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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Where are We Going with Same-Sex Unions?

What Did the Pope Say?

“Lo que tenemos que crear es una ley de unión civil. De esa manera, están legalmente cubiertas.”

“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way, they are legally covered.”

“La gente homosexual tiene derecho a estar en una familia. Son hijos de Dios y tienen derecho a una familia. Nadie debería ser expulsado o sentirse miserable por ello.”

“Gay people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God and have the right to a family. No one should be expelled or (made to) feel miserable about it.”

While we have long known that Pope Francis personally favored same-sex “civil unions” as an alternative to same-sex “marriages,” the recent citation in a documentary may force a change in praxis from the 2003 Vatican document that prohibited both. The pending matter here is not academic. Prudential judgment must not include an inner contradiction that ratifies or excuses mortal sin.  This is why I am of the opinion that such distinctions between labels are euphemistic; however, it is possible that a “tertium quid” might later be fashioned that would technically be permissible within the framework of Catholic doctrine, i.e. a publicly endorsed brotherly or sisterly union over one that denotes a genital-sexual bond.

It must be acknowledged that such a “third thing” or way would never find positive acceptance from organizations like New Ways Ministry or Dignity which promote as positive the exercise of intimate homosexual or lesbian relations.  Indeed, the latter organization goes to the extreme of excusing casual fornication.

What might be the eminent ramifications from all this sensationalism?

If gay relationships are to be judged as familial with all the associated rights, can Church authorities deny “spousal benefits” to gay partners?  Would we acknowledge formal rights to property ownership and inheritance?  Would our Catholic hospitals grant them the authority to make medical decisions for one another?  Can we continue to fire staff, as with musicians and teachers, who come out publicly as in same-sex bonds? 

Several years ago Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Washington and elsewhere (like Boston) terminated adoption services because changes in civil law required that we give consideration to grant orphaned children to same-sex couples.  It was the beginning of a fight over the Church’s “religious liberty.”  We argued that children had a right to a mother and a father.

While biblical and longstanding morality in the Church would target intimate homosexual acts as sinful; would the Church be able to bless unions and regularize couples who pledge a “particular” but “celibate” love for each other?  Is this practically feasible and if so, would they be placed under any greater scrutiny than married men and women who sometimes commit wrongful acts and bring them to the sacrament of penance?

The Meaning of Marriage & Love is Already Compromised 

Most of our religious and priests are heterosexual men and women who love the Lord and others but have chosen not to pursue erotic love or any form of genital affection.  This may be a teaching moment for a society that wrongly and immediately equates love with lust.  Many of our heterosexual marriages fail because of such confusion and immaturity.  Love inherently demands self-discipline and sacrifice.  Love is not about narcissism or manipulation.  The loving Christian, gay or straight, should look upon the beloved as one to nurture and protect.  As believers we would logically want those near to us to walk with the Lord and to be in a state of grace or holy. Any who would draw a partner into sin do not really love as they should.  Pope Francis speaks a great deal about accompaniment.  As always, this implies that we are all going in the same direction— toward the kingdom of heaven. 

What Can We Tolerate & What Can We Change?

The terms of salvation come from the sources of revelation:  Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.  Politicians can change civil laws and popes can interpret the font of revelation; however, neither can rewrite what is right or wrong.  It is given to us by God.  Both divine-positive laws and natural laws remain binding and beyond our control.  We can legalize prostitution but we cannot make it right or neutral.  We can tolerate pharmacists selling condoms but we cannot condone their use.  We can allow the evil of divorce and interact with the courts in our annulment procedures, but we cannot turn a blind eye to adultery.  Our obligation as believers is to find positive ways of relating to one another and living according to divine providence. 

It is true that the Church must sometimes adapt her social and moral teachings to the current situation of a culture or society.  It is also true that there can be an organic development of doctrine as there was about slavery and possibly about capital punishment. However, such developments about the dignity of persons and the sanctity of life imply no explicit reversal of a commandment or the transposition of a vice or sin into a virtue.    

Not Conservatism But Rather What Does Orthodoxy Have to Say?

We must throughout the current debate take seriously the voices of shepherds on both sides of the divide, but particularly those who speak from the tradition.  Among these is Cardinal Raymond Burke who writes:

“It is a source of deepest sadness and pressing pastoral concern that the private opinions reported with so much emphasis by the press and attributed to Pope Francis do not correspond to the constant teaching of the Church, as it is expressed in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and is guarded, protected and interpreted by the Magisterium. Equally sad and concerning is the turmoil, confusion, and error they cause among the Catholic faithful, as is the scandal they cause, in general, by giving the totally false impression that the Catholic Church has had a change of course, that is, has changed its perennial teaching regarding such fundamental and critical questions.” 

