Jaime Soto, the coadjutor bishop of Sacramento, addressed the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries conference in Long Beach, California on September 18. While noting that marriage is not the "sole domain of love," he also reiterated the Church’s teaching that homosexual acts are sinful. During his talk, several audience members walked out while Bishop Soto received hostile responses from many in the audience afterward.
The bishop’s address began by challenging the belief that Jesus "always gave people what they wanted" and was an "agreeable person." He noted the exchange between Jesus and Simon Peter in Matthew 16, where Jesus says "You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."
"Jesus does not give in to the expectations of Peter or the expectations of others," Bishop Soto explained. "He has firmly planted in his heart the expectations and desires of his Father in heaven. He says ‘no’ to Peter and challenges Peter to take up a greater ‘yes,’ to take up his cross and follow him."
The bishop also referenced St. Paul’s phrase "do not conform yourselves to this age," noting the human capacity to think that Jesus is "too unrealistic, too unreasonable," and to convince ourselves that "we know better than the Lord."
Such habits, the bishop said, are evident today in the area of sexuality, about which many of us have a "distorted sense."
"Sexuality has been reduced to a matter of personal preference and personal pleasure without responsibility and with little respect for others. We can lose sight of the profound dignity of the human person who shares in God’s love and creative work through the chaste expression of one’s sexuality proper to one’s calling in life. "
Bishop Soto criticized the "contraceptive culture" that reduces the procreative act to "simple recreation absolved of any responsibility." He also explained the Church’s support for the California ballot’s Proposition 8, which would overturn the California Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year instituting same-sex marriage.
"The nature of love has been distorted," the bishop continued. "Many popular notions have deviated from its true destiny. Love for many has come to mean having sex. If you cannot have sex than you cannot love. This is the message. Even more destructive is the prevailing notion that sex is not an expression of love. Sex is love."
He said this view "deprives sexuality of its true meaning" and hampers the possibility of "ever knowing real love."
Sexual intercourse, he explained, is "a beautiful expression of God’s love" when it is understood "as a unique expression intended to share in the creative, faithful love of God." Referencing Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est, he said that when sexual intercourse ceases to be an icon of God’s "creative, unifying love" it becomes "impoverished" and "demeans the human person."
Bishop Soto then lauded the virtue of chastity, calling it "the path that brings us to that harmony with God’s wisdom and love" and a thing that "moves us beyond one’s desire to what God wills for each one of us."
This is true, he said, also for men and women who are homosexual.
"Let me be clear here," the bishop stated. "Sexual intercourse, outside of the marriage covenant between a man and a woman, can be alluring and intoxicating but it will not lead to that liberating journey of true self-discovery and an authentic discovery of God. For that reason, it is sinful."
While same-sex relations can be "alluring" for homosexuals, it "deviates from the true meaning of the act and distracts them from the true nature of love to which God has called us all."
Acknowledging the "beautiful, heroic expression" of married love, he added, "Marriage is also not the sole domain of love as some of the politics would seem to imply." Love includes "the deep and chaste love of committed friends" as well as the love of religious and clergy, the bonds between Christians, and the love between family members.
"Should we dismiss or demean the human and spiritual significance of these lives given in love?" He asked rhetorically.
"We hope and pray that all people, including our brothers and sisters who are homosexuals, will see the reasonableness of our position and the sincerity of our love for them," the bishop continued, closing with an exhortation to the audience "to be drawn into the ways and the manners of Jesus."
Two conference attendees told the California Catholic Daily that they witnessed Bishop Soto "courageously but gently" give a clear presentation of Catholic teaching on sexuality. They report at least five members of the audience walked out during the bishop’s address, while only a very small number applauded the bishop at the conclusion of his speech.
When the conference chairman announced the bishop would answer questions at a reception held in another room, members of the audience reportedly made widespread shows of disapproval and said they wanted to respond immediately.
Bishop Soto then interacted with respondents.
About eight audience members expressed their unhappiness with what the bishop had said. One woman reportedly commented that the audience knew what the Church teaches but wanted to hear about the value of the "lived experience" of lesbian women and gay men.
Two other speakers, one man and one woman, thanked the bishop for his address and voiced agreement with his remarks.
While the audience members responded to the bishop’s remarks, the California Catholic Daily says, one board member of the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries approached one of the tables in the room and said "On behalf of the board, I apologize. We had no idea Bishop Soto was going to say what he said."
The California Catholic Daily claims that the Berkeley-based National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries has the reputation of taking "at best, an ambiguous stance" on issues concerning same-sex attraction and homosexual acts.