The priest was aware of an immense load of responsibility: it was indistinguishable from love. This, he thought, must be what all parents feel: ordinary men go through life like this crossing their fingers, praying against pain, afraid … This is what we escape at no cost at all, sacrificing an unimportant motion of the body. For years, of course, he had been responsible for souls, but that was different … a lighter thing. You could trust God to make allowances, but you couldn’t trust smallpox, starvation, men …
—Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory
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Last week Crisis Magazine came to the defense of Steve Bannon, one of the new appointees to the President’s cabinet. Bannon, like Trump himself and all the members of his administration, has been heavily criticized, especially for alleged racist and anti-Semitic attitudes on the extreme right-wing news forum Breitbart (I don’t know whether these allegations are true or not1). Austin Ruse, a regular contributor at Crisis—and one, among others, who has locked horns with several Side B authors and communities—has written a piece lauding Bannon: not an unqualified acclamation, by any means, but certainly a favorable ‘reading’ of him. And since he’s personally acquainted with Bannon, Ruse is in a position to know what he’s talking about.
It’s a little odd to find a devoted Catholic praising someone who has described himself both as a Leninist and as ‘Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII’; odder still to find him saying that Bannon is ‘a revolutionary but not a Bolshevik,’ insofar as Lenin was a founding-member Bolshevik; but then, I’m a fan of writers like Camille Paglia and Rick Whitaker, so maybe we can call that a wash. I don’t propose to respond thoroughly to the piece in itself,2 since I know very little about Bannon. What I want to do is set something Ruse said about Bannon in the same context as his criticisms of Side B.3
Breitbart publishes a huge amount of Catholic content. I call it the largest Catholic site on the net. Bannon moved the radio show to Rome to cover the canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII live. He hired former priest Thomas Williams to report from Rome, and Williams files Vatican and other Catholic news constantly. I wrote on Catholic topics all the time, as do many other Catholic writers on Breitbart. Breitbart’s editor-in-chief Alex Marlow is a Catholic who in recent years has reëngaged his faith.
I call Bannon a non-practicing orthodox Catholic. I am not aware that he dissents from any teachings of the Church, still I am not aware that he practices the faith. It could have something to do with the three ex-wives. But it should be understood there is a difference between weakness and dissent. Moreover, he came this close to going on a retreat with me a few years ago. Maybe one day.
Now, to be clear, I firmly agree that there’s a difference between weakness and dissent. I’m a living instantiation of that difference. And, while I don’t share Ruse’s optimism about Bannon, I can certainly allow that he may be correct. As I said, I wouldn’t know.
What I do know is that Ruse and other authors at Crisis have consistently refused to extend a fraction of the same spiritual generosity to my friends and me. On the contrary—they’ve regularly charged us with serious sins, attributed views to us none of us have ever expressed, even intimated that we’re closet heretics. For example:
He accuses the New Homophiles of playing something of a ‘doctrinal shell game’ where ‘just about every time a couple of them write anything “ground-breaking” they seem to be challenged by readers as to their orthodoxy. Subsequently they appear to backtrack … it seems to me the underlying intention is to normalize homosexuality and to declare gay is good.’ This gets to the most serious problem with the New Homophile position, their insistence on maintaining their gay identity. … They want the Church not just to welcome but to celebrate their gayness.4
He says the word ‘gay’ does not accurately describe who or what he is. Those who use it, like the New Homophiles, are not faithful to the theological anthropology of the Church. … [He] says he takes no umbrage at the phrase objectively disordered, something the New Homophiles bristle at … Against the New Homophiles he does not see same-sex attraction as a gift ‘in and of itself.’ … He opposes the New Homophile notion of ‘gay exceptionalism’ …5
The old problems crop up almost immediately in this piece, and also in Eve Tushnet’s new book Gay and Catholic, and that is narcissism. Tushnet told Boorstein that when she ‘came out’ at 20 in 1998 she thought she was the only woman with same-sex desire living chastely in the Catholic Church. Tushnet would blanche at the notion of narcissism since she and the New Homophiles eschew anything that smells of Freud. Still, to think you are the one and only something … Tushnet says everyone she knew back in those days rejected the Church’s teaching on ‘gay’ sexuality. But the thing is, so does Tushnet. Sure, however regrettably, she accepts that she cannot do whatever two naked women do but she also believes the Church has ‘gay’ sexuality wrong. After all, that is one of the main planks of the New Homophile platform.6
This group insists on their gay identity, indeed they put a spotlight on it. That’s kind of the point of their movement. … The Church teaches that there is no ‘gay identity.’ We are children of God—first, last, and always, and the Church frowns on anything else. … The New Homophiles insist that God made them gay, though the Church does not teach that. They insist that they have special gifts given to them through their same-sex attraction. That is certainly not in Church teaching. And they want Church teaching to reflect these assertions, which would amount to a change in Church teaching.7
In reply to which it’s vital to point out, first of all, we don’t really have a platform—it’s more of a gaudy parade float with go-go boys in unicorn costumes gyrating to ABBA.
