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Sunday, August 10, 2003

The National Catholic Reporter. Oy.

I've come to an understanding of this otherwise inexplicable defender of the PC zeitgeist. It helps if you understand it as an experiment in rehabilitation for nice, tolerant and non-judgmental Catholics who suffer from closed head injuries.

Whereas many Catholics mourned last week's Episcopal banzai charge against the Almighty, NCR strapped on the pom-pons for Team Gene. The captain of the squad is Tom Fox, Publisher of NCR.

Time for the Fisking Stick (no, that's not a good thing, Robinsonians):

The thrust of the new 12-page Roman document did not surprise anyone. Close church observers knew the dye was cast back in 1986 when the Vatican termed gays and lesbians to be "objectively disordered."

BZZZT! Wrong! Sorry! The correct quote from that Vatican document is that homosexual ACTS are "objectively disordered." See CCC 2357. I hate $8 (the cost of a paperback Catechism) mistakes, whether from rabid anti-Catholics or nice, tolerant and non-judgmental Catholics.

The Vatican seems to be its own worst enemy. Anyone who follows NCR Vatican Correspondent John Allen's writings knows it's a complex bureaucracy filled with varied views and intentions. But when it comes to issuing statements on human sexuality they go berserk, throwing miters and staffs at anyone in sight.

When you hear this rhetoric ("own worst enemy") coming from the Rehab Wing, beware. What the speaker really means is that the Vatican is his worst enemy. Especially when he has to face his more enlightened non-Catholic friends at social occasions. Dreadfully embarrassing, don't you know? The Rehabbers had hoped to put all of this behind them forty years ago, spraying the Spirit of Vatican II™ around like an obsessive-compulsive wields Lysol. But it never works: "Dammit, there it is again! It won't go away!" If anyone's "berserk" about pelvic issues, it's the patients in KC.

Instead of white heat, judgment and absolute demands, wouldn't the Roman prelates have more influence if they posed questions in a spirit of compassion? When will they learn that the medium is also the message?

We are told same sex unions are a grave threat to society. Along the lines of nuclear proliferation, AIDS, suicide bombers and chemical warfare?

Meanwhile the vastly eroded credibility of the Catholic hierarchy in the wake of months of revelations of sordid sexual abuses of children and episcopal complicity would make you think that this is the time to hold your tongue. But no, someone is insisting Catholic bishops need to be dragged deeper into the mud.

No debate about eroded credibility here (notable because it's the only thing we agree upon in this article). Maybe Tom can seek consolation from spiritual bafflegabber extraordinare Frank Griswold. They speak the same language, after all: wrapping cognitive dissonance up in a suffocating blanket of wonderfully affirming compassion-speak, ultimately saying nothing. [Subliminal mode on] Heaven forfend that one should wonder whether gay culture [90% of the victims of abuse were boys 12 and older] has been anything other than an unalloyed gift [Paul Shanley ran a gay resort with his "partner"]. [Subliminal mode off] Nope. Can't hear that when you're belting out Sing a New Church.

"Let us bring the gifts that differ/
And in splendid, varied ways..."

The Vatican attack -- yes, it is seen as an attack -- on gays has quickly produced counter-attacks in the media. Some editorial cartoonists have had a field day.

"Goddess, it's so embarrassing to be Catholic! Editorial cartoonists are making fun of us! That's never happened before!"

"In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty," the Vatican statement declared. Curiously, Catholics almost never hear similarly unambiguous admonitions on matters of morality outside of the pelvic area.

"See how obsessed those withered sexless prelates are, talking about sex again! They're always talking about my penis! It's mine! Mineminemineminemine! And I'll do whatever I want with him! Because I'm not obsessed! I have a healthy sexuality! And I don't like seeing it threatened by a document about gay marriage!"

Transference, anyone? And note that someone was apparently asleep during the run-up to the Iraq war, when America was called Pharaoh, among other things, by those same prelates at the Vatican.

A potentially fatal disconnect continues to grow between official church teachings on human sexuality on the one hand and Catholic practice on the other. It started at least as far back as 1968 when Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, condemning all forms of artificial birth control.

Repeated polls show that 90 to 95 percent of Catholics, regardless of nation or culture, simply disregard that teaching, saying they simply do not believe the use of a condom is necessarily "intrinsically evil."

Birth control is generally not an issue for most lay Catholics. To the degree it becomes a moral issue within a marriage, absolutist church utterances often obfuscate rather than lend light to a couple's discernment.

Um, for a rumination about the liciety of gay marriage and active homosexuality, Tom seems to be spending an inordinate amount of time on birth control, which is not exactly a front-burner issue in the gay community. Who's got the "pelvic issue" fixation again?

