Cardinal Francis George, Head of the Archdiocese of Chicago, writes in a column for Catholic New World (September 7-20, 2014): “In recent years, society has brought social and legislative approval to all types of sexual relationships that used to be considered “sinful.” Since the biblical vision of what it means to be human tells us that not every friendship or love can be expressed in sexual relations, the church’s teaching on these issues is now evidence of intolerance for what the civil law upholds and even imposes. What was once a request to live and let live has now become a demand for approval. The “ruling class,” those who shape public opinion in politics, in education, in communications, in entertainment, is using the civil law to impose its own form of morality on everyone. We are told that, even in marriage itself, there is no difference between men and women, although nature and our very bodies clearly evidence that men and women are not interchangeable at will in forming a family. Nevertheless, those who do not conform to the official religion, we are warned, place their citizenship in danger.”
Where do I start? I grew up Catholic and broke away from the Catholic Church over a woman’s right to choose whether to bring a child into this world. I always loved the beauty, the ritual, the pageantry of the Catholic service. Many of the priests I knew growing up were thoughtful, compassionate people; many continue to work to abolish the death penalty, to build bridges in the interfaith community, to develop comprehensive programs to help the poor/homeless, and to reduce gun violence.
While I still hold a great deal of affection for aspects of my childhood religion and for the good work that many Catholics do in this world, I am flabbergasted when I read something like what Cardinal Francis George writes. He is using fear to try to manipulate Catholics. He is not trying to engage in a dialogue over theological issues. He wants Catholics and others to believe the way he wants them to believe. And if they don’t, he says, they will be “putting their citizenship in danger.”
This irresponsible fear-mongering is not the role of religion in our world. What the Cardinal is doing is expressing fanaticism. Religion’s role, at least from my perspective, is to build community, to affirm compassion, to encourage people to look more deeply within themselves to answer the ultimate questions of existence, and to encourage living an ethical life. When respected religious leaders use their authority to manipulate and control, it not only hurts this denomination’s faith, it also supports a negative view of religion for non-religious people.
So many of our GLBT community are not engaged in religious communities because they gave been hurt by religious communities that have preached that their sexuality is sinful, wrong. And when a Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender person hears this kind of intolerant language from a religious leader, their opinion of the value of religion is even more negative. Is there a place where a spiritual GLBT person can find a welcoming religious community? Yes, there are many, but when a GLBT person hears prejudice from a religious leader, the likelihood is that they may stop looking for community. And, to me, that is the true “sinfulness,” the sinfulness of sanctioned prejudice.