There may be no more emotionally charged social issue right now than the many debates swirling around homosexuality. According to the most recent polls, Catholics are evenly divided on such topics as same-sex marriage, and the debates swirling around military policy, adoptions, civil unions and more are polarizing families as well as parishes and communities. 

On one topic, however, Catholics and other Americans of all faiths should stand united: There can be no tolerance for violence directed at those thought to be homosexual. 

Unfortunately, there have been dramatic incidents recently that have been both heartbreaking and sickening: 

  •  Members of a New York gang tortured and sodomized two men they thought homosexual. 
  •  A 13-year-old Californian boy hanged himself in the backyard after being taunted by neighborhood bullies. 
  •  A freshman college student jumped off New York’s George Washington Bridge after his roommate secretly streamed live video of him romantically engaged with another man. 
  • A self-styled Christian church that sees the death of U.S. soldiers as punishment for homosexuality in America is fighting for the right to hold signs proclaiming “God hates fags” at military funerals. 

Such hateful activity can in no way be accepted, and it finds no support in the teaching of the Church. All human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and protecting the defenseless from harm extends to the victims of such cruelty. 

Catholics need to understand the truth the Church teaches and be able to communicate that truth. In their personal contact with homosexuals, whether family members, co-workers or acquaintances, love should prevail. Each person is an image of God himself, deserving of our love and respect. 

The problem is that, as Pope Benedict XVI said in the opening homily of the conclave that elected him, too often in the tension between truth and love, one or the other wins out. “Love without truth would be blind; truth without love would be like ‘a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal,’” he said. 

This is a challenge made more difficult by the times we live in. Pope Benedict’s words implicitly acknowledge this challenge. More than ever, Catholics need models of behavior that show how to negotiate the twin pitfalls of our age, blindness and noisy gongs. Communicating truth with charity while always responding with great heart and humane understanding is how we are called to proceed. 

Perhaps the real test for all of us who follow a Lord who said in his dying breath, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,” is that we must pray for the victims of these crimes, and we must pray for the perpetrators. While justice must be served, and those guilty of heinous acts should receive a just punishment, to simply vilify the bully or the torturer is to fall into the same trap that they have fallen into. It is the most difficult lesson of all: To pray for those who persecute, to ask forgiveness from heaven and the grace to know God’s love for those who seem beyond such love. 

The role of a Christian in today’s society is not an easy one. We are asked to hold firm to principles, and we are asked to love selflessly and ceaselessly. It is really beyond us, without God’s own grace and mercy being extended to us as well. 

For now, the debates and the legal struggles and the polarization will not end. Catholics must respond with truth in charity, and above all we must make clear that we will not tolerate violence or bullying hateful speech in our schools, our workplaces or our communities.

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.