Obsequious to a Fault
Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality: New Paths to Understanding
By Louis J. Cameli
Publisher: Ave Maria Press
Pages: 192 pages
Review Author: Joseph C. Klee
Men and women are “coming out of the closet” with greater and greater frequency these days. Meaningful conversation between them and a faithful representative of the Catholic Church demands the height of diplomacy. Fr. Louis Cameli is keenly aware of the charged atmosphere surrounding homosexuality. In the interest of initiating and sustaining dialogue with those of notably divergent views, he is considerate of others’ interests and values. One could say that he goes out of his way to “speak their language,” to “walk in their shoes.” If there is to be any fairness in the give and take, however, one side should not be doing wholesale giving while the other side does voracious taking. Extending an olive branch shouldn’t involve allowing the other side to yank the entire olive tree up by its roots.
Interaction with heterodox ideologies brings to mind counsel given in Unitatis Redintegratio on the subject of ecumenical dialogue: “The way and method in which the Catholic faith is expressed should never become an obstacle to dialogue with our brethren. It is, of course, essential that the doctrine should be clearly presented in its entirety. Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism, in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded” (no. 11).
A warning of potential harm caused by half-truths applies to any teaching of the Catholic faith, which must always be presented with integrity and not compromised in order to “get along” with those of differing views.
Fr. Cameli is a compassionate man of God, but the bulk of Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality reads as if he were “giving away the farm.” He is so intent on appeasing advocates of an active homosexual lifestyle that he appears willing to compromise the Church’s teaching on same-sex attraction (SSA). Numerous red flags go up with Fr. Cameli’s free use of the language largely employed by those defiant of Church teaching on homosexuality. Although “progressives” can be tyrannical in their insistence on certain forms of terminology, often in the interest of currying public favor for their views, proponents of authentic Catholic teaching should be resolute in resisting the assimilation of distorted words. For example, the terribly unrepresentative adjective gay should be firmly omitted from the lexicon of any sincere representative of the Catholic faith. The word is now used, to put it most simply, to “put lipstick on a pig.” Lived to the full, the active homosexual lifestyle is the absolute antithesis of anything authentically gay. It is a lifestyle plagued by off-the-chart levels of suicide, a growing list of STDs, rampant and desperate promiscuity, and voluminous consumption of drugs and alcohol.
Another questionable area concerns Fr. Cameli’s citation of the celebrated case of Matthew Shepard, a homosexual youth who was murdered in 1998 in Laramie, Wyoming, supposedly by intolerant ruffians, and was mourned by the media as a “gay martyr.” Fr. Cameli unfortunately repeats the narrative of the homosexual activists who exploited this supposed hate crime in order to gain sympathy for and advance the homosexual agenda. The ABC TV news program 20/20 reported, as long ago as November 26, 2004, that the motivation of the perpetrators was robbery, and that Shepard’s SSA was an irrelevant factor. Upon conviction, the two criminals made a bargain with the court that they would not speak to the media (to divulge their true motive for the killing of Shepard) in exchange for being spared the death penalty.
A recently published book about Shepard, The Book of Matt by journalist Stephen Jiminez (who himself has SSA), presents additional background to Shepard’s death. Jiminez describes the confusion surrounding the murder, but he says that Shepard likely died at the hands of a homosexual lover who sought a large stash of drugs Shepard possessed. It appears increasingly evident that Shepard’s death was anything but the result of a “hate crime.” The inaccurate perspective parroted by Fr. Cameli concerning this tragedy undermines his book’s credibility.
Also troubling is Fr. Cameli’s inclusion of references to problematic works such as The Changing Face of the Priesthood: A Reflection on the Priest’s Crisis of Soul (2000), in which author Fr. Donald B. Cozzens, a former seminary rector, describes the priesthood as becoming “a ‘gay’ profession.” Fr. Cameli also references “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers,” a controversial 1997 document issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Marriage and the Family that got the attention of the Vatican, which insisted on significant revisions. Overt homosexual author Andrew Sullivan, who has a big axe to grind with the Church, also gets significant mention. Why Fr. Cameli recounts the story of Sullivan’s same-sex “marriage” is unclear. There’s no real value here. Finally, Cameli references a publication by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S., long known to pro-lifers for its anti-life orientation and hostility toward Catholic doctrine.
