In the mid-1800s, Cardinal John Henry Newman asserted that: "Open sustained dissent against an overwhelming preponderance of Church authority, was the very instrument by which an erroneous doctrine had been eradicated and the true tradition vindicated."
Because he often questioned Church teachings, Newman was considered by the hierarchy of the Church to be "the most dangerous man in England." In describing the role of the laity in keeping the clergy honest, Cardinal Newman wrote, "Consulting the people is not to be regarded as just a friendly gesture on the part of the pope and bishops. Consultation is something the laity have a right to expect. Their view may serve at times as a needed ‘witness to the truth’ of a revealed doctrine."
This, we believe, is even more true today. Since the time of the Second Vatican Council, (1962-65) the people of God have been moving significantly to an understanding of the sexual bond as not just a "vehicle of procreation" but also as a God-given gift to deepen the bond of intimacy that enables couples to stay together.
The basis of the Vatican’s opposition to homosexuality lies it what it calls, "natural law." But the hierarchy’s teachings on natural law have, for well over 40 years been called into question by what Cardinal Newman called the "believing church." Toward the end of the Second Vatican Council, a majority report came out of a study on birth control that called for an end to the ban on birth control. The people on that commission had spent months preparing their majority report. However, that report was buried. Two years later, the Vatican in the papal encyclical "Humanae Vitae" (1968), condemned birth control and once again restated the position that procreation is the primary goal of sexual union.
And though ignored again and again by Church authorities, the people of God continue to bear "witness to truth." According to the book Roman Catholicism in America by Chester Gillis, 88% of Catholics in 1993 believed that contraception was a matter of personal moral judgment. Obviously the hierarchy’s teachings on "natural law" are not a dogma accepted by the laity. Cardinal Newman reminded the magisterium that the teaching church, before teaching, must discover what the believing church really believes, so that the believing church recognizes as authentic that which is presented to it as doctrine.
We live on a planet that currently houses more than 6 billion people. As science continues to recognize the natural order of homosexuality both within the human and animal kingdom, the Church will be forced to react as it did to Galileo’s recognition that the sun did not revolve around the earth as the Church would have people believe. It was the earth that revolved around the sun. The Church’s reaction to this scientific pronouncement was to excommunicate Galileo for heresy, and then some 400 years later to apologize for that excommunication.
The Rev. William Sloan Coffin, in his open letter to the Catholic Church presented during our Soulforce/DignityUSA protest at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, November 14, stated that it was time for the Catholic Church to "stop looking backwards and to begin to look forward."
Only a few hearts were broken, one would imagine, when Galileo was excommunicated. The teachings and the actions of the Roman Catholic Church against homosexuality and homosexuals are responsible for immeasurable pain, often leading to suicide among young gay Catholic teenagers and closeted lives of misery, self-doubt and guilt for millions of others. We do not have the luxury of waiting 400 years for the Church to admit it has been wrong again.
Now is the time for the Roman Catholic Church, our Church, to consider the latest scientific, psychological, psychiatric, historical, medical, and even biblical evidence that it is "as natural to be gay as it is to be left-handed," that homosexuality is just another of God’s amazing creation mysteries.
Now is the time for the Roman Catholic Church, our Church, to appoint an International Board of Inquiry to seek the truth about sexual and gender minorities. The anti-homosexual teachings flow out of ignorance and superstition, the same kind of ignorance and superstition that declared Galileo to be a heretic. They must be thoroughly reviewed and speedily repudiated.
Now is the time for the Roman Catholic Church, our Church, to listen to the voice of the people of God, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Catholics our families and friends. Hear our cry for truth and for justice. Include on that Board of Inquiry gay people in loving relationships. Hear our stories. Share our suffering, suffering that flows directly and indirectly out of the anti-gay teachings and actions of our Church.
Now is the time for the Roman Catholic Church, our Church, to listen to the voice of God. The Spirit of Christ is moving among us. Jesus came to open wide the doors to the outcast. The Church has broken Christ’s heart by closing the doors and making outcasts of sexual and gender minorities.
Now is the time for the Roman Catholic Church, our Church, to admit that the Vatican has been wrong about homosexuality and homosexuals and to apologize for centuries of spiritual and physical violence against us.
We come to the Vatican at the beginning of this New Millennium bringing truth in the loving and nonviolent spirit of Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. We are not your enemies. We are your sisters and brothers. We are your children. We do not threaten the Church with our disobedience of its unjust teachings and immoral actions against us. We offer hope and healing in our candlelight vigils, our loving protests, and even in our acts of spiritual resistance. The Soul of the Church is at stake. Christ’s Spirit cannot remain where all God’s children are not welcome. Save the Church. Stop the spiritual violence. Bring Joy to the heart of Christ. Welcome us home!
Kara Speltz, Soulforce Co-Chair
NCCB/Vatican Adisory Committee
Rev. Mel White, Executive Director, Soulforce