In the latest attack of the church on homosexuality, one of the policy advisers for the American Catholic bishops’ anti-gay-marriage initiative has blamed the devil for homosexuality. In a recent column for The Boston Pilot, the oldest Catholic newspaper in the States, Daniel Avila set out to answer central questions about same-sex attraction. Avila, who is the policy advisor for Marriage and Family at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), made the following assessment of homosexuality in his article, ‘Some Fundamental Questions on Same-Sex Attraction’: “The scientific evidence of how same-sex attraction most likely may be created provides a credible basis for a spiritual explanation that indicts the devil.” Discussing the theory that homosexuality is caused by ‘random imbalances in maternal hormone levels” – which he incorrectly dubbed ‘the most widely accepted scientific hypothesis’ – Avila continued:
“Any time natural disasters occur, we as people of faith look back to Scripture’s account of those angels who rebelled and fell from grace. In their anger against God, these malcontents prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. They continue to do all they can to mar, distort and destroy God’s handiwork.
Therefore, whenever natural causes disturb otherwise typical biological development, leading to the personally unchosen beginnings of same-sex attraction, the ultimate responsibility, on a theological level, is and should be imputed to the evil one, not God.”
Days later, The Boston Pilot retracted the column and apologised for “fail[ing] to recognise the theological error in the column before publication” (while neglecting to pinpoint the error). In his apology, Avila said: “The Church opposes, as I do too, all unjust discrimination and the violence against persons that unjust discrimination inspires. I deeply apologize for the hurt and confusion that this column has caused.” He added that his column was not reflective of the opinion of the Catholic bishops and was not authorised before the newspaper went to print, which is required of all published material. Yet, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the bishops, said that Avila was told not to write about public policy issues in The Boston Pilot. She explained: “While the general population has debated whether it’s nurture or nature that leads to a homosexual inclination, the church has not posed any theory in that regard.”
Gay rights groups and liberal Catholics have expressed their anger over Avila’s column. In a letter to The Boston Pilot, the Paulist Center of Boston said that it would be removing the publication from its buildings: “[The column] directly and intentionally causes pain for gay Catholics, their families, especially their mothers, their friends and their worship communities.” Avila’s retraction is due to be printed in which he stresses that “all persons are created in the image and likeness of God and have inviolable dignity.” In his original piece, Avila tackled the theological and scientific causes of homosexuality, concluding that ‘the ultimate responsibility’ – at least on the theological basis – should be assigned to Satan, not God.
Rev. James Martin, who is the culture editor at the reputable Jesuit publication America Magazine, said it is theologically erroneous to claim that “part of a human being is made by Satan.” He welcomed Avila’s apology but expressed his own opinion on the article:
“We can be tempted by evil spirits to do bad things, but that doesn’t mean that Satan created part of us. I think that’s a theological misunderstanding of creation… Clearly Satan does not cause people to be gay, any more than Satan causes people to be straight. God creates gays and lesbians, men and women who should be loved for who they are.”
GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) responded as follows:
“The retraction of Daniel Avila’s column is in line with the majority of American Catholics who are supportive of their gay and lesbian family, friends, and neighbors. We hope in the future that the Archdiocese will further messages of love and support for all members of the Church instead of such false and alienating statements.”
Joseph Ward, Director of Believe Out Loud (a Christian LGBT advocacy group) expressed his views on the column, explaining that the very fact that an employee of the Catholic hierarchy has publically made such comment reveals the extent to which the Catholic hierarchy is disconnected from the Catholic community on issues surrounding homosexuality. Further, the editor of U.S. Catholic Magazine, Bryan Cones has expressed anxiety over how Avila’s position in the USCCB could be detrimental to the spiritual health of LGBT Christians:
“Gay, lesbian, and bisexual Christians have long complained of the spiritual violence’ done to them by traditional Christian attitudes toward homosexuality. The ideas expressed by Avila are justly described as spiritual violence because they call into question the fundamental dignity of God’s daughters and sons who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. These women and men–many of whom are members of the church through their baptism–are no more in need of redemption than any other human being because of their sexual orientation, and it is time for the U.S. bishops to say so in unequivocal terms, especially now that one of their own employees has harmed lesbian, bisexual, and gay people in such a profound and shocking way.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director of DignityUSA, shares Cones’ view. She feels as if the Catholic Church will alienate the LGBT Christian community by keeping a man with such extreme beliefs as an advisor to the U.S. bishops and writer for the official newspaper. She commented: “This shows that Catholic officials are willing to go to extremes in their anti-gay campaign… The Archdiocese of Boston and the USCCB should immediately terminate their relationship with Mr. Avila.” Along with these, the gay rights group Truth Wins Out condemned Avila’s column for calling homosexuality a ‘natural disaster’ caused by Satan invading the wombs of mothers. Executive Director of the group, Wayne Besen made the following statement: “Avila’s bizarre theories are unscientific and defamatory. Telling Catholic mothers with LGBT children that Satan entered their womb and caused their child’s homosexuality is spiritual abuse of the highest order.”
Avila may have issued an apology admitting his regret for writing the column, but he did not negate his belief which is a direct contradiction of the famous pastoral letter – ‘Always Our Children’ (1997) – written by the American Catholic Bishops, which took a more balanced approach to the question of homosexuality and spirituality:
“…it seems appropriate to understand sexual orientation (heterosexual or homosexual) as a deep-seated dimension of one’s personality and to recognize its relative stability in a person. A homosexual orientation produces a stronger emotional and sexual attraction toward individuals of the same sex, rather than toward those of the opposite sex… There seems to be no single cause of a homosexual orientation. A common opinion of experts is that there are multiple factors—genetic, hormonal, psychological—that may give rise to it. Generally, homosexual orientation is experienced as a given, not as something freely chosen. By itself, therefore, a homosexual orientation cannot be considered sinful, for morality presumes the freedom to choose.”
In this letter, the bishops also urged parents of gay children not to reject them simply because society is marred by violence and discrimination: “God does not love someone any less simply because he or she is homosexual… the Christian community should offer its homosexual sisters and brothers understanding and pastoral care.” Avila’s homophobic remarks display very little love and serve only to perpetuate the marginalization of LGBT Catholics and their families. With forces like this in the Church hierarchy, it is little wonder the Catholic Church is losing members at an alarming rate.