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. Lacking Evidence since 14 Billion BCE

    Gay Catholics are like Black Mormons. Religion is such a waste.

    November 9, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • hippypoet

      i think its great how a black mormon can if very devote in the belief become white – according to the belief...thats is the funniest damn thing i ever heard! This was a central idea of the early mormon church – like all early churches, they were trying to gather a following, and so if the blacks were being oppressed, come on over to the church of mormon and become white – god loves you!!! this is as far as i know, no longer taught....yet its part of the very first beliefs laid down by smith...how is it that a religion can swap out a bad older belief while still stick with all the other hateful sh!t they spew...answer – its a human based belief system and they as people just suck at life and when the times change, they will claim to have changed with the tmies!!! this is an example of what religions do when faced with destruction or lies of change...they claim change, is that just a sign of greed – volleying ideas and change to stay in power?

      November 9, 2011 at 9:02 am |
  2. jack :)

    religious haters suck at life – they preach love then live hate – just stupid!

    November 9, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  3. You must be joking.

    So teaching that it's wrong is "bullying" now? Our moral character has gone down the toilet.

    November 9, 2011 at 7:56 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Thinking that it's wrong is YOUR problem based entirely on misguided teachings. Get your head out of the sand and join the human race.

      November 9, 2011 at 8:07 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Secondly you have no moral character. Biblical morality is based on fear of reprisal and promise of reward. You don't weigh the pros and cons of of your moral decisions, instead you are coerced by dogma to follow blindly what you've been taught. Any moral decision made under duress or self-interest is disingenuous.

      November 9, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • Primewonk

      Many 'religious' conservative folks still think that black folks are not quite as human as white folks. Bigotry is wrong. Always. Regardless of who your target of hate is.

      November 9, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  4. 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 7:55 am |
    • Salim

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      April 4, 2012 at 1:31 am |
  5. erich2112x

    We all have a responsibility to safeguard our kids. If a priest ever expresses an interest i spending time alone with your kids, that's a red flag, and you and your child should run from this priest like from a burning building.

    November 9, 2011 at 7:31 am |
    • ThinkForYourself

      If you want to safeguard your kids, don't live in Michigan where its legal for kids to bully for religious reasons. WWJD? beat up the kid you think might be gay.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  6. Martin

    I wonder if they meet with the Mulims that like pork, beef eating Hindus and African American sons of the condfederacy. I bet they install Windows in their Apple devices as well.... lol

    November 9, 2011 at 6:47 am |
    • kimsland

      If its against normality the catholics are against it.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:51 am |
  7. Daniel

    How can gays be a member of a church that aims to deprive them of their rights? That never made sense to me.

    November 9, 2011 at 5:50 am |
    • kimsland

      Well it seems there are (and have always been) a lot of old men in the catholic church that like young boys. Go figure!
      Anyway these old men are finally coming out of the closet, and saying hey I was here before why can't I stay now?
      Seriously there are some really mixed up people in the church!
      So anyway the church have then said they need to go elsewhere (maybe even another church)
      And this is the story of EVERY pastor / priest that has ever existed, Note: the hypocrisy is baffling, but that's what there on about.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:36 am |
  8. TR6

    “belonging to the catholic church is voluntary”
    Yes the catholic church has come a long way. They use to just burn you at the stake if you disagreed with them

    November 9, 2011 at 5:45 am |
  9. Veritas

    Response to Tallulah13: How can you support the theory of gays and lesbian life styles as being innate? This would go against the theory that there is no God, and that we are here because of natural selection (evolution). Given that lesbians and gays can not procreate as a couple, this life style should have been extinct a long time ago according to the theory of natural selection. If you can not procreate, logically you become extinct. So what's the story.....is evolution real or a farce.....in my opinion its a farce. Gays and lesbian life styles (among others) have been around since the beginning of time. Its not innate...just like all other human behaviors. What about married men who can't resist lusting after women..is that supposed to be innate also....should a man make an argument that its innate the he cheat on his wife because he can't stop lusting after each chick he sees because its innate?

