This piece, written by Fr. Roger Landry, appeared in The Anchor, the Diocese of Fall River’s diocesan newspaper. It says A LOT that Cardinal Sean O’Malley and his vitriolic spokesman, Terry Donilon, have neglected to say or have been incapable of saying. Everyone following the situation at St. Cecilia’s in Boston should read it and pass it around. We’ll eagerly await the second installment next week.
Toward the True Pastoral Care of Those with Same-Sex Attractions
July 1, 2011
The ongoing controversy at St. Cecilia’s Church in Boston over the scheduling, postponing and re-theming of a Mass originally planned to celebrate Boston’s gay “pride month” has brought to the surface issues that extend far beyond the boundaries of one parish or archdiocese. The controversy touches not only on the subject of the pastoral care of the Church toward those with same-sex attractions, but on the much larger matter of the purpose of the Church’s pastoral care to anyone and everyone: Whether the Church, her priests and parishes will faithfully, lovingly and courageously care for people with the fullness of the Gospel; or whether her ministers and ministries — perhaps out of too much fear to give offense, a lack of faith in the teachings of the Church, or a faint-hearted notion of what true love demands — will dilute the Gospel of its saving power by stripping it of the uncomfortable and countercultural teachings that some listeners most need.
The controversy in Boston — which has been covered extensively by both local and national media outlets — began with the “Rainbow Ministry” at St. Cecilia’s advertising a June 19 Mass “in celebration of Boston’s Pride Month.” After Cardinal Sean O’Malley became aware of the Mass, he had it postponed until July 10, in the attempt to strip it from any connection to “gay pride.” Gay pride is an expression that embraces something far different than respect for all those with same-sex attractions. Rather it connotes: treating same-sex activity as a quasi-sacrament to be celebrated instead of a sin to be confessed; approval and advocacy of same-sex relationships, lifestyle, unions, and “marriages;” rejection and ridicule of Biblical and magisterial teaching on human sexuality; and acceptance of a deeply-flawed anthropology that totally marginalizes the meaning of God’s having made the human person in His image and likeness male and female (Gen 1:27). “The philosophical and political agenda of Gay Pride in relation to marriage and sexual morality,” Cardinal O’Malley wrote in a strong June 22 statement, “is incompatible with the Church’s teachings.” To have a Catholic Mass celebrating “gay pride” would be as objectively contradictory as offering the sacred liturgy for the members and benefactors of “Catholics for Free Choice” or in support of adultery advocacy or contraception crusades.
Cardinal O’Malley’s intentions to dissociate the Mass from “gay pride,” however, sadly haven’t succeeded, as many members of the parish and of the media have continued popularly to refer to the Mass as a gay pride Mass. Those who have ceased to draw explicit attention to the connection with gay pride have continued, however, to use coded language — “a welcoming Mass” — to communicate that supporters of the gay agenda do not have to worry about being made to feel uncomfortable at the Mass over the incompatibility of the gay agenda with Church teaching. The expression “welcoming Mass” now being employed to refer to the July 10 liturgy does not mean merely that people will be received with genuine Christian hospitality. Like the expression “welcoming parish” used in various places (such as the 200 “gay friendly” parishes promoted by pro-gay websites), it’s a euphemism that communicates to those who may be living in objective discordance with the teaching of Jesus and the Church —like those engaging in the gay lifestyle, living in irregular marriages, cohabitating, undergoing in-vitro fertilization, or actively supporting the practice of abortion, gay marriage or other practices contrary to the faith — that not only will they never have to hear a peep about any of these unpleasant topics, but very likely neither will they hear anything suggesting the necessity of concrete conversion, confession, and of being in doctrinal, sacramental and moral communion with Christ and his mystical Body the Church in order to receive Jesus worthily in Holy Communion.
