Should She Leave the Church?

A column in the August 14th issue of the Jesuits’ America magazine by Valerie Schultz raises a question that deserves our attention. It was entitled “The Way Things Are Going, Should I Leave the Church?” Schultz writes for a secular newspaper in California, but also contributes occasionally to America.

My short answer, of course, is no, she should not leave the Church. But I would say that to anyone tempted to take such a step. Jesus taught us to bring all men to the Father, not chase them away. But could it be that Schultz should leave her parish? Maybe. Let’s take this one step at a time.

What is Schultz’s complaint about the Church? She says her “pastor is under pressure to get rid of me. A group of parents does not want a person like me teaching the second-year confirmation class at our parish. The men of a certain chivalrous organization want me censured, then booted; they have apparently introduced a resolution at their monthly meeting.” (I guess she is talking about the Knights of Columbus in her parish.)

Schultz has not resigned:

My pastor has asked me to stay. So every Sunday evening after the youth Mass, a group of 20 high school juniors and I gather in Room E to discuss, among other things, Catholic moral teaching. It is a taste of the bittersweet to know that these students may well constitute my last class.

What are the parents and the chivalrous men’s group concerned about?

What sinful thing have I done? I have written, in my secular newspaper column, in support of marriage equality for gay Americans: civil rights, not religious belief. My fellow parishioners have brought a copy of that particular column, although I am sure there are others to which they object on a weekly basis, as proof of my unsuitability. I am a bad Catholic, and they have it in print. I should not be in a position of leadership, they tell the pastor, especially of impressionable teenagers.

Why Schultz’s interest in same-sex marriage? She informs us that her “21-year-old daughter is a lesbian. She has left the Church, feeling there is no room for her and people like her in its unforgiving pews. She feels that the parishioners who want me gone believe and teach their children that there is something wrong with people like her, that somehow God made a mistake when forming her in her mother’s womb. On days like this, how can I argue with her?”

Schultz has decided to stay Catholic, at least for the time being. The Catholic Church, she says, is “where the heart is, where we live in community with the people to whom we are more closely related than anyone else on earth, where we break bread together, pray together, laugh together, steady each other, hold each other up in times of trouble and love each other. Until I am evicted the Catholic Church is my home.”

But she qualifies that decision. While she insists that she is not teaching her confirmation class of “teenagers to be gay,” she describes her role in her parish in the following way:

I think it is possible, after much prayer and soul-searching, that God entrusted me with a lesbian child so that I might be one small voice for change in outlook. So that I might be one to stand up and affirm that gays and lesbians are equal and beloved in the eyes of God, that they are our children and God’s children, and that we err in treating them like modern-day lepers, in placing them outside the circle of God’s love.

That sounds reasonable. But is it? Here’s the key question: What does Schultz mean by working for a “change in outlook”? If she means a commitment to ending gay-bashing and the cruel mockery of homosexuals, to confronting the self-righteous snap judgments of those who do not make the appropriate distinction between those with same-sex attractions and those who openly and proudly engage in homosexual activity, then there would be nothing to criticize in her understanding of her role as a Catholic with a homosexual child. If her fellow parishioners who are making life difficult for her are acting in these ways, if Schultz is accurate in her perception that they treat homosexuals as “modern-day lepers,” “outside the circle of God’s love,” she would be better off if she found a parish with parishioners who accept the Church’s teaching in this matter.

Yes, accept the Church’s teaching. The Church has taught for centuries that there is no reason to assume that those who experience same-sex attractions are guilty of a sin. It is only when these individuals engage in homosexual activity with sufficient reflection and full consent of the will that an immoral act occurs. It is the same standard that applies when an individual with heterosexual longings engages in sex outside of marriage, by the way. If the men in her parish in that chivalrous organization are not with the Church on this question and are behaving like arrogant yahoos, they should be taken to task; they would be deserving of her snide comments about their “chivalrous” behavior.

But it is hard to accept that this is all that Schultz wants. Her agenda goes beyond calling upon Catholics to hate the sin, but love the sinner. It seems clear to me that what she wants is for the Church to teach publicly that homosexual activity is no longer an objectively immoral act — to change its teaching to accommodate the tension she is experiencing in her life because of her daughter’s decision to leave the Church. Consider her words. “On days when Rome issues a document directing that gay men should not be allowed into a Catholic seminary, in spite of whatever intimate calling from God they may hear, how can I argue with” my daughter? “On days when gay men who are already priests are mistakenly made to feel inferior, dirty and entirely responsible for the pedophilia scandal in the Church, how can I argue with her? What can I say?”

Whatever she decides to say to her daughter, demanding that the Church change its teachings about sex and marriage — teachings shared by most of the world’s major religions — is asking too much. Some comparisons are in order: Catholics who take their faith seriously, but who fall into the sins of adultery and extra-marital sex, do not demand that the Church proclaim these behaviors morally acceptable. Instead, they confront their moral weaknesses, ask for forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance, and resolve to sin no more — even when fully aware that their yearnings for these sexual pleasures are likely to overcome them in the future. They throw themselves on God’s mercy.

It is only a certain group of Catholics who engage in homosexual activity who are asking for their acts of sex outside of marriage to be declared moral and a valid alternative to marriage between a man and a woman. It is hard not to conclude that these individuals have placed their loyalty to the homosexual revolution above their loyalty to the Church. I am not saying that Valerie Schultz is at that point. I can’t read her mind. But someone who says she is staying Catholic in order to bring about the changes she is seeking is edging close.

James Fitzpatrick's novel, The Dead Sea Conspiracy: Teilhard de Chardin and the New American Church, is available from our online store. You can email Mr. Fitzpatrick at

(This article originally appeared in The Wanderer and is reprinted with permission. To subscribe call 651-224-5733.)

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