Confused identities

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?

19 thoughts on “Confused identities

  1. i think you should read CatholicBandita’s excellent series on this question. One cannot identify with sin or a serious disorder. But, to admit to being plagued by such is different.

    God does not create people “gay”. Even the American Medical Association agrees that there is no “gay” gene. Gayness does not define someone.

    As to being an important point of discussion, this entire discussion will become the new point of prejudice and then persecution of the Catholic Church. Once the EU states that the denial of ssm is a hate crime, priests will be fined, imprisoned and even worse.

    Get real. The gay agenda is that those who sin want us to accept their lifestyle. And, homosexual sins are one of those categories which cry out to God for vengeance. See 1867 The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are “sins that cry to heaven”: the blood of Abel,139 the sin of the Sodomites,140 the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt,141 the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan,142 injustice to the wage earner.143

    Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    1. I was thinking of Lisa’s blog when I wrote this.

      Ultimately it’s about trusting an Archbishop to use a correct and appropriate form of words when responding to a secular authority. This was not a teaching document for the faithful.

  2. See Paul Priest’s comment at the link you provided above.

    But I agree that SPUC should stick to their advertised remit.

  3. Caroline, is not the problem rather that from the Bishops, including this one, there is no teaching of the Church on the issue of homosexuality, sexual unions not between man and woman, marriage, the family etc? It’s all just ‘politics’.

  4. They say nothing until they are forced to say something and even then, it is basically nothing to challenge us not to live sinfully, but instead suggests we may sinfully live.

  5. That is, I think, the reason people are infuriated. We have real clear teaching from Bishops, therefore who can blame SPUC, or me, or anyone else, when the only time they do mention is is when they basically validate it – or are seen to validate it – in order to get across the message that they are ‘tolerant’.

    I’m angry with Bishops who do this, consistently, undermining the Faith of the Church because they refuse to call us, the flocks over which they have been placed in authority, to repentance!

    Why shouldn’t John Smeaton get angry with that, and who are you, frankly, when he is drawing upon the Magisterium of the Church, to have a go at him for doing so. He’s only defending the very Faith that the Bishops were meant to defend, but couldn’t be bothered to defend!

    1. My points are these:

      1) it was a secular response to a secular authority and not a teaching document

      2) If John Smeaton wants to criticise fine, but he should do in the capacity as a private individual – it’s not the business of a secular pro life lobby group

      3) constant attacks on the bishops and homosexuality only serve to undermine SPUC both with the wider public and doesn’t help them in terms of getting traction within dioceses

      4) it’s a question of picking battles. A constant refrain of aren’t the bishops terrible or as I noted the other day, the Iona institute aren’t prolife because they imply support for CPs, means that valid criticism is ignored.

  6. Just to clarify my view. I do think that ‘gay’ is a loaded term. In particular, it carries connotations of approval and fixed identity that I wouldn’t want unproblematically to endorse. Equally, ‘homosexual’ has connotations of fixed identity though without approval. If I were engaged in a deep theological or philosophical discussion, I’d either avoid both terms or be very careful to explain the context of use.

    However, we are currently in a position similar to that of missionaries engaging with a society that has a language and social structures that were not developed with Christian understandings in mind. Many people identify themselves as gay and are deeply committed to that identity. Not all engagements with them will be helped by insisting that they reject the word: this is particularly the case with short, superficial conversations where we are liable to get stuck on a word which, in that context, may not be the most pressing issue. There are many other terms which embody (or encourage) false understandings such as ‘teenager’ or ‘heterosexual’. Sometimes, in circumstances where extended debate is possible, we need to stop and problematize such words. At other times, the truth is better served by focusing on other issues of more substance in that context.

    It was a very narrow point I was making to Ben about the use of ‘gay’. As to the wider issue of Archbishop Smith’s statement, I simply haven’t followed through all the details enough to come to a judgment. My general observation would be that, if there were in general a clearer teaching of the Church’s understanding and the reasons for it, we wouldn’t need to be so exercised about every individual and informal statement: it’s the general suspicion that the centre will not hold which leads to such worries about the periphery.

  7. ” it was a secular response to a secular authority and not a teaching document”

    Yes, quite and my point is really all he ever does. So what? He is a bishop, is he not, called to give a robust spiritual response to the secular authority and to give a ‘reason for the hope that is within us’.

    I’m fed up to the back teeth with his ilk, always giving secular responses to secular authority and never telling truth to power. Never telling spiritual truth to secular power!

