Reader View: Who really needs conversion?

The Rev. Roy Bourgeois

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently signed into law a bill prohibiting the use of “conversion therapy” with gay minors. The bill states that being “lesbian, gay or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency or shortcoming.”

Christie — as well as most of the therapeutic community — believes that “people are born with the predisposition to be homosexual.” He explained that, “The American Psychological Association has found that efforts to change sexual orientation can pose critical health risks, including … suicidal thoughts.” And to the governor, homosexuality is not a sin.

In taking this position, Christie has risked alienating many of “his own”— that is, many Republicans and Catholics. This Catholic, however, applauds him and would like to see comparable fairness and compassion coming from the Vatican.

But The Catechism of the Catholic Church states officially that homosexuals are “objectively disordered” (Section 2358) and “called to chastity” (Section 2359), that is, to a lifetime without sexual expression.

As a Catholic priest for 40 years, I consider this teaching cruel, unjust and theologically wrong. Calling people “objectively disordered” instills confusion and shame, and causes grave harm. Most tragically, some teenagers commit suicide because of the stigma attached to their sexual orientation.

Christie is correct that we do not choose our sexual orientation. How interesting that while the Catholic Church teaches that we all are made in the image of God, and that all that God makes is good and holy, it still refers to homosexuals as “objectively disordered.” Does God make a mistake every time a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person is born?

Let’s be clear. The problem with homosexuality is not with our Creator; God does not make mistakes. The problem is with those who view gays as flawed, as lesser than heterosexuals.

We learn to see others as lesser than ourselves. Throughout history the Bible has been used — selectively — to justify prejudice and bigotry. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., speaking of racism, said: “The greatest blasphemy … was that the white man ended up making God his partner in the exploitation of the Negro.”

Pope Francis, to his credit, raised hopes when he told reporters, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” But he also said that, “The door is closed to women becoming priests.” In fact, many devout women are called by God to the priesthood.

Catholic priests say that the vocation to the priesthood is a gift from God. Who are we, as men, to say that our call from God is authentic, but God’s call to women is not? Again, the problem is not with God, but with an all-male clerical culture that views women as lesser than men.

I spoke out about the injustice of excluding women from the priesthood. Finally, I was expelled from the priesthood and my religious community, Maryknoll, because of my public support for the ordination of women.

Many disaffected people are leaving the Church. Pope Francis must do more than say, “Who am I to judge?” He must be willing to question our patriarchal clerical culture. He must tell the 1.2 billion Catholics that God does not make mistakes, that gays are not disordered, that everyone is created with equal worth and dignity, and that women’s vocations to the priesthood must be honored.

It is the Catholic Church that needs “conversion” — toward a compassionate inclusivity that sees God’s image in all people. Borrowing from Dr. King, we must stop enlisting God in the cruel cause of discrimination.

Fr. Roy Bourgeois was a Roman Catholic priest for 40 years. He was expelled in November 2012 for refusing to recant his support for women’s ordination. He is also the founder of SOA Watch and the author of My Journey from Silence to Solidarity (www.roybourgeoisjourney.org).

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