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An open letter to the people of “Courage”

The Catholic Church’s teaching on the ethics of human love, on what constitutes marriage, and on who may marry cannot change, because it is rooted in divine revelation and attested by reason.

(CNS file photo/Jon L. Hendricks)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

There are many exemplars of the cardinal virtue of courage in the Catholic Church today: Catholics in Hong Kong who risk their lives and livelihoods in defense of religious liberty, free speech, and freedom of association; French Catholics who brave Islamist murderers to practice the faith; young men preparing for a priestly vocation that may land them in jail for “hate crimes” because they preach the Gospel; campus ministers who push back against political correctness in order to evangelize; parents who insist that Catholic schools be “Catholic” in more than name; teenagers who won’t be bullied into denying Christ by their peers. We are truly surrounded by a “great…cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1).

And among them, there are no more courageous Catholics than you, the men and women of “Courage.” Against fierce cultural and social pressures, you strive – with the help of grace, your pastors, and each other – to live the Catholic ethic of human love even as you experience same-sex attractions. Your efforts at fidelity bespeak deep faith, a powerful hope, and authentic love.

Living chastely – living what John Paul II called “the integrity of love” – is not easy for anyone in our licentious culture. For that culture perversely insists that acting out our desires, whatever they may be, is a mark of “authenticity,” while chastity is demeaned as repression or a dishonest betrayal of one’s self. You know that those are lies.

You also know that lies like that come from the source the Lord called the “father of lies” (John 8:44). Against the grain of the times and the culture, you try to withstand the onslaught of the Evil One and to live the truth of human love amidst temptations. You are St. Paul’s “earthen vessels” (2. Cor. 4:7), and like all of us, you sometimes stumble on the journey to holiness. But unlike some others, you do not demand that truth bend to desire. With Flannery O’Connor, you know that “the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally.” So you seek reconciliation and forgiveness and recommit yourselves to living the integrity of love.

Just as importantly, you do not treat chastity as an ecclesiastical “policy issue” and you do not lobby within the Church for a change in “policy,” because you know that what is at stake here is truth: a truth that makes for happiness, genuine friendship, and, ultimately, beatitude. Working with the grace God makes available to you, you offer a crucial and often cruciform witness to the Church, especially to those who imagine that “their” truth is truer than Christ’s.

Many of you were upset by what Pope Francis was reported to have said, in a documentary film, about civil unions for same-sex couples and related matters. As it’s now clear that the Pope’s comments were cut-and-pasted by an agenda-driven filmmaker, this episode was another reminder that media reports of Catholic matters should always be taken with a grain of salt; ditto for the hysteria that too often characterizes the Catholic blogosphere. But precisely because certain parties further confused things by spinning and politicizing what the Pope was said-to-have-said, it’s important to recall two Catholic realities.

First, informal remarks by a pope to a filmmaker do not constitute an expression of the papal teaching office. Those who suggest otherwise are theologically ill-informed, politically motivated, or both. As I point out in The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission, the pope is not an oracle and every papal utterance is not magisterium.

Second, nothing that Pope Francis was reported to have said changes the Catholic Church’s teaching on the ethics of human love, on what constitutes marriage, and on who may marry. That teaching cannot change, because it is rooted in divine revelation and attested by reason. It would have been helpful (and professionally competent) if the Vatican press office had clarified this point before the media herd of independent minds declared what the Pope was said-to-have-said to be a possible first step toward a Catholic affirmation of so-called “gay marriage.” It was no such thing, because such a thing is impossible.

So, brave men and women of “Courage,” thank you for your witness. Please continue to take up the challenge that St. John Paul II issued on October 22, 1978: “Be not afraid! Open the doors to Christ!” Your courage should inspire every Catholic to a similar fidelity, and to the mutual, prayerful support that helps sustain the integrity of love.


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About George Weigel 308 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent book is The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), published by Ignatius Press.

19 Comments

  1. What a fabulous idea to write this. It should have been written by every bishop in the world, immediately after those remarks on Same Sex Civil Unions. But it’s hard to write when you are asleep. Great work.

  2. “Teaching” = “that which is taught”, not “that which ought to be taught”. The notion that Catholic teaching can’t change is an exercise in wishful thinking and a flight from reality. Any parish priest who actually dared to teach what the Church allegedly “teaches” would immediately be silenced by his own bishop. When’s the last time anyone heard the word “sodomy” spoken from the pulpit?

    • G. Poulin: To teach courageously is one thing, but imprudence is another. There is indeed a war, but to win a war requires good military strategy–and not everyone has the smarts for that job. To employ the words like “sodomy” and “sodomites” is reckless, and reckless priests do incalculable damage. We don’t need reckless priests who come out firing with guns ablazing, but bold, shrewd, and prudent priests/bishops who can teach clearly and aim properly.

      • To employ the words sodomy and sodomites is to speak the truth.

        And yes it hurts. But the truth does not hurt unless it ought to. Had we kept to that tack, I doubt this hegemony of perverted LGBT would what it is now.

        Call the spade the dirty shovel that it is.

        • I prefer to describe same-sex activities as a behavior rather than an identity. One shouldn’t give someone a life-time label for a behavior that precludes the possibility of ceasing to engage in these activities. One can commit an act of adultery without being forever labeled an adulterer, hence the freedom to not engage in a behavior that was offered by Christ to the woman caught in an act of adultery, “Go and sin no more.” Labeling someone, or branding them, doesn’t accept the conversion experience which is just as real as the sinful act.

