As I was getting ready to preside at Mass on Sunday, news about the horrific Orlando massacre began to circulate. I knew that I had to readjust the tone of the liturgy and my homily to be in accord with the confusion and despair that parishioners were feeling as they lumbered through the doors of the church.
The gospel from Luke was of that of the woman sinner who is shown compassion and mercy by Jesus in juxtaposition to the judgment and indignation exhibited by Simon the Pharisee. I began my homily by referencing the inchoate news filtering in about the tragedy at the gay club in Orlando.
I spoke about how violence is often the result of hate and ignorance, the inability to see ourselves as “the other,” and a byproduct of our propensity to categorize people who are different as “sinners,” as Simon does with the woman in the gospel.
I thought the homily landed well. While there were no “amens,” there were nods of agreement. Most seemed to get the points I was struggling to make in the immediate aftermath of news for which there was no reasonable explanation or theological salve.
As I was greeting people after the Mass a woman from the congregation approached me. In earshot of other parishioners who were milling about she said, “Father, yes, this is a terrible tragedy, but you do know that if they hadn’t been in a place like that at two in the morning, they would still be alive.”
I was dumbfounded, literally speechless.
How had she listened to my homily and received communion at the table of love and unity, and still arrived at such a conjecture? In fairness, I don’t believe she was saying that the scores killed and injured deserved it, or were directly responsible for their fate, but the implication was almost as chilling: If those in the Pulse nightclub hadn’t been socializing in a gay — and therefore, in her view, immoral — environment in the middle of the night, their lives would have been spared.
Nothing good happens at 2 a.m., especially in a gay club.
It is not a far reach to conclude that she was saying, bad things happen to bad people. (I must assume that she had also turned a deaf ear to my homily on the Book of Job.) I took to Twitter in an attempt to process my feelings about this post-Eucharist encounter. I felt no obligation to keep the woman’s comments private since she uttered them proudly and publicly.
The responses on Twitter were immediate. Most empathized with my dismay, but there were other responses that took me aback. One person tweeted: “Saying LGBT relationships are ‘intrinsically disordered’ and ‘morally evil’ incites hatred worldwide not love…Catholic teaching on LGBT is part of the problem. It fuels hatred and bigotry worldwide. It kills LGBT hearts.”
Others tweeted in agreement.
I was nonplussed, not expecting Catholic teaching on gays to come under scrutiny in response to an action allegedly perpetrated by an avowed Muslim extremist who pledged allegiance to ISIS. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, since Islamic and Catholic teaching on homosexuality are not dissimilar.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church indeed states that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and that the homosexual inclination is “objectively disordered” (2357-58). That is all the ammunition some need to call down their own judgment and derision upon the Catholic Church.
The Catechism also states, however, that all people should be treated with dignity and respect and never be discriminated against because of sexual orientation. We have a Pope who uttered the famous phrase, “Who am I to judge?”
Francis also said to an Italian journalist, “Before all else comes the individual person, in wholeness and dignity. And people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love.”
That sounds an awful lot like Jesus with the woman at the house of Simon the Pharisee.
For some, however, Church teachings about homosexuality do not sound at all like Jesus. Rather, they are perceived as negative and judgmental with a resonance that divides rather than unites. A perfunctory nod here and there toward semi-inclusion and empathy does little to soothe the wounds of an LGBT community that feels like second-class parishioners who are tolerated but never fully accepted.
“Love the sinner but hate the sin” simply does not satisfy those who feel as though they have nothing for which to apologize or atone.
Can we do better? I believe we must.
The news reports and images from Orlando are indeed heartbreaking, and will become more so in the passing days as we learn more about the victims and the loved ones they leave behind. To know that distortion of a religious tradition is partly to blame makes this tragedy all the more harrowing.
Once again, as a nation, we begin soul-searching in an effort to try to ensure that such senseless violence ends. As religious traditions, we must do the same.
I don’t believe that Catholic, or Islamic, teaching in any way justifies violence against a group of people. But the fact that some think it does should disturb all of us.
We are called to be vigilant in assuring that the edicts of our traditions are never hijacked as apologia for nefarious ends. We must also continue to challenge our religious traditions to be in accord with their founding visions that say love wins every time, in every way.