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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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VOCATIONAL ASIDES: Do You Have A Story?

A number of years ago (January of 2008), when I posted a few reflections about the priesthood and celibate love, I was almost immediately bombarded by the stories and comments of others, particularly those with negative experiences.  I was taken aback by both the pain and the dissent.  There was also anger against me— as if I had no right to be happy or satisfied with my priesthood and celibacy.  There were three stories in particular that I shared with my blog readers and to which there was additional interaction.  The initial stories came from Jim, Becky and Thomas.

celibacy_in_the_city_1538739

Artwork by the cartoonist Ian Baker.

Jim’s Story

I studied to be a priest. But there was a special girl that haunted my day dreams and my night fantasies. The rector said to give it time and I did. But, after a few years I found it unbearable. I missed Sharon too much. I saw her during the summers and even that was forbidden. We tried not to call it dates even though we knew they were. She was my best friend. We prayed the rosary and even the breviary together. She missed me and yet tried her best to support me in a vocation I thought I had. Nevertheless, I never dreamed about saying Mass or hearing Confessions. All I thought about was holding Sharon’s hand and looking into her eyes.

One day I said I had endured enough. It was not for me. I raced over to Sharon’s house crying. I told her that if I had any vocation, it was with her and that I was leaving the seminary. She fell into my arms and we shared the first passionate kiss either of us had ever known.

Becky’s Story

I loved Joe. I gave more to Joe than a single girl should ever do. He said he loved me but later I found him with another girl. Instead of saying he was sorry, he laughed at me. I was so hurt and angry. And yet, I was surprised when my world did not fall apart. I had thought about being a religious sister, but my relationship with Joe held me back. I went on a discernment retreat and while at prayer became convinced that there was another lover calling me, Jesus.

I cannot say that I have totally forgotten Joe, but I cry no more and know a joy beyond words.

Thomas’ Story

The rector told us that when we heard our names called by the bishop at ordination, we could take for granted that we had a vocation. He said to brush aside all doubts. In any case, it was the 1960’s and rumors were flying that celibacy would very soon be made optional. We got ordained and then nothing changed. I tried to be patient but then classmates started leaving the priesthood and I felt increasingly alone. Then I met Shirley.

Sexual intimacy and marriage was something I often thought about and heard from others, but had never known. Now I could put a face on my desires as a man. Shirley and I did not mean to fall in love, it just happened. I did not want to abandon ministry and yet it looked more and more like the discipline about celibacy would never change. Shirley pressed me that if we waited too long, we could never have a family. But if I left the priesthood, it would break my mother’s heart. I just could not get myself to do it. Shirley never really forgave me and when she married someone else a few years later she sent me a picture of them. On the back she wrote, “This could have been you!” Another man holds her now. Another man shares kisses with her. I have to live with that and the price of my priesthood.

My Assessment of the Three Testimonials

Jim, there is no blame for a guy who went to seminary and eventually discerned that he did not have a religious vocation. The problem is when guys get ordained and then have second thoughts.

Becky, I am glad that you hear a calling to a religious vocation as a bride of Christ. Of course, one should make sure that the calling is genuine and not just something on the rebound. A religious vocation is not our running away from someone or something but a drawing a closer to someone, our Lord.

Thomas, I am not sure what to say? You should not feel sorry for yourself and neither should you feel remorse about your priesthood. Further, the good of your vocation is not something to be preserved merely because of appearances or even because of the potential scandal and hurt to others, including parents. You made a promise to God and even if priests in the future should be able to get married; there is no reason to expect that anything about a change in discipline would be retroactive. Our celibacy is a great gift and it is permanent. Thank God for it. Be a happy priest!

Does anyone else out there have a brief story to tell?  The invitation was taken up by Chuck and the so-called Reverend Tina.

Chuck’s Story

If you really wanted people to share their vocation stories then you would stop being so judgmental and criticizing everyone who shares their stories and views! You and your friends have no right to judge and condemn priests and nuns who left ministry for marriage.

I met Aggie when she was a senior at an all-girls’ high school. I was a young priest and taught math. I fell for her at first sight. We tried to cool matters but we were not robots like you— but passionate flesh-and-blood people. I told the pastor. The bishop tried to talk me out of leaving. But I could not live without her and no one was going to convince me otherwise. When she turned 18, we moved in together and the rest is history. We have three children, two girls and a boy. Would you tell them that they had no right to be conceived or born? How can a man pledge perpetual celibacy when he has yet to meet the girl of his dreams? It is crazy and unnatural. It is no wonder that the homosexuals have taken over the priesthood!

As for being married to the Church, that is utter nonsense! You can’t go to bed with the Church! You can’t hold her naked warm body against your own! You can’t share your dreams with her or even share an orgasm with her. A man, a real man, wants a woman to love. He needs to feel her body and to become one flesh with her!

You know nothing! You are a poor fool left out in the cold! There is nothing like loving a woman and all your analogies fall short. It is about entwined bodies, legs, breasts, lips, arms and hands. It is awkward and yet beautiful. It is sacred and messy.

