The following excerpt is from Jay Leno’s opening monologue on The Tonight Show (April 23, 2003): “Republican senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum—well, let me finish. Don’t hiss me. You can hiss the guy later. He is causing quite a lot of controversy this week with remarks he made about gays…. This is the quote: ‘I have no problem with homosexuals. I have a problem with homosexual acts.’ Well, maybe he’s doing them wrong.” Laughter, cheers, and applause followed, as well as another Leno remark that ought not be repeated in polite company.
Scripture and the Catechism attest to the intrinsic sinfulness of homosexual acts. There’s no ambiguity on this question, no circumstances that make these acts morally acceptable. Thus Catholics—along with like-minded Evangelicals, Jews, and Muslims—believe that when homosexuals act on their “disordered” desires, they are sinning. Loving homosexuals, then, requires the same distinction that’s applied to any other person, or group, who is heavy-laden with sin. Since it’s impossible to love anything other than what is good, we must love the person, not the sinful acts.
Senator Santorum’s attempt to explain this aspect of Christian morality to an Associated Press reporter led to a media gristmill that, fortunately, ran out of steam. The occasion was the Supreme Court’s consideration of a challenge to a Texas law against sodomy. From a long interview, the reporter, who turned out to be the wife of the campaign manager for pro-abortion “Catholic” and presidential hopeful Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), excerpted a section clearly intended to create a headache for Santorum and Republican Party leadership.
Within hours, the Santorum interview was the stuff of talk shows, late-night monologues, and newspaper columns. While Leno made fun of the distinction between loving the sinner and hating the sin, columnist Richard Cohen took nastier aim: “Deconstructing Santorum is no easy matter. His logic is Euclidean, his analogies Limbaughian…. But he does, I think, raise a profound question that he ought to answer himself: If you have the orientation of a moron, do you still have to talk like one?”
Cohen evidently doesn’t appreciate a simple moral distinction that forms the basis of all tolerance, forgiveness, and civility: If we treat people strictly on the basis of their actions, it would mean the end of love as we know it. Cohen, who claims to come from a “long line of Talmudic scholars,” should know that.
The Santorum episode should be a wake-up call to people of faith who care about politics. The homosexual lobby, with the help of the media, is coming very close to creating a religious test for those who can pass public scrutiny. Anyone who holds the accepted view that homosexual acts are sinful will be labeled as a bigot and an extremist. As the Senate Judiciary Committee has recently shown, there’s already a religious test eliminating pro-life judges from the federal bench. To this we will soon add so-called homophobia.
Who defended Santorum during his recent ordeal? Bill Donohue of the Catholic League was quick to send a strong statement of defense. Crisis issued an e-letter affirming that what Santorum said was right. But if any Catholic bishop made a statement of defense, I never saw it. Perhaps it escaped my notice? Once an important moral teaching of the Church, arising directly from its natural law tradition, becomes the object of public mockery, the statements of lay leaders are not enough.
A bigot is someone who maintains a deep prejudice that a group is inferior in some way. John Howard Griffin, the famous author of Black Like Me, explained the structure of bigotry: When someone of a particular group behaves in an undesirable way, the bigot explains his behavior by reference to his group, as in “Oh, they all act that way.”
No doubt there are those who are bigoted toward homosexuals, even among those who don’t see their sexual acts as sinful. Nevertheless, the view that certain sexual behavior is immoral doesn’t necessarily lead to bigotry. It’s a hard teaching, but it’s not bigotry.
Some homosexual groups have worked hard to create an atmosphere in which this moral teaching can no longer be uttered or even alluded to. Santorum makes no bones about his Catholicism, unlike the “Catholics” in Congress who support abortion. If the media, goaded by homosexual activists, successfully stick him with this label, then our Catholic Faith will be labeled as well, along with you and me.