Friday, September 30, 2005

And the Survey Saaayz

Linked above is the result of a survey forming part of the NCR analysis of U.S. Catholic beliefs. This particular table shows two things:

1) What do U.S. Catholics believe are the essentials verses the non-essentials of Catholic faith. The framing of the survey question is "Can one be a good Catholic....?"

2) A ranking of Catholic beliefs and practices in order of importance to those surveyed.

You can look at the results through the link. Below is how I would want to respond to this survey.

Can one be a good Catholic.....

...without believing that Jesus physically rose from the dead?

I believe that one can be a good Catholic without believing that "Jesus physically rose from the dead".

I believe that one cannot be a good Catholic, or even a good Christian, without believing that "Christ rose bodily from the dead".

I'm not even going to take a lot of time explaining the difference between these statements.

Suffice it to say that resurrection is an essential dogma of faith, but resurrection emphatically does not mean resuscitation of a corpse!

The empty tomb is an important sign of the bodily resurrection of Christ, but I would believe in the resurrection even if the tomb were not empty.

This may sound confusing. Sit with it, and maybe it will start to make sense.

...without believing that in the Mass, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus

Eucharist does not become Jesus' flesh.

It becomes the body of Christ, which is the whole Christ: The resurrected and glorified Jesus and every baptized person who has ever lived, is alive now, and will live.

Is Christ substantially present under the accidents of bread and wine?


No, you are not a good Catholic if you deny real presence.

I'm not saying you're going to hell, but it is simply a fact that Christ is really and substantially present in the Eucharist whether you understand it as transubsstantiation or transignification or any other term.

You must believe this - or at least be open to the possibility with a sincere desire to want to grow in perceiving that real presence - if you are going to call yourself a "good Catholic" who is not in any sort of formal heresy and believes all that the Church teaches.

If you don't believe it, and are not even open to it, I won't deny you communion or say you're going to hell.

I will say that you are sorely mistaken and have spiritual blinders on that are blocking your vision of something very profound to those with the eyes of faith.

...without donating time or money to help the poor.

You cannot be a good Catholic without doing this, or wanting to do it.

Unlike what I said of real presence, I'll go so far here as to say that if you deliberately neglect the poor, you are not only a poor Catholic, but you will go to hell.

Even non-Catholics who chose to neglect the poor are headed straight to hell, and non-Catholics who help the poor are likely on the road to heaven.

That's not a wish or desire, and there's always a chance of repentance, at least in the heart, up to the very nanosecond before death.

But if you do not love the poor - if your heart is not open to helping the poor leading to action - you will burn for eternity.

Even the poor must love the poor!

If all you can do today is pray, you must pray, and when you can do more, do what you can.

And there are many kinds of poverty, but we start with the most marginalized in society, the materially dispossesed, the widow or orphan, the politically and economically oppressed, the culturally shunned, the abused, the homeless, the oucast and criminal, the public sinner, the mentally and physically handicapped, and chronically or terminally ill, the elderly, those who are starving, etc...

Let me clarify a point here. God does not send people to hell.

Hell is ultimately the absence of God, and speaking of burning for eternity may or may not be literally true - but the absence of God is not a picnic.

God is in the poor in a special way. When you choose not to love the poor, you are rejecting God himself directly to his face. You are choosing to walk away from God. In the next life, the full import of your own choice will be more apparent to you.

You must seek the transcendent and elusive meaning that even an atheist can experience in loving the poor.

If you do not do this, you are not only not a good Catholic, but not acting as a good person and you are one who is placing your eternal soul in grave jeopardy.

...without obeying the church hierarchy's teaching regarding abortion.

Care and concern from the unborn flows from care for the poor. Once you see this, if you have an abortion anyway, you will go to hell (unless you subsequently repent).

If you have an abortion before understanding how this flows from care for the poor, and you died before repentance, you might not go to hell.

But if you knowingly, freely and deliberately have an abortion knowing why it is wrong, you're in deep sh*t, and have some serious repenting to do.

...without donating time or money to help the parish.

You cannot be a good Catholic without donating some of your time or money to helping the parish.

However, if you are not neglecting the poor, and you do not donate to the parish, you will not go to hell.

Even bad Catholics or non-Catholics can go to heaven - but good Catholics give to their parish in addition to the poor.

....without obeying the church hierarchy's teaching on divorce and remarriage.

If you do not follow the church hierarchy's teaching on divorce and remarriage, you are not a good Catholic and you are likely in sin.

Without some form of conversion from sin or repentance for sin, you may not be saved.

However, with that said, I do not think breaking up the second marriage is a necessary sign of repentance.

I fault the hierarchy itself with not providing a means of reconciliation and readmittance to communion for those who have learned from their mistakes and are seeking forgiveness.

...without their marriage being approved by the Catholic church.

In this case, you are not a good Catholic, but you may not be in sin. I do wonder why anyone wanting to call themselves Catholic would want to place themselves in such a situation.

If you are in such a situation, I wonder what is holding you back from approaching a priest to try to have your marriage blessed in the Church.

If there is something you wish the Church did to make it easier to approach a priest, please say so. We - the faith community - the laity (or my circle in it), and not just the priests - would like you to let us celebrate your loving union with you.

....without obeying the church hierarchy's teaching on birth control.

I obey this teaching, and the Vatican says this teaching demands obedience and submission of the mind, even though it is not solemnly or infallibly defined.

This said, the teaching makes absolutely no sense to me, and the Church does acknowledge that some people will experience a moral demand in conscience to express unitive love without procreating.

The Vatican says that when you experience this sort of demand in conscience, you must use natural family planning instead of temporary non-abortificient means of artificial contraception.

I can not understand the moral distinction between these two means of birth control.

My advise is to follow your conscience in this regard.

The primacy of conscience is itself a Catholic dogma of greater importance than this.

If your conscience demands the use of temporary non-abortificient artificial contraceptives, by all means, do it.

If your conscience demands obedience to a teaching that doesn't make perfect sense, do that.

I don't think those who disobey this teaching are bad Catholics, nor in sin, because no matter how much people try to submit their intellects to it, most people cannot even make sense of it.

...without going to church every Sunday.

Unless you are sick or some other serious reason, I cannot imagine why a Roman Catholic would not want to go to church on Sunday - and maybe more often than that.

This honestly strikes me as an absurd question.

We're talking about an opportunity to hear the very word of God and receive the precious body and blood, soul and divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ in a communion at table that makes us one, holy, Catholic and apostolic people.

I don't know if people who don't go to church on Sunday are bad people or sinners or bad Catholics or anything like that. I just think such people are stupid.

They are stupid like a man turning down an opportunity for sex, or a hungry person refusing to eat, or a poor person refusing a million dollars.

It's just dumb. I don't get it. I really honestly don't.

Even the argument that you have something better to do makes no sense. There is nothing better to do than the most fulfilling human activity that has ever existed.

Ranking Importance

The survey asks people to rank various Catholic beliefs and practices, and "helping the poor" comes out on top, followed very closely by "belief in the resurrection".

A celibate male clergy ranks last, but church teaching on the death penalty and even the teaching on abortion is also very low.

Here is my own ranking of the listed items with an explanation why I place things in the order I do.

Belief in Jesus' resurrection from the dead
The sacraments, such as (and especially) the Eucharist
The Catholic Church's teaching about Mary as the Mother of God
Having a regular daily prayer life
Helping the poor
Church involvement in activities directed towards social justice
The Church's teachings that oppose abortion
The Church's teachings that oppose the death penalty
Participating in devotions such as eucharistic adoration or praying the rosary
The teaching authority claimed by the Vatican
A celibate male clergy
The Catholic Church's teachings that oppose same-sex marriage

I could not place "helping the poor" at the top of the list the way the survey results indicate because even an atheist can help the poor.

There is a sense in which our common humanity is wired to try to help the poor (natural law), and all of us, regardless of religious belief, can be very concerned about the poor for reasons that spring from deep recesses of the soul.

Indeed, in the preceding analysis, I said that a person who neglects the poor will go to hell, while I do not believe that a person who denies the resurrection is necessarily going to hell.