Despite the twisted minds and morals of so many in the Church, there is nothing sinful or wicked about sexuality. I could still be a priest and have my Aggie, if only sanity and common-sense ruled. Unfortunately, it does not. The men who leave such a corrupted woman-hating priesthood are not to be pitied but praised and imitated.

Tina’s Story

I am going to tell you a story that I have kept absolutely secret until now.

I am 42 years old and have been a Roman Catholic priest since I was 26 years of age. I went to a liberal seminary in the Northeast US. My grades were exceptional and I got along well with everyone. Currently I am the pastor of a small parish and also do regular hospital ministry. The parish is thriving and the people feel that they are being well cared for. So far, there is nothing unusual, but here is the punch: I am a woman and for the last ten years have been married, albeit only in a ceremony conducted by a Unitarian minister.

How could this be? My twin brother took the necessary physicals prior to acceptance into the seminary. My own female features are slight and I wear a slight restraint around my breasts. I am thin and small. My hair is cut short, like that of a man. I was careful of the showers and in the bathroom during the seminary formation. No one caught on. We had private rooms, so I did not have to worry about a roommate finding out and blabbing.

I received acolyte, lector, my candidacy and eventually ordination to the diaconate and priesthood. I hanged out with the guys who were a bit effeminate, maybe gay, and no one was the wiser. After ordination, I even worked in the chancery for a time.

I became a bit lonely as the years passed and began to live a double life. I would go out for a couple of days, put on a wig and dress and started dating. That is how I met Phil. He knows and keeps my secret. We always said that if I became pregnant I would end the charade, but I guess between my age and regular birth control use, babies were not meant to be.

There you have it, both a woman and a married priest, all in one! None of it makes any difference. My work is as good as or even better than that of any celibate man.

My Assessment of These Two Additional Testimonials

Chuck, your anger against me and venom against the Church tells me that you still have a lot of unresolved issues and resentments.  I will try not to take it personally, but I would urge you to reconcile with the faith (even if on the pew side of the Church) and to find genuine peace.

As for Tina, sorry, I do not believe you. Yes, you heard me right; I am calling you a liar to your face. I bet you are not a priest, maybe you are not even a woman? There is no way that such a thing could ever happen. Given the years of formation and the close proximity of the men, you would quickly be found out. I admit it makes for a sensational story, but a story is all it is. No doubt the fake legend of Pope Joan is very much fueling your imagination. What are you really, a wannabee woman priest? Are you a female minister who wishes she was more? Are you an atheist fellow seeking to further ridicule the Church and the priesthood? Come on— come clean— stop telling us tall tales.

Debbie’s Comments

I only have a quick comment. I was unaware that they were talking about ending the celibacy requirement in the 1960’s. Nevertheless, I priest I know recently said that if my son were discerning, there was still the possibility that he could get married someday. Does the rumor ever end? I wonder how many still think that change is coming soon.

Karl’s Comments

A celibate, faithful priesthood most reflects its inspiration, Jesus.

As a consequence of my divorce I have lived a celibate life and have concluded that a married priest has too divided a set of obligations. Not that this is wrong or impossible but my opinion has been reinforced.

A priest who leaves his vocation is no different than my wife who is an adulterer. It is scandalous. They should repent and return to an appropriate ministry, if that is allowed. It is the honorable thing to do.

Every day in my line of work I engage many women, single and married who are attractive on many levels, including beauty; but a vow is a vow and it can be lived grudgingly or it can be accepted and be an opportunity, not always but sometimes. It will never be such if it is kept in hatred.

The priest who has invited these comments is not one that I would classify as judgmental.  I would describe him as faithful to his Church and its tenets.

Debra’s Comments

When I was a child in the 1960’s, you could never tell your parents about a “funny” priest, brother or nun” without getting slapped.

I used to think as a child that they were given a grace that made them “almost perfect” and so I was repeatedly surprised when I saw Father So-and-So drunk or rude or swearing or acting racist. I was caught off-guard. Of course, this fueled my later “Catholic in name only” teen years. When I became more mature, I realized we were all human and returned to Church practice.  Some priests are more imperfect than others.  I decided to support the Church in whole and to pick the parish where I wanted to attend. My faith is in Jesus, not a particular priest or pastor. Priests and nuns should be respected, supported and loved.  But we should not tolerate bad acts from them.  They need lots and lots of prayers.

Mary’s Comments

Whoever questions celibacy or the martyrdom required of priesthood has not met Jesus. When one meets Jesus, one is called to true heroism. Priesthood is not natural – it is supernatural. Priests can change the world.

Dawn’s Comments

The priesthood is “supernatural”…that sounds very beautiful… almost too good to be true. It is sad that most priests fall far short of it. I am not just talking about them giving into sexual temptations, but also about the “not so nice” side of their personalities.

Priests are flesh and blood men. When ordained do their natural inclinations and desires miraculously fall by the wayside? No, such is not the case.  Yes, God is supposed to give them this supernatural grace to resist their own humanness; and yet, they are still human. The devil will never cease to try and undo a priest. They get tired, cranky, bored, and at times almost apathetic. Many of us have experienced this in the priests we have known.  It is so obvious that many have become complacent and simply go through the motions.

