The Great Refusal

On June 13 the Roman Catholic archbishop of Toronto, Thomas Collins, spoke to the young adults group at S. Michael’s Cathedral on the topic of “Homosexuality and the Catholic Church.”

Of the many things said, one basic issue must be addressed.  Despite the presence of the word “homosexuality” in the talk’s title, Archbishop Collins was at pains to prefer other, more elliptical expressions, “same-sex attraction” being only the most concise.  An identical tendency is at work amongst the Orthodox; Fr. Thomas Hopko, dean emeritus of S. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, has written a primer on Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction, wherein he explains:

I use the expression “same-sex attraction” in my reflections because I find the term “homosexuality,” except in its most general usage, unhelpful.  It seems more accurate and useful to speak of persons with same-sex feelings and desires that have a wide variety of causes, forms, and expressions. [1]

This is true enough. 

It is also beside the point. 

The fact is that some people are predominantly or exclusively able to make love only to other members of their own gender.  To refuse to reckon with this fact, or to reckon with its moral weight—which is what Archbishop Collins and Fr. Hopko seem to me to do, when they decline even to use the word “homosexual”—renders suspect everything else one may or may not say.  (This is particularly unfortunate in the case of Fr. Hopko, who, though hostile in the final analysis, nevertheless shows more evidence of having listened to homosexuals with some care, than Orthodox clerics or writers usually show.)  But hearing an obviously ideological formula such as “same-sex attraction,” one is driven to suspect that those who insist upon it do so, not because they are especially attuned to the diversity and ambiguity of sexual experience, but primarily because they are afraid.  They are afraid of the consequences for their theology of conceding that humans may be homosexual by nature.

In the concluding chapter of his book The Mystery of Christ, “Glorify God in Your Body,” Fr. John Behr, the current dean at S. Vladimir’s, makes the following useful remark:

Those who refuse to accept that they are what God created them to be—“humans capable of passions”—wanting instead to be as they imagine God to be, betray, on the one hand, an ignorance of the divine economy, … and, on the other hand, a lack of confidence in their Creator.[2]

With apologies to Fr. Behr for quoting him somewhat out of context: when we as Christians refuse to acknowledge homosexuals as “homosexual,” we betray, on the one hand, an ignorance of the divine economy, and, on the other, a lack of confidence in our Creator.

A Second View

A friend who has worked with the Ukrainian Catholic Redemptorists in Winnipeg and with the SS. John the Compassionate & Silouan the Athonite Mission here in Toronto, has published his own reflection on Archbishop Collins’ talk.

I take exception to just one argument that he makes, namely, that the historical source of contemporary Christians’ many ills is to be found in the legacy of “the state under Constantine.”  Such an argument, understandable in the historical context of American Christianity, has very little to do with the actual history of the Constantinian church.  Moreover such arguments threaten to reinforce the opinion, held by many traditionalists, that any wish to interpret the Church’s moral teachings anew amounts to “irresponsible theological liberalism,” when such is not the case.

Perhaps what we require from the hierarchy today, is a more vigorous “Constantinianism”—meaning a more deferent, and less sectarian mentality?


Victor de Villa Lapidis

[1] Thomas Hopko, Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction (Ben Lomond, California: Conciliar Press, 2006), p. 17.

[2] John Behr, The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2006), p. 167.

Published in: on July 5, 2010 at 9:21 pm  Comments (2)  
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  1. I had always thought the term “homosexual” had a slightly negative connotation based on current usage. As such, I find it interesting that you would like religious writers to embrace the term “homosexual.” I’ve been trying to think hard why I think “gay” is a term preferable to “homosexual,” for example. I think it’s because biased or uninformed people use the term “homosexual” instead of “gay,” and when they do, they say it, unfortunately, with fear or negative emotion.

    The term “homosexual” also draws attention strictly to sexual attraction between two people of the same gender. The term “gay” or “lesbian” is broader, embracing the totality of the experiences of people who are attracted to people of the same gender (or two genders). This might include issues of coming out to parents and friends, dealing with prejudice, or how to live one’s life. Maybe our goal is to get religious thinkers to use these latter terms instead of “homosexual?”

    I think we’re getting at the same thing. The choice of words can reveal major biases, which we should challenge. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and curious to hear what you have to say. 🙂

  2. Dear Georgetown Girl,

    Thanks! I am not existentially committed to the term “homosexual” (or “gay,” or “queer”), as opposed to any other. What I find objectionable is the way in which Archbishops Collins, in his talk, and Fr. Hopko, in his book, appear to deploy a term such as “same-sex attraction” as a sort of intellectual subterfuge.

    Responsible people do now generally concede that sexuality is not simply a question of free choice. So the “conservatives” have retreated to what is, seemingly, a more defensible position: sexuality is complex; too complex for any label at all (the “reductionist” argument). Yet, as a matter of fact, I don’t know any self-identified queer who would say that his or her personal identity is wholly reducible to (homo)sexual orientation. Collins therefore especially was missing the mark.

    On the semantic range of “homosexual,” see Charles M. Blow in The New York Times, June 4.


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