Cardinal O’Malley is surely right to resist pressure from some to cancel the Mass. A Mass, for example, is not a speech, which however eloquent no one really needs for salvation. The Mass is supposed to be the source and the summit of Christian life and therefore no pastor worth his sacred oils is trigger-happy to eliminate the possibility for people to come into Christ’s presence. As the Cardinal wrote in his June 22 statement, “We want all baptized Catholics to come to Mass and be part of our community” and find there in the love of Christ “the courage and strength to embrace the cross that is part of the life of discipleship.” The issue of discernment that remains for the whole Church, however, is whether “welcoming Masses” like the July 10 liturgy at St. Cecilia’s truly foster embracing Christ, the Cross and authentic Christian discipleship in the way the Cardinal describes or whether they encourage implicit or defiant rejection of Christ, the Church and the Cross to the extent that they are deemed incompatible with a fundamentalist adhesion to the gay agenda’s pseudo-gospel.
Those with same-sex attractions deserve the full proclamation of the Catholic faith, the truth entrusted by Christ to the Church to make us truly free and lead us to salvation. It’s not enough merely to “welcome” those with same-sex attractions, if by welcome we mean simply to make them feel at ease. Faithful Catholics seek to welcome everyone with the warmth of a brother and sister but also to call everyone to conversion with the humility of a fellow prodigal. Jesus upbraided Simon the Pharisee for not offering him the hospitality of washing his feet upon entering his home (Lk 7:36 ff). Likewise for the Church genuinely to welcome anyone, we need humbly to seek to cleanse them of all their impurity so that they can enter into authentic communion with Christ and us. To do any less is a superficial welcome unworthy of the Church Christ founded.
It’s been said that the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. “Those who are well do not need a doctor,” Jesus declared, “but the sick do” (Mk 2:17). The Church exists as a hospital for the spiritually sick to bring them the Divine Physician’s healing, to help them become well, and ultimately to minister them the medicine of Christ in such a way that they may live forever. When the Church fails to do this, it fails in its mission. If doctors and nurses at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute were aware that a patient was chain smoking cigars and out of a desire not to displease him said nothing, they would be guilty of unconscionable neglect. If the patient was flaunting his cigar-smoking and attempting to persuade others that, rather than harmful, cigar-smoking was a great practice deserving of celebration instead of censure, the destructive consequences of their reticence would be magnified. Similarly, pastors and parishes who are aware that parishioners are unabashedly engaging in practices contrary to the practice of the faith and who do not strive, with patient, tender and firm preaching and accompaniment, to help them eliminate whatever in them is leading them to sin, are culpable of the worst type of pastoral malpractice. Their behavior, no matter how they spin it, is inconsistent with genuine Christian love. St. Paul was emphatic that those who engage in same-sex activities were among those who will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9) and God promised through Ezekiel that if a “watchman” failed to warn someone that he would surely die through persistence in sinful conduct, then not only would the sinner die but He would hold that derelict sentinel responsible for the sinner’s death (Ez 3:18-20). There’s no way to blunt the unambiguous force and eschatologically-consequential significance of these words for both pastors and parishioners (short of exposing one’s lack of faith by attempting to deconstruct Sacred Scripture and dismissing its inspiration). Even if “out of season,” they constitute part of the Good News, just as much as stern warnings from a doctor, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy can all constitute part of a cure.
Because the gay agenda, abetted by cultural elites and many in the secular media, has been somewhat successful in getting popular culture to anathamatize the Church’s teachings with regard to same-sex activity, it behooves all Catholics to ponder the Church’s teachings anew, more carefully and more prayerfully. Next week, we will continue our analysis of the larger issues suggested by the St. Cecilia’s controversy. We will investigate what the “acceptance” of those with same sex attractions should mean for those with the attractions as well as for all the faithful. We will examine the ubiquitous calumny — the blatant lie determined to damage another’s reputation —of “homophobia” or “anti-gay hatred” predicated of anyone who opposes any aspects of the gay agenda. We will also address the full pastoral care of those with same-sex attractions and whether a parish that specializes in this ministry can be carrying out true Catholic pastoral care without fostering groups like Courage that explicitly help those with same-sex attractions strive to live chastely according to the teaching of the faith.