I had a priest tell me in the confessional that I was “unlovable” and that I deserved to be treated badly by my husband. Yes, he said this after I poured out my heart out upon learning that a divorce was pending. I have been “dismissed” by more than one priest when seeking regular counseling. I was told to get professional help when I was really seeking spiritual guidance. My nephew who worked in different parishes as a music director was shocked to hear the awful language coming from the pastor’s mouth. Yes I mean the “F” word. Another pastor pushed him out of his job by being downright mean and nasty to him, picking apart his every effort at directing the choir and selecting sacred music.

Many priests of Jesus Christ fall way short of modeling him as they are called to do. True, perhaps a few bad apples do not spoil the whole bunch; but we must try to stop putting them on some sort of pedestal from which as mere humans they are eventually destined to fall.

I for one will never abandon the one true Church of Jesus Christ because of the poor witness of priests I have unfortunately encountered. We must pray for holy priests— that they will remain strong, pure and steadfast in their promises made before God. One thing we should never do is crucify them for falling. We are all broken creatures and given to a wounded nature. Let us continue to pray for and love our priests. Let us forgive those who have disappointed or hurt us in any way. But also let us not put them on the same supernatural level as our Lord.  If we do then we are setting them up to fall from such heights.

Thomas’ Comments

Marriages fail and the Church offers annulments to help people who want to love and live again. If such is the case for them, then how can we be judgmental against priests who want to get married?

Priests are human, too. They are not cold and heartless machines. They are flesh-and-blood men with all the strengths and weaknesses of all men. They are not supermen!

We have a Church where gays and pencil-pushing eunuchs seek to manipulate heterosexual men with normal drives and needs with analogies of a spiritual marriage with the Church and with fear of punishment and censure. They talk about the grace of celibacy as if it is a drug to nullify sexual longing and the need for intimacy. Men are humanized by women. Relationships with women allow men to become adults.

But, we do not want adults, do we? Adults talk back and we want boys who will behave! The Church forces its priests to remain as children, and yet they live in the bodies of adult men. Pedophiles and pederasts are able to sneak into the priesthood because formation programs leave men generally at the maturation of twelve year olds. They relate to children because psychologically the hierarchy wants them to remain in the Peter Pan mode of stilted development.

When a priest messes with a woman, more so than not, she is the one who seduced him. Don’t get me wrong, she need not play the seductress. All it takes is a normal loving woman to knock down the priest’s shaky house of cards. Priests are taught to see women as a threat to their celibacy. They are told to stay away from them and not to have close female friends. If he is caught having dinner alone with a woman or, God forbid, gives a woman a kiss, the fishbowl gossips spread the alarm and eventually the bishop punishes the man. How dare you act like a normal man! You are Church property! You belong to us, body, soul and genitals! You are to have no views but those ideas promoted by the Church! Do not talk politics because the Church will be sued and forfeit its tax exemption! Do not even suggest that the Church could be wrong, or else! You will be silenced! You will be transferred! Okay, you caught Father So-N-So with another clergyman in a compromising situation— tell no one or you will be sorry! Okay, we had to move Father Juvenile again because he got too close to the kiddies— tell no one or you will be sorry! Okay, you were hauled into court— keep your mouth shut and we will reward you with a monsignor title when you are released! Remember, canon law allows the priest to be punished for causing scandal, so don’t do it! Stay away from Susie and keep your mouth shut! Homosexuals we can handle, but not abandoned women and crying fatherless babies! Are you sure you are heterosexual? Things would be so much easier only if, well, only if.

If celibacy were optional, so much of this scenario would change. There would be a new springtime in terms of the dynamics of ministry in the Church.

Billy’s Comments

Given your history of rigidity on such issues, I am surprised that you allowed Chuck’s words to stand without some sort of rebuttal.  Did you take his challenge about censorship seriously? Let me shake the boat some more.

Keeping promises is one thing, but the negative stereotyping of a whole people is something else. I am sick and tired of homophobes saying that there are too many gay priests or that gay men should be kept out of the priesthood. How dare anyone hold such prejudices and still claim to be a Christian!

Is there anything wrong with a gay caste for the priesthood? After all, the Church does not want gay men to be active anyway. It would seem that those willing to be celibate or at least discrete among each other would be the best way to go. There is no longing for old girlfriends or any seeking to satisfy with other appetites the loss of heterosexual sexual intimacy and pleasure.

Fat priests overeat to make up for their sexual repression. Other clergy drink heavily. Are they being true to their celibacy? No! But they are quickly excused. They are also quick to condemn others, even as they are blind to their own transgressions!

Most homosexuals are not pedophiles or pederasts. Indeed, I suspect there are far more heterosexual abusers in the ranks of the clergy. But, they may be better at hiding their scandalous acts. I heard the one case where a priest married a young girl as soon as legality permitted. We can readily presume that the so-called romance had started well into the past. He covered up his crime by making her his wife. Seminaries should give a preference to gay men. They are the most likely to flourish in an all-male environment and will probably remain in the priesthood with greater numbers than men pining away about breasts and vaginas.

