The Catholic Church and Sexual Diversity: Time for a Serious Conversation?

By Paul Lakeland

From my position at Fairfield University I have been keeping a close watch on the U.S. Catholic Church for exactly 30 years. In this time I have seen attitudes change among friends, colleagues and students in many ways. One of them is the cultural acceptability of sexual diversity in the Church. Here in the second decade of the 21st century, we seem to be at a turning point. The time has clearly come for a serious conversation. Every year fewer people, especially among the young, are willing to argue for heterosexual normativity, and that speaks loudly for a future without discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Strikingly, of all American Christian groups, Catholics are the most supportive of same-sex marriage and/or civil unions: a whopping 74 percent expressed support in a recent poll from the Public Research Institute. This is despite the strong opposition of their own bishops.

One important step toward a more open conversation will be taken this coming fall, when, under the collective heading of “More Than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church” two Jesuit universities and two interdenominational divinity schools will host a series of four day-long conferences open to the public.  Fordham University and Fairfield University, Union Theological Seminary and Yale University Divinity School will each create distinct opportunities for all who wish to attend to speak and to listen to the many and varied voices that Catholic have on this issue.

What do you do in the Catholic Church when the bishops and the Catholic population as a whole seem to be so far apart on something that everyone thinks is important? On the part of the bishops, simply speaking louder against equality is no solution. Any good teacher knows that a failure to communicate cannot simply be blamed on the students. Sometimes it is plainly the fault of the teacher, whether poor content or poor presentation. Good bishops, like good teachers, know to examine their methods and maybe even their content when reception of what they have to say is on the wane. And Catholics as a whole need to know why they believe what they say they believe and what are the positions and opinions of their fellow religionists who come to very different conclusions. Perhaps, everyone needs to take a deep breath.

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