NOTES FROM THE WEBMASTER
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Homosexuality and Hate Speech: Defending Moral Principles Is Getting Riskier
An interesting article from Zenit, Feb. 14, 2004:
Christians defending moral teachings on homosexuality are increasingly running foul of laws that ban any negative statements about the subject. A British Anglican bishop, for instance, who suggested that homosexuals seek psychological counseling was the target of a police investigation, the Telegraph newspaper reported Nov. 10.
Bishop Peter Forster of Chester told a local paper: "Some people who are primarily homosexual can reorientate themselves. I would encourage them to consider that as an option, but I would not set myself up as a medical specialist on the subject -- that's in the area of psychiatric health."
Police investigated the statements and a spokesman said a copy of the article would be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service. Subsequently, the police dropped the case, the Independent newspaper reported Nov. 11.
The matter raised fears about restrictions on defending Christian morality, the British-based Christian Institute explained in its January newsletter. It added that the bishop's position was backed up by a lot of academic research. Even a longtime supporter of homosexual rights, Columbia University professor Robert Spitzer, recently published a study finding that homosexuals could become predominantly heterosexual through psychotherapy, the newsletter observed.
Debate also flared last year in the United Kingdom over whether churches should be allowed to refuse employment to homosexuals. The government finally agreed to add a clause to anti-discrimination legislation giving religious organizations the right to exclude a person on the grounds of sexual orientation, the Sunday Times reported June 1. Still, the Christian Institute warned in its January newsletter that employers must be prepared to argue their case in court.
In Ireland, meanwhile, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties warned the Catholic Church that distributing the Vatican guidelines on same-sex unions could bring prosecution. The document published last July by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith falls foul of the Incitement to Hatred Act, according to sources quoted in the Irish Times on Aug. 2.
"The document itself may not violate the act, but if you were to use the document to say that gays are evil, it is likely to give rise to hatred, which is against the act," said Aisling Reidy, director of the civil-liberties council. Those convicted under the act could face six-month jail terms. Of the Vatican document Reidy said: "The wording is very strong and certainly goes against the spirit of the legislation."
The limits of diversity
On the other side of the Atlantic, December saw a victory for Christians. In Michigan, U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen upheld the right of a Christian student to express her religious beliefs in opposing homosexuality, reported a Dec. 5 press release by the Thomas More Law Center.
The law center had filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Betsy Hansen as a result of a dispute over the 2002 Diversity Week program held at the Ann Arbor Pioneer High School. School authorities censored the speech to be given by Hansen, a Catholic, as part of the activities of the "Homosexuality and Religion" panel. Officials claimed that her religious view toward homosexuality was a "negative" message and would "water down" the "positive" religious message that they wanted to convey -- that homosexual behavior is not immoral or sinful.
School officials also only allowed clergy who espoused a pro-homosexual position to take part in the panel, denying Hansen's request to have a panel member who would express the Catholic position on homosexuality.
"This case presents the ironic, and unfortunate, paradox of a public high school celebrating 'diversity' by refusing to permit the presentation to students of an 'unwelcomed' viewpoint on the topic of homosexuality and religion, while actively promoting the competing view," observed Judge Rosen in his decision.
Another case, still to be finalized, involves a Colorado mother who left a lesbian relationship after converting to Christianity in 2000. Cheryl Clark is appealing a ruling by Denver County Circuit Judge John Coughlin to "make sure that there is nothing in the religious upbringing or teaching that the minor child is exposed to that can be considered homophobic," the Washington Times reported Nov. 5.
Her former partner, Elsey McLeod, was awarded joint custody of the child, an 8-year-old girl.
Matthew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, a public-interest law firm based in Orlando, Florida, has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. He commented that the judge gave no similar orders to McLeod regarding remarks or teaching about Christianity or Christians. "It's a real one-way street on this," Staver said.
Vancouver bishop targeted
Controversy regarding criticism of homosexuals has been increasingly common in Canada. A recent case involves the Archdiocese of Vancouver. The Vancouver Sun reported Sept. 24 that the archdiocese canceled a long-standing partnership with VanCity Credit Union, owing to the fact that the institution actively supports the local gay and lesbian community.
The turning point for Archbishop Adam Exner was an ad campaign by the credit union, featuring a homosexual couple. Consequently the archbishop put an end to a VanCity program operating in four Catholic schools. Under the program, students learned out to save and invest their money and opened savings accounts with the credit union.
A document posted on the archdiocese Web site explained the reasons for the decision. "VanCity in its advertising and by its sponsorship has publicly manifested its support for agendas which are worrisome and harmful to the Church and to society," said the statement signed by Archbishop Exner. "Any cooperation with an organization that publicly supports such agendas appears unacceptable."
The decision drew strong criticism, as Archbishop Exner noted in a letter published Oct. 1 by the Vancouver Sun. When news of the move became public, it "opened the floodgates to letters, e-mails, phone calls and faxes, alleging everything from bigotry to fascism," he said. "I found myself accused of teaching intolerance and hatred of homosexuals -- something contrary to Catholic teaching and my own convictions."
David Bernstein, professor at George Mason University School of Law, addressed the topic of how antidiscrimination laws are creating problems for free speech in his recent book, "You Can't Say That!" Fear of litigation, he observed, "is having a profound chilling effect on the exercise of civil liberties in workplaces, universities, membership organizations, and churches."
Bernstein related how one U.S. Catholic university was beaten down by legal actions into giving full recognition to student homosexual groups. And citing several recent legal cases in Canada, he commented: "Indeed, it has apparently become illegal in Canada to advocate traditional Christian opposition to homosexual sex."
On the question of how homosexuals are to be treated, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is careful to point out: "They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided" (No. 2358).
Nevertheless, the Catechism is no less clear when it deals with the morality of homosexual acts: "They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved" (No. 2357). Defending this teaching, in a charitable way, is no easy task. And in the current legal climate, it could get a lot harder.
- Posted Feb 15, 2004
"Lawrence v. Texas," "Gay" Marriage, Etc.
Introduction and Summary
These can be demoralizing times for Catholic believers who experience same sex attraction and who are endeavoring to live chastely in accordance with the Church's teaching. We can no longer count on our society, government or even church leaders to share our moral values or support us in our efforts to resist and control our lustful urges. A broad movement to promote sinful sexual behavior and silence Christian moral teaching on sexual purity outside of heterosexual marriage has become an irresistible juggernaut. Those who experience same sex attraction are told by authoritative voices in society that they must make their sexual urges their primary public identifying characteristic ("coming out") and take "pride" in those unchosen urges ("gay pride"). This movement has not only established strongholds in the societal elite, the media and the academy, but also increasingly influences the broader mass of public opinion, the state, the courts, the educational system and even churches that call themselves Christian.
This note contains comments on some of the recent advances of the gay ideology in the sphere of government and religion, and then looks with trepidation but also some hope to the future. The promotion of homosexual activity and ideology in civil society is regrettable, but it must be endured in a free society. Less endurable and justifiable, however, is the government’s increasing willingness to go beyond neutrality on the complex and controversial moral question of homosexuality and instead actively to endorse and promote homosexual behavior and the gay ideology. This column has discussed previously objections to government officials’ participating in "gay pride" events or declaring "gay pride" months. Recent and impending developments relating to the decriminalization of sodomy, same sex civil marriage and public education also deserve comment.
The result of the recent United States Supreme Court case creating a constitutional right to gay sex is perhaps justified on libertarian grounds, but remains disturbing in many ways. It demonstrates a willingness of the judiciary to rule arbitrarily without firm standards to limit their power to create new constitutional rights and overturn democratic consensus. In addition, it is unclear if the case merely enshrines moral libertarianism in the Constitution or signals a new moral orthodoxy that would have the government impose sexual libertarianism on society at large and restrict the liberties of traditional religious believers. If the former, then traditional Christian believers can at least argue for their retention of the freedom to believe, speak and act upon their moral values. If the latter, then such believers must be willing to fight for their constitutional and human rights.
The current push for court imposition of same sex marriage raises some of the same issues as the decriminalization of sodomy. However, this is a situation where practicing homosexuals are not currently constrained in their liberty in any meaningful way. Civil same sex marriage is more transparently a case of government promotion of homosexual behavior and to be resisted as such. The debate, however, will likely not focus on the real issues but instead turn into an ugly and mean-spirited mudslinging between proponents and opponents. Moreover, the opponents will most likely lose, given the commanding propaganda advantage of the proponents in present day society.
The field of public education is an area where the government can most directly promote the new sexual morality that it so at odds with traditional religious beliefs. It is therefore in this field that the government must be watched most closely in the future. New York City’s recent promotion of “gay” identity, ideology and separatism through the establishment of a separate high school for “gay” teenagers is not a good sign for the future.
Even within the Christian churches themselves, powerful forces are working to alter the apostolic Christian faith and replace it with affirmation of modern sexual libertinism. Recent events in the Episcopal church are emblematic of what we can expect in all Christian denominations in the future. Even the Catholic church is not immune from these strong societal currents, particularly in the wake of the clergy and hierarchy’s shameful role in allowing priestly pedophilia to continue unchecked without regard to Christian decency or moral teaching.
To some extent, we believers in traditional Christian morality must resign ourselves to being part of a moral counterculture for some time to come, opposed by society, the government and even our churches. Nevertheless, there are some grounds for hope. In a libertarian social order, we can still fight for our freedom to believe, worship and speak of our beliefs. In the society at large, we also can hope that humanity will come to realize that sexual libertinism is not in itself the key to the good life. In the Catholic church itself, there is still a residual respect for the Magisterium in the Church. That, combined with Our Lord’s guarantee to Peter, may prevent defection of the Church of Rome from Christian moral teaching. In any event, we must never abandon our beliefs and moral values since they are part of the divine law for humans revealed by Christ and taught through His Apostles and their successors in the Church down to our own time.
Before discussing government promotion of homosexual activity and ideology, I should mention that such promotion has been occurring at a fast and furious rate in the media, academy and the societal elite for some time. To cite just one recent example in the media world, the cable station Bravo is promoting self-identification as "queer" as well as homosexual activity and stereotypes about those with same sex attraction with its recent television programs “Boy Meets Boy” and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” (I can personally attest that the stereotypes promoted on the latter show are total rubbish -- I for one, notwithstanding same sex attraction, am perfectly capable of being as much of a slob as the next guy!) However, this is a free country, and the media have a right to produce whatever shows they want, and we have a right not to watch them. If we Christians expect to be allowed to live and let live, we will have to learn to tolerate, without endorsing, expressions of gay ideology and even behavior in civil society. Likewise, journalists, academics and other figures of the societal elite, however annoying and wrongheaded they might be on issues of homosexual activity, are of course free to speak and advocate what they wish, just as Christians are.
The Sodomy Case: Is Libertarianism or a New Moral Orthodoxy Being Enshrined in the Constitution?
The recent United States Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas created a Constitutional right to homosexual activity between consenting adults in the privacy of their own home. Viewed from a libertarian perspective and in light of contemporary community standards, the substantive result in this case would appear to make some sense. Indeed, it would seem as a prudential matter that in this day and age a law criminalizing consensual private adult homosexual activity would be, as Justice Thomas asserted, a rather “silly” law. Most of the anti-sodomy statutes were not being seriously enforced anyway, and thus their main purpose was as a moral deterrent or as a means to charge a person wanted on some other harder-to-establish charge. As for moral deterrence, it would appear that there is currently no societal consensus that private adult consensual homosexual activity is wrong. Even to the extent it is wrong, and unlike the case with abortion, the only direct harm is to the souls (and possibly also the bodies) of those voluntarily participating in the activity. Aquinas said that not everything that is immoral ought to be illegal. It makes sense that the limited crime-fighting resources of the state should be preserved for activities that endanger the public more directly. And perhaps in a sexually permissive society, the criminal law should leave people the freedom to make their own mistakes as regards sexual behavior. Virtue is in any event more meritorious when it is freely chosen and not coerced by the state. John Stuart Mill's view that everything should be allowed so long as no other person is hurt by a particular voluntary activity is certainly appealing at first blush. Although it has been harshly criticized by conservatives (not least of whom is Justice Scalia himself), there is something to be said, in a free society in which there are competing notions of the good life, for Justice Kennedy's view that "[a]t the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State." If some people are so misguided as to place their libido at the center of their worldview, then perhaps they should be left to do so so long as they do not harm others by their beliefs and actions.
I would remind gay activists and Justice Kennedy, however, that traditional religious believers and even those with same sex attraction who embrace chastity on religious principle or who voluntarily seek to change their sexual orientation also have the right to find the meaning of life in their faith and not in their sexual desires. They are as much entitled to respect and toleration as are practicing homosexuals. (Indeed, if there were ever an unpopular minority class deserving of the Supreme Court's heightened solicitude and protection, it is the ever-demonized "ex-gays.") We traditional religious believers can benefit from the freedom of a truly libertarian social order, particularly amid a hostile society and under a hostile government that does not share our beliefs.
Even if the result in Lawrence has a certain libertarian attractiveness, however, the decision gives rise to many concerns. I will not discuss Justice Kennedy's rewriting of history to fit current-day gay ideology, his citation of European Union law, his rejection of stare decisis and his ignoring of established Constitutional doctrine on fundamental rights, substantive due process and restrictions on liberty. All these points have been ably criticized by Justice Scalia in his dissent. I would instead like to highlight some other conceptual problems with the decision.
First, the unrestrained and unprincipled judicial activism by which decriminalization of sodomy was brought about must be of some concern to all who value democracy and the rule of law. It is almost certainly the case based on current societal trends that sooner or later all 50 state legislatures would have gotten around to repealing anti-sodomy statutes, as they would likely have done anti-abortion statutes in the absence of the judicial legislation of Roe v. Wade. As was the case with abortion advocates, homosexual decriminalization advocates could have relied on the tough but noble slog of lobbying voters and legislatures and developing a democratic consensus around their views. Instead, however, they chose the lazy and authoritarian way out, doing an end-run around the democratic process and appealing to unelected judges to impose their views as law without any specific authorization from the Constitution. They encouraged the Supreme Court to exercise an irresponsible, standardless and potentially limitless power to reverse the actions of democratically elected government.
The text of the Constitution does not specifically enunciate either a right to kill fetuses or a right to practice homosexual sex, nor does the intent of the framers or two hundred years of Constitutional interpretation suggest the existence of such rights. Given that significant numbers of people have differing views on these complicated moral issues, would not it be better for a democratic consensus to emerge in favor of new legal rights in these areas rather than for unelected judges to claim unfettered discretion to create any rights they please? Legislation and constitutional amendment are the legitimate ways to create new rights. Loosed from any grounding in either the text of the Constitution or the intent of the founders or history, it would appear that a broad term like "liberty" can be used by any five justices at any time to impose their own legislative agenda and reverse any action of government they so desire. Almost any action of government can arguably restrict somebody's "liberty" and is thus fair game. If the Constitution is simply what five justices say it is without any principles or standards to guide them in determining the scope of liberty, then we no longer have democracy or the rule of law, but rather judicial tyranny. Wasn't the Left at one time against untrammeled individual liberty when it came to freedom of contract and length of working hours and such? Of course much economic regulation relates to health and safety, which nobody nowadays wants to deny the state the right to regulate, but does not economic legislation sometimes also affect the moral choices of individuals? Of course the particular target of the Lawrence case is the right of the state to regulate public morals, so perhaps that is the limiting factor. But while I am somewhat sympathetic to the libertarian viewpoint of John Stuart Mills that all should be allowed which does no harm, do we really want the Constitution to enshrine an absolute prohibition on any morals regulation, at least in cases where there is a democratic consensus for regulation? If there is a societal consensus that people sometimes need to be protected from their worst inclinations, as with drug use, easy access to pornography, prostitution or excess drinking, do we really want activist judges to construe the Constitution so as to deny democratically elected governments the right to regulate such activity for the public good?