The key distinction I am making here is that every human being regardless of religious affiliation must love the poor or burn in hell.

But not every human being is Catholic, or even Christian - and the resurrection is the key belief distinguishing a Christian from the rest of humanity.

It can feel like helping the poor is the most important thing at Church, but being Catholic means explaining this deep wellspring of human compassion all humanity feels more or less for the poor in light of an historical event: God became human flesh in a poor itinerant preacher in a small desert outpost of a global empire who was executed as a criminal!

At the center of faith in this historic event is the experience that Jesus Christ is risen from the grave.

This is the very core of the Gospel - the good news. It is the line of demarcation between the Christian and the non-Christian.

If you accept that he is risen - alive today - you share something in common with all Christians, Catholic or non-Catholic, and what we share in common is the most essential dogma that defines who and what we are as a distinct religious movement in human history.

The sacraments and the doctrines on Mary as Mother God flow from the essential truth that he is risen.

Here, we move from what is distinctively Christian to what is distinctively part of the churches claiming Apostolic tradition: the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.

It is not so important whether you practice eucharistic adoration or pray the rosary as it is whether you believe in real presence and honor the Mother of Jesus, who is God in the flesh.

These things mark us out as distinct from the Protestants - not separate from the Protestants, who are members of the Body of Christ - but distinct from them as a unique expression of the Christian faith.

A regular prayer life is more important than any moral behavior.

Jesus taught that we are to pray without ceasing and it is in him that we enter into a new relationship with God - a personal communion of love that unites us individually with God and with one another.

One probably cannot be saved without daily prayer and a relationship with God.

Dogma marks us out as distinct, and many religious traditions encourage daily prayer or meditation. Those traditions are fine, and we affirm all that is good and holy in them.

I place dogma ahead of prayer not because it is more necessary to being saved, but because it makes us distinct from others who also pray, even if those others are also being saved.

Those others may very well be saved. I think most of them are. But they are not Catholic, and a Catholic is defined by core doctrinal beliefs and sacramental practice.

Further dogma gives shape to our prayer and form to the relationship we will develop with God as Catholics. Meditating on dogma can be prayer itself.

After prayer, I placed helping the poor and concern for justice next for the reason many Catholics place these close to the top.

Assuming you accept the sacraments and doctrines and are praying regularly, God is going to move you to care for the poor and oppressed. If you don't see this, you're missing something in the sacraments and dogma.

The teaching on abortion and the death penalty follow this because concern for human life, even on the margins, flows directly from concern for the poor and oppressed.

Yet, I don't place these issues above loving the poor because one cannot really understand why Catholics care so darn much about the unborn unless and until you understand how we see the human person in Christ and his concern for the poor and marginalized.

Once one grasps why we care so much for the unborn, a passion on the subject follows, and there may be many days where you doing as much or more about this issue than you do for the poor.

Yet, one who neglects the poor but cares about the unborn simply isn't motivated by Catholic teaching. Such a person has some other motive for caring for the unborn, and that motive may even be evil (such as keeping women in their place).

I placed abortion above the death penalty, but the two issues are interrelated as life issues. The reason the unborn came out on top is that there is a sense that the victim of the death penalty is not entirely innocent or defenseless.

On the flip side, the death penalty could be arguably more important because the state is performing the usually unjust killing, increasing the level of the participation of each citizen in an immoral act.

Participation in devotions such as eucharistic adoration or the rosary are distinctively Roman Catholic practices that foster prayer and feed into everything else.

Because they are so distinctively Catholic, many Catholics are tempted to mistake these things as the most important.

They are not the most important. They certainly are valuable and I practice these things myself. Yet, they come way down the list compared to everything else.

The teaching authority of Rome has been debated for the entire 2,000 year history of the Church, and the only solemn definition on it was formulated 1,900 years after Christ - and even the meaning of that definition is open to interpretation.

If this were truly at the center of what is being Catholic, we'd have solemnly defined this more sharply by now, and the beginning definitions would have come far earlier.

All practicing Catholics, including myself, likely accept that Rome has some sort of infallible authority, and that Councils issue irrevocable formulas defining doctrine.

Yet, the Church as a whole seems to discern the solemn dogmas ahead of the formal structures that define such things solemnly, and we figure it out without their help most of the time.

I see the teaching authority more as the spokespersons of the People of God than as a body that defines who we are from the top down.

Celibacy is a valuable Christian witness, but there is no dogma saying that priests must be male celibates.

Indeed, there never will be, because Jesus clearly selected married men as apostles, and there is some indication of women apostles in the early church.

While celibacy will always have value, there is a chance that an all male celibate clergy specifically is actually an error.

Even if one believes there is no error in this practice, it certainly cannot be the most important thing about being Catholic.

Likewise, the Church's teaching on same-sex marriage, which has not been solemnly or infallibly defined, seems wrought with internal contradictions and is not given assent by many of the People of God.

Promoting the sanctity of marriage is a good thing, but many of us do not see same-sex marriages as any sort of threat to heterosexual marriage.

There is a chance there is error in the current formulations, and this issue cannot be the most important thing about being a Catholic, even if you agree with the current teaching.

That said, Pope Benedict seems to see it as a big deal, even though he, himself, would likely place it low on this survey's list of priorities.


Survey of U.S. Catholics

I'm still reading the results and digesting this. More comments likely to come.


Thursday, September 29, 2005

Delay Indictment Adds to GOP Woes

With Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist under investigation for ethics violations, a special council investigation on Karl Rove regarding the leak of Valerie Plume, and slipping approval ratings for President Bush, this indictment comes as a blow.

Delay maintains his innocence of charges of a campaign finanance scheme with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Republicans claim partisanship on behalf of Democrats.


Roberts Sworn in as Chief Justice

I'm a little late blogging on this newsworthy item. John Roberts was confirmed by the Senate this morning and sworn in this afternoon as Chief Justice.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

This Seems Sooooo True

In The New York Times, NCR Vatican correspondent, John Allen, explains the difference between Italian concepts of law and the Anglo-Saxon view that prevails in America. I have heard this point made by every single American priest I know who has been to Rome:

Although this is a difficult point for many Anglo-Saxons to grasp, when the Vatican makes statements like "no gays in the priesthood," it doesn't actually mean "no gays in the priesthood." It means, "As a general rule, this is not a good idea, but we all know there will be exceptions."

Understanding this distinction requires an appreciation of Italian concepts of law, which hold sway throughout the thought world of the Vatican. The law, according to such thinking, expresses an ideal. It describes a perfect state of affairs from which many people will inevitably fall short. This view is far removed from the typical Anglo-Saxon approach, which expects the law to dictate what people actually do.

..., Anyone who's tried to negotiate the traffic in Italian cities will appreciate the point....
The question that remains unsettled in my mind is whether Pope Benedict is the German Shepherd or the Shepherd of Rome?

The question is important because the German view of law may be more severe than the Anglo-Saxon.

Unless a so-called ban on men with homosexual tendencies in seminary is highly nuanced, it is likely to be (mis)understood sternly in both the Germanic and Anglo-Saxon cultures, no matter what the intentions of the Italians.

On another note, what the Italians (and the American bishops) need to fully grasp is that when we American Catholic laity say we don't want priests abusing kids, we do not mean that, as a general practice, those who abuse minors cannot be active priests, but we all know there will be exceptions.

We do mean precisely that we do not want any priest ever to have sex with a legal minor without exception: no "ands", "ifs" or "buts" or "nuance" or "qualificiation" or "distinction" - not as an ideal to be striven for, but as an absolute minimum standard that must be met, and must be dealt with immediately and firmly if ever violated, whether the victim is male or female!

Of course, dealing with a violation immediately and firmly does not mean "no mercy", but it does mean making absolutely certain beyond all reasonable doubt that the violation will not be repeated, even if that means 24 hour supervision and removal of the man from all contact with minors - not as a general rule with exceptions - but as an absolute rule if no other means of ensuring non-repeat is available.

