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Could the Catholic Church Ever Approve of Homosexuality?

May 7, 2012

With the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church having stood firm against social changes in sexual norms and the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples, it seems unreasonable to envision the church hierarchy approving of homosexual orientation and behavior. I don’t expect such a radical switch to happen, although the prospect is not inconceivable from a certain point of view.

To be sure: the teaching office of the church would have to change not only its understanding of human sexuality, but also its teaching about its own teaching authority. And I find it nearly unfathomable to think that the church could make such changes within a framework of what Pope Benedict calls a hermeneutic of continuity—the principle that new developments in teaching, doctrine, worship, etc. corroborate and confirm what came before. Nonetheless, the lives and experiences of gay and lesbian persons pose a challenge to the church’s traditional teaching, a challenge I do expect the church to answer more concretely, one way or another, in the coming years and decades.

Traditional Catholic teaching on human sexuality makes no room for understanding the love between gay or lesbian persons as a legitimate form and expression of erotic love; such “love,” from the church’s perspective, must always be disordered, disorientated, and unnatural. Same-sex attraction is always an instance of concupiscence. Erotic love between members of the same sex cannot actually exist. And yet—and here arises the challenge—those with same sex attraction perceivably experience their love as an authentic and genuine eros. To all appearances, sex between gay or lesbian persons can be an expression of affection, compassion, tenderness, intimacy, and the gift of self. Their experiences and self-identities give testimony to an understanding of love denied by the magisterium, whose position is that, ontologically, gay and lesbian persons don’t really exist because human sexuality is ontologically complementary and ordered toward procreation.

Officially, church teaching on these issues cannot change. Catholic advocates of LGTB rights therefore hope against hope in seeking any fundamental change in teaching from the magisterium. The church authorities will undoubtedly have a hard sell to make as society becomes more accepting of homosexual relationships and as these relationships and their fruits become more visible; nevertheless, the bishops are no strangers to taking unconventional and unpopular positions, even in the face of moral outrage. They’ll insist on the truth of their position whatever the successes of LGTB relationships.

If, hypothetically, the church magisterium were to change its teaching and profess the existence and goodness of erotic homosexual love, other foundational changes would first have to be made. First, it would have to broaden its ontological understanding of human sexuality to include as authentic both sex ordered toward procreation and sex not ordered toward that end. Sexual identity would include but not be limited to difference and complementarity. Second, the church would have to revise its traditional reading of the creation myth, perhaps taking a less literal interpretation of the passages related to God creating the human race as male and female. Third, it would have to redefine its conception of chastity so as to include the possibility of exercising temperance and self-mastery with respect to expressions of non-procreative erotic love.

All of these changes in teaching would imply that the magisterium had been wrong about not only homosexuality, but also human sexuality in general, the bible, and the virtue of chastity. To accept homosexuality as a legitimate orientation would mean admitting error about matters of faith and morals—error that, according to the magisterium, cannot be made. Consequently, you won’t see the magisterium giving thumbs up to LGTB people without it first giving thumbs down to its traditional self-understanding. I don’t see that happening. Whether the obstruction is due to the protection of the Holy Spirit or to what Garry Wills calls “the structure of deceit” will continue to be a matter of much debate among those who believe the Catholic Church ought to be a prophetic voice within society. Meanwhile, society will continue on its present course.

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149 Comments
  1. Julian Klee permalink
    May 7, 2012 8:40 am

    I don’t see where the Magisterium would have to admit it had been wrong about “the bible as the revealed Word of God, and the virtue of chastity”. The virtue of chastity would, itself, be redefined by broadening our understanding of and definition of human sexuality. Chastity could encompass same-gender relationships. And there’s nothing to say that coming to a new interpretation or understanding of aspects of Scripture means that Scripture is not the “revealed Word of God”. It would only say that our understanding of that revelation has been as looking through a glass darkly, and it is getting clearer now as God reveals to us, through science and reason, the truer nature of man and his relations.

    • May 7, 2012 8:56 am

      The Church claims to be the authoritative interpreter of Revelation. For it to misinterpret the bible in regards to an issue about which it claims authority and arguably infallibility would be a big error. I see, however, that my wording suggested that church would have to lose the idea the the bible is the revealed Word of God, so I revised it.

      As for chastity, the catechism defines it in such a way that rules out the possibility of any sexuality not ordered toward procreation being chaste. A broadening of chastity to include same-sex relationships would necessitate a fundamental redefinition. The old definition would have to be let go as erroneous.

      • Jimmy Mac permalink
        May 8, 2012 6:09 pm

        Aquinas says arguments from authority are the weakest of all, but he does not say they are worthless. Sometimes we are justified in relying on them (e.g., on a diagnosis by a team of great MDs.), sometimes not (e.g., on a story in the National Enquirer). The doctors know more than we do so it is reasonable to rely on them. The National Enquirer usually deals in rumor or fantasy rather than real evidence, so even if it has been right on occasion it is not reasonable to rely on it unless it presents very strong evidence.
        The problem is to determine which so-called “authorities” really know what they’re talking about and will tell the truth as they see it.

        One criterion that can help us establish reliability is whether or not the person is logical. Logic is internal to their arguments, and we do not need to know whether or not they’ve gotten their facts right to criticize their logic. When an authority is regularly inconsistent that hands us a great big red flag — don’t trust this guy to reach the truth.

        Another mark of a truly rational person is whether he/she engages in self-criticism, and a related one is whether or not the person accepts deserved criticism from others.

        Then there’s the matter of checking out facts. Does the “authority” ignore what most other authorities recognize as facts?
        Other signs of reliability — or at least of veracity — are that the person admits being wrong, and, perhaps strongest of all, does the person ever criticize the positions of folks “on his own side”? That is a matter of veracity and takes courage.

        None of this touches on the person’s knowledge of facts. It does touch on reasonableness, veracity, and the courage to admit mistakes.

  2. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    May 7, 2012 8:41 am

    Well, I agree that the question of homosexuality cuts much deeper: deeper, I think than you indicate since it touches on the very nature of teaching authority, infallibility, and the interpretation of scripture.

    One possibility is that the Church could change its mind while simply not acknowledging that it has changed its mind. Noonan’s work on usury and slavery is persuasive (to me) in showing that the Church teaching on these subjects has changed markedly. And Christian Brugger’s book on the death penalty makes a good (though not compelling) case that Catholic teaching on the death penalty is evolving in ways which, in effect, mark a repudiation of earlier teaching on the subject.

    Whether the Church can or should do the same thing on issues relating to human sexuality remains to be seen.

    • May 7, 2012 9:02 am

      Whether the Church can or should do the same thing on issues relating to human sexuality remains to be seen.

      I’m dubious. The church has pretty much claimed infallibility of its teachings here. If anyone can spin a fundamental change under the “hermeneutic of continuity,” it’s the Catholic Church, but I really don’t see how this could happen with any semblance of credibility.

  3. Ronald King permalink
    May 7, 2012 8:52 am

    It is my opinion that within the human structure of the Church hierarchy there is a transgenerational unresolved influence of shame associated with sex which has never been addressed but is the basis from which the creation myth has been interpreted. Thus the “hermenuetic of continuity” of teaching appears to be built on a foundation of shame and fear which would then limit the depth of understanding of the mystery of love and sexual expression within human relationships. Within this particular context, the Church’s teaching would also seem to be associated with prejudice and the violence which such prejudice creates.

    • May 7, 2012 11:05 am

      The Church never associates shame with any sort of sexuality, or at least never did until recently.

      Guilt and shame are two different things. The Church has always been (or is supposed to be, at least) big on guilt, but not on shame.

      Guilt can be healthy; it’s about what you do. Shame is never good, as it’s about who you are. Only with the modern (and rather bizarre) intersection of sexuality and identity…has the question of morality gotten tangled up with the question of shaming (rather than guilting) people.

      • Ronald King permalink
        May 7, 2012 1:09 pm

        Sinner, Why do you think I used shame? Shame is in essence the idea of the “basic fault” in psychoanalysis and it is transmitted from one generation to another through the loss of a nurturing attachment to one or both our primary caregivers. The basic fault is a core non-verbalized belief and feeling that one is made wrong rather than one has a problem which has a resolution. This occurs when one or both caregivers is narcissitic and more concerned with the status and needs of self rather than with the needs of the one who is dependent on them. This fracture within this intimate relationship creates within the dependent a sense of emptiness and anxiety which is internalized and becomes the foundation of one’s identity. This is protected from being revealed to self and others with primitive defenses and creates a false personality that becomes rigid over time in its response to self and others. Compensatory behaviors become ritualized and rigid. It is quite evident from Genesis 3 onward how shame has been at the root of human interactions. It is quite clear to me what the difference is between guilt and shame and how shame has influenced the interpretation of the garden myth.

        • May 7, 2012 2:15 pm

          Well, if you’re talking about THAT sort of shame surrounding sex, it’s pretty clear from Genesis that it’s simply an effect of the Fall and won’t ever be resolved except BY redemption and an upholding of the virtue of chastity.

  4. Bill Wilson permalink
    May 7, 2012 8:52 am

    The foundational changes outlined in your penultimate paragraph are long overdue. I agree with David Cruz-Uribe’s reference to Dr. Noonan’s book. Also, I am deeply troubled by the clergy’s hypocrisy regarding homosexuality. Depending on whom one listen’s to, homosexuality among clerics at all levels is at least fairly common, if not rampant. In my book, there’s nothing wrong with being gay. There’s a lot wrong with practicing gay sex in the closet while condemning those who ask only for recognition of their sexual orientation as a legitimate expression of human love. (This doesn’t even reference the number of straight clergy in heterosexual relationships.) It distresses me that institutional duplicity is eating at the very heart of my church.

  5. Thales permalink
    May 7, 2012 9:12 am

    Kyle,

    Your post touches on this point obliquely, but I thought that I’d make it more explicit:

    True, “traditional Catholic teaching on human sexuality makes no room for understanding the love between gay or lesbian persons as a legitimate form and expression of erotic love.” But traditional Catholic teaching on human sexuality also makes no room for the expression of erotic love between two heterosexuals outside the context of marriage. If there are two heterosexuals who love each other, who believe they have found a person with whom they can show “affection, compassion, tenderness, intimacy, and the gift of self,” but they aren’t or can’t be married, the Church asks of them to abstain from erotic love. It seems to me that the two heterosexuals being asked to abstain is similar to that of two gay persons (although not directly analagous considering the Church’s recognition of some kind of difference between heterosexual intercourse and the homosexual act).

    The point is that the Church’s understanding of sexuality is tied up with the notion of marriage as a sacrament. I think that if one wanted a change in the Church’s understanding of sexuality, this person would also have to argue that a homosexual relationship is able to be included under the Church’s teaching on marriage (which is well nigh impossible, in my opinion, considering Jesus’s and St. Paul’s words on marriage). And this difficulty is even more obvious when considering bisexual persons (i.e., it seems to me that if the Church’s understanding of sexuality were changed to include bisexuality as a legitimate expression of erotic love, that would necessarily require the notion of marriage to be expanded to polyamorous relationships).

    • May 7, 2012 12:15 pm

      “The point is that the Church’s understanding of sexuality is tied up with the notion of marriage as a sacrament.”

      A quibble: the church recognizes the validity of marriages that are not sacramental, i.e., marriages between two unbaptized persons or between a baptized and unbaptized person. One can even get married in the Catholic Church but not have a sacramental marriage.

      • Thales permalink
        May 7, 2012 1:12 pm

        Sure, there’s such a thing as a “non-sacramental marriage” or a “natural marriage.” But these are still connected to the notion of marriage as sacrament because all of these natural marriages can be made sacramental (if there are no impediments), are meant to be sacramental by God, and would find their fulfillment in the sacrament.

        • May 7, 2012 1:53 pm

          are meant to be sacramental by God

          Thales,

          Exactly what does that mean? If all marriages were meant to be sacramental by God, why didn’t he just make them sacramental? Surely it is not beyond God’s power to bestow on all couples who marry whatever the benefits might be of the sacrament of marriage, is it?

          I am a little confused, actually. A sacramental marriage isn’t sacramental because a priest witnesses the ceremony. It is sacramental (or at least it was before Trent) because the two people marrying were baptized. Marriage performed by priests was a rather late development in the Church. Surely Christians during the first millennia were sacramentally married even if no one witnessed their marriage. Clandestine marriages were considered valid, even if illicit, until Trent.

          I would have to say that if the sacraments were instituted by Christ, it certainly took a very long time for the Church to realize that he instituted the sacrament of marriage.

        • Thales permalink
          May 7, 2012 3:00 pm

          David,
          I’m no theologian, and so when I say “are meant to be sacramental by God”, I’m not making any profound theological point. I’m just trying to convey the very basic notion that Christ calls all men and women to Himself; that God calls all people to live as His sons and daughters in a sacramental life with Christ.

        • Thales permalink
          May 7, 2012 3:09 pm

          To continue my comment: “…that God calls all people to live as His sons and daughters in a sacramental life with Christ.” And thus God intends that all people live a sacramental life in Christ; and, in other words, we are all meant to live such a life.

  6. May 7, 2012 9:26 am

    If you look at how teaching on the admissibility of the death penalty has “evolved” in the last few decades, the new assertion is that the d.p. is “no longer necessary” because societies now have the means to imprison offenders for life. Therefore, execution by modern states is purely a matter of retributive justice, not protecting the greater society. The “change” is identified as having occurred in society or technology, not in the teaching. The d.p. is not prohibited, but is not justified “in virtually all cases.”

    I suppose some evolution could happen if the hierarchy identifies social or technological changes which decouple some aspects of sexuality from social order and human dignity.
    Natural family planning and the technologies which could emerge from it, for example. The change would be identified as having occurred in social or technological conditions, not in magisterial teaching.

    • May 7, 2012 10:02 am

      I think this is exactly right. The real model one would have to look to here is the unnatural sin that the Church has most extensively looked at, usury. Pace Noonan, it’s pretty easy to show that the basic teaching never changed. The range of contracts that were commonly available, however, did change — indeed, starting about the High Middle Ages, began to change so rapidly that moral theologians increasingly had difficulty keeping up. And these contracts, which became increasingly subtle, required increasingly subtle distinctions, until the teaching stabilized at its current form of usury being the treatment of interest as an intrinsic title on loans and not an extrinsic title established only by contractually determinable loss, service, or risk. It’s logically possible for something similar to happen here: that increasing diversity of common kinds of properly homosexual interactions turns up some which don’t, for various reasons, fall under the previous classifications. This seems unlikely for the reason mentioned in the second paragraph of Thales comment, but it’s certainly a logical possibility. The ‘morals’ part of ‘faith and morals’ doesn’t work exactly like the ‘faith’ part because morals partially depend on circumstances, which can change pretty massively over time.

      • May 7, 2012 11:18 am

        As I am writing more extensively about below, while I’m quite sure that homogenital acts would never be approved, what you say about “that increasing diversity of common kinds of properly homosexual interactions turns up some which don’t, for various reasons, fall under the previous classifications” may take the form of, say, approving chaste (ie, non-genital) sorts of homo-romantic life-partnerships, etc. One part of the problem may just be how “romantic friends” and “sexual partners” have become coupled in modern times.

