DENVER -- I've been spending the better part of the last week among Catholics who communicate. They're people of varied backgrounds and politics who love their church. We're at the annual meeting of the Catholic Press Association, where I've been asked to speak a few times. But what I've been doing more of is listening.
What I've been hearing is an acknowledgment that something's gone terribly wrong. Not that church teaching has to be overhauled, as is so often the assumption in media, but that we need to communicate better. We need to be more consistent witnesses of an alternative to the conventional.
Frank Bruni, writing in his New York Times column, recently excoriated the church for its continued encouragement to men and women with same-sex attractions to live lives of chastity. Bruni focuses on recent comments by New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the best-known of any contemporary U.S. bishop, teaching that sexual love is "intended only for a man and woman in marriage." This, Bruni says, "assigns homosexuals a status separate from, and unequal to, the one accorded heterosexuals: You're OK, but you're really not OK. Upon you there is a special restriction, and for you there is a fundamental dimension of the human experience that is off-limits, a no-fly zone of the heart."
But what's missing here is the fact that there are many men and women who do not have same-sex attractions who are not married, but want to be. I met some of them, as I do just about everywhere, in Denver this week. One young woman talked about her desire for marriage, her desire to know that's her vocation, while acknowledging that she is already serving God as a single woman, at her job, in her community and among friends. She's not going to let what she lacks, and really wants, impede her gratitude.
It might, in fact, be a bit of an indictment of Catholic communicators -- both preachers and laypeople -- that Bruni can easily write: "Let's leave aside the legions of straight people, Catholic and otherwise, who aren't tucking their sex lives into a box that tidy, tiny and fecundity-minded." I don't know about the "otherwise," but Cardinal Dolan's primary obligation is to the Catholics, as a spiritual shepherd. And regardless of your sexual attractions, what Dolan said holds for all: Sexual union is a glorious one meant for marriage.