It is also true, at least culturally, that gay men have better musical and aesthetic tastes than straights. Most of my friends among the Latin traditionalists are gay. When it comes to dress up, smells and bells, tassels and cloaks, it takes a gay man to do things right. Ritual and chant is like dance and song. The liturgy is the greatest drama. From Broadway to the Vatican, there are thousands of gay men doing what they do best.

So, come on guys, let’s get with it. The priesthood is our playground and the Church is our stage!

Patricia’s Comments

If we were only living for this world then Billy and Chuck scored big points in this discussion!  If there be all there is, then go for it!  Have gay sex! Use contraception! Try to do it all and split your time and dedication between marriage and a church vocation! Have 1.5 children, keep your career, and maintain your personal time and space— sacrifice as little as you possible can! If that is all you “think” and “feel” will make you happy then surrender yourself to your strongest urges.

On the other hand, if Jesus really rose from the dead, left an authoritative teaching authority, gave us commandments and reminded us that this life is an eye-blink compared to eternity; well, then, we will one day have to pay the piper.  I would like to thank good priests for witnessing not only with their preaching but with their celibacy.  They are signs in their persons of another world with a different set of values— forsaking earthly pleasures for the joys of eternity.

Thank God, for the genuine Christian witness of priests and faithful lay Catholics. Embracing our crosses can bring inestimable joy. Sacrifices given out of love will be rewarded and usher forth lasting joy. As a mother I know that my sacrifices bring contentment and happiness when I look at my children. The priests have peace and joy in sacrificing for the flocks— the family of God.

The priesthood is a vocation, not a career. By all means, do not enter it if you cannot respect the beauty of Church teachings and discipline. Everyone is welcome to hang around, to learn and to try to understand; but it is not a do-it-yourself religion. That’s pop culture, folks.

My Quick Closing Comments

The Catholic Church teaches that homosexuals suffer from a severe sexual disorientation and as such, should neither be ordained nor function as priests. However, everyone should be treated with compassion and justice.

A man can be married to the Church. His love for Jesus and the flock should be all-consuming!

There is my two cents!

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Likeness to God is Holy, Not Gay

downloadQuestion

God made us in his own image and likeness. If some people be homosexual, then it seems to me that is okay too.  That is, after all, the way God made them.  Am I right?

Response

People are also born with deformities and health defects. We come into this world inflicted by Original sin. We are wounded and broken, needing the healing and forgiveness of Christ. God is not a sexual being. Created in the divine image has to do with the properties of the soul. Human beings are the stewards of material creation. As body-soul composites, we can respond to God by knowing him (intellect) and loving him (will). That is what we understand by image. Likeness is similarly understood, but also appreciated as one being transformed or born again into the “likeness” of Christ by the gift of grace. The likeness or justification that was forfeited by sin is restored by the redemptive work of Christ.

Responding as Catholics to the Trans-gendered

downloadQuestion

I do not know what to do or how to think about my sister coming out as trans-gendered. I never suspected her of identifying as a male, given that she was never much of a tomboy.  She always preferred art to sports. My sister will be undergoing hormone treatment.  What will she face now as a Catholic?  Will she still be able to participate in the sacraments?

Since gender within the Catholic Church is considered a gift, I would be most interested in your response. I am very confused, as well as concerned, about any discrimination my sister might face in the future.

Response

First, it is wrong to say as many do that God made a mistake. We live in a broken world wounded by sin. The Church teaches that disharmony, suffering and death entered the world because of the fall. Second, identity should not be utterly defined by disorientation or disabilities. You are much more than your sexual orientation and your physical abilities. Third, it is wrong to equate a disorientation or disability with normalcy or as a value that must be affirmed with the whole person. This third element is often debated because many people with gender confusion and/or same-sex attraction demand affirmation and do not view their status as either a defect or mental illness.

I need to insert that orientation cannot be determined simply by occupations or activities. There are men and women who like art, cooking, sports, music, dancing, camping, science, teaching, etc. I suspect that many activities that we associate with one gender over another are simply the result of social stereotyping. Even playing with dolls finds correlation in both boys and girls, although as a boy my plastic army men were constantly burying my sister’s girlish dolls as the casualties of pretend wars. She would dig them up— zombies!

In all seriousness, what you mention is a dilemma that has only arisen as an issue in recent days. Gender confusion in the past was ether regarded as a perversion or as the subject for comedy. I am unsure as to whether the increased numbers of such disorientations are entirely due to genetic predisposition or whether there are factors in modern culture and society that have precipitated such awareness and the accompanying public revelation.

Frankly, priests and seminarians were never prepared to deal with gender dysphoria. I cannot recall the topic ever coming up in discussions of moral theology. We figured that it was very rare or else just a remote category of the homosexual question. The Church does not accept the transition so a trans-gendered person could worship and pray as a Catholic, but the sacraments become more problematical. I suppose, after the fact, a person might enter the Church and receive Holy Communion and absolution for other sins— however, such a person could not marry in the Church, would have to live a celibate life, and would not be a candidate for the religious life. Despite hormonal treatment and surgery, the Church would regard them as their birth sex. The prohibitions against same-sex intimacy would apply.