Perhaps the limitation on the Supreme Court's power to protect "liberty" as against the democratic state is found in the notion that the protected sphere of liberty or "privacy" only encompasses consensual sexual activity. However, I tend to doubt that if a future supreme court wanted to declare a liberty interest in, say, drug-induced hallucinations, it would seriously consider itself restricted by such a limitation. Indeed, Justice Kennedy's sweeping statements about the right to define the mystery of life free from government intervention would argue that the Constitution can limit all morals legislation and not simply intimate sexual activity.
Another concern about Lawrence on the part of those of us who believe that homosexual activity is sinful is that the decriminalization enacted by Lawrence could be interpreted as a sign that the government not only tolerates such activity, but condones and promotes it. Decriminalization is the strongest and most justifiable aim of the gay activists, but it is only justified only to the extent that the government is neutrally increasing liberty and not to the extent it is making a favorable judgment on homosexual activity. Justice Kennedy’s opinion in Lawrence is somewhat disturbing on this score, as it appears to go beyond merely announcing the liberty to engage in consensual adult private homosexual acts and instead officially to ennoble and promote such acts. It is certainly not the place of an official of the state such as Justice Kennedy to take a position one way or another on the morality and nobility of homosexual acts, since citizens are entitled to hold differing views on the matter. He should not impose his moral views on the rest of society.
One way in which Justice Kennedy tries to ennoble homosexual activity is with his long discussion suggesting that such activity is characteristic of a “relationship”. For instance, Justice Kennedy says the following:
"The statutes do seek to control a personal relationship that, whether or not entitled to formal recognition in the law, is within the liberty of persons to choose without being punished as criminals... It suffices for us to acknowledge that adults may choose to enter upon this relationship in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons. When sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring. The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to make this choice."
To begin with, Justice Kennedy is just plain wrong about the anti-sodomy statute in question. It does not seek to control a personal relationship, but to control sexual activity. Sexual activity is not the same as a relationship. Justice Kennedy is illogically trying to conflate two quite distinct concepts. While it was not clear at all from the facts of the case mentioned in the opinion whether Lawrence and his sexual partner had a long term "relationship," I think it extremely untenable to presume that most acts of homosexual sodomy are carried out in the context of such a relationship and are not mere acts of promiscuity. Indeed, even the most passing familiarity with the contemporary "gay" subculture would lead one to understand that promiscuity and casual sex is not only widespread but vigorously encouraged. Of course under the libertarian principle, a right to engage in a promiscuous lifestyle might be just as much a protected liberty interest as a right to gay sex in a "relationship." Therefore, Justice Kennedy's attempt to give a positive and inaccurate spin on the nature of homosexual activity as typically part of a relationship and to downplay gay promiscuity (a common tactic of gay activists) is unnecessary dicta and can only be interpreted to mean that Justice Kennedy is trying to promote homosexual activity. Of course, he is also perhaps laying the legal groundwork for possible judicial imposition of same sex marriage at a later date.
Another way in which Justice Kennedy seems to go beyond merely proclaiming a right to engage in homosexual activity and express official moral approval of homosexual acts is his claim that "[w]hen homosexual conduct is made criminal by the law of the State, that declaration in and of itself is an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination both in the public and in the private spheres." This claim of Justice Kennedy's is unnecessary to his ruling. If the individuals concerned have a protected liberty interest, then all that need be done is overturn the law, end of story. It is not necessary to stigmatize the moral beliefs that caused the law as "discriminatory," and in particular stigmatize private citizens who express religious belief in the wrongfulness of homosexual acts. Private organizations like religious groups have every right in their private affairs to discriminate against persons who choose not to act in accordance with the tenets of that religious faith. Could a future Supreme Court use this dicta to call into question the rights of traditional religious believers to believe and express their belief that homosexual activity is immoral or to associate with whom they choose? Could this dicta be used by a future court to deny the freedom of speech, assembly and religion of traditional religious believers? One shudders at the implications.
It is Justice Kennedy's tone in making this discrimination claim more than anything else that conveys Justice Kennedy's disapproval of such private moral beliefs. If he were being objective and neutral, Justice Kennedy should have made it clear that he was not impugning the moral beliefs that led to the anti-sodomy law, since he cannot in his official capacity judge those moral beliefs. Instead, his rhetoric reeks of negative judgment on such moral beliefs. Justice Scalia is quite right to criticize Justice Kennedy so vehemently on this score, upbraiding him for importing his own views into the Constitution rather than remaining a neutral arbiter of various moral opinions in society.
Another problem with Justice Kennedy's discrimination claim and other statements of both Justice Kennedy and Justice O'Connor in their opinions is that they unjustifiably conflate homosexual acts with the status of experiencing homosexual desires. They state in various places the following:
"...that declaration in and of itself is an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination both in the public and in the private spheres."
"The central holding of Bowers has been brought in question by this case, and it should be addressed. Its continuance as precedent demeans the lives of homosexual persons."
"Texas’ sodomy law brands all homosexuals as criminals, thereby making it more difficult for homosexuals to be treated in the same manner as everyone else."
"Texas argues, however, that the sodomy law does not discriminate against homosexual persons. Instead, the State maintains that the law discriminates only against homosexual conduct. While it is true that the law applies only to conduct, the conduct targeted by this law is conduct that is closely correlated with being homosexual. Under such circumstances, Texas’ sodomy law is targeted at more than conduct. It is instead directed toward gay persons as a class. 'After all, there can hardly be more palpable discrimination against a class than making the conduct that defines the class criminal.” Id., at 641 (Scalia, J., dissenting)' "
The jusices continually speak in terms of "homosexual persons" when, to the extent they and the relevant anti-sodomy statutes are addressing a class of persons at all and not simply a type of voluntarily chosen behavior, they are only speaking of those persons of homosexual orientation who choose to engage in homosexual activity and who wish to justify morally such behavior. As someone who experiences same sex attraction who chooses not to engage in homosexual activity, I personally find extremely offensive these stereotypical presumptions that homosexual persons will engage in homosexual activity, desire to justify such activity morally and wish such activity to be for them the center of the "mystery of life," particularly as these statements appear to represent an "official" view of homosexuality of a branch of the United States government. A homosexual may have a deep seated and unchosen inclination to homosexual sex, but still he has free will and need not engage in homosexual acts. Blurring of the logical distinction between voluntary acts and the status of homosexual attraction is a common trick of gay activists used to gain acceptance of their behavior. Now the Supreme Court has given Constititutional imprimatur to this logical and philosophical falsehood and deception. As Christians, we know that tolerating and respecting a person does not and cannot mean condoning sinful behavior. Homosexual activity is not inevitable, and it is unfair of the court to define us by actions that we may or may not take even though we might be inclined or tempted.
The gay activists do not and have no right to speak for all persons with same sex attraction, and neither Justice Kennedy, Justice O'Connor, nor the Supreme Court itself has any right to presume that all persons with same sex attraction conduct homosexual acts, wish to morally justify such acts or agree that anti-sodomy statutes "demean" their lives, make it "difficult" to be treated the same as others, or subject them to discrimination. As I choose not to engage in homosexual activity, justify such activity or make my sexual urges the center of my public identity, I reject the application of any of these conclusions of the court to myself. When they use the words "homosexual persons" or "all homosexuals" they are simply as a matter of fact not referring to me.
Civil Same Sex Marriage
The gay activists are currently seeking to do another end run around democracy and seek the judicial imposition of same sex marriage. This is expected soon in Massachusetts, in the wake of similar judicial activism in Canada. As with the decriminalization of sodomy, there is a somewhat colorable libertarian justification for civil same sex marriage. Those who are not members of a same sex "marriage" are not directly hurt by those who misguidedly pursue this concept, so perhaps they should be free to do so. However, the libertarian argument is much weaker in the case of civil same sex marriage than in the case of decriminalization of sodomy. For one thing, same sex couples are already free to live in virtual marriages. There is no law whatsoever that prevents two persons of the same sex from setting up housekeeping. The aim of proponents of same sex marriage is not to obtain freedom to engage in a relationship. Nor is the aim the relatively minor issue of equality of benefits with married couples. What the proponents most want, and what the opponents should if they are rational most object to, is the imprimatur that the state will give to sexual relationships between those of the same sex through civil marriage. Indeed, the fact that the proponents only want to privilege a sexual relationship between two persons of the same sex, and not a chaste platonic relationship between two such persons, demonstrates that civil same sex marriage is really all about getting the state to endorse and promote homosexual activity. And it is precisely this that makes same sex civil marriage so unacceptable. Homosexuality is a complex moral issue about which people are legitimately entitled to hold different moral and religious beliefs. For the state to remain neutral on the issue of the morality of homosexual activity is perhaps prudent and justifiable in the absence of societal consensus, but for the state to promote and encourage an activity that many feel is immoral is not a justifiable government interest. Civil heterosexual marriage, on the other hand, has a clear and legitimate public purpose, i.e., the encouragement of stable families that are best environment for children. Perhaps if it were still permissible for the state to regulate public morals, deterrance of promiscuity by homosexuals might be a justifiable government purpose for civil same sex marriage, but I have not heard it being so justified by gay activists, and of course in the wake of Lawrence, who is the government to legislate morality?
Of course most of the debate on civil same sex marriage does not focus on these real issues. It is a battle that is ugly and unpleasant and is likely to become increasingly so. The debate tends to reduce itself to competing bigotries and mudslinging, pitting hatred against persons who experience same sex attraction (as opposed to the sinful activity) against those who hate traditional religious believers. However one feels about same sex marriage, it is indisputably a major departure from the law and philosophy of marriage as it has existed in almost all civilizations at all times heretofore, and people, including elected officials, have a right to be opposed to it and express such opposition. Nevertheless, the thought police in the media and the societal elite immediately pounce on and vilify persons such as the Pope, President Bush and others who dare to speak out publicly against same sex civil marriage.
While proponents are right to denounce hatred of persons with same sex attraction where it truly does appear, they should recognize that objecting to homosexual behavior is not the same thing as hatred of persons. They should recognize that not all opponents are motivated by hatred of persons, but by deep moral beliefs about what is right and wrong behavior and what kind of behavior the government should and should not encourage. Opponents of civil same sex marriage for their part should make it absolutely clear and repeat ad infinitum, and even in the face of vilification, mudslinging and bad faith distortion by the opposing side, that they do not support prejudice against persons with same sex attraction and are willing to tolerate and respect them, but that they merely object to government promotion of homosexual activity. The Church and Christians in particular must keep strictly to the essential doctrine of hating the sin but loving the sinner, and making sure to cover both bases in every pronouncement on the issue of same sex marriage. Moreover, the Church must constantly emphasize that God loves and is merciful to sinners who repent, that all are called to holiness, chastity and purity, that chastity is an inestimable good and divine grace freely available for all, including those with same sex attraction, and that chaste friendship is a wonderful and blessed thing.
Since a rational debate focussing on the real issues is unlikely, I for one am going to avoid all news and commentary on same sex marriage henceforth. I am just tired and disgusted at the lies, distortions and animus present on all sides. I have stated what I think and will retire from the field.
Public "Gay" High Schools
As with civil same sex marriage, I believe government sponsorship of “gay” only high schools, as has just occurred in New York City, is profoundly wrong. First, many high school students may be unsure of their sexuality, and it is too early an age in my view for people irrevocably to categorize themselves as homosexual. Moreover, I think encouraging segregation of those with same sex attraction into a gay ghetto separate from the broader community is unhealthy. Isn't diversity supposed to be a positive good in education? In addition, I believe it illegitimate for the government to endorse one particular moral view on homosexuality by establishing a school that by its very nature encourages those with same sex attraction to make their sexual urges their primary public identity. And if the government is going to justify such a single perspective school on libertarian grounds, then it is unfair for the government not to allow funding through vouchers of religious schools for those who choose to bring up their children according to a particular religious world view. As with public school sex education generally, I think it is an unconstitutional establishment of a religion for the state to teach children, in possible conflict with their religious beliefs, that certain types of sexual activity (e.g., sex outside of marriage or homosexual activity) is morally acceptable. I believe that the state has no right to impose its moral beliefs on such controverted issues.
Of course the desire to oppose bullying in school is stated as the justification for the establishment of the "gay" high school in New York City, as it is for the teaching in public schools that homosexual behavior is morally acceptable, but bullying can and should be combatted without the need for the government to give its imprimatur to homosexual behavior. Bullying is certainly wrong and a schoolyard problem to be addressed, but bullying can be directed against anyone for whatever reason, be a person effeminate, fat, freckled, acned, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, Moslem or whatever. What needs to be taught in schools is non-violence and toleration generally of all persons, not that one must agree with behavior one disapproves of or that only violence against a particularly favored group is wrong. As with so-called "hate crimes" legislation, some types of victims are deemed more worthy than others in the modern approach. By all means let schools teach tolerance, but tolerance means live and let live, not that one has to change one's moral beliefs about standards of behavior.
It should be mentioned that, to the extent bullying and taunting are directed against visibly effeminate males, such persons are not necessarily and cannot be presumed to be homosexually attracted. In addition, it should be noted that even the most enlightened and laudable social engineering schemes will be unlikely to eliminate entirely schoolyard bullying and taunting. It may be regrettable, but the school of hard knocks is one that we all must attend at some time or another, and truth that it teaches us is that life is not always fair and that human nature is damaged by original sin and not fully perfectible here on earth.
The Christian Church
Even if society and the state have set their cannons against Christian sexal morality, surely in a free society cannot we be safe from the ideological promotion of lust in Christian churches? Alas, we can no longer be entirely safe from the moral infection even in our churches. In this day and age we cannot assume that any Christian clergyperson, whether Protestant or Catholic, will uphold or teach the standards of Christian sexual morality. Certainly the mainline Protestant churches have been at the forefront of the abandonment of Christian moral truth. Most recently and visibly, the Episcopal Church in the United States has rewarded with a bishopric a cleric who has without remorse abandoned his marital vows and responsibilities to wife and children in order to pursue illicit sexual urges. At the same time, that church has also seen fit to endorse blessings of same sex sexual relationships. Of course I am not a member of the Episcopal Church, and in a free country members of that church have every right to toss out Christian moral teaching and invent a new non-Christian religion if they so choose. However, it is sad to see separated brethren in Christ grow yet further away from the fullness of Christ's truth.
