“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:13-16)
As Scripture reminds us, we use both salt and light to enhance or even amplify goodness. A meal is seasoned with salt to bring out the flavor of something else. We light up a room to reveal its contents and to avoid stumbling around in the dark.
I’m sure this is why Salt and Light Media took its name. How unfortunate, then, to encounter a July 15 commentary, titled, “Is It Possible to Build Bridges Today,” from Salt and Light Media’s CEO, Fr. Thomas M. Rosica, CSB, that at least appears to do the exact opposite by suppressing a crucial and fundamental truth of our Catholic faith and of the human person. Rosica offers his thoughts on the relationship between the Catholic Church and the “LGBT community”. In the process, he appears to unintentionally reveal the core problem in the Church today regarding homosexuality, same-sex “marriage”, and related issues, such as the transgender phenomenon. As I read it, Rosica’s commentary manifests an “overly benign interpretation” of the homosexual condition itself.
Keep in mind the teaching of the Church as expressed in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1986 document “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”:
In the discussion which followed the publication of [the "Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics” of December 29, 1975], however, an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.
In addition to warning against an “overly benign” view of the homosexual inclination, the CDF document also warned the faithful against what could be called an overly benign view of the “LGBT community” itself:
Nevertheless, increasing numbers of people today, even within the Church, are bringing enormous pressure to bear on the Church to accept the homosexual condition as though it were not disordered and to condone homosexual activity. Those within the Church who argue in this fashion often have close ties with those with similar views outside it. These latter groups are guided by a vision opposed to the truth about the human person, which is fully disclosed in the mystery of Christ. They reflect, even if not entirely consciously, a materialistic ideology which denies the transcendent nature of the human person as well as the supernatural vocation of every individual.
The Church’s ministers must ensure that homosexual persons in their care will not be misled by this point of view, so profoundly opposed to the teaching of the Church. But the risk is great and there are many who seek to create confusion regarding the Church’s position, and then to use that confusion to their own advantage.
The movement within the Church, which takes the form of pressure groups of various names and sizes, attempts to give the impression that it represents all homosexual persons who are Catholics. As a matter of fact, its membership is by and large restricted to those who either ignore the teaching of the Church or seek somehow to undermine it. It brings together under the aegis of Catholicism homosexual persons who have no intention of abandoning their homosexual behaviour. One tactic used is to protest that any and all criticism of or reservations about homosexual people, their activity and lifestyle, are simply diverse forms of unjust discrimination.
This is necessary background for considering Rosica’s commentary. It is, effectively, the “salt and light” we really need to add in order get the full flavor, the full illumination, of the problem inherent in his reflection.
The reflection begins with Rosica’s brief account of a parish mission he led years ago at Most Holy Redeemer parish, in the heart of San Francisco’s “Castro” district, where the “majority of parishioners” were, in Rosica’s words, “homosexual and HIV-positive.” He describes their vibrant parish community of elderly people and “practicing gay Catholics.” While one can and should assume that Rosica means to say they were “gay practicing Catholics,” it is also safe to assume that the parish had indeed brought “together under the aegis of Catholicism homosexual persons who have no intention of abandoning their homosexual behavior.” Why assume that? Because it is still the case today at Most Holy Redeemer Parish; it is still known as an “LGBT-affirming” community comprising a high percentage of members who “ignore the teaching of the Church or seek somehow to undermine it.”
To Rosica’s credit—and theirs—he does say this of his encounter with many parishioners:
Many of the gay persons who I met that week revealed a deep spirituality and faith. And most interesting of all, the people I met asked that we, as ministers of the Church, be people of compassion and understanding, and not be afraid to teach the message of the Gospel and the Church with gentleness and clarity even in the midst of ambiguity of lifestyle, devastation, despair and hostility.
Later, however, Rosica says something utterly stunning:
Throughout my 31 years of priestly ministry, having ministered to many persons who are L.G.B.T., gay, or all the others words we have used to describe their conditions: persons of same-sex attraction, homosexual, intrinsically disordered persons….
The charitable assumption here is that there are typos above. “Persons of same-sex attraction”? Never heard the term before. Persons with same-sex attraction, sure. Then the whopper: “intrinsically disordered persons”?
I thought Rosica said these are the words “we have used”—does he mean “we the Church”?—to describe conditions. Not persons. Why the shift?
As I interpret this, it’s probably not an error at all, but a necessary “pivot” for what Rosica wants to say next:
At the last Synod of Bishops on the Family, I was inside the Synod and watched how some courageous bishops and Cardinals of the Church challenged their brother bishops and Synod delegates to be attentive to our language in speaking about homosexual persons. At that historic 2015 Synod, Bishops spoke about homosexuality. The very fact that this topic was being discussed so openly is a change from previous synodal discussions. I can honestly say that the Synod Fathers were genuinely trying to find a way to recognize those who live a homosexual lifestyle, but were in no way comparing such a union to Christian marriage between a man and a woman. I am especially grateful to New Zealand Cardinal John Dew who made a fervent plea to examine our ecclesial language of “intrinsically disordered” to describe homosexual persons. Such vocabulary does not invite people into dialogue nor does it build bridges.
Crucially, Rosica makes the same breathtaking conflation here as he did before: Church language never—as in never, ever, ever—describes homosexual persons as “intrinsically disordered”. Never.
Either Rosica doesn’t really know this, or he knows it and is, in spite of his knowledge, accidentally or deliberately conflating person with either inclination (objectively disordered inclination) or act (intrinsically disordered acts).
Rosica then adds yet another layer of confusion with this next (and quite impenetrable) statement:
No matter how well-intentioned scholastic theology tries to describe the human condition, some words miss the mark and end up doing more harm than good. Reality is more important than lofty theological or philosophical ideas.
I must need an actual degree in theology or philosophy to “get” that. Maybe you, dear readers, can help. I always thought that Catholics were to trust that the words of theology that end up in doctrine are words that actually do hit the mark and are there for our good. Further, I always thought that the theological and philosophical ideas that undergird our doctrine are based on reality. As the Catechism states: “Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure. Conversely, if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith” (par 89).
What Rosica seems to be implying that the Church’s doctrine that the homosexual inclination is “objectively disordered” actually misses the mark and doesn’t reflect reality. If there is another way to read it, I’m all ears.
But how could that be, since everyone—including Rosica, surely—already knows that the Church teaches us not to have an “overly benign” interpretation of the homosexual condition, and most definitely, that we should never go so far as to call this condition “neutral, or even good”? What have I missed?
In this particular case, we have the opposite of what “salt and light” are really supposed to do. Whether intended or unintended, here we have a suppression of something good—an obscuring of the Church’s real and authentic teaching on the human person and the homosexual inclination.
However, being in the realm of public discourse means that Rosica now has a golden opportunity to correct any unintended confusion that may have arisen from his reflection.
Let’s hope he offers an unequivocal clarification. Now, that would be a real “salt-and-light” moment of truth.