If you were once a little left-handed pupil writing schoolwork at your desk, an insistent nun carrying a large ruler may have smacked your hand. That’s because left-handedness is sinister; the Latin “sinestra” means left or left-handed. It evolved to mean “evil” or “unlucky.” Being a southpaw was considered by some, even in the last century, to be an intrinsic disorder. We can cite examples from biblical times that verify the evils of the left hand and even find a few examples today where leaning left is considered goofy or detrimental. Unfortunately, these second-hand-citizens were, in times past, considered to be second-class, disabled, or children of a lesser god. Unlucky, indeed.
Eventually, during the last century, we realized how wrong we were. Social structures usually correct matters like this, once viewed erroneously—sometimes long before, sometimes long after, religious structures do. During 19th Century slavery and until the 20th Century Civil Rights Act, many black Americans were treated as second class citizens or given second hand service, as if having dark skin was intrinsically disordered. I suspect that one day the Catholic Church, which defines homosexuality as an intrinsic disorder, will realize that we were wrong on this matter, also. Though the church will never change its teachings about sexual ethics (that the level of intimacy two individuals share should reflect the level of commitment those two individuals make) or its teachings about sacramental marriage (that it is between one man and one woman), our ecclesial structure will evolve to acknowledge that homosexuality is not sinister or disordered, as our social structure already proclaims. Every person is created in the image and likeness of God and, therefore, can reflect the presence of God in our world and in our church.
As a priest, I don’t have quick or easy answers for those who feel that they are treated as second hand citizens by those adhering to religious structures or who view them to be sinister, disordered, or just unlucky. But I hope that all of us, called to be priestly people, will advance the conversations between the church’s teachings on sexual morality and the church’s commitment to welcome all—perceived sinners and saints alike—in imitation of Christ. Through the Gospels we learn that Jesus met people where they lived, advanced religious conversations, and brought them closer to God. Though dialogue, discussion, and discernment do not bring quick or easy resolutions, that’s the route we should more often take.