bestiality, orgies, etc.?

    • Rob

      I totally understand where you are coming from Stephen. However, you must remember why the Church speaks out against homosexual acts. Also, the Church doesn’t just condemn homosexual acts, it also condemns heterosexual acts. in Catholic tradition, sex is seen very differently than current day sex. Sex has become a very casual thing. However, the Church would say that sex should unify (so this is why sex should be saved for marriage and at the very least to a love committed relationship) and sex must have the chance for procreation (which is why two men and two women can not marry because on their own they cannot conceive.) As well, I don’t know if I’m ready to condemn relationships because two lesbian or two gay people can have a very loving committed relationship. Most importantly, we must remember that the Church’s doctrines are inspired by God. They should not change with the ebb and flow. A really fear is only looking at one line of a Church doctrine. We must remember why the doctrines teach what they teach. If we just let the doctrines dry out to old rules, this isn’t very Christian. Remember, Jesus followed the spirit not the letter of the law. Always be willing to look for the reason and maybe the doctrine will become more understandable. I also disagree with your last point. I don’t think God would “make” someone because this precludes love. Love has to come freely from choice or else it isn’t love.

      Also, I saw before you said you were gay. Never doubt God’s love for you, gay or straight.

  • Beth

    “Instead, just a pastor and two faithful Catholics” ??????? FAITHFUL Catholics??!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephanie.starkey1 Stephanie Starkey

    If God is the father, that means we are all brothers and sisters. Who else grew up with siblings? Do you remember what Mom and Dad had to say about us trying to “parent” one another instead of just being brothers and sisters, doing what Mom and Dad told us to do, and letting them deal with it when our brothers and sisters disobeyed? Think about that and remember to worry about your own relationship with God instead of others. (Also remember that churches maintaining a tax exempt status is contingent upon them not getting involved with civil policy).

  • Ken

    Though dressed up in terms of “social justice” it is painfully obvious that Michael O’Loughlin is sympathetic to so-called gay marriage. Advocating that it might be nice to “share a meal with a gay couple and [engage] in friendly dialogue about
    how the Church might make their family feel more welcome in parish life” would create an impossible situation where a gay relationship is put on the same level as sacramental marriage. Consider the implications and ramifications if this misplaced sympathy were actually put into practice in parish communities. Liberalizing the Catholic church is not the answer to making it more vibrant. The severe decline in numbers in more liberal denominations that have accepted contraception, abortion, and gay marriage, and the rise in evangelical church members shows that watering down the truth does not work, on a temporal or spiritual level. What needs to be preached and taught with rigor and love is the “why” of being a Catholic, the beauty and necessity of living the eternal truths in our daily lives that lead to heaven and eternity with Jesus.

    • Mark Bredestege

      I couldn’t say it any better, The Catholic Church teaches “homosexual acts are immoral, we’re told, but all gay people must be treated with respect and dignity.” But in the Catechism if he would have kept reading it is our duty to help them and pray for them to live chaste lives. I would rather live in a Church that is small and devout than large and lost

  • Anne

    The church’s role, as exemplified by Jesus, is to be a champion for the marginalized. Period.

    • jen

      AND, as exemplified by Jesus, not to encourage immorality but to correct and instruct to ‘go and sin no more.’ This truth cannot be changed by the times nor by popular opinion. No matter what the issue.

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