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Gay outreach

Disordered bishops

I’ve belatedly come across this story, entitled “Bishops Adopt Gay Outreach Guidelines”. Ah, good old bishops. It’s bad to be openly gay, but they now want to be seen as participating in a “Gay Outreach”. Strange phrase. “Outreach” is used in many contexts vaguely to define an effort to engage or help people: no doubt the bishops do not mean any alllusion to the term “reacharound”. Still, “gay outreach” pictures gay people as over there: a bunch of others who can be got at only by a stretched arm, if one dares to extend a limb that far. Perhaps, as is recommended when you sup with the Devil, the outreached arm holds, in turn, a long spoon.

Anyway, in what way exactly are the bishops reaching around outreaching? The first line of the report says it all:

The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops adopted new guidelines for gay outreach Tuesday that are meant to be welcoming, while also telling gays to be celibate since the church considers their sexuality ‘disordered.’

Hey, we ‘welcome’ you! But don’t have sex, because you’re fucked up! The choice of the term “disordered” is revealing: perhaps it is meant to evoke the clinical idea of a “disorder”. At any rate, the idea of “disordered sexuality” is strange if taken literally, as though gay people had more difficulty figuring out which bit to put where. Perhaps the bishops are really making a complaint that the sexuality in question is out of their control, unlike their blessedly orderly institutionalized heterosexuality, subject to their fatwas on marriage, contraception and so on.

Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, New Jersey, said:

The tone of the document is positive, pastoral and welcoming. Its starting point is the intrinsic human dignity of every person and God’s love for every person.

Er, yes, and its ending point is that gays are wrong. Clever!

  1. 1  sw  November 23, 2006, 9:42 pm 

    It is indeed a grotesque misuse of “disorder” – especially given that more than three decades have passed since any psychological/psychiatric body has considered homosexuality a disorder (let alone the decades before then, when most did not consider it a disorder but homosexuality had simply not yet been formally dis-‘disordered’ – re-ordered?).

    Worse, though, is that this appeal to medical language of ‘disorder’ is a sort of helpless shrug to some clinical entity for which the church bears no responsibility. “It’s really not our fault that you have this ‘disorder’ – we’ve got nothing to do with it.” And then, they might add, “We’re not gay-bashers; gay hatred doesn’t come from us or originate in us, any more than somebody’s cancer is caused by the fear of cancer in those around them.” It’s a type of cowardice, then, isn’t it?

    Certainly, the ‘disorder’ is strangely independent from ‘sin’: it _may_ be a sin, but the ‘disorder’ was there first. In which case, though, perhaps you are being hasty in your critique: perhaps this is the first step on their roadmap to acceptance, acknowledging as they almost do that it is not a ‘choice’, any more than other ‘disorders’ are choices. (I doubt that their ideas of ‘disorder’ are sophisticated enough to be parsing out the various roles that choice can – and cannot – play in the development of various disorders).

    But I wouldn’t be too hopeful about this. Considering the role of “order” in a Catholic Church (or most churches, I suppose), the implication that homosexuality is a harbinger and manifestation of disorder – to the home, to the family, to the church – crushes optimism that this is a gentle response; indeed, it goes back to my earlier point, that not only are the Bishops cutting themselves off from any blame in gay-bashing by locating the “problem” of homosexuality outside their purview, but they are simultaneously re-framing homosexuality as a threat to them. Fuckers. Or, non-fuckers. Or non-fuckers manque. Hmmm – what to call them? Wankers! Yes, that’s probably the word, isn’t it?

  2. 2  Steven  November 23, 2006, 11:23 pm 

    It seems the idea is that the sin would consist in actually acting on one’s depraved, disorderly nature (for instance, a fetish for mitres), since the poor fucks cannot help having the diseased preference itself. I believe that’s the charitable view the bishops are offering.

    I think you are right that disorder implies threat (a threat to their order; something they cannot order, or order about). Of course George W. Bush always talks as though the sacred institution of heterosexual marriage is under military attack from a gay army, and “must be defended”.

  3. 3  minerva  November 24, 2006, 5:38 am 

    I think in fact that disordered refers to the teleological theory behind all Catholic theory of sin–from Aquinas who got it from Aristotle. If you act contrary to the natural law, you are disordered. Birth control is disordered. Non-procreative sex between married people is also disordered–since the purpose (the telos) of sex is reproduction.

    They tend to call a lot of things disordered that don’t refer to any psychological theory or background.

  4. 4  Graham Giblin  November 24, 2006, 7:25 am 

    Perhaps the opposite of ‘disordered’ is ‘straight’.
    ‘Outreach’ puts people over there, defines them as being over there. People who are being (that is, need to be) reached out to, are ,ipso facto on the outer, and they are out there because there is something wrong or damaged about them, as in ‘outreach to troubled youth’. They are not out there by choice but – like lepers – because they are diseased, dangerous, reviled, rejected etc. by the ‘in’ crowd. So without the need for other qualification the church is defining gays as ‘damaged, alien, frightening and repulsive’.

    The thing about ‘outreach’ is that it mustn’t succeed. The condition must be perpetuated or the christlike display of mercy will go away and it won’t be outreach any more. But as long as the arm is outstretched it can push away, or hold off, as much as it reaches out (or around). There is no sense in ‘outreach’ (I think) of pulling into the ‘fold’. It’s more like patting someone on the head from a safe distance. As long as ‘outreach’ is The Policy it requires the victim to remain foreign for it to have something to police.

    (I admired your resisting the temptation to make a cheap point – at least not directly – by alluding to the prevalence of homosexuality amongst priests in the roman catholic church being generally estimated to be far higher than amongst the frockless.)

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