My Take: Why good Catholics are challenging church line on homosexuality
A series of recent conferences have cast a light on gay Catholics and their families.
November 8th, 2011
12:22 PM ET

My Take: Why good Catholics are challenging church line on homosexuality

Editor's Note: Patrick Hornbeck is an assistant professor and associate chair for undergraduate studies at Fordham University.

By Patrick Hornbeck , Special to CNN

The Roman Catholic Church has long been a reliable source for one-dimensional storylines: Victims of sexual abuse call for justice. Parishes close as numbers of clergy plummet. Rosary-clad Catholics protest outside abortion clinics.

Perhaps nowhere has the storyline seemed more clear-cut than with regard to the church’s treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and their relationships.

Official Catholic teachings describe gay or lesbian orientation as “an objective disorder” and tell those who love their same-sex partners that they possess a “tendency… toward an intrinsic moral evil.”

Catholic bishops have been public advocates for laws banning same-sex marriage, and some have sought to prevent LGBT Catholics and their allies from fully participating in the Church’s rituals and activities

But neither formal teachings nor bishops’ statements tell the whole story.

A series of recent conferences at American colleges reveals the breadth of Catholic approaches to issues of sexual diversity.

The conferences, part of an effort called More than a Monologue, have happened at two Catholic universities and two non-denominational divinity schools

The events conclusively show that American Catholics are hardly of one mind, nor in lockstep with their bishops, when it comes to same-sex marriage; to rights for LGBT people at home, at work, and in church; or to the ongoing campaign against anti-gay bullying in schools.

At Fordham University in New York, a Catholic school, a proud mother of a grown gay son drew a standing ovation when she told a story about discovering the effect of church teachings on her child.

Here’s that mother, Deb Word, who has founded a group Fortunate Families to help Catholic families with lesbian daughters and gay sons, in her own words:

Fast forward to a family vacation in the Gulf. There were five of us floating—Sean and his wife, Chris, and his dad and me, holding onto each other’s rafts. And I said, ‘I think this is what Heaven is like.’ And Christopher said quietly, “except I won’t be there with you.” “Son, where do you get this stuff?” “Mom, it’s your club. You know the rules.”

And if my cradle Catholic child, growing up in a loving family, got this message, then what does Catholic mean in more conservative homes? … And I wonder, why do I stay in a club that my son says is dangerous to his soul?”

Another panelist at the event described the freedom she feels as a result of living, within the church’s rules, as a celibate lesbian.

A third, a physician in New York City, praised the Catholic tradition for its emphasis on human dignity and social justice, but added: “I am troubled by the fact that I find greater acceptance of myself as a whole person in my professional community as a physician, than I do in the official hierarchy of the church of my family, my childhood, and my life.”
Nationally syndicated columnist Dan Savage may be better known for his very public critiques of Catholic leaders than for the year he spent in a high school seminary, or for his Catholic deacon father, or for the baptism he and his husband sought for their son.
But speaking recently at New York’s Union Theological Seminary, Savage described his Catholic family and upbringing, celebrating parts of his Catholic experience.

At the same time, he refused to let the church off the hook for the part he accuses it of playing in tacitly condoning the bullying of LGBT youth.

Last month, at Yale University, a Catholic layman who teaches psychiatry spoke movingly of his attempt to offer church leaders the wisdom of his scientific field, and of his bitter disappointment when his offers were met with silence.

And at Connecticut ’s Fairfield University, scholars, clergy, and lay Catholics recently discussed the implications for the church of having many gay and lesbian people, both in and out of the closet, in roles as priests and ministers.

These public events have brought into the light the struggles, compromises and choices about meaning and love that many Catholics experience daily.

Poll numbers show that while many of their bishops have been stepping up their rhetoric on the issue, only one-in-three American Catholics describe opposition to same-sex marriage as “very important.” Seventy percent support legal recognition for same-sex couples.

All of us, Catholic or not, LGBT or not, owe it to ourselves and our fellow citizens to keep these new conversations going. Let’s not to settle for only part of the story.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Patrick Hornbeck.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Bishops • Catholic Church • Homosexuality • Opinion

soundoff (2,880 Responses)
  1. HobGoblin

    That's the times we live in now. Do anything you want and still call yourself Christian. Oh well. Thankfully, 19 gays haven't yet got together and flown aircraft into buildings killing 3000+ people. So It could be worse. They could be– Muslims.

    November 9, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • Lee

      Do you like to put everyone in a nice neat box?