    November 9, 2011 at 4:11 am |
    • @Non veritas

      Well idiot, obviously, if natural selection should have selected out this trait, and didn't the must be some advantage to the human community in having these people around. That is the most a$$ backwards logic I have ever seen for your explanation of evil. You need a science course or two. First of all, they CAN procreate. Do you really think if they want a kid, they CAN'T figure out how to have one ? Your equating a loving, committed same se-x relationship with your lusting is full of $ hit.

      November 9, 2011 at 7:14 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Try as I might I can't seem to get past the filter with this article in a medical news site which completely refutes your statement.

      1500 animal species have been observed practicing ho.mos.exual behaviors.

      here is the link. http://www.news-medical.net/news/2006/10/23/20718.aspx

      November 9, 2011 at 7:30 am |
    • Reality Bites

      That is like saying that having blue eyes would be eradicated through natural selection. Being gay is no more a choice than someone's natural eye color is. It has nothing to do with reproduction.

      November 9, 2011 at 8:02 am |
    • Tallulah13

      Scientific studies indicate that homes.exuality is a result of the hormone levels in the womb. Can't get any more innate than that. You probably shouldn't use the name "truth" if you're too lazy to look for that truth. Unless you're trying to be ironic.

      November 9, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  10. doctore0

    The year is 2011.. Anyone who believes in god(s) and crap; WAKE UP you fool

    November 9, 2011 at 3:56 am |
    • Enoch

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      April 3, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  11. Lew Rogers

    Hard to support a church that chooses to speak negatively about how God made you when you were born. Hate is hate, just because a Catholic Bishop or a Pope says it does not mean it is not HATE. The Catholic Church has to stop selectively choosing passages from the Old Testament as a flavor of the century.

    November 9, 2011 at 3:55 am |
    • Veritas

      Mr Rogers....please stop using the word HATE like you know what it really means. If your definition of HATE comes down to simply anyone who disagrees with your moral view is hate, then by definition, you HATE also given you disagree with everyone who disagrees with the BGLT life styles......you are just as much of a hypocrite according to how you define HATE. You want to practice BGLT and whatever else....leave the church and go somewhere where people think like you and let us practice the same God given freedom that you wish to be given.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:16 am |
    • @Non veritas

      Why should he ? It's his church too. If you don't like it, YOU leave.

      November 9, 2011 at 7:16 am |
    • HAHAHA

      "You want to practice BGLT and whatever else....leave the church and go somewhere where people think like you and let us practice the same God given freedom that you wish to be given."

      Yo moron, there are churches that accept gays and there are gay christians and gay pastors. LOL!

      November 9, 2011 at 8:24 am |
  12. Listen Up

    Its interesting to me that Mr Sandusky is being held accountable for his actions, and yet during the decades–centuries for that matter the Catholic church was and still is giving two thumbs up to "men" like him!

    November 9, 2011 at 2:59 am |
  13. Gr

    Read Romans chap 1. Lusted twords one another etc. Yes its in the Bible.... And if your a christian church and allow this and don't think its wrong then Your Church is wrong and you leader, Pastor, Priest will account to God for it.

    Love the Person Hate the Sin,

    November 9, 2011 at 2:56 am |
    • Andrew

      I never really understood this statement. "Love the sinner, hate the sin". It sounds so weird. It seems to just be a phrase popped up to make it seem like you're not using religion to justify bigotry, a sorta 'I don't hate you, I just hate what you do'

      "I don't hate liars, cheaters, murderers, ra-ists, I just hate what they do"

      Seriously, no one ever utters that phrase of any other 'sin'. But consider, for a second, what that sounds like to a gay individual.

      "I believe what you do is wrong, I believe you are a sinner, I believe you live a bad life, I in fact HATE what you do, because I feel it's wrong. But I don't hate you, I just hate what you do and how you live your life"

      Well, I don't hate you, but I get the feeling that I would dislike you as a person. I strongly dislike your using your own personal faith to consider the ENTIRELY BENIGN actions of other individuals wrong. I dislike how you impose your own arbitrary interpretation of your arbitrary religion as standards that others should abide by, and then have the audacity to say "I don't hate you, I hate your sins".