  7. May 7, 2012 10:05 am

    I think that Thales is on point here. Methodologically, one is starting at the wrong place with homosexuality. As he rightly notes, you claim about the “affection, compassion, tenderness, intimacy, and the gift of self” which is at least in a prima facie way evident in same-sex erotic behavior is at least as evident in what we one would have called (and still call, at least in moral theology) fornication and adultery, i.e. sex by those unmarried simply-speaking or between those not married to each other. If we imagine that the Church has been wrong about fornication and adultery (and, mutatis mutandis, polyamory, plural marriage, etc.), then of course we could relatively easily follow with rethinking same-sex eroticism. On the other hand, to the extent that we find classic teachings on fornication and adultery plausible and cogent, then we ought not to be so sanguine about rethinking those about same-sex attraction.

    That being said, what is remarkable is that, for all of the consistency of teaching regarding fornication and adultery, there has not been a single regime of character-formation with regard to it. Said more transparently, the Church has supplied a number of ways of treating those known to engage in either or both of these, sometimes strictly, sometimes indulgently. Without denying the teaching about same-sex attraction, we can certainly envision a less hysterical response to the fact of such attraction itself, whether in the form of high-pitched political activism for its legal normalization or for equally shrill insistence for its exclusion from legally-accepted status.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
      May 7, 2012 10:21 pm

      Now Dominic, I try to be civil with you. But please. Murder is perhaps the most serious sin, at least by our modern conceptions of punishment for crimes. Is there any doubt that the Catholic Church and your order particularly approved of murders for spiritual causes, so conceived?? Now please, if a Church can get its mind around murder, it can get its mind around two people loving each other tenderly and wanting to commit their lives to each other.

      Truly, it seems my former Church is made up of people lost on an immoral maze.

    • Jimmy Mac permalink
      May 11, 2012 3:03 pm

      “If we imagine that the Church has been wrong about fornication and adultery —”

      You have your hands full convincing your church’s members about the wrongness of that. Devote your time thereto.

      Leave the rest of us alone and keep out of my 40-year marriage to my partner.

  8. dominic1955 permalink
    May 7, 2012 10:52 am

    Since when does the morality of something depend on the “successes” or “fruits” of that thing? Who defines what really constitutes a success or a fruit that is actually positive and worthwile? “That ye may be the sons of your Father who is in the Heavens; for he makes his sun rise on evil and good, and sends rain on the just and unjust.” Matt. 5:45

    • May 7, 2012 12:17 pm

      I would personally reject a morality based solely on the perceived fruits of actions, but we do judge actions in part on their fruits, do we not?

      • dominic1955 permalink
        May 7, 2012 12:36 pm

        By their fruits you shall know them, yes. But the fruits of the Spirit describe good Catholics and are immediately juxtaposed to acts of the flesh which are opposed to a good Catholic life. Amongst that, obviously, is sexual immorality and impurity and the Church has always considered homosexual acts as being immoral. Indeed, not even merely immoral but amongst the “sins that cry to heaven for vengence”.

        A Sinner makes the correct distinction between sexual acts and the relationship. The Church could never sanction homosexual sex acts as morally licit. It could, however, develop a sort of set-up for relationships between two homosexuals as a sort of analogy to a Josephite marriage amonst heterosexuals. Personally, I don’t see that happening but that’s about the only way things could go.

        • May 7, 2012 12:52 pm

          “It could, however, develop a sort of set-up for relationships between two homosexuals as a sort of analogy to a Josephite marriage amonst heterosexuals.”

          Indeed, Boswell is not correct that “adelphopoiesis”/fraternatio was any sort of equivalent to “gay marriage,” and furthermore there is no reason to think the concept of “adoptive brotherhood” necessarily even involved any sort of homosexuality or romantic feelings in those involved (I could imagine such an institution being used purely for inheritance purposes, for example, like “adult adoption”). Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean it could not be resourced and reinterpreted for the purpose you describe here.

  9. May 7, 2012 11:49 am

    “it seems unreasonable to envision the church hierarchy approving of homosexual orientation and behavior”

    To me when you speak of “orientation” and “behavior” you are actually speaking of two wildly different and distinguishable things, except if you construct “orientation” as an orientation towards certain types of behavior. However, I think that such a notion (though common nowadays) is actually extremely faulty and inconsistent. Sexual orientation (either homosexual or heterosexual) doesn’t imply any particular act or acts.

    Homogenital acts are likely never to be approved by the Church. But I think the whole “objectively disordered” construction of the orientation itself (something that only goes back to 1986, and which is contingent on a very narrow idea of homosexual “inclinations,” and so which is hardly some sort of infallible teaching) can and probably should be changed.

    “Traditional Catholic teaching on human sexuality makes no room for understanding the love between gay or lesbian persons as a legitimate form and expression of erotic love; such ‘love,’ from the church’s perspective, must always be disordered, disorientated, and unnatural.”

    I think you express the very problem, and solution, right here. Love DOES NOT EQUAL sex.

    Now “erotic” love is a semantic game depending on how you define “erotic” and whether you see it as necessarily including sex. But I have no doubt, for example, that Dante’s love for Beatrice could be both “heterosexual” AND chaste (even though Dante had another wife, etc).

    I think the Church can and must recognize the LOVE of gay and lesbian couples, and the legitimacy of their relationships conceived as a whole, even without legitimizing any sex acts in which they may (or may not!) partake. Because, of course, in the end, most of the time and interactions spent in a relationship are NOT genital. The love must be recognized as good and wholesome, or at least “salvageable,” because otherwise you end up reducing these people’s whole relationships (and, indeed, “lifestyle,” a term I shudder at) to just the sex.

    (Likewise, I don’t think the Church takes some vastly cynical view to heterosexual marriages just because most are contracepting; the contraception is a sin WITHIN the marriage, and indeed a moral flaw very close to its heart in some ways, but it does not illegitimate the entire marriage or interpersonal relationship or love; likewise, I don’t think we can “throw the baby out with the bathwater” when it comes to gay couples).

    “Same-sex attraction is always an instance of concupiscence.”

    There are two problems here.

    First, “attraction” is a rather slippery term. If you mean, specifically, a desire to have certain types of sex acts, okay, maybe. But I’d tend to think “attraction,” even an attraction based on sexuality (ie, on the categories male and female) is much broader, and has aesthetic and romantic and affectional components that don’t necessarily tend towards genital acts at all, or which can at least be morally abstracted. Of course, this gets lost on both the liberals and the conservatives who both seem to equate the two.

    Secondly, the Vatican currently (in its merely 25 year old position) does not say that same-sex attraction is concupiscence, but rather “objectively disordered.” This is a rather large (and harmful) distinction. The way they currently construct their notions of sexual orientation, heterosexual lust is conceived of as “merely” concupiscence (ie, a good object, just sought in the wrong way)…but homosexual lust (and, indeed, they don’t seem to think of “homosexuality” as anything but lust) is parsed as “objective disordered” (ie, not even a good object).

    This raises serious theological problems, as it implies in some sense that homosexuals are intrinsically depraved (which is not the Catholic notion of the Fall). It implies that the homosexual will is actually ordered towards a wrong object (as opposed to the lower appetite merely seeking a “good object out of the proper context.”) I think this misunderstands just what exactly the “object” of the sexual appetite is, and how the lower appetite functions relative to the higher here. So I would construct homosexual lust and heterosexual lust as both just forms of concupiscence. But that’s not the Vatican’s position currently, the Vatican’s position is much darker and more bigoted.

    “To all appearances, sex between gay or lesbian persons can be an expression of affection, compassion, tenderness, intimacy, and the gift of self.”

    The leap to sex as an “expression of love” is a problematic one, and as someone said above…that basically winds up legitimizing adultery too.

    I have serious concerns about how much the Vatican, through pushing “Theology of the Body” has bought into an essentially sentimenalist and subjectivist romantic narrative about sex (the same narrative that wound up bootstrapping sex and romantic love in the modern world; something that was not at all always the case). In doing so, they may be shooting themselves in the foot by conceding premises that ultimately to conclusions that shouldn’t be reached.

    The connection here to “identity” is also important, as the modern tangle of sexuality with identity politics is another place where the Church has to be very careful, and yet seemingly (in an attempt to defend Her true morality) has ignored important distinctions to simply wade into the Culture Wars. In the process, human beings have been very hurt.

    “The church authorities will undoubtedly have a hard sell to make as society becomes more accepting of homosexual relationships and as these relationships and their fruits become more visible”

    I think if the Church is seen as opposing “relationships,” then the battle is all over. The Church’s teaching is about sex. It isn’t about “relationships” and it isn’t about “lifestyles” (neither of which can be reduced to sex!) But the more the hierarchy makes it seem that way through things like publicly denying communion to couples to “avoid scandal” (even though any sex which may be taking place is certainly taking place in private, and we can’t really jump to conclusions)…the more they’re making themselves seem like they’re attacking people in their very identity (which is only ever social/relational) rather than simply advocating a moral norm regarding behavior/actions.

    All along the Church should have been emphasizing that relationships (and the identity we form in and through relationship with others) cannot be defined by sex acts or other sins, even when those things occur within the relationship. Instead, the hierarchy seemed to BUY INTO the liberal construction which DOES define relationships and thus identity with reference to sex as “essential” to them. This was a huge mistake, and probably needs to be rectified if any sort of credibility is to be regained regarding the moral teaching itself.

    • May 7, 2012 12:37 pm

      “Homogenital acts are likely never to be approved by the Church.”

      You say “likely never.” Can you envision a way it could happen?

      • May 7, 2012 12:54 pm

        Well, if the whole religion is a sham, I suppose.

        But I have Faith that’s not true.

        • May 7, 2012 2:40 pm

          As I may have noted in other discussions, there is a 1902 directive from the Holy Office forbidding the removal of an ectopic pregnancy until the sixth month. Today, the vast majority of Catholic medical ethicists do not hesitate to approve a salpingectomy (removal of the fallopian tube, with the embryo in it) at the earliest possible stage. To the best of my knowledge, the 1902 directive has never been formally contradicted. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. The question here is whether or not there will be a will.

        • grega permalink
          May 7, 2012 3:59 pm

          Never say never –
          Why do you say ‘if the whole religion a sham”?
          I think this is very silly and short sided – obviously a number of very fine, thoughtful theologically sound Christian denomination have no problem accepting openly gay priests and even bishops.
          The sham is in my view yours and others pretense of a finality that.
          Plenty of folks are singing in the basement -lalalala- sure keep it up if you must and verbally keep raising the bar – I bet many will eat their words
          Look no farther than at the history of our religion – how come it was fine to burn alive humans deemed witches as recent as 250 year ago while this is totally out of the question today? Same with slavery same with capital punishment.
          For me it is almost the opposite of what you express – unless religion finds a way to truly reflect on such important societal changes it is a sham.
          To have significant percentage of gay priests but to pretend otherwise is a sham.

        • May 7, 2012 7:23 pm

          Of course, even if you really think there is a “change” on slavery or capital punishment etc…these things were in the direction of becoming MORE restrictive, coming to oppose practices which were previously allowed or tolerated. It’s quite another thing to move in the other direction.

        • May 8, 2012 6:24 am

          But changes in the policies towards usury and religious freedom–which many would regard as involving doctrinal change–were in the direction of less restriction.

        • Jimmy Mac permalink
          May 11, 2012 3:05 pm

          You can have all the faith that you want to have, but the proof is in the pudding. And the pudding is looking worse and worse as time goes on.

  10. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    May 7, 2012 2:09 pm

    Kyle,

    I want to make a serious statement, and I realize that it may sound merely like a cynical gloss. It is not! There is simply no position morally on a whatever issue that the Catholic Church has not approved and disapproved of eventually. That is simply what you get for have a long rich history. In that lies your answer. The rest is decoration, and rather Churrigereseque one at that.

    There will be intellectual clerical factotums who will work out the conceptual details, but that is merely a technicality. One of them is practicing hard for his future career in doing so in these very pages. The intellectual widget used scarcely matters ultimately.

  11. Liam permalink
    May 7, 2012 8:40 pm

    The previously trod method here is that the Church over time more openly accepts factual circumstances that mitigate the gravity of the sin as a subjective matter, as even this Pope has obliquely hinted. This is, in fact, what is happening as a pastoral matter in confessionals.

  12. May 7, 2012 8:53 pm

    I don’t know that I would care to see a revision of the teaching on homosexuality, even if one were possible. But I think we are more than ripe for a rethinking of the prominent role of sexual issues in Christian morality as a whole. Elaine Pagels made the point well a few years back: At the very time Christianity was becoming an imperial religion, the concerns of Jesus about nonviolence and the care of the poor took a backseat to an Augustinian focus on sexual depravity. Many Christians today seem to recognize the need to refocus, but the message is lost on the “non-negotiable issues” crowd.

    • dominic1955 permalink
      May 8, 2012 8:42 am

      I don’t know if I’d trust the Gospel of Thomas lady with being an augur of where the Church was and where it needs to be. We have a magisterium for that.

  13. Jordan permalink
    May 7, 2012 11:33 pm

    Kyle: If, hypothetically, the church magisterium were to change its teaching and profess the existence and goodness of erotic homosexual love, other foundational changes would first have to be made. [...] Third, it would have to redefine its conception of chastity so as to include the possibility of exercising temperance and self-mastery with respect to expressions of non-procreative erotic love. (my ellipsis)

    Your third point illustrates the critical problema the Church wrestles with in the current age: the profound way in which homosexuality has influenced the clerical and religious life of the western Christianity throughout history.

    Many Catholics suspect with good cause that the clerical state and consecrated religious life has long contained many homosexual persons. The western Church’s constant teaching of celibacy for the clergy and religious (even if celibacy for secular clergy was not earnestly enforced until Trent in many places) has formed the clerical state and religious life into a “queer space”, to use a neologism.

    I see no shame in these admissions. For all we know and hope, the pleroma of the Sanctus contains many saints who were what we now call gay or lesbian. Yet the tortured Vatican philosophical language of homosexuality would never officially admit even the pronounciation of “gay”, “lesbian”, and “saint” in the same sentence. I suspect that the Vatican-talk of “objectively disordered” serves not only to quell the use of the terms “gay” and “lesbian” among the clergy and the laity (with varying degrees of success), but also avoid the possibility of applying the virtues of the marital state to non-procreative, homosexual eroticism.

    Should the Vatican embrace Kyle’s third point, the clerical closet might well implode. The alt-society the Church has laid out for queer people will cease to attract simply because a simulacrum of the married life would be licit. Indeed, the degrees of civil recognition given to LGBT couples in many countries might have already contributed to a decline in vocations. Also, the headlong rush in more reactionary corners of the Catholic blogosphere to (wrongfully, libellously) conflate homosexuality with child sexual abuse speaks not only of a very deep unease with the homosexual reality of the second estate. The bigotry of the Catholic reactionary-right also betrays an anxiety that the Church might one day recognize homosexual affection and even eroticism as licit or at least not objectively disordered.

    • May 8, 2012 7:11 am

      Second estate?! Weren’t the clergy the FIRST estate?

      • Jordan permalink
        May 8, 2012 8:58 am

        Quite true. My mistake. All the ancien regime French clergy and religious were the first estate. However, by the time of the French Revolution the episcopate consisted of noblemen. For this reason the ancien regime estates boundaries are not exactly impermeable.