We might be willing to accept different remedies for different types of offense, and we believe in due process for the accussed as a general rule of thumb.

For example, a 25 year old newly ordained priests who gets into a situation of proven consensual heavy petting with a 17 year old girl may be treated with a different remedy than a 50 year old priest who is proven to have raped a five year old boy.

Nevertheless, in both cases, after the allegation is deemed credible, a remedy with a reasonable likelihood of preventing relapse must be applied, and these distinctions must be spelled out in a law that functions as a minimum standard, not simply an ideal.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

How Was Formation Structured

I don't know what prompts me to write this. I guess all the debates about who is or who is not eligible for priesthood has me remembering my formation days.

I'm not going to write anything controversial or super revealing here. I just thought I'd outline what my formation was like at a formal level.

The time period here is from around the middle of 1989 through September of 1995.

At the high level, I went through the following as part of my Franciscan formation:

1) A period of about six months of vocation retreats and tests.
2) One year of pre-theology at the undergraduate level in a seminary college.

I started postulancy in the second semester of this. During postulancy, you are expected to live like a Friar but you are not under any vows.

3) Another six months of "in-house" postulancy in an inner-city parish.
4) A year of novitiate (basically living somewhat like a monk).
5) Graduate school with supervised ministries.

The pre-entrance testing including a sort of theology test, a full physical, and a battery of psychological tests including but not limited to the following:

- the Rorschach
- the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT)
- a Wechsler Scales (Intelligence Test)

There was about a six hour interview with a Jewish psychologist, and I don't remember if I took any other tests or indicators at that time.

I also have no clue if they did a criminal back-ground check. They did ask for my baptismal, confirmation and first communion certificates from the appropriate parishes. We were to pay off all debts if we had any.

I did the "pre-theology" because I already had a college degree from a secular college program. During the pre-theology year, I took the following classes:

Natural Philosophy & Metaphysics (Aristotle)
Natural Theology (Aquinas)
Christian Heritage (based on Wuerl's and Lawler's Catechism before the CCC)
The Old Testament
The New Testament
Intro to Philosophy
World Religions
Latin 3,& 4 (I already had Latin 1 and 2 at the secular college)

During this time, the day was structured so that we prayed Morning Prayer and Evening of the Liturgy of the Hours together, and had daily Mass before lunch.

We were expected to eat meals in common, and I actually gained weight at first because I don't typically eat three full meals a day.

Aside from classes, prayer and meals, we each had a supervised ministry. During my pre-theology, I helped out as a sixth grade teacher's aide at an inner-city Catholic school.

During the entire of formation, I had a spiritual director I was to meet with every two weeks to discuss matters such as prayer and that would never leave the "internal forum" (sort of like the seal of confession).

On the weeks I did not meet with a spiritual director, I had to meet a formation adviser, who was more like a boss giving a performance review.

Everything said between the formation advisor and me was "external forum" meaning anything I said could be discussed by the rest of the formation staff.

We had holy hours on occasion, but I can't remember how often.

We were encouraged at the beginning of each semester to make a habit of regular, even weekly confession.

Yet, other than a communal penance service during Lent and advent, there was no external pressure to do this.

I went weekly, but often simply grabbed any priest available - once even finding that a resident auxiliary bishop was the only one around the day I wanted to go.

We were also encouraged at the beginning of each semester to form small group prayer groups, but nobody forced this. There was a gang of about five us that got together to pray the rosary about three times a week.

In the college program, I recall playing football, softball, and basketball quite a bit, but no sports beyond that level of formation.

Every six months, there was a sort of peer review where feedback was elicited from those at the same stage of formation as myself.

This was compiled and given in a group review with the entire formation staff.

The second part of my postulancy was "in house" in an inner-city parish. I worked full time as an activities coordinator in a very poor nursing home and helped out around the parish.

I ate my meals and participated with he Friars in Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and Mass each day.

The novitiate year gave more structure to prayer. We received our habits during this year.

In common, we would meditate silently for a half hour first thing in the morning, then say Morning Prayer before breakfast.

At noon, we say the Office of the Readings, then have Mass, then lunch. We were encouraged to say mid-afternoon prayer some time on our own.

In the evening, we had another half hour of silent meditation followed by Evening Prayer before supper.

On Tuesday nights, we'd have a holy hour. On Wednesday, we'd say the Rosary. On Thursday, we'd do faith sharing based on the upcoming Sunday readings.

We'd gather for fellowship every night for about an hour, and then say Night Prayer before retiring.

In the morning, between breakfast and the Office of the Readings, we'd have classes on Franciscan spirituality. In the afternoons, we did housework, except Thursday and Sunday.

On Thursday, we'd have Mass a little earlier and go to a soup kitchen for the rest of the day. On Sundays, we'd have Mass with a group of young adults in the diocese and hang out with them most of the day.

Our Sunday night fellowship included a sort of "happy hour" with drinks.

After supper and before our hour of fellowship, we were given time for quiet reading and reflection on our own. We did have recommended readings, but it was fine to just go for a walk in the woods too.

We had a cook five days a week, and took turns cooking for one another on her nights off.

While the focus was on more traditional spirituality, we did do a workshop on the Myer's Brigg's and the Enneagram during novitiate. I liked the MBTI but didn't get too much out of the Enneagram.

After novitiate, we took "simple vows" for three years, and went to graduate school.

The structure eased up a little bit compared to novitiate, but we were expected to continue habits formed in novitiate.

In graduate school, we prayed Morning and Evening Prayer and Mass together in common, and were expected to follow the rule of the Friars, which included the other hours of the Liturgy of the Hours (Office of Readings, mid-day prayer, and Night Prayer (mid morning and mid-afternoon were not in our rule)) and an hour of meditation.

I took this pretty seriously.

My hour of meditation consisted of 20 minutes centering prayer, 20 minutes reading one of "through the Bible in a year", and 20 minutes of writing letters to God. Additionally, I prayed the rosary every day.

We also had frequent house meetings alternating a spiritual meeting with a house business meeting every two weeks. We also had an hour of house fellowship every Sunday evening (with drinks).

I'd say that at least once a year, we had some sort of workshop on sexuality for celibates where we were reminded of the moral teaching of the Church, as well as being reminded of what constitutes legally criminal behavior. Then there would be discussion of issues like setting boundaries, and dealing with homosexual inclinations, etc...

Common meals and spiritual direction and formation advising continued.

I found an elderly priest in the house who would hear my confession every week without calling me scrupulous. Sometimes I went twice a week.

I also adopted a vegetarian diet, slept on a board, and fasted or performed other acts of asceticism on occasion.

There was no sports, but I worked out with weights and a rowing machine three times per week.

We also all had house chores. I had to clean a hallway and set of steps, clean the rooms for guests (which was almost daily for awhile), and I was the boiler-man who made sure the thing didn't blow up and the house stayed warm.

There were many moments of simply hanging out with a brother friar at a pizza shop, going to a movie, or bonding in other ways.

Here's a list of the course titles I recall taking, in no particular order:

The Four Gospels
Pauline Literature
NT Greek I and II
Christian Anthropology
Liberation Theology
Theology of Baptism and Confirmation
Theology of Eucharist
Theology of Priesthood
Priesthood Seminar
Church History Early Church to Reformation
Church History Reformation to Present
American Church History
Intro to Liturgy
Moral Theology
Human Sexuality and Christian Marriage
Intro to Canon Law
Canon Law of Marriage
The Helping Relationship
Spanish for Ministry
Urban Ministry
Pastoral Leadership
Supervised Ministry I (in a prison)
Supervised Ministry II (in an outreach to Latino immigrants)
Supervised ministry seminars I and II

I would have been required to take one more course in sacraments called "Theology of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick", a course in social justice, and one more homiletics course. The rest would be elective courses with at least one elective course outside of the Catholic tradition at another tradition's seminary.

I also was interested in a new course offering on the theology of Mary and a course in spiritual direction in the tradition of Saint John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. I left before taking these classes and others that would have interested me.