Even our Catholic Church is not immune from voices that wish to promote sexual immorality. Groups such as Dignity, Soulforce and the Rainbow Sash movement wish to deny freedom of religion and assembly by disrupting Catholic worship services in order to force the Church to change her moral teaching -- something she just cannot do since that teaching is part of divine revelation. Catholic periodicals like the Jesuit weekly "America" print theological justifications for sinful acts of homosexuality and openly dissent from Catholic teaching. The recent priestly pedophilia scandal has demonstrated that even the grace of the sacrament of ordination will not ensure that clergy and prelates rise above sinful inclinations and practice and preach Catholic moral teaching on sexuality. If the time ever comes when the Pope or an Ecumenical Council proclaims officially a change from the apostolic teaching that sex is only appropriate and blessed within the context of a lifelong marriage between a man and a woman and sinful outside of that context, then the Roman Catholic Church will have apostasized from the faith, and those of us faithful to the divine teaching would need to look elsewhere for the true church of Christ.
- Posted Aug 12, 2003
All in all, the current situation seems rather bleak. The “gay" agenda appears a triumphant colossus bestriding society and sweeping away all in its path. This agenda is likely ultimately to win the civil same sex marriage debate. We who are believers will probably need to resign ourselves to and tolerate the visibility and political might of a body of people publicly engaging in and promoting behaviors that we find sinful. And we certainly will need to resign ourselves to having the media, the academy and even the government and various Christian denominations promote such behavior. Despite the necessity of such resignation, we must never give up our beliefs and our faith, since they are given to us by God through Christ and His apostles. No matter what public opinion, the media, academics, the government and even Christian prelates and clergy may say, Christian moral truth tells us that homosexual activity is sinful and wrong and those those who experience homosexual attraction are called to chastity.
As a political matter, traditional religious believers must build their own autonomous spaces where they can live in accordance with their own values free from the pressures of the broader society. We must build upon and emphasize the libertarian aspects of our societal framework and argue unceasingly for the rights of traditional religious believers to freedom of conscience, worship, assembly, association, speech and expression. We have a right to our beliefs and to publicly express those beliefs. Just as open and practicing homosexuals with justification claim the right to live and let live, so should we traditional religious believers have such a right. It is essential that any authoritarian moves of our opponents to deny human and civil rights to traditional religious believers be vigorously opposed. It is necessary to confront and defeat the efforts of certain members of Congress to impose a de facto religious test for public office (specifically as regards religious beliefs on abortion and homosexuality), in defiance of the Constitution. Canada and Sweden have recently imposed chilling restrictions on the rights of Christian believers to speak in public against homosexual activity in accordance with their moral beliefs. Such restrictions would clearly be unconstitutional in the United States, and any effort to impose such restrictions must be challenged at every turn. Finally, efforts by the government to impose its religious views on the morality of various forms of sexual behavior through sex education in public schools must be publicized and condemned. We can certainly hope that once gay marriage and gay adoption are safely "normalized" in society, the gay activists will be a “satisfied power,” and traditional religious believers will be left alone to practice and preach their beliefs in peace. Indeed, we might even dare hope that the hatefilled rhetoric that gay activists commonly use toward traditional religious believers might be replaced by expressions of toleration, respect and agreement to disagree. Nevertheless, we cannot assume that such a happy state will emerge, and we must be willing to defend vigorously our freedoms.
As far as the Church goes, there are still several reasons for hope. The apostolic doctrine on sexual morality remains intact in the Church's most recent authoritative teaching compendium, the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Thus we are still a long way away from having to take the disagreeable step of resorting to schismatic conventicles of the Society of Saint Pius X or such like. Such a day may in fact never arise. Our first and foremost hope against apostasy springs from the fact that we are not relying on sinful men in a human organization, but on God. If the Church were a mere human institution it would have collapsed millenia ago. Rather, we can and must rely on God to keep the faith pure and the Church alive and healthy. Specifically, we can rely on the Lord’s supernatural and scriptural guarantee to Peter, whose successor the Pope is, that the gates of Hell will not prevail against His Church.
A more human reason for hope is that this is the age of the laity. With education so widespread, we are no longer blindly submissive or accepting of whatever the clergy may tell us. Rather, we can think for ourselves and test what is taught by priests and religious instructors against what we know to be authentic statements of the Church’s Magisterium as described in the Catechism. We have the power and the knowledge to discern for ourselves what is merely human fashion and what is the teaching of divine truth handed down from the apostles and authoritatively interpreted by the Magisterium.
Finally, we can also hope that human consciences will ultimately see that man cannot live by lust alone. Sooner or later, people are going to realize just how shallow a life dedicated primarily to sensual pleasure can be. A Christianity that merely preaches slavery to sin will not long survive. The decline of mainstream Protestant churches in recent years would seem to demonstrate that the "if it feels good, do it" theology does not lead to fervent or lasting disciples. And indeed this is what we ought to expect – if we as individuals are not called upon to cooperate with God’s grace in sanctifying our lives, if we as individuals are encouraged simply to be helpless slaves to our lustful instincts, then the pieties of church worship will of course appear boring and a waste of time. One might as well in such case spend one's life in an endless party. Christianity is not simply a matter of free love and social justice, although of course charity and justice are extremely important aspects of the faith. Christian moral teaching may instead be said to have two lungs, to borrow a metaphor used by Pope John Paul II in a different context: one lung consists of outward virtues such as love, mercy, compassion and social justice, and the other lung consists of inward virtues such as personal responsibility, purity, chastity and self-control. Christ put both love of neighbor and purity of heart at the core of his teaching, and holiness must be incomplete for Christians if we do not seek both types of graces and virtues. I fully believe that in the long term, only churches and denominations that breathe with both moral lungs and challenge us to personal holiness as well as compassion for others will thrive.
We are now in a brave new world where virtue is considered vice and vice virtue. In these circumstances, we must remain both tolerant and merciful of individual human foibles and sins as well as steadfast in our belief in Christian moral teaching, which was given to us by Christ through His Church and cannot be changed by opinion polls, the media, the educational establishment, Supreme Court justices or errant clergy. We must continue to trust in God, frequent the sacraments, pray without ceasing, protect our liberties and stay the course.
- Posted Aug 12, 2003
Is "Courage" to be Discouraged? - January 12, 2003
The following is a recent exchange of correspondence I had with a priest who argued that the Courage ministry should not be supported since it is dangerous to single out and bring together in a targeted ministry people with an inclination to a specific type of sin.
[From the priest in question:]
>[I was recently] forwarded a LINK to the "Courage" organization. I was aware that it seemed that "Courage" at least stood for the correct Catholic teaching on homosexuality. They are unlike "Dignity" that appears to be nothing more than some type of Gay "Dating" and meeting agency. "Dignity" is not concerned at all with the state of immortal souls, but like many secular Gay activist groups, it is merely another mouth piece for encouraging behavior that is against Church teaching.
I've taken the time now to research this a bit more. I find a big problem with Courage, at least on the surface. It seems to me that the last thing in the world we need are groups that cater to any particular type of sinful inclinations. It seems to me wrong to encourage people, yes, those who apparently wish to live a chaste and Sacramental life...it is wrong to encourage them to form groups that would constantly "remind" them of this lifestyle and behavior.
Just look this way: the Catholic Church calls all sinners (those involved with sin, and those who have inclination towards ANY form of sinful behavior)....to holiness and to repent: to keep a life of prayer and sacraments, so that they can state close to God and in the state of grace. We don't have special groups for "liars" and "cheats." We don't have special groups for "Catholic sex addicts" or Catholic drug addicts? Do we??? We don't give these "special groups" places to meet in our Churches with "special" Masses and "Chaplains." So why all the focus on one particular type of sinful inclination and behavior...over others?
For that reason, Courage would not be recommended. I would be very interested to hear the experience of anyone who has come across this organization.
Dear Father ______,
You raise some good points in your message, but ultimately I have to disagree with his conclusion. I have never been to a real, live Courage meeting, so my experience is restricted to the internet Courageonline list and my individual contacts by email and in person with Courage members. Yes, I think there is a danger that participation in a group like Courage may cause one to become a bit too obsessed with the whole issue of sexuality. Living in denial of and not bravely facing the fact of same sex attraction if one experiences it is certainly not healthy, but neither is living as if sexuality were the most important part of one's personality and determinative of one's entire identity. That is why I have criticized the "gay ghetto" and "gay pride" mentality on the Courage list in the past (and have received much censure for it). I have struggled alone with same sex attraction for many years before joining Courageonline, and have attained a certain peace in my soul and a means of coping with the inclination to this particular form of sin, with the help of course of God's grace through prayer and the sacraments. I have not yet attended a live Courage meeting as I am not sure whether or not it will be helpful to me in my current state. And I do feel that there is also the danger that it might be an occasion of either temptation or spiritual pride, and that I might be attending for the wrong motives, like wanting to meet friends and impress people, rather than actually seeking support for chaste living.
However, I do feel that it is important in order to live a chaste and happy life that one establish disinterested chaste friendships, and I don't think it illegitimate for the Church to encourage this. The Church's teaching that homosexual activity is sinful is clear, but just when friendship becomes a dangerous near occasion for sin and not a benefit to healthy living is something contextual that each individual will need to determine for him or herself. Friendship can be an excellent means of promoting chastity and need not be a hindrance to it, although in some cases it may be. People need to find out for themselves what works best for them to keep chaste while having a meaningful social dimension to their lives, and I don't see why the Church should rule out or discourage friendships tout court. I also know that I am a fairly introverted person from a family of introverted people, so my tolerance for solitude and lack of social contacts may be higher than others. What works for me in my struggle to follow God's will for me in my moral life may not work for others. Others may have a greater psychological and emotional need for companions in the struggle. And even such a loner as myself has found tremendous spiritual support in the friendships and acquaintances that I have made through Courageonline. Just knowing that there are other people out there who are facing the same issues, and finding faith-filled friends with whom one can talk over issues that one cannot speak with meaningfully or at all with others has brought me tremendous comfort and joy. I do need to take a break from Courageonline once in a while when I find I am getting too obsessive about sexuality issues, but that does not negate the positive benefits I have received from Courage. I feel that this particular ministry has been a channel of God's grace in my life, and I would hope that the Church would endorse rather than censure or eliminate it. Moreover, I don't rule out the possibility that there may come a time when I would feel that I could really use the support for chastity that the attendance of formal regular meetings of a Courage group might provide. Even if I don't currently attend such meetings, I would like to know that they would be available if I did feel the need.
As for ministries targeted at groups with particular issues, including issues relating to sin, I don't see why they are wrong "per se". It seems to me that they would simply address a distinctive pastoral need. Why should not the Church encourage support groups for alcoholics, divorced and remarried Catholics, or abortion survivors, so long as the groups do not actively or tacitly dissent from Church teaching? And why would it be objectionable if groups of faithful in a particular support group not on occasion corporately attend liturgical functions or have dedicated spiritual counselors? It may be that some groups or ministries and their leaders are not informed by Catholic moral teaching or are disobedient to that teaching. In that case, of course the groups and ministries should not be encouraged. However, Courage is not such a group. Courage neither in its aims nor in its practice (to my knowledge) dissents from the teaching of the Church, but rather upholds that teaching by providing support. I certainly do not see Father Harvey, David Morrison or Father Perozich as advocates of dissent against Catholic teaching. Rather, they are bold heralds of Christ's moral truth, making straight in the desert a highway for our God and facilitating the Vatican II Council's universal call to holiness.
I suppose that there is a concern that some might view Courage as a means of establishing potential immoral relationships or meeting partners for engaging in immoral activity. I have no knowledge of whether or not this in fact happens. Certainly I would doubt that anybody participates in Courage with the express intention of seeking opportunities to engage in immoral activity, but perhaps I am naive on that score. Others may have the more innocent motive of meeting friends, but which may result in temptation and unintended immoral activity. Again, I have no facts to support or deny whether this happens and if so, if it is a common occurrence. In any event, I think it clear that being a social club or a supporter of immoral activity is not the goal of Courage, and that to the extent this ever happens in practice, that is an abuse that ought to be addressed, not an excuse to close down a well-intentioned ministry. My very anti-Catholic mother seems to think that the entire purpose of the Catholic clergy is to act as one big procurement agency for pedophile homosexuals. Unfortunately, she identifies the abuse with the entire institution and cannot see the nobler ideals for which holy orders was instituted and toward which it should strive. We should not condemn Courage because of any potential or actual misdeeds of those who may be led to sin as a result of this ministry. My impression and gut feeling is that Courage leads a lot of people to a better and more holy place, and that it would be a very aberrant and unusual situation if Courage were to actually lead someone closer to sin. And those who want to look for companionship and opportunities for immoral activity can look in any number of places nowadays. Shutting down Courage is not going to make it any harder for those who wish to engage in sin to find opportunities to do so in our open society.
While I generally have a profound abhorrence for the militant gay ideology and culture in our society, I don't thing the Church's response should simply be to remain silent on the very real issue of homosexual inclinations and not do anything to address the issue pastorally. If anything, that will simply be a surrender of the entire waterfront to political movements that wish to legitimate and promote sinful lifestyles and activities. I feel that Cardinal Cooke's words to Father Groeschel that the Church should do something to help Catholics with homosexual inclinations remain chaste in accordance with the Church's teachings, which words launched the Courage ministry, are a beautiful testament to how the Church can exercise positive pastoral leadership in the modern world. Those noble clerics and Father Harvey have been vanguards in addressing the problems of living chastely in a pastorally sensitive and doctrinally correct way. Courage, unlike dissident groups like Dignity, New Ways Ministry and, sadly, many diocesan "ministries to gays and lesbians", is not trying to change Catholic moral teaching and discover the "loophole" that will make illicit sexual activity acceptable. It accepts and helps those with same sex attraction to accept the challenge of living a holy and moral life in accordance with God's will in spite of personal inclinations to sin and a difficult societal environment that despises chastity. The mere existence of Courage is a beacon of light that demonstrates that the Church is not simply condemning those with same sex attraction, but loving them as human beings worthy of dignity and encouraging them to lead exemplary moral, holy and chaste lives. Having such a ministry is all the more important as a sign of hope and fidelity to faithful Catholics with same sex attraction, particularly if the Church is going to betray Christ and His teachings by establishing official diocesan "ministries to gays and lesbians" that are silent about or dismissive of the call to chastity and that affirm and promote sinful behaviors and lifestyles and the secular political ideologies of "gay pride" and "coming out". I do hope and pray that the Church will not follow your counsel and take away Courage, particularly if the Church is instead going to provide sin-affirming diocesan ministries to "gays" and "lesbians" instead. The flock deserve the bread of truth and compassion, not the stones that condemn those with same sex attraction to slavery to sin while affirming and celebrating just that result.
Your good thoughts are much appreciated, certainly since you've taken the time to phrase them and word them so well, and in accord with the Church teaching. I've not said at all that COURAGE was against the Church teaching. I never said that. My problem is that I see the potential problems in "alienating" yourself and placing yourselves in a special category. Despite what anyone might say, the Church has not done that before, with any type of inclinations towards particular sins. That the Church allows this now, is not a valid argument: the Church authorities in many parts of the world are practically in schism from the historical faith of Roman Catholicism. I just checked the COURAGE main page (interesting, when I did that awhile ago...I saw that the COURAGE site was really a PORNO site...and I'm glad to see that COURAGE was able to fix that)...but COURAGE had a link and was seemingly speaking of Bishop Gumbelton in Catholic terms...when Rome has said that homosexuals are not proper candidates for ordination. Bishop Gumbelton and his ilk (Untener etc) are leading characters in the moral destruction of many souls. They are friends of Bishop Imesch of Joliet, who is also, a leading character in the dissent problem within the Church.