The Church values persons but not disorientations. We have a commitment to what we believe is the truth. Just as the Church opposes amputations for those who suffer a disassociation with the body and want legs and arms removed to fit their image of themselves as handicapped; the Church would similarly oppose those who want hormonal treatment and possibly surgery to more closely identify their external physical gender with how they psychologically view themselves.

Answering your question is difficult. We must sometimes make the best of situations that are not ideal. We do not want to needlessly hurt people or make trans-gendered persons feel as if they have been rejected by the Church and orphaned by God. We want them to find Christ in us as well as to witness the Lord in their own lives. The story of Jesus includes sadness, suffering, companionship and joy. Even if disagreement should remain, we should nevertheless listen to the stories of trans-gendered persons. They relate serious struggles with an alternation or lack of correspondence with their natural body gender to their interior sense of sexual identity. Their testimonies are often so powerful that you want to weep with them. When they have pursued hormonal treatment and/or surgery, we might sometimes be too quick to condemn without fully hearing them out. Further, I am told that once synthetic hormones are taken, there is no turning back. Surgical removal of healthy genitalia would traditionally be condemned as mutilation of the body. But I suspect it would be interpreted as final and irreversible. Withholding immediate judgment, believers among trans-gendered persons often speak of this process as a journey of spiritual awakening. They feel that they are embracing a more authentic life for themselves. We might feel just as strongly that it is wrong. We might further believe that they are seeking to flee some measure of the Cross. However, we must grant a certain degree of appreciation or empathy as to how they see themselves within this transition if we desire to make room for them in the Church. Otherwise, we will be showing them to the door. Christ was all about opening doors to conversion, healing and acceptance. He reached out to sinners, the poor, the marginalized, etc. The measure here is love. We might not agree. We might not understand what they are feeling. We might feel hurt and grieving ourselves over the person who was and the person who is emerging. All the same, we have to love them as persons with infinite value— the measure assigned to them by divine love. Life is messy. This is an element to Pope Francis and his notion of accompaniment. There are some matters that cannot be immediately fixed. There are some messes that must even wait for the life-to-come in order to be cleaned up.

Finding Hope & Not Despair in the Synod

I am troubled that otherwise orthodox Catholic critics are suggesting that the Synod on the Family in Rome will signal a fall into apostasy.  While there may be a number of wrong-thinking priests and bishops, I have confidence that nothing of the Church’s doctrinal integrity will be sacrificed to pastoral expediency.

While the deposit of faith is both fixed and develops, there can be no revocation of objective truths.  Those couples living in second marriages or irregular unions cannot be uncritically invited to receive Holy Communion.  They may come up without our invitation; but we cannot encourage people to commit either mortal sin or sacrilege against the Eucharist.  No degree of penance would suffice unless there is genuine repentance and a firm amendment of life.  Any projected change in discipline or a so-called pastoral provision cannot justify regularizing church life for recalcitrant adulterers.

Despite the derision by angry critics that many priests are spineless wimps, most men in ministry are dedicated and courageous in their service.  Priests who seem to turn a blind eye to scandalous behavior are often in the dark or uncertain about the marital status of others.  The opposite may also be true.  Their apparent passivity may consist of knowing too many facts about which they are duty bound to keep within professional secrecy and/or the seal of Confession.  A priest may do nothing by word or gesture or intimation based upon what he learns in the sacrament of Penance.  This is the case even when absolution is withheld.  Such a predicament does not prevent others from condemning faithful priests who are already suffering when they must treat adulterers, active homosexuals and child-murderers as if they are Catholics in perfectly good standing.

Of course, it is no wonder that many of the laity might expect churchmen to invite blasphemy against the Eucharist when ministers are generally forbidden by their bishops to refuse the sacrament to others for fear of negative publicity or scandal.  We have witnessed for many years the tension of various pro-life groups with certain U.S. Bishops demanding that they turn away from the altar pro-abortion politicians and others who enable the murder of the unborn.  This conflict has yet to be resolved and continues to alienate those who should be on the same side and working together.  In any case, there is a vast difference between a general passivity and a universal invitation.

The Holy See and the Church are servants of the Word, not its master.  The words of St. Paul about fornicators, homosexuals and adulterers cannot be stripped from Scripture or from the constant tradition of the Church.  Similarly, the notion of the “closed-table” finds it roots in St. Paul and the censures of the early Church:  “And therefore, if anyone eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily, he will be held to account for the Lord’s body and blood. A man must examine himself first, and then eat of that bread and drink of that cup; he is eating and drinking damnation to himself if he eats and drinks unworthily, not recognizing the Lord’s body for what it is” (1 Cor. 11:27-29).  While there are different theologies in the Church, they must speak to the same doctrinal truths.  Disciplines and pastoral practices are not geared to circumvent doctrine but to help express and realize them.