Another shepherd weighing in is Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island who states: 

“The Holy Father’s apparent support for the recognition of civil unions for same-sex couples needs to be clarified. The Pope’s statement clearly contradicts what has been the long-standing teaching of the Church about same-sex unions. The Church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships. Individuals with same-sex attraction are beloved children of God and must have their personal human rights and civil rights recognized and protected by law. However, the legalization of their civil unions, which seek to simulate holy matrimony, is not admissible.”

At face-value, it is as he says it is.  Such a matter is not judged on the same level as abortion or the murder of children which is a non-negotiable within the moral order; however, it is important as it breaches dialogue about the nature of marriage and family— the basic building block of a healthy society.  It is in the family where we develop a sense of identity— learning our prayers and first encountering Christ and finding witnessed the values that we will take with us into adulthood.   

What Constitutes Parents & a Family?

The Holy Father has previously sided with the argument that both a mother and a father are necessary in the home.  But because of divorce, death and abandonment this is often not possible. While the young should be raised in a household that witnesses the faith; it must be admitted that there are many homes with parents of two genders that suffer from abuse and dysfunction in communication.  The ideal can be hard to live out.  Further, have we not been forced already to rethink the definition of family when children are raised by one parent or by grandparents or an older sibling?  Regularly in the news are reports of great distress because illegal immigrant parents have been forcibly separated from their children.  No matter what side of the divide one might be on the question of border control and sovereignty, this touches the hearts of all decent people.  By contrast to the matter of this posting, why is this real threat to family life ignored or minimized? When it comes to the possibility of same-sex guardians we may have to give them the benefit of a doubt.  Might Uncle Ben and Uncle Jerry be able to raise a child and teach him his prayers?  Might Aunt Susie and Aunt Jenny be faithful at Mass and with insuring the faith formation of little ones?  Might they be capable of loving, providing for and protecting a child— from any and all who would take advantage of him or her? 

Alas, the scandal of errant clergy has forfeited much in the way of the Church’s moral authority so as to interact on such questions.

Civil Unions for Gays?

Previously unreleased papal comments aired in the documentary “Francesco,” included those from a 2019 interview that endorsed same-sex civil unions.  We know that as archbishop of Buenos Aires prior to his elevation to the papacy he did endorse civil unions of same-sex couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages. First echoing previous Church assertions about respecting homosexuals as “children of God,” he then states: “You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this.  What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”

The official 2019 Vatican transcript of the interview expunged the comments about such legal safeguards for civil unions.  While this opinion is arguably in the area of praxis it may have ramifications regarding to the transmission of moral truth.  The universal catechism teaches that “homosexual acts” are “intrinsically disordered.”  This has not changed. The Maryland Catholic Conference ran a major campaign against both same-sex marriages and legal civil unions.  It was argued as a danger to any consensus about the nature of marriage as an intimate relationship between a man and woman geared towards the transmission of new human life.  I remember offering the critique that the bishops and the “institutional” Church only became engaged in the defense of marriage at a time when gays wanted it and heterosexual couples were increasing cohabitating without it.  What the Church leadership failed to appreciate was that marriage was in trouble long before gays wanted inclusion, particularly through the blight of fornication, adultery and easy divorce and remarriage.  The leadership came to its defense too late to make any appreciable difference or to head off the momentum of a revolutionary atheistic secular-humanist morality.  Not only was the top off of any Pandora’s Box but all the proverbial evils had long since escaped.         

Many gays treat with disdain and suspicion the Church’s contention that they must be loved and treated with dignity and respect even as homosexual acts are condemned as sinful.  Frequently today, they demand acceptance, not just toleration.  Indeed, some clearly articulate as hypocrisy the assertion that one might “love the sinner but hate the sin.”  What this means is that homosexuality has become the chief marker in how they identify themselves as persons.  This should not surprise us as Western society itself has become increasing eroticized in its world view and resistant to any virtues of modesty, chastity, prudence or self-control.

The statement by Pope Francis would seem to conflict with the official line established by the Vatican in 2003 where the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (under Cardinal Ratzinger/later Pope Benedict XVI) stipulated that respect for homosexuals “cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.”  We tell heterosexual couples that civil unions without the sacrament of the Church are grievously sinful and are both invalid and illicit bonds.  How can we discourage civil bonds for the unions of men and women outside the Church but encourage and support them for homosexual couples?  Reflecting upon the Holy Father’s statement, it may be that he simply wanted to commend or support genuine love where ever it is found and a more embracive sense of family— under the civil protections of society’s laws— apart or segregated from human sexuality and possible deviancy.  If such is the case, then he would be proposing a civil union not as equivalence to marriage between men and women but as a civil and possibly spiritual adoption as brothers and sisters.  In order to receive the blessing of the Church, such couples would need to pledge perpetual lives of purity, chastity and celibacy.