      November 9, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • MM

      Are you kidding me?! Comparing gays to terrorists?! You need some serious help, you hate-filled bigot. Now crawl back under your bridge, troll. You don't deserve to be taken seriously.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  2. steve101

    it's a free country. Do whatever you want as long as no one gets hurt. That all I have to say.

    November 9, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  3. JT

    Is there such a thing as a non-gay priest? All priests I've ever met are gay and most are quite obvious.

    November 9, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Lee

      Really JT. Do they tell you this?

      November 9, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • JT

      No, it's just common knowledge dipsh!t.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Grog Says

      You hang around with a lot of priests, huh ?

      November 9, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Doobie Wah

      I think JT is gay.
      Its ok, come out come out wherever you are.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  4. Rob

    If you don't like it, just leave and make your own religion; seems to be the common response to when someone disagrees with a certain thing in the Church.

    November 9, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  5. leonard

    i think people need to get the real life truth satan lives for us to turn on god and find anyway to get us to do it satan hates gays as much as god and as for any church be doing this is plain wrong .

    November 9, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • Rick

      "Real life truth", eh?

      November 9, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • A Simple Christian

      God doesn't hate gay people. He loves the person, just not the sin. It's comments like that which give many Christians a bad rap. We all sin on a daily basis, whether intentionally or subconsciously. God doesn't love us any less. He's just disappointed in the choices we've made.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Who is this Satan you speak of? Is he in any way related to this mythical God I've heard about? Get real...nobody who embraces the real world buys into your crap.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Grog Says

      God and satan got into a war, and satan was tossed out of heaven.
      So God is running around telling us that "god" is good and "Satan: is bad.
      To the victor goes the spoils,
      and the winner always writes the history.

      Religion is the biggest lie mankind ever had forced on him.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  6. catholic engineer

    I've been angry for a long time about the way the church handled the pedophile priest scandal. And, having personally coped with the effects of child abuse (at home), I know what the victims suffered. But I am a bit confused. If the Church's "line" toward gays was severe, wouldn't it have defrocked the pedophiles and put them out the doors instead of moving them around and offering psychological help? The church is hated because it tolerated this 6ual orientation, then it's accused of NOT being tolerant.

    November 9, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • J.W

      Pedophilia is actually harmful to children. Relationships of gay couples is not actually harmful to anyone.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • myweightinwords

      There is a difference between a pe-d-ophile and a hom-os-e-xual. The church outwardly condemns both, yet internally sought to protect their own against the criminal accusations that should have been levied on the pe-d-ophiles.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • catholic engineer

      @myweightinwords: I've been thinking of the pedophile priest thing for awhile. In my family, we had a pedophile. The victim went through a decade of counciling as a result. We naturally didn't want to air our dirty laundry to outsiders. We didn't want to endure peoples' whispers, etc. But also, we didn't want to give up on the perpetrator who was also a family member. It's a tough situation to be in. The church is a family. On a large scale, it faced the same situation my family did. The church just botched it – at least judging from media reports.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Who_are_we_to_judge

      Your post insinuates that ped-oph-ilia and hom-ose-uality are equivalent. Please do not make this unfortunate and all-too-common mistake. Many, if not most, ped-oph-iles are are actually hete-ros-e-ual. The abuse is often a power/control issue and not a matter of se-u-al gratification. (This is in no way condoning this behavior, I'm simply saying that your taking apples and oranges and saying that they're both apples.)

      November 9, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • catholic engineer

      @who_are-we : I'll reconsider my understanding of this issue. Thanks for the sane reproof.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  7. guest

    25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

    26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

    27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. romans 1:25-27

    November 9, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Scott in Atlanta

      I was going to post this, but since you already did. I don't have to. AMEN!!!

      November 9, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Rick

      Wow, a cut and paste from a book. You don't get any more convincing than that.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • MM

      "Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung on your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts; and one shall take you away with it."

      Malachi 2:3.

      What's your point?

      November 9, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • Going In Circles

      I could copy and paste from a car repair manual,
      but it would be just as stupid and boring as your post.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  8. Nasty

    You guys are sick, get a life

    November 9, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  9. Mitch

    Well said sir! As a gay Catholic myself, there is a lot more to be said and learned, but advancements are being made slowly with time!

    November 9, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  10. ThinkWhatYouAreTold

    I only read one book, written by old guys 2000 years ago from an outcast culture in a specific corner of the world. I think I know more than all of you!

    No one can change my mind!!

    November 9, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • alex chapman

      Are you talking about the Book of Levi or the Four Gospels of Jesus ?

