Church asks us to offer loving insights
Still, the issue of homosexuality is not open to independent interpretation
By Joanne Flemming
For Catholics, the issue of homosexuality remains an emotionally charged one. Fr. James Halstead, STD, said that how to deal with homosexual orientation could even be called "a disputed question." Fr. Halstead spoke at a two-day seminar on "A Catholic Response to Homosexual Persons" at St. Bernard Parish in Appleton. The seminar was the first in a series of annual weekends exploring diversity to be held at the parish.
The priest, associate director of religious studies at De Paul University in Chicago, explained that "disputed questions" are part of Catholic intellectual tradition.
"When an issue is brought before the community, and people of faith, good will, intelligence and experience don't agree, that becomes a disputed question," Fr. Halstead said. "When there are disputed questions, we give each other lots of room. We give each other lots of slack."
"The church expects its members to be thinking, perhaps even lovingly critical and willing to offer their
own insights," said Sr. Lisa Lucht, OP, chancellor for the diocese, when asked to explain the concept of "a disputed question."
However, she added, the question of how the church deals with the issue of homosexuality is a bit more
"I believe the church speaks a little more specifically than saying it's an issue that's wide open for
discussion," Sr. Lucht said. "The Church stands on its tradition, but is willing to examine that tradition
when the time-tested experience of its people, or any other intervention by God, asks us to look and
listen again. I think people battle about what God thinks and what God reveals to us. Religious history
Fr. Halstead, who preached at all the weekend Masses at St. Bernard, as well as giving three
presentations, said that one thing gays and lesbians want of the church is "a moral and theological
doctrine around same sex activity, around marriage, and around the status of homosexuality."
The priest briefly explored some of the church's ideas on homosexuality over the centuries, starting with
the medieval concept of "objective defect or objective fault."
"It goes back to the question - does God create homosexual people as homosexuals," Fr. Halstead said.
"If we say yes, then we are dealing with an objective defect. If we say no, God created everybody
heterosexual, then (we are dealing with) a defect (fault)."
If homosexuality is an objective fault, "it strikes me that human beings have the right, the privilege,
almost the obligation to correct the objective fault," Fr. Halstead said. "However, there is no obligation
since we do not know, just as there is no obligation to correct a medical fault. You can if you want, but
you don't have to."
Sr. Lucht acknowledged that homosexuality raises many questions. "The church says people have a
right to seek knowledge and better understanding of something that is indeed questionable or confusing
or that they just plain don't understand. This is just one of many arenas -- a very important one -- which
people consider to be part of their essence, their orientation. Like so many other things in human growth
and development, when we think we have it all solved, we are surprised. God is a God of surprises."
In the final discussion of the weekend, an audience member who belongs to the Methodist Church told
Fr. Halstead that his church shared the Catholic Church's view that homosexual orientation was okay,
but homosexual activity is not.
Fr. Halstead said that statement raised another question as to whether a person could be fully human
without sexual activity. The audience member stated that the answer to that was up to each human.
The church disagrees, the priest replied.
Rather, it is God who determines that answer. He wove whatever makes people fully human into the fabric of creation. And the church teaches that God wove "that sexual activity belongs in heterosexual marriage."
(Patricia Kasten, associate editor, contributed to this story.)