Jesus Gives Us His Body & Blood

COMMENT:

Jesus no more wishes us to drink his blood than he wants us to cut off our hand, pluck out our eye or hate our parents– as he stated elsewhere. These are spiritual, not literal truths!

RESPONSE:

The biblical context distinguished the use of Hebraic hyperbole from when he insisted upon a literal appreciation of the Eucharist.  Look at the Gospel of John!  Our Lord repeated himself, again and again, and even allowed the murmuring Jews (who could not accept it) to walk away.  They knew that Jesus meant what he said.  Indeed, at the Lord’s Supper he spoke about the bread and wine transformed into his body and blood as a new covenant.  A covenant could not be established in a fake offering.  Jesus tells his apostles to do as he did in remembrance of him, re-presenting his oblation in the Eucharist— the saving activity and the real presence of the one who is the divine Lamb of God. 

Suffering & the Little Animals

QUESTION & COMMENT:

My name is Kelly the question I have is very simple. I grew up as an Orthodox Greek. All my life I have loved animals. I feed the raccoons and squirrels. I cannot even kill a bug. But all I’ve seen over the years is people abusing and torturing animals. Given all the hurt I have witnessed I cannot believe there is a God up there. I lost my dog Olivia. I had her put down because she was sick. I feel very guilty about that. I cannot imagine God allowing these animals to go through hell over and over again. What kind of God would let that happen?

Please explain what kind of God would allow animals to be physically tortured— for no good reason but for the sheer pleasure of it. I don’t know where my Livia is.  I don’t know what happened to her. I don’t know if she’s crying and waiting for me in some dark corner.  I don’t know anything anymore.

RESPONSE:

(I had to heavily edit your comment so as to understand it.)  Please know that God finds no pleasure in suffering.  God loves us and he loves all that he has created, including the little animals.  We live in a broken world where the harmony of creation is destroyed by original sin.  Not only animals, but many people also suffer in this valley of tears that we call the world.  I would not be tearful that your dog is suffering in some dark corner of the afterlife waiting for you.  Dogs may be touched by the sins of men but they cannot sin.  As a wondrous part of creation, your Livia has returned to God where there is only light.  You let her go because you loved her and did not want her to suffer.  Try not to feel guilty but trust that you did right by her.  I cannot explain why so many treat their animals poorly.  Maybe God put you here so that a few like Livia might know companionship, caring and love.  God bless you!

Taking Communion & Annulments

QUESTION:

My husband and I were civilly married 7 years ago. We have 3 children together. He was previously married in the Catholic Church. We have come back to the Church, and I am working on my confirmation. He has started the annulment process. I am curious if us having intimate relations is considered a sin. If so, how should I word this in confession? Sorry, this is all so new to me.  Thank you!

RESPONSE:

Unless you are going to live as brother and sister, then absolution from the priest in confession would be problematic.  Given that no annulment has yet been procured, the Church still understands your husband as truly married to his first spouse.  After an annulment, the two of you would likely be free to have your bond convalidated in the Church.  Given that you are both baptized, this would make it a sacrament.  Catholics in irregular unions are usually asked to go to Mass but to refrain from taking Holy Communion until the bonds are regularized.

Restitution & Salvation

QUESTION:

Is restitution necessary for salvation? When I mean restitution I mean restitution for things like gossip or insulting others.

RESPONSE:

We would err in viewing restitution merely in terms of mathematics.  Often we cannot fully restore what has been taken.  How does one repair the trust that is broken?  How does one repair another’s good name or reputation?  How does one heal memories of being wronged?  It is difficult even to repay ordinary debts and often resources are not available to make right on wrongs committed.  Jesus makes satisfaction for our sins by the price of his passion and Cross.  The calling given us is to take up our crosses and to follow him.  The implication is to do our part in making amends for sin that dishonors God and hurts our neighbor.  The meaning of restitution is found both in justice and in a need to bring healing.  Understood in this way, it is not merely a box to check off for salvation but an essential element in living out our Christianity.  Look at the sayings of Christ:

“If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:45-48).

A Question About Affinity & Dating

QUESTION:

This is a rather complex question but one I need an answer to because I really don’t want to be doing any wrong. I have a half-sister who was with this man, not married (now broken up) and they had a child— my half niece. The man had three children of his own with another woman before this. I just met my sister and everyone else but I’m having feelings for this man’s son, who as it turns out, is my half-niece’s half-brother— but of no relation to me.  

