Analysis by Oswald Sobrino, J.D., M.A., who has published in New Blackfriars (U.K.), Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, New Oxford Review, CatholicExchange.com, and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. He is a lay graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. © 2002-06 Oswald Sobrino.
"There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God." --Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
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Homosexuality and the Ordained Priesthood
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Saturday, November 26, 2005Homosexuality and the Ordained Priesthood
The next few weeks will see frenetic commentary on the new Vatican document barring those with "deep-seated" homosexual tendencies from ordination. The official release of the document is, reportedly, on Tuesday. Already, I saw one liberal Vatican columnist trying his best to grasp desperately at legalistic straws in order to minimize the authoritative nature of the document--a transparently failed effort by the columnist, as I think even he realizes. All of which raises this question: are Catholic liberals the real Pharisees today, ignoring weightier matters while focusing on the unimportant matters? If you have to spend your time always finding a way to discount Church teaching, why identify yourself as Catholic? Either you seek a fuller conversion, or you stop faking it. Stopping the fakery may actually be the first step to an eventual and surprising fuller conversion. It's like AA recommends: stop the denial as the first step.
And denial is what we have all over the place. There are reports of a "gay subculture" in some seminaries. This document intends to end that absurdity. Some have written on the extensive "gay" presence in major religious orders. Another absurdity. Recently, even the mainstream media confirmed that the majority of victims in the recent sexual scandals were teenage males, not children as most other media reports would have it. I recall one priest, a few years ago, writing vociferously against fellow clerics who were actively homosexual. The problem cannot be evaded.
The Catholic context to this document is that the ordained priest is the icon or image of Christ the Bridegroom. The ordained priest is not supposed to image effeteness or deep-seated disordered attractions. The ordained priest is a very special messenger for the Bridegroom. He is a messenger who gives himself entirely in his very person to the message which is Christ the Bridegroom. Deep-seated homosexuality contradicts that message and that role. Those with such deep-seated homosexuality are certainly called to serve Christ in the common, non-ordained priesthood that all of us, both men and women, share because of our Baptism, but not in the ordained priesthood. We come back again to the same assumption that underlies the agitation by some for women's ordination: that the ordained priesthood is a career reflecting our own projected desire for self-fulfillment-- an assumption that perfectly reflects our secular views of vocation. But ordained priesthood is not a mere ministry. It is not a mere career or job. For too long, many have spoken as if all we had were various ministries in the Church of which the ordained priesthood was merely the most prominent. Quite wrong. Ordained priesthood is more; it is the mysterious sacramental icon of the Bridegroom. More is required that the mere desire for self-fulfillment, than the mere opinion or conviction that this job is for me.
The document, as we have it thus far, is a model of common sense, shrewdness, and wisdom in a difficult area. You can see the fingerprints of our practical, shrewd, and wise Pope all over the document. The document draws a judicious line based on reality. It is a sane document because it reflects reality, but there will be much less-than-sane criticism of it. When you hear and read the criticism, ask yourself: given recent events and revelations, who is in more in touch with reality, the Pope or the critics? Whom do you trust more? Who has the better judgment and shrewdness needed to address this pressing issue?
Friday, November 25, 2005Text of New Vatican Document on Seminaries
A translation of the forthcoming Vatican document on homosexuals and the priesthood is available at Bettnet.com at this link. As the translator notes, the official translation will likely vary from this version. Thanks to our Rhode Island links source for the link.
From scanning media coverage on the web thus far, I see two predictable "schools of interpretation" emerging. First, Catholics committed to the entirety of Church moral teaching are taking what I call the "textualist" view: the document says what it clearly states--discourage persons with a deep-seated homosexual orientation from ordination. These Catholics are therefore happy to see the document finally emerge. Some Catholic liberals, i.e., those who reject significant parts of fundamental Catholic moral teaching, also take the document at face value and so express great alarm to the point that some "gay" priests are coming out of the closet in order to voice their views in the media.
The other school I would call the "jesuitical" school (not limited to Jesuits by any means and certainly not applicable to all Jesuits) which is always ready to advise anyone listening that a particular document makes no difference at all and to keep on doing what you are already doing. This advice is given by a Jesuit from the University of San Francisco theology department in a N.Y. Times article published on Thanksgiving Day. You will likely hear this same "jesuitical" reading from many Catholic liberals, including some reporters and columnists, whose engrained habit is to find a way to dilute or minimize Church pronouncements that they reject as a way of maintaining, for personal and career reasons, their nominal identification as Catholics.
