Crisis Magazine 1997

Christmas is for Children

Published December 1, 1997
DEAL W. HUDSON

I heard our president on the radio this morning, announcing, “We must make sure that parents are able to spend time with their children whenever they can.” If the “we” had been the American people, not the government, then the comment was merely an obvious truism. Apparently, though, the president feels that the facts—a fifty percent divorce rate, the spread of the two salary family— require that the government step in and ensure children get enough quality time with their parents.

Sad, isn’t it, that we have created a society in which we must talk about children in this way. In a country where forty-five percent of all children under a year old are in day care, it’s no wonder manger scenes are banned from public places. We don’t like reminders of the family we have lost.

The Christmas season reveals the fault lines everywhere— inside ourselves, within our families, and throughout society. It’s not simply a matter of our anxiety about meeting emotional expectations. At Christmas we relive the definitive entrance of God into the world, establishing himself for all time as “the way, the truth, and the life.” Christmas inevitably reveals the direction of our spiritual compass.

It is ticklish, to say the least, to raise the issue of childcare in this way. So many heroic parents are raising children by themselves, so many others are working hard together to support their families. But as much as those parents want our sympathy and support, I would imagine those same parents deeply wish for a world of intact families where every child is raised by a parent at home. In other words, it is one thing to sympathize with the present situation, and quite another to hope for what children really need.

We have lapsed into the cynicism of accepting the status quo, speaking vaguely for the need for sympathy, and resolving to “face reality.” What troubles me, however, are the deeper currents that course through the culture. I notice, for example, how a kind of gay chic has taken hold of the popular mind. The call for toleration has been replaced not merely by normalization but by positive celebration. Nothing could spread messages more at odds with either Catholic social teaching or the natural law.

We have seen it all before. Remember the speech in Plato’s Symposium extolling the superiority of homosexual love over heterosexual? The argument is based upon the supposed advantage of begetting ideas and “beautiful conversations,” rather than the gross matter of human life. Heterosexual couples, or “breeders” as they are now sometimes called, are naturally inclined toward shaping their lives around the creation of a family, specifically for the purpose of raising children. With the mainstreaming of homosexuality into our culture, children are pushed more and more into the background of our attention and our caring.

In the context of Greek culture, we understand why abstract ideas are given more importance than the life of a human person. Even Aristotle, for all his realism, didn’t base his argument for heterosexuality on the creation of life, but on proper biological functioning. With the coming of the Incarnation, however, it was no longer possible to misunderstand the unique value of the person, or the fundamental purpose of marriage, family, and sexuality to beget and nurture persons.

Charity requires a great deal more than sensitivity and concern for the heroic efforts of single parents who raise children, or for those parents whose two salaries combine to put their children in private schools. Charity requires that we actively work and pray for a transformed society, one that does not depend upon government daycare to do the job of parenting, but one where fathers and mothers are actually present.

At Christmas time, we focus primarily on the perfect humility of Mary but in the midst of these thoughts my mind turns to Joseph. Joseph married the woman he loved, but found that he would never consummate his marriage or receive its physical comforts in the expected fashion. Despite this, he remained chaste and true to his family. He is the purest example of a true promise keeper. Joseph understood his role as one of taking care of his family, not of using his family as a means to his own personal fulfillment.

Gay chic, following on the heels of the “pro-choice” movement, only throws fuel on the fire of the culture of death. It is for this reason the Church has wisely chosen the term “objective disorder” in describing the tragedy of homosexual orientation. Since lay Catholics have been invited to join a dialogue on homosexuality, we at CRISIS think that the gathering of the Holy Family at Christmastide is an ideal occasion for beginning that conversation.

Special Report — Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Homosexuality: What the Bishops Didn’t Say

Published December 1, 1997
DEAL W. HUDSON

When reporting on “Always Our Children,” the secular media failed to note that this was not a document issued by the entire NCCB. What must be said at the outset is that a small committee of the bishops’ conference should not be allowed to use the media to shape opinion on Church teaching. Structural changes in the bishops’ conference must be made to ensure it truly speaks for all the bishops. They also need to review procedures for releasing statements to the press that are pastoral, not doctrinal, in nature. The press, not knowing better, completely ignores this distinction, thus ensuring that the “pastoral” teaching gets passed into the public square; as the “the Catholic Church now teaches. . . .”

No one can doubt the good intentions of those who have drawn up the document. Their desire to help anguished parents, and show compassion to homosexual men and women, is obvious throughout the text. Its concern is expressly pastoral, not doctrinal, meaning that the statement leaves out much Church teaching on homosexuality. At such a moment, it is helpful to remember what was left out.

Two generations ago, the phenomenon of homosexuality would have been fundamentally a personal matter, a truly individual pastoral concern. The classical personal moral norms developed by the Church would have been rather clearly, if not easily, applicable. If an individual experienced strong same-sex attractions, he or she would have to be vigilant in avoiding occasions of sin, such as gathering places for homosexual persons. He or she would have to “mortify” the imagination, avoiding unclean thoughts and inciting reading material. Two generations ago that would have been easier to do than in our own day. Homosexual gathering places were few and difficult to find, and homosexual pornography was almost nonexistent.