          Sexual activities are either violent or non-violent (life-giving). Sodomy is an act of sexual violence along with rape, incest, and child sexual abuse. To have an authentic civil rights movement, the aggrieved person/s who objects to others treating them in a violent manner, but also agree to not treat others with acts of sexual violence. This agreement to give up sexual violence has never been agreed to by those who advocate regarding sodomy and other acts of sexual violence as an identity and a curse of nature; hence the need to change the God-given sexual identity as male or female. Everyone sees through this façade the culture has fallen into. The anger is directed at God and nature, rather than see the loving hands of Christ allowing the person to “sin no more.”

          • Grace’s response was on target. If sin had been addressed adequately from the pulpits the last many decades as it was prior to Vatican II, the Church and the world would not be buried in perverse sexual behaviors that have greatly harmed or destroyed individuals and families. The Holy Scriptures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly define mortal sins not sufficiently repented can send people to hell. Salvation or damnation continues to be an eternal destination for human souls. Scores of priests have betrayed their flocks by not clearly addressing this truth.

        • Peter: A lesbian couple are not capable of sodomy. And not all gay men engage in sodomy. There may be more than one way to tell the truth. Let’s say there are just two ways: one way 1) will get the message across, but cause tremendous harm and misunderstanding. The other way 2) will get the message across, but avoid the harm and misunderstanding. Which way will you choose?

    • Well, the word sodomy has more than one meaning. I also don’t see the benefit of using explicit vocabulary in a Mass attended by families with children. Priests can save that for private conversations with the appropriate people.

  3. This is a much needed message, thank you Mr. Weigel. The Courage and EnCourage apostolate is a shining light for the people of Catholic Church in these often dark, confusing times. The men and women of Courage — their example — lift my spirits daily. Thank you and continue to persevere. St. Joseph, pray for us!

  4. It’s about time someone spoke up for the True Catholic alternative to Father James Martin’s baloney. We spend so much time railing against Martin, that we forget to positively point out that there is a very good alternative to his disobedience. Catholics have to have a humane alternative to his creepy advocacy, and we must make it known.

  5. This is no consolation whatsoever when faithful Catholics who are suffering see people like Pope Francis and Fr. James Martin and Joe Biden living it up despite flouting Catholic doctrine. God, DO something. Many times it looks like Deism is the truth: God does nothing in the world. If God can’t or won’t ensure that his Church is faithful, what good is he? The fact that this article even was written is a condemnation of the Church and Providence.

    • Whoa Kevin! God sees farther than you do. Be patient. To God, a thousand years are as a single day. Trust the wisdom of providence. Your question is very much like asking: If God cannot protect his only begotten Son from the scandal of the cross, what good is He? You need to read the final chapters of the book of Job.

  6. Granted that the Pope is misquoted and malevolently taken out of context all too often, why doesn’t he personally and vigorously put things into context to right the wrong when such are sowing confusion among the faithful? A good teacher would do this. A poor teacher lets it go or relies on his press office to respond for him, and this press office doesn’t always get it right, either. Moreover, it is always better for the horse’s mouth to directly respond to the many horses’ a$$es who falsely spin what he says whenever such gets reported worldwide. If he has the time to make off-the-cuff remarks, he certainly has the time to respond to false reporting when such reporting is widespread. Why does he repeatedly fail to do this?

    The fact of the matter is that Pope Francis has made too many off-the-cuff remarks that provide some kind of support for immorality condemned by the Catholic Church, or at the very least they simply confuse the faithful. As such, Weigel’s reassurance about unchanging Catholic doctrine (duh?) misses an important point that the Pope repeatedly sows confusion in his off-the-cuff remarks, and this should be condemned without equivocation for the damage that it does. A good Pope is more measured and helpful even in his off-the-cuff remarks. A poor Pope is reckless and harmful in his off-the-cuff remarks. He sure does make a mess of things, and didn’t he say he wanted to “make a mess” regarding many things, or is that just another comment or position of his in the long litany of “being taken out of context”?

    • Of course you are right. Perhaps this is the explanation: this is a pope who loves his celebrity status. He loves the fact that everyone around the world is talking about him. If he clarifies, people will move on to other things. He’ll no longer be the center of attention. Am I certain of this? No. It is possible? Yes. Is it plausible? I think so. But I could be wrong.

  7. We read that “t[he Church’s] teaching cannot change, because it is rooted in divine revelation and attested by reason.”

    On the other hand, we are living at a time when the very concepts of “revelation” and “reason” and even “teaching” are marginalized, expendable, and even “deplorable”–and when off-the-cuff whimsy (or worse) from on high muddles these solidities toward a post-Christian AND post-conceptual “new normal.”

    The dark side thrives on sins/patterns of omission. A Church voice without clarity is like a teenager without a curfew…It is not by direct refutation, but by subtle suggestion, obliqueness, spin, grooming and omission that The Father in Heaven is, in effect, obsolesced and replaced by the “father of lies” (John 8:44). This, from Benjamin Franklin:

    “For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
    For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
    For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
    For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
    For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
    And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”

  8. As the logician said:

    The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
    To talk of many things:
    Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
    Of cabbages — and kings —
    And why the sea is boiling hot —
    And whether pigs have wings.’

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