Catholics must avoid the occasions of sin. That requires us to avoid sinful associations and places, books, readings...whatever...that might lead us or be a source of temptation for us. Again, while homosexuality (inclination) might be a more difficult Cross for some to carry...it is and can be conquered by the grace of God, and remaining close to the Sacraments. I don't see the need for any pre-occupation with this sin, as opposed to others. A person who is afflicted with homosexual inclination, is better off to find a "straight" or heterosexual friend to keep close company with, to participate in healthy sports or other forms of wholesome entertainment...rather than be constantly obsessed with talking about "SSA" as you folks call it...constantly being amongst others who are (as they describe themselves) hurt, vulnerable, chastised by society etc. If you ask me, it spells the recipe for disaster.
In Jesus and Mary,
Dear Father ____,
Thanks for your response. Particular populations have particular pastoral needs. Teenagers should be encouraged to stay chaste before marriage. What is the problem of having groups within the Church that encourage chastity among teenagers, particularly in light of the overwhelming propaganda against sexual purity that is practically in the air that we breathe in this society? What does it matter that there have not been any such groups or ministries before? Please take a look around you and look at what kind of society we live in. Is this society in any way conducive to the practice of Catholic sexual morality? Precisely the opposite. Has the Church done anything to encourage the practice of Catholic sexual morality in recent decades? My impression is no. I have been a Catholic for ten years, and I have yet to hear any sort of homily that promotes Catholic sexual morality or that specifically tells homosexuals that they must remain chaste in accordance with God's law. In my RCIA class ten years ago, there was zero catechesis on sexual morality, nor even a discussion of mortal sin or the necessity to have confession of mortal sins prior to communion. I have not personally experienced it, but I have heard stories from others about priests, both in and out of the confessional, who have told people that that homosexual activity is not a sin, at lest if it is within a "relationship". Here in Boston, we have a clergy among whom the depths of sexual corruption and depravity is sickening, and an episcopate who apparently think these acts are perfectly acceptable, since they have hardly lifted a finger to discipline errant priests. We have several archbishops and bishops in the United States who have established "diocesan ministries to gays and lesbians" that actively or tacitly affirm and promote sinful sexual activity, lifestyles and ideologies. Priests of the Church do nothing to promote natural family planning and preach against artificial birth control, but on the contrary say that it is simply a matter of "conscience" left up to the individual. Souls are suffering from the Church's shameful neglect of teaching and promoting the practice of Catholic sexual morality. In Courage, we finally have a ministry, established from the purest of motives, to teach the faithful Catholic sexual morality for those with same sex attraction and to help those with same sex attraction live chaste lives. Many Catholics who come across Courage are not even aware that their Church condemns homosexual activity as sinful. If it is not through a focussed ministry, how else is the message of chastity going to get out to suffering sinners? Can one really expect the corrupt bishops and clergy of the Church in the US, of whom it has been shown in the past year that they do not care a fig about the teachings on sexual morality of the Church, and who have allowed an entire generation of Catholics to grow up in utter ignorance of what the Church teaches, to promote the practice of chastity among those with same sex attraction? Give me a break. The bishops and clergy have shown through their performance in recent decades that they are utterly untrustworthy when it comes to preaching and practicing Catholic sexual morality. We need Courage to make up for the shameful neglect of the clergy to teach the entirety of truth to the laity.
I completely agree with you about avoiding near occasions of sin, and in fact had raised that point myself in my email with you. However, what is a near occasion for sin may be different for different people. We certainly can make some prudential decisions that would apply across the board, e.g., that homosexual strip clubs and bars should be avoided by everyone as a near occasion of sin. However, if you are saying that simply being around other people should be avoided because of the possibility of sinful temptation to sexual sins, then I think that draws the brush much too broadly. The Church does not require that everyone become a hermit. That is just silliness. It is man's fate that he must interact with other people. Isn't it better that he learn to think and act chastely with regard to other people through a ministry like Courage rather than interact in society not even knowing that one must remain chaste, which will be the result if the Church either remains silent on the issues of homosexuality or merely issues condemnations of homosexuals as persons (rather than of homosexual activity). I can't think of any greater dereliction of pastoral responsibility that this, and indeed that has been what has happened in the past 30 years, and we can see the result! It is perhaps a somewhat heightened danger to have those with same sex attraction together in one place, which is perhaps one reason why I have not personally attended a Courage meeting. However, the danger has to be balanced by the positive aspects of reinforcement of Catholic sexual teaching and support from those who experience similar difficulties. Isn't it better to have a group that is strongly supportive and promoting of Catholic teaching than to surrendur the waterfront to groups that dissent from Catholic teaching and affirm sinful activity? It seems a no-brainer to me.
I agree about it being healthy to find non-ssa friends. Since I have never participated in the "gay" community, I have done this naturally all my life without thinking too much about it. However, I think that is a great idea to healthy living for those with ssa, and I personally would never have thought of that as a theoretical matter unless I had heard of the idea promoted by Courage.
We know that sexual corruption has run rampant in the clergy, without any check from legitimate authority whatsoever. Is the solution to get rid of the clergy? Absolutely not. The solution is purification of the institution so that holy orders can once again shine out as a sparkling symbol of Christ and not a shameful disgrace about which faithful Catholics feel embarassed. By the same token, if there are problems with the Courage ministry, then the solution is to fix the problems, not get rid of this voice for Catholic morality. Furthermore, the problems that you cite are to my knowledge entirely theoretical. Courage meetings have been taking for many years now, and I am not aware of any "disaster" that you fear having taken place. Again I have no knowledge of Courage meetings, but I have never in my connection with Courageonline and the friends I have made through that been in a position of sexual temptation. On the contrary, my faith has been strengthened by the faithful Christian witness I have observed in others.
Obsessing too much about same sex attraction is a danger. With that I agree with you 100%. However, I think part of the Courage message is precisely to warn about that. How are they going to get that message elsewhere? The broader society simply tells people to go the gay ghetto and make ssa one's primary focus in life. Moreover, the friends that I have met through Courage are not people for whom Courage is the overwhelming focus of their lives. All of them have other concerns, interests, jobs, etc.
Finally, I know that some have sent you some rather harshly worded emails. For that I am sorry and crave your indulgence and understanding -- the internet is not always the best means for civil discourse. And after all, Courage has helped many people to lead a more moral and pure life and to grow closer to Christ and the Church in the process -- and your advocacy of closing this beneficial pastoral tool seems to be a step backward to a more uncaring, uncharitable Church that rather than hating the sin and loving the sinner would look like it hates both.
As for the link on the Courage website to the notorious prelate Gumbleton, I have no knowledge of that. Please contact the Courage Office, who may know something about that.
Once again, it has been a pleasure to have this discourse with you!
Have a Happy and Holy Christmas!
- Posted Jan 12, 2003
Will the Bad News from Boston Ever Stop? December 5, 2002
The steady stream of sickening incidents of clerical and hierarchical misbehavior and corruption coming to light in Boston shows no sign of ceasing (see, e.g., the Boston Globe article at "http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/338/metro/More_clergy_abuse_secrecy_cases+.shtml"). Just to take one example (and a fairly unusual one, apparently, for its heterosexual flavor), think of the priest who seduced prospective nuns as part of their "spiritual direction." Is this not like something out of the "Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk," the 19th Century book that we Catholic apologists have always decried as the epitome of anti-Catholic bigotry and hatred? Here is the Church's shepherds allowing and faciliting just the sorts of activities described in that book. When will it all end?
The Boston Globe points out that a certain Bishop D'Arcy (unlike the notorious Bishops Daily and McCormack) repeatedly warned his superiors of the dangers of not addressing these abuse incidents. Yes, it is sad and disgusting that he seems to be the only person with any sense of decency among the Boston hierarchy. I sincerely hope that Bishop D'Arcy (apparently now Bishop of Fort Wayne, Ind.) may get a red hat or at least elevation to an archbishopric for his pains.
Apparently there is a clerical culture in which calling attention to or handling decisively clerical wrongdoing is considered just bad form. Recent events in Arlington, Va. certainly bear this out. It is ludicrous that Bishop Loverde of that diocese should throw the book at Fr. Haley for a minor indiscretion (whistleblowing in private and then in public on a fellow priest's sexual misbehavior), while the hierarchy has continually avoided leadership responsibility by failing to discipline erring priests who commit child sexual abuse and who break their vows and the teachings on sexual morality of the Catholic Church. But why did this culture emerge? Why did more clergymen and hierarchs not speak up against such crimes and wrongdoing? I think I can guess why. No doubt anyone who did have the courage to speak up on clerical wrongdoing, like D'Arcy and Haley, was told in smooth post-Vatican II tones not to be "judgmental." No doubt he was told that we are not supposed to be "rulesy," "rigid" or "legalistic" (particularly when it comes to sex, where after all, the Church may be wrong). No doubt he was told that after Vatican II we have moved beyond "imposing" rigorous standards of behavior on anyone. No doubt he was told that canon law is not particularly important and is certainly not to be honored or valued in and of itself but only for its utility as a rough guideline that helps give some institutional cohesiveness and structure to the faith so that there will be something to hand on to future generations (I actually heard such an explanation of canon law in a sermon once).
This whole scandal shows that the Catholic Church is hardly the authoritarian institution that her liberal critics proclaim. Rather, it shows that there is not enough exercise of legitimate authority within the Church. The current leaders of the Church are apparently not willing or capable of exercising ANY authority to discipline wayward ministers or to hold them accountable for their wrongdoings. There is no commitment to upholding both the preaching and the practice of the moral teaching of the Church by the clergy. There is no commitment to purifying the sons of Levi so that the Church's ministers may be clothed in righteousness. Yet this kind of authority is sorely needed at this time. Disciplining of errant priests is not a matter of "judging" people for their sins. Only God can do that. But on a human level, if someone holds a particular job, they should be held to account for their performance, or they may be fired or disciplined. It is a matter of ensuring that those who have the privilege of holy orders are also complying with the responsibilities of their high calling. The Church has the right and the duty to discipline priests and to enforce their compliance with Church teaching on sexual morality.
- Posted Dec 5, 2002
The Hollowing Out of the Catholic Sacramental System, September 21, 2002
The Catholic sacramental system as it has evolved organically in the Church at least until recent years is a tremendous channel of God's grace and a practical means for us ordinary sinful humans to grow in the holiness, virtue and morality to which God calls us. Having personally experienced the immense spiritual and moral healing graces of the Catholic sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist since my baptism into the Body of Christ ten years ago, I find it hard to believe that the hand of God was not involved in the crafting of such a system. No mere human contriving could possibly have come up with an instrument so well calibrated to the overcoming of our inclination to sin and progressing to seemingly unattainable holiness despite our wills deformed by the effects of original sin. The tangible act of confessing to a priest and receiving absolution makes us feel clean enough to meet God in the Eucharist. Silent confession of sins to God alone or an alleged awareness of an irrevocable election by God because of our faith without regard to works cannot give one the surety of moral union with Christ that the tangible Catholic sacraments impart. And yet, the Catholic faithful of today are in danger of losing this beautiful and holy treasure of Catholic spirituality. The combination of the failure to teach the faithful the moral teachings of the Church with the promotion of a subjective relativistic approach to the need for confession prior to Communion is undermining those moral teachings and cheapening our Eucharistic communion with Christ.
By the words "Catholic sacramental system", I refer to the traditional understanding of the interplay between the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist by which those already initiated into the Body of Christ through baptism and confirmation should confess and receive absolution for all mortal sins on their conscience before partaking of Our Lord's body and blood in the Eucharist (unless of course it is an emergency, in which case a perfect act of contrition is sufficient, so long as one went to confession as soon as one is able). Taking a "false communion" when one has committed a mortal sin on one's conscience and is not in a "state of grace" by having obtained prior absolution is itself an egregious mortal sin.
This system is vital to the Catholic faith, since it reinforces the seriousness of mortal sin and the importance and centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the faithful. The Church, based on Scripture and Tradition, teaches that certain actions are always evil and thus "grave matters", and if committed voluntarily and with full knowledge of their sinfulness, bring death to the soul and hence are mortal sins. Participating in the very life of God through Holy Communion logically requires that actions should have been taken previously to seek God's grace, mercy and forgiveness for such serious transgressions. Just as the soul needs to go through the cleansing of purgatory before she can come directly into God's presence in Heaven, so we should endure a purification and become sparkling clean in the "mini-baptism" of confession before we receive God's body and blood here below. As God well knows, we are none of us perfect and all are inclined to sin because our wills have been made defective as a result of original sin. The Church is therefore not a society of saints, but a school for sinners. Because we are called to holiness and yet are sinners, the Church gives us a tangible method of working to approach this goal, even if we do not attain complete holiness here below. These include teaching the faithful what constitutes evil acts and sinful behavior as well as reinforcing this teaching by requiring auricular confession of mortal sins before Communion.
I was recently living in a parish where the priest not only ommitted the Confiteor from Sunday mass, but the Kyrie as well. It was as if he was afraid to acknowledge the existence of sin and our need for God's mercy. But the problem goes beyond the mere ommission of the Confiteor and the Kyrie in the mass. It extends to the widespread undermining of the Church's traditional understanding of the sacraments. Many of those responsible in the United States for preserving the Catholic faith whole and entire, including priests and religious educators, seem to have put aside the notion that objective mortal sins should be confessed prior to communion. Instead, the notion is promoted that we only need go to confession when we subjectively feel an alienation from God for some wrongdoing that we have done, without reference to whether an act is or is not a grave matter. Such subjective relativism threatens to nullify Catholic moral teaching. Since many faithful are not taught what the Catholic Church teaches about morality, and since there is no longer any expectation that one will be in a state of grace before taking Communion, one can live out a lifestyle based on objectively sinful behavior without ever once being challenged in the Church to follow God's moral laws. For those who dissent against Catholic teaching on sexual morality, such as the gravity of acts of artificial contraception, masturbation, fornication, adultery and homosexuality, this is a laudable situation, and perhaps the undermining of the Catholic sacramental system is primarily the work of those who promote such dissent. But for those of us who hold the Catholic faith whole and entire as handed down from the apostles, this is a sad corruption of the original purity of the faith and a diminishing of the work of moral elevation that has been part of the Church's mission from the beginning.
I recently witnessed an example of this watering down of moral standards and the sacramental system in my own parish when the priest gave a homily that was, to his credit, supposed to be an encouragement for Catholics not to neglect the grace-filled sacrament of reconciliation. He lamented how the lines at the confessional were so short in comparison to the lines for holy communion, and how few people under 50 appeared in the confession lines. However, he then proceeded to undermine everything he had said by stating that, while he like many others was taught to go to confession once a week, and to make a confession before taking Holy Communion, we have moved beyond that mentality now and instead go to confession when we feel that there is some sort of obstacle between us and God. I know that this priest was not exceptional in the modern American Church in stating a subjective standard on the need to go to confession, since that is exactly what I was taught ten years ago in my Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults (RCIA) class prior to my baptism into the Catholic Church. At the time, I thankfully had read enough additional materials about the faith to be aware of the traditional understanding and vowed that I would follow such understanding and not take communion without confessing a mortal sin. I wonder whether I would ever have made a start on overcoming my problems with masturbation and other sexual sins if I had simply listened to the modern views on the sacraments that I was taught in RCIA!
