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.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rowan Williams, Gay Bishops, and Pronouncing on Serious Moral Questions

I agree that Pope Benedict would have no difficulty answering the easy question for him and the Church leadership (not so easy for Anglicans) that Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury ducked. But I hope that the Pope would not immediately answer all serious moral questions. There is a lot to be said (and I think Patrick would agree) for consultation within the Church before a Papal pronouncement on a serious moral question. Leadership is sometimes best when it takes a more deliberative and collegial approach.

As to Williams, his interview is being widely understood as accepting of gay bishops, but insisting on celebacy for them. Within the Anglican Communion, this will arouse orthodox fury and trigger liberal criticism (for not being prophetic enough). For more on the Williams interview, see http://www.episcopalcafe.com/lead/archbishop_of_canterbury/rowan_williams_no_problem_with.html, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/sep/25/rowan-williams-backs-gay-bishops, http://www.episcopalchurch.org/81808_124764_ENG_HTM.htm


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Patrick Brennan said: "Would Pope Benedict ever -- think especially about his candor in the press conferences on the airplanes -- reply to a most important question, concerning what some regard as gay rights, with a 'pass'?"

In reference to Pope Benedict's candor in press conferences on airplanes, I think it is only fair to point out that questions for such news conferences are submitted in advance. From the New York Times of September 17, 2010:

Responding in Italian to reporters’ questions submitted in advance and relayed to him by Vatican officials, the pope’s words marked an evolution in the Vatican’s response. In the heat of the crisis last spring, top Vatican officials at first blamed the news media for stirring it up.

Also, correct me if I am wrong, but I don't believe Benedict XVI, as pope, has ever sat for a one-on-one adversarial interview with an reporter. Here is the key excerpt from the interview:

DOUGARY: "Are you still pro women bishops?"
WILLIAMS: "I’m pro.”
DOUGARY: "So why do you make more of a plea for them than gay bishops?"
WILLIAMS: "The answer is, partly what I said before, that the question about gay people is not about their dignity or the respect they deserve as gay people, it’s a question about a particular choice of life, a partnership, and what the Church has to say about that.
"Those issues don’t arise where women are concerned [unless, of course, they are gay]. That’s simply about who and what they are. To put it very simply, there’s no problem about a gay person who’s a bishop."
DOUGARY: "Really?"
WILLIAMS: "It’s about the fact that there are traditionally, historically, standards that the clergy are expected to observe. So there’s always a question about the personal life of the clergy."

DOUGARY: This is both confusing and rather revolting. Dr John has been knocked back twice because he has a partner, even though they are apparently celibate. First, it is an unappealing idea that the Church makes such unnatural demands on its clergy and, second, how on earth does it expect to monitor the bedtime activity? Perhaps by installing CCTV cameras? I ask him what’s wrong with a gay bishop having a partner.

WILLIAMS:"I think because the scriptural and traditional approach to this doesn’t give much ground for being positive about it. The Church at the moment doesn’t quite know what to make of it..."
DOUGARY: "All right, but do you personally wish it could be overcome in some way?" Silence, then:
DOUGARY: "Is it really so difficult for you to say?"
WILLIAMS: "We’re in the middle of vastly difficult conversations about it, and I don’t want to put thumbs on scales."

Later, he says, that he finds this whole area so tricky to discuss because any comment he makes is likely to be seized upon by either side and broadcast around the world. One of the problems with Uganda, for instance, is that if he were to cause a schism with its Anglican bishops, life would become even harder for homosexuals there. Well, you can see why he didn’t want the job.

Posted by: David Nickol | Sep 28, 2010 10:55:31 AM