      November 9, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  11. Cameron Jones

    What I like about this article is that it finally depicts Catholic Americans in a true light. We're not all bat$h1t crazy and hate everyone who disagrees with us.

    It really is disappointing that some people are still so close minded and uneducated about religion that they judge and berate people of any faith.

    Live and let live brothas

    November 9, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • SeanNJ

      If you think transubstantiation is real, then you are in fact "bat$h1t crazy."

      November 9, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Cameron Jones

      It's symbolic... as are most of the teachings in the Catholic Church... but people who are too lazy to learn about other people's religions don't get that. Beneath the surface there is a very good message behind Catholicism. The New Testament is about equality for all people, without exclusion. The OT wasn't written by Catholics.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Brandy

      Just Jesus. No focus on popes or priests. That is the beginning of understanding. Jesus is not a religion, he's a relationship. Catholicism is one of the main reasons why people do not embrace Christians. Catholics are not the poster child for Christianity although the world has made it such. Just Jesus. Non-denominational worship. PERIOD!

      November 9, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • alex chapman

      As an expatriated Catholic who was told to "go to confession" by the Parish priest for voting for Al Gore instead of the "Pro-Life , Capital Punishment Zealot, War Monger " George W. Bush in 2000, I disagree.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • Lee

      I agree. People like to put "Christians" in one neat box. It's not that simple. There are many forms of Christianity. The Catholic Church is just one of them. The problem with this world is that people don't want to educate themselves about others' cultures and religions. They just want to label.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • SeanNJ

      @Cameron: To paraphrase George Carlin, I was Catholic...until I reached the age of reason.

      @Brandy: Jesus is dead.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • SeanNJ

      @Lee: Unless you belong to that as yet unrecognized sect of Christianity that doesn't believe that Jesus was the son of god who was crucified for our sins and rose from the dead to ascend into heaven, I'd say our labeling is sufficient.

      If you were to call me crazy for saying I owned a multi-colored, talking unicorn that ate nothing but M&M's, I'd be silly to defend myself by telling you, "No, you don't understand...he only eats the green ones..."

      November 9, 2011 at 10:53 am |


    November 9, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  13. Gary in Tampa

    How can any right-minded person have a dialogue with some one who believes in the fairy tales of the bible? Screw the ctholic curch- they have the highest percentage of sick, self-loathing gay men of any organization in the world.

    November 9, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • Nut on face

      The priests are gay... The priests are the ones teaching these little kids.. After blowing them for a little then the kid turns gay and then you have a picture like the one showed above

      November 9, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Caroline

      You're just as close minded and hateful as the people you're whining about.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • leelanau

      Mean people still suck, Gary. Yes, you.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Lee

      Hey Sherlock – no one can be "taught" to be gay. Duh.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  14. Nut on face

    that picture is disturbing

    November 9, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • ThinkForYourself

      Some people would find a picture of an interracial couple kissing to be disturbing. Such reactions are a reflection of those doing the reaction, not the picture.

      November 9, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • Going In Circles

      ** Nut on face

      that picture is disturbing **

      Bet this nut job would be ok with the picture if it was two woman.
      You;ve got to be carefully taught !

      November 9, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • NOo..oON

      I agree.

      Why couldn't they find two lesbians?

      November 9, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • myweightinwords

      I find it rather inspiring myself.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Gotta BeKidding

      You've got a Nut on face and you think that picture is disturbing? Ha.ha.ha.ha.ha.ha.ha!!

      November 9, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  15. Robert

    Ironic that the "article" referred to neither Holy Scripture nor Canon Law.

    I guess when you are flying the face of accepted theological teaching you need to appeal to feelings and personal stories and not objective facts. There will be, and shouldn't be, any change in Roman Catholic theology on this matter.

    November 9, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Matt

      Objective Facts prove god does not exist...

      November 9, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • midwestrail

      I wonder what Canon Law says about covering up criminal activity.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Rob

      Thank you Robert! It's true, just because some people feel one way doesn't mean they get to just throw everything else out.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • delsa

      i totally agree, the bible is not about feelings, its about right and wrong in black and white.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Nonimus

      "objective facts"
      Isn't any written word open to interpretation.

      "Objective Facts"
      ... do NOT prove anything about god(s), pro or con.

      November 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Tallulah13

      Since there is proof that being gay is innate and there is no proof that any god has ever existed, the unnatural presence would be the church.

