Caring, Inclusive, and Afraid: A Case Study
One could hardly fail to notice the doctrinaire rhetoric of St. Columban’s College in Caboolture, Queensland, Australia. It seems the school (similar to an American high school) was forced to defend its values by withdrawing permission for a Protestant group to use its facilities for a talk on how to overcome homosexual behavior tendencies. The talk was to be given by an American who has formerly been a homosexual, but is now married with children.
St. Columban’s, an archdiocesan school, hastened to set the record straight as soon as it saw the proposed program advertised. “The Catholic Church abhors all forms of homophobia,” said Executive Director of Catholic Education David Hutton, “and will not provide a venue for homophobes to spout their views.” Principal Ann Rebgetz added, “St Columban’s College is a caring, inclusive community, and we will not allow our facilities to be used by those seeking to promote views which are not in line with the Catholic Christian ethos of our community.”
Now if I had a “Catholic Christian ethos” to maintain, I too would be reluctant to host a Protestant who claims to have been “set free from homosexuality” and promises to tell others how to achieve the same result. I’d fear a gross over-simplification of homosexual inclinations mixed with a gross over-simplification of Christian spirituality. This is a very difficult and sensitive topic, and I’d want to fully vet anyone who addressed it, if my own “Catholic Christian ethos” were at stake.
A Caring and Inclusive Ethos
But call me cynical. There just doesn’t seem to be very much of a “Catholic Christian ethos” in St. Columban’s statement, so one wonders what the leadership feels it needs to be so very doctrinaire about. The full content of the relevant ethos seems to consist of being “caring” and “inclusive” (except, of course, for “homophobes” who “spout”). In other words, the point here does not seem to be a defense of the Catholic teachings that homosexuality is fundamentally disordered, and that homosexual actions are always contrary to God’s law—doctrines which we might expect to be formative of a “Catholic Christian ethos”. Quite the opposite appears to be the case. The statement reads as if what the school really wants is to remove any possible doubt that St. Columban’s is caringly and inclusively free from any such influences.
But in truth, nobody who cares about Catholic teaching would reflexively dismiss as “homophobes” those who want to help people turn away from homosexual behavior. Indeed, nobody who cares properly about the community under its influence would accuse those who believe homosexual activity is wrong of “spouting”. And no thoroughly Christian institution would hasten quite so quickly to so roughly distance itself from an effort to help those who may be sexually confused. (Thus Principal Rebgetz: “Immediately the college became aware of [this program], I withdrew permission.”)
No, what the College’s statement really means is this: “We know how horrible it is to oppose homosexual behavior, so as soon as we heard this would be done on our property, we stopped it cold. Please note how responsible we are.” Except that the statement didn’t say “please”; its writers simply understood that a doctrinaire stand in this case (in stark contrast to most doctrinaire stands) would be well-received.
Principles of Inclusion
I’m ready to propose that we disallow the use of the terms “caring” and “inclusive” to describe any kind of Christian commitment. These terms mean absolutely nothing apart from the principles of care and inclusion on which they depend. We have already seen, for example, that St. Columban’s inclusiveness does not encompass those who believe homosexual behavior is harmful and sinful, or even those who believe homosexual inclinations are a cross from which it would be wonderful to be set free.
We may also question whether “caring” includes the effort to guard people against hearing the truth, or to leave them imprisoned within the fashionable strictures of whichever cultural ideas happen to be dominant at the moment. Our Lord Himself said that “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:31-2). He also called Himself the light that has come into the world and warned that “every one who does evil hates the light” (Jn 3:19-20). He even said “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Mt 10:34).
Though the Christian mission demands that we care for others at the deepest possible level, Our Lord never once described Himself as “caring”. And although Christianity launched a new era in which salvation is offered freely to all, Jesus Christ never portrayed Himself as “inclusive”. How vapid (and how deceptive) is the image others seek to convey by appropriating these sterile terms! Let us agree to outlaw such high-sounding words—as vague as they are warm; they are just so many points of ambush under which false principles can too easily conceal themselves.
Sin and Catholicism
An authentic Catholic ethos is best described first and foremost by the principles operative in the Sacrament of Penance: an awareness of sin, an admission of personal sinfulness, a firm purpose of amendment, and absolute confidence in God’s mercy. Ultimately what is so wonderful about the Catholic Faith is that it frees us from our sins. Each of us has a deep yearning for this freedom, whether we are attempting to carry the sins of others or trying to turn others into scapegoats for our own sins.
But it is a yearning constantly deflected by modern culture, which seeks always to explain sin away as a structural failure. The argument is either that structures create sin or that if some system or other did not make us feel guilty, we would never have to labor under the burden of sin in the first place. Thus modern culture constructs its own systems to make people feel guilty, but only when they act in a way that might introduce guilt into culturally-sanctioned guilt-free zones.
To the contrary, the very first thing a Catholic institution must do is to point out the sinfulness of those personal attitudes and habits which are bred into us, so to speak, by our surrounding culture, and to identify in Christ the antidote to this poison. Pharisees of all ages, of course, cannot appreciate Christ because they believe they have no need of Him. But a Catholic institution will be forthright about that need, and do its best to make everyone in its community aware of it. For this effort to be successful, we must be divorced from what the human culture around us teaches, for this human culture will invariably justify its habitual evils as goods.
