Catholic teaching holds that lesbians and gay men won’t go to hell if they refrain from sex. Now a new documentary is making the rounds to promote just that point. Entitled “The Third Way: Homosexuality and the Catholic Church,” the film features gay men and lesbians who follow the Church’s teaching and embrace celibacy, along with a few priests who pontificate (so to speak) about catechism. (The 38-minute film is available for viewing online.)
“We’re all called to chastity,” says one man in the film. “What is best for this man I love?,” asks another speculating about what happens when you are attracted to another man. “How do I do that? Maybe it’s through sacrifice.”
As might be expected, the film doesn’t paint a picture of gay life as fulfilling. Several of the people in the film talk about loneliness and depression, and a few explicitly attribute their sexual actions as adults to the search to cure that sense of loneliness. No one talks about having a happy childhood or even a happy adulthood.
The film also studiously likes to talk about ‘same-sex attraction,” which is the Church’s terminology for being lesbian or gay. By diminishing identity to sexual attraction, the film defines LGBT people on its own terms.
Fr. Michael Schmitz says in the film that the “Church makes it very, very clear. All men and women experiencing same-sex attraction must be treated with compassion, dignity, respect.”
This argument, of course, would be a lot easier to swallow if the Church actually didn’t oppose basic protections for LGBT people, such as workplace protections. But then, that would be recognizing LGBT people as people, and not as someone with what the film refers to in shorthand as SSA.
The people in the film believe in the Church’s natural law argument, which says that sex is only for procreation and within marriage. As one man puts it, gay sex is “not in keeping with the design for human flesh.”
The film builds up to the speakers in the film talking about how they found themselves through the Catholic Church. As the final speaker puts it, “I used to think I was gay. I”m not gay. I am a Catholic man.”
Cue the inspirational music.
Now it would be easy to make fun of the people in the film, but they have a deep-held faith and if, indeed, this is how they find comfort in life, good for them. The problem is that it’s the only option that the Church allows for anyone who engages in “intrinsically disordered” sexual relationships, because, as the bishops put it, “such acts never lead to happiness.” (Sorry to disillusion you, all you happily married couples out there.)
And that’s the bigger issue. Because of its reliance on Thomas Aquinas (died 1274), the Church cannot see how sex can, in and of itself, be good. It’s not just a matter of gay and lesbian sex. It’s any non-procreative sex.
That is a disservice to the millions of Catholics (and non-Catholics) throughout the world who not only find sex enjoyable, but who find it deeply intimate. Indeed, you could even say it’s a window into the divine. Believers apprehend God through the people around them. Sex provides that connection for many couples. It’s not the choice between God and sex that the movie makes it out to be.
So the next time you hear hard-line Catholics talk about why no sex is the only option for lesbian and gay people (or SSA-ers), keep that in mind. What the Church teaches may not be what the laity experiences. At some point, those two worlds will have to be resolved. Let’s hope it’s before the next millennium rolls around.