Meanwhile, the Catholic apostolate Courage, which seeks to assist members with SSA to live chaste lives in accordance with Church teaching, gets only four lines in the entire book! One would think that a book-length Catholic perspective on homosexuality would grant more space to an uncompromisingly Catholic initiative like Courage. Fr. John Harvey, O.S.F.S., founder of Courage, wrote several books and many articles on this subject, but Cameli fails to include a single reference to any of them. Such a sharply curtailed treatment of the lone faithfully Catholic outreach for those struggling with SSA is troubling, especially when compared to the copious references made to sources spiteful of chaste living.
In his very short, two-page Chapter 5, Fr. Cameli asks whether the sexuality of homosexually inclined persons is “a blessing or a curse.” Curse is a strong word; readers reluctant to approve completely of homosexuality risk feeling cruel if those with a homosexual condition are “cursed.” In a bold, sweeping statement, Cameli claims, “We can affirm securely that the sexuality of homosexual persons belongs to the sexuality common to the human family. It is, therefore, unequivocally a blessing, something that can lead homosexually inclined persons to God.” This jaw-dropper has an element of merit, as indeed the homosexually inclined person’s fervent cooperation with God’s grace can lead to resistance to temptation and toward salvation — as with any heroic resistance to sin — but not because of the nature of the temptation itself! Temptations hardly constitute a “blessing,” in a direct, immediate sense. Fr. Cameli’s assertion that the homosexual condition “belongs to the sexuality common to the human family” appears to be an audacious attempt to “normalize” homosexuality, and it militates against the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which clearly cites homosexuality as a “disorder” (no. 2357) — hardly a “blessing.”
The misleading question of “blessing or curse” presents the “all or none” false dichotomy: Either homosexuality is to be embraced without the slightest reservation or we hold fast to Neanderthal cruelty and “anti-gay” leanings. But the Church makes a positively indispensable distinction between the homosexual inclination and the act of sodomy. Not to see the huge difference between temptation and action is to see man debased, at the level of an animal, completely devoid of the salvific dimension of God’s grace. A dog or cat in heat doesn’t deliberate prior to engaging in activity that leads to a new litter of puppies or kittens. To do so would be beyond its nature. A human soul struggling with SSA but bathed in the divine assistance we call grace can successfully resist the temptation to act, and in that way can avoid sinning gravely. This is the Church’s perspective on the matter. We are indeed to “love the sinner but hate the sin,” and this distinction is paramount. Fr. Cameli’s “blessing or curse” question is fraught with worldly baggage — it manipulates human sentiment and causes confusion.
At rare moments, Fr. Cameli adequately expresses his acceptance of Church teaching. On the subject of potential seminarians with SSA tendencies, he cites the Congregation for Catholic Education’s 2005 “Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with Regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in View of Their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders.” In keeping with the Vatican, Fr. Cameli comments that, “for the good of the Church and of individual candidates, the presence of deep-seated tendencies should signal a halt to admission or ordination of those who labor with these tendencies” — a faithful and orthodox reflection. Also, it must be noted that elsewhere Fr. Cameli poses the direct question, “Does Catholic teaching deny homosexually inclined persons the possibility of genital sexual activity with a person of the same sex?” He responds, “The short answer is ‘yes,'” and goes on to quote the Catechism (no. 2357).
Cameli is a sensitive and caring man of God — a born priest. He believes in dialogue and would like to build a bridge between diametrically opposed camps. It’s been said, however, that nobody lives on a bridge. As admirable as this priest’s motives of conciliation are, many will either abandon his book partway through, seeing Fr. Cameli as largely accepting of pro-sodomy advocates and sources, or gloss over his remarks that affirm Catholic teaching and come away thinking that the Church is finally “coming around” to making peace with an increasingly lavender world. In other words, Fr. Cameli’s solid conclusions are too little, too late.
Conciliation is a noble task, but if it’s taken too far, truth ultimately gets lost in the midst of excessive obsequiousness and too-generous references to heretical positions. Perhaps this effort should be deemed too risky to pursue. Archbishop Fulton Sheen noted, “If you do not act the way you believe, you will soon begin believing the way you act.” Without authentic circumspection and careful use of terminology, a weakening of conviction relative to our supposed belief will inevitably result.
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