01/24/2014 08:53 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

A Frank Letter to a Conservative Priest About, Well, You Know What

Emmanuel Faure via Getty Images

To: Rev. John Morris
23 January 2014

Dear Rev. Morris,

In a recent post I described my reactions to a sermon in which "homosexuality" was condemned as a "masquerade of love." In the comments to that post, you wrote the following:

What would you have done if you were a heterosexual living an immoral life? You should know enough about traditional Christianity and Catholicism to know that all sexual acts outside of marriage between one man and one woman is sinful. Why do you condemn a Catholic priest for preaching what the Catholic Church believes? Most clergy like myself would not feel a need to preach traditional Christian morality, were it not for the fact that our beliefs are constantly under attack by those who reject traditional Christian teachings on moral issues. Do you expect a Christian clergyman to reject what the Bible and the Church has always taught to conform to the views of secular society? It does not work that way, we are called to proclaim the will of God to society. The will of God is that we repent of our sins and live our lives according to God's moral law which restricts sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman.

Before I get to the meat of my argument, I have to point out that God blessed the biblical patriarchs with multiple wives and mistresses, and that the Song of Songs celebrates lovers who are clearly not married and just as clearly are having sex. Furthermore, I'd like to note that the early Church opposed interest on money loans, and it did not reject slavery, whereas the Church today permits interest and condemns slavery. I make these points because it's important to remember that the Scripture witnesses to a variety of sexual arrangements, and the teaching of the Church has grown and changed as Christians applied the Great Commandment to situations that were new, and to old situations that they came to see with new eyes.

But the real problem with your response might be more serious than this.

You say that if I enter a Catholic Church, I shouldn't complain about hearing what the Catholic Church believes. Let me remind you that I am the Church as well. I can say, along with Paul, "I think that I too have the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 7:40). That does not mean that I'm sinless or somehow better than other people, nor does it mean that I have all the answers and that I can just ignore what's in the Scriptures or what others in the Church have to say. But I have received the same gifts of baptism and confirmation that you have. I am fully part of the Body of Christ, and I am fully authorized to speak out to the other members of that Body, particularly when it regards my life in that Body.

This is what the tradition of the Catholic Church teaches me.

Implying that I want the Church to reject the Scripture in favor of "secular society" intentionally misunderstands what I am doing. I think that I am not much different from many of those people who you claim "reject traditional Christian teachings on moral issues." Like me, they are baptized members of the one Body. Where you see constant attack against your beliefs, I see people defending themselves against aggression. We are not rejecting traditional Christian teaching. In fact, we are trying to defend the most traditional teaching against the lie that some sort of special commandment has been added onto it. "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind. ... You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:35-40).

This is the Great Commandment. There is no Christian moral teaching superior to this one. When studying the Scripture, when reading the tradition, wherever we look, whatever we do, this is the commandment that we have to carry out. That's true whether we are "heterosexual," "homosexual," "bisexual," "pansexual," "asexual," "transsexual," "intersex," or simply "queer." Are we rejecting God? Are we loving our neighbor as ourselves? Are we reflecting the giving and receiving of the divine persons of the Trinity? Are we treating others as images of God and "bone of our bones, flesh our flesh" (Genesis 2:23)? The genders of the parties involved are a secondary matter. Love is all.

This is all easier said than done. In fact, I think that this kind of love is only possible with the grace of God, which is why the use of the Mass as a place to shame people is such a grave matter. When you treat LGBTQ Catholics as "secular society" rather than as your brothers and sisters in Christ, you poison the sources of grace for them. For that matter, when you treat LGBTQ non-Catholics as a particular species of sinner rather than as images of God like yourself, you have broken the Great Commandment. And if you ignore the fact that many of those "non-Catholic" LGBTQ people are in fact baptized members of the Body of Christ who have simply given up trying to speak for themselves in the Church, you ignore your own role in their anger and loss of faith.

And that raises the real problem, the one my previous blog post raised, the one to which you did not respond: Is it really possible, at this particular point in history, to proclaim the official teaching of the Catholic Church on "homosexuality" without breaking the Great Commandment?

I look forward to your answer.

In Christ,
Michael F. Pettinger