Now, some Catholics faithful to the entirety of Church moral teaching may also end up reaching the same conclusion as the "jesuitical" school, that is, that the document will make no difference, because these conservative Catholics are, understandably, pessimistic about any meaningful enforcement. I am more sanguine about the effect of the document. In my view, the fact that the document takes a strong stand against homosexual ordinations means that bishops, priests, and seminaries are now free to discourage people with deep-seated homosexual tendencies from ordination. And so I predict that more people involved in the formation process will do just that. The practical value of the document is that now many will feel comfortable doing with Rome's approval what they felt was desirable anyway but were hesitant to do without explicit guidance from Rome. So, even if there is no immediate dramatic clamp down, the document will spark real change for the better whose benefits will emerge as time passes.
Thursday, November 24, 2005Deo Gratias
It's a good idea to repeat this out loud today, alone or with others if possible:
Glory to God in the highest
and peace to his people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King,
almighty God and Father,
we worship you, we give you thanks,
we praise you for your glory.
Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
you take away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father:
receive our prayer.
For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
The Gloria is what Thanksgiving is all about--the pious Pilgrims would have agreed. And I wish a very happy Thanksgiving to all the readers of this site!
Wednesday, November 23, 2005Ailing GM Mirrors Ailing Democratic Party
I sit today in the Michigan birthplace of General Motors, the ailing mammoth corporation that teeters on the edge of bankruptcy due to saddling itself with bloated union benefits and with poor quality products. You have probably heard these past few days in the media the old saying "What is good for GM is good for the nation," a saying which goes back at least to the nineteen fifties. It used to be also said in so many words--back in the days of the Great Depression and World War II--that what was good for the Democratic Party of FDR and Truman was good for the nation. Those days are gone for both GM and the Democratic Party. The nation has embraced their competitors and left them behind.
Ailing GM mirrors the mortally ill Democratic Party. Both are held hostage by special interest groups whose patrons focus on extracting more and more benefits for their particular group regardless of the long-term effect on themselves and on the larger entity. Both are managed by comfortable elitists who are out of touch with the forces shaping the real world. Both are fearful of needed radical change in past ways of doing business. If ailing GM is a model of corporate sclerosis, then the Democratic Party is the analogue model of political sclerosis. The paternalistic, collective bargaining corporate model of GM is finished. So is the paternalistic, special interest patron-client model of the Democratic Party.
What does the sclerotic Democratic Party offer? Preserving the "right" of abortion on demand in nationwide court-imposed uniformity, advancing the agenda of gay activism, creating and expanding government programs to maintain inner city dependency and mediocrity, and, most evident in these past few weeks, freezing America into a new isolationism that surrenders the offensive in the war on terror to Islamic radicals. Out of the jaws of victory against Islamic radicalism in Iraq, the Democrats are determined to snatch defeat. In place of victory, the Democrats offer the nation more funds and programs for "first responders." In other words, the Democratic strategy on terror is to be ready for the next attack. The Bush strategy is to preempt the next attack by going to the source of this scourge in a Middle East too long dominated by bizarre, megalomaniac tyrants. A democratic Iraq is worth a million "first responders."
GM has taken much the same tack toward its foreign car-making competitors: don't take the offensive, just defend what you already have. That passivity is a recipe for failure. In many facets of life, most of us have learned that the path to success lies in taking the offensive continuously. For Christians, St. Paul remains the great model of success: always pushing forward to new frontiers, always finding a way around new obstacles and threats, always resourceful in the face of adversaries and competitors, a master tactician and strategist who never stood still. Those--like GM and the Democratic Party--who simply want to preserve their turf and become comfortable with mediocrity are a dead end. Most Americans are not interested in a dead end street.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005Vatican: No Homosexuals for Seminaries
That's the gist of this AP story at FoxNews.com that is out today claiming to summarize the new Vatican document on homosexuals and the priesthood scheduled for official release on November 29th. The AP quotes from the document that persons with "present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies" will not be admitted to the priesthood and that any "transitory" homosexual tendencies must be overcome for at least three years prior to ordination as deacon. My interpretation: no homosexuals in the priesthood. We will know more with much greater certainty on November 29th. I plan to post on the document on the release date and will try to reproduce the text of the document itself for you to read directly.
Update: Here is the link to N.Y. Times coverage for Nov. 23rd. The N.Y. Times headline: "In Strong Terms, Rome Is To Ban Gays as Priests."
