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. Reality

    The nitty-gritty of gay se-xual activities:

    Lots and lots of "gays" doing their hot and heavy things on Internet tube sites but nothing about coin flipping, who is on first, and sanitizers sites?? There must be some "Gaying It For Dummies" books out there somewhere. Hmmm, I wonder if said books/sites have to have FDA and CDC approval??

    Is said activity wrong and worthy of a trip to hell? Of course not but to the general heterose-xual population it is yucky, unusual and not normal to them. With that mind set, approval by the majority is not always sanctioned in law.

    The general population to include many of the voters in California, rightly or wrongly, find gay se-xual activities, married or not, to be "yucky" and unusual and typically associate. Such activity is associated with the spread of AIDS which is of course wrong. Said AIDS epidemic in the gay male community at the start of the AIDS crises will always remain unfortunately a stigma on the gay community.

    And after all of this rhetoric, gay "marriages" simply simplify and somewhat sanitize what are still acts of mutual masturbation caused by a variant gene(s) and/or hormone imbalance. One wonders if stem cell research will find a cure??

    Hmmm, would the embryos formed from the sperm of gay guys and the eggs from gay gals make more ethical embryos for this and other types of research?? "

    Again, from below, on top, backwards, forwards, from this side of the Moon and from the other side too, gay se-xual activity is still mutual ma-sturbation caused by one or more complex issues. Some defects are visually obvious in for example the complex maleness of DeGeneres, Billy Jean King and Rosie O'Donnell.

    Yes, heteros-exuals practice many of the same "moves" but there is never a doubt who is the female and who is the male.

    Returning to the religious aspects:

    "Abrahamics" believe that their god created all of us and of course that includes the g-ay members of the human race. Also, those who have studied ho-mo-se-xuality have determined that there is no choice involved therefore ga-ys are ga-y because god made them that way.

    To wit:

    o The Royal College of Psy-chiatrists stated in 2007:

    “ Despite almost a century of psy-choanalytic and psy-chological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heteros-exual or hom-ose-xual orientation. It would appear that s-exual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of ge-netic factors and the early ut-erine environment. Se-xual orientation is therefore not a choice.[60] "

    "Garcia-Falgueras and Swaab state in the abstract of their 2010 study, "The fe-tal brain develops during the intraut-erine period in the male direction through a direct action of tes-tosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hor-mone surge. In this way, our gender identi-ty (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and s-exual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender ident–ity or s-exual orientation."[8

    Of course, those gays who belong to Abrahamic religions abide by the rules of no adu-ltery or for-nication allowed.

    And because of basic biology differences said monogamous ventures should always be called same-se-x unions not same-se-x marriages.


    November 9, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • pep1949

      That may be the most complete, excellently written statement of my views on these issues that I have ever read. Thank You

      November 9, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  2. Simon

    That picture makes me want to vomit. Guess I'm not allowed to get sick from perversions like this.

    November 9, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • HAHAHA

      " perversions like this."

      The experts disagree with you and have shown it's not.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Rick

      Simon: You are free to get sick over any "perversions" you choose to

      November 9, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • C W

      You know what makes me sick? Horseradish! It is disgusting! I cannot understand how a person chooses to be so immoral that they like the taste of horseradish. What is this world coming to?

      November 9, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Observer


      Do heteros commit any "perversions"?

      Yes or no?

      November 9, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Doobie Wah

      I get a nice happy feeling about you being sick.
      You are sick.

      November 9, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  3. dalis

    Don't know if anyone else noticed but the two men in the photo are standing in front of a very special church in Rome – the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri. Why is this important? Two reasons: this church was beautifully remodeled from Diocletian's Baths by a very notable gay Catholic in history – Michelangelo Buonarroti. Yes, at one time, the Catholic Church saw fit to employ a gay man to design its finest church and conserve its antiquities. His Sistine Chapel frescoes witness every conclave that elects every new pope. Secondly, the basilica in the photo today houses the Papacy's official Meridian Line as well as the Catholic Church's official museum dedicated to the reconciliation of Galileo Galilei. Let that serve as a humbling reminder that being gay is entirely reconcilable with being Catholic and that the Church has often worked for Reason, but that it has just has often impeded its progress when it was not prepared to change.

    November 9, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  4. Alfonzo Muchanzo


    November 9, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • John Gabriel

      EEEWWWWWW! Don't throw this Jesus sh1t in my face. It turns my stomach!!!!!

