Re: ‘Bruised, Battered, Redeemed’

by Jason Lee Steorts

Kathryn, I was struck by the definition of “chastity” from the Catholic catechism that you gave: “successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.” I think lots of people in same-sex relationships would read that and say that their relationships have given them just that.

I realize that, from a Catholic point of view, sexual acts contribute to such integration only if they fulfill the behavioral component of the body’s reproductive function. To this a same-sex couple might reply that they aren’t convinced by the particular brand of teleological metaphysics behind that doctrine. Or they might bring the discussion down to earth and say something like, “Well, it’s more important for me to be with the person I love than to have and raise children with a member of the opposite sex.” I think this is perfectly understandable and should be respected. 

The choice that the people in the documentary you describe have made — namely celibacy — should also be respected. As should be the choice of anyone who finds himself or herself attracted to both sexes but pursues relationships only with the opposite sex in order for procreation within such a relationship to be possible.

What you have written — and this documentary — could, I think, be helpful to someone who already accepted Catholic teachings on sexuality. It could help a gay or lesbian Catholic to feel better about abiding by those teachings, and a straight Catholic to be more understanding. But the non-Catholic viewer will probably note that the set of alternatives presented in the film — be unfulfilled in your same-sex relationship, or be fulfilled celibate — omits the possibility of being fulfilled in such a relationship, as many are, and will probably find this omission more than a little tendentious.

I certainly would not presume to say that anyone who — to borrow your language — is “open to” the “Creator Himself” will come to accept the Catholic teaching, or any other particular teaching. I did not take that to be the import of your piece, but I do think there is a constant danger of supposing that one’s own understanding of “truth about who we are and what we were made for” must be everyone’s. (I suppose this is where readers might accuse me of propounding some sort of ethical relativism. This a subtle issue whose adequate discussion we’ll have to leave for another occasion, but my short answer is that, while there are things we can definitely rule out of any plausible conception of the good life, there is not a univocal form of human flourishing. With regard to many things — sexuality among them — I think that a variety of good lives are possible, and that it would be wrong to forbid or even disparage any of them. And I think that any theistic ethics must grapple seriously with the diversity of human nature and of reported human fulfillment. To my mind the Declaration of Independence strikes the right note: It asserts in universal terms that the Creator gives us the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but does not specify the proper content of this pursuit. The Creator might help you in yours, but be careful not to assume He’s also talking to your neighbor.)

Anyway, thanks for your characteristically thought-provoking and charitable article.