Now this man also has grandkids from that son for whom I have feelings and another one of his sons. And I have children of my own.

So I guess what my question is this:  is it alright to date his son? We are no relation, but I feel it might be wrong. So I don’t want to go ahead if it is wrong. I’ve been searching for an answer to this for a while with no real luck. Thank you so much in advance.

RESPONSE:

There is no direct relationship and no connection by blood.  Unless I am missing something it should be okay. 

However, was the son previously married?  Were you?  If so are the spouses both deceased?  A divorce would still be problematical as the Church requires annulments.  Dating between divorced persons can still constitute adultery. 

The Dying Who See the Dead

QUESTION:

My father recently passed unexpectedly. The days leading up to his death he kept seeing our dead relatives. Through research I find seeing passed relatives is common. I was curious if there is any explanation for this?

RESPONSE:

Yes, this is something I have also encountered in my ministry.  I am at odds to give an explanation.  I have heard that there are neurological reasons that would bypass any paranormal definition.  I shudder to imagine that nature should seek to bring calm to the dying by fooling them with false visions of the beloved dead.  It may be that there is a parallel and connection that we cannot analyze between the physical brain and the mind that is a property of the human soul.  Hallucinations or dreams or visions of the dead seem to bring calm to the dying.  Evidently in certain near-death experiences, such brings down blood pressure and heart-rates so that the afflicted might even survive.  As a believer, I must attest to our hope that the Lord and the saints who have gone before us will welcome us into the heavenly kingdom.         

A Teacher Questioning a Reading Given Students

QUESTIONS:

I am a new English teacher at a Catholic school. I want to be very careful about exposing students to inappropriate literature. I don’t want to give scandal in any way.

My question is this: is it a sin for me to have them read books that may have inappropriate content like sexual innuendos or rape?

My other question is this: the teacher before me assigned a book for summer reading called Native Son, which I am now reading.

There are some inappropriate parts like the ones I mentioned above.

I am worried that I am committing a sin by letting the students read this even though I didn’t pick it. Should I email the students (they are seniors in high school) and tell them they don’t have to read it?

RESPONSE:

Is it a sin?  Reading the book in question may not be sinful but this leaves open the issue as to whether it is age appropriate.  The fact that it is approved and assigned has been taken out of your hands.  I would suggest doing your best to help the young people deal with the themes— especially with a superficial and flawed understanding of religious faith. 

I knew Native Son was being read in college but did not know it was on high school reading lists.  There are a couple of versions available and I know that an earlier abridged version is still in print.  The work deals with themes that are still quite contemporary regarding race and justice.  While there is value in this, I would hope that teachers would use the work as a starting point for discussion and not as an apologetic that would project (as the author might) a future world.  The author has been accused of adopting a Marxian dialectic and while religion plays its part in the text, the assessment is negative.  Indeed, Richard Wright arguably sees Christianity as part of the problem, offering a mythical “pie-in-the-sky” that avoids seeking social change in the here-and-now. The current Black Lives Matter organization much in the news right now espouses on its website such a position.  The Klan’s notorious use of a flaming cross has turned off many people of faith.  Ideally Christianity should give us a thirst for justice and change that reflects the values of Christ’s kingdom and the brotherhood of man. It is not an opiate that appeases or short-circuits movement toward such reform. Of course, one of the greatest heroes of the struggle for racial justice is the Baptist minister, Dr. Martin Luther King.  Many in the black community are at odds over the role of faith. 

As for elements of sexuality, it is a part of our humanity; although I must admit to being turned off by any writing that is flagrantly erotic.  The issue or rape is a serious one.  Be careful about this because boys can be immature and insensitive just as girls can sometimes display heightened sensitivity, fear and woundedness about the subject.  While tame by comparison to this book, I recall as a high school boy being surprised and shocked by the clandestine “fog scene” in Tom Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles.  The next time we meet her she is pregnant— what? 

Can a Catholic Work for a Non-Christian Organization?

QUESTION:

I make websites for a living. A Hindu religious organization is asking me to make a website for them. Their facebook page is . . . [deleted].

Are there any moral issues I should consider before considering this job? Am I committing a sin if I take this job?

RESPONSE:

My brother bidded for the windows of an Islamic mosque. He treated them fairly and made a great offer. He was thrown out when they discovered he was a Catholic. I would suggest not hiding your faith and letting them know where you stand. Like any contractor, you are offering your technical services… not making a faith confession. You are simply assisting a religious organization to have a web presence. That should be okay. Matters would be different if the site promoted violence, discrimination, pornography or the murder of persons. Organizations that espouse dialogue and peaceful co-existence are members of the larger community that should be nurtured and treated as good neighbors. Peace!