In the semester prior to supervised ministry, I did some ministry as a teacher's aide to a Pre-K classroom in an inner-city parish. That summer, I coordinated a day care program in another inner-city area for kids the same age.

The first formal supervised ministry involved teaching GED classes to federal prison inmates, and I met with a Jesuit supervisor once a week and then a seminar once a week where we wrote verbatims and theological reflections on our ministry and discussed these reflections.

In my second year of supervisor ministry, I worked as a social service aide in an outreach program to Latino immigrants.

During that summer, I went to Puerto Rico to improve my Spanish and work in a parish with the young adult group.

The pastor there liked to pray the rosary in the car when we drove around together.

During my last summer, I went to an ethnic neighborhood comprised of elderly Italians, Germans, and Poles.

Each of these tight knit communities had their own parish with Masses in their own languages as well as English, all within blocks of one another, all of them served by the Friars.

My job was (believe it or not) to offer an adult education series on the newly released Catechism of the Catholic Church. I had become the expert Friar for a short while on the CCC!

Other than the class, I also did communion calls in the hospital and delivered meals on wheels.

I decided to leave formation after that summer.

Leading up to this, I asked if I could see a priest-psychologist for a year to help with the decision, in addition to my spiritual director, formation advisor and confessor.

That's it in nutshell.


Monday, September 26, 2005

Unfit for Priesthood

This image was posted on 9/18 by Andrew Sullivan (see link).

It is a picture of Father Michael Judge, the pastor for the NY City Fire Fighters, who gave his life on 9/11 serving those who died in the ashes of the WTC.

He was an openly gay priest, whom some think should have never been ordained due to his "disordered condition".


John Allen on the Globilization of Catholicism

It will be interesting to see what Catholicism looks like 40 years from now if Allen's perceptions are on target.


Hugo Chavez Minces No Words!

In an interview with Newszweek-Washington Post columnist, Laly Weymouth, Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez, calls the Bush Administration a terrorist state and references Pope John Paul II as justification for his views.


Friday, September 23, 2005

Are Males Really Female?

I was thinking about the notion of a theology of the body, and gender complementarity, as I understand it, expressed by the late Pope John Paul II.

It would seem that our Holy Father believed a common notion that the soul of every human person is basically female before God.

His Apostolic Letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, is linked above, and here are just a few excerpts from paragraph 25 of the Vatican English translation:

...,all human beings - both women and men - are called through the Church, to be the "Bride" of Christ, the Redeemer of the world. In this way "being the bride", and thus the "feminine" element, becomes a symbol of all that is "human", according to the words of Paul: "There is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28).

From a linguistic viewpoint we can say that the analogy of spousal love found in the Letter to the Ephesians links what is "masculine" to what is "feminine", since, as members of the Church, men too are included in the concept of "Bride"....

In the Church every human being - male and female - is the "Bride", in that he or she accepts the gift of the love of Christ the Redeemer, and seeks to respond to it with the gift of his or her own person.
My question is this: How can the theology of the body really be true if males are really females?

If the ministerial priest represents the bridegroom during Eucharist, and I represent the bride as a male member of the common priesthood of the faithful, am I not in a sort of gay marriage with my parish priest?

Is Jesus Christ the only true male in the universe, drawing all things to himself by the power of sexual attraction over our true female natures?

Doesn't this imply that homosexual tendencies, rather than being disordered, are actually correctly ordered to our deepest nature - the spiritual reality that beneath the male body is a female soul that draws the body to its goal?

Being a heterosexual male in the Church who is married to a woman, am I to see myself as a lesbian trapped in a man's body?

If I am a lesbian trapped in a man's body, shouldn't lesbians be priests to better symbolize the reality of the type of marriage to which I am called?

Some of the feminist are mad at John Paul's notions because they feel he idealizes women from a male point of view in a way that does not match the real life flesh and blood experience of women in women's bodies.

The feminists also point out that women are the image of God, just like men.

Whether these feminists critiques are valid or not, I am asking whether John Paul's notions match the real life flesh and blood experience of men in men's bodies and the way we image God?

Does the average lay Catholic man see his parish priest as a husband?

Does the average Catholic priest see me as bride? (Maybe he does, but what does that say about him, or about barring gays from seminary)??

Are the critics of Christianity who see it as a force in culture that feminizes males correct?

Is there no way to develop a genuine theology of masculinity expressed by a human person, rather than God?

If I must imagine God always as masculine, and yet see him as spouse, is not a sort of homosexual tendency an absolute requirement for salvation?

Or, can we imagine God as woman - a woman conceived as one like the flesh and blood women we encounter in real life?

And can we imagine a theology of the body that allows heterosexual male personhood its own proper dignity with a male soul responding to a female God?

And can we square Christian ethics and sacramentality with the full equality of men and women in a way that denies the dignity of neither gender and affirms the complementary differences without obliterating one gender or the other?

Could it be that issues like women's ordination, married priests, or gay marriages are not just issues that should be embraced by women and gays, but by straight men trying to find a way to be authentically male and Christian?

If the scriptures truly mention a woman apostle, like Junia of Roman 16:7, could it be that John Paul made a theological error in the interpretation of his own unique concept: a theology of the body?

If we are to have a serious theology of the body, what does that theology look like for the non-sexist sincere Christian male heterosexual trying to discern the sacred meaning of his male body and masculine soul without denying the full and equal dignity of women and their distinct differences?

Or, are we going to continue to insist that in our deepest nature, we heterosexual males are not really male or masculine?


Thursday, September 22, 2005

Noli Irritare Leones on the Other Side of Celibacy

Referencing my own description of my reasons to leave seminary, Lynn describes the experience of being infatuated with a chaste celibate who went on to ordination.


Hat Tip to Plato's Stepchild

Some Catholic Humor:

Joke #1:

Two men considering a religious vocation were having a conversation. "What is similar about the Jesuit and Dominican Orders? " the one asked. The second replied, "Well, they were both founded by Spaniards — St.Dominic for the Dominicans, and St. Ignatius of Loyola for the Jesuits. They were also both founded to combat heresy — the Dominicans to fight the Albigenisians, and the Jesuits to fight the Protestants. "So what is different about the Jesuit and Dominican Orders?" "Met any Albigenisians lately?"

Joke #2:

During a Eucharistic Congress, a number of priests from different orders are gathered in a church for Vespers. While they are praying, a fuse blows and all the lights go out. The Benedictines continue praying from memory, without missing a beat. The Jesuits begin to discuss whether the blown fuse means they are dispensed from the obligation to pray Vespers. The Franciscans compose a song of praise for God's gift of darkness. The Dominicans revisit their ongoing debate on light as a signification of the transmission of divine knowledge. The Carmelites fall into silence and slow, steady breathing. The parish priest, who is hosting the others, goes to the basement and replaces the fuse.


Stumbling Upon Guatemala's Past

This NCR editorial examines the possible role of the United States in human rights violations in Central America.


Sister Joan Chittister's Latest

I like her hat tip to Saint Francis.


Roberts a Step Closer to Full Confirmation

John Roberts passed the Senate Comittee conformation, and now must be confirmed by the full Senate. It looks like a done deal for the most part.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Church Accused of Harboring War Criminal

I expect this story will fizzle.


Amy Wellborne on Abuse Cover Up in Philly

The story originates in the on and includes a pdf link to the 424 page grand jury report.

Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua and his predecessor, the conservative Cardinal John Krol, are both implicated by the jury in cover up of sex abuse of minors that "excused and enabled the abuse" into 2002, when pressure on conservative Cardinal Law of Boston exploded.

What is particularly curious here is that Bevilacqua has been barring homosexuals from seminary and is a darling of the conservatives for his so-called "orthodoxy" and intolerance of dissent.

Is barring gays and enforcing orthodoxy really the way to protect our children?

If those who make such arguments are any indication of the success of such methods, I would hope not.


Today's Reading Says it All

Matt 9:9-13
As Jesus passed by,
he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, "Follow me."
And he got up and followed him.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners came
and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,
"Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
He heard this and said,
"Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners."
Jesus called treasonous tax collectors in formal cooperation with the evil of oppression of the chosen people by the Roman Empire, like Matthew.