YOU KNEW HE'D BE BACK
And secondarily that, in these selections,8 every view and attitude attributed to us is either heavily distorted or flat-out false.
Every one of us have recited our total fidelity to the Church, and all her doctrines, including those about sexuality, until we are blue in the face; moreover, the majority of us (excluding myself) are as chaste as driven snow, something the writers at Crisis haven’t disputed. Nothing seems to be enough to satisfy these critics—about us. But set Bannon and his three divorces before Ruse and he says, I am not aware that he dissents from any teachings of the Church. There is a difference between weakness and dissent. Moreover, he came this close to going on a retreat with me a few years ago. The double standard takes the breath away. It seems he is competent to judge someone else’s case, but we are not competent even to state our own.
But the point here is not to pick on Crisis and its authors. (Still less is it to criticize Bannon, since I, unlike him, have not even risen to the prerequisites of adultery.) Nor is it, primarily, to note the alarming standard that Ruse appears to have for what constitutes a Catholic site, since fidelity to the Catechism and the creeds evidently isn't relevant. No. The reason I collect all of this is to show my fellow Catholics who are willing to listen that, Yes, homophobia is a real thing. Yes, it’s present in Catholic circles too. Yes, it can damage people.
I don’t mean me: I am impervious to all forms of unpleasantness except Southern Comfort and the films of Brett Ratner. But imagine the frightened teenage boy, starting to realize that yes, what he’s been feeling in the locker room is arousal, listening to his parents quote these articles with contemptuous laughter. The middle-aged housewife and mother of four who has fallen in love with her best girlfriend, and is wondering if she’s some kind of whore for even thinking about it. The twentysomething gay guy who’s just moved to a new city and is aching with loneliness, and looks to his favorite Catholic magazine for some emotional support because nobody at his new parish has bothered to talk to him yet. Try to imagine something of the anxiety, uncertainty, and sheer, dull, quotidian weariness some of us deal with, especially but not only when we're first discovering this. And try to imagine how this relentless hammering saps our energy and will to continue the often bitter road of chastity.
How many roads must a man walk down? Too damn many.
The point is not that the nature of the human soul (in which the principles of virtue are based) have changed for these people; they haven’t. The point is that unjust treatment of LGBT people does exist among Catholics, and is wrong, and should be recognized for what it is.
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1I’d look it up, but frankly, I haven’t got the stomach to wade through the Book-of-Sand-worthy results of a Google search for shit on Breitbart that some people say is racist and figure out what to think. Not at this hour, anyway.
2Except to say that his remarks on Matthew Shepard’s murder seriously creeped me out. The evidence that the murderers were motivated by homophobia is admittedly mixed. However, Ruse’s assertion that ‘he … was killed in a deal gone bad by a fellow drug dealer and sometimes gay sex partner’ seems to derive from Stephen Jimenez’s The Book of Matt, a controversial volume to say the least, having attracted criticism from some of the policemen involved in the case as containing ‘factual errors and lies’ and being ‘laughable,’ particularly for representing Shepard as a meth dealer. (Dave O’Malley, the head of investigations in Laramie at the time of Shepard’s death, said in response to Jimenez’s book that he thought at the time, and still thinks, that Shepard’s murder was homophobic in nature.) That Ruse describes the drug-deal narrative as ‘puncturing holes in the Matthew Shepard myth’ is a little nauseating, to say nothing of how misleading it is.
3Side B is a term for LGBT-identifying Christians who hold traditional views about marriage and sex, but accept gayness as a valid part of our sense of self (not something to be denied, excised, or ignored). Ruse’s preferred moniker for us is the New Homophiles, which nearly all of us find rather gross-sounding. In his defense, a unified term is needed; I tend to use Side B because it’s concise and doesn’t sound gross, but unfortunately it does require explaining a lot of the time. I’m still open to suggestions for better terms.
4From The New Homophiles and Their Critics, published in January 2014. The he at the beginning of the paragraph is Terry Nelson, a Mediævalist who disagreed with certain Side B people about the right interpretation of St Aelred’s work.
5Also from The New Homophiles and Their Critics. The he here refers to a member of Courage who has for the most part blogged and written anonymously.
6From Fifteen Minutes for the New Homophiles, published in December 2014.
7From The Church Needs the New Homophiles, published in January 2015.
8I think it can be said without undue severity that this selection is, while not exhaustive, a representative sample of Crisis’ dealings with us. For anyone who wants to judge for themselves, three more of Mr Ruse’s articles can be found here, here, and here, and two of Deacon Russell’s are here and here. (But please remember that reading things to indulge, or magnify, your outrage is neither healthy nor holy.)