My parish priest and my RCIA instructors may in good faith have thought that by downplaying the importance of mortal sins (especially sexual sins), one is presenting a kinder and gentler version of Catholicism where we don't get hung up on following the rules. The problem with this thinking is that if we entirely pretend that moral rules don't exist, pretty soon we will cease to believe in morality at all and will lose all sense of right and wrong. Priests and religious educators do the faithful no favors in ignoring the reality of objective sin and our need for God's forgiveness. By downplaying sin, one at the same time downplays the importance of growth in virtue and the striving to meet high moral ideals. Moral expectations are lowered to the generally low standards of the society at large. We become slaves to our base desires and will think nothing of using and abusing our own and others' bodies for the fleeting pleasures of the orgasm. Since the wisdom of the world tells the faithful that much of what the Catholic Church teaches as sexual sins are in fact not sins, then people who accept the modern mores on sexual activity will not think they are doing anything wrong. If the need to go to confession is based on subjective rather than objective standards, people imbued with the "modern" spirit of sexual morality will not bother to go to confession. The short lines and lack of youthful participants in the sacrament of reconciliation give evidence of this, for it surely is not the case that there are fewer sexual sins being committed now than in the past.
The change in the function of confession being promoted now within the Church serves to cheapen the sacrament of the Eucharist. If we need no longer apologize to God and the Church for our mortal sins, then we are in effect saying that the inestimable privilege of having God become a part of us and having us become a part of God in Holy Communion is nothing special, but rather just a humdrum pedestrian affair, perhaps just a pious symbol that means only that we are part of a community and that we should engage in social justice programs. Certainly the horizontal community aspect of Communion is important, but it is an effect, not a cause. Communion involves our offering ourselves to God, His offering Himself back to us, and our sharing that gift of grace with others. The source of the grace of Communion is the awesome beneficence of the almighty and transcendental God coming down to earth, taking our human nature, suffering and dying on our behalf, and allowing us to participate in His life. We should be reverent and clean without moral stain when we participate in this Most Blessed Sacrament. Anything less is an insult to Our Lord.
In the Middle Ages, most people felt unworthy of taking the Blessed Sacrament more than once a year, at Easter (when Church law requires that faithful Catholics take Communion). The centerpoint of the Mass was the elevation of the Host. While I am not proposing that we do away with frequent Communion, I think we should step up to the responsibilities that frequent Communion entails -- confessing mortal sins prior to partaking of the Sacrament. We do not have to take Communion every Sunday. If on occasion we are guilty of mortal sin and have not gone to confession, perhaps we can learn from remaining kneeling before Our Lord and God in the Sacrament at the elevation of the Host and not going up to the altar rail. In this age when "pride" and self-esteem is everything, we could all perhaps use a little humility to recognize that we are sinners and that the Eucharist is a tremendous gift that we are not worthy to receive, but for the merciful grace of God. And if we are in situations where we recurringly commit sinful activity, for instance if we are divorced and remarried, or in a sexually active same sex relationship, then we should honor God and the Church by attending mass weekly, but adoring God from where we are and not taking the Sacrament unworthily while we are not in a state of grace.
The proponent of the modern understanding of the sacrament of reconciliation would perhaps argue that our conscience is paramount. While that is certainly true, as far as that takes us. However, while our deepest conscience should be in accord with God's law, we should be humble enough to recognize that we may suffer from a false consciousness induced by various factors from our environment. Therefore, as Catholics we are obliged morally to inform their consciences with the teaching of the Church, giving the assent of faith to what has always and everywhere been taught in the Church as regarding faith and morals, and giving religious submission of will and intellect even to the ordinary magisterium of the Church on matters of faith and morals. Thus Catholics are obliged to accept the teaching of Church on what actions objectively constitutes grave matters. It is not something that good Catholics may simply define for themselves. If one cannot accept in good conscience the teaching of the Catholic Church, then the honest and conscientious thing to do would be to find another religion more compatible with one's objective beliefs, an action to which our free society admits of no hindrance.
The proponent of the modern conception of sacraments might also say that moderns need not confess sexual sins since they have not taught that such actions are sinful. However, while this may excuse the ignorant faithful, I view it as incredibly dishonest and deceitful for ministers and others who have responsible, official positions in the Catholic Church to remain silent on doctrines with which they disagree solely in order to keep the faithful ignorant about what the Church teaches. The faithful have a right to have ministers in the Church who honestly and in good faith believe in and preach openly everything that the Catholic Church teaches.
Perhaps proponents of the modern view would also argue that modern sexual sins are not sins because they are not voluntarily carried out. This is sometimes claimed with respect to masturbation, for example. Personally, I do believe we should be so quick to exclaim that "we cannot help" our behaviors. If anything, we should err on the side of taking personal responsibility for them. Sometimes, of course there may be irresistible impulses, but we should work under the assumption that we do have free will and can choose our particular actions. Habits may be difficult to break, but not necessarily impossible. Saying that we have no control over our actions can over time lead to a shirking of individual moral responsibility and to self-justification of evil acts. God wishes us to overcome evil behavior, and we should not try to justify what in fact we might be able to bring under control if only we tried harder and trusted more in God's grace to help us.
Even if we don't fully overcome, we can still keep making the effort, and God is willing to forgive us through confession at least seventy time seven times (in fact God's mercy is infinite). Some may object that it is demoralizing to commit and confess the same sins over and over. Perhaps it can feel this way on occasion, but still, it is better to keep struggling against what we know to be wrong behavior rather than simply to give into a life of sin without periodically seeking to connect with God. If we fall into the morass of a sinful lifestyle, we will start to justify ourselves, spurn God and call sin virtue and virtue sin. As individuals still suffering the effects of original sin, we are bound to be inclined to sin. That however, does not take away the objective evil of the mortal sins that we commit and our responsibility for specific actions taken.
Some may view the traditional understanding of confession and Communion as being overscrupulous. However, overscrupulosity is a different topic entirely. Being overscrupulous means viewing either venial sins as more egregious than they are or else treating as sins actions that are not sins. I certainly agree that we should not be overly concerned about every minor venial sin, nor treat as sins actions that are not objectively sins. Nevertheless, that does not mean that we should blithely ignore objective mortal sins. The problem of the present day is underscrupulousness, not overscrupulousness. We should hold ourselves to the higher standard that God wishes for us, even if we don't always meet that standard. It is only in striving that we obtain moral advancement.
Another objection may be made that the sexual sins being ignored in the modern subjective approach to the sacrament of confession are supposed to be the least important type of sin. Certainly confessors often console me by saying that such sins are not important. Indeed, non-violent sexual sins probably are less egregious than those that involve violence or death, such as homicide or assault. However, whether an action is a grave matter and hence a mortal sin if knowingly and voluntarily committed simply means that the action has crossed a minimal threshhold of importance. Even though one is closer to the threshhold of veniality than the other, voluntary acts of masturbation and homicide are both mortal sins that kill the soul. Moreover, while sexual sins like masturbation may be of lesser importance, but they are also more common and so need to be addressed more urgently since otherwise the cumulative effect of such selfish acts will render our soul more and more cynical and self-centered. We don't constantly need to take precautions against the house burning down, but we do need to weed our garden regularly or else it will be choked with weeds.
The issue of masturbation is a perfect illustration of the genius of the Catholic sacramental system as traditionally understood and the shambles resulting from the modern subjective view of that system. This pesky sin is a common problem for us males of the species. It certainly was and is a problem for me. Of course nobody ever told me it was wrong when I was young. Nevertheless, despite the fact that I fell into a habit of daily masturbation for years, I always felt that it was an unworthy and selfish pursuit that I should stop. I would never even have begun to start dealing with this problem had it not been for the Catholic sacramental system. Since masturbation has always been taught in the Church to be a grave matter, and since I didn't trust myself to accurately discern whether any particular masturbatory actions were volitional, that basically meant that I confessed all such activity prior to taking Communion. I think with great sadness of the generations of Catholic men that are now being doomed never to know the grace of self-control, of overcoming bad and selfish habits like masturbation, all because they are told only to go to confession if they feel like it, not because they have voluntarily committed an objective grave matter.
The sacraments of penance and the Eucharist have basically changed my life. While I may have the occasional fall, I am no longer a slave to sin. I discovered that I had the access to God's grace that allowed me to take charge of my life and not simply submit to my baser instincts. What a tremendous school for us sinners is the Catholic sacramental system! What joy to find release again and again from the buildup of the carapace of selfish sin and find purification in the merciful cleansing blood of Our Lord!
The Church is in danger of losing for ever this unparalleled jewel with the spread of the view that we need only go to confession when we subjectively "feel" we have done wrong. Once this channel of transformative and life-changing grace is gone, it may be impossible to regain it. Let us not abandon serious and full blooded Catholicism and its call to moral transformation. Let us not surrender to the mere wisdom of this world and a vision of our faith that no longer challenges us to do what is right, but rather simply affirms and blesses what we are doing.
Wake up Catholics to what is being lost!
- Posted Sep 21, 2002
Whose Voice? -- Democracy in the Church, August 8, 2002
In the wake of the recent clerical sexual abuse and cover-up scandals, a group calling itself "Voice of the Faithful" has emerged in the city of Boston, MA calling for more democracy and lay participation in "all aspects" of the Catholic Church under the slogan "Keep the faith, change the Church". While the behavior of some priests and bishops has indeed been scandalous, and more accountability in this area is certainly desirable, this group is not simply trying to the specific problem of sexual abuse and its cover-up. Rather, they are using the anger with the hierarchy and the clergy over this issue as a springboard to try and change the fundamental nature of the Church in terms of governance and, I believe, teaching authority and doctrine itself. As such, I believe that this group should be resisted by those who wish to retain and uphold the Catholic faith, whole and entire. First of all, "changing the Church", even assuming this refers only Church governance, does implicate doctrinal matters such as the teaching authority of bishops and may lead indeed lead to a change in the faith. Second, the group's democratic credentials are suspect. Third, this group's agenda would to appear to include questioning and changing the teachings of the faith.
As modern human beings, it is only natural that we all thrill to the ideal of democracy -- government of the people, by the people and for the people and all that good stuff. However, part of the essence of a democratic society is that people should be allowed voluntarily to form and join subgroups of persons that have similar views on what constitutes the good life and on other matters that concern them. Not everyone will agree with the particular views of any of these voluntary associations. To say that these voluntary associations must themselves allow others who do not share the beliefs or goals of the association to belong and to exercise influence in these organizations is in fact to deny freedom of association to those who fully accept the beliefs and goals of the organization and who merely want to live in peace with their neighbors and practice their beliefs as they see fit. Thus, while democracy and freedom is certainly appropriate for the overall civil sphere, but it is not necessarily appropriate in private voluntary associations.
A religious voluntary association like the Catholic Church cannot be a democracy as regards doctrine, since the whole purpose of the Church is to practice and pass on the teachings of Jesus Christ and His apostles. The content of faith is not determined by opinion polls or ballot boxes. Our Lord chose His apostles and gave them authority by laying hands on them. They likewise taught and handed on to selected disciples their authority through the laying on of hands. You may say that this leads to a self-perpetuating autocracy. But consider that the purpose of this apostolic succession is to preserve and teach the divine revelation to generation after generation. Thus it is a question of a teacher teaching his students and choosing the best of his pupils to preserve and carry on this tradition. The laying on of hands ensures the personal relationship and certification that the individual has learned the authentic wisdom of the faith. This manner of teaching authority is not unique to Catholicism. Many eastern religions have gurus or teachers that attract disciples and create generations of successor gurus and teachers to pass on the wisdom that they have received. In the Jewish religion, the chapter Aboth in the Mishnah, upon which the Talmud is based, sets forth a geneology of rabbis and teachers stretching back to Moses as the foundation for the Oral Torah. Moslem hadith are always carefully recite that so-and-so heard this from so-and-so who heard it from so-and-so and back to the prophet Mohammed.
The subject of Church governance is not devoid of doctrinal substance. As the Vatican II Council's Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, "Lumen Gentium," makes clear, the hierarchical nature of the Church and the apostolic succession was established by Christ. There is some fluidity in the specific arrangements, but at some point radical changes in Church governance to eliminate the teaching and governing authority of the hierarchy and the clergy will change the very nature that Christ intended for His Church on earth and will thus change the deposit of faith and create a new religion.
We would do well to recall that the term "People of God" used by Lumen Gentium is not a synonym for the laity, but includes both the clergy and the laity. Thus, whether we like it or not, all of us on the barque of Peter are in this together, both clergy and laity, with our sinfulness and brokenness and need of the redemption to be found in Jesus the Anointed One. As members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we most certainly do have our share in the sacred priesthood and victimhood of Our Lord. However, this does not derogate from the special role of service of the ordained priesthood. The sacrament of Holy Orders not only ensures a geneology of authentic teaching of the divine revelation of Christ from master to disciple down to the present day. It also also ensures the existence of a special class of persons whose duty it is to re-present the final sacrifice of Christ and channel its graces to all of us through the sacrament of the Eucharist, just as under the elder dispensation a special priestly caste would offer animal sacrifices in the Temple on behalf of the people. Let us also recall that Lumen Gentium assigns a special and unique role to the laity in bringing the good news of Christ to the world through our words and actions in daily life in the world. Just as the clergy has its special ministry, so do we the laity have ours. And of course all the people of God share the universal call to holiness.
In addition, let us keep in mind that the clergy are not given authority in the Church simply to exercise blind power, but rather to be of service to the people of whose souls they hold the cure, just as Our Lord washed the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper. Part of this service is to pass on the deposit of the faith whole and entire, as the apostle Paul says.
Everything I read about this "lay empowerment" group, the Voice of the Faithful, seems to suggest that it sees the clergy and hierarchy in fundamentally antagonistic, "us versus them" terms, as an evil, power-hungry "other" to rally against and to be overthrown by poor, oppressed lay people. VOTF actively encourages the withholding of funds from contributions to the Archdiocese of Boston. The Associated Press reported that a call was made at the recent VOTF conference that Catholics must ``stop enabling through financial support the power structures''. I just think this group's whole approach is a very secular, political way to view the Church. They are seeking a material solution to spiritual problem. I'm mad as the next person about how the hierarchy and the clergy have allowed the abuse of children and have set their vows of celibacy at naught. But I think we cannot simply vilify and overthrow the clergy. Rather we should call the clergy and ourselves to greater holiness of life. If a parent or a sibling committed some great wrong, we may be angry, but should we therefore cease to love them and encourage them kindly to convert back to the practice of the true faith of God and sound moral behavior and teachings?
I'm not sure that the laity of the present day, if given complete authority in the Church, would do any better at teaching and upholding the entirety of Catholic truth than the bishops and priests have done. The laity in the United States by and large seem improperly catechized and, to the extent they even know what the Church teaches, seem in many respects more likely to follow and believe the dominant secular hedonistic philosophies of society, particularly as regards sexual morality, rather than the unchanging teachings of the faith. We see that 85% of the Catholic laity practice artificial contraception, despite the unchanging teaching of the Church that this is a grave matter and thus a mortal sin if done knowingly. I would prefer not to be ruled in the Church by persons who either do not know the teachings and traditions of the Church or who do not value them and think the wisdom of the world superior.