Jesus called a woman possessed by seven demons, prostitutes, and a woman who had co-habitated with five different men!

Jesus called hot tempered, ill-educated fisherman, who commit apostasy under trial, like Peter.

Jesus called those inclined to grab at power, like James and John.

And speaking of John, assuming he is the beloved disciple, the guy is effeminate!

Jesus called those who struggle with doubt, like Thomas!

And even though history tends to judge him harshly, Jesus included a insurgent who became a thief who would betray him and then commit suicide: Judas Iscariot.

Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory tells the story of the whiskey priest who fathers a child with a woman he abandons, but dies a martyrs death that inspires a veneration after his death.

A reader sent me a site suggesting a list of possible gay saints.

Grace builds on our nature. It does not obliterate it.

God can take the weakest among us and use us to glorify his name. The process of this transformation is not unlike what occurs in the Eucharist. Simple bread and wine - even bad tasting bread and wine - are transformed into the very body and blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The change isn't obvious. In some ways, it appears nothing happened.

In a like manner, the saints sinned even into their dying days. Yes, they hopefully grew in holiness day by day, and through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, if they died without mortal sin, they even avoided purgatory.

But the Scriptures say we will sin seven times a day, and even the saints committed venial sins long after some of their greatest deeds of holiness.

God can work through an alcoholic priest.

God can work through the priest prone to fits of anger.

Yes, God can even work through a pedophile priests, though this is no excuse not to do everything possible to protect our children.

God can work through the priest who commits financial fraud or who slips into heresy.

Indeed, the doctrine of the permanency of ordination originated as an assurance to the returning Donatists that their sacraments were not invalid while separated from union with the Church.

God can work through a gay priest - most certainly if he is chaste - and even if he falls on occasion.

Indeed, the one group of people Jesus did not seem to be able to reach were the self-righteous hypocrits who demanded purity of others and imposed heavy burdens on others without lifting a finger to help them.

Jesus seemed to believe everyone could experience the reign of God breaking into our midst. He was inclusive.

What happens if his Church becomes an exclusive club for the holier than thou?

Yes, it is true that when we receive grace, we are empowered and inspired to actually turn from sin and embrace good, and the change must manifest in a changed life.

But the change is often slow going, and we can fall along the way even to our dying days, and Christ uses even our weakness to glorify the Father!


Note Email Address Change

I am changing from attglobal to verizon.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

It Seems Official!

EWTN Posed yesterday that the Holy Father has given his approval to a new Vatican policy document indicating that men with homosexual tendencies should not be ordained as Catholic priests.

The text, which was approved by Pope Benedict at the end of August, says that homosexual men should not be admitted to seminaries even if they are celibate, because their condition suggests a serious personality disorder which detracts from their ability to serve as ministers.

Priests who have already been ordained, if they suffer from homosexual impulses, are strongly urged to renew their dedication to chastity, and a manner of life appropriate to the priesthood.
Hmmm. Where do I start here?

Of course, I really should wait for the final text, which is probably more nuanced than EWTN.

EWTN says, "if they suffer from homosexual impulses"....

I do hope and pray that every priest that is basically or almost exclusively heterosexual, who has ever felt the slightest homosexual impulse or tendency will speak up - if not to we laypeople, to your bishop, superiors and directly to the pope.

Write him a letter!

As far as those already ordained "urged to renew their dedication to chastity"...

If I were in the place of a priest with predominant to exclusive bi-sexual or homosexual tendencies, I would voluntarily request a dispensation from vows in protest, even if I planned to live in chaste celibacy subsequently.

Or better yet, put the Church's social justice teaching into practice and go on strike!

It's simply a matter of standing up for each other in solidarity for truth and justice.

I am not encouraging anyone to violate your vows, or do anything against your personal vocation of celibacy if you feel called to chaste celibacy.

Those in public vows of chastity should strive for the public meaning of those vows.

I am merely saying there is no reason to do it in the Roman Catholic Church when her official spokesperson and any laity cheering him on have made it clear that they do not want you.

Give the people what they want!

Join the Anglicans or see if the Orthodox might take a slightly different approach.

I can agree with the Vatican that if you are vowed to chastity and celibacy who chooses to remain in active ministry, you do your best by the grace of God to be a chaste celibate, whether straight, gay, bi, polysexual, metrosexual, pedophile, ephobophile, or asexual.

That's what you vowed to do - but you don't necessarily need to do it in a Church that hates you.

As far as the part about not accepting a man with homosexual tendencies even if chaste from here on out, here are some thoughts about the notion that this is not a new discipline.

First, this goes a bit beyond even the instructions in 1961, which allowed that there could be extenuating circumstances even when chastity is violated:
If a student in a minor seminary has sinned gravely against the sixth commandment with a person of the same or the other sex, or has been the occasion of grave scandal in the matter of chastity, he is to be dismissed immediately as stipulated in canon 1371, except if prudent consideration of the act and of the situation of the student by the superiors or confessors should counsel a different policy in an individual case. (no. 30)
True, the text also stated:
Advantage to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers. (no. 30).
However, it is not clear that "evil tendencies to homosexuality" refers to occasional or even predominant homosexual tendencies in a person capable of chastity.

In it's context, this rendering seems unlikely.

In fact, what is more clear in the text is that regardless of a person's tendencies, nobody is to be admitted to solemn vows or ordination who has masturbated in the last year prior to requesting admission.

Again, I don't care whether you are straight, gay, bi, polysexual, metrosexual, pedophile, ephobophile, or aesexual, if we are going to follow 1961 rules in an out of context, slavish, literalistic way, are we following this one?

I think I'm pretty safe grounds saying 70 percent of seminarians and deacons haven't made it twelve months without committing the solitary sin, even if people don't agree with me that maybe up to 70 percent of the clergy is same sex attracted.

My basic thought is this, I hope and pray that if this document says what EWTN says it does, that all priests and seminarians will give the Vatican exactly what she says she wants in the form of strikes, requests for dispensations or at least protest directly to your leaders in written form.

The Chinese say getting exactly what you want is actually a curse. May Pope Benedict have exactly what he wants.


Monday, September 19, 2005

In Contempt of Government

NCR's take on how the anti-government and anti-global attitude of the Bush Administration led to failures of the federal response to natural disaster and other troubles.


John Allen's Word From Rome

Actually posted on September 16, the one word summary is "ecumenism".


Iraqi Police Turn on Coalition Forces

This most recent deadly battle was between the Iraqi police in Basra and the British troops.

American fatalities in Iraq as of August 16, 2005 have reached 1898. In Afghanistan, there have been an additional 234 American casualties.


Tyco Execs Sentenced to 8-25 Years

...and ordered to pay $134 million in restitution. This is why American business cannot be trusted to regulate itself entirely.


Public Catholicism

David O'Brien looks at Catholics in public life for Commonweal, and the questions raised by the John Roberts confirmation process.


Commonweal Editorial on Bush's Leadership

This is pretty similar to my own recent critiques.


A Priest Reflects on New Orleans

From Commonweal, Jesuit Father Raymond Shroth offers his spiritual reflection on the events in New Orleans.


Sunday, September 18, 2005

Hat Tip to Elena

This doesn't surprise me:


You are Saint Francis of Assisi! You don't care
what you look like (or smell like) as long as
you can live simply and help the poor. You
should be receiving your stigmata any day now.

Which Saint Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla


Pope Tells Exorcist Convention to Carry On

Actually, one of my most liberal seminary professors believed exorcism is a useful rite, though he refused to say whether its use was a real exorcism or a psychosomatic healing.


Humor by Tony Auth


Hat Tip to Ono Ekeh

This is apparently an actual photo of what Bush was writing to Condi Rice dusing a U.N. Security Council meeting on Sept 14.


Marty Haugen Live!

My parish hosted a songfest with Marty Haugen this weekend, with proceeds going to the victims of the hurricane.

