Eve Tushnet has written a challenging and thought-provoking reflection on Fiducia Supplicans at Church Life Journal. Tushnet, one of very few public figures who identifies as “an openly gay, orthodox Catholic,” has thought and written extensively on the place of LGBT persons in the Church for years. Moving beyond the never-ending arguments in the Church about homosexuality — which tend to focus on sexual morality — Tushnet looks far beyond this dialectic and asks, “what’s next?”
When we limit Catholic discourse about sexuality to fixating on the sins of others and worrying about existential threats to culture and society, we dehumanize real people and reduce them to categories. And in some cases it’s even worse — when we reduce them to their sins. The fact is that there are many gay Catholics — faithful, doubting, active, lapsed, fallen away, celibate, promiscuous, and anywhere in between — who wake up every morning and live their lives. Some conservative Christians seem to believe that homosexuality or gender dysphoria is a choice, or think it is something that can be reversed through prayer, counseling, or therapy, but studies of such techniques have concluded that they are largely ineffective or even harmful.
In other words, the Church is faced with the reality that LGBT people exist, including as part of our Church. And Eve Tushnet is is one of them. The beauty of Tushnet’s work is that she approaches this reality by seeking to find real places in the Church for people with non-straight sexual orientations and identities and to ask important questions. This is especially important at a time when the wider world offers them many different options. A young gay Catholic might look to the future and justifiably think, “Well, if I stay Catholic that means I can’t get married and I can’t become a priest or religious. If I stay, am I doomed to live a life of loneliness?”
Tushnet clearly doesn’t think the Church should settle for that. So she’s proposed some creative approaches, such as spiritual friendship or chaste partnerships and building intentional families and communities. Despite her support for Catholic teaching on sexual morality, she’s been attacked by traditionalist and reactionary Catholics for her ideas. Even the fact that she identifies as “gay” is deemed offensive by many of her critics.
But I think she’s on the right track. To put it into synodal terms, she’s working to find new possibilities and to open up room for the Holy Spirit to work in the Church. She’s participating in a very important dialogue. She also seems to agree that Fiducia Supplicans is one of the most significant magisterial documents to enter that discourse.
Here’s an excerpt from her article:
One of the most beautiful—and yet also the most confusing—aspects of Fiducia is its willingness to see goodness, truth, and beauty in “irregular situations.” On the one hand, it is humble and immensely moving for the Catholic Church to acknowledge the goods that people are pursuing even when they act outside of the moral law. The only thing I can compare it to is Nostra Aetate’s description of what is “true and holy” in non-Christian faiths.
On the other hand, a priest can bless the “couple,” but not their “union”? What exactly is the good being perceived or blessed here? What are you really asking God to do for these people? What might be the “yes” here?
One of the biggest barriers to trust in the Catholic Church is an unwillingness to see goodness, truth, and beauty in gay couples’ love. It typically takes several years before someone who has begun to acknowledge a non-straight orientation will share that self-understanding with another person; during these silent years, young people try to understand their longings on their own. The internet offers more porn than wisdom. A politicized Church seems to divide between orthodox people who can’t recognize love or self-gift in a gay relationship, and dissenters who offer guidance without obedience. Many gay people have heard self-appointed defenders of orthodoxy argue that homosexual relationships are inherently narcissistic. When they discover, through their own experience or someone else’s, that gay love can be a site of selflessness and care, they also confront the fact that virtually no public voices in the Church suggest that this love is both real and capable of chaste expression.
Fiducia offers little guidance for gay couples who do become curious about how the Church might guide their love. This may be frustrating. Could they not give a few hints? But there is also some wisdom here, for two reasons. One is that the couples in “irregular situations” who come to you for a blessing—especially those who have vanishingly few models of how to order their love—may remain in an ambivalent relationship with the Church. They still face hardship, acknowledge weakness, beg for God’s help, and cherish one another according to their own best understanding. There is much there that the Church can say “yes” to, even while the couple is ambivalent.
And the second reason is that “what happens next” will be different for every couple. Gay Catholics often say that the priests and mentors who helped them most did not tell them what to do, but opened new possibilities and encouraged them to forge new paths.