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Seeking a ‘quantum leap’ on homosexuality

NCR Staff

Recent efforts by Vatican officials to silence a priest and nun noted for their work with homosexuals may have inhibited discussion of gay and lesbian concerns at the annual meeting of the Catholic Theological Society, but they certainly didn’t stop it.

In one of the two sessions devoted to the topic, Jesuit Fr. Jon Fuller, a physician who teaches at the Boston University School of Medicine, said stress and tension are increasing for many Catholics as a result of a “cognitive dissonance” between personal beliefs and the church’s teaching on homosexuality. For such people, which includes many of the church’s own ministers, the impact of the church’s teaching is “profoundly negative,” he said.

Fuller, widely known for his work with AIDS patients, has spoken often about that subject but has been more cautious about publicly challenging the church’s teaching on homosexuality.

Homosexuals, warned by church teaching that their orientation is “objectively disordered,” and that exploration of their sexuality leads to serious sin, are thus forced to repress a core aspect of their personhood even when they desire to voluntarily dedicate themselves to God and God’s kingdom, Fuller said.

Although the church has tried to separate the disordered inclination from the person, the fact remains that, from the church’s perspective, they “can’t be healed” but can only be prevented from doing harm. “Gay youth may never morally explore their sexuality,” he said.

While Salvatorian Fr. Robert Nugent, the silenced priest, refrained from comment in Fuller’s session and others he attended, some theologians spoke strongly against repression and dissent. Sr. Jeannine Gramick, the nun who, like Nugent, was ordered by the Vatican last year to stop working with homosexuals and last month was ordered to cease speaking publicly about both homosexuality and the Vatican order, is not a member of the theological society and did not attend the meeting.

During discussion following his talk, attended by about 40 theologians, Fuller described “the destruction” brought on by the cognitive dissonance -- the gap between the church’s teaching and the homosexual’s own experience -- as “just unconscionable.”

A second session on homosexuality drew a larger crowd. It was titled, “Theological Implications of the Church’s Teaching,” and included presentations by Jesuit Fr. Roger Haight of Weston Jesuit School of Theology, Susan A. Ross of Loyola University of Chicago and Mary Ellen Sheehan of University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto.

Paul Giurlanda, professor at St. Mary’s College of California, said the sessions were highly significant, representing “an explosion” of awareness within the society. He noted that its first session on homosexuality was held just two years ago. Last year, a single session drew only about a dozen people, he said.

Augustinian Fr. Daniel E. Doyle of Villanova University attributed the growth of interest to an evolution in thinking. Catholic theology had reached “an impasse” in its approach to homosexuality, he said -- a point where the natural law tradition “can no longer carry us,” given the insights gleaned from “the positive experiences of same-sex relationships.”

“We need a quantum leap to build a whole new system,” he said.

National Catholic Reporter, June 30, 2000