Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Reading the Instruction and its antecedents

In the post-Humanae vitae addition to his book Contraception, John Noonan said (I paraphrase, not having the book at hand):  "Now the magisterium has spoken; our task is to understand what what has been spoken means."  There was a live question in the 1960s about whether the teaching on artificial contraception would be reaffirmed; the story of the path from John XXIII to Humanae vitae, including Paul VI's personal resolution of the question that many had investigated at the instance of the Bishop of Rome, is well known.  I agree with Rich:  There should be little cause for surprise in the contents of the Congregation's recent Instruction, at least as concerns homosexuality.  Certainly, the documents adduced by Fr. Araujo show a continuity of teaching on homosexual attaction's being a "disorder."  The textual evidence does not support the claim that the teaching on homosexuality (rather than homosexual acts) is a surprise; though I have the documents here on my desk and could quote the material passages, I'm sure others will want to read and re-read them for themselves.  The adduced documents' different purposes account for varying emphases as between homosexual acts and homosexuality; no Church document affirms that homosexuality is not a disorder.  Just as violations of human dignity call for fresh declarations of human rights, so too do new assaults on the Church's teaching and work and new challenges in the life of the People of God call for new declarations of the Church's teaching.  We hear things we haven't heard before because the Church speaks to the ever-new present, but does anyone suggest that the Church's teaching on homosexuality's being a disorder is not in continuity?  The continuity is, I suggest, clear; the separate question is whether the teaching is true.  Some will answer in the negative.  That the Church's teaching develops, I do not dispute; the question is whether the development is authentic.

The Instruction's particular way of applying the Church's teaching on homosexuality to her teaching on the vocation to the ministerial priesthood was not exactly what I expected.  I'm a slow learner.  But here, at the heart of the Church where what is at issue is whom God calls to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, I feel little capacity to do more than try to learn.  The Bishops as such may not be particularly competent to pass prudential judgment on the contemporary sufficiency of alternatives to capital punishment, but they'd better be, by virtue of their office, competent to judge whom God calls to the ministerial priesthood.  The competing theologies that assign responsibility and authority for this judgment to the lay community are just that, competing theologies.  Perhaps the recent Instruction will incite more people to embrace such theologies.  Still, it is the Bishop alone who can confer priesthood. 

I agree with Michael Scaperlanda that we Catholics in the legal academy are called upon to translate, as best we can, what the Church teaches about herself to that wider world in which we the Church must make our way under the mandate to share with all the Good News.  I see that already (in my old-home diocese of Phoenix) a man has "resigned" from the priesthood on account of this Instruction.  This is very sad.  In the words of Cardinal Grocholewski referring to priests with homosexual attractions: "These priestly ordinations are valid, because we not not affirm their invalidity."  To abandon the exercise of the priestly ministry for a higher calling strikes this layman, at least, as a path not to be taken.   



Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

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