The Catholic Church has never been anything short of controversial. Needless to say, it is not an organization that easily fits into many of the norms of society, as the institution itself is often opposed in its beliefs to many cultural trends and changes. In the past few weeks, the Vatican made headlines once again as a formal decree was made banning Catholic clergy from blessing same-sex unions. This statement, approved by the Pontiff himself Pope Francis, seemed to be a shift from other recent tendencies in the Church leadership that can be construed and considered more “progressive,” and there are many questions still on many people’s minds, Christian or otherwise affiliated. Particularly, what are the reasonings behind this decision, and what effect will it have on the divide between Catholic Christianity and the LGBTQ+ community?
The Holy See has further attempted to explain the thought behind such a declaration by explaining the theological implications of allowing the clergy to bless same-sex unions. While the Catholic Church does not condemn individuals for having same-sex attractions, they do not condone same-sex unions, for they see these two things as separate matters. Same-sex unions are viewed by the Church as acting upon sinful urges. While having the urge to sin is not sin in itself, as we are all in Christian doctrine naturally inclined to turn away from God and his “perfectly ordered love,” acting upon those urges leads the sinner down a path that is not beneficial to them. Therefore, the fact that one has urges towards same-sex attraction is not in itself sinful, but to act on them in terms of a marital bond would indeed be considered a sinful action, which is why the Church is banning their clergy from blessing such unions, because “God does not and cannot bless sin.”
This is obviously a ruling that will further cause division between LGBTQ+ Catholics and the rest of the Church itself, so we come to an important question at the core of the issue: is the Catholic Church, as an institution, a source of hatred and bigotry? I will first preface my answer by saying that the fact of the matter is there are both individual priests and lay members of the Catholic Church that abuse its doctrine, theology and cultural influence as a means to further their own individual agendas of bigotry and hatred and scandalous criminal activity. We have historically seen this in times of colonialism, or periods such as the Inquisition, and even as recently as unfortunate sexual abuse and pedophilia scandals in multiple Diocese, which are ecclesiastical districts under a bishop’s jurisdiction.
I would argue, however, that these individual evil actions that have fueled violence, segregation and hate are not an issue of the institution being inherently evil in the same way as other institutions with similar issues; organizations do not necessarily corrupt individuals, but rather individuals attempt to corrupt organizations, and it takes strength by other members to fight back against corruption. That being said, this ruling by the Catholic Church against the blessing of same-sex unions is coming neither from a spirit of hatred nor bigotry. Social sciences have a concept called cultural relativism that they apply to their understanding of humans in which, to better understand why someone does what they do, their actions and beliefs must be viewed from the perspective of the underlying cultural variables that are unique to them. A similar approach has to be applied to Catholicism in this case. If we want to understand the Church’s ban on same-sex unions, we must first understand the underlying context.
The Catholic Church has a core part of their practices known as sacraments, which are considered to impart divine grace from God. Since the earliest days of the Church, one of these seven sacraments was the Sacrament of Matrimony, or marriage. While understanding of marriage has evolved over time within the Church as it has evolved over time, the core of the sacrament itself is a covenant bond between a man and a woman. Since this sacrament and other sacraments are considered by the Church to be instituted by Jesus Christ, to make exceptions to the core of the sacrament would be to separate yourself from God. This is the Christian definition of sin, something that separates you from God.
That being said, if there is any hope of unity or mutual respect of beliefs between the Catholic Church and the LGBTQ+ community, there needs to be an understanding on both sides of each others’ reasons behind their beliefs. The Catholic Church does not hold that same-sex attraction is in itself sin, but rather acting upon it, since it is a misorder of the what God intended. But, they also recognize that those who do not believe this have a right to not accept this. The same expectation should be held of the LGBTQ+ community towards the Catholic Church, that they also have a right to their beliefs. There must be tolerance of beliefs on both sides, and no tolerance of bigotry, hatred, violence, etc. on either side if there is going to be any mending and healing of hearts. We must keep in mind that the issue is not whether or not the Catholic Church represents normal members of its institution. Rather, the core problem is that we often believe the lie that the members of the Church that represent it poorly are true representatives of what the institution and its adherents believe and stand for, and that is simply false.