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Breaking the Distrust Doom Loop
Strickland, U.S. Bishop's Social Media Sows Division

Neglect in the Daily Distribution

The Epistle and the Gospel from this past Fifth Sunday of Easter show us the early Church facing difference and diversity. The Jewish members of the Christian community identified as either Hebrews or Hellenists. They had different languages, customs and ways of being church. The Epistle tells us how they were trying to resolve the concern for the vulnerable Hellenist widows who were “being neglected in the daily distribution.” To solve the issue, it seems that they gathered the community in what appears to have been a small synod. Then in the Gospel, as if to announce the diversity of the people of God, Jesus tells us there are many dwelling places in his Father’s house. These readings might serve as an example for our Synodal process. But I wonder.

This past February at Sacred Heart University, Cardinal McElroy delivered a stunning Bergoglio Lecture on the Synod’s “vision of a church capable of radical inclusion, shared belonging and deep hospitality according to the teachings of Jesus.” In response to the Cardinal’s call for pastoral inclusion of LGBTQ+ people, and his anticipation—and powerful refutation—of those who would retaliate against his position, there was an appalling complaint against him.

The LGBTQ+ community, who constitute one portion of the people of God, are too often excluded, degraded and demonized as living lives that are “gravely evil.” From the Catechism of the Church, the sexual lives of LGBTQ+ people are described as “intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law.” Fr. James F. Keenan, in his book, A History of Catholic Theological Ethics, explains that the Church’s moral teachings about sexuality developed over centuries culminating somewhere in the 17th century when the Church asserted a negative evaluation of sexual desire, without, of course, understanding this desire in the complex development of human personality. He explains that this negative view derives from the lives of early church monks who were dedicated to both holiness and celibacy and who had to address their sexual urges and desires. So, for example, dealing with masturbation became a serious sin. It still is, that is, if young people in the Church actually cared. Sins against nature, Keenan tells us, are sins that have semen flow anywhere except into the female vessel. Keenan explains that in the Catholic moral tradition, no other moral issue has had such a powerful negative response as does sexual sin. More recently it appears, too, that the U.S. Bishops’ document rejecting gender-affirming medical treatment for transgender persons lacks the “listening and exchange” urged by Pope Francis in his address to the Alphonsian Academy.

Ethics have to do with our behavior, but there is a more fundamental problem. Over the centuries, an essentialist, gender binary ideology has developed the patriarchal systems, structures and norms that undergird our thinking and feeling about gender identity and sexual behavior. And even though science shows us that male and female, in both the natural world and with human persons, run on a spectrum in different ways, and that, for example, a person may be chromosomally male or female but possess sex organs that present differently, we are bound by our binary, essentialist understanding of human persons.

In his lecture, Cardinal McElroy wondered why “there is such a powerful and visceral animus to the LGBTQ+ community.” In response, I would offer that the (mis)perceived “other-ness” of the LGBTQ+ community strikes a potent irrational, possibly unconscious, fear that wrongly leads to exclusion and moral censure. The reality of the LGBTQ+ community challenges and disrupts binary thinking. The question becomes, what does it mean to be human?

There are Catholic theologians and ethicists much better equipped than I am to address the issues raised here; and address these issues they must, because we are seeing our young people drift from and leave the Church in numbers. Part of the reason they leave is because they do not see or experience welcoming and belonging in the Church. They do not experience the “many dwellings” that Jesus promises.

I emphasize with my students that we are all created in the image of God, that we—each individual—are loved into being by a loving God. I tell them that the story of the Gospel is a story of love, that Jesus embraced and walked with the marginalized, that Jesus’ Easter suffering, death and resurrection is for all of us. But I think, instead of hearing me, they see the Church’s “neglect in the daily distribution.”


Michelle Loris is the chair of the Catholic studies department and associate dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Sacred Heart University.

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