    ‘If John Smeaton wants to criticise fine, but he should do in the capacity as a private individual – it’s not the business of a secular pro life lobby group’

    Why? I don’t hear SPUC disagreeing with their chairman/chief executive. It sounds to me like there’s pretty much perfect unity in SPUC about the real danger posed by both civil unions and same-sex marriage. Why should it be left to laymen to remind bishops of their duties? Why then demand that John Smeaton shut up because his voice is one of the few willing to do what the Bishops are not prepared to do – namely – tell the truth of the Christ to those in authority!

    constant attacks on the bishops and homosexuality only serve to undermine SPUC both with the wider public and doesn’t help them in terms of getting traction within dioceses

    Most people are not reading Mr Smeaton’s blog. People are grateful, I am among many, that Mr Smeaton actually keeps his eye on the ball and isn’t prepared to let it go, while Bishops go AWOL and refuse to stand up and be counted for Jesus Christ and His Truth!

    it’s a question of picking battles. A constant refrain of aren’t the bishops terrible or as I noted the other day, the Iona institute aren’t prolife because they imply support for CPs, means that valid criticism is ignored.

    It’s not a matter of picking battles. That’s the problem with those who think being a Christian is a media battle that is engaged in by approaching the whole issue on the terms of those who have set the agenda. It’s really much more simple than that – its about telling the truth and telling it well. In the absence of Bishops willing to do that – BECAUSE they refuse to offend the sensibilities of ‘the community’, John Smeaton does a very good job.

    Laying into someone who is defending the Magisterium is just, from the perspective of one watching the debacle, when Bishops refuse to do so, absurd!

  8. Nothing personal, you’ll understand, Caroline, but on paper Mr Smeaton is right and the Bishops are wrong. The malaise among the bishops is evident, in that they are happy to defend Catholics for pastoral reasons (fair enough), but have no willingness to stand up for Jesus Christ, for His Truth and for the sake of the souls in their care. I’m sure all the Catholics in same-sex relationships can fight their corner. If Bishops want to fight for their temporal rights, then so be it, but given that they refuse to fight for their salvation, one wonders really how sincere they are.

    1. I know it’s not a personal thing Laurence and I completely understand the point that you are making.

      I completely understand that we have a duty to witness to the truth.

      At this particular point in time, we have ‘lost’ the battle over gay marriage and so our duty is to defend and stand up for the truth.

      I just don’t see that arguing whether or not Archbishop Smith endorsed civil partnerships or whether or not civil partnerships are something in which Catholics can enter in good conscience really advances that.

      I am pondering over whether or not in a society that has both gay marriage and civil partnerships, actually there might be a case for them to be made as being something entirely separate to marriage, a sort of legalised friendship if you will, with none of the sexual or romantic connotations of marriage.

      Perhaps I’m being overtly influenced by the Anglican church here who would allow their clergy to enter civil partnerships but explicitly stated that they were expected to remain chaste.

      Our beloved Emeritus Pope talked about condoms as being the first step towards a moral awakening, whilst of course not condoning or encouraging their use. Is it possible that civil partnerships could be viewed in a similar sort of light?

      With regards to the 2003 statement from the CDF, I think it’s worth bearing in mind that they were against civil partnerships as a way of introducing a form of gay marriage, either as a stepping stone, or an alternative form of a romantic and sexual union for same-sex attracted people.

      I think the issue of how to view civil partnerships perhaps ought to be re-examined in the light of societies which have both gay marriage and civil partnerships civilly available for same-sex couples. I admit I would like to see the scope of civil partnerships ;widened so elderly relatives and companions can enter them. This is what the Church of England was strongly arguing for so that the nature of them as non-marriages could be clear.

      I think of two elderly aunties of mine who have lived together as chaste companions for the past 50 years and also of the case of the late actor Nigel Hawthorn. I also have some chaste homosexual male friends who share a life and a home but not a bed and have no desire to make political statements or indeed adopt children.

      1. “I admit I would like to see the scope of civil partnerships ;widened so elderly relatives and companions can enter them. ”

        I would imagine that companions already have the option of getting married or performing a civil partnership (providing they are of the same sex). My understanding is the civil partnerships were introduced to encourage stable relationships and that in turn was good for society. Elderly living relatives don’t fit that category, they don’t need the same encourgement from Government. Surely elderly relatives may need financial assistance on the death of their relative but that’s quite different to the main purpose of promoting healthy , stable relationships.