Stripped to the moral core, the Vatican condemns sexual intimacy between two men or two women because their actions are viewed as unnatural and have nothing to do with procreation, the fundamental purpose of sexual union. For centuries the church had a very restricted view of sex, seeing it as intended only for procreation. In the 20th century, the church slowly came to acknowledge that sex within marriage also had a secondary purpose, supporting the psychological intimacy of a couple.

Tom, "stripped to the moral core," THE CHURCH'S PROBLEM WITH "sexual intimacy between two men or two women" IS BASED ON THIS THING CALLED "SCRIPTURE." TRY READING IT. If you're going to start heaving out part of Leviticus because it's inconvenient to you, then Dave Duke's going to heave that verse that's inconvenient to him because he doesn't like the smell of ethnic cooking. Both your positions are equally valid.

And quit dragging references to your theoretically-procreative sex life into the discussion. Otherwise, I might think you were a mite obsessed about pelvic issues.

Modern society, meanwhile, has come to learn that gays and lesbians do not necessarily choose their lifestyles. Genetics play a significant role in determining male or female attraction. This widely accepted understanding has forced the world's religions to rethink their views on homosexuality. We have seen this play out this week as Episcopalians wrestled with the ordination of an openly gay bishop.

A reasonable question cannot be avoided. Does the Creator condemn all gays and lesbians to lives without sex and sexual intimacy? Going further, would the Creator banish forever those gays and lesbians who seek sexual intimacy? Why would God's creation plan be so devastatingly uncaring to significant portion of the human family? Are all gays and lesbians to lead celibate lives? We know how hard this is. Just consider the record of clergy who have freely chosen celibacy. The church teaches that celibacy is a gift from God given to a relative few. It requires certain commitment and strength.

Are we led to believe all gays and lesbians are so "gifted?" It stands to reason they are not.

And if not, how do they find intimacy, which is for most an essential for human and spiritual growth?

Modern society--ah, yes! The trump card: Because we know more, and are better than, a bunch of itinerant pinhead herdsmen obsessing about a Bronze Age moral code. Then there's the unsupported assertion that we "know" there's a "significant" genetic component. We actually "know" no such thing, making his "reasonable question" entirely avoidable. Although, he does have a point: the notion of gays and lesbians somehow having fulfilling lives without sexual intimacy is utterly ludicrous. What's next? Expecting teenagers to abstain?

BTW, when did Episcopalianism become a "world religion"?

Consider something else. Is it possible the Catholic Church still has it wrong on sexual morality and needs to reconsider church attitudes and teachings? This would require admitting the church is, like other institutions, capable of making mistakes, even big ones. It would require becoming a more humble church, perhaps one with less sweeping claims to infallibility.

The complex truth is that for the past half century or more church teachings on sexuality are intimately tied to church teachings on authority. There's the rub. Can the church have had it wrong on sexuality for these many years?

Tom's closed head injury must have been a real pounder by this point. The kind that makes the prospect of a sledgehammer to the temple sound like bliss.

The correct answers are "No" and "No," although I will accept "Hell, no!" and "What is he smoking?" for both. I mean, I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure even the "assured results of critical scholarship" generally conclude that both the Old and New Testaments were written before 1953. If the Church can't infallibly base its teachings on those ancient documents, then its claim to infallibility will be "less sweeping," indeed. Limited, perhaps, to the ability to give exact change to tourists in Vatican City.

Most of the time.

Many Catholics not only believe this is possible; they believe this to be the fact. These Catholics still love their church and want to open the issues of sexuality to the light of new understandings, discernment and experience. Many lay Catholics are saying to their clergy: "Listen to us. Listen to our experiences. We can get through this together."

Should the experiences of overwhelming numbers of active, loving, healthy lay Catholics, gay and heterosexual alike, matter? If they did at least the tone of church documents on sexuality would change. And that would be a major step in the right direction.

Griswoldism, pure and simple. I have no doubt "many Catholics" believe such things, and not just those at NCR. After all, they were altar servers and went through CCD where they learned (1) God is love and (2) glitter is sticky. "New experiences," eh? So Shanley was right?

I received an email the other day from a reader, Mike Kirk-Duggan, who counted certain words in the recently released Vatican pronouncement, "Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons." Here is what he found. Jesus, 0; love, 0; forgive, 0; compassion, 1; Christ, 2. Doctrin(e/al), 11, law, 24, legal, 31.

Well, two can play at numerology: number of references in Fox's column to Jesus, scripture or tradition--Zero.

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Be reasonably civil. Ire alloyed with reason is fine. But slagging the host gets you the banhammer.