The recent Voice of the Faithful conference was given a huge buildup by the Boston Globe, which cited all sorts of facile comments from people like "the priests made these rules, and if they are not going to follow them then why should I?". If the typical Catholic thinks that the priests simply "made up" moral teachings, then that is a sharp indictment of the utter lack of sound catechetical training of the faithful. The moral teachings of the Church are not simply man-made rules thought up by priests or even by some sinister Grand Inquisitor in the bowels of the hated Vatican. They come from God, whose final revelation of Himself is in the person of Jesus Christ who taught the apostles the deposit of faith, which includes the divine teachings on sexual morality.
If one prefers a presbyterian or congregational model of Church governance, then there are already Protestant branches of Christianity that practice this (and indeed broke off from the Catholic Church precisely to change the form of Church governance). If those who are dissatisfied with the apostolic succession of the episcopacy and the Papal primacy that Christ established as the basis for carrying on His teaching in His Church on earth, then perhaps they could take a cue from their Protestant predecessors and start a new congregational denomination that combines all their preferred teachings. Then perhaps they could leave the Catholic Church to carry on her mission on earth in peace.
Some might ask about whether the ancient doctrine of "sensus fidelium" doesn't allow for some sort of democratic "veto" right on teachings of the magisterium. However, I believe it a false understanding of the "sensus fidelium" to see it as a current opinion poll of the beliefs of those who call themselves Catholic today. It has to be viewed in the context of the entire history of the Christian Church and in connection with the canon of St. Vincent of Lerins that orthodox Christian teaching is that which has always and everywhere been taught and believed in the Church. For instance it was always and everywhere taught and believed in the Catholic Church from the time of the apostles up to 1968 that artificial contraception is evil. There may be no conciliar proclamations or papal bulls on the subject (although the Fathers of the Church did address the issue in some of their writings), presumably because it was usually just assumed. The teaching of Pope Paul VI of pious memory in his encyclical "Humanae Vitae" did not announce new teaching, but merely restating the unchanging teaching of the Church, with refinements of our understanding thereof. I believe our current Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has added further refinements of our understanding. Since this teaching is not something new, but what was taught by the magisterium and believed by the faithful always and everywhere in the Church up until 1968, then it is not accurate to say that Pope Paul VI taught something new that was not "received" by the faithful and which therefore is not binding on the faithful. That in these latter days many who call themselves Catholic pay no heed to this unchanging moral truth on contraception does not mean that the sensus fidelium has rejected the teaching. It simply means that many who call themselves faithful are in fact not entirely faithful to the teachings of the Church and the deposit of faith. I understand that even some Protestant couples are seeing the value of natural family planning, a fact that should put to shame all those theologians and clergy who have done their darnedest to undermine Catholic teaching in this area and reduce it to a mere matter of conscience.
Even in terms of democratic legitimacy, the Voice of the Faithful is severely lacking. I certainly never elected this group to speak for me, and I do not view it as broadly representative of the laity. And can we really be sure that the supposed "lay" input that this group would give to the Church would be the views of ordinary faithful? Might it more likely be those of dissenting Catholic theologians who are desperate to create a "counter-magisterium" that would replace the teachings of the magisterium with the current philosophical fashions endorsing sexual license? Perhaps the role of the Voice of the Faithful is to be the enlightened "vanguard" of the laity the way that the Communist Party was supposed to be the "vanguard" of the proletariat and therefore entitled to exercise dictatorship in its name. I would also note that the VOTF website apparently does not believe in internal freedom of speech, at least of orthodox voices, since it has eliminated its forum section from its website (http://www.votf.org), apparently due to "inappropriate" messages voicing orthodox Catholic sentiments.
I think there is perhaps a need for a pressure group of Catholics loyal to the teachings of the Church to encourage bishops to uphold the sound doctrine and discipline among the clergy and to prevent the continue public ministry of known child abusers. Such a group could specifically state that they are faithful to all the teachings of the Catholic Church, but wish to address ways in making sure that the problem of priestly sex offenders is addressed openly and not covered up in the future. However, the Voice of the Faithful's website and mission statement nowhere claim that the group is faithful to all the teachings of the Catholic Church. The website merely talks about promoting lay participation in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church, which ambiguous phrase could of course include by implication participation in decisionmaking on Church doctrine.
I do believe the leaders of Voice of the Faithful are motivated by a desire to overturn teachings of the faith, especially those as regards sexual morality, although they will at first try to be very quiet about that. At this point, they will focus solely on matters of Church governance, with occasional but ever increasing calls to abandon the discipline of celibacy and to allow female ordination. On the issue of eliminating celibacy and female ordination, there is plenty of advocacy of these at the www.votf.org website. In addition, one of the agenda items of the recent VOTF conference listed on that website was "Facing the Gender and Sexual Issues in the Priesthood".
I would note that one of the scheduled speakers was a certain Debra Haffner, who apparently used to be the president of a group called the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (http://www.siecus.org), which produced a statement on sexuality that is completely at odds with the Catholic Church's teaching on sexuality as exemplified in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and which apparently even promoted childhood sexuality. Ms. Haffner is reported by Dr. Laura Schlessinger in the Jewish World Review as having stated that "...no matter what gender orientation you have -- bisexual, transgender -- no matter what sex you are, no matter what age you are, no matter what marital status you are, no matter what sexual orientation you are, you have a right to sex." I submit that a group that includes conference speakers who promote childhood sexual activity are ill-suited to be a body that calls Cardinal Law to account for failure to stop the continuing child abuse of Father Shanley.
Finally, I take offense at priests (such as my parish priest) who pronounce that the Voice of the Faithful is "prophetic", i.e., an oracle of God. Public revelation ceased with the death of the last apostle, St. John the Evangelist. I am not required to accept the teachings of any subsequent "private revelations" or the teaching of anyone other than the authentic teaching authority of the Church that resides in the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. Why is it that only dissidents against orthodox teaching are called prophetic? Why are not voices calling all Catholics to turn back to the fervent practice of their faith in all its entirety prophetic? Who determines what voices are prophetic and what voices are blackballed, particularly if one rejects any authoritative teaching role for the magisterium? And what about those of us who do not want to join a new religion, but simply want to be part of the Church of Jesus Christ of the ages? What about those of us who don't want to be part of a Rahnerian Futurechurch that embraces the wisdom of the world and allows people to engage in their wildest sexual fantasies guilt free? In a society where there is freedom of religion, are we not allowed a voice as well? Are we not allowed to live and worship unmolested in the Church as we have always known it and in the entirety of whose faith we believe?
The true solution to the clerical sexual abuse and episcopal cover-up scandals is for all persons in the Church -- bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity alike -- to embrace more closely the life of holiness in Christ that our faith has always called us to. None of the instant crisis would have happened if priests were to be faithful to their calling and their vows of celibacy and chastity, and if bishops were to exercise correct discipline over clerical wrongdoing and not be afraid of preaching and upholding Catholic moral truth. No change in Church governance is going to change behavior of sinful mankind, only the conversion of hearts to Christ and a new resolve to follow His will.
I will rely on the Holy Spirit to preserve the Church and the deposit of faith, because I cannot rely on sinful men, be it bishops and priests who do not protect children or value purity or morality, or dissenting laypeople who if they were being honest would recognize that they are not immaculate themselves.
- Posted Aug 8, 2002
Gay Pride, July 2, 2002
Last weekend apparently was the culmination of "Gay Pride" month, with the usual massive parades in major cities of the United States of America celebrating sexual promiscuity and public indecency. I have a very close Courage brother, dedicated to the chaste life, who simply laughs off these shenanigans and considers them as being beneath the dignity of notice or attention. I wish I could do that too, but I'm afraid I can't be so sanguine about an event that so brazenly encourages sinful behavior and that seems to attract the participation of so many people as well as the approbation of society's leaders. It disturbs me that so many would think so little of their blessed humanity, created as they are in the image and likeness of God, and instead demean their dignity by participation in these profane revelries. I cannot simply dismiss these people as irredeemably reprobate. While we are all sinners and cannot act smugly superior, we must not be afraid to call sinful behavior by its name, as otherwise those involved in a sinful lifestyle would not have a chance to know that there was something better. We must pray for participants in "Gay Pride" parades and call them to repentance. May they and we ourselves find freedom from the slavery of sin and escape into the glorious freedom of the children of God in Christ!
While I always try to avoid "Gay Pride" events, I confess that I have had the misfortune of seeing such a parade at first hand. Once when I lived in New York City, I had to work the day of "Gay Pride" and had no choice but to try and cross Fifth Avenue during the festivities to get to my office. What I saw was downright indecent and obscene. People were prancing about with practically no clothes on, and others were being catcalled and viewed as sexual objects rather than with the respect due to other human beings. There was even simulated sexual activity. These benighted people were making themselves into animals consisting of nothing more than a sex drive. They certainly were not celebrating the fullness of their humanity, but were denying it in a singleminded focus on lust.
Moreover, the parade participants were simply reinforcing the stereotype that those with same sex attraction are promiscuous, sex-driven creatures who "cannot help themselves". I've always found such stereotypes insulting to those of us with same sex attraction, but these parades do nothing to belie them.
Even if one does not accept the Catholic Church's teaching on the sinfulness of homosexual activity, surely one can still object to the promiscuity and public indecency of these parades. Are those of us with same sex attraction to be considered exempt from any expectations of even basic morality or public decency?
To think that half a million people in San Francisco participated in such a pageant of promiscuity this past Sunday (the sabbath no less, no doubt in deliberate mockery of traditional religious believers)! It is just too depressing for words and makes me want to revoke my membership of the human race and flee to the Egyptian desert and be a hermit! Why are so few outraged by such a sign of the continuing moral decline of our society?
Besides the promiscuity thing, I object to the whole notion of "gay pride" as a concept. Same sex attraction is not chosen (at least I certainly did not choose to experience it, and I am not sure why anyone would). A personal trait that is not chosen is nothing of which to be proud. It is of absolutely no personal merit whatsoever. Merit is based on the actions we do and the behavioral choices we make, given our fixed proclivities and the environment that we find ourselves in. I might as well be proud of the fact that I have brown hair or that I have brown eyes.
And even if one wants to be proud of unchosen personal characteristics, I think it ignoble and unworthy to isolate one's sex drive and elevate that to the defining aspect of one's personality. I am proud to be a human being with a capacity for reason and ethical behavior. I am not proud of having a sex drive. Everybody has one of those, as do the beasts of the field. As a human, I am better than a beast of the field. The gay activists want to reduce us to that level. The mindset that bases one's whole identity on the pursuit of sexual gratification is a matter for shame, not pride. I am proud that I endeavor to live a chaste life in spite of my sinful proclivities, and am grateful if my sexual challenges allow me to grow closer to God. That is about the most I can say about same sex attraction and "pride", which after all is the gravest of the seven deadly sins.
Some say that "gay pride" is important not for the bawdiness, but because it protests injustice against homosexuals. Putting aside the appearance that the parade seems more a matter of promiscuous sex and lust than a matter of political protest, I would have to ask what exactly is meant by the term "injustice" here. If by injustice one means unjust discrimination against those with same sex attraction merely as a result of their inclination divorced from homosexual activity, then I might agree (although I do think that an openly sexually active homosexual would be disruptive in the military and would be a bad moral influence as a school teacher in a religious school, or as a boy scout troop leader, and may in those narrow categories be justly discriminated against in my view). If by injustice one means the belief of almost all traditional religions that homosexual activity is sinful, then I cannot concur. In a society of religious freedom, one has a right to believe that homosexual activity is sinful. If one chooses to follow a religion (which one is allowed to do in our country), then it is no injustice for that religion to say that one must refrain from certain volitional acts. No one is fated to commit any act -- there is always an element of choice as to whether or not any individual at any specific time engages in homosexual activity.
Furthermore, I don't think in current day society that practicing and promoting homosexuals are generally speaking victims or are treated unjustly. Certainly having same sex attraction is an emotional and psychological burden, as I would be the first to attest. And certainly there are ugly hate crimes on occasion, although I personally think that these would be a lot less if gay activists were not so "in your face" all the time. But in any event, the answer to the hateful actions of a misguided few are not to blame Christians and their beliefs. The jerks who killed Matthew Shepherd are just that, jerks, and they have to take individual responsibility. It is unfair to hold the religious belief that homosexual activity is sinful as responsible for the death of Matthew Shepherd, since any good Christian would know that one must hate the sin but love the sinner. Clearly these murderers were not good Christians. The answer to hate crimes is to call Christians to follow their own teachings and love the sinner and hate the sin. To simply demonize Christians tout court is simply to promote hatred of Christians.
On the whole, practicing and promoting homosexuals are one of the most privileged (and economically well off ) classes in modern society. Nobody is seriously preventing them or even talking about preventing them from engaging in promiscuous activity or from shacking up with lovers. Indeed the media and popular culture glorify all these activities. The political and cultural establishment bends over backwards to enact every tenet of the gay political agenda, and to inculcate the gay activist ideology in public schools. Gay marriage and adoption is likely to be the norm in most states of the Union ere long.
An example of the privileged position of practicing and promoting homosexuals in our society is that it is not possible nowadays to criticize them and their ideology publicly without being demonized by the political correctness thought police. Everywhere one looks, gay activists are trying to deny First Amendment rights to traditional religious believers. Just look at how they tried to eliminate the freedom of speech rights of Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Just look at how freedom of association is threatened when it comes to the Boy Scouts or Christian groups meeting on college campuses (see www.thefire.org for details). Just look at how Soulforce members are trying to disrupt religious assemblies of most Christian denominations. Michelangelo Signorile rejoices in the fact that an "ex-gay" conference was banned at the Catholic University of America, thus denying individual freedom of choice for those individuals who wish to find out what resources are available to help experience diminished same sex attraction.
Gay activists don't argue for tolerance or "live and let live", but rather claim permanent victim status and argue that the state and society must publicly affirm their sexual activity. For that to happen is not to correct injustice against homosexuals, but to create an injustice against traditional religious believers, who have a right to believe that homosexual activity is sinful.
I am perfectly willing to live and let live, so long as the gay activists extend the same courtesy to traditional religious believers. I certainly would not advocate restricting these parades (although I do think that the government has a duty to curb public nudity). I am rather voicing a substantive objection to these parades, which my First Amendment rights entitle me to do as much as any other citizen. I am issuing a public lament about what a corrupt and sinful society we have, where sexual promiscuity is celebrated and promoted so openly and brazenly. Vice nowadays is not seen as merely a regrettable human failure, but is rather flaunted ideologically as a virtue. While we must be compassionate and loving with individuals caught up in sin, I believe we must speak out publicly in the realm of ideas against the ideology of hedonism that currently reigns in the culture.
Another thing that upsets me about "Gay Pride" parades, but which for some reason very few other people seem to get upset about, is the fact that societal leaders, who should be moral examples to all and who should promote virtue, instead celebrate and promote promiscuity by participating in these parades. These displays of debauchery are
enthusiastically endorsed by our political leaders. Mayors of New York and Senator Clinton have appeared in them. Ian McKellen, whom I had admired in the Lord of the Rings, was Grand Marshall of the San Francisco parade and thus was endorsing public indecency and spitting on virtue!
We have to face the cold, hard reality that we live in a society where all the major institutions of power, including politicians, academia, the media, teachers' unions, gay activist lobbying groups, etc., are promoting these decadent orgiastic revels and the whole mindset that creates them rather than trying to encourage virtue, holiness and the spiritual life. And now even within the Church we have official organs such as the the Cleveland Archdiocesan "Family Ministry to Gays and Lesbians" participating in "Gay Pride" events and promoting this sort of behavior and ideology.