      November 9, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  16. Former Roman Catholic

    Several years ago, my spouse recognized that she was transgendered. Suddenly our church didn't want us anymore and my priest said divorce was my only option. My spouse had her surgery and I now find myself legally married to a wonderful woman who has always been my best friend. The RC church is increasingly one of exclusion and intolerance. Thankfully others feel like we do and it has spurred the independent catholic movement.

    November 9, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • hippypoet

      how is t that she "just" realized she/him was a transgender??? i don;t mean to be insulting, i just have never heard of such a thing.

      November 9, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Shadowflash1522

      I gather from the articles I've read that the process is somewhat longer and more involved, much like coming out as gay. There's a whole process of questioning and reflection before someone comes to the conclusion that they are transgendered. One does not wake up one morning and say, "I'm transgendered. Let's have gender reassignment surgery!" The process of transitioning alone, which is reversible right up until the surgery, takes a number of years to do safely and ethically. It involves first changing behaviors and lifestyles - changing your name, "cross-dressing", for all intents and purposes living as your "true" (for lack of a better word) gender - then hormone therapy to encourage your body in that direction, then finally the surgery.

      I assume Former Catholic summed it up for brevity by saying just "recognized".

      November 9, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • hippypoet

      thank you.... but i am still confused – research is needed on this topic for me to better undestand it. Untill then i can only ask questions. Again i say thank you for it gives me insight into the transgender folks.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • Lee

      I've never known a Roman Catholic priest to suggest divorce for any reason.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • leelanau

      I'm lost, I can only feel for where you're really at. (whether you realize it or not)

      November 9, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Citizen X

      ewww..thats nasty lol

      November 9, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  17. catholic engineer

    I've been a catholic since 1953 (in the Bible Belt !). Eight years of catholic school. Hundreds of homilies. If there was a "church line" about the gay issue, I must have missed it. Far more was said against cheating on my spouse. So here's an honest question: is this an anomily? Is the church harder on gay people elsewhere?

    November 9, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • chief

      that was a pretty pathetic attempt to make the catholic church appear to be something it isnt.... like exclusionary, proector of pedafiles, idol worshipers, and steeped in something that isnt even Christian inn nature....

      November 9, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • TheTruthFairy

      How is catholicsim "steeped in something that isnt even Christian inn nature...."? I'm just curious because I never really understood why other christians had such a hate on for catholics.

      November 9, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Lee

      I'm Catholic as well, and the gay and lesbian viewpoint is not mentioned in sermons or religious education. I don't agree with it because I believe (as I was taught) that God loves us all.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • J.W

      I think there is just a love/hate relationship between Catholics and other Christians. The Catholics think that they are the one true church and they think that the Catholic Church was actually set up by Jesus himself. I think that there are several things that other Christians have against Catholicism. Mary and the saints, the papacy, Inquisition just to name a few.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Nonimus

      I'm not sure about what consti.tutes a "church line", but I think the article is referencing this: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/docu%5BREMOVE%5Dments/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19861001_ho%5BREMOVE%5Dmose%5BREMOVE%5Dxual-persons_en.html.

      "Therefore special concern and pastoral attention should be directed toward those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in ho.mose.xual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not.
      One is a new exegesis of Sacred Scripture which claims variously that Scripture has nothing to say on the subject of ho.mose.xuality, or that it somehow tacitly approves of it, or that all of its moral injunctions are so culture-bound that they are no longer applicable to contemporary life. These views are gravely erroneous and call for particular attention here." (1986, JA Ratzinger {AKA Pope Benedict XVI})

      November 9, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  18. Irishtroubadour

    Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions. – G.K. Chesterton::

    November 9, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • Nick Ballenger


      November 9, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • hippypoet

      i like the qoute but i don't think that G.K. Chesterton would have lent his words for such a reason.

      November 9, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • hippypoet

      also implieing that being gay is a fashion is just ignorant. there have been gays for as long as there have been animals...and yes, we are animals.....thats a very long time!

      November 9, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • HellBent

      Since being gay is a trait, not a fashion, one could easily argue that the 'fashion' here is gay bashing.

      November 9, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  19. cajuntide

    Its there choice to choise there mate. Why dont they do what everyone else does when they dont agree with there churches belifes. Go form there own its not like we dont have enough churches as it is.

    November 9, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • Primewonk

      You can choose the people you will mate with. You cannot choose the gender you are attracted to.

      November 9, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      could you translate that to English for us please?

      November 9, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  20. Awkward Situations

    I love the gays!

    November 9, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • Younastysicko

      Your a nasty low life.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:06 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.