What can we expect from the Synod on the Family in Rome?  Compromise would precipitate acceleration in the breakdown of marriages.  I foresee a reaffirmation of the timeless faith with suggestions to redouble our efforts to welcome and bring healing into the lives of our people.  Let us trust our bishops.  Let us work with our people and not against them.  Let us put aside the silly sensationalism in the news and give the living Church the opportunity to teach and minister as she should.  There will be discussion and debate in Rome.  But we have confidence in the Holy Spirit and the Magisterium.  The process can be messy but so is life.  The truth will prevail.

Synod of the Family: Revisionist Proposals, part 2

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Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna echoes a few points that will no doubt be discussed at the upcoming Synod on the Family.  (No disrespect is intended to this brilliant man who was the secretary that helped assemble the universal catechism.)

A stable gay relationship is “an improvement” over temporary relationships.

This position reminds me of what my old professor taught at CUA many years ago. It was wrongly argued that Fr. Charles Curran supported the promiscuous lifestyle that was lived out by so many homosexuals. In fact, he only argued, (while still wrongly), that the Church should support homosexuals who lived out faithful monogamous relationships. The difficulties I saw were the twofold condemnations from both natural law and divine positive law. There is no Scriptural qualification that same-sex behavior is okay if not promiscuous. Today, no matter what label we might impose upon it, we have no authority to change reality or what actually constitutes marriage. How then is a stable relationship better? Is it better concealed? Does it inhibit the transfer of deadly viruses? Is there a value in how it mimics heterosexual bonds? Spiritually, I am concerned about the forgiveness of sins and saving souls. Given that homosexual acts constitute the matter of mortal sin, is one not damned with either one partner or dozens of partners? Jumping from one ledge to another on a mountainside might make an appropriate analogy. One might miss the ledge by five feet or one inch, but the resulting fall is the same. Where is the improvement?

Sharing a life, “they share their joys and sufferings, they help one another. They took an important step for their own good and the good of others, even though it certainly is an “irregular” situation in the Church’s eyes.

The irregularity is not simply in the eyes of the Church. This makes the situation sound like it can be corrected with the quick change of an ecclesial rule or guideline. The problem is too deep for such a shallow response.

A shared life might precipitate a degree of needed solidarity and intimacy, but is that enough? I remember a college reporting to alumni that they had a very loving and supportive community. However, this did not dispel fears that the school had lost its Catholic identity. The ancient pagans had instances of wonderful comradery and unity; however, this affiliation was not Christian. Are we not facing a similar situation here?

I have known homosexuals who struggled with their sexuality and were discrete about their disorientation. They regularly went to Confession and those with partners tried earnestly to make the walk of faith with their special friend. Sometimes they failed. But they respected the teachings of the Church and loved the Lord. I knew men and women who took care of their beloved friend even as he or she was dying from diseases like AIDs or cancer. They lamented militants spitting the host into the face of churchmen like the late Cardinal O’Connor in New York. They retreated with disgust from vulgar exhibitions in rallies and parades. They were faithful to love while knowing that there was something broken in their attractions and genital life. Many joined Fr. John Harvey’s COURAGE and sought to share love in celibate service to others and in prayer to God. I lament that we seem to pamper those who demand approbation while neglecting these heroic men and women.

While a negative verdict from the Church about homosexual acts remains, “the Church should not look in the bedroom first, but in the dining room! It must accompany people.”

The negative verdict arises from the sources of revelation. How should one surmount a consistent teaching from both the Old and New Testaments that later finds confirmation in two thousand years of Christian tradition? Until recently, homosexual acts were criminalized in many places. This assertion about accompanying people sounds nice, but are we all walking in the same direction? I would not want to go to hell with other sinners just to appease the niceties of toleration and good manners.  Would the good Cardinal make the same argument if we were discussing polygamy and mistresses? What about those who promote promiscuity, prostitution and orgies? What about the practitioners of bestiality, pedophilia and pederasty? No, I suspect then he would want to put his foot down. I am left wondering.  Could it be that some churchmen just do not believe that homosexuality is all that serious a sin? Our Lord’s house or mansion has many rooms; what we do matters in all the rooms of his house!  No one should be excused from the need for contrition and repentance. Do we really want to throw away this vital component to heralding the Gospel and transformation in Christ?

Pastoral accompaniment “cannot transform an irregular situation into a regular one, but there do exist paths for healing, for learning.”

This leaves me befuddled. He says the irregular situation remains but there are “paths for healing, for learning.” What does this mean? How will making them comfortable with error bring them to the truth?  Or is he addressing the Church?  Is the Church supposed to learn that we were mistaken about a basic issue of human sexuality? Is it wrong to expect the homosexual or lesbian to embrace a non-genital way of loving? Are not our ears being bombarded by the same deviant sex advocates who are demanding acceptance and approval, not just toleration? When asked about the issue, Pope Francis responded, “Who am I to judge?” What he meant was that only God can judge the individual soul. However, as the Vicar of Christ, he can affirm (as he did recently) what is viewed as right and wrong by our Lord and his Church. As sinners, we all need to grow in the truth and to experience genuine forgiveness and healing.