It certainly is disheartening for those of use struggling to live virtuous lives (not always successfully of course) not only find no support, but find that society and increasingly elements in the Church condone and promote homosexual promiscuity. If the trajectory of the Episcopal Church in the USA is any prediction of where the Catholic Church is going, the Rock of Peter is going to need some pretty serious intervention of the Holy Spirit in order to keep the Gates of Hell from prevailing!
Some say that I am focussing unfairly on homosexual bawdiness while ignoring rampant heterosexual bawdiness in our society. Let me add in haste therefore that I agree 100% on the inappropriateness of the
increasingly brazen displays of immodest heterosexual behavior that one sees everywhere. Certainly if "spring break" for modern college students is anything like it is portrayed on MTV, we are a very sick society indeed. But heterosexual sinfulness and wrongdoing does not excuse homosexual sinfulness and wrongdoing.
Some say that I need to lighten up. While this may often be kindly meant, I feel that in a way such a statement can be a means of silencing my dissenting viewpoint. Obviously in one sense, to "lighten up" as regards moral matters is to say that moral principles are not very important. I sincerely believe that homosexual promiscuity is being celebrated at these "Gay Pride" events, that such promotion is wrong, and that I have a First Amendment right to express my opinion about it in hopes that some at least may turn from their evil ways.
What about religious alternatives to "Gay Pride" marches? Some say that we should not criticize the practicing and promoting homosexualists with their bawdy public orgies, since religious folk have their public processions. The coexistence of Mardi Gras and Eucharistic Processions in New Orleans was pointed out to me as one possible paradigm.
All I can say in response is that it would be great if there were religious alternatives to "Gay Pride", but I don't really see it happening much. I don't see anybody parading for chastity, although I certainly think that is a noble cause. Nobody dares, because they will be demonized as "homophobic"
and "hatemongers" by the gay activist experts at character assassination.
As for more general religious processions, where the heck are they? Sure there is the occasional papal rally, but I don't see regularly a lot of public Catholic religious events. When I was baptized into the Catholic Church ten years ago, I was looking forward to Corpus Christi processions and the like. I have yet to see a single public procession as a Catholic in the United States. Apparently that was part of the baby that was thrown out with the bathwater after the Vatican II Council. While some may be lucky to live in places that have preserved the tradition of public religious processions, I think most of us in the USA at least do not. Isn't it ironic that any hint of triumphalism in the Church must be avoided at all costs, while the public triumphalism of gay activists is to be encouraged and praised.
OK, I've now gotten this rant out of my system. However, as has been quite rightly adverted to me, I should make it absolutely clear that one should not view participants in "Gay Pride" parades as enemies. The real enemies in this situation are the spiritual forces at work in the world for the ruin of souls. Thus, we must first of all pray and follow God's commandments ourselves in order to help thwart the Devil and his minions. Most importantly, we must not bear hatred for practicing and promoting homosexuals, but rather must love them. And we can show love to these poor misguided slaves to sin by helping to lead them out of bondage, showing compassion to the individual sinner and gently pointing out the error of their ways.
How sad that such persons have bought into all the lies on the need to participate in selfish homosexual sex! Like Jesus, we can pity them that they have no solid shepherds to lead them in the paths of virtue and holiness. We need to find ways of telling them that all of us are precious in God sight because we are human beings. We need to say that we humans are noble in God's sight not because of our sex drives, but because we have the capacity to bring our sex drives under control through reason and ethical behavior. We need to get across that our bodies are precious temples of the Holy Spirit, and thus to cheapen them with public immodesty and casual sex is to insult the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. We need to speak out that through His Incarnation as a human being, Christ has blessed and sanctified our fleshly bodies. We must preach the transformation of matter by encouraging the actualization of the spiritual potential inherent within it, rather than giving primacy to matter and matter alone by indulging in fleshly lusts! We must highlight that sexual activity is only divinely ordered when it is a complete giving of self in a lifelong marriage between a man and a woman not unnaturally closed to the creation of new life. We must encourage those of us for whom marriage is unlikely to take our sexual energies and use them in positive, innocent and unselfish pursuits, not in selfish sexual indulgence. We must proclaim that God wants us all to improve ourselves morally, and freely gives us grace to help us do so if only we would cooperate with Him.
Perhaps some in the teeming throngs at these parades might be like a Courage brother of mine who formerly participated in the gay "deathstyle" and who experienced pangs of conscience in the midst of the den of iniquity that is a "Gay Pride" march. Let us pray that such is the case!
We believing Christians cannot afford simply to ignore or turn our back on "Gay Pride" parades and those who participate in them, nor can we in good conscience affirm this behavior. We must pray for all of us humans afflicted with addiction to lust and offer examples of selfless love and virtuous behavior that will help to win souls back to the path of righteousness. We must continue to call down God's grace upon us and them, through prayer, good works and the sacraments. It's not sexy, but it is the necessary work we as Christians are called to do.
- Posted Jul 2, 2002
Some Thoughts on Romantic Love, July 1, 2002
It is good to remember that human companionship and friendship may be had without taint of sinful sexual
activity. Nevertheless, I can certainly understand those who say that we seem to have implanted within us this desire to love and be loved in a romantic way. Why God has implanted this desire, I am not really sure, and I'm not sure any of us will
fully understand God's ways before reaching our heavenly homeland. However, I have some thoughts on the matter from my own experience that I will share with you all (although I fully realize that you may not necessarily be interested in my particular experience! :-).
I went through college and law school having a series of intense crushes on individuals. Nothing was ever acted upon or even discussed with the objects of my infatuation beyond the subtlest of flirting. Mainly it was just a matter of intense admiration from a distance. By the time I left law school and entered the working world, the imprint of my final infatuation in law
school remained engraved on my heart. I have never felt a new romantic infatuation for anyone else in the twelve years since graduation from law school, except for perhaps the faintest glimmering when I was dating my former girlfriend. Even though I was not in the same city as this person and did not know the individual personally, I had for years the most intense feelings welling up in my heart for them. After a few years, I couldn't stand it any more, tracked down the person's address and foolishly wrote them a letter, and soon another and another. Of course the letters went unanswered. Eventually I reached the conclusion that this infatuation
was utter foolishness, and that I was simply wasting too much time and energy on an unreal fantasy. Acknowledging the cold, hard reality of the world demanded that I put this nonsense away and stop wasting away my life with my head in the clouds. I more or less did this, and I have to say I think it was good for me in the long run to put a stop to my excessive romantic imagination. However, even now, on occasion I still have intense and warm romantic feelings toward this person as I do for no one else. I try not to indulge these too much, but I do once in a while, in the full knowledge that it is an intense but by dint of circumstances fully chaste
affection. But I was wondering the other day, why God would have allowed me to have these feelings that were never to be fulfilled here on earth? The only thing that made any sense to me was that perhaps the Lord was training me to love another chastely and selflessly, to show me the intensity that love can have, and to give me a foretaste and type of the intense love for Christ that is developing in me and will reach its full fruition when I behold Him face to face in all eternity.
Anyways, I don't know for sure why we feel romantic attraction, but I
suspect that somehow in the long run, it is at least in part to help to
bring us closer to the source of all Goodness and Love, the burning furnace of Love that is our God.
- Posted Jul 1, 2002
Earnest Exhortation to Persevere in Divine Truth, June 28, 2002
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In these trying times there are so many voices, even within the Church, that seem to be more imbued with the wisdom of the world than with God's eternal truth. We must remember that the Church rests upon God's divine teaching, even if human sinfulness sometimes tarnishes her earthly embodiment. I can remember what a feeling of joyous liberation from slavery to sin that I felt being baptized into the Catholic Church ten years ago, and it makes me sad that future generations may not be able to feel that joy if the Church were suddenly to drop the teaching of Christian truth on sexuality and adopt the wisdom of the world that homosexual activity is good and to be celebrated.
There is a wonderful passage in James' epistle:
"Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
I will try to remember this as my heart sinks every time I look at the every installment about the clerical scandal in the Church. We can and must persevere in the path of divine truth, regardless of what others say. Remember St. Athanasius, who persevered in proclaiming the divinity of Christ even though it was denied by the powers that be and by the accepted wisdom of the chattering classes (and no doubt the contemporary media) of Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople. Let's remember "Athanasius contra mundum" in this dark hour of moral heresy!
And sometimes there can be consolations -- I have been very upset about the horrible things Andrew Sullivan has been printing about the Catholic Church, and I have sent several emails to him. He actually responded to one nicely but saying that he disagreed. So I wrote back the following:
"Thanks for your kind email. I pray that someday we may agree on the beauty and holiness of the Christian virtue of chastity and the truth of the apostolic teaching that sex is holy and good only in a completely self-giving and potentially life-creating act in a lifelong marriage between a man and a woman. I can only fantasize that someday someone with same sex attraction and your media celebrity would be speaking up publicly on behalf of Christian truth on sexuality rather than trying to tear it down in conformity with the wisdom of the world. Oh well, I can always dream!"
I know I was pressing my luck and that it probably won't do any good, but just maybe the seed of truth might take root! We can always pray. Anyways, the Church is ultimately in God's hands, not ours, and we are primarily responsible for our own conduct and perseverance in the moral truth.
Hang in there, brothers and sisters!
- Posted Jun 28, 2002
Response to Andrew Sullivan, June 18, 2002
Andrew Sullivan continues his campaign to change the Catholic faith into a new religion that would affirm sinful activity that he favors, most recently in his essay in Time magazine entitled "Is the Church Dying?", dated June 10, 2002. The following is the letter I wrote to him in response:
Dear Mr. Sullivan:
You say in your recent Times article the following:
"I think it's fair to say that very few people in my generation of 40-year-olds and younger can take the church's sexual teachings very seriously again. When so many church leaders could not treat even the raping of children as a serious offense, how can we trust them to tell us what to believe about the more esoteric questions of contraception, or homosexuality, or divorce? What shred of credibility do these men have when they look out at the pews and see those of us living in a world where our failings cannot be easily covered up by ecclesiastical power, or bought off with other people's money, or simply ignored? This gulf between us and them cannot now be concealed. We kneel and pray; we donate our time and money; we have attempted to explain the moral lessons we have learned in the real world of family and sex and work and conflict. But so many church leaders - from the Pope on down - do not seem to hear or even care. And why should they? They are not answerable to us. "
Here's one 40-year old and younger who experiences same sex attraction and who fully assents to all of Catholic teaching on sexual morality contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The clergy and members of the Church have never been guaranteed impeccability, and thus it is no surprise that there is widespread sin in the Church, even among the clergy. The lesson learned by the Church from the Donatist heresy is that the Church on earth is a school for sinners, not a society of saints. The current clerical scandal has everything to do with the clergy not practicing or believing the moral truths of the Catholic faith. It is the rejection of Catholic teaching on sexual morality, not those teachings themselves, that is at fault. While the Church on earth is a society of humans, however, her teaching is divine, as it based on the divine revelation of God through Jesus Christ to His apostles. The magisterium is the conserver and interpreter of this sacred deposit contained in Scripture and Sacred Tradition.
It is totally mixing apples and oranges to say that because the clergy have done misdeeds and practiced sinful behavior, that one will therefore no longer believe in the divine teachings on faith and morals passed down from the apostles. I don't believe in everything any particular priest may say, but I can read the Catechism as well as anyone else and can see for myself what is authentic Catholic teaching. I do give full religious submission of will and intellect and even the assent of faith to all the teachings contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The faith has objective content, and the magisterium preserves this teaching only through the aid of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, if one looks at history of the Church, one can believe that it must be the Holy Spirit that has preserved the truths of the faith, given the number of unsavory characters with very human failings in the Church and the clergy. The clergy should indeed be accountable for failing to live up to the teachings of the Church, but the laity has absolutely no legitimate role of changing the teachings of the Catholic Church to suit the current societal wisdom. In such respect at least, the Church is not and cannot be a democracy, because she is the guardian of divine revelation and cannot change that deposit of faith based on opinion polls.
As a Catholic who experiences same sex attraction, this scandal has only convinced me all the more of the divine wisdom in the Church's teachings of chastity. I continue rejoice in the knowledge that I have found in the Catholic Church and her sacraments a sure channel of grace to help me escape from the slavery of sin into the genuine freedom of the children of God. The Father Shanleys of the world will have you believe that chastity doesn't matter. Apparently you feel the same way, as you simply want to change the Catholic faith into a new religion that calls sinful activity virtue and justifies your own sin.
We live in a society in which there is freedom of religion. People have a right to believe in the Catholic faith, full and entire, including teachings on sexual morality. If you do not believe in what the Catholic Church teaches, then it is unfair to say that the Church must become a new religion to suit your own subjective desires. The solution is either to seek a conversion of your heart back to the ways of Gospel truth in faith and morals, or else to convert to a different religion more in keeping with your beliefs. Don't tell me this cannot be done, as I did it myself when I left the religion of my youth and converted to the Catholic faith, having been convinced that the fullness of truth subsists therein.
You go on to say in your article:
"Those who say the church can never change are simply wrong. It has always been pragmatic about the nonessentials, accommodating itself to new cultures, to old customs and to social change. It once conducted Masses solely in Latin; now it doesn't."
Matters of sexual morality are not in the least "non-essentials", but are at the very heart of how a Christian ought to live. Our Lord placed at the very centerpiece of His sermon on the mount the necessity to resist even lusting in the heart, and he calls for purity of heart. He hung out with sinners, but it was to call them to repentence and to "sin no more", not to affirm them in the practice of their sin. The Christian Church has always and everywhere taught that the only appropriate forum for sexual activity is in marriage between a man and a woman. The Episcopal Church in the USA in the Righter trial said that there is no "core doctrine" on sexuality in the Christian Church. This would be laughable if it were not so sad, at is patently untrue. Sexual morality has always been considered of fundamental importance for Christians, from the Bible onwards. To deny this is to deny a fact of history.
And I would ask you to ask yourself seriously, rather than simply accepting blindly the wisdom of the world that any and all consensual and "safe" sexual activity is to be lauded, whether it not be that the wisdom of the world that you espouse, if it is indeed a majority view, might in fact not be wrong as a moral matter? It is patently the case in history that societies have been blinded to grave wrongs in their midst, as with the election of Hitler, the abuses of slavery or condoning of the murder of unborn children through abortion nowadays? Did you ever think that perhaps, just perhaps, it is you and your confreres who promote sinful homosexual activity who might be in the wrong, and that self-serving sexual activity does in fact serve to dehumanize oneself and others and is not consistent with the purpose and well-ordered use of God's gift of sexuality? And even if you don't believe that, then certainly other people have a right in a free society to believe it, and you should leave the Catholic Church alone to believe what it has always and everywhere taught and believed on sexual morality.
Please see my website at "http://www.ssaml.com" for more on these topics.