        I (erroneously) used an estates metaphor to illustrate that the clerical and religious life is often socially compartmentalized from lay life.

    • dominic1955 permalink
      May 8, 2012 8:56 am

      This reminds me of all that nonsense stirred up when Cardinal Newman was to be beatified about him and his friend in the Oratory and the fact that they were indeed intimate friends just had to mean they were gay and by implication from some of the homosexual “rights” people, breaking their vows of chastity. I think they were very much grasping at straws to try to have a mascot, much like progressives make “Good Pope John” out to be some sort of ultra-lib.

      Now, there is no problem with the idea (can’t be proven, but I wouldn’t be surprised) that there are gay/lesbian saints if we take that as meaning that maybe some of them were attracted to the same sex but not that they indulged that appetite concurrent to their religious life. However, I can totally understand and agree with the Church’s position of not identifying people with such monikers. If there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, then I see no need to have to make sure to label someone gay especially considering the political and disciplinary (and even doctrinal to some wishful thinkers) ramifications such an action would have.

      • May 8, 2012 9:58 am

        If there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, then I see no need to have to make sure to label someone gay especially considering the political and disciplinary (and even doctrinal to some wishful thinkers) ramifications such an action would have.

        Wouldn’t this hold for labeling someone virgin as well? And yet—correct me if I am wrong—I believe a rather big deal is made out of some of the saints being virgins. Can’t think of any names off the top of my head.

        • dominic1955 permalink
          May 8, 2012 12:24 pm

          Virgin is basically a title of honor and also a liturgical classification-like Confessor or Martyr. It is not merely a commentary on their sexual activity. I cannot fathom seeing in the Missal and Breviary some day, “St. So-and-so, Gay”.

      • May 8, 2012 10:11 am

        There are problems with reading a modern identity construct onto people in the past who probably had no such notion. That’s true.

        However, I’m not sure there is necessarily anything invalid about doing a homosexual “reading” of a historic figure, even if a “reading” is all it can be (just like it is not invalid to do a queer analysis of a text, even if that meaning was unlikely part of authorial intent; half of meaning is how things are received or used).

        In truth, I don’t recall anyone suggesting Newman and Ambrose St-John were anything but celibate. In fact, all the gay readings of them I saw during that news cycle all pretty much said, “But. No one is questioning that they were anything but faithful to their vows.” As such, the conservative homophobic furor at the mere suggestion of such a reading was all the more baffling and troubling.

        A Church which basically pretends gay people don’t exist, tries to ban them from the clergy, and reacts so defensively regarding the whole area…is pursuing policies which are not pastoral, which are downright harmful, and which are going to alienate a whole crowd of people and their increasing crowd of allies. They’re certainly not going to convince anyone of the otherwise valid moral teaching.

      • May 8, 2012 10:14 am

        Now, as for Jordan’s psycho-sociological analysis of the clergy here, I think it may be a bit hysterical, perhaps, but at it’s core I think it contains a large grain of truth. It’s pretty clear that there is something sick in the institutional dynamics of the clergy, that there has been for some time, and that it has something to do with sex and sexuality.

        This doesn’t mean that every (or even most) priests are perverts, or that some sort of unitary psychological profile or subconscious motive can be attributed to the entire college of bishops. Phrasing it as if it is deliberate like that indeed starts to sound like a conspiracy theory; I doubt the Pope or anyone else is consciously thinking, “Oh, if we start to say there’s anything good in homoeroticism, the whole implicit-emotionally-blackmailing psychosocial structure of our self-loathing clerical hot-house will collapse, because it’s all held up by that very tension!!!”

        Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean psychosociology is invalid, or that these sorts of structural features don’t propagate themselves in a given network even if the conscious or individual reasons are myriad. There can be emergent “structural” psycho-sociological problems that don’t necessarily tell us much about any given individual or their motives, and it’s pretty clear at this point that we have a very toxic (and certainly institutionally homophobic; even though so many of the homophobes are latant homosexuals themselves) dynamic in clerical politics. And likely it would be a lot less of a problem (though perhaps still at the upper levels) if married men could be ordained priests.

        • Ronald King permalink
          May 8, 2012 11:43 am

          Sinner, My two comments on 5/7 which you appeared to dismiss as sexual in nature actually relate to identity formation built on unconscious core beliefs about self, others and God. When unresolved shame is part of the foundation of identity then you will have the theological and philosophical elements within the Church today that are resitstant to the proper understanding of human development and intra/interpersonal relationships.

        • Jordan permalink
          May 8, 2012 1:30 pm

          I’ll fully admit that my previous comments were hyperbolic but not necessarily hysterical. I am already insane, so perhaps this insanity contributed to the exaggerations. Even so, I maintain that the clergy and religious are in a large part a queer space, and this space has positively influenced great liturgical and theological insights of the Church. I also agree that the current formation system can lead to certain psychosocial maladies for seminarians of all sexual orientations. A Sinner, you are quite right that my claim that the clerical closet will collapse should the Church adopt a less absolutist stance on homosexuality is hysterical or absurd.

          Perhaps an intermediate step would be the end of the Tridentine-era seminary system for the secular clergy. A shift towards the Protestant divinity school model, with seminarians living outside of the seminary, would foster greater psychosocial integration. Regardless, a proven educational system which fosters emotional and psychosocial maturation of celibate seminarians must be established before the introduction of married candidates to the presbyterate.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          May 22, 2012 2:23 pm

          Jordan,

          You raise a very interesting point about the Protestant divinity school model. But in fact that has already long been adopted by the RC church, but tweaked significantly. And as yet another example of the law of unintended consequences, this adoption or grafting on created it seems a a monster. My experience at Theological College at CUA could not have been more in that line, and we often had classes with Protestant students from the Theological Union. And the head of the ministry training program at CUA was a Lutheran, if memory serves! Ah, but there was a whole subtext to this that I did not remotely grasp till much later.

          You see I believe a lot of this goes right to the personality of the former Pope. Unlike the present guy, he really could lay claim to being a great intellectual. Yet I think it is a fair reading of hist trajectory (which you ain’t going to get from pure hagiographers like Weigel) that he has a sort of intellectual crisis, and turned AWAY from his very intellectual tendencies. The results of this personal crisis are now everywhere in the rather brain-dead reactionary tendencies of various Bishops conferences.

          Case on point exactly. My erstwhile friend Joe Tyson, now Bishop of Yakima, was a perfect exemplar in odd ways. Not because he dumb or anything like it. Joe was very smart and clever in fact. But I was actually shocked when I met him that he was at the same point as myself in theology school, and yet seemed to have zero knowledge of Catholic philosophy per se. And I sure doubt that later he boned up on it. In fact he was ironically more in the contemporary line of having studied other things, and gone through some sort of “pre-theology” training. But manifestly any depth in philosophy was not part of that. I on the other hand had a quite fine training in it, and it is one of the few things that I actually am grateful for from the experience.

          Therefore it seems that the trend has been to create a priesthood without the critical intellectual skills, and leave the the philosophy stuff to specialists, The benefit is then that they clergy can even more readily accept whatever is doled out. The danger they feared, which I am 100% sure they read into cases like mine, is that training guys in too much critical thinking will lead them right out of the door — and gulp! apostasy!!

          I see that Cardinal Wuerl is trying to buck this trend by establishing a new college seminary to concentrate on philosophy again. But it is a sop on a battle that is lost. The vaunted intellectual traidition of the RC church is not a thing of the past, or only for hothouse scholars. For the Bishops and their minions it is all reactionary stupor. No wonder they don’t even get the respect they used to at least for making angels dance on pinheads.

        • May 8, 2012 3:38 pm

          I don’t ultimately disagree with your analysis. I think the clergy demonstrates many of the traits likewise demonstrated by prisons. It is not a healthy environment one way or another.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          May 8, 2012 5:33 pm

          A Sinner,

          I am interested in the warp and woof of your Catholicism, because your comments are somewhat uncanny. Your recent comment on the priesthood as unhealthy prison (which I agree with if one adds that it is a sort of proverbial “country club” prison to which white collar types get sent to sometimes) needs unpacking as a concept. For put together with your very
          conservative comments, it would seem to mean the following. You seem to be saying that orthodox belief is only something that can be maintained by a totalizing ethos of control, such that chances for faulty belief are eliminated generally, and particularly by a clergy that is specially trained in such a totalizing atmosphere like the seminary-prison system. That this sounds quite dystopian is not the point. I would like to know if I have this correct, and if not can you be a bit explicit as to where.

          Btw, for me the priesthood is legible in much more modest terms. Namely, as a species of the archetypal dysfunctional family , writ large. In such a system members primarily learn that to feel alive they must exist in the family insanity as their reality. To not do so, even if it made them much healthier and happier causes great anxiety. Thus, the continuance of the family insanity with its crazy contours ever changing, but somehow owned by them as special in identity, becomes the sine qua non of all existence. It trumps everything, even spirituality itself. Eventually nothing else matters but keeping it going in the specific form of its craziness, even if it destroys a lot….even if it can only be maintained by keeping people in prison.

          AS a side matter, the obvious similarity between this ethos of Catholcism and the modern prison state of American is interesting indeed. But it happened for quite different reasons. All crazy families are unique, as the old saying goes.

        • May 8, 2012 8:43 pm

          “I am interested in the warp and woof of your Catholicism, because your comments are somewhat uncanny. Your recent comment on the priesthood as unhealthy prison (which I agree with if one adds that it is a sort of proverbial ‘country club’ prison to which white collar types get sent to sometimes) needs unpacking as a concept.”

          I think the culture of surveillance of and of this sort of implicit “We’re always watching and evaluating you” in seminaries is creepy as hell. We don’t live in the days of room-searches anymore, but when somewhere like the FSSP seminary in Denton still has “lights out” and limits on internet (not sure how they do that with iPhones and 3G now…) and curfew and such for adult men, the whole thing just strikes me as ridiculously unappealing for any independent modern personality. Add uniforms and a pressure to always be “on” in terms of maintaining docility and decorum, and it’s very hard to see how one could survive it without just shutting off ones brain and affective life (of course, some people are bland and noncontroversial to begin with, and just coast through; others, of course, get off on the “discipline” in a masochistic way).

          “For put together with your very conservative comments, it would seem to mean the following. You seem to be saying that orthodox belief is only something that can be maintained by a totalizing ethos of control, such that chances for faulty belief are eliminated generally, and particularly by a clergy that is specially trained in such a totalizing atmosphere like the seminary-prison system. That this sounds quite dystopian is not the point. I would like to know if I have this correct, and if not can you be a bit explicit as to where.”

          lol, no, it’s not correct at all.

          I’m all for orthodoxy, but very much against the totalizing atmosphere of the seminary prison system and the modern form of clericalism. The clergy used to be anyone who was literate! I think the fact that we now have this “lay clergy” of people (like those of here discussing on Vox Nova) who are religiously literate, and yet aren’t allowed to be “officially” clerics (and therefore are limited in how we can effect things on the ground)…is sort of ridiculous and creates a lot of problems, especially when the defining trait of the “official” clerics then becomes NOT [religious] literacy, but sexlessness and having been put through the hazing process of seminary.

          I would like to see a priesthood based on ordaining many married men from the parish as part-time volunteers to handle lots of smaller masses in little house churches with groups no bigger than 100-200. Perhaps the celibate (or, occasionally, even not) full-time salaried clergy could continue to function as the pastors of the “arch-parishes” comprising the big central church around which these little sites would be organized, and handle the more administrative stuff (as well as being “on call” for emergencies) but neither group should be trained in the seminary hot-houses.

          I imagine that for the volunteer “priests simplex” (though I might in fact allow them to preach and hear confessions if they read pre-prepared patristic homilies, say, and gave no ‘advice’ in confession beyond penances from some nationally approved penitential manual) a simple year or two of some night or weekend courses could be enough.

          For the “full-time” clergy, I certainly think the fact that some people go 6 years AFTER undergrad is ridiculous; the priesthood is NOT rocket-science or brain-surgery. It’s pretty clear that the long timeframe is not so much to make professors of these men (because most aren’t) but simply to give enough time to thoroughly institutionalize them. I think that’s sick. I say seminary could be a 5-year “bachelors + Masters” program for undergrads at regular Catholic universities, or a 2 year Masters program (maybe with an extra year to make up Philosophy for those who don’t already have it) for those who have already completed their undergrad. Seminarians might be expected to attend certain functions, but would otherwise live as normal university students (no special living quarters, no curfew, no constant surveillance, etc)

          If this seems “progressive” it’s not. It frankly goes back to medieval and even antique and Eastern ideas of a secular priesthood that was not so thoroughly Monasticized but was truly secular. So I don’t see it as incompatible with the idea that, in medieval Christendom, burning heretics was not necessarily an absolute evil, but may have been perfectly appropriate (or, at least, it’s a prudential call that was theirs to make) for that given cultural context.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          May 9, 2012 12:17 pm

          Dear A Sinner AND digby,

          First thank you for both for taking the time to spell out your thoughts somewhat intricately. It is truly fascinating to me, so thank you. And let me add this is precisely what blogs could actually do some good for, spelling things out, so others can get the amplitude of the thought and that increases human brotherhood. You are both thoughtful people, and I appreciate that sincerely in a culture that has jettisoned thoughtfulness.

          The trouble is, I really feel like one of those computers in a bad 50’s sci-fi movie with smoke coming out of it (metaphorically) and saying in a monotone voice: “Does not compute! Does not compute!” To explain it let me apologize if the following sounds preachy or know-it-all schoolmarmish.
          But, A Sinner, you seem to have the actual history of the priesthood quite wrong in fact. You seem to assume in the past “the clergy used to be anyone who was literate.” This is simply false for most of the RC Church’s history. And in this mistake of yours lies some insight too, so it is not just a picayune historical matter. In fact for most of the the history of the institution most of the everyday clergy was basically functionally illiterate. This helps us understand two things. First, how it was that the majority of the people could be kept in such vast ignorance of scripture and even of religious doctrine generally, to say nothing of general learning. It explains the great penchant for the most simplistic forms of religiosity at all periods, over any kind of rudimentary thematic understanding. Later apologists had the incredible gall to turn this into a hidden virtue, in the hoary trope that supposedly all these low forms of religiosity were the result of some great sense of the “Incarnation” and the Catholic attempt to deal with being embodied, yadda, yadda. Thus said the Counter-Reformation apologists, and even today someone like Scott Hahn is engaged in the most outrageous pseudo-scholarship explaining every practice which started entirely because of poverty and miseducation (or total lack of) as a some great sacramental.

          Now, famously the Council of Trent tried so change some of that. They did succeed in a modest way, but mostly by enshrining what were the pure results of squalid poverty. Of course I am speaking of institutional rules here and a collection of counter-reformation justifications for side practices of various sorts. Not about liturgy per se which deserves a separate trajectory.
          It is only the liturgy that gets most of the attention in “Tridentine” matters. But the council was mostly about all the other stuff. Look, I mention this digression because it bears exactly on your discussion of seminaries and what priests should be today.

          It seems to me that your view and prescriptions are based on another misunderstanding of the history. But, let me add that I think your ideas for your Church’s priesthood are absolutely excellent, and if they were implemented would completely change the institution’s position in the world. It would in short order become a force for good, I am sure. Because part of being married and having kids is learning to deal with compromise and letting go of ideal explanations, ’cause kids are rarely ideal. So there is a built in commonsense there.

