Possibly as a result of John Smeaton’s blog, Archbishop Peter Smith has clarified what I was intimating yesterday, namely that his statement was a specific response to the government in which he was making no wider comment about the morality or advisability of civil partnerships.
Ben Trovato makes an interesting and challenging point in terms of ‘gay identity’ but I would agree with Lazarus’ comment; the term ‘gay and lesbian’ is not necessarily a loaded one implying lifestyle or entire identity, I formerly understood it solely in terms of orientation and don’t have a problem with its usage in this context, although I understand that in today’s world the term gay or lesbian implies someone with an active romantic and sex life which is problematic, not to mention oxymoronic if it prefixes the word ‘Catholic’.
It’s difficult to know quite what the right word should be, I absorbed the phrase same-sex attraction after listening to numerous Catholic Answers podcasts and reading Jimmy Akin; intellectually I am persuaded that this should be the preferred term. That said, many of my same-sex attracted friends baulk at the phrase, they find it derogatory and loaded, others don’t like the term LGBT and therefore while ‘same-sex attracted’ is the most helpful in a Catholic context, basic courtesy dictates that if someone doesn’t like you referring to them using a certain word or phrase, then you really ought to avoid doing so, not least out of respect. Finding the correct terminology is a minefield, but gay and lesbian seems to be the most universal term.
There’s a delicate balance between rejecting the idea of an all-defining identity and yet being aware of and respecting other people’s sensitivities and dignity. So much is not about what you say, but how you make people feel and there needs to be some way of allowing people to feel comfortable, so if someone identifies to me as being ‘gay’, I’m certainly not going to correct them by barking “I think you’ll find it’s really same-sex attraction”! Precision and clarity are important, but language policing is a dangerous road to go down. Do we care that same-sex attraction perhaps sounds derogatory and signifies disproval? We need to speak the truth in love, but perhaps by respecting someone else’s choice of descriptor demonstrates love, which will then open them up to the truth. In any event I’m not sure that using those words does necessarily cede ground or accept an implicit premise. We aren’t saying ‘yes we accept that you only define yourself as gay’, but accepting that same-sex attraction exists and that a person identifies as having it.
Archbishop Smith was writing a response to a secular authority trying to use plain English in the terms that would be easily understood, especially as civil partnerships and gay marriage are pertinent to those who would define themselves as gay and lesbian and for whom Archbishop Smith was trying to advocate. Had he replaced the words lesbian and gay with same-sex attracted it may not have been so effective. The sentence would have been rather clunky.
“Some same-sex attracted Catholics do not wish to enter into civil same-sex marriage because of their deeply held belief that marriage is between a man and a woman only, but still wish to have the legal rights that are contained in a civil partnership.”
I can’t get too riled about it, there are more important battles to be fought, especially as this was not a formal teaching document.
With that in mind, Ben’s response was cogently argued and he has a right to criticise a bishop as a private individual where he believes him to be error. He wasn’t uncharitable, I wouldn’t necessarily agree that this statement was proof of a ‘shameful failure’ on the part of the CBCEW but that’s about as strong as Ben ever gets and it certainly wasn’t nasty or personal in any way, nor did it cast aspersions on anyone’s authenticity as a Catholic.
Ben was highlighting an issue for Catholics to think about and this is kind of the purpose of blogging – to share material and put ideas out there. The Catholic blogosphere shouldn’t be just one shiny happy everything’s perfect in the garden place, but a place to disseminate and dissemble ideas. Neither, is it in any way orthodox to jump to the defence of bishops, simply because of the office they hold. To do that is clericalism at its worst. The office of holy orders should always be treated with respect, but it does not make one immune from criticism.
So I don’t agree with Ben on this one, (I’m sure he’ll get over it in time), just as many people won’t agree with me. Catholic or Christian blogging doesn’t mean that these types of public discussions shouldn’t take place, but that they should be conducted respectfully, if robustly.
Although John Smeaton was discussing civil partnerships as opposed to descriptors or implicit acceptance of an identity or agenda, I found Ben’s post far more thought-provoking as a wider-issue. I’m still mulling it over and oscillating at time of writing. This is what good commentary should do, namely challenge and stimulate.
I still maintain that had John written the same as Ben, it still shouldn’t have appeared on a Spuc-director blog and it seems that there is a general consensus that a private blog would be far more helpful in order to separate out his personal views from that of the organisation. Some of my friends and family who are far more sympathetic to spuc than I am, felt that the post was counter-productive for both the Catholic church and pro-life and yet another unnecessary attack on good people of faith.
Domestic violence, poverty and adultery damage and undermine family life and pose a threat to the unborn. Perhaps SPUC doesn’t articulate these concerns because it feels that the public already perceive them to be immoral and damaging. Equally we don’t hear much about cohabitation which is in the same league as people in same-sex relationships, i.e. having sex outside of marriage. Maybe just maybe if we could hear more in these areas in relation to the unborn child, then the relentless focus on Catholic politics and homosexuality wouldn’t make one’s teeth itch, quite so much?