The earnest Catholic suffering from same-sex sexual attraction disorder used his common sense and avoided going on a weekend camping trip with a friend he found attractive, or would shower at home rather than in the YMCA locker room. Finally, there was always recourse to the sacraments, to penance, to the Eucharist, to retreats and spiritual direction.

Today homosexuality has developed into a social/cultural phenomenon. The first executive order President Bill Clinton issued after his inauguration overturned established military and legal tradition by admitting homosexual persons to military service. During both of President Clinton’s inaugural celebrations, there were special balls for homosexual persons. The inaugural parade featured a “family float” with homosexual couples. Major corporations have chosen to provide health care and other social benefits to homosexual partnerships. Princeton University opened its married graduate student housing to homosexual couples, excluding some heterosexual married couples because there was no longer enough housing available. Harvard University permitted a homosexual “wedding ceremony” in its chapel. The state of Hawaii seriously has considered granting legal marital status to homosexual partnerships.

A character on a national TV sitcom declares her homosexuality, and major news magazines celebrate the event with laudatory cover stories. Homosexual persons now proudly broadcast their proclivities by flying the homosexual rainbow flag from their windows and affixing homosexual symbols to their automobile bumpers. Homosexual activists take to the streets, linking arms in common cause with feminists to support access to abortion.

Homosexuality has, over the past twenty years, become de rigueur. Now it is a cause celebre, the “in” thing. Undergraduates who formerly dabbled in leftish causes now dabble in homosexuality. Hardly a week goes by in which National Public Radio does not have a homosexual feature. Every major city now has “gay and lesbian” bookstores, cafes, theaters, gyms, restaurants, and newspapers.

What is most perplexing about “Always Our Children” is the total lack of acknowledgment—or even recognition—of this terribly complicating social/cultural phenomenon. Those well-intentioned people who, in their naive desire to be sensitive, use the ostensibly benign terms “gay” and “lesbian” do not see how this plays into the larger social picture. This lack of insight is even more perplexing when church ministers are asked to use the words homosexual, gay, and lesbian in “honest and accurate ways . . . from the pulpit.” The whole tenor of the pastoral message leads one to think that its authors would be horrified if those words were indeed used in “honest and accurate ways from the pulpit.” In that instance, “homosexual” would refer to one with a same-sex sexual attraction disorder that is ordered toward objectively sinful actions. “Gay” and “lesbian” would be identified as the charged political—indeed, ideological— terms that they are.

To name these realities accurately is no disservice to those who suffer from the disorder, but instead provides the basis for the kind of pastoral care and family solicitude homosexuals require.

The spiritual writers were unanimous in counseling immediate flight from any sexual temptation, avoiding even an occasion of sexual sin with the same rigor one would avoid the sin itself. One did not dally with sexual temptation, or be so arrogant as to think one could “handle” it— because experience had long shown that one would lose more often than not.

Sexual questions have always formed part of the training of Catholic priests. There was a time when the awesome power, the delicacy, and the divine character of human sexuality was so acknowledged that moral theologians, lecturing on sex, would don white surplices over their cassocks and keep a lighted candle on the desk! Such was the reverence— and the realism—shown by the teachers of the Church before the power of human sexuality.

In the pastoral message, one does not sense this respectful, cautionary attitude toward the power of the human sex drive. That caution is all the more in order when the drive for life has become fundamentally disordered. It then becomes, potentially, a drive toward death rather than life, as Josef Pieper makes clear in his chapter on temperance in The Four Cardinal Virtues. Homosexual acts always have been potentially destructive, even before the advent of HIV/AIDS.

Our society has come to speak of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (yes, honest-to-goodness) as though they constituted a particular race of human beings. These categories have actually come to be used in the nondiscrimination policies of many civil jurisdictions and companies, and homosexuals are listed among protected classes of persons who suffer from hate crimes.

No one should be subject to unjust discrimination or violence in this country or anywhere in the world. However, immunity from prejudice or violence is derived from the dignity of our fundamental humanity, not from an accidental human characteristic such as race or sex or ethnicity.

When it comes to providing some special societal protection or privilege to certain individuals by virtue of their homosexuality, the question must arise: What is a homosexual? Or if one prefers to use the nomenclature: Who is gay? Who is lesbian?

Is one gay or lesbian by self-proclamation? Is the designation based on outward behaviors or inner dispositions? Is it determined by the magazines one reads, by the bars one frequents, by the fantasies in which one indulges? Is there really such a thing as a homosexual, and if there is, how is he so classed? If he feels a strong same-sex sexual attraction but has never acted upon it, does he qualify as a homosexual? Would he want to qualify? If, in a moment of weakness, he committed a single homosexual act over the last five years, does he qualify as a homosexual? Would he want to qualify? Why would anyone want to adopt as one’s fundamental social identity a persona based on a sexual attraction, strong or weak?

In 1986, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued its “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” it chose its words very carefully. It did not speak of homosexuals. It certainly did not speak of gays and lesbians. It spoke first and fundamentally of persons, because persons are those who carry the dignity of the children of God. The document refused to reduce persons with immortal souls, persons destined to the divine dignity of the Godhead, to sexual proclivities. Sexual drives are not to be ignored, to be sure, but they do not define us. God has created only men and women, men and women who are either chaste or unchaste, whether the actions they engage in are homosexual or heterosexual.

Scripture still has it straight: “Male and female he created them.”