Looking Closely at Forgiveness
When on the cross, Jesus uttered these very familiar words: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). In the book of Acts, Luke records the first Christian martyr, Stephen, saying much the same: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (Acts 7:60; ESV). But, prior to these pleas, Jesus preached repentance in his public ministry: "[U]nless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Lk 13:3). Also in Luke, we have repentance required prior to forgiveness: "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him" (Lk 17:3; emphasis added). On the one hand, Jesus and Stephen pray that the Father forgive the ignorant. On the other hand, Jesus teaches that repentance is necessary. And certainly the Church teaches in her sacramental practice that repentance or genuine contrition is necessary for absolution from sins. Is there a tension here between offering forgiveness to the ignorant and requiring repentance prior to forgiveness?
I think here again we see the genius of the Catholic tradition that, like the Scriptures, is guided by the Holy Spirit. If we are truly ignorant when we sin--we really do not know the gravity of what we are doing, then there is no grave or mortal sin. Objectively, the evil act remains a serious sin; but the actor is not culpable because of genuine ignorance. Now, that does not mean that the actor is not responsible and is not liable for the consequences in terms of the civil law or in terms of making every effort to mitigate the effects of his evil act. But we can see, in the generous words of Jesus on the cross and of Stephen, the mercy of God: God forgives those who act out of ignorance. And so should we, as Jesus and Stephen have shown us by example.
At the same time, those who were not ignorant need to repent before forgiveness. But--and here I am submitting my own personal but reasoned view for readers' consideration--it seems that repentance should also encompass even our evil acts done in complete ignorance. If repentance is not just contrition over a specific, isolated act but also a general attitude of turning entirely toward God, then we inevitably will regret and repent from all the evil we have done, even if done in past and total ignorance. That is why even in sacramental confession some of us confess old sins committed when we knew no better due to faulty moral education. We are sincerely sorry, and even horrified, by our past acts. We confess them without looking for excuses and even without being technically required by the Church to confess them as mortal sins committed with full knowledge and consent. Such a desire to confess fully is a fruit of repentance and its synonym, conversion. In a way, confessing such ignorant acts of the past is an act of love and gratitude to the God who has forgiven them already because we knew not what we were doing. It seems to me that this type of contrition for our past ignorance is part of genuine conversion. It reminds me of the lavish gratitude of the forgiven woman who anointed, wept over, and kissed the feet of Jesus (Lk 7:36-50).
So it seems that repentance is conversion. And that repentance will encompass all our past sins, even when God has overlooked them already due to our ignorance. In addition, taking responsibility for our past sins of ignorance is very important if we wish to witness to the Gospel and to bring good out of our past. Again, love and gratitude lead us to embrace responsibility. Here is one powerful example for which opportunity certainly arises in today's chaotic American culture. A man and a woman, when younger, live the typical secular American lifestyle of premarital sex as part of their relationship. Years later, after the relationship has long ended and they have gone their separate ways, the woman, on her own initiative, contacts the man for some reason or other. The man, now living the Christian life, takes the opportunity to apologize tastefully and discreetly (please note: not self-righteously) for his past lustful exploitation. Now, even if the man in his former life was acting out of utter ignorance, he has now taken responsibility in an act that speaks volumes today and in the future. He testifies that he has really converted, he signals to the woman the truth that the past relationship was wrong, and he is able to clear the air. The loose moral end is tied. We are always responsible for our past acts, even if we acted out of ignorance or even if we have been forgiven or even if, as is common today, the other person involved may not consider the past behavior wrong or sinful in the first place but takes it all in stride as part of "normal" living.
In sum, we forgive the ignorant. But the important message is the call to conversion which calls even the ignorant to confess their acts of ignorance and to take concrete responsibility for them. When even the ignorant take those steps, we see the revolutionary potential of Christianity to transform individuals, families, cultures, and nations.
Monday, November 21, 2005The Most Dangerous Enemy
The Democratic Party is doing it again. We are seeing again confirmation that the great Democratic Party of Roosevelt and Truman has been dead for a long, long time. Now, we have a concerted effort to undermine the war in Iraq, to destroy troop morale, and to retreat from the fight against Islamist terrorism. There is no logic or vision in this betrayal of the war effort. It is simply driven by the lust for power at all costs. Tear down whatever stands in your way of political power. Michael Barone captures what is happening before our eyes in this commentary.
These are dramatic times. The President of the United States is leading the battle to transform the Middle East into a region of growing democracy and lessening terrorism. The Democratic Party has again proven itself to no longer be a serious political party. It stands for nothing but the incoherent lust for political power paved by repeated big lies. The reality is that our most dangerous enemy is the leadership of the Democratic Party which is intent on making of the United States a version of France--a country that long ago lost its nerve. This is not the time to lose one's nerve.