The news of the Orlando shootings really upset me. You kind of get used to mass shootings, in a way; you learn not to let them get to you and to get off the internet for a few days so you don't have to read about them. But this one was extra upsetting because it targeted a group that I know gets targeted a lot. And that must feel really scary to people who are gay and wondering if they are safe.
At first I was worried about the reactions from my Catholic friends. In the past, I've shared things about violence against gays and gotten shrugs, or worse, statements that the victims brought it upon themselves and don't deserve protection because they are living a sinful lifestyle. I thought maybe the whole thing would be ignored, erased, or even approved of. And it was a huge relief that this did not happen. My friends were quick to condemn the shooter and empathize with the victims. And this is encouraging. Regardless of my friends' opinions about homosexuality, they care about the individuals involved. That speaks to how much I've pared down my friendlist, or how much society has changed, or just how uniquely upsetting this tragedy was, but whatever it is, it's good news.
However, what was a little less encouraging was the defensiveness. Catholics announcing that they condemn all violence, OF COURSE, and always have, OF COURSE, and while Islam is a religion that naturally leads one to shoot up gay nightclubs, Catholics NEVER EVER would because it's a teaching of the Church that they should be tolerant of gay people and treat them with respect.
And what I wanted to say was, yes, that's true, the Catholic Church now teaches that gay people should be treated with respect. But that is a new teaching. In the past, Catholic nations punished homosexuality with the death penalty, just as many Muslim nations do today, and the hierarchy appears to have had no criticism for that.
Here are two articles on Wikipedia which testify to what I've said. Legal violence against gay people has been pretty universal starting with the acceptance of Christianity by the Roman empire till the 19th century. Sometimes the Church specifically argued in favor of the death penalty, such as at the Council of Paris in A.D. 829; at other times it simply said nothing and let the executions proceed under Catholic secular governments.
I will admit that this is not a case of the Church changing infallible teaching. It never definitively or universally taught that gay people should be put to death -- although, of course, it is perfectly scriptural. Leviticus 20:13 reads,"If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads." So it's no wonder that Christian countries have assumed that this was a good thing to do -- why would God have commanded it if it weren't?
But to revise the entire history and claim that Catholics would never and have never used their religion as a justification to kill gay people is simply false. Or that Catholicism has always taught that gay people should be treated with respect and tolerance. It does now, and I'm glad it does now, but it did not invent the idea of tolerance. It was very late to get on board -- so far as I can see, the first ever condemnation of violence against gay persons was in 1986, the year I was born.
This of course is relevant to the question that's troubled me so much in the past -- if God were inspiring the Church, so much that he carefully spelled out how many natures Jesus has and whether the persons of the Trinity are equal, why did he not bother to say, "Don't burn gay people alive"? Is it because he didn't really care that much about them? Or is it because he really is not that involved in what the Church does? I don't blame the medievals for being people of their time. But that is clearly all they were -- not people with extra enlightenment coming from their divinely-inspired faith.
Some people I know acknowledge and accept the Church's tradition and maintain that in a truly Catholic society, we would still be putting gays to death. It must be a good thing to do, because the Church once did it, and because it's in the Bible. So they say it has something to do with divine justice, or avoiding the corruption of others. I can't go that route, though I admit it's logical. But the fact that people can, and that they can justify it with reference to scripture and tradition, shows that, like Islam, Catholicism can be used to excuse violence against gay people. Hate crimes against gays are sadly common, and some of them are carried out by Christians.
Islam, of course, has its own controversies. Some people use it to justify violence, but there are 1.6 billion Muslims and most of them don't actually do anything violent. In part it's because, like many Catholics, they listen to their own conscience first, before their religion. And in part it's because some of them see their religion as a whole picture in which love and mercy are at the center, just as Catholics do. So I'm not going to say religion is bad, that it's the enemy here and everyone whose religion contains some justification for killing gay people is evil. Rather, we should remember that different threads of the same religion can be wildly different, but the love-and-mercy types are doing good and should be encouraged. At the same time, let's not lie or attempt to revise history: religion, including Catholicism, has been a justification for violence throughout human history. Believe responsibly.