- Posted Jun 18, 2002
Soulforce Tactics, June 17, 2002
Soulforce continued its campaign of obstructing and disrupting meetings of various Christian religious bodies with its recent demonstrations at the Southern Baptist convention (see the Associated Press article reproduced below). In response to a denunciation by me of this group's attempt to stifle the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech and expression, I received a piece of correspondence that defended Soulforce as merely exercising its freedom of speech in a manner that did not prevent the meeting from going forward, and that suggested Soulforce was merely protesting the outgoing president of the Southern Baptists, James Merritt, for allegedly teaching that all those who suffer from homosexual inclinations, even if they are not acted upon, will go to hell. I responded to the correspondence as follows:
Soulforce was not simply expressing its views, but was trying to disrupt and intimidate a religious gathering. If the police had not been there, how do we know that the Southern Baptists would have been able to continue their meeting?
Our society is based upon mutual tolerance of different religious views. Thus we need to be tolerant not only of those with whose beliefs we agree, but also of those with whom we do not agree. If anything is the bedrock of our nation and constitution, it is this. Perhaps one might want to read up on the religious wars in 16th century Europe to see a society where people want to impose their beliefs on others violently. Here in the New World, we have chosen a different course, one of mutual toleration of religious beliefs, except to the extent a religion violently infringes on the rights of others.
One is free to protest peacefully another religion, of course, if one feels one must, but certainly the time, place and manner can be legally restricted. I'm sure any number of liberal newspapers would be more than happy to grant op-ed or letter to the editor space for anyone denouncing these beliefs. I do not believe it appropriate for disruptive protesters to prevent a meeting of religious believers solely because they disagree with such believers' beliefs. It seems odd to me that the constitutional right to kill an unborn baby is so highly valued in our present day society that laws keep peaceful protesters outside of bubble zones around an abortion clinic. Surely the right to practice one's religion free of interference is at least as valuable a Constitutionally protected right as that of fetal murder!
I have to ask whether the present day societal establishment or the media would tolerate the disruption of Muslim meetings in mosques by a group of people who passionately objected to Muslim doctrines of holy war or the necessity of an Islamic state, or the disruption of orthodox Jewish services because one thought the idea of a "chosen race" was racist and exclusive. I certainly would not approve of such disruption, although I certainly don't like Islamic doctrines on jihad or the union of church and state. But of course, since the establishment and the media hates Christian believers, it is perfectly acceptable to disrupt Christian gatherings, as the Soulforce has an organized program of doing.
I am not familiar the views of Mr. Merritt. If he indeed does believe that one will go to hell for the mere unchosen condition of same sex attraction, rather than as a result of voluntarily engaging in sinful sexual activity, then I certainly would disagree with him there. That would be a despicable doctrine that would deny free will to certain humans. Certainly that is not Catholic belief, since other than original sin, from which we are delivered by baptism, sin requires a volitional act. Mr. Merritt must be misreading St. Paul. When the latter says that homosexuals will not enter the kingdom of heaven, it seems clearly implicit to me that he is speaking in shorthand and referring to those who engage in homosexual acts, not someone with the mere inclination to such acts but who resists them. All the other groups in the same list by St. Paul of those who will not enter the kingdom of heaven describe a class of person who commit certain sinful acts. There is a choice for persons whether or not to engage in this sinful act. Surely in this context, St. Paul must have similarly meant those that chose to engage in sinful acts. And this interpretation is most consistent with Catholic doctrine on sin. This alleged belief of Mr. Merritt to me is similar to the evil doctrine of Calvinism by which certain persons are predestined to damnation from the beginning of the world, which eliminates all role of human free will in volitionally choosing to cooperate with God's grace in order to obtain salvation. Such doctrine eliminates any chance that we may have of choosing salvation and choosing God's redeeming grace.
On the other hand, are you sure that what you are attributing to Mr. Merritt is actually what he believes? Perhaps he is just being misunderstood or is speaking in shorthand and really means, like St. Paul, "sexually active homosexuals" when he just says "homosexuals". I read somewhere that even the person that goes around with the despicable sign "God hates fags" claims that he is referring only to those engaging in homosexual activity rather than all who experience same sex attraction.
But as despicable as the alleged doctrine of Mr. Merritt is, I suppose I would not go the length of disrupting a religious meeting on account of it, just as I would not disrupt a Calvinist meeting although I strongly disagree in predestination to hell.
In any event, it was not clear to me that this group was specifically objecting to this particular alleged belief of Mr. Merritt, but was probably objecting tout court to any Christian teaching on the sinfulness of homosexual activity. This is shown by the fact that Soulforce is not simply disrupting meetings at which Mr. Merritt is present, but has an organized plan to disrupt an d protest meetings of all major Christian denominations, including those of the Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church.
Moreoever, if Mr. Merritt was on the way out, why demonstrate? Why not celebrate if he teaches as pernicious a doctrine as you allege? Does Rev. Graham (I think that was who took over as president of the Southern Baptists) express the same beliefs as to the condemnation to hell of the mere condition of same sex attraction without sinful acts?
Finally, I would mention that the cry of the Soulforce protestors "Stop killing us", if addressed to Southern Baptists or traditional Christian believers generally, is utterly unfounded. The Christian religion teaches us to love all persons and to avoid sin. Homosexual activity is not essential to life. Anyone has the ability to choose not to engage in this. Therefore, it is not in the least "spiritual violence" or "killing" people to tell them to avoid sinful homosexual activity. In fact, given the grave health risks attendant upon homosexual activity, Christian teaching may in fact help those with same sex attraction to avoid killing themselves through engaging in unhealthy sexual activity. The true Christian also does not hate people because of their sins or their sinful inclinations. Thus it is not responsible for those deranged individuals who do kill those with same sex attraction for whatever reason. People have a right to believe in Christian sexual morality, and to brand Christians as murderers merely for their beliefs on the sinfulness of homosexual activity is slanderous and wrong. It is as despicable as Paul Begala of MSNBC, who basically said the whole "blue zone" (or was it red, I forget) of the country was guilty of killing Matthew Sheperd. I'm sorry, but I strongly believe in people taking individual responsibilty for their actions. The only people responsible for the murder of Matthew Sheperd were the jerks who did it. It just will not do to blame all Christians for such a thing and thus demonize an entire class of people. If a heterosexual gets killed by a homosexual, should we blame homosexuals as a class for that action?
Protesters Interrupt Baptist Meeting
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 3:27 p.m. ET, June 11, 2002
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The head of the Southern Baptists condemned homosexuality from the podium Tuesday as gay rights protesters shouting slogans marched through the convention hall and into the arms of police.
Twelve protesters were arrested inside the hall, and 38 more were taken into custody outside, where riot police stood near the main doorway.
The dozen protesters who infiltrated the annual meeting of the nation's largest Protestant denomination were charged with ethnic intimidation and trespassing.
``Stop killing us! Stop the spiritual violence!'' one man shouted as police dragged him behind the curtains at America's Center. A woman from the group Soulforce, which claims Southern Baptist teachings lead to violence against gays, shouted: ``God loves his gay children!''
``You need Jesus!'' shouted back the Rev. Robert Smith, a pastor from Cedar Bluff, Ala. Others hissed as protesters were led away.
The protesters tried to disrupt Southern Baptist president James Merritt's keynote address to nearly 9,000 delegates and their families.
Merritt took aim at the media and Hollywood, citing surveys that show nearly unanimous acceptance in those groups of homosexuality.
``More and more we're being told sit down, shut up, go along, get along, be inclusive, be tolerant, be nice and be quiet,'' he said. But Merritt said Southern Baptists have a ``biblical responsibility'' to preach against such things.
``We now face the fact that there are certain groups that are going to protest us every year,'' he said. ``They have let me know in their correspondence, `We are not going away.' Well, I've got news for the pornographer, the adulterer, the homosexual, the pedophile, the abortionist: We are not going away either.''
The Southern Baptists claim more than 16 million members.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Allen G. Breed is the AP's Southeast regional writer, based in Raleigh, N.C.
- Posted Jun 17, 2002
Thoughts on Same Sex Attraction and the Priesthood, June 1, 2002
The following are some of my thoughts on homosexuality in the priesthood.
First of all, I do think that clerics that practice and promote homosexual activity should be disciplined, as such behavior and teaching is at odds with Church doctrine, and priests should assent to and endeavor to put in practice the entirety of the moral teaching of the Church, as well as remain faithful to their vows of celibacy. I guess, however, I personally would feel a little bit more lenient about people who occasionally fall into sinful acts if they are repentant and are trying their best, than for those that are trying to change the definition of sin in Church teaching to justify their lustful behavior. I don't think there should be any tolerance for pedophilia or ephebophilia however, since there is such a danger of grave psychological harm to the children (including teenagers) involved. I am so glad that the Holy Father reiterated this basic truth to the United States cardinals in Rome. I do hope that the US bishops will institute policies and procedures that will enact zero tolerance for this kind of behavior in their next meeting.
Many conservatives simplistically conflate the issues of child abuse and homosexuality. I think the issue at hand, which is the protection of children from criminal abuse, should be addressed specifically, and that the attempts to broaden this crisis into other issues are diversions, whether it is the liberals' attempt to attack celibacy tout court, or conservative attempts to keep out of the priesthood all persons with homosexual attraction, even if assenting to the teaching on chastity.
Nevertheless, the conservative criticism is not entirely unfounded. While some gay activists have spoken out against pedophilia and the pedophilia-promotion organization NAMBLA (I think Andrew Sullivan may have done this), there is clearly a faction within the gay activist community that is trying to justify and normalize that behavior. A book has recently been written by a Judith Levine, "Harmful to Minors", which justifies the sexualization of children and pedophilia, and some gay activists have come out in defense of that book and against the ever-demonized "religious right" for daring to speak critically of it. There was an article about this at the gay activist website "rainbownet.com".
As far as whether those who experience same sex attraction who assent to chastity should be in the priesthood, I personally believe that there should not be a flat prohibition, but rather a case by case evaluation, since each of us are, in the end, individuals, and not simply stereotypes. I would agree with Vatican spokesman Navarro-Valls to the extent that I do believe that homosexual inclination is a heavy psychological burden for most (I have always felt it to be so for myself), which may make it difficult to live a life of celibacy. But to go so far as to say as some do that those with same sex attraction are doomed to a life of sin and cannot remain chaste is an insult and patently not true in many cases. I do believe that are perhaps some men with same sex attraction who are mature enough and dedicated enough to chastity to handle the priesthood.
Some argue that priests with same sex attraction have to be chaste anyway, so celibacy would not involve any sacrifice. However, I think the sacrifice is there, particularly in modern day society, when it is so easy to act unchastely with the approval of society. In the present day, a chaste priest with same sex attraction has to work doubly hard to stay chaste, given that the world puts so much value on easy promiscuity and romantic love. While the lay ssa person who falls can simply go to confession and repent, the priest has an obligation to counter these thoughts root and branch so as to lead a blameless and pure life given entirely to God and the Church. That to me is a sacrifice.
Another argument used against allowing priests with same sex attraction is that a good priest should be a good husband and father and men with same sex attraction cannot be such. I would argue, however, that being a good husband or father does not depend on sexual performance, but rather selfless and protective character and leadership. Many people with same sex attraction throughout history have been good husbands and fathers.
Another argument sometimes used is that only the unblemished first fruits of our manhood should be priests, and that since same sex attraction is a disorder it should be a disqualifying blemish. I would say that it might in some be only a minor blemish outweighed by a powerful lot of good. Moreover since all humans are afflicted with the concupiscence left by original sin, even the most heterosexually-inclined priest will have inclinations to sin in some ways or another. No priest is going to be without inclinations to sin.
I would generally agree with Bishop Gregory's recent statement that the priesthood should not be dominated by men with same sex attraction. I think that there should be a healthy number of priests that have osa and are secure in their masculinity. Nevertheless, I do think it possible that some men with same sex attraction would make good priests. And they may bring a certain special sensitivity and dedication to holiness as a result of their special experience.
So I guess my bottom line is that I think that same sex attraction might be considered a negative factor in discerning and evaluating vocations to the priesthood, but not a dispositive factor.
Anyways, those are my somewhat jumbled thoughts on the matter.
- Posted Jun 1, 2002
Note on the Clerical Sex Abuse Crisis, May 7, 2002
Dear Website Visitors, I have decided, in order to make this website interactive and "au courant", to add a guestbook and a section where I can post occasional notes on various topics relating to the issue of same sex attraction and the Christian and Catholic faith generally.
For my first message will address the current clerical sex abuse crisis. The pedophilia scandal is certainly a time of trial for all of us. I would hope that all Catholics with same sex attraction would be able to put these problems in perspective and not lose heart or faith -- it is the teaching of the Church that is divine, not the individuals who make up the Church. Let us recall that all of us humans have tendencies to sin, and as I recall once reading in an article by Scott Hahn, we can't overcome this on our own -- we need divine grace through prayer and sacraments to help us to live a good life. Therefore it is crucial that we not lose confidence in the Church, her divine mission or the sacraments as a result of the sins of some of her ministers. As the old saw goes, the Church on earth is a school for sinners, not a society of saints. Clerical corruption unfortunately has always been with us and always will, so long as being human is a requirement of holy orders. I do believe that the call to chastity for all outside of marriage is a divine teaching. In fact the scandal confirms in me all the more the correctness of the virtue of chastity and the selfishness of sexual expression outside of life-giving marriage. I would also think that some of the shrill voices one hears on this issue might also bring to mind Christ's admonition about throwing the first stone.
Certainly, a system that allows criminal activity against children to continue without punishment needs reform. And a zero tolerance policy is, thank goodness, being put into effect. Unfortunately, however, everyone is now using the scandal as a springboard to pursue much broader agendas. Liberals are calling for a "new Reformation" that would trash celibacy, the Catholic concept of the priesthood and Catholic sexual teaching, in other words to replace Catholicism with a new religion much more to the liking of the Liberal Establishment -- and apparently those quaint people who acually believe in Catholicism as it has always existed are invited to go the way of the Mithraists. The Attorney General of Massachusetts talks about the State playing a role in the selection of priests -- shades of Henry VIII of England, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy of the French Revolutionaries, and the Communist state's "regulation" of religion practiced to this day in China. Conservatives for their part are using the scandal simplistically to conflate the issues of homosexuality and pedophilia, and keep out of the priesthood those with same sex attraction, regardless of commitment to chastity. We who love the Church must keep an even keel and pray that the Holy Spirit will guide the Church to practice true reform akin to that of the Council of Trent and not that of creating a new religion as the Protestant reformers did. In fact, the Council of Trent is not inapposite to the specific issue in hand, since it was very much concerned with clerical corruption, instituting diocesan seminaries and episcopal residency and visitation requirements to improve the quality of the clergy.
As for whether the clergy are now sitting ducks, I would have to say that based on the response of people in my area, many are tarring all priests with the sins of the few. A Catholic neighbor told my mother that "one shouldn't get too close to them" (i.e., priests). My lapsed Catholic brother in law dismissed all priests as a "bunch of hypocrites". Unfortunately at this stage, many people are quite willing to think the worst about all priests, regardless of personal merit. Let us indeed pray for the Church and all priests, guilty and innocent, and that the Lord's "ministers be clothed with righteousness", as the Anglicans sing so beautifully at Evensong.
Anyways, again I would urge that Catholics with same sex attraction take heart and think calmly and objectively about these issues. We are now in the midst of a dark penitential season -- maybe as a friend told me, God will bring some good out of this tragedy of human folly yet, and we can yet hope that the joy of Easter morn will still dawn on us in time.
- Posted May 7, 2002
The following older notes are also available: