A lesson in mutual respect


When differences come up we can either shut down communication and go to war, literally or figuratively, or we go to work listening with more sensitive ears and seek a resolution that honors both sides. It was the latter initiative that ended a tense situation in the diocese last week.
It took a few days of back and forth dialogue and some initial very hurt feelings, but graduation at Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton will now be a happier affair. Keaton Fuller, one of the graduates, will be presented with his $40,000 scholarship to the University of Iowa without a cloud hanging over the event.
Details of the story can be found elsewhere in The Messenger. Friday’s statement by the diocese is a good summary of what happened and the spirit that made it possible. In the end, reasonable and compassionate people on both sides managed to show the young people who will be graduating from high school how real adults act under stress.
This is just one incident in a continuing story of conflict involving Catholic moral teaching about sexuality and a popular trend running against that teaching. It involves a class of people long marginalized but now determined to enter the mainstream of society. Homosexual people want what everyone else has, with no difference in treatment and no difference in the status they can claim.
Other conflicts aren’t as simple as this one involving how to honor young Keaton Fuller’s achievement. The issue of same-sex marriage, for example, seems to be one with no compromise available. This is what lay behind the diocese’s insistence that the Eychaner Foundation could not come into a Catholic institution and make the presentation of the scholarship it is giving young Fuller. The foundation promotes rights for homosexual people, including same-sex marriage. The Church says that is not possible.
In Catholic teaching, human sexuality is tied to the expressing of love and creation of new life in the context of marriage — assuming marriage to be the union of a man and a woman. Any other use of sex is contrary to its finality, or purpose, in nature and therefore immoral.
Homosexual activity, with emphasis on activity, does not fit in this teaching. Several Church documents in recent decades have made a distinction between the homosexual inclination or orientation — not immoral itself, although seen as “disordered” — and homosexual activity, which is condemned.
This teaching seems to leave little opening for the Church in responding to homosexual people seeking acceptance and equal treatment in society. The teaching is ancient, finding support in the Bible, and was generally unquestioned until the 20th century. Now, however, with the advent of widespread literacy and vast networks of communication among ordinary people, it faces intense pressure.
No one can say what might happen in the future, but if there is the kind of mutual respect and listening demonstrated in this diocese last week, there is hope.
Significant change of a kind has already happened. It was one thing to marginalize homosexual people when few were known. It is another as many “come out” and are broadly known as fellow workers, students, family members and friends. The abstract coherence of Church teaching is meeting a wave of new experience and critical emotion. In such times it is crucial to be patient, not hurry in new directions, and pray that all our seeking is honestly for the will of God, who is love (1 John 4:7-8).

Frank Wessling

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