Synod of the Family: Revisionist Proposals, part 1

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Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna echoes a few points that will no doubt be discussed at the upcoming Synod on the Family.  (No disrespect is intended to this brilliant man who was the secretary that helped assemble the universal catechism.)  Here is one of the controversial points:

A civil marriage is better than cohabitation because it signifies “a formal public commitment.”

I am not sure about this statement.  Both, in my estimation, are bad.  Might we say that one is worse than the other?  And which is worse?  Cohabitation might leave emotional strings, but after a breakup there would be no civil or ecclesial ties to unravel.  The good cardinal seems to think that people are thrown together chiefly because of financial worries; I suspect he is too quick to dismiss the carnal elements and the attitude that “living together” constitutes either a trial marriage or a viable alternative.  He asserts that civil marriages are better, but for the Catholic, what is it really?  Sure, the state would recognize the bond.  Two Protestants or non-believers married in such a way would be truly married, even if only in terms of a natural bond.  However, the Catholic has turned his back on marriage as a sacrament of the Church.  Indeed, in this age of same-sex marriages, we would not even define marriage as does our secular culture.  The bond is not recognized by the Church and thus has no standing before almighty God.  If the marriage fails, a quick declaration of nullity because of lack of canonical form proves this point.  The bond is not worth the paper it is written upon.  Their sexual congress still constitutes fornication and if there were a prior bond, adultery.  How is this good or better?  Will the Church now seek a demarcation within mortal sin?  If the soul is darkened or dead, the persons are no longer disposed to saving grace.  The role of the Church is not simply to help people feel happy or whole but to give them true mercy and joy in the Spirit.  Our mission is to save souls, not to pamper people who have turned their backs on the Church, her sacraments and basic values.  It may be too harshly said, but where Catholics are involved, civil marriages are to cohabitation what Nevada houses of ill repute are to prostitution.  It might give the profession a certain public recognition and standing, but it is no less damning.

Here is another point listed by the cardinal:

“Instead of talking about everything that is missing, we can draw close to this reality, noting what is positive in this love that is establishing itself.”

The good cardinal applies this, not only to cohabitation and civil unions, but also to second unions and same-sex unions.  I will neglect the last possibility in this reflection because I think there is sufficient cause already to reject the assertion for heterosexuals.  That which is missing is paramount and ignoring or excusing its absence leads to a false analysis of the problem.  The fact remains that sexual activity outside of marriage is immoral and sinful.  Marriage is an institution to foster both spousal fidelity and the propagation of the species.  If you are not married, then you have no right to these goods, even if they are feigned.  What do I mean by feigned?  Pretending to be husband and wife does not make one husband and wife.  Similarly, even in marriages, the marital act is what it is.  If distorted by violence or lust, it becomes a parody.  If couples are made sterile through contraception then the basic meaning of the marital act is short-changed and it no longer signifies the bond or renews the marital covenant.  Let me attempt a silly analogy.  A cowboy facing bandits will be thankful for his gun.  However, he will be intensely disappointed when the fighting starts to find that he has no bullets.  Again, that which is missing can be crucial to any scenario.

This notion of finding the positive in sin or wrongful relationships can lead to a distortion in values.  We can say that such tolerance will not affect doctrine, but this has not yet been proven.  Usually the praxis or discipline is imposed to insure a doctrinal teaching.  Certainly I can appreciate compassion and mercy.  We might also admit that certain relationships will take time to correct and heal.  But the problem that many refuse to acknowledge is that there are some relationships and actions that can never be made right.  If a person is married in truth, a second union is adultery— yes, no matter how satisfying and loving is the irregular union.  Living together and sharing sexual congress outside of marriage is not only wrong, it is the cooperation in another’s sin or a spiritual exploitation.  Many couples acknowledge that they cohabitate because this makes sexual activity more convenient.  Is this the positive element we are seeking?  No!  Civil unions provide little extra in terms of foundational substance, especially when there is “no fault” divorce and half of such unions fail.  Couples might say they grew apart, but increasingly the unstated cause of marital breakup is adultery.  Would not kindness to adulterers be demeaning to spouses who struggle to maintain fidelity?

If we look hard enough, we might imagine something positive in the most tragic of situations.  Indeed, I was asked one time about this in regard to hell.  My response was that it was unlikely the devils would find fulfillment in simply torturing damned souls for all eternity.  I suspect that if there be one positive element it might be the intellectual life.  The demons have incredible intellects, albeit without divine illumination.  As creatures without bodies there would be nothing that corporeal pleasure could offer them.  They would probably seek an escape into their minds.  Of course, no matter how high calipered the debates, hell would still be hell.

The love of fornicators and adulterers might be very tender and gentle.  It might be incredibly affirming and life-giving.  The problem is both what is missing and what is supplied instead.  The sacrament is absent and that which should sanctify them brings scandal and grievous sin.  Their union is built upon a foundation of broken promises and a basic deception.  They give what belongs to another.  They give what they have no right to give.  Like a thief, they steal what does not belong to them.

This proposition collapses entirely with a proper definition of love.  Love is ever so much more than feelings.  Love is sacrificial.  Love is a promise kept.  Love is consecrated by God and such lasts a lifetime.