      November 9, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  5. Alfonzo Muchanzo

    The hateful and vile comments on these boards show us where we're headed. People will become more rebellious, selfish, evil, etc as the last days approach. Nobody knows when, but the birth pangs are certainly increasing. May God have mercy on us all.

    November 9, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Rick

      May you get off your knees and stop begging for salvation from your petty god

      November 9, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • C W

      The Mayans are really going to look silly when the Rapture doesn't occur in 2012.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  6. Chuck

    It's really hard for me to look at this pic of the two guys kissing.... I'm not a hater...my brother is gay. It honestly makes me a little queezy. Is this due to societal influence or just natural instinct.

    November 9, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  7. freddy j

    one more thing. God is the only one who will judge or is allowed to do so. One day he will. He does not leave that up to man to do so. tho shall NOT judge. So why do churches feel the nead to "Judge". they should just give positive reinforcement to one another and the people and let God do the Judging in the end.

    November 9, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Really?

      Cause Jesus commanded to teach the gospel, it's in the gospel!

      November 9, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  8. Joshua Martin

    Just because I uphold a series of 2,000 year old teachings and respectfully disagree with you does not mean that I'm bigoted, backwards, discriminatory, or prejudiced. The church offers objective moral teachings. It doesn't demand anything from you. To assume that you, in your limited slice of human experience, have the authority to challenge a religion and the teachings of the saints is to do nothing but hail the relativist culture in which we live. You can't add a new color to morality in as much as you can add a new color to the spectrum. An objective sin is an objective sin, just as much as a squirrel is a squirrel.

    November 9, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • HAHAHA

      "The church offers objective moral teachings. It doesn't demand anything from you. "

      That's why so many churches are now accepting gays and saying it’s not a sin as we know and understand it today. The few scriptures that christians use to justify their prejudice and bigotry don't apply especially when it's been proven that for centuries prejudices played a huge part into condemning gays.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Ali

      The Bible (written by humans) is the only thing that keeps perpetuating this myth that God does not love and accept all people. Mistranslations and the control of very specific groups have given us the worst prejudices we live with today. Being a Christian and a Catholic, I understand that it is up to God to decide who to accept, and it is my job to make sure to love and respect my fellow human beings. Even you.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Andrew

      Well put.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • C W

      Exodus 21:20-21:
      "Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property."

      The people who take the Bible too literally are wrong in believing that slavery is okay, just as they're wrong in believing that being gay isn't okay.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Rick

      "Just because I uphold a series of 2,000 year old teachings and respectfully disagree with you does not mean that I'm bigoted, backwards, discriminatory, or prejudiced"

      Perhaps not, but it sure appears that the 2,000 year old text is

      November 9, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  9. JCMars

    I don't have any issues with people who are "gay." My question is why is it OK to force it down someone else throat. There are plenty of "gay friendly" churches. Why are Catholics the politically correct group to single out your hatred on this issue? Why does your morality trump others? Why can't the Catholic Church choose to have its own beliefs? I think the real bigots are the ones who want to force their own beliefs on others (in this case, it is the "gay community"). If you don't want to accept the doctrine of the Catholic Church – Go somewhere else! This is like a member of a prolife group wanting to join NOW and wanting NOW to adapt its abortion belief to what the prolife member wants.

    November 9, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • C W

      Because their Catholic faith is important to them. They don't just want to "go somewhere else"–they want to help fix a problem with the Church they care about.

      It's like patriotsim. I love America, but I think our country has some big problems that need to be fixed, denying equal marriage rights to gay people being one of them for example. I'm not just going to move somewhere else. I care about this country and want to vote for policies to help fix the problems we face.

      The Catholic Church has turned out to be wrong about lots of stuff. They convicted Galileo of heresy for saying the Earth revolves around the Sun. They denied the scientific understanding of Evolution for a while. Now, they think there is something wrong with being gay. They'll come around eventually, and it will be a good day for gay Catholics who help reform the Church they care about.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  10. Believe It

    Unicorns and pixies and thick headed indoctrinated ignorami.

    "Isn't it enough to look at a garden and see that it is beautiful without having to believe there are fairies at the bottom of it?"

    November 9, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  11. Me

    An Abomination!! Call it what you want to , this is a detastable thing! Unnatural!