          But your misunderstanding enters at the point where you seem to assume that your view involves a re-claiming of some simpler sense of ministry which obtained once in the church. As an overall matter, it simply did not. The whole system based on benefice precluded it utterly, and the ignorance of the vast majority of clergy made it doubly impossible. We can scarcely grasp today the massive sense in which the Church was just a vast sacred machine of salvation for people. Given that it was mostly based on benefice, we are being fair if we say that what ran the machine was money or treasure, and of course hope of salvation. So your optimistic plans are great but essentially you are creating something new, which is fine and good. Let me add that it is the much more well-known micro-history of various orders and their monasteries and “houses” that has obscured what actually happened on the ground for most clergy and their charges.

          Lastly, all this bears on what some of us went through in seminary itself in fairly recent times. (Btw, I think digby was a seminarian or priest, but were you A Sinner??) Anyways, I consider my own time in the seminary as indicative of the fraught and contradicted nature of competing ideals for the institution. My time at TC at CUA was remarkably free. By time at the Miami seminary was much more in the “surveillance” mode you aver. But not quite in the way one might imagine. I can explain the contradiction by the figure of Fr. Tom O’Dwyer who was our Dean of Students at St. John Vianney. He also is a figure in Albert Cutie’s book Dilemma I believe, but not named, but that is only who he could be. Anyways, O’Dwyer actually had taught at my highschool Archbishop Curley where he was known as a fund guy and a bit of a cut-up. I never had him in class, but that was his rep. He went to St. John’s the same year I entered, and a different side emerged. Put in that position of power at the seminary he reverted to his own training in an Irish seminary in the old country, and instituted a very military discipline. He would sometimes even come into our rooms with his flashlight unannounced just to check nothing was going on, and that we were in bed when appropriated. But the other side was sort of an on/off switch. For in fact I and my friend Greg would see him at least once a week at a bar near the seminary we would go to called The Pony Post (and yes, they let us go out to bars). There everyone got sloshed especially O’Dwyer, and he would buy use pitchers of beer regularly. But where it came near closing time at the seminary we would all rush back because then we had to revert to the “discipline” side, and out would come O’Dwyer’s flashlight for impromptu (and we knew) quite drunken spot room checks by him.

          The moral of the story is this. In most circumstances in life, and certainly in analysis of history, if you assume that the reason contradictions are maintained is primarily to “save the appearances”, you will not wrong. For much of humanity “saving the appearances” is the most profound thing they can imagine, to such an extent that they no longer are capable of seeing them as appearances but as depth and truth.

        • Ronald King permalink
          May 9, 2012 1:53 pm

          Peter, “saving the appearances” is basically a defense mechanism attempting to prevent self and others from seeing the ugnliness within. When I returned in ’05 I experienced the luminous light of God within the Church. It has since been replaced by an awareness of a persistent darkness and anxiety within the hierarchy and members of the Church. Here I am not projecting. I am aware of my darkness and anxiety. When I discuss this with anyone who has a position of influence in the church, I am dismissed with a statement equivalent to over-analyzing or psychologizing. There is an automatic denial. I experienced this everyday for 30 plus years as resistance. Went home exhausted but when we mutually agreed to take this journey inward it was extremely rewarding for all of us in that we gained the freedom to be strong in our vulnerability. The church appears to be extremely defensive and thus extremely contradictory in its present state.

        • May 9, 2012 3:23 pm

          “you seem to have the actual history of the priesthood quite wrong in fact.”

          “You seem to assume in the past ‘the clergy used to be anyone who was literate.’ This is simply false for most of the RC Church’s history.”

          Hm. I’m not sure. I know that, in England, the “benefit of clergy” was gained by proving one could read from the Bible, and that as laymen did start to become literate, they used this to their advantage too to escape worse punishments. This is how “cleric” became “clerk”

          Was it always true in practice? Maybe not. We probably know very little about rural backwater places and the parsons they were assigned. But in THEORY at least, there was a point in the Middle Ages where Cleric and Literate were synonymous.

          “It seems to me that your view and prescriptions are based on another misunderstanding of the history.”

          I know clerical marriage was common until the High Middle Ages (even as it was increasingly officially discouraged and attempted to be prohibited by Rome) even as it still is in the East. And that priests did NOT train in enclosed seminary Total Institutions. In both these senses, the clergy were much more “secular” in the past.

          You may be right that money is the root of all evil. The clergy were salaried after Constantine, and that’s probably the issue. The biggest one of my proposals, then, is really not married priests or ending seminaries, but of a Church handled (in the day-to-day business) by volunteers rather than a class of professionals. THIS may be more “new,” at least in the post-Constantinian world (but, then, it isn’t really new if we look prior to that…)

          It’s funny that as the secular clergy were more and more monasticized…they were shaped by Chastity (in the form of mandatory celibacy) and Obedience (in the form of being Institutionalized, especially through their seminary training)…but Poverty was not on the table.

          “But your misunderstanding enters at the point where you seem to assume that your view involves a re-claiming of some simpler sense of ministry which obtained once in the church.”

          Depends when and where you mean by “once.” Pre-Constantine, in the age of the domus ecclesiae, we may have seen something more like this. But, trust me, I do realize how much of an “Institution” (in the bad sense) it became once it got all caught up in State power etc.

          “We can scarcely grasp today the massive sense in which the Church was just a vast sacred machine of salvation for people.”

          Which I’m rather ambivalent about. I don’t think this is necessarily bad, but I don’t think it’s necessarily ideal either.

          “The moral of the story is this. In most circumstances in life, and certainly in analysis of history, if you assume that the reason contradictions are maintained is primarily to ‘save the appearances’,’ you will not wrong. For much of humanity ‘saving the appearances’ is the most profound thing they can imagine, to such an extent that they no longer are capable of seeing them as appearances but as depth and truth.”

          I recently watched a video where a philosopher was explaining how in Communist countries, no one really BELIEVED in Marxism anymore (in fact, to actually read Marx was quite dangerous) but a belief in everyone else’s belief was enforced…

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          May 9, 2012 5:22 pm

          Ronald,

          I have no trouble believing that the “luminous light of God” can be found in the Catholic Church. But a lot can be found there. Light and dark. For me the real road to healing for this ancient Church is finally really accepting the ramifications of this quite normal fact of life. Because it means you can have really erred gone astray. Thus, saving the appearances.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          May 9, 2012 5:32 pm

          A Sinner,

          Thanks!! Not to be a fussbudget about the historical issue, but just to clarify. What you say about “clerks” primarily pertained to men in orders, and often in scriptoria. Yes, there were a huge percentage of people in monasteries, but the total number was not nearly that of those in the everyday clergy. One of the great things about a liturgy that was largely mumbled in Latin is that in many places hardly anyone cared if it was said in any way properly. One could memorize it approximately, and who would be the wiser.

          I sort of concede your point about the pre-Constantine Church, ’cause I made a too broad statement, but not an incorrect one. I believe that recent research shows that incredibly early priesthood was lucrative in some ways. In fact ti may have been much better before because the distinction between higher and lower clergy did not obtain yet.

          By the way, if anyone doubts my general contention they do not have to wonder about the distant past. The can just look at the RC church in Mexico even in the 19th Century!!!!!! Much of the local clergy was definitely functionally illiterate there and in other parts of Latin America even at that late date. This terrible state also explains some of the abuses that the RC church suffered to, but it does not excuse them in my view.

  14. Nate Wildermuth permalink
    May 8, 2012 12:43 pm

    It is hard to take a step back from the modern world and see things from a medieval point of view. But that’s how the Church still views the world. The Church rejected the modern world a long time ago. Those of us born in the modern world find it pretty hard to understand the Church’s teachings on sexuality. We might accept such teachings, grudgingly or willingly, but it is still pretty hard to understand where the Church is coming from. Why are charts okay, but condoms aren’t? Why is sterile sex among the elderly okay, but not sterile sex among men?

    It can be helpful to remember that our modern world is a pretty new development in human history. We take for granted what we see around us. The Church doesn’t. In fact, the
    Church takes a look at our world, and far from seeing a bright near-utopia, it sees a dense and vast darkness. It sees a world that has given the middle-finger to God.

    Although the Church’s shrill tone has become muted since Vatican II, its teachings remain radically opposed to our Enlightened civilization. The Church’s style has changed, but its content hasn’t. And it won’t.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
      May 8, 2012 4:08 pm

      Nate,

      On the other hand, see the recent conference held at Washington University in St. Louis on Benedict XIV: The Enlightenment Pope, of great interest to cultural historians like myself, for diverse reasons. Whatever it means, it betokens some sense that people are trying to do some mind -meld between the RC Church and at least some aspects of the Enlightenment,

    • dominic1955 permalink
      May 8, 2012 4:47 pm

      To at least see where these things are coming from (i.e. why presumably-married elder sex is OK vs. homosexual sex is not) all one has to do is pick up one of the pre-Vatican II moral theology manuals and start reading. Most of them explain the principles from which those sorts of conclusions are drawn.

    • Liam permalink
      May 8, 2012 5:46 pm

      Well, your reduction of “the Church” to this limited institutional way begs the question, doesn’t it (just as reducing “the Church” to just all the faithful currently alive would be, right)?

    • Bruce in Kansas permalink
      May 9, 2012 9:56 pm

      I think the Church takes a much longer view on things than most of us are comfortable with. If the world’s current demographics continue, in a few centuries the dominant culture will be quite different than the current secular one. The Church’s positions on women, marriage, rights of conscience, and bioethics might seem quite enlightened and even liberal at some point.

      • May 21, 2012 4:40 pm

        Indeed. Brown people are the future, and God already is throwing whole generations of decadent white bourgeosie into the furnace to prepare for that future. And I can only say: amen! The West has destroyed itself, and now we must truly “hate our mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters” if we wish to remain Christian. Because, for most of us, our friends and family are likely going straight to Hell.

        I, for one, can barely contain my glee.

  15. Jimmy Mac permalink
    May 8, 2012 5:25 pm

    The more important question is: can the LGBT communities ever approve of the Catholic Church? My guess is NO.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
      May 8, 2012 10:20 pm

      Jimmy Mac,

      You clearly have not met many ritual queens. Get with the program.

      • Jimmy Mac permalink
        May 9, 2012 2:36 pm

        Let me clarify, then: The more important question is: can any self-respecting, affirmed and affirming member of the LGBT communities ever approve of the Catholic Church? My answer is not only NO but hell no.

        • May 10, 2012 8:49 pm

          You are defining your own answer with adjectives like “self-respecting, affirmed and affirming” (defined according to your own conclusion already; begging the question).

          There are certainly Gay Catholics. Not just “same sex attracted,” but out and proud Gay. Some of them dissent on the question of sexual morality (like so many heterosexuals do likewise) and simply ignore it, others really are celibate or trying to be (while still bemoaning the institutional homophobia), others struggle or wrestle with the question of how to reconcile both parts of their identity and what is really essential to either.

  16. digbydolben permalink
    May 9, 2012 1:52 am

    It strikes me that the one person writing here with the deepest and most honest regret regarding the way the Church has historically treated “same-sex-attracted” folks is, ironically, the only “true conservative” writing here.

    It’s “Sinner,” and that’s because “Sinner” really IS a “true conservative”–that is, one in the pragmatic but compassionate Burkian mold. I think he’s to be given a great deal of credit for being so broad-minded and compassionate in his approach to the subject.

    On the other hand, he’s also the one who really does understand that the deeply psychotic and paranoid, and, often, quite hypocritical and deceitful response (because generally “closeted”) of the clerical caste of the present-day Catholic Church to the challenge posed by the “same-sex-attracted”–including those whose whole affective nature is transformed by their erotic attractions, whether acted upon or not–is proving to be a gift to the “revisionists” and “progressives” like myself, who wish to see the crumbling of orthodox Christianity’s fundamentalist position regarding “same-sex marriage.”

    He seems to me to be the one who is warning the bigoted, aged and out-of-touch hierarchs that their position toward this particular sexual minority seem to threaten to become, in its conspicuous viciousness, the “Galileo problem” of the modern Church–and, in particular, as it affects the way that Catholic youth are coming to see their inherited religious tradition.

    As for me, though, I welcome the extraordinarily reactionary and defensive position of these old cardinals and bishops, because I know that hysterical fear is justified–that it signifies that the battle for “equal marriage rights” in civil society has largely been won. Even yesterday, as North Carolina voted to foreclose even the possibility of “civil unions” for “gay” folks, one to the leaders of that temporarily successful movement confessed that he knew that, in a decade or two, “gay marriage” would be fully acceptable to almost everybody.

  17. Jordan permalink
    May 9, 2012 3:56 pm

    A Sinner [May 8, 2012 8:43 pm]: I say seminary could be a 5-year “bachelors + Masters” program for undergrads at regular Catholic universities, or a 2 year Masters program (maybe with an extra year to make up Philosophy for those who don’t already have it) for those who have already completed their undergrad. Seminarians might be expected to attend certain functions, but would otherwise live as normal university students (no special living quarters, no curfew, no constant surveillance, etc)

    This entire post is genius, A Sinner. Fully agreed on all points, and especially the above. The “ministry student” model would be a very welcome change from the inpatient seminary model. From my experience, ministry students and Anglican seminarians are usually more adjusted than many of their Roman Catholic counterparts.

    What’s holding back more of the laity from backing real change in seminary education? Fantasy. I am convinced that some of the laity want identical assembly-line Bing Crosbys in soutanes, and not psychosocially and psychosexually integrated leaders with the idiosyncrasies of normal people. The idea of a priest as sacramental PEZ dispenser scares me, but from what I have witnessed over the years an emotionally castrated priest is desired by some of the laity.

    I do not know why this denial is the case. Perhaps laypersons want Sunday Mass and the conclusory “good morning, Father” on the parish stoop to resemble an alternatve world that’s freed from the worries of family life? Or, perhaps some of the laity fear that liberating seminary life will force the laity to confront the reality that clergy are sexual? Either way, the sex abuse crisis and non-abusive psychosexual struggles of the clergy demand that we liberate the seminaries now. The clergy and laity together will figure out clerical formation in fear and trembling.

    • May 9, 2012 7:40 pm

      “Inpatient” lol. I’ll have to quote that sometime, it’s so true.

      I am in totally agreement with everything you say here.

    • Liam permalink
      May 10, 2012 7:41 am

      “. . .an emotionally castrated priest is desired by some of the laity.”

      Indeed, yes.

    • dominic1955 permalink
      May 10, 2012 8:33 am

      I really don’t think that most of the laity have even the foggiest idea of what a seminary really is or that it is anything other than some magical place where priests are made.

      Personally, I think seminary training is a pretty big waste of money. Ideally, were I bishop (and I do not wish that on myself or anyone), I’d stay away from the system and set up shop back in the diocese with a apprentice type arrangement coupled with an academnic formation at a solid school. I would want my guys to be impeccably orthodox/orthoprax and not weird, I don’t think that would be too much to ask.