        I agree there is a strong argument to open civil partnerships to hetersexual couples which in turn would promote stable relationships, be good for children and for society.

  9. I respect so much of what you say and do and write, but I really do not like seeing John Smeaton’s hard work fighting for unborn children and the real rights of Christians, as well as the rights of the family and the truths of marriage being denigrated by fellow bloggers when he is, at least when you look at the Church’s teaching, 100% correct. The truth might not be that nice, or convenient, or even popular, but it doesn’t make it wrong.

    1. Thanks Laurence and likewise but surely nobody, not me, nor you, the bishops or John Smeaton should be exempt from criticism.

      I am pretty much on the same page and as you know continually take a public pasting for being ‘homophobic’ and have probably exposed my family, much more than was wise. I also know that those from the Iona Institute have been through hell, Breda O’Brien told me on the phone about how her 15 year old daughter had been targeted as a result of their robust defence of marriage in Ireland and how she has been terrified, and yet you look at John’s blog and he says that the Iona Institute should not be trusted.

      This is why I have attempted to be as charitable as possible about John Smeaton. I see what he’s trying to do, but I this kind of thing doesn’t endear them and actually we have an interest in seeing them succeed. They are in serious danger of being written of as right-wing fringe group, obsessed with homosexuality and Catholic politics. That’s not in anyone’s interests and that’s why I suggest that John ought to have a separate blog, not least for his successors.

      This isn’t about attacking him as an individual, had you written an identical post I would have read it, maybe commented and gone ‘meh’, okay Laurence don’t agree on this one and left it there.

      You’ve got a high profile and plenty of blog hits and deserved kudos as a Catholic writer. However it isn’t insulting to say that you probably haven’t got quite the reach or influence of SPUC and both you and I speak in the capacity as private individuals on our blogs. You and I both allow comments and robust debate, we can have an open discussion, whereas John doesn’t allow comments and won’t enter into any sort of debate. So he can critique who he likes but won’t actually respond to or engage with any feedback.

      I have no issue with John saying exactly what he wants, but as outlined, I do think it’s problematic associating SPUC as an organisation with this kind of thing. We do still continue to donate to the White Flower appeal, so I do have a reasonable interest. I don’t want to see women sleepwalk into abortion clinics and go through what I did. Actually more of a problem for young women than civil partnerships is a contraceptive mentality and cultural expectation and pressure of them to conform to a distorted and unachievable stereotype of a ‘perfect woman’. I’d love to see John and SPUC address this effectively and engage with contemporary feminism, alongside their sex ed work.

      I just can’t see how criticising civil partnerships or Archbishop Smith’s response to a specific question really helps, other than get Catholics exercised over an Archbishop who is retiring soon.

      Just as you like John, I like Archbishop Smith. I think he’s a good man and don’t like to see him needlessly attacked.

  10. ‘They are in serious danger of being written of as right-wing fringe group, obsessed with homosexuality and Catholic politics.’

    So this is your criticism of John Smeaton and SPUC?

    And if the Catholic Church in England and Wales actually preached the Faith of Jesus Christ in the face of the secular powers that seek to overwhelm the Church and bully Her into submission (and, let’s face it, succeeded very well in doing so), do you not think that the Catholic Church would be ‘written off as a right wing fringe group obsessed with homosexuality and Catholic politics’?

    Of course, this is what the Bishops fear above all. They cannot bear the ire and ridicule of either the elite, nor the establishment, nor of those who would throw all kinds of insults their way (which you yourself have experienced) among the particular community that dominates discussion nowadays in the public square.

    Of course, this is what they fear above all, but that doesn’t make them virtuous. It just makes them cowards with very few principles indeed!

  11. They are embarrassed of Jesus Christ and embarrassed of his teaching and so, of course, they instead deflection away from their co-operation with evil by making out that they care deeply for Catholics who have gotten themselves into the very situation that the CDF said was against Christ and His Church. Of course, we all know what the plan is – and that is to make CPs into ‘marriage’ and marriage into CPs, and finally the meaning of marriage will be utterly destroyed, but in the meantime, the Bishops can pat themselves on the back for not putting up much of a fight while the inevitable happens. Whether the Lord will do such at their judgement, they don’t seem to think about much at all.

  12. Please note dear Caroline that it was you, NOT THE BISHOPS OF ENGLAND AND WALES, who experienced a veritable shower of insults and calumny.

    Very convenient for them, wasn’t it!?

    Much better that the Laity should be pilloried than us, eh?!

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