For those unfamiliar with the name, Haugen composed such post Vatican II liturgical classics as "Shepherd Me, Oh God", "Gather Us In", "Eye Has Not Seen", "We Walk By Faith", "Cantile of the Sun", and "We Remember".

For some reason, I had always assumed Haugen was a vowed religious. It turns out he is a married man with five children, and seems very devoted to his family. It's amazing the impact a lay person can have in the Church!


Saturday, September 17, 2005

Here is the Center of the Universe

Mount Zion, true pole of the earth - and she knows it!

With her Daddy at church


Scripture on Homosexuality

The Bible says absolutely nothing about a state or condition of permanent unchosen sexual attraction to members of the same gender.

The concept that this could occur did not even exist until the nineteenth century.

When liberals say that the Bible does not address homosexuality, it is precisely this point that is being made. Yet, does the Bible address homosexual acts?

There are only a handful of verses that may seem to address homosexual acts - far fewer than those that support polygamy or slavery kosher laws or the salvation of Jews alone, much less issues such as economic justice, liberation for the oppressed, and the love of God or the demands of loving one another.

The CCC sites Gen 19:1-29, Rom 1:24-27, 1 Cor 6:10, and 1 Tim 1:10, which may be a pretty exhaustive list.

In Lk 10:12, Jesus seems to imply that the sin of Sodom in Gen 19 is a sin of inhospitality. Furthermore, the text supports this by the context.

In the preceding chapter, Abraham's hospitality to the three strangers results in a blessing, where the inhospitality of the Sodomites results in a curse in the next chapter.

This may sound strange to twenty-first century Americans. My wife is from Tanzania, where hospitality is still considered a great virtue.

My wife is no Bible scholar, and without my prompting, she says that is the obvious meaning of the text to her. Many scholars also hold this opinion.

It was also the traditional reading well up to four centuries after Christ.

There is also some ambiguity in various Hebrew text about who comprised the Sodomite aggressors and what their intentions were. Some texts imply women were in the group, which would obliterate a homosexual rending of the passage.

Furthermore, while a sexual connotation is usually read into the townspeople's demand to Lot to send the strangers that they may "know" them, the Bible more frequently uses that word for literally knowing: send them out so that we can get to know them.

On the flip side, the sexual interpretation of the word is strongly supported by the fact that Lot offers his daughters in exchange.

Yet, this strange behavior by Lot shows that the passage is not really about a sexual sin, because we all know gang rape of women is a terrible injustice and a gravely and intrinsically disordered act.

Furthermore, we are not to do evil so that good may come of it.

So, if the sin was not primarily sexual, we are left concluding, with Luke's Jesus, that the sin was primarily inhospitality, and the passage isn't really about sexual sin.

If it were about sexual sin, we could not rule out gang rape as the sin, and we are left baffled as to why Lot would offer his daughters no matter what the passage means.

Romans 1:24-27 clearly speaks of men and women who deliberately "exchange" their natural desires for unnatural desires.

We could conclude that it is sinful for a heterosexual to deliberately choose homosexuality, but we have no guidance for what applies to a person who is homosexuality oriented through no choice of their own.

1 Cor 6:10 and 1 Tim 1:10 both use words unique to Paul in all of ancient literature, and no translator can claim absolute certainty that he is referring to homosexuals in these passages.

Neither of the texts were translated as "sodomite" until the second millennium.

The context of both of the passages place the ambiguous Pauline words next to kidnappers.

Many scholars suggest that rather than a general condemnation of homosexuals, the passages are condemning a form of sexual slavery that involved young boys sold to pedophiles or ephebophiles.

What are we to make of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13?

First of all, neither passage condemns lesbianism. Second, it only speaks of acts, and not orientation.

Some scholars believe the book is written with priests as the intended audience, outlining ritual purity.

Indeed, the very word often translated as "abomination" is elsewhere often translated merely as "unclean".

In ancient Judaism, what was being condemned was men - most likely a priest - taking the position of women.

This prohibition needs to also be understood in cultural context. This was a culture that had very different ideas of what is clean and unclean, natural and unnatural, than we might.

For example, kosher law forbids eating shrimp, lobster or crab, because a fish that can walk on land is unnatural or unclean. An animal without hooves that chews from the cud is unnatural or unclean. Sex during menstruation is unclean, and so forth.

Furthermore, the context of these passages is within a book that contains many prohibitions that Christians generally do not follow.

The book demands the death penalty for anyone who curses at their parents, and most of the kosher laws of Judaism.

It would seem strange to isolate passages on homosexual behavior as somehow more literally true than the rest of the book.

Regarding the questions some theologians ask today, many wonder if a gay committed partnership may express the Catholic doctrinal principle of unitive love expressed by an infertile heterosexual couple that is married - including older couples past menopause.

The Bible provides no clear negative response.

Some consider homosexual orientation to be a moral disorder, somewhat like alcoholism.

One scriptural principle that has stood the test of time and is affirmed in the CCC paragraph 1789 is that the golden rule informs every single moral choice.

Many people, including myself, fail to understand how gays and lesbians living chastely or in committed partnership are hurting anyone or violating the golden rule.

On the flip side, one knows that alcohol is disordered when one's drinking begins to lead to violations of the golden rule.

Perhaps, for we who are said to be confused, the Vatican or its defenders could spend some effort clarifying how gays violate the golden rule when they live in chastity or committed partnership.

Otherwise, the language of "moral disorder" makes no more sense than saying left handed people are morally disordered since they use what the Latins refered to as the "sinister" hand.

Can this clarification be done in a scientifically falsifiable or demonstrable way?

On the question of admittance of gay men to priesthood, it would seem that a Church that desires an all male celibate priesthood and simultaneously believes that all gay men are called to chaste celibacy would consider gay men to be the best candidates for its unique type of priesthood.

The Bible would not prohibit a chaste gay celibate priest or seminarian, and neither would tradition (see below).


Friday, September 16, 2005

Were There Gay Saints?

In light of rumors that the Vatican may ban gay men, even if chaste, from seminaries, many others and myself have been writing all week.

A key question people ask is whether there were many homosexuals in priesthood and religious life prior to Vatican II, the sexual revolution of the late 1960's and the dissent that formed after Humanae Vitae?

There is a conservative article attacking today's gay subculture in seminaries by trying to show how Saint Peter Damien dealt with the issue in Liber Gommorrhia.

The original article is HERE and formatted better HERE.

Note that even in this conservative article, it is acknowledged that when Saint Peter Damien cried out about widespread homosexuality around the year 1049, Pope Leo IX's disciplinary response is described as follows:

In light of Divine mercy, the Holy Father commands, without contradiction, that those who, of their own free will, have practiced solitary or mutual masturbation or defiled themselves by interfemoral coitus, but who have not done so for any length of time, nor with many others, shall retain their status, after having "curbed their desires" and "atoned for their infamous deeds with proper repentance".
Pope Leo did not seem to see homosexual inclinations, or even acts, as an immediate and permanent impediment to consecrated celibacy.

The letters of Saint Jerome suggest that he may have had homosexual tendencies.

I acknowledge that such a claim cannot be proven conclusively so many centuries after his death, but consider some of what he wrote:
For I who fancied it too bold a wish to be allowed by an exchange of letters to counterfeit to myself your presence in the flesh,....Oh, if only the Lord Jesus Christ would suddenly transport me to you...,with what a close embrace would I clasp your neck, how fondly would I press kisses upon that mouth which has so often joined with me of old in error or in wisdom. But as I am unworthy (not that you should so come to me but) that I should so come to you, and because my poor body, weak even when well, has been shattered by frequent illnesses; I send this letter to meet you instead of coming myself, in the hope that it may bring you hither to me caught in the meshes of love's net.
The passage comes from Letter 3 from the following site: New Advent.

I've heard the argument that Jerome is speaking of a "spiritual" or "holy" kiss, rather than a physical kiss on the lips.

It is also stated that in many cultures, it is not uncommon for men to kiss one another in greeting.

Jerome says he is caught up in the meshes of love's net giving him a desire to see Rufinus in the flesh and press himself against him and plant multiple kisses on the mouth of Rufinus. These kisses are like the past kisses, which may have been in error or wisdom, Jerome does not know which.