      • May 10, 2012 11:30 am

        Apprenticing WHAT though? The idea always sounds good to me just because of the idea of an apprentice seems quaint…but then you start thinking, and realize that all a priest really has to DO…is read words out loud out of a book, and wave his hand over things. There is really no SKILL involved at all. You would want orthodoxy, yes, but most priests I know are no more educated about theology than any of the religiously literate lay Catholics I know online, see in blog comments, etc. Maybe someone could “test out” of the theology program requirement somehow. And as for pastoral skills, well most priests lack that horribly anyway, so apprenticing priests would merely cause the same awful pastoring to be propagated to the next generation. Frankly, like teaching, I’m not sure it’s something you can really learn. There are good teachers and bad, when it comes to classroom management and everything…and I’m not really sure how much training can do to stop that. You have to recruit those with a knack and intuition for it in the first place.

        • dominic1955 permalink
          May 11, 2012 1:07 pm

          In the liturgical/sacramental side, sure. One should elaborate a little more on reading out of a book and waving one’s hands. Obviously, as you know, there is a bit more to it than that. One should at least be taught how to do it with the proper gravitas and style. That wouldn’t take terribly long, but liturgical style is best learned by living it.

          As to the rest of it, I’m speaking in the ideal. I know many if not most priests are either ignorant or not particularly good at what they do. You’d have to apprentice people to one’s self (if the bishop) or to priests specifically chosen because they aren’t lackluster like many of their confreres. Since the buck ultimately stops with the bishop, he (ideally) should be a pinnacle of orthodoxy and good sense. It is up to him to ordain only men that are top notch and whip the rest of them into shape. That’s basically what he’s going to be judged on someday, so its certainly worth getting serious and hands-on with.

  18. Anne permalink
    May 10, 2012 3:37 am

    Does the Church have to approve of homosexuality to agree to allow civil marriages between homosexuals? I realize that, historically, the Church has always fought tooth and nail to stop this sort of cultural change involving marriage, be it civil divorce, remarriage, or civil marriage itself. But in this post-Christendom, pluralistic age, it seems to me there are arguments to be made, even by the current moral standards of the Church, to allow secular authorities to rein in homosexuality via legal status. If homosexual sin is the problem, civil marriage would mitigate many of the bad effects of the sin, from STDs and AIDS spread via promiscuity to the shame and shunning of those related to homosexuals. This may be a stretch, but in reality the Church currently lives with civil marriages that flaunt its own view of what marriage is, esp. via divorce and remarriage. Why not save itself some angst by realizing now that the spectre of homosexual marriage will likely be no harder to deal with than the current reality of heterosexual marriages involving the divorced and childless by design?

    • May 10, 2012 10:43 am

      Of course, you have answered you own question! The Church need not expend its moral and political capital this way, and indeed when the Church has found itself unable to change dominant or at least highly-placed practices (e.g. the polygamy of Charlemagne, the public concubinage of the ancien régime, or as you noted, the relaxing of laws regarding the sale of contraceptives or of “no-fault” divorce), it has found a way to continue to proclaim the Gospel all the same. To be sure, there are risks either way. Stand by in silence and allow the change to occur, and the Church risks sending the message to the faithful that this is something about which the Church no longer cares, or perhaps even worse mixed messages dividing the faithful. On the other hand, taking an inflexible stance when, for good or ill, the faithful in particular and people of good will in general, simply do not or cannot see wisdom, reason, logic, or charity in the Church’s teaching, risks the credibility of the fundamental task of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. Sometimes new, rising practices need to be resisted even at great cost. Other times, one needs to be credible on other grounds to move hearts.

      I suspect that many in the Church feel, not without justification, that the Church’s relative lack of resistance on other matters has led to a worse situation, a coarsening of the social moral vision, and are worried that the same mistake ought not to be made again. Others might not want the evident failure of the Church on other moral grounds (i.e. the sexual abuse scandal) to be grounds not to stand up on other issues. Even so, as I noted above, there are many ways the Church can meaningfully live out its mission, and it is minimally clear that the Church will have to learn how to live in a context with same-sex marriage in a practical way, whatever the results of specific legal battles in specific places. The reality of same-sex marriage is already here, and no one benefits from a lack of a nuanced ecclesial response.

    • May 10, 2012 11:43 am

      There is no absolute moral requirement to oppose civil unions, or even civil gay “marriage” I don’t think. Neither of these things, as mere legal constructs, imply supporting homogenital acts or believing that the procreatively structured union of a man and a woman isn’t special and uniquely important.

      Frankly, I think there are plenty of reasons to actively support civil unions for all sorts of life-partnerships (which may or may not be sexually active.) And when it comes to “marriage,” well, ultimately that’s just a word. I am uncomfortable with the State being used to redefine THOUGHT through legislating a redefinition of LANGUAGE (“1984″ anyone?), so I wouldn’t actively support it especially when civil unions are a viable alternative for all the same legal protections without the corresponding philosophical baggage (why should the State wade into philosophy? Though, of course, it always does.)

      But I’m not going to put a lot of energy into opposing it either, and I would not consider it heresy if someone held the position, “Look, I am against homogenital acts and consider the open-to-life union of a man and woman to be a unique natural [and sacramental] institution. But, I don’t believe extending equivalent legal benefits to other types of relationships somehow takes something away from it, as if it has to be legally singled-out, and indeed I think language has evolved so that ‘marriage’ now means any life-partnership and not just the union of mates, as such the law should reflect the popular understanding and usage of the WORD, and we who know that there is still an important distinction to be made should just start using a different word for OUR institution.”

      There are still hermeneutical issues regarding how marriages in the past are “read” retroactively. Someone whose understanding of marriage is just an institutionalization of a romantic partnership…would be historically dishonest to look back a medieval marriage and see an equivalence, when the medieval would most certainly NOT have identified the two arrangements with each other. Yet this is what seeking to co-opt the WORD is all about, really; namely, seeking to co-opt the long tradition and symbolic power and historical legitimacy, but under the form of a totally different essence through a sort of linguistic sleight of hand (as if changing the boundaries of the semantic field somehow actually changes the Ideas involved).

      But, I think thoughtful and intellectually honest people on both sides of the question all know that this is what’s going on, so I really don’t think it’s worth putting political effort or capital into this culture-wars battle.

  19. May 10, 2012 10:57 am

    A good deal has been tossed about here concerning the state of life in contemporary seminaries. The descriptions given above describe seminaries and houses of formation I have never seen and seminarians and formators I must not have met. Does this mean I deny the truth of Peter Paul’s account of his life in the seminary? Not at all. Might there be seminaries and houses of formation, even today, that exhibit the features worried about above? I have no doubt this is so. Still, the plain truth is that no one on this blog, not Peter Paul, not Sinner, not dominic1955, not myself, not Kyle, nor anyone else is in any position to speak globally about modern seminary life. For that matter, none of us is in the position to speak even about seminary life in the USA or Canada in a comprehensive way. Sure, we can all trot out our shiny credentials and insist we are the ones really in the know, but if we have a shred of honesty, we’d keep our mouths closed. What might be more helpful would be specific accounts of specific seminaries or houses of formation, the actual men working there and studying there, and the like. Otherwise, those who have had my experience of formation will simply not recognize except notionally or historically the scenarios being described here. This would be a loss, especially if someone like me then finds himself inclined to dismiss your concerns as worried fantasies or bad days happily past, and so be unable to look out for happier and healthier ways to form the men over whom I do have some (not much!) influence.

    • May 10, 2012 9:06 pm

      Dominic, we CAN make certain generalizations about seminary life.

      Most importantly, it IS still almost entirely “inpatient.” There are a few seminaries where Religious live at houses of formation and then attend classes at an associated seminary or university, but that’s really the exact same thing.

      One of the features of a Total Institution (which is what seminaries ARE by design) is people’s lives being, well, totalized. In other words, seminarians house-mates are also their classmates, colleagues, social circle, etc etc. You live there AND work there. There is no “going home at the end of the day” in a manner that allows you breathing room.

      This same feature, combined with superiors also being constant living companions, is what causes the “culture of surveillance.” Again, this is not something that can be disputed. It’s just a fact that seminarians LIVE WITH their superiors, and that they’re THERE a lot. This alone creates constant pressure to be “on” all the time. Most people would go nuts if their boss also boarded in a room in their house, came to breakfast and dinner, etc…because home is the place where you’re supposed to go back to in order to let your hair down and bitch about your boss! Instead (and I have heard from seminarians), a whole weird “politics” develops that is 100 times worse than mere inter-office politics exactly because of the “closed system” nature of the little society.

      There are vacations, sure, and some seminarians can even leave on weekends, etc, and leave campus (though usually only at pre-defined times, or by getting permission FIRST). But in the seminary life itself there is no “off” time. A seminarian isn’t just “in seminary” during class, but during his “free” time too, and while he’s sleeping! This isn’t disputable: seminaries are LIVE-IN, and not just live-in like a college or something (where the dorms are functionally separate from the classroom, and where you can do whatever you want when class is not going on).

      Furthermore, it is not deniable that major seminary is known to take 4, 5, 6, 7 years (8 if you count men first attending a college seminary). This is TOTALLY UNNECESSARY. Religious orders with novitiates and juniorates are a separate question, but diocesan priests simply DON’T NEED TO SPEND THAT MUCH TIME. Those figures are literally as long as, like, medical school or something, and yet priests do not emerge from the seminaries with some huge set of skills. Most are less theologically astute than most lay Catholics you see online who picked it up informally, they are not coming out of there with incredible pastoral skills (which, as I said, I think you either have or you don’t). The long time-frame is clearly just to institutionalize them, weed out troublemakers, and enforce a sort of bland compliance and keeping-ones-head-down, which certainly doesn’t produce leaders.

      You can dispute specific points regarding toxic atmosphere. But you cannot deny that seminaries are live-in, or that they take 5-6 years.

      And I’d argue that those two facts just in themselves are problematic and need to be addressed.

      • Thales permalink
        May 11, 2012 1:48 pm

        A Sinner,
        There’s a lot in your post (and some of it doesn’t correspond with my experience with seminaries), but I wanted to comment on one thing. You seem to say that seminaries shouldn’t take a long time because priests don’t emerge with complicated skills or theological knowledge. But there’s a different, and I suspect more important, reason for having a longer seminary time vs. a shorter time: because a priest is a religious vocation, not a job that merely requires training, and it’s not a bad idea to have a longer time for discernment purposes, especially considering the vows of chastity (for diocesan) plus poverty and obedience (for religious orders) that the priest eventually takes.

        • May 11, 2012 10:54 pm

          Of course, that’s the final point I didn’t even mention: it can’t be denied priests are celibate.

          So it is indisputable that going to seminary means going to Celibate Adult Boarding School for 4-6 years of your life, then getting out and living the life of a cushy but browbeaten and taken-for-granted (and lonely) low level bureaucrat.

          Necessary? Not at all. But I think there’s an urge within the system to keep that set-up so that the idea that they’re all making a big sacrifice can be maintained

        • Thales permalink
          May 12, 2012 8:56 am

          A Sinner,
          Your thoughts are interesting and worth pondering, but I guess I’m still slightly surprised and curious and puzzled about why I’m don’t seem to be seeing in your comments an acknowledgment of the notion of “priesthood as vocation” and the fact that any vocation (whether married, or celibate, or in a religious order, or whatever) generally requires a period of discernment. Even if you’re entirely correct in every other observation about the seminary, isn’t there a need for some (and perhaps significant) time period for discernment purposes?

        • May 16, 2012 9:25 am

          Discernment for what, though? For a life of being an “imperial eunuch” in a massively inefficient and petty bureaucracy that has driven many to alcoholism? Of course one should think VERY LONG and hard before committing to THAT, and such a high barrier-to-entry/”filter” makes sense.

          But if the priesthood were a volunteer part-time thing that was carried out largely by married men from the parish, then the burden of the vocation changes too, and probably requires less discernment.

          “Human formation” in the form of institutionalizing men…is creepy.

        • May 16, 2012 9:35 am

          Furthermore, I’ll add this: what good is a discernment “filter” if it doesn’t actually resemble the life being discerned?

          Secular priests aren’t monks. They don’t live in seminaries their whole lives. In fact, there is a startling contrast between the life of a priest and the life of a seminarians. Seminarians have to live in community under an atmosphere of at least implicit constant supervision. Priests, on the other hand, are set loose on the world living, very often now with the shortage, utterly alone and with NO supervision at all.

          The seminary weeds out a certain type of person and selects for a certain type of person, to be sure. But it’s not at all clear that many of the types it weeds out are bad (in fact, I’d argue that we loose a lot of dynamic potential leaders) nor that the type it selects for has anything to do with what would be best in a priesthood.

          I think there’s a real problem when it is the nature of the discernment process itself that scares so many off, rather than the nature of the thing being discerned. I know many friends who say things like, “I’d be a priest tomorrow, I’d even be willing to be celibate for it. But I’m not going to waste 6 whole years of my life in a re-education asylum.” What’s the point of discernment if its the structure of the discernment itself (which doesn’t resemble at all the lifestyle being discerned) that is the barrier for so many?

          If we want the kind of hard-working leaders, the men (given that they valorize manliness in seminary so much now), who become doctors and lawyers and businessmen…well, maybe you should open the priesthood to doctors and lawyers and businessmen, or at least structure the training so that it is something this type of personality would be willing to go through (hint: most of them aren’t willing to go through Adult Boarding School, certainly not for 5 or 6 years).

        • Thales permalink
          May 21, 2012 10:27 pm

          Discernment for what, though?

          Um, discernment to the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the reception of an indelible mark on the soul and a permanent commitment to serve Christ’s Church in imitation of Christ.

          Let’s end the conversation. Suffice it to say that your experience and impressions of the seminary seems to be different from mine and that of my seminarian/priest friends.

    • Thales permalink
      May 10, 2012 9:23 pm

      Heh, Dominic, I was thinking something similar. So thanks for your comment. I don’t doubt that the people here have had the experiences they’ve described and that some seminaries might have environments still like that today. But my personal experience of seminaries through my seminarian friends/priests over the past 10+ years doesn’t comport at all with the general tone of the observations in this thread, and has been much more positive.

  20. digbydolben permalink
    May 10, 2012 9:57 pm

    Everyone here may be interested in this–especially those who say the Church can never “evolve” regarding “same-sex unions”: seems the Catholic and Apostolic Church once did, indeed, consecrate “same-sex unions”:

    http://www.theawl.com/2012/05/sex-and-punishment

    • May 11, 2012 6:50 am

      This has already been addressed in this thread. It’s part wishful thinking. But it’s also an example of something that, while likely somewhat foreign to us based on the different age and cultural context, could nevertheless be resourced. But don’t expect it to mean a change on the teaching regarding chastity. It could mean, at most, a recognition of love and relationships in themselves, not of sex acts (however frequently you have the audacity to assume they “must” have been occurring).

  21. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    May 10, 2012 10:17 pm

    Dominic,

    Since you have invoked my example and done me the solid of not dissing my cred, let me answer forthrightly. The problem is the opposite of what you say in the end , though. The problem is that not enough people who have been in the seminary have described their experience…. they have kept silent instead. And boy, after my internet peregrinations I know the reason why. There is a whole phalanx of Catholic defenders who are out to cast every possible aspersion on a person that can be cast. I am in the position of having experienced enough in life that I am not daunted by this necessarily. But still sometimes it has taken me aback: the sheer cussedness and baseness of it all, in the guise of religion. Well, Dominic, of course, nothing like this comes from folks like you, and in that is the insight. There is, and always has been, a smart compassionate set in the RC church that wants something better. But when are you all going to admit that you are the tiny minority. In that is the truth. And draw the conclusions, pragmatically, thence.

