The Washington Post spilled ink and tears over what truly is a horrible situation. Barbara Johnson’s mother died. Ms. Johnson’s mother was an active, practicing Catholic her entire life. Ms. Johnson was raised Catholic, attended Catholic schools and taught art at a Catholic high school before setting up her own art studio. Ms. Johnson contacted a local parish and set up a funeral Mass for her mother. During the Mass celebrating her mother’s life, Ms. Johnson came forward to receive the Holy Eucharist. The priest celebrating the Mass refused to administer the Sacrament to Ms. Johnson. The priest exacerbated the damage by leaving the altar while Ms. Johnson delivered her mother’s eulogy (eulogies are verboten by the Church, with good reason, but that’s a windmill to tilt at another day), and refused go to the burial site to administer the Catholic interment prayers.
You see, Ms. Johnson is a lesbian. A lesbian who lives with her partner of 20 years.
Some of you may be surprised by this, others not at all, but ‘Puter’s got a real problem with his Church’s treatment of Ms. Johnson. The priest’s treatment of Ms. Johnson was absolutely and unequivocally inappropriate.
“But ‘Puter,” you keen. “Doesn’t the Church think gays are evil? What’s wrong with you? Are you selling out the One True Church?”
No, ‘Puter’s not selling out The Faith. And no, the Roman Catholic Church does not think gays are evil. Let’s take another quick look at what the Catechism actually says and does not say about gays.
Here’s what the Catechism, sections 2357-59, teaches us:
§ 2357. Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
§ 2358. 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.
§ 2359. 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.
These are difficult words to hear for those of us with homosexual friends. These words must be all the more cutting for homosexuals. All that said, the Church does not teach Roman Catholics that gays are evil, or are to be persecuted, shunned or bullied. The Church’s position is nuanced.
Note that the Church distinguishes between homosexual people and homosexual acts. It is not being homosexual that is sinful, it is engaging in homosexual acts that is sinful. Homosexual acts are sinful not only because, as the song goes, the Bible tells us so, but also because such acts are not procreative and therefore in violation of natural law. Procreation, as we should all now be well aware from the HHS contraception mandate brouhaha, is one of the pillars of the Church’s consistent ethic of life. It is non-negotiable.
The Church goes to great pains to tell us, though, that homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” The Church goes even further, teaching Catholics that “[e]very sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
Hate the sin, love the sinner. It’s simple, really. Now, ‘Puter understands that a great many out there disagree with the Church’s position. That’s fine. That’s your choice. Unlike another monotheistic religion that rhymes with “Schmislam,” Christianity’s genius is the sanctification of submission to God’s will through an individual’s free choice, not force. Neither ‘Puter nor the Church is cramming doctrine down your throat whether you like it or not. If you’d enjoy such an experience, may ‘Puter recommend to you a vacation in Kabul or Riyadh?
But we’re drifting here. Back to Ms. Johnson and her mother. In refusing Ms. Johnson the Eucharist, the priest erred horribly. The priest only knew that Ms. Johnson was lesbian (he found out immediately before the Mass) and that she had a partner. By all accounts, the priest had not discussed Ms. Johnson’s homosexuality with her, nor did he discuss and counsel Ms. Johnson on the Church’s doctrine thereon. Simply put, the priest did not have facts sufficient to make a reasoned determination as to Ms. Johnson’s state of mind, her personal life and most importantly, whether she had actually committed any sinful acts whatsoever.
Ms. Johnson was not acting as a public advocate for homosexuals or homosexual rights. Ms. Johnson simply sought the Church’s aid and compassion for her deceased mother during a most trying time. The Church’s Missa Pro Defunctis (Mass for the Dead), colloquially knows as the funeral Mass, exists for the benefit of the soul of the deceased, and nothing Ms. Johnson did detracted from the dignity of the Mass, or sought to change the focus of the Mass in any inappropriate manner. In fact, it was the ordained man celebrating the Mass who detracted from its dignity.
The Church believes engaging in homosexual acts is sinful. Ms. Johnson, one can safely assume as she has a lesbian partner of 20 years, has engaged in homosexual acts. So what? Ms. Johnson was not engaged in a homosexual act at the time she presented herself for the Eucharist. The celebrant had no inkling of who Ms. Johnson is, or what she’s about, having spent minimal time with her before the Mass. To refuse her Communion on the basis of ignorant conjecture is wrong, and in no manner avoided unjust discrimination against Ms. Johnson. The celebrant did not accept Ms. Johnson “respect, compassion and sensitivity,” as our Catechism requires.
Church doctrine, like our Bill of Rights, is subject to time, place and manner restrictions. That is, while engaging in homosexual acts is a sin, the proper time, place and manner to discuss such issues with the supposed sinner is in private, respectful conversation outside of Mass. Clearly, denying a sacrament to Ms. Johnson, about whom the priest had extremely limited knowledge, during her mother’s funeral Mass is not the time, not the place and in no way the manner to administer fraternal correction.
To the Archdiocese of Washington’s credit, a high-ranking cleric wrote a letter of apology to Ms. Johnson and her family. Further to the Archdiocese’s credit, its policy on denying sacraments is as follows
When questions arise about whether or not an individual should present themselves for communion, it is not the policy of the Archdiocese of Washington to publicly reprimand the person. Any issues regarding the suitability of an individual to receive communion should be addressed by the priest with that person in a private, pastoral setting.
And ‘Puter cannot leave this topic without recognizing the dignity with which Ms. Johnson has conducted herself throughout this unfortunate episode. Ms. Johnson graciously accepted the Archdiocese’s apology, while still seeking the priest’s removal from pastoral ministry. Ms. Johnson has not sought to make this into an issue about Church doctrine. She has treated it for what it is: the non-doctrinal actions of a misguided priest. And for her restraint, ‘Puter is appreciative.
‘Puter still hews to his Church’s teachings. This priest’s actions in no manner represent any reasonable interpretation of the Church’s teachings. His poorly considered actions caused ‘Puter’s church damage, and it is right and just to call this priest to answer.
And that’s true regardless of what you believe about homosexuality.