The text supports a more physical and passionate embrace than some people are comfortable considering.

Jerome grows angry with the monk, Heliodorus, because this effiminate man did not visit him recently:
But what is this, and why do I foolishly importune you again? Away with entreaties, an end to coaxing words. Offended love does well to be angry. You have spurned my petition; perhaps you will listen to my remonstrance. What keeps you, effeminate soldier, in your father's house? Where are your ramparts and trenches? When have you spent a winter in the field? Lo, the trumpet sounds from heaven! Lo, the Leader comes with clouds! - Letter 14
This was a common theme for Jerome.

Browse through the letters at Newadvent and see how frequently Jerome flies off the handle because a monk would not see him, or a man had not written him.

Each letter takes the tone of a scorned lover. Yet, he never writes this passionately to women whom he writes.

When he does write about women, he clearly sees them as inferior to men.

Jerome seems to have gone to the desert in isolation to escape past sins:
As for me who am still foul with my old stains, like the basilisk and the scorpion I haunt the dry places. - Letter 7
In other places, Jerome speaks of his private struggles with lust, even in the monastic environment. So, whether he was gay or not, we know for a fact that Jerome never claimed to be perfectly chaste of heart!
What brings you, a solitary, into the throng of men? The advice that I give is that of no inexperienced mariner who has never lost either ship or cargo, and has never known a gale. Lately shipwrecked as I have been myself, my warnings to other voyagers spring from my own fears. On one side, like Charybdis, self-indulgence sucks into its vortex the soul's salvation. On the other, like Scylla, lust, with a smile on her girl's face, lures it on to wreck its chastity. - Letter 14
I will concede that the possibility that Jerome says lust has a girl's face may hint at a heterosexual orientation. However, this is the only hint of heterosexuality in all his writings, and he may have been using a common literary device.

Furthermore, this is an age of married priests, so one has to ask why he chooses celibacy when he struggles so much with lust and Paul says it is better to marry than to be on fire (a verse one so familiar with the Bible would certainly know).

Jerome hints again that his sins were homosexual in nature in his letter to Theodosius asking for readmission to a community of single men living the anchorite life:
I am the prodigal son who although I have squandered all the portion entrusted to me by my father, have not yet bowed the knee in submission to him; not yet have I commenced to put away from me the allurements of my former excesses. And because it is only a little while since I have begun not so much to abandon my vices as to desire to abandon them, the devil now ensnares me in new toils, he puts new stumbling-blocks in my path, be encompasses me on every side. - Letter 14
What allurement of former excess and vice is Jerome speaking about? Why was Jerome driven out of the community?

Jerome did not not even embrace celibacy until he was 37 years old, and he had never married. What sins is he refering to in his youth?

Is it possible that Jerome grew into celibacy over the course of his 75 year life-span from a homosexual orientation and perspective, and this is what he was referring to?

I would argue that it is not only possible, but based on Jerome's own words and the way his life played out, I would argue that the evidence points to it being highly probable.

There is also evidence that Saint Basil the Great may have had homosexual tendencies.

Consider the following quotes from Saint Basil's advice to monks:
It is frequently the case with young men that even when rigorous self-restraint is exercised, the glowing complexion of youth still blossoms forth and becomes a source of desire to those around them. If therefore, anyone is youthful and physically beautiful, let him keep his attractiveness hidden until his appearance reaches a suitable state.

(De Renuntiatione Saeculi 6 as quoted by John Boswell in Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century University of Chicago Press (1980), p. 159. Boswell admits some dispute over authorship, but not dating or connection to Basil's monasteries).
In what Boswell takes to be a more certain source, Saint Basil states the following:
Sit in a chair from such youth; in sleep do not allow your clothing to touch his but, rather, have an old man between you. When he is speaking to you or singing opposite you, look down as you respond to him, so that you do not by gazing at his face take the seed of desire from the enemy sower and bring forth harvests of corruption and loss. Do not be found with him either indoors or where no one can see what you do, either for studying the prophecies of Holy Scriptures or for any other purpose, no matter how necessary. (Sermo Asceticus, 323 as quoted by Boswell, p. 160)
I am not arguing for or against homosexual acts here.

Indeed, it seems Saint Basil was taking his celibate chastity vows seriously, and in Peter Damien's Liber Gomorrhianus, Basil is referenced as having taught that a monk who molest a young boy should be whipped and go to jail for six months.

Yet, even after such punishment, Basil would readmit the monk to the community under the condition that he was placed under constant supervision by no less than two monks and not permitted near youth.

The constant supervision with no contact with youth is not bad advice for how to deal with those who abuse minors today, by the way.

It is clear that Basil was either homosexually inclined, or knew monks who were, and did not wish to drive them out of the community - even when they abused younger boys.

This sort of advise prevailed even in the days just prior to Vatican II, though there seem to be repeated periods of laxity in dealing with it.

Many of the men we read about today who have abused minors were formed as priest and ordained prior to Vatican II, and the bishops' response was very in line with pastoral practice dating back for centuries.

Today, we are more aware of the effects that sexual abuse can have on minors, and we while we may understand a bishop's or religious superior's desire to treat an offender with some degree of compassion, we want more emphasis placed on protecting our children.

This desire to protect our children is right and good. As a parent, I want it too. I have been furious at bishops like Cardinal Law who kept following the "old school" rules even after it was made clear that reassigning offenders is not a sound approach.

Abuse of a minor is immoral and criminal.

But do we need to scapegoat all men with homosexual inclinations in order to stop abuse?

In addition to being more aware of the effects of abuse on minors, we are also more aware that pedophilia, ephebophilia, and adult homosexuality are each separate things.

The issue is not really that there are gay men in the priesthood, as there always has been, but what concerns us most is that some priests - gay or straight - have sex with minors, and we want to protect our children.

Basil sees no reason for a person's inclinations to become a cause to drive men out of the community.

I don't either. I do see criminal behavior or reliable predictors of criminal behavior as being cause for grave concern.

I do encourage those vowed to chastity to do everything they can to be chaste or to prayerfully consider whether God is calling you to a different life-style choice, even if that means gay marriage.

On the other hand, to those who go into near hysterics at the notion that there are gay priests, Saint Basil is an example of compassion for homosexual people, and even those who abuse youth.

Perhaps, if he or Jerome or both were gay, God is showing us that gay people can be extraordinarily holy without changing their basic orientation!


More on Why'd I Leave Seminary?

There is one thing I want to make clear about yesterday's post on why I left seminary.

I recognized the possibility and even likelihood of the cycle of having an indiscretion, repenting, having another indiscretion, and so on.

This sounds like the issue was just sex, but that's not true.

I knew that one of the reasons this might be likely is because each time I found myself infatuated, I would ask myself "Is she the one?"

Is she the one with whom God wants me to enter into the holy sacrament of marriage?

Is she the one: the mother of my children?

Is the she the one who will bring me out of myself in concrete acts of love in little things day by day?

Is she the one who will settle the vocation question for me once and for all?

I wrote in the past that chaste celibacy is actually easy on any given day.

It really is, and I had many series of individual given days where I woke up and said, "Don't think about your life-long commitment. Just be a chaste celibate today."

Focused on the here and now, chastity is not all that hard.

What made me vulnerable was not even what I most suspected.

It was not things like seeing scantily clad women on a beach or someone exposing me to pornography that tempted me - though temptation may lead to a desire to do things like look at pornography.

What tempted me most strongly, I wrote about once before.

It was sitting on a beach - alone - nobody else around - and watching an amazing sun-set and realizing, "If I take solemn vows, I will never be able to share this memory, or any like it with anyone."

It was moments like seeing a mother breast feed her baby in church that led to moments like, "Why would God not want me to raise children? I think I'd be a decent father."

It was each time I moved to a different city as part of formation (seven houses in six years), and realized how rootless one can feel.

I gradually realized I wanted a life of shared memories and shared dreams with another person.