    November 9, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Me too

      Totally agree, perverse, nasty, evil, abomination etc etc...

      November 9, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • C W

      You know how you can look back at history and wonder how ignorant people had to be to be to support slavery, apartheid, the crusades, punishing left-handed children in school, burning witches and racial segregation.

      Your grandchildren will one day wonder how people could think there was something wrong with being gay, and actually try to deny marriage rights to gay couples. I'm guessing you're over 60 years old and you don't know any gay people (or at least you don't think you do), just a guess.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • S

      Funny, I feel the same way about intolerance.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Primewonk

      If it is unnatural, why does it ocur throughout nature?

      November 9, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • Rick

      It's practiced my many species. It is more natural than a belief in god. Go get your shinebox

      November 9, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  12. hoosier


    November 9, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  13. Rod in Texas

    People say being gay is a choice and that God didn't make a person gay. Ask yourself this. Did God make you straight or did you choose to be straight? If God made you straight then why couldn't he make a gay person gay. If you didn't choose to be straight then why is it so hard to believe that a gay person didn't choose to be gay? Who would choose such a life where they are treated like second class citizens in "the land of the free?"

    November 9, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  14. freddy j

    With all the real evil and trouble in the world with starvation and greed ect. Does it really matter who is sleeping with who? REALLY? we need to put our concintration into matters that will change the world for the better and help one another. Life is just way too short to worry about the small stuff that does not matter in the long run.

    November 9, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  15. Meh

    Id rather you be gay than Catholic...and Im not a big fan of gays

    November 9, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  16. getreal

    There is a difference in accepting the fact that there are gay individuals in the world and accepting that it is "normal". Anyone that thinks that being gay is normal is an idiot. That being said, they should not be discriminated against as individuals, may even have minimal rights as partners but marriage is absurd. Get over yourselves.

    November 9, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Andrew

      That about sums it up.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Rod in Texas

      Wearing glasses isn't normal either! So I guess we should accept people that wear glasses but not treat them the same. Cancer isn't normal. They should not be treated as normal either. Make-up isn't normal either but women are accepted because they do it but they should not be considered normal?

      November 9, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • HAHAHA

      "Anyone that thinks that being gay is normal is an idiot. "

      Try telling that to the 154,000 experts at APA that have stated its normal part of human sexuality. LMAO!

      November 9, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Jam

      Amen, brother!

      November 9, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Primewonk

      "Normal" refers the distribution about the mean. Thus, being left handed is not normal either. Nor is being green eyed, or blond.

      November 9, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Rick

      It is natural, as other species practice it. Gays should have the same rights as straights. Keep marriage out of government.

      November 9, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Rick

      "That being said, they should not be discriminated against as individuals, may even have minimal rights as partners"

      Once you allow them lesser rights than straights, you are discriminating against them as individuals

      November 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  17. Andrew

    Once again, CNN advancing the "gay agenda." Better not hold my breath waiting for a counter-argument article, not if I want to live anyway.

    November 9, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Rod in Texas

      Society would be better off if you did hold your breath.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Tom

      You're right. CNN has been beating this drum relentlessly. Why? Only 2 percent of the population has this disorder, but it's on their website every single day. Enough!

      November 9, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  18. Jim White

    On April 14,2003 the International Human Genome project finished sequencing human DNA. They did not find a gay gene. Science says you are not born gay. Check it out.

    November 9, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • C W

      They never found a left-handed gene, or a right-handed gen either.

      So...when did you personally make the moral choice whether you'd be left-handed or right-handed? If it's not strictly genetic, it's a choice–that's what you believe, right?

      November 9, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • dalis

      There is no left-handed gene. Southpaws just haven't been wrapped on the knuckles enough to write correctly.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  19. DeeNYC

    Only Buddha can save you all.

    November 9, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • hippypoet

      i would agree if buddha saved anyone... but his message can do much good for this world.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  20. InnocentBeliever

    What I want to know is, since our Lord God Himself **personally** speaks to **all** preachers at **all** churches across America; how come they don't **all** say the same thing? Why isn't there **just one** Faith; and, each and every Sunday, we all of us get the very same message from thousands of preachers? You know, if we all dial into the same radio station at the same time, we all hear the same song being played, how come Preachers are different? I'm confused.

    November 9, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Andrew

      Because Protestants are heretics.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:47 am |
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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.