A great deal can be understood from a single statement. Thus there is no recognition in St. Columban’s public comments of the deep confusion our culture suffers in sexual matters, or of the intense personal darkness a misuse of our sexuality creates, or of the struggle and suffering it takes to set things right. There is no recognition either of the need to consistently apply Christ’s light and Christ’s truth in order to rescue souls from the overpowering snare that has been fashioned for us out of the dominant contemporary blend of mistakes, lies and temptations regarding sex. What we see instead is an intense fear of being out of step with the times, a fear really of the truth of Christ, and a fear which is hidden the way we humans nearly always hide our fear, that is, by the age-old trick of psychological projection. The leadership at St. Columban’s is in denial. It attributes “phobia” to others in order to conceal it in themselves.
Be Not Afraid
Christ has overcome the world, and it is on this ground precisely that He counsels us to “be of good cheer” (Jn 16:33). Again and again He asks His disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (Mk 4:40; cf. Mt 8:26, 28:10; Lk 5:10). Again and again he reminds us: “Let not your hearts be troubled; neither let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27), and above all, “It is I; do not be afraid” (Jn 6:20). Why then do we still see so many institutions claiming a “Catholic Christian ethos” when what they really have is an ethos rooted in a deep fear of the judgment of the world?
The world’s judgment is not the judgment we need to fear, for the world has already been judged: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (Jn 9:39). Can there be any doubt as to how this applies in the present case? “Now is the judgment of the world,” said our Savior, “now shall the ruler of this world be cast out.” This has already been done! Therefore, it is not reality but only an entirely groundless fear which prevents us from living by Christ’s standards, and fashioning institutions that do the same.
Human respect! How much we seek it, and how much even do bishops and dioceses and Catholic institutions seek it—enough to distort or destroy even their principles. How fearful are such institutions and their leaders of going on without human respect. How little, therefore, do they really know of a “Catholic Christian ethos.” Against all these vain concerns and all the cultural distortions they produce, St. John teaches us that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). Yet we cling to the world’s judgments precisely because we fail to love. If we loved perfectly as Christ loves, we would live the truth without being deflected by the world. For purposes of caring and inclusion—or any other vapid claim—perfect love is more than sufficient, and all we need to know.
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Posted by: -
Apr. 13, 2011 12:58 PM ET USA
Excellent. Recently the Managing Editor of the "conservative" National Review wrote an article in NR (2-7-11) advocating homosexual marriage. I ended my rebuttal with, "I respect virtually all of NR's contributors. And those I will still read. I just won't pay for reading them. I will not -- I cannot -- subsidize any magazine that has as its managing editor someone advocating homosexual marriage." I hope readers of Catholic Culture.org who subscribe to NR also cancel their subscriptions. Thanks.
Posted by: bnewman -
Apr. 09, 2011 10:54 PM ET USA
This is a very good article. I was struck by the use of the word “fear” to account for the pandering of administrators and authorities on certain issues. It is more than political correctness. Their fear is not entirely groundless: a new kind of McCarthyism on some subjects has been fostered. Such a clear articulation of an issue can be liberating to read.
Posted by: extremeCatholic -
Apr. 09, 2011 9:45 PM ET USA
It's a case of homophobia-phobia: The intolerance of the point of view that homosexuals should resist homosexual tendencies: they can and should be overcome. The Catholic teaching is that all are called to chastity according to their state in life. The "Catholic Christian ethos" is the encouragement of that virtue of chastity.
Posted by: Miss Cathy -
Apr. 09, 2011 12:19 PM ET USA
If the Catholic Church is simply inclusive, I have to ask, why then do we bother with education, indoctrination and initiation? Why is discrimination a dirty word anymore? We are either discriminate and discerning, or we are indiscriminate and undiscerning. If we attempt to be both, we are simply confused.
Posted by: koinonia -
Apr. 08, 2011 10:01 PM ET USA
Well done. But how many ask for, are receptive to, and/or actually believe in God's infinite gift of grace? Without God's grace it is all too easy to find oneself among those unfortunate "caring, inclusive, and afraid" souls. Human respect is one pervasive problem.
Posted by: -
Apr. 07, 2011 8:35 AM ET USA
Fine analysis. This little incident is like a bright light being shown into a dark, dank little place that, partly in virtue of its obscurity in the Universal Church, has seen the growth and festering of spiritual rot. In a flash, loss of faith and worldliness and are exposed. Let's hope your article and the firm actions of responsible prelates will cleanse this mess.
Posted by: -
Apr. 05, 2011 10:55 PM ET USA
Well written article, Jeff. We are told to love our brother and sister as we do ourselves, so how can be exclude those who claim to be homosexual. I am sorry that they do not follow the tenets of Catholic teaching, but they are still brother and sister. God's love of all is the bottom line here.
Posted by: JARay -
Apr. 05, 2011 10:31 PM ET USA
This is an excellent article. Congratulations. Has it been sent to St. Columban's in Caboolture?
Posted by: -
Apr. 05, 2011 9:00 PM ET USA
Great article! The other problem with “caring” and “inclusive” is that they are shallow secular terms: how much richer is Christian LOVE.