Sunday, October 30, 2011
Earlier this semester, I did a second post [HERE] on the joint Fordham-Fairfield-Union Theological-Yale Divinity joint conference entitled “More than a Monologue.” As contributors to and readers of the Mirror of Justice may recall from the postings presented by several MOJ contributors on “More than a Monologue”, the conference was self-billed as “an unprecedented collaboration” designed “to change the conversation about sexual diversity and the Catholic Church.” Several of us wondered if the “change” mentioned was limited to “conversation.” Would it also include altering the attitudes of the public, including the faithful and modifying the teachings of the Church?
The Archbishop of New York (the see in which Fordham University is located) and the Bishop of Bridgeport (the see in which Fairfield University is located) expressed concerns about conference. Moreover, the concerns of these bishops take on further significance considering their ecclesial responsibilities as successors to the Apostles in these venues. On September 22 of this year, both ordinaries issued a joint statement announcing that they had each received “thoughtful expressions of concern from many of the faithful” regarding this four part series. They also stated that they had expressed these concerns as well as their own to the heads of Fordham and Fairfield. A major justification for the unease expressed focused on pre-conference publicity and advanced commentaries about the conference and the billed topics that were to be presented by the speakers. This publicity and these commentaries suggested the possibility of encouraging dissent from both Church teachings and the teaching authority of the Church. The ordinaries also mentioned that the presidents of Fairfield and Fordham indicated that they, the presidents, were aware of the concerns about “More than a Monologue” and brought them to the attention of the conference organizers. In due course, the presidents assured the ordinaries that, “while sensitive to the experience of the participants,” the presentations “will not be a vehicle for dissent.” One of the heads conveyed his confidence “that the Church’s teachings will be clearly stated and articulately defended” within a “spirit of dialogue that is proper to an academic setting.” It was further asserted that, “the strength of these teachings will be quite convincing, based as they are on revealed truth.”
As people of good will, these two bishops stated that with the assurances presented, we “must trust that the conference will turn out as intended: not as a criticism or questioning of the faith and morals of the Church, but as a sincere attempt to listen to those who are trying their best to believe and live it...”
Having participated in academic conferences where these and other neuralgic issues were discussed in the context of the Church’s teachings, I, too, would have hoped for the same outcome—i.e., discussion, learning, and an objective search for the truth of the matter considered within the context of respect for, cogent and reasoned explanation of, and adherence to the teachings of the Church. However, having listened to most of the presentations in archived broadcasts or during live streaming, I must respectfully disagree with the assertions made about the objectives of this conference by its organizers. It may well be that the ordinaries will, in due course, share views parallel to mine.
But the story does not end here.
The truth about this conference continues on several fronts. The first concentrates on the intentions of the conveners of and speakers at the conference. One principal speaker (who interestingly referred to my religious order that has some relationship with the Fairfield and Fordham as “the famously free-thinking Jesuit fathers”) contends that “the Catholic Church appears to be a community dramatically out of synch” with the topic of sexual diversity, and the Church’s work is affected by “a powerful political fear of moral contagion... Are bishops and Vatican officials afraid of moral relativism...?” Elsewhere, one of the organizers stated that the conferences will add “many more voices... to explore the implications of the Church’s teachings on homosexuality. Many people... would like to see the church [sic] change its teachings on homosexuality.” In this context, this organizer cited current surveys on support of same-sex marriage. While contending that surveys themselves do not mean that the Church “will bend to such a statistic,” they point to a “gap” between Church teachings and “the apparent convictions of Catholics.”
Regarding whether the Church will change its teachings, this same person said that one cannot predict this outcome but also stated that, “one should never say never.” Elsewhere, this same individual has displayed his support for same-sex marriage and alteration of Church teachings on marriage. In this context, this person also argues that for Church teachings to “change,” they will do so because of a “theological justification.” But what is a theological justification, you may ask? The organizer provides an answer: “Those who believe such a change can or should occur focus on Catholic understandings of the goodness of creation, which includes the goodness of all human beings as God made them.” I am sure that some of the worst offenders of the Church’s teachings—and those who have dismissed the logic and objectivity of her teachings as well as the soundness general principles of law designed to promote the common good—take comfort in this “theological justification.” After all, it will justify their conduct, too.
For this “theological justification” to take root, the same organizer contends that the Church’s teachings based on “the natural law” remains the “biggest obstacle” to the reform of “Catholic sexual ethics.” As this person further states, “So if the teachings on homosexuality are to change, that will probably have to be part of a larger change in the way the church understands sexuality, which would also have implications for other hot-button issues in Catholic teaching like premarital or extramarital sex, contraception, sterilization and so on. Right now, there is no sign that the church [sic] is ready to make such a momentous move. But that is no reason to delay having an honest, open conversation about sexual diversity and the Catholic Church.”
A second point about this conference involves the support for it. It is clear that four institutions provided space and other resources to host these four gatherings. This is backing indeed. But other resources were needed to host such an elaborate series requiring transportation, housing, and transmission of presentations. In this framework, a large grant of $100,000 was provided by the Arcus Foundation (something which Mr. Thomas Peters brought to public attention [HERE] a while back) to the Fairfield’s organizers “to expand the current discussion on homosexuality within the Roman Catholicism [by including] diverse opinions of progressive Catholic thought leaders and theologians.” Interestingly the grant was not designed to provide for other kinds of “Catholic thought leaders” such as bishops, orthodox theologians, officials of the USCCB, or officials of the Holy See to attend and participate in the conference.
By reviewing the website of the Arcus Foundation [HERE], it is clear that this organization (which advances “pressing social justice and conservation issues...to advance LGBT equality, as well as to conserve and protect the great apes”) has a coherent plan to change Catholic thought and teaching by providing grants to “promote the moral and civil equality of LGBT people”; “to create a cadre of Catholic lesbian, bisexual and transgender women and their allies that would assume a leadership role within the Catholic community on issues related to gender, sexuality, reproductive health, and other justice issues”; to promote “support of a collaborative strategic planning process focused on building a pro-LGBT movement within the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S.”; “to educate Maryland’s Catholic laity and lawmakers about marriage equality”; and, “to work with four leading Catholic LGBT organizations to conduct a messaging campaign and schedule interviews in the broadcast media that promote pro-LGBT messages in connection with Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Washington, D.C. and New York City in April 2008.”
I now return once again to the statement of Archbishop Dolan and Bishop Lori and the representations given to them about the integrity of the conference. I must respectfully but vigorously disagree with those who contend that the Church’s teachings at these four conferences were “clearly stated and articulately defended.”
They were not.
Instead, these four renowned institutions have demonstrated a rejection of the objective reasoning that underpins not only Catholic thought and teaching but also sound human law on the matters discussed. In place of objective reason, they have in large part relied on the mystery passage of Planned Parenthood v. Casey to justify their interesting views on the nature and essence of human sexuality. I do not think I am alone in contending that this justification is not sound on legal or theological grounds.