    I dare say my own seminary experience is small potatoes to what some could come up with. And those are the ones that are silent. Draw your conclusions from that demographic probability, not from the the perhaps lucky experience you had.

    The whole organization seems so utterly irresponsible. I can tell you that it takes a conscious mental effort for me to deal with some bare minimum of respect. Not because I think it particularly deserved. But only because I will not debase myself with mere brawling.

    • May 12, 2012 7:32 am

      Dear Peter Paul,

      Thank you for your honesty, as well as, much as it pains me to read it, your forthright account of your experience in the seminary.

      I am not sure we have drawn such different conclusions about what needs to happen, namely, that we need and want to hear more. What I was fumbling at above was a plea to find a way around, over, through, underneath, whatever our impasse, viz. that the conclusions that you take to flow clearly from the evidence you have at hand are not manifested in my experience of my own formation nor in those of people I know and formation programs I know (and conversely, that my conclusions seem at best to be, on your view, a happy but minority one, unwittingly dangerous because its promoters, in presenting their true but minority account, end up shielding from view the moral turpitude that is encouraged by and results from the contemporary seminary). It is possible on my account that your experiences are true (of which I have no doubt) but that (a) they no longer obtain in as widespread a way as they did when you were a seminarian and perhaps even (b) were more locally confined even in your own days than you imagine (although I tend not to believe [b] on account of parallel stories), but certainly (c) the program of priestly and religious formation as such is not in bad shape. Likewise, it is possible on your account to be gracious in appreciating the “smart compassionate set” (in which you have kindly placed me) while nonetheless thinking that our smartness and kindness would be of better use if we took our blinders off.

      We can resolve this clash of perspectives rather better by hearing from seminarians’ and ex-seminarians’ experience, “ex” in the sense of those now ordained and in active ministry, those ordained who later left active ministry (by official act of the Church or on their own), those who chose to leave the seminary, and those who were “asked to leave”, in addition to formators and ex-formators. Obviously, no one of these categories has an intrinsically better position on the truth of the matter, and one could for various reasons dismiss this one’s account because he is “in the system” or that one’s account because he is still experiencing guilt from leaving the seminary (a guilt almost certainly misplaced, and almost always unwarranted). Even so, the larger story tends to step out from a bigger sample. We may not agree on what to do in light of the findings, but the findings, I think, we agree are important to know.

      That was the silence I intended, not a silence in talking about the experience of seminaries and houses of formation, but rather a turning down the volume by those of us who have formed conclusions from the evidence available to us but whose conclusions seem largely incompatible descriptions of the present state of affairs.

      By the way, it’s either oddly distracting or painfully to the point that an initial discussion about the Church changing its perspective on same-sex marriage would transform into a discussion about the formation of priests!

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        May 14, 2012 10:45 pm

        Dominic,

        It is funny that so many occasions having to do with myriad facets of RC Church life are so easily handled by the old Latin dictum:

        Quod licet Jovi,

        Non licet bovi.

        You poor bull, you may have had a bad experience, but that is not how the gods see the whole matter of experience itself. The gods will decide what the experience means, and how to fix it, and even more they will measure whether it is fixed it with some help from the Fates.

        Sorry, Dominic, I don’t believe a word of what you say. I have been there. The day of reckoning that you all dread, is simply a day of honest responsibility to your fellow human beings who happen to be raised catholic and might be drawn into the seminary for diverse reasons. It is the day of responsibility to say that whatever the desiderata may be it will not be done in an abusive manner. Nothing that has happened since I have left gives the slightest encouragement that the RC church can do it on its own. As always, they will dragged kicking and screaming into simple societal decency. No offense to you personally, I don’t think you are a bad guy.

      • May 17, 2012 7:16 am

        A pity you imagine that your experience is both definitive and absolute. I makes conversation impossible. You have been done an ill turn, but you are choosing to look at the Church by means of that darkness. Perhaps on a happier moment we might actually have a conversation.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          May 17, 2012 4:32 pm

          Dominic,

          Most of my moments have been quite happy since I exited the RC church. I see my life as very blessed and lucky in so many ways, and I try in every way to maintain a spirit of a giant thank you to the Divine. AS I always hasten to say, even my worst moments in the seminary were far less problematic than many a story I have heard. Still, I would hope even for those people that eventually they would see the experience as part of a larger architecture in their lives. But ironically that takes really seeing the “darkness” for what it was. It was NOT — as I am betting you are wont to see it!– as an aberration or a decadence. NO, it was just the same old get-along for personal selfishness and stupidity that is present everywhere in human society. It would be silly to construe the RC Church as worse in that sense, for matters that are just part of the human condition. BUT the RC Church IS worse in one spectacular way. It imagines the the basic thrust of its efforts MUST be right, no matter what. Why?? Well, just because the “gates of hell will not prevail against it” — that’s why! How convenient. Thus all the commonsense wisdom about ‘sussing the real problems with men, which men understand very well with each, eludes them constantly. This creates a very creepy weak-kneed approach to everything. This makes operating in a real way in the world impossible. This is why it will have to be done for them, in my personal opinion. In this sense, it is just an organization of perpetual adolescents, like in Thomas Cole’s “Youth” painting from the Voyage of Life series, gazing at a castle in the air. Check it out on Google Images and imagine an old priest instead of the Youth and you got the picture!

        • Ronald King permalink
          May 18, 2012 8:04 am

          PP, I just had to jump in & support your statement. The darkness must be brought to light and not defended with projection/dissociation

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          May 18, 2012 9:36 pm

          Ronald,

          To just be yourself is to dispel the darkness.

        • Ronald King permalink
          May 19, 2012 8:43 am

          Peter Paul, On an individual level, I agree. I was talking about the darkness within the system.

  22. Anne permalink
    May 11, 2012 10:04 pm

    “Everyone here may be interested in this–especially those who say the Church can never “evolve” regarding “same-sex unions”: seems the Catholic and Apostolic Church once did, indeed, consecrate “same-sex unions”:

    http://www.theawl.com/2012/05/sex-and-punishment<&lt;

    These so-called "same-sex unions" continue to this day in the Eastern churches, but hardly represent sexual bonds, much less marriages. For more information on the history and meaning of the various ceremonies, see:

    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/gay-marriage-reimagining-church-history-50

    • dominic1955 permalink
      May 16, 2012 4:58 pm

      Its funny (in a sad way) how easily people let themselves be lied to by academics falsely so-called out to make a buck. It reminds me of the book “Arming America” by Michael Bellesiles that tried to argue that Americans by and large didn’t own guns in the earlier days. It was published in a shiny volume and touted as “proof” for a lack of early-American gun culture, errors and omissions abounded in it.

      I guess if you want to waste the time to write a BS tome on some darling leftist ideology, some publishing house will take you up and get you in the New York Times. Fools will by the book and even when its debunked, the “black legend” will still be bandied about by those who consider themselves enlightened. Sad…

  23. David of Wales permalink
    May 12, 2012 11:47 am

    Gaudium et spes teaches that there are two co-equal purposes for sexual intimacy: procreation of children and the unity(love) of the spouses. Was this not a significant development of church teaching? Wouldn’t the next logical step be to disconnect the two, so as to envision the legitimacy of sexual relations for one or the other, depending on the circumstances of the couple? And if we could envision that development in teaching, does it not take us a step closer to being able to envision legitimate sexual relations between two people of the same gender?

    • dominic1955 permalink
      May 16, 2012 4:48 pm

      Gaudium et Spes does not teach two “co-equal” purposes, it teaches the same thing that Pius XI taught. The procreation and education of children are the “ultimate crown” of conjugal union per Gaudium et Spes. Even more preposterous is the assertion that Gaudium et Spes’s non-development could somehow allow for sexual relations that do not have procreation as a primary end.

  24. May 14, 2012 8:07 am

    i have immature questions for the blogger-do you think Christ approves of homosexual conduct? Same-sex marriage? Incest? Fornication? How does the approval of these things connect with the Gospel?

    • May 20, 2012 4:13 pm

      Christ approves of eternal damnation. Could anyone (with the possible exception of a Hitler) deseerve such a fate? Morevoer, He said that faith is necessary for salvation. Faith is different from knowledge, which means you can’t know the rules until you’re already in Hell and it’s too late. Of course He disapproves of same-sex marriage. He doesn’t know right from wrong.

      • May 21, 2012 4:44 pm

        It is not just “can anyone” deserve such a faith that we must believe, as if it is something only “Hitlers” deserve.

        The truth of our faith is this: EVERYONE deserves Hell.

        Salvation is entirely gratuitous, and we can’t merit the first grace of justification at all.

        Mankind without grace is BAD. If you refuse to believe this because you think, “I’m not so bad a person,” or “My friends are nice people,” or “My family is decent and upstanding”…then you are blind. Completely blind. Without reference to grace, we are all nothing more than kindling for the fires of Hell, hairy bags of blood and shit with holes on both ends.

  25. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    May 19, 2012 1:18 pm

    Ronald,

    Forgive me for putting my response down here, but the William Carlos Williams look was getting a bit challenging for this discussion.(I almost wanted to say “Among the rain and lights I saw the figure of five tipsy priests ….moving tense, unheeded through the dark city.”)

    Anyways, the particular issue with the systemic issues of the RC church is culturally special. In most cases in other fields there really is a systemic or macro issue at the heart. But in the RC case it is a bit different I would argue. It IS the individual issue at heart. You have an organization of men in priesthood that encourages individuals to NOT accept themselves and has an ancient and complex theology, with lots of technical wiggle room and epikeias, to help them stay in a state of denial. It really is an interesting case study culturally and quite different, in my view. This is also why though it is true that there is great spiritual depth in aspects of Catholicism, on a day-to-day level what most of the laity are receiving from priests is more the result of their compromises with their personal anxiety and the solecisms that result.

    • Ronald King permalink
      May 20, 2012 9:45 am

      Peter Paul, I always look forward to your responses. I agree with you. At the beginning of and throughout my former life as a psychotherapist I was consistently confronted with the revelation of hidden and vulnerable aspects of my “self” being seen within the darkness of “protection” where I”they” had hidden since death and shame had first fractured the life- giving and life-sustaining fragile connection to my mother who was the source of all that mattered in those early stages of identity development. Upon entering catholic grade school and becoming an altar boy the shame would only increase along with the anxiety associated with not being good enough and being discovered as such. I remember feeling after being given 3 Our Fathers and 3 Hail Mary’s after each confession that it appeared that it did not matter what I confessed, there was an emptiness in the confessional which I thought was me for decades. Consequently, I was always attempting to be something that I was not and always fearing that whatever was so wrong with me would be discovered sooner or later.
      So, in those early years of my profession it was and continued to be those highly sensitive souls who could see through my defenses and would be courageous enough to speak about what they saw in me which prevented them from developing the safe and nourishing attachment denied them throughout their lives. However, they did not know how to verbalize this initially until I was able to understand the language of their symptoms being triggered as a result of what they saw being triggered in me in our work together.
      If I remained the “authority” who was detached and clinical then it would reinforce that they were the problem and the “lie” would continue through attempting to create better coping mechanisms in order to decrease the symptoms of that lie. The more I was able to understand and accept what they were telling me the more I would feel the weight of not only their burden but also my burden. That was the beginning of healing the pain of the loss of love of the hidden self . I suppose that I bring this up because there seems to exist within the church a structure which is built to defend the religious from the self-awareness and/or public exposure of that shame which prevents the human connection of love which we were created for. Those who support that structure will defend it to the death because it is built on the adoration of the intellect with all of its complex constructs of reason devoted to creating a sense of security to avoid the intrusion and discovery of all that is considered “ugly” and “evil” within.
      Low blood sugar must go.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        May 20, 2012 4:04 pm

        Ronald,

        It is so funny that you mention low blood sugar! When I was in the seminary I had great difficulty with hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. I even went to the doctor and they did the classic text on me with the super sweet orange soda and confirmed it. When I left the seminary i was miraculously cured (!!) of a problem that had plagued me throughout my whole time in the seminary. Unbeknownst to even myself, I may have cured by the intercession of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus, in a kind of celestial three-way. But it could also have been that I simply suddenly became a lot happier and confident in my life and future.

        I have never again had the problems that I had then. Though 5 years ago I cut out all sugar from my diet, mostly as a precautionary measure, and it has been good for me. Anyways, sugary things are basically so boring from the palate point of view compared to savory things, which is what I really like. And diet sodas are not so bad.

        • Ronald King permalink
          May 21, 2012 9:01 am

          Hypoglycemia=seminary for you. Hypoglycemia=starbucks for me. I like the sugary things I make, they don’t seem to affect me negatively. Judging from what you have written it appears that you are one of the highly sensitive human beings who will exhibit symptoms of distress in an environment which lacks love as its foundation.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          May 21, 2012 1:26 pm

          Ronald,

          One point for clarification’s sake, because it goes to my general philosophy. I feel strongly that there are certain immovable facts of human morality which inhere in the very fact that we are human beings in a society. In this sense I am not a relativist in any sense on those core issues which I believe remain constant for human beings in the very fact that we live in society. But as to the rest of life, I do think it is all pretty debatable. So please do not think that I was tsk-tsking morally about sugar. There are not a lot of things I care much about seriously in the blogosphere in terms of misconception. But to be thought of as a a giant bore on the pleasures of life is one that I do care to not get wrong. My attitude with so much in life is that if it makes life enjoyable it is great. Even things like cigarettes which are personally incomprehensible to me, I make a point of not judging.

          I like the attitude of ancient Chinese medicine on many things, because it was at heart remarkably practical. When you actually read the medical philosophy itself, which I have done by reading the great books on the Organs of (Jesuit!!) Pere Claude Larre, who returned the the real sources, you get real insight. Essentially, the idea that comes across is that human health is a sort of long battle that you will definitely eventually lose. Some may lose faster in some ways, some slower in some ways. But there are no exceptions to the eventual loss, of course. So it is really just a matter of maintaining the general balance to keep the fight of life going in the best way possible for as long as we can. Perfect health is a falsehood.

          There is no question in my mind that being human means having “vices”. One of the privileges I had in doing the therapeutic work I used to do for a living was in seeing a very curious fact played out again and again. Those who strove to have “no vices’ were the ones who were perpetually sick. No kidding! All nature is skewed, but still must be balanced, that is the practical conclusion I draw. If you try to fight the skewedness of nature, it will bite you in another way. On the other hand, having too many vices tips the whole organism in negative directions, and makes life impossible. To put it in a very American pragmatist way, and not Chinese, it would seem the important thing is to keep the worst from happening. That’s about all we can ever do.

          Similarly, one of the reasons that I think rigid orthodox Christianity is not the whole picture is because its conceptions fight this more practical sense of balance in life, while everywhere manifesting its incompletion in the problems and sicknesses of its adherents.

          I gave up sugar because, after my doctor’s advice, I felt that given my other proclivities that sugary pleasure would ultimately bring on disease for my life, and tip the cart. But I can easily imagine that for others it is quite different. So, brother, enjoy that mocha latte with relish, please!!