Increasing numbers cohabitate because of financial insecurity.  The bishops should ask, “Are we here to deplore this phenomenon instead of asking ourselves what has changed?”

It is true that there are financial issues that drive couples to live together, although formerly men and women took housemates of the same gender to share a home. Are they less likely to do so today because others will suppose they are gay when they are really straight? I think too great an emphasis is placed on economics as an excuse or rationale for what is happening. In truth, I think there has been an erosion of the meaning and importance of marriage. Many times I have heard young people, particularly those estranged from the Church, say that marriage is “just a slip of paper.” Boys and girls living together do so largely for what the good cardinal might demote as mere fringe benefits. It makes sexual intimacy easier. When young people start spending time with each other their friends will invariably ask, “When are you going to move in together?” A situation that was once judged as scandalous is now judged as routine or expected.

The good cardinal poses “either-or” questions when there should be a two-fold focus.  We are talking about more than living together or cohabitation, but rather about variations of sexual concubinage. The bishops by necessity should “deplore this phenomenon.” Nothing should deflect their disdain. Too often I hear the complaint that we should not shame the girl or couple, especially if they should conceive an illegitimate child. While the Church is pro-life and the baby is innocent; the parents are not. They should be ashamed of themselves, and this goes back to their living arrangements. These are situations where the rights of children are not properly served and there is a heightened likelihood of abortion. The Church’s moral outrage immediately focuses upon what has changed— a lack of shame and a diminution in the meaning of marriage. Of course, then the Church is attacked as intolerant and mean-spirited. We hear echoed a rhetorical question that emanates from those who have no respect for the Church or her authority, “Who are you to judge?” This repudiation of ecclesial moral assessment is then backed up with a listing of all the latest scandals in the Church, particularly regarding pedophilia and pederasty. By comparison, the Church is imaged as the biggest sinner and a hypocrite as well. Critics say we are looking for splinters while we have planks jabbed in our eyes. Unfortunately, objective truth and genuine moral scrutiny is the victim of this back-and-forth. Right and wrong remain what they are even if the one who cites the misdeed is the greatest reprobate on the planet.

Are we really being helpful?  “There is a risk of easily pointing a finger at hedonism and individualism, when it takes much more effort to observe the realities carefully.”

It may be that the good cardinal is critical of the bishops and the Church for making abstract moral judgments without a regard for how the practical situations of people make difficult any fidelity to the divine moral law.  However, the place for pastoral accommodation is in the Confessional, not in general statements of faith.  There has to be a universal standard.  The Church teaches us what ought to be.  The priest in the trenches deals in a proximate way with what is and the effects of original sin.  Saint John Paul II understood this.  He was concise and clear about questions in the moral order.  His theology of the body was the mastery of his genius.  And yet, this same Pope urged priests to show gentleness and compassion to penitents who struggled with the sin of artificial contraception and the manner of their sexual intimacy.  He urged ministers to take people where they found them.  Jesus ministered similarly.  He brought healing and forgiveness to others but nothing of the Decalogue lost its compelling power.  Indeed, some commands became more intense.  The mere hatred of another makes one guilty of violating, “thou shalt not kill.”  The woman caught in adultery is guilty but he saves her from stoning and opts himself not to condemn her.  Rather he forgives her with a warning to avoid this sin in the future.  The writ of divorce is dismissed and those who do so are charged with adultery.  This sounds harsh but it protected the rights of women who were often abandoned and left destitute.

Each case may have complications that surface.  But one would have to be blind not to see how our society is saturated by hedonism.  The natural desire for happiness and the avoidance of pain is amplified to the level where the pursuit of pleasure becomes everything.  While much of the planet suffers squalor and poverty, Western society is enraptured by self-indulgence.  Alcohol, drugs, sexual promiscuity, pornography, and lurid entertainments saturate our environment.  Keeping the proper custody of the eyes becomes virtually impossible.  Everyone from the elderly to the small child is touched by it.

A stark individualism is often praised in American circles and yet while we delight in freedom, often this can come at the price of another’s rights and the cohesion of duty or obligation for family, for community, and for church.  The slogan for the mentality, at least when it becomes terminal, is the cry, “No one can tell me what to do!”

Father Hans Langendörfer SJ

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Father Hans Langendörfer SJ, secretary of Germany’s bishops’ conference, spearheaded changes to labor laws that would allow Church employees who are homosexual or divorced and civilly remarried to work for ecclesiastical institutions. In other words, the very same morality clause for which American bishops are fighting would be reversed in Germany. The work for this was secret, much like the recent meeting of dissenters seeking to “circumvent” Church teaching at the Synod of the Family. Father Langendörfer SJ was also a mover and shaker at this latter clandestine meeting. Dissenting bishops argue that “there’s no need to scrutinize people’s private lives.” The opposition rightly argues that changes of discipline would “implicitly affirm” sinful lifestyles. He proposed language to dismiss opponents as “too Catholic,” arguing that they are causing a scandalous “negative atmosphere.” He affirmed a 2011 letter from 140 German theologians who demanded changes in doctrine and discipline.

German Bishops to Unveil ‘Hidden Bombshell’