      Well, I dislike what you say, and I say in no uncertain terms, that if I knew you, I'd probably dislike you as a person as well. Why? Because I judge people based on their actions, we ALL do, I dislike people who say bigoted things, I dislike people who hurt others, I dislike people because of what they do. I'm not so disingenuous to say 'hate the sin, not the sinner'.

      (And if you want to use your RELIGIOUS values to impose restrictions on the LEGAL RIGHT of consenting adults to marry, then I don't just dislike you, I hate you. I have nothing but contempt for people who believe their personal religious values are justification to impose legal restrictions on other people. They are the most disgusting sort of human)

      November 9, 2011 at 3:18 am |
    • HAHAHA

      "Read Romans chap 1. "

      Yes, read the WHOLE thing instead of just quoting snipptets of it. When you read the WHOLE thing you will realize in roman culture they used sex to worship their "tmmortal God for images." It has nothing to do with what we now know and understand about gays today,

      November 9, 2011 at 8:30 am |
  14. WOT

    Let the world know that you are born to be a human of the law; So trying to understand everything that will never happen! The things of God can not be minded by man! You are on this planet for a while and you leave! Enjoy your stay and let others enjoy theirs'.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:51 am |
  15. Adrian

    SO glad I'm an atheist.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:46 am |
    • Flooby

      Meeee toooo!!

      November 9, 2011 at 2:50 am |

    The truth is the truth even if no one believes it, and a lie is a lie even if everyone believes it. It's not anyone's responsibility to judge another person....but it is everyone's responsibility to warn them.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:30 am |
    • Tallulah13

      Okay, Val. It's only fair that I tell you that there is more evidence that being gay is innate than there is evidence for the existence of any god. It's only fair that I warn you that people who live fact-based lives have realized that catholics and members of every other faith have based their entire existenses on wishful thinking.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:05 am |
    • Over It

      "it is everyone's responsibility to warn them."

      Let's see, I've been warned not to ever put my shoes on the bed, to throw salt over my shoulder if I spill it, and to knock on wood when boasting, or I would suffer various forms of bad luck...

      It is your responsibility to back up your warnings with fact. A book of stories of supernatural beings and happenings or proclamations from a guy in a pointy hat and golden staff, or a "feeling in your heart", with no verified evidence of their factualness is not sufficient.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:46 am |
    • HotAirAce


      So atheists *do* have a responsibility to warn believers that there very likely are no gods! Excellent!! Time for us to start following missionaries as they visit poor unsuspecting homeowners, and clean up their mess...

      November 9, 2011 at 3:37 pm |

      You don't have to listen. When it's my turn to answer to God and talk about how and when I choose to use my voice, I can at least said I tried. You do what you want, I've fulfilled my own Christian responsibility. I can only worry about my own salvation than try and convert and work on yours. You can lead a horse to water....

      November 9, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  17. Michael

    Please, gays. Let us at least have ONE church that doesn't have to submit to you perversion. Just one?

    November 9, 2011 at 2:01 am |
    • EndTheHate

      Please read this with a earnest heart and pray about it.

      Matthew 7:1-5
      1DO NOT judge and criticize and condemn others, so that you may not be judged and criticized and condemned yourselves.
      2For just as you judge and criticize and condemn others, you will be judged and criticized and condemned, and in accordance with the measure you [use to] deal out to others, it will be dealt out again to you.
      3Why do you stare from without at the very small particle that is in your brother's eye but do not become aware of and consider the beam of timber that is in your own eye?
      4Or how can you say to your brother, Let me get the tiny particle out of your eye, when there is the beam of timber in your own eye?
      5You hypocrite, first get the beam of timber out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the tiny particle out of your brother's eye.

      November 9, 2011 at 2:09 am |
    • tallulah13

      Hey Michael, you might try that church in Westboro. They actually encourage senseless hate and bigotry. You'd probably fit right in.

      November 9, 2011 at 2:13 am |
    • Flooby

      Ha. Just like a 'good Catholic'.