          One last thing. One thing that I never anticipated in giving up sugar is pure unexpected pleasure it brought. After about 9 months of no sugar, I started noticing that vegetables taste differently. I suddenly could taste how sweet peas are, and string beans, etc. It has opened up a whole new field of simple pleasure for me. But I will close with this, so I don’t sound like a health nut, which I don’t think anyone would take me for anyways. When we were down on South Beach recently we went to a restaurant and the rum cake they had on the cart looked like the best thing ever. So I got it. And it was, and partly because I had tasted anything like that in a long time! But I’m sticking with the sweetness of beans at this point otherwise!

        • Ronald King permalink
          May 21, 2012 3:19 pm

          Peter Paul, When I go back and read what I have written, I am struck by how much I have left out of what I wanted to write. ADD- inattentive type is what I have been struggling with my entire life. It is clearly exhibited in my writing. I am sorry about the misunderstanding I seem to have created with my comment about hypoglycemia. Too many thoughts and fingers too slow to type those thoughts.

  26. mjcc1987 permalink
    May 20, 2012 12:11 pm

    No, the church, though morally wrong on women, cannot admit a mistake on gays as well. Regardless of the facts in history, they have made their political stand. This is not about morals and faith, this is about conservative ideology. When you see Catholics vote in America, you see the opposite of what old, tired, uninspiring old men want. The church has passed the Bishops by and we all know it.

    • May 20, 2012 11:08 pm

      There are many things in the APPROACH the Church is taking to the gay question that are certainly just conservative politics.

      But the teachings on sexual morality themselves really are not. They preceded (by a long time) any concept of the construct of “sexual orientation” and are really not affected by it, because they are founded on simply different presumptions about what constitutes the good and what justifies things.

      There is a ton of homophobia in the Church right now. But the teaching in itself is not particularly “targeting gays,” as it existed long before the construct of the gay or homosexual even existed, and the conclusions it reaches with regard to homogenitality are really just from the same logic by which it condemns contraception for heterosexual couples too.

  27. Clint permalink
    May 20, 2012 1:12 pm

    I don’t think this is that complicated. From my reading of the Catechism, masturbation and homosexual acts are pretty much classified in the same way, and it looks to me that a sexually active homosexual couple are basically, in the eyes of the church, two best friend roommates who masturbate together on occasion. Recognizing that the homosexual is, in the words of Jesus, functionally a “eunuch by nature”, and thus incapable of sexual union in the fullest sense, and two aren’t becoming one like they would with man/woman fornication (which in the eyes of the Church lead to conflicting relational interests), it appears as if the seriousness of the thing is only borne of distaste for what might be happening. Gay people do not live together in order to have sex, they can do that already. They live together for all the other reasons, and there seems to be nothing in Catholic belief that should find a problem with that. I also do not think that a priest is interested in hearing a confession of every instance in which a man (let alone a teenager!) masturbated since his last confession, am I wrong about that?

    • May 20, 2012 9:44 pm

      Out of more than 100 comments on this topic, yours is the most sensible and represents the most likely direction for “development” of Catholic teaching on homosexual behavior. We are not going to be endorsing same-sex marriages, but I think we will put our disapproval of homosexual acts into perspective.

    • May 20, 2012 11:17 pm

      Well, one is supposed to confess all mortal sins in kind and number. No, priests don’t want to hear a detailed description of every instance of masturbation. But, trust me, plenty of priests are indeed hearing, “Bless me father for I have sinned, it’s been a month since my last confession; I viewed pornography and masturbated 12 times.” Frankly, I’d be willing to bet, that’s what they’re hearing from males, at least, constantly. Among regular confession-goers, that’s a staple. That’s a big “inside joke” among Catholics. And I do mean joke: obviously, without some serious BALANCE in terms of re-emphasizing other virtues and vices, this seems almost comical. But, if there WERE more balance, in itself it would certainly be seen as correct and necessary to include.

      What you say about homosexual couples living together is true, and what I meant above by saying that a life(style) or relationship cannot be reduced to its occasional sex act. People who form a life together are not organizing their life around whatever sex acts may take place. And a moral judgment against such acts should not throw the baby out with the bathwater and see such acts as making the whole relationship irredeemable (anymore than occasional contraceptive use by a married couple does so.) Conservatives will throw out talk of “occasion of sin,” but as you say…people who want it can already get it, whether they’re in a stable relationship or domestic relationship or not. Yes, proximate occasions of sin are to be avoided, but if a given arrangement of stability isn’t “adding” to the temptation that’s already always present for people anyway…it seems a perfectly legitimate relational desire to have such stability.

      • grega permalink
        May 21, 2012 8:41 am

        “it seems a perfectly legitimate relational desire to have such stability.”
        A Sinner you are so darn close…step by step by step just like most of us including the president.
        Clearly what we witness regarding this issue right now is the core of society -after having had 40 years time to digest the overall issue- concluding in favor of more not less equality. This conclusion was for the most part not reached due to some ‘gay activism” but due to honest emotional engagement and witness of friends an neigbors – a heartfelt human judgment indeed – and this is how it is suppose to be.
        This is not to say that everything is all roses going forward – just another step in a long line towards more not less personal freedom.
        This is really what our society is about – manage freedom.
        It is not easy – but we manage.

        • May 21, 2012 4:48 pm

          I’m not taking any steps, grega. This is what I’ve always believed. At least, for the past ~5 years.

          I do think the Church is right about sexual morality. I do not think it is right to reduce any relationship (be it a homosexual partnership, a divorced-and-remarried couple, a heterosexual cohabiting couple) to its occasional sinful sex act as if that’s what the relationship as a whole was “about” essentially or revolved around.

          If the Church wants to get it’s message about chastity across, it really has to make it clear that it is about discreet ACTS only, not about whole relationships or “lifestyles” or identities or types of persons.

  28. jdnelson29 permalink
    May 20, 2012 1:43 pm

    The Catholic Church will eventually come around to accepting homosexuality. It will take some time, but eventually they will.

    It will require no more mental gymnastics than that of accepting Galileo’s propositions about the set up of the universe. For a long time, they’ll make no announcement about, pretending that they never opposed gays in the first place.

    Then, after every other rational being on the planet has accepted homosexuality, they’ll issue an edict apologizing indirectly for something. They’ll state that the Bible is not meant to be taken literally, and go about burying another misguided chapter in their history.

    They’ve done it before, and will do it again.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
      May 20, 2012 3:47 pm

      jd,

      What you said was perfect and right. but you left out the last move. Namely, that they will then claim that they were the genesis of respect for rights of gay people in the first place!

      It is funny, potentially, but also sort of sobering about the capacity of very serious and sincere human beings to re-jigger their historical inconveniences to make their present religious predilections workable for them, and give them self-respect. To wit, I mean in all seriousness the following. That when George Weigel recently gave a commencement speech at Benedictine College, and received his umpteenth honorary doctorate for no discernible honest intellectual achievement ever in his life-time, that the assembled students were treated to a harangue of blatant falsehoods. NOT because he suggested that Catholics have been good citizens of the US and likely will be in the future. NO, that is not the reason, for clearly Catholics have been very good citizens of this country. Rather, because he suggested that this honorable participation in this democracy was because of some innate sense of Natural Law that Catholics had all along.

      It is a misprision of history that is so vast it is breathtaking. Of course Weigel and friends never mention Leo XIII’s encyclical “Longinqua oceani”, which marked the American system of government based in rights as “erroneous” and poohed-poohed may other aspects of American virtue, now embraced by the RC Church. That is why the additional statement is always necessary: to later claim that the Rc church itself was the true source of rights and freedoms they forever opposed. Indeed, this is what they have lately been doing even with religious freedom itself. A retired professor of religious studies of UVA gave a lecture at Jefferson’s University claiming that religious freedom began with the early Christians. If they can lay claim to that human accomplishment in good political thinking, then someday claiming they were the author’s of gay rights will be a cinch. Let breathless seminarians here hearken to this magnificent possibility for a scholarly metier!

    • May 20, 2012 11:26 pm

      jdnelson29, I think your statement is interesting inasmuch as it rests on a progressive narrative. What i mean is this: you speak as if “sexual orientation” is a “real” category. The implication being that it has always existed, but been repressed and oppressed all along, and that is simply the most recent subject of liberation. You speak as if this is just obvious, but it is prone to an incredible amount of potential deconstruction on all sorts of fronts.

      • digbydolben permalink
        May 21, 2012 7:54 am

        You look to be saying something even more radical than what Dover and Foucault claim for Greek homosexuality, Sinner: that physical and emotional affection between members of the same sex hasn’t existed from time immemorial. It is doubtless true that the work of artists, writers and scientists–as well as social acceptence–have brought it more fully into the spotlight, but I’m sorry, it is now obvious that all members of any mammalian species are susceptible to physical attraction to and deep emotional dependence upon members of their same sex. And this has always been true.

        • Jordan permalink
          May 21, 2012 11:27 am

          Humans can only speculate about the meaning of sexual activity in other mammals. Some behavioral biologists speculate that same-sex activity in some mammal species is actually assault designed to reinforce male group (herd, pack, pod, etc.) hierarchy. I don’t think that this is a model many persons would like to associate with consensual adult gay relationships.

          I agree that recorded history contains many examples of adult consensual same-sex activity and eroticism across diverse cultures. However, it’s also necessary to recognize that history also contains many examples of non-consensual same-sex assault, especially pederasty. Now some might counter that pederasty might have been viewed as a consensual activity in attic Greece, for example, given its ostensible social acceptance and institutionalization. I would argue that attic pederasty was not consensual, given what we know today about child mental development and the effects of sexual abuse. In order to gain education and access to adult society, a boy often engaged in sexual activity with a man. However, boy prostitutes were not uncommon in the ancient, hellenistic, or Roman Mediterranean. One might deduce then that many men took sexual advantage of boys under the pretense of education or social advancement. One might also reasonably assume that a slave prostitute’s job did not confer societal advancement.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          May 21, 2012 12:56 pm

          I am not particularly interested in entering into the discussion of the sexuality of animals. But I would like to stress this cultural point, which I believe to be revelatory of the lengths that many will go blinker even the most obvious facts of life to keep their appearances going. To wit, there were many reports that Jerry Falwell and his friends or ilk, had quietly entered into a sub rosa campaign to force makers of “nature programs” and animal documentaries to not show of even give indication of the very common homosexual activity of mammals, while heterosexual mammalian coitus was deemed OK, even by these preachers. This shows the utter perversity of their mindset when it comes to truth, and of course makes the existence of educational institutions founded by such people very dubious. indeed. ANY sort of defense of such people, such as that in a recent book by a Catholic journalist, that does not hold this vast desire for falsification of life itself — so much for NATURAL law!!!– as central to these mere spiritual showmen is itself intrinsically false.

        • May 21, 2012 4:56 pm

          Digby, I’m not saying there hasn’t been homosexuality throughout history in the way you define it. I’m saying that “sexual orientation” or “the homosexual/gay” as a category of person…is a new construction. It is a new and very different phenomenon to construct a minority identity/status based on invisible subjective desire or emotions (and/or chosen behavior following therefrom).

          This defining a category of “different” person based on different attractions or gender-based desires (whether for particular sex acts or not)…has potentially radical sociological implications for the social notion of the Good and whether it is something transcendent or whether it is something entirely individualistic (with an extreme paradox involving the fact that this subjective relativist individualism of desire…also always justifies itself with a plea of biological DETERMINISM, which is the exact opposite of the sort of existential agency it otherwise would fit well with).

          Trying to slip such profound MORAL implications involving the nature of the good under the radar by cloaking it as if it is a liberationist class issue (like Race, etc) is really a new animal, though I’m sure a clever die-hard progressive could come along and use Marxism or post-modernism to show how it’s all always been about Power…

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          May 21, 2012 7:31 pm

          A Sinner,

          I don’t want to be a schoolmarm. But…. “discrete” or “discreet”???? In this case it really makes a difference. I don’t agree with you either way. But as you wrote it, you would seem to be saying that secret naughty sex is its own moral category! LOL!

  29. Seadtar permalink
    May 20, 2012 1:58 pm

    To the author:

    Could you explain why you believe a “less literal interpretation of the passages related to God creating the human race as male and female” is necessary? If the obvious truth that the human race is divided into two sexes has to be ignored in order to make argument for same-sex-marriage work, then that’s the most gaping hole in the case for SSM, and not even the most strident “new Atheist” can blame the existence of sex differences on the Catholic Church or religion.

    • May 21, 2012 11:55 am

      Because the literal reading sees God’s creating the human race as male and female as a morally normative act, specifically, an act that established an absolute norm (sex must be done always in accordance with the complementarity of the sexes).

    • Jimmy Mac permalink
      May 21, 2012 4:00 pm

      1) Heterosexual reproduction yields greater genetic diversity than asexual reproduction

      2) Greater genetic diversity increases the odds of creating a trait that confers an adaptive advantage

      3) Species with greater adaptive advantages, by definition, survive more than those who do not

      4) Therefore, over time, species that reproduce heterosexually will dominate nature

      5) Such dominance is well established in nature before humans come on the scene

      6) Therefore, it is not surprising that humans reproduce heterosexually

      7) Because humans, as a species, reproduce heterosexually, they will be born with parts designed for heterosexual reproduction

      8) The compatibility of parts indicates only a preference within the species for heterosexual reproduction

      9) Claims that it indicates more than this (e.g., ontological maleness or femaleness, the propriety of human sexuality in marriage alone, etc.) do not follow from the natural compatibility of parts, and so must be defended on other grounds

      10) The preference of the species for heterosexual reproduction says nothing about how sexuality might also be used (e.g., nonreproductive functions)

      11) The preference of the species for heterosexual reproduction says nothing about how every member of the species should be sexual, only how a sufficient majority of the species should be sexual in order to maintain the adaptive advantages of heterosexual reproduction to the species

      12) Compatibility of parts IN NO WAY provides an argument agains the possible goodness of non-heterosexual acts.

      Heterosexuality is symbol of natural selection. It cannot be so understood without an understanding of genetics. Therefore, a fundamental change in our understanding of sexuality was made possible by the combination of genetics with natural selection theory. Prior to such understanding of sexuality, a kind of visual paradigm of sexuality would indeed make the compatibility of sexual organs seem like a rational grounds for making heterosexual reproductive normative. I suspect this is precisely what is at work in biblical considerations of human sexuality. I think the shift in perspective from a visual to a genetic understanding of sexuality is as significant as the shift from a geocentric understanding of the universe to a Copernican and heliocentric understanding of our place in the solar system and beyond.

      • May 21, 2012 5:00 pm

        No, you’re speaking as if humans are irrational animals.

        The Church’s teaching about sexuality has never been about “compatibility of parts” in itself. Like all moral or spiritual claims, it is a claim about the MEANING and intelligibility of sexuality and sexual desire. That is something that is not falsifiable or alterable by any material knowledge.

  30. May 20, 2012 4:09 pm

    For most of its history, the Catholic Church (and Protestants too, in Salem, Massachusetts and elsewhere) executed people accused of witchcraft–despite the fact that there is no such thing as a witch and never has been. They were obeying the words of Exodus 22:18: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Perhaps the Pope and some members of the clregy believe these words are just and merciful, but they know enough to keep their mouths shut.
    If the Church could evolve on witchcraft, it can evolve on gay marriage. If priests, including gays, are allowed to marry, instances of child abuse will diminish.

