Let’s Not Be Reasonable

A good description of the devil is “one who comes along when I’m very tired and suggests something very reasonable that I know I shouldn’t do.” This came to mind when seeing the responses to the recent Vatican reiteration of the Church’s teaching on homosexual acts. Some dismissed it; some of us were pleasantly surprised. Many, however, who do not (necessarily?) want to change the teaching, once again expressed pique at the words “inherently disordered” to define homosexual tendencies.

Fr. James Martin, for example, wants to change “intrinsically disordered” to “differently ordered.” Cardinal Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, says the language in the Catechism is “very unfortunate” and “hurtful.” Even Archbishop Emeritus Chaput of Philadelphia has said the language “sets people off” and “isn’t useful.”

I addressed the grammatical problems of Fr. Martin’s argument in a previous article. Regarding Cardinal Tobin and Archbishop Chaput, there is no doubt that certain persons are hurt and set off by the language. But is that the fault of the language (and, by extension, the Church)? In these situations, we need to look carefully at the words used, the context, and the intent. Vagueness and pusillanimity in speech can also be hurtful. We can sin by omission in our speech. In dealing with homosexuality, I think that is where the problem lies and why I also think the language the Church uses is necessary.

The problem started when we stopped using the word “homosexual” and started using the word “gay” and “gay lifestyle.” “Homosexual” was—is—an adjective often used as a substantive (a noun), much like the word “diabetic.” (We can say of a person, “He is diabetic” or “He is a diabetic.” We could say of a person, “He—or she—is homosexual” or “is a homosexual.”) “Gay,” though, is less accurate than “homosexual” and, therefore, has become more problematic.

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