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The Surprise of Homosexuality in The American Catholic Aug/Sept 2003                         

by William Cleary

(William Cleary is author of the recent Praying Your Story [Forest of Peace] and other books. His Email is bcleary412@aol.com and website at www.clearyworks.com)

I grew up an ordinary Catholic, Jesuit-educated and straight. With my peers I participated in the gay-baiting game that was - and still is - a part of adolescent male culture even in Catholic schools. I gradually came to deeply regret what I did but it was a sin that had no name, and I never told it in Confession. (It would have confounded the confessor, of course - if I could have found a name for it.)
        Subsequently I entered the Jesuit Order. It was back in the days when there was no one known as "gay" and only a few women called "lesbian." The majority of us in the seminary were aware that some of the men were people who much more enjoyed the company of men than of women, and had interests that more fit feminine stereotypes than masculine ones. We were in fact sexually all over the map but it didnít matter to me (I thought). I had given up sex.
        But, looking back, I now realize that it did matter to those who were gay. They had not really given up sex the way I had: in fact, the new milieu was for them a doubly sexual one, and sexual abstinence - especially because it demanded control even of thoughts and feelings -- a daily demand for virtue and even heroism. The demands on me were much less challenging, at least at first. When they became greater, I left and married, but many straight people stayed.
        Meanwhile my gay Jesuit friends suffered on, and as the sexual revolution blew in, some found themselves falling in love. Some few, feeling the bewildering call of affection toward the young and accessible and not knowing how to deal with it, fell into abusive behavior. Some say they thought it was love. They are wiser now, I hope, and must personally learn to see themselves not only as offenders, but also partially as victims of a defective system. A celibate clergy in the Catholic Church may continue awhile for practical reasons, but it must become optional if only to forestall trouble.
        Still, I keep wondering if somehow outsiders like myself might contribute to the understanding and appreciation of the gift of homosexuality. I would like to make reparation for my own sins of homophobia, and I happen to have dozens of gay friends. Affected as I am by the thinking of Teilhard de Chardin, Diarmuid O'Murchu, and other Catholic evolutionists, I wonder: could not the phenomenon of homophilia be just another surprise in the evolutionary process?
         Evolution is inconceivable without surprises, obviously. Some kind of undefined life force - if we accept evolution -- pushes every life form toward improvement and variation, and these improvements have to be surprises to the extant community, variations of previous but now mutated kinds of life left behind, as it were, on the spreading and evolving paths of life.
         Until now we have thought of heterosexuality as normative and it will obviously be an important form of sexuality for the whole foreseeable future. But homosexuality - producing among other things less competition-driven males and more sovereign females - may well be an improvement and enhancement of human life. It's thinkable. (Or is this another stereotype?)
         Compassion, for instance, has long been a much desired and communally necessary virtue and strength: does it not come more naturally to homosexuals? Do we not feel safer in the care of a car salesman who is gay, or more confident investing in a restaurant owned by a lesbian entrepreneur? In more conventional professions as well, there are areas of expertise and specialization many of us would prefer to entrust to individuals who function beyond the ordinary limitations of their gender: in law, in medicine, in religion, in government. In government especially - in military affairs particularly - compassion is hard to detect on the resumes of many applicants, yet without it we run terrible, earth-threatening risks.
                 In religion it's particularly interesting. Gay men in Native American tribal life, I am told, were honored as charismatic. In my experience (for what it's worth) gay men make excellent priests. Perhaps it's only because they have suffered, have felt so long as outsiders, and thus have an unusual perspective on the human condition that they seem charismatic to me. Often they seem to have a instinct for ritual, a rare level of human compassion, a forgiving nature and a deep honesty. No wonder they flock to priesthood: they're good at it.
         I wonder if these adaptive desires of the human family and of the undefined life force (call it God? evolution?) is not what produced for us all the surprise of homosexuality. Is it not developments just like this that "give meaning to the evolutionary process" in the words of O'Murchu? And it is because such developments are essentially benign that we can reason backwards that the life force itself is benign, that therefore the evolving universe is benign, not in every detail but in its overall trajectory.
         If we then "vote for the world," as Chesterton put it, if we decide to cast our ballot for affirming the world around us as benign, then we will not only pay attention to evolutionary surprises, but we will welcome them. In the emerging but age-old phenomenon of homosexuality we will tilt toward acceptance, even toward wonder, openness and appreciation. And it should not disconcert us that conventional ethicians might not at first understand these surprises, call them "intrinsically disordered," for instance. In their systems they are exactly that. But as life itself and life experience evolves into knowledge genuinely new, then it calls for an ethics also genuinely new.
                 I would hope this change of attitude comes about world wide. Most of us have heard the quip: Had Michelangelo been straight, the Sistine Chapel would be off-white. Who wants an off-white world? Not me. Not evolution? Not God? #


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