    • May 20, 2012 10:41 pm

      “No such thing as witches” is debatable. There may not be such a thing as magic in the fantasy-genre sense. But Catholic teaching does say that demons can have some influence on the world, and certainly there have been people throughout history who have deliberately invoked (or at least TRIED To invoke) demonic forces.

  31. May 20, 2012 8:54 pm

    You forgot one more thing — the Church would have to change the meaning of what the Sacrament of Marriage is.

    • digbydolben permalink
      May 21, 2012 7:46 am

      Since it was the Church that made marriage a “sacrament”–and not Jesus Christ, or G_d–then the Church should have no difficulty doing that, Catherine:

      http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/may/09/marriage-myth/

      • May 21, 2012 8:36 pm

        No, Digby, it surely would have difficulty, and indeed recently, for example, the Archbishop of New York has reaffirmed “the sacrament of marriage as between a man and a woman” — and no accident, because the Church feels the concept is under assault.

        You can’t just airily decide that “Jesus Christ didn’t do this, and therefore the Church is wrong.” It doesn’t work that way, unfortunately for all the freelance theologians in this thread. If the Church’s belief is that Jesus established Peter as the head of the church, then the lineage of Peter — the People — is what has the authority.

        Kyle, the Church may recognize the validity of marriages not made in the Catholic Church, but it won’t recognize the *sacrament* of marriage as being anything but a man and a woman, and in fact has requirements of that couple, i.e. that they must sign a pledge in the church registry that they will raise their children Catholics. It seems to me that if a gay person were fighting for recognition of full-fledged rights within the Church, including the right to be married, they would want the *sacrament* of marriage. And that may be the hardest to ensure.

        Some aspects of Church life are cultural and are changeable — no woman is required to wear a mantilla anymore at Mass; now we can have altar girls, where once it was impossible. No admission was made by the magisterium that it had erred by not tolerating altar girls in the past. And perhaps the attitude toward gay life and gay marriage could change in this fashion, too. But there are too many scriptural and traditional references likely for the Church to let this go and of course, the issues outlined by the original poster.

        What puzzles me about this conversation is why anyone really needs the Church to approve homosexuality. If you don’t like the Church’s teachings, you can leave the Church and join the Episcopalians or some other faith that tolerates LGBT rights, including even gay clergy.

        • May 21, 2012 8:37 pm

          lineage of Peter, the *Pope* — is what I meant to say, too bad you can’t edit posts.

        • Ronald King permalink
          May 22, 2012 7:47 am

          Pardon me for jumping in. I know nothing about theology. I returned in ’05 to the CC due to being blessed with a vision which allowed me to experience a speck of the love which is the foundation of the faith. It is more difficult everyday to stay because of the toxic fear which seems to permeate the structure constructed upon that foundation.

      • Thales permalink
        May 21, 2012 10:46 pm

        digby,
        Sorry, that’s incorrect. As a sacrament, it was instituted by Christ.

    • May 21, 2012 11:56 am

      No, it wouldn’t. The Church recognizes the validity of marriages that are not sacramental.

      • Thales permalink
        May 21, 2012 10:48 pm

        Kyle,
        But the problem is that the Church’s notion of Sacramental Marriage is essentially tied up with the notion of “natural marriages”. Yes, “the Church recognizes the validity of marriages that are not sacramental”, but this recognition is limited to the union of a man and woman.

        • digbydolben permalink
          May 22, 2012 9:52 am

          What percentage of people in the modern world really care what the Roman Catholic Church considers “marriage” to be? I know I don’t any more. If the Roman Catholics of America had ever been serious about “their” definition of marriage, they would have conducted intellectual WAR against what heterosexual Protestants have done to “traditional Christian marriage.” They didn’t do it because they knew damned well that it wasn’t “politically correct” to do it in a religious culture that, from the time of Luther’s marriage to a nun (to PROVE that “Christ had his tongue far in his cheek,” when He gave us THAT command–to show that “we couldn’t keep it,” according to the heresiarch)–has been largely BASED on the legitimacy of the institution of divorce (which PROVES to them–for those of you who are so Americanized that you don’t actually understand heretical theology–that man is “saved by faith alone.” No, instead of making a serious argument against those whose theology is the DEATH of orthodox Christian theology in the West–and has proved to be just that–you people choose to go after one of the most grievously persecuted minorities in the world. Ronald King may stay; I’m out of here!

        • Thales permalink
          May 22, 2012 1:37 pm

          digby,
          The fact that many people don’t care about the Catholic view of marriage, or the fact that Catholics in the past have sinned or haven’t been serious about the Catholic view of marriage doesn’t seem relevant to me. The Church has a vision of marriage that She believes brings the greatest level of peace, happiness, joy, and human fulfillment that is possible on this earth, and that best leads to salvation in Heaven. It’s the Church’s mission to share this Good News with as many people as possible, even though many reject it and even though the Church has neglected to properly share it in the past.

        • Anne permalink
          May 22, 2012 2:43 pm

          Digby, I don’t think it’s accurate to say the Church didn’t conduct a type of intellectual war on divorce and other assaults on what it perceives to be the correct view or model of marriage; it simply failed to persuade people not to accept another model that’s been evolving over time, somewhat in line with Christian ideals but mostly against the model Christians started out with in the first century.

          We have to remember that Christ didn’t leave us with detailed instructions on how to live every part of our lives; the Church takes a lot for granted, including the model of marriage it had from its beginning in the Jewish and Roman/Greek worlds of the 1st century. About all it had to go on was a command not to divorce, and a sense that celibacy was the better plan anyway since the end of the world was at hand. Since then, theologians have given us insights laden with cultural bias, i.e., dross, along with ideas on how to live with what we can’t change. At the height of our most recent “modern” period, i.e., during Vatican II and shortly after, even the hierarchy seemed willing to abandon the dross of tradition to embrace a more evolutionary approach to doctrine, i.e., the idea that the Spirit may be speaking through major cultural change. Not surprisingly, a neo-traditionalist counter-force arose very quickly once they realized what that might mean. Not surprisingly as well, that neo-traditionalist counter-force is strongest in the place where the effects of evolutionary change were felt the strongest — the US.

          Even though it may seem odd for churchmen to make a grand fuss over homosexual marriage when they’ve lived so long seemingly at peace with equally, or even greater, assaults on church doctrine, now just happens to be the moment neo-traditionalists are riding high, and whatever’s changing in the culture now will be in their cross-hairs. So, if it’s intellectual “war” you want, you’ll probably see it here if you see it anywhere. Just stick around.

  32. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    May 21, 2012 1:28 pm

    Ronald,
    One point for clarification’s sake, because it goes to my general philosophy. I feel strongly that there are certain immovable facts of human morality which inhere in the very fact that we are human beings in a society. In this sense I am not a relativist in any sense on those core issues which I believe remain constant for human beings in the very fact that we live in society. But as to the rest of life, I do think it is all pretty debatable. So please do not think that I was tsk-tsking morally about sugar. There are not a lot of things I care much about seriously in the blogosphere in terms of misconception. But to be thought of as a a giant bore on the pleasures of life is one that I do care to not get wrong. My attitude with so much in life is that if it makes life enjoyable it is great. Even things like cigarettes which are personally incomprehensible to me, I make a point of not judging.
    I like the attitude of ancient Chinese medicine on many things, because it was at heart remarkably practical. When you actually read the medical philosophy itself, which I have done by reading the great books on the Organs of (Jesuit!!) Pere Claude Larre, who returned the the real sources, you get real insight. Essentially, the idea that comes across is that human health is a sort of long battle that you will definitely eventually lose. Some may lose faster in some ways, some slower in some ways. But there are no exceptions to the eventual loss, of course. So it is really just a matter of maintaining the general balance to keep the fight of life going in the best way possible for as long as we can. Perfect health is a falsehood.
    There is no question in my mind that being human means having “vices”. One of the privileges I had in doing the therapeutic work I used to do for a living was in seeing a very curious fact played out again and again. Those who strove to have “no vices’ were the ones who were perpetually sick. No kidding! All nature is skewed, but still must be balanced, that is the practical conclusion I draw. If you try to fight the skewedness of nature, it will bite you in another way. On the other hand, having too many vices tips the whole organism in negative directions, and makes life impossible. To put it in a very American pragmatist way, and not Chinese, it would seem the important thing is to keep the worst from happening. That’s about all we can ever do.
    Similarly, one of the reasons that I think rigid orthodox Christianity is not the whole picture is because its conceptions fight this more practical sense of balance in life, while everywhere manifesting its incompletion in the problems and sicknesses of its adherents.
    I gave up sugar because, after my doctor’s advice, I felt that given my other proclivities that sugary pleasure would ultimately bring on disease for my life, and tip the cart. But I can easily imagine that for others it is quite different. So, brother, enjoy that mocha latte with relish, please!!
    One last thing. One thing that I never anticipated in giving up sugar is pure unexpected pleasure it brought. After about 9 months of no sugar, I started noticing that vegetables taste differently. I suddenly could taste how sweet peas are, and string beans, etc. It has opened up a whole new field of simple pleasure for me. But I will close with this, so I don’t sound like a health nut, which I don’t think anyone would take me for anyways. When we were down on South Beach recently we went to a restaurant and the rum cake they had on the cart looked like the best thing ever. So I got it. And it was, and partly because I had tasted anything like that in a long time! But I’m sticking with the sweetness of beans at this point otherwise!

    • Ronald King permalink
      May 21, 2012 3:11 pm

      Peter Paul, I never thought you were tsk-tsking. Such is the problem with no face to face. In my former life I saw at least two women who discovered that sugar consumption for them influenced them to appear to be bi-polar. When they stopped sugar and added healthy habits they would not immediately react with rage in response to attachment problems. However, I believe that those who are most biologically sensitive in this life are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine in that they will be the first to exhibit symptoms in reaction to whatever is toxic in the environment. Instead of understanding the language of their symptoms, our culture has taken the position of managing their symptoms with psycho-pharmacology and cognitive behavioral therapy. This is of course a generalization.
      A thought just occurred. In systems theory, if I remember correctly, one of the goals of the authorities within a dysfunctional system is the desire for all under their umbrella to fuse with that system. Anyone who does not fuse is identified as the problem rather than the system or the authorities running the system being the problem. The best chance for a dysfunctional system to become healthier is for the authorities to seek to understand those who are identified as the problem, however, that would take a lot of humility which can only come from God.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        May 21, 2012 4:44 pm

        Ronald,

        I agree generally with you, you make a lot of sense to me. But two additional thoughts. It is not too uncommon in life that one observes in life that the “cure is worse than the disease”. The attitude of some overwrought people seems to be that if “the cure kills ya'” well la-di-da at least you died trying. The view you are proposing is the opposite, as I see it. It means that if a systemic change can be had such that it improves life generally — great! But that is not always possible. Which leads me to my second comment, which I think is very apposite especially in the Catholic context. Namely, that the main drive of crazy or dysfunctional affects is just survive enough to keep being crazy. Health or even just happiness is perceived as a threat.

        Ironically, this assessment is precisely what allows for a truly appreciative stance towards religion, and especially this one. For example. Maureen Dowd’s piece in the times today is ultimately unfair to Catholics, not because she is not right in some ways. But she does not distinguish adequately between the capacity of normal everyday Catholics to maintain healthy happy lives, and the converse the institutionaled crazy-making of some aspects of the leadership. The non-suspicious and non-paranoid way of assessing any group in my view is by seeing in it the basic fact that it helps some people create great meaning. If it did not, IT WOULD NOT EXIST, But nothing in that assessment means that there may not be a whole zone of crazy related to it which is incredibly toxic.

        Btw, I don’t want to leave the impression also that I am some great lama of sensitivity in the world. I do consider myself quite smart and sensitive in a few particular directions. But after living with myself for half a century I have come to the conclusion that I am a bit daft or even stupid in other ways. Calling again for a bit of balanced compassion with oneself. Anyways, there is relief to be older and honest with oneself. Not being superlative is oddly happy-making.

        • Ronald King permalink
          May 22, 2012 12:43 pm

          Peter Paul, Some folks have to work really hard to be sensitive. And I will generalize here with the statement that to be well-adjusted in this world is to be a person who has somehow adapted in such a way that its effect minimizes the awareness of the constant intrusion of suffering and violence while also numbing their awareness as to how they contribute to the continuation of that suffering through being well-adjusted. I was told a long time ago by a friend who was diagnosed with Asperger’s that neurotypical would be the term to use for those described above.
          I don’t think you have to work hard at being sensitive. There are a lot of extremely sensitive people on this site and a few have left recently, which saddens me. If one can compassionately understand what it means to be highly sensitive they would still be here. It is a heavy burden with tremendous suffering to be highly sensitive in a world or a system that demands conformity/indoctrination as a first step in gaining acceptance. Too much going through the dome right now, must go out for a run which has now turned into an old man shuffle.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          May 22, 2012 5:10 pm

          Ronald,

          What an interesting discussion! I see your point, and I don’t doubt for a second that many unhappy and perhaps overly-sensitive types could be helped by the logic you adduce. I see the matter a bit differently. AS it happens, what is different in our views dovetails with some of my philosophical thoughts. But let me say at the outset that I do NOT think the two fields are the same ultimately, as I have known some people with great philosophies of life who are very unhappy psychologically.

          To put it practically and simply, it is this. None of us can stand much of life in full.. By definition, in my view, life in its unvarnished fullness is too much for anyone. But it is also the case that people have the ability to take in some things in some ways more than others. The biggest lesson I learned in interpersonal relationships is the matters which bother me are not necessarily those that bother others. And vice versa. There is an inifinite variety.

          At the same time, if we are going to communicate with one another we have to have some proximal coherence to our statements. They have to inter-relate. There is a form of meta-communication, more like poetry that runs on different logic. But it is strikingly close to madness, for many who think they are making sense.

          I feel strongly at this point that most — 95%– of what goes on in human minds is per se incoherent and useless. I do not think it misanthropy to think so. We have to WAIT for each other to make sense. To find a concatenation of the welter of existence that actually coheres and can thus be used as real communication. Communication being that which results in altered or increased understanding. So I am not bothered any more that people mostly don’t make sense to me.

          A lot of the suffering in life comes because we believe we must understand, and that life must make sense regularly. That it does not is of course the most famous reason for the desire for religion. Religion can be an aid or a hindrance in this process. I do NOT agree with atheist types who see in faith the absence of sense. In this sense all religion can easily go either way.

          To show you how insensitive I am in some ways, I was not aware that there was a great flight from the blog. Given the state of the RC church I am not surprised if there is a flight from its warm bosom — more like the famous scene in Felinni’s Amarcord. But even then I would remind them that just because you leave the faith does not mean you are unable to have a mountain of opinions on it. Look at me. They should pay me a consulting fee for all the wisdom I have dispensed.

          “Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo.”

        • Ronald King permalink
          May 22, 2012 7:41 pm

          :) That was my initial response and continues to be. It appears you have read R.D. Laing. Gotta make dinner for my living conscience.

  33. Ronald King permalink
    May 22, 2012 12:44 pm

    Digby, Don’t leave.

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