Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I take this occasion to respond to Susan’s post entitled “Another Response on Homosexuality and Church Teaching.” I appreciate her bringing to the attention of Mirror of Justice readers and contributors the thoughts of her close friend who is in a committed homosexual relationship and who is a former priest. My perspective on many of the points raised by the thoughts and position of her friend as she presented them disagrees with his. While Susan did not specify this in her post earlier today, I am assuming that her friend was formerly a priest in the Catholic Church. While it is implied that he was, no precise identification is made. He does speak of his Christian faith, but so could the Baptist preacher to whom he refers.
But, let me proceed to point out my disagreements with what was presented. I shall assume for the rest of this posting that Susan’s friend was a priest in the Catholic Church—a priest in communion with Rome and the Pope. I, too, am a Catholic priest, so my assumption that Susan’s friend was also a Catholic priest would mean that he and I have or had voluntarily committed ourselves to a vow or promise of chastity with anyone, with anything. The vow or promise does not discriminate and permit some sexual relations but not others. Susan’s friend has indirectly stated that he could not enjoy his sexual relationship and remain in good standing in the priesthood; therefore, he properly left the state of holy orders. I have exercised my free will to continue fidelity to my promises by observing the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Furthermore, as a finally incorporated religious in the least Society of Jesus, I have vowed a further promise of special obedience to the sovereign pontiff in regard to the missions that accord with the apostolic letters and the Constitutions of the same Society. This last vow means obedience in everything which the sovereign pontiff commands and wheresoever he sends one. These are my vows to which I continue to pledge myself seeking God’s help to remain in them with fidelity.
The fact that the ground on which any of us stand may be shifting and roiling is not an excuse not to remain faithful to what one has pledged—the turbulence of our times, or any other time, is not a pretext for not “hanging tight.” Holding on is an option, and it is viable in spite of the challenges that have been presented in the past and continue to be present today and will likely continue in the future. Fidelity is an option for priests, for husbands and wives, and for vowed religious. The fact that challenges exist and are known by the person who remains faithful to what he or she has pledged does not imply that that person is an unthinking, unreflective individual. To the contrary, I believe with the utmost conviction that it takes authentic knowledge and it takes serious reflection to hold on to the belief in Christ and his Church and what she asks of all her members. For some, this is not possible; for others, it is not only possible, it is imperative in spite of the challenges, in spite of the roiling terrain, in spite of what the culture suggests or dictates or forces. To succumb to whatever temptations the present age may offer as a lure is not the option for some who are committed to their vows (as priests, as religious, as married husbands and wives), to their Church, to their faith, or to one another. It would be wrong to assume that only the present age has experienced “cultural transformation.” This transformation—this roiling—has been going on since the beginning of human history. For those who place stock in the doctrine of original sin as I do, cultural transformation has gone on since Eden and continues to the present age. But, cultural transformation is not an excuse, not a justification, not a permission to abandon what a person has vowed in faith, with knowledge, and with reflection. I think God has very much to do with the fidelity of which I speak and little to do with the cultural transformation of which Susan’s friend speaks.
I now come to the Church’s teaching on sexual morality that Susan’s friend also addresses. He asserts “truthfully” that he fails to see “any imperative between core Christian doctrine and its moral teaching.” I am not quite sure what Susan’s friend is getting at here. But I believe he is suggesting that there is no necessary connection between “core Christian doctrine” and the Church’s moral teachings. If this is not his point, I welcome correction so that I may properly address the contention he offers. But if this is his point, allow me to continue. I question the use of the phrase “core Christian doctrine.” Christian doctrine, that is, Christian teaching is Christian teaching that is the teachings of Christ and his Church. To suggest that some of his teachings and those of his Church are essential but others are not is problematic. Christ taught and Christ established his Church—that is what the Church teaches. To argue that some of this body is “core” but other elements of these teachings are not is untenable. It may be tenable for some Episcopalians, for some Anglicans, for some Lutherans, for some Baptists, for some... and this list goes on. But, it is not tenable for the members of the holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church that Christ established and to which he appointed Peter to lead.
Susan’s friend appears to challenge the teaching authority of Peter when he asserts the “compelling philosophical case” he could present against the Magisterium “to infallibly define any moral teaching...” Well, this is an offer for a recipe for chaos. But even more, it is a roadmap to substitute the proper authority of the Church with human caprice. Indeed, Susan’s friend states that individual persons are autonomous moral subjects. Sure, of course they are. But this does not make each person a competent moral authority who possesses solely the ability to determine what is always right and what is always wrong. This is an implementation of the knotty recipe of Casey that “[a]t the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.” This is a formula not for morality and moral authority but for disorder and exaggerated autonomy. Making arguments from the moral authority of the Church holds much interest for me, even if it does not for Susan’s friend, because in her (the Church’s) moral teachings the Church shows us the way forward to promote the common good and to avoid the disasters to which Casey’s “heart of liberty” will lead.
I am saddened by Susan’s friend’s remarks about tradition. Indeed, there exist traditions that ought to change, e.g., hazing that goes on in schools. But, there are traditions that are the product of thought, of critical examination, of intense reflection, and of the test of time. If we move away from orthodoxy and tradition, what are the justifications for the move? Susan’s friend suggests that it would be some hope for what happened at Vatican II. Well, what happened at Vatican II is easily accessible by any of us. Many of us often hear about the “spirit of Vatican II.” The spirit of Vatican II is also accessible in what the Council gave us—its texts. While the texts may be reasonably interpreted, the texts remain and they cannot bear many of the interpretations that are offered in the “spirit of Vatican II.” These interpretations of the “spirit” are and will remain unintended and, therefore, unacceptable corruptions of the work of the Council. I periodically reread the main documents of the Council such as Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes and Dignitatis Humane Personae to remind myself of what the Council actually did and say. May I recommend this procedure to others?
Finally, Susan’s friend returns to the issues of moral teaching on sexual issues and suggests that this is a flashpoint of “the profound cultural transformation in whose wake we live.” He and I have already talked about “cultural transformation.” But, when all is said, should sexual morality be determined by passionate appetite? Where is the intellect in this? Where is the reason? Where is the reflection? Where is the thinking? From what Susan’s friend states, these important attributes of the human person are unimportant or irrelevant or secondary since “it’s all about sex, after all.” Is it really? Is that the ultimate function, the final attribute, the quintessence of the human person? I thought it was about destiny with God, seeing Him one day.
Susan’s friend confesses his offense to the suggestion that anything dealing with his relationship with his partner or “even his delight in the male physique” is antithetical to his Christian faith. Well, he and I disagree on this. But, it is clear he and I also share a common ground. We are both sinners—for we are all sinners. Our faith informs us of this, our faith that he is willing to concede on some fronts but dismiss on others. But our faith in Christ, in God, in the Holy Spirit, in the Church also leads us to redemption. And so I end this posting today with the wisdom of Christ from the Gospel of Saint John. When Jesus met the woman who sinned and who was about to be stoned to death, Jesus intervened. Why? He intervened because he saw the opportunity for redemption of both the woman who had sinned and the crowd that was intent on stoning her to death. No one condemned her, and neither did Jesus—the one who could. But that is not the end of the lesson, for our Lord reminded the woman to go without condemnation but to go and sin no more.
So be it with her; so be it with us. May we ask our merciful God for openness to His guidance and the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit to labor, with His grace, to sin no more.