      November 9, 2011 at 2:51 am |
    • rinsac

      Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

      November 9, 2011 at 2:54 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      @Michael: Please let us have a world without Bigot's like you!! You obviously have no comprehension of how one becomes gay or you wouldn't be spewing such stupidity...these people do not wake up one day and decide to be gay, they are born that way. I would suggest you learn to read something other than fairy tale books (ie; your buybull) and listen to the facts as they are determined by those educated enough to do the research on the subject.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:49 am |
    • @Non veritas

      Go start one yourself. Call it the Church of JC, of the Dumb Phuque Red Necks.

      November 9, 2011 at 7:18 am |
    • HAHAHA

      "Let us at least have ONE church that doesn't have to submit to you perversion"

      There should be NO church that supports the prejudice and bigotry that christians show towards gays.

      November 9, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  18. Drew

    Fact: The Bible is based on ancient Pagan Sun (Son- where "Jesus, the 'Son' of God" comes from) ritual with an added humanizing twist in order to control the masses. Its legacy was created during the "Dark Ages" when societies were falling and leadership was faltering throughout Eurasia.

    Lets put down the Bible and open a history book, because it is history which speaks truth, not a loosely based fiction novel that is the Bible. Any reference used from the Bible amongst civil discourse ought to automatically be discounted in a civil society and looked upon as an infringement on fact telling, truth, relevance and intellect.

    Any mention should be considered a disgrace and given no credence.

    November 9, 2011 at 1:38 am |

      Hey Drew: Why don't you open your history book and research how the Catholic church helped educate you by providing libraries, colleges, public meeting places and generally all those silly government services, that we take for granted now, to the masses for the past few centuries. Perhaps you might want to pick up some facts about the bible and its relationship with Catholicism....

      November 9, 2011 at 2:37 am |
    • kimsland

      Val, we don't use religion in any education anymore.
      Imagine if we did, OMG that would be crazy.

      Regarding history of religious education, are you talking about the days when christians thought lightning meant god was angry? Ha Ha ha, yes they were the ignorant days, we are glad they're gone.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:44 am |
    • TigerDawg

      Sorry, Drew. Your "fact" isn't a fact at all. Time and time again the historical aspects of the Bible have been supported by outside sources as well. You can discount the spiritual aspects if you wish, but you jump to denigrate the entire work is misguided and intellectually dishonest.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:54 am |

      @ kimsland.

      Study history, please! Whether you like it or not, the Catholic religion has effected you more than you want to give it credit for. Unless you've never stepped into a university, used science, or made use of a modern hospital.... Here's a bigger surprise for you...it continues to contribute to humanity through charities, human rights advocacy, and diplomacy. It would be so much more productive if you just stepped aside and let the church continue her work, a simple say "thank you". Thank you for orphanages, soup kitchens, the college system, public hospitals, the Bible, the Scientific Method, Free press, the first truly desegrated place before the civil rights movement, (heck, the fall of slavery and human trafficking)....oh yeah, the fall of communism in Russia! Perhaps you should study history and find the truth.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  19. doneboy

    The sooner everyone starts thinking rationally, the better off the world is going to be, we have enough differences as it is we dont need religion as another reason to divide ourselves. people need to take accountability for their own lives and actions and let go of the crutch that is religion. The world would be better off with people accepting one anothers differences instead of vilifying them.

    November 9, 2011 at 1:36 am |
  20. theLord

    Al, there is no doubt your not a Catholic, most Catholics are not biblethumpers, they follow the teachings of Christ and pretty much ignore the bible. They can change you say? It's not like shopping for cereal, but you wouldn't understand anyways...

    November 9, 2011 at 1:31 am |
    • Burnz

      Why don't gays just leave the stupid church?

      November 9, 2011 at 2:39 am |
    • Saiko

      It's not easy to leave the church – it took exactly one year for my friend, and his whole family (including aunts and cousins) were contacted, to try to persuade him not to go. He has to speak with the bishop at least two times, and actually excuse himself of the decision. Of course it was in the country where Catholic Church has a very strong political and economical position (Poland), there are countries which are relatively strong Church, but leaving it isn't tied to such troubles (Germany). Yet stigma and sociological consequences are the same or similar for every community and country, I think. After all, the church officials take their directions straight from Vatican, and build the appropriate "atmosphere", not unlike other religious sects.

      November 9, 2011 at 8:44 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.