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FGF Op-Ed
THE REACTIONARY UTOPIAN
January 18, 2017

Joe Sobran

Sacraments and Sodomy

by Joe Sobran
fitzgerald griffin foundation


[Sobran's, December 2003] — Andrew Sullivan has established himself as the most eloquent voice of “gay” Catholics in the American media. He recently wrote a piece on the op-ed page of the New York Times to bewail what he chooses to call the Church’s “hostility” to homosexuals.

“How can I worship at the altar of intolerance?” he asks. “For the first time in my own life,” he goes on, “I find myself unable to go to Mass.” He insists that he is, and will always be, a Catholic. Still, “It would be an act of dishonesty to enable an institution that is now a major force for the obliteration of gay lives and loves; that covered up for so long the sexual abuse of children but uses the word ‘evil’ for two gay people wanting to commit to each other for life.” He speaks of his “tears of grief and anger,” his “distress,” his “anger and hurt.” “There are moments in a spiritual life,” he concludes, “when the heart simply breaks.”

Not all desires are “needs.” Does a pedophile “need” sexual relations with children? Was the woman taken in adultery satisfying a “need”? What led or drove her to adultery? Was her husband cruel and unfeeling?

 

The immediate provocation for all this was the expulsion of a homosexual couple from a parish choir in the Bronx after they had gotten a civil marriage license in Canada and announced their union in the Times. That is, they had broken some long-standing rules of the Church and had publicized the fact. So the Church, in its intolerance and cruelty, had excluded them. “Gay people are the last of the untouchables. We can exist in the church only by silence, by bearing false witness to who we are.” Gay people are denied “any outlet for their deepest emotional needs.” Sullivan concedes that “this will not change as a matter of doctrine,” but that doctrine was “never elaborated by Jesus.”

How can one fail to sympathize? Sympathy is called for. But so is reason. You must certainly pity the man whose sexual desires doom him to a life of loneliness, frustration, and social disapproval. This is also true of the pedophile to whom Sullivan adroitly and tactfully alludes (though without facing the analogy, which could be fatal to his case).

You might even extend a bit of sympathy, if you’ve any left to spare, for the Church authorities, whose duties include enforcing ancient standards of moral conduct, which have suddenly come under attack. These standards apply to everyone; they aren’t particularly aimed at homosexuals. But the bishop who does apply them to homosexuals, in today’s climate, can expect to be publicly accused of “intolerance” and “hostility,” in the pages of our newspapers, by lugubriously self-dramatizing dissenters.

Not all desires are “needs.” Does a pedophile “need” sexual relations with children? Was the woman taken in adultery satisfying a “need”? What led or drove her to adultery? Was her husband cruel and unfeeling?

 

The problem with Andrew Sullivan’s argument [is] its utterly self-absorbed childishness. He can’t admit that a principle may be at stake; he demands that the moral law itself be altered to accommodate homosexuals.

Of course Jesus didn’t specifically condemn sodomy. He had no reason to. The moral standards, the ones it still falls to Catholic bishops to preach and enforce, were known to everyone. Sexual relations were confined to marriage. Nobody suggested it should be otherwise. It was taken for granted that the sexual appetite was unruly, but it was up to each person to practice self-control.

What is new and insidious is the custom of discussing people of a particular inclination as a persecuted minority. Sullivan falls into this habit without explaining why homosexuals should be an anomaly. No doubt it pains him that the Church still frowns on sodomy, but why should moral law yield to hurt feelings?

Imagine your grandfather referring to Grandma as his “sexual partner”! Worse yet, imagine her reaction.

 

Over the centuries, Catholic moral theologians have tried to figure out how the moral law applies to all sorts of situations. It’s not as if only homosexual acts were singled out for censure, though this is just the impression Sullivan tries to create — or rather, he makes it sound as if Church teaching were directed against homosexual persons, which of course it never was. Catholic doctrine, large and impersonal, was never determined by mere “hostility.” It’s childish to suggest that it was. You might as well accuse the Church of “hostility” to masturbators.

But that, finally, is the problem with Sullivan’s argument: its utterly self-absorbed childishness. He can’t admit that a principle may be at stake; he demands that the moral law itself be altered to accommodate homosexuals. The “doctrine” he objects to, he says, “was constructed when gay people as we understand them today were not known to exist.” Actually, they didn’t exist. There was no such thing as a vocal “gay community,” and people didn’t use such phrases as “multiple sexual partners.” Imagine your grandfather referring to Grandma as his “sexual partner”! Worse yet, imagine her reaction.

Sullivan doesn’t quite demand that the Church recognize “gay marriage,” but he clearly resents its strong opposition to it. But again he fails to say what social end, besides sparing homosexuals’ hurt feelings, would be served by blessing such unions, which, in the nature of things, aren’t really marriages at all.

As Lincoln is said to have asked, how many legs does a dog have if you count its tail as a leg? Four — because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.

 

If Sullivan is really as attached to the Church as he says he is, he might reflect that one reason for its hold on him, and millions of others, is precisely that it refuses to follow the absurdities of fashion.

If Sullivan is really as attached to the Church as he says he is, he might reflect that one reason for its hold on him, and millions of others, is precisely that it refuses to follow the absurdities of fashion. It claims no authority to call a tail a leg. To do so would be, in fact, an act of the very arbitrary authority he accuses it of exercising now.

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Copyright © 2017 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. “Sacraments and Sodomy” by Joe Sobran was published originally in the December 2003 edition of Sobran's: The Real News of the Month.

You can read this and 116 other Sobran columns in the collection of his essays titled, Subtracting Christianity: Essays on American Culture and Society (FGF Books, 2015).

Subtracting Christianity and Hustler: The Clinton Legacy, a collection of 82 essays written by Joe Sobran’s collection during Bill Clinton's years in the White House, make great presents for your pastor, friends, family and colleagues. Order today.

Joe Sobran (1946-2010) was a syndicated columnist for over 35 years.

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