I wanted some way of putting concrete deeds of love to the very words I wanted to preach from the pulpit - with a spouse and any children God would give us.

I wanted to be able to say to another, "I'll be there for you", and mean by that not just a in a moment of ministry, but "Till death do us part".

The difficult part about chaste celibacy is not sex, per se, but loneliness and the desire for intimacy. You can be surrounded by people, and still feel lonely.

Some people have that need filled in prayer and encounter God as spouse in a way that the rest of us can mimic or catch glimpses of, but maybe don't feel as strongly all the time.

Those are the true celibates in my mind.

But for the rest of us, we find God not in as strongly in these acts of prayer, per se, but in our relationships with people.

I'm not saying that we can't all experience God as spouse in prayer. We can. But is this feeling enough to choose being alone without feeling lonely?

I say this as one who prays a lot and is introverted and not particularly good at expressing my feelings - but I need people in my life who draw me out of myself and force me to do that.

And I believe God puts those people in my life.

When I spoke of the repeated cycle of an indiscretion followed by repentance, I know in my heart of hearts how easy it is for a person not called to celibacy and feeling lonely and in need of intimacy to look at every attractive person and say, "Is that the One?"

Not "THE ONE" in the sense of God. I think God calls celibates to remind the rest of us that She's real and active and even our spouses and sex are not gods to us.

But it is easy for a single person not called to celibacy to see another as "the One" in the sense of the one that "THE ONE" placed in my life.

And if it is easy to begin to believe this, it could lead to an indiscretion that you rationalize by saying, "But God placed this one here right now in my life for a reason. S/he's the One."

But then you say, "Oh no, I'm a vowed religious and a consecrated priest. I am an alter christus. I am called to pick up the cross."

So you go back to priesthood repentant until the next time you meet someone who seems to be "the One" given to you by "THE ONE", and this time, it's a little easier to fall, because you already did once before.

I want to emphasize that none of this has to happen for a seminarian to realize that it could happen.

If he is taking his prayer life and formation seriously, he damn well better know that something like this could happen, and if he chooses solemn vows, he should be reasonably confident he knows how to deal with those thoughts and feelings.

And the question becomes, how certain are you that you will not fall into that trap?

I also want to emphasize that it doesn't matter whether you are straight or gay: the desire for committed partnership with a flesh and blood person is stronger in some folks than others.

So, how certain can the seminarian be that you will not fall into the trap of the cycle of failure and repentance?

Nobody but the individual can answer that question, and some make a poor judgment when they answer.

But I think some people go through the process and reach that level of certainty where they can say, "Yeah. I'm feeling something in prayer, and God really is enough for me. I'm more certain I can be chaste than I am certain I will fail."

And consider this: is any celibate ever absolutely certain he or she will be chaste for the rest of his life?

Probably not. Probably, there is a range of certainty from 1 percent to 99 percent.

And on sexual orientation, though many (I believe most) priests lean gay, almost all probably have some heterosexual impulse sometime in life.

Almost all probably have some homosexual attraction of some sort during their life (even if the straightest only can be consciously aware that he just gets a feeling of being energized around his brother priests).

So there is this mix of uncertainty about one's sexuality and capacity for chastity among celibates who primarily know their calling only after years of prayer, and even then, it is not certain.

Faith is trust, and it does move mountains - but sometimes, God is saying to us, "I don't want you to place your trust there. Don't move that mountain, I have another mountain I need you to move."

The celibate who discerns in prayer that he more certain of his potential failure in chastity than his potential success at chastity is not losing faith in God, but feeling that God is saying "I don't necessarily want or need you to do this to yourself. Indeed, in this life-style, you are too focused on yourself. I'd like you to try something else. Leave [name] to be the celibate."

The best reason I ever heard a celibate give for why he chose to take solemn vows is that he felt most able to love this way. That man was straight.

But if one feels that one is better able to love by being grounded in at least one comitted partnership with a flesh and blood person, why can't that same person be a priest?

Has one really lost faith simply because one feels in prayer that God might be calling one to something other than celibacy?

Thus, faith becomes trusting God when you announce to the formation staff and your brothers in seminary that you are leaving.

Life is a mystery, and that's what the "orthodox" often don't seem to understand.

It's not a problem to be solved or a puzzle to be put back together. It is not an obligation we do against our will.

It's a mystery to be dived into with gusto and a sense of adventure. An adventure has set backs, moments of uncertainty, and doesn't always go according to plan.

Isn't this the experience of most Christians: that God throws a monkey wrench in your plans, and it turns out that he did it for your own good?

Live you life such that you have a story to tell.

If the story of being a missionary on a motorcycle traversing a path where there was no road with nothing but a Bible on you sounds like an adventure that excites you, maybe celibate missionary work is for you.

But you'll need that experience in prayer that leads you to be more certain of your chastity than certain of potential failure.

And maybe, if prayer doesn't give you a greater certainty of chaste celibacy, consider married lay missionary work if your sense of adventure leads you to still want to be a missionary.

Even a monk lives an adventure. By making his world smaller, everything in that world gets bigger. The very breath of his brother monk can become a moment to love or hate another, with all the choirs of angels rooting for him to chose love.

The adventure is in the choices in small matters, very much like being married. In prayer, he will experience adventure too. But the only way to know if you have that calling is to try it, and see how certain it feels.

But even monks doubt. Even monks can be gay. And we all know that not everyone - not even every priest - is called to be a monk.

I'm babbling. Thoughts?


Thursday, September 15, 2005

Why'd I Leave Seminary?

In my comboxes, a reader asked if I left seminary because of a perceived prevalence of homosexuality in the priesthood.

I'm not sure he intended this, but there may have been an implication that a "lavender mafia" frightens off the straight seminarian.

To dispel such notions, here was my response:

I did not leave because others were gay per se.

At the same time, I cannot say that the predominance of homosexuality did not influence my decision - but not in a homophobic way.

The issue is that I have felt called to marriage since I was least four years old.

I have felt called to priesthood since I was at least six years old.

Before going to seminary, I recognized that I needed to make a decision - a choice. I knew that this choice was not going to be easy either way. I was going to have give something up (either the desire to marry, or the desire to be a priest).

I decided that the best way to decide was to "come and see".

I went to seminary being very forthright about my feelings of being called to marriage, and being brutally honest (almost scrupulous) about every sexual impulse or temptation I faced, in the hopes that either one of two things would happen:

1) I would be given some sort of guidance on how to be a chaste celibate despite these feelings,


2) I would be told, "Joe, you are obviously called to marriage. What you doing here? Go home and make babies."

Well, neither thing happened. Instead, this is what I got:

"The desire for heterosexual marriage is not an issue for me, and I don't know how to tell you to be a chaste celibate. Prayer will help, but there's no magic formula. All I can tell you is that if you decide this is your calling, you show all the signs of one who would make a great priest."

Well, after six years of praying up to four hours per day, the desire for marriage only grew stronger, and nobody could tell me how to make it go away, and I faced the honest truth that if I vowed myself to celibacy, I would most likely do one of two things:

1) Later ask for a dispensation to marry,


2) Fall into a cycle of an indiscretion with a woman followed by repentance and confession followed by another indiscretion followed by repentance and confession.

And the reality of the possibility - even the probability - of the second option occurring was so strong in my mind, that I decided not to bring that sort of shame on the Church.

I did talk to my spiritual directors, confessors, formation advisers, even a psychologist about all of this - sort of begging them to explain to me how I might avoid the second option - the repeating cycle.

I could not get an answer other than pray, and I was already doing that up to four hours per day, and discerned after six years of doing so, that celibacy is not my calling.

But returning to the sooo frequent response I got to my queries, "The desire for heterosexual marriage is not an issue for me."

That's what I am trying to emphasize.

If most priest are gay, or "not straight", the very reason that celibacy is possible for them is that the desire for heterosexual marriage is not an issue for them. In fact, many men who said this did openly admit that the desire for heterosexual marriage was not an issue for them because they were gay.

And don't get me wrong. I think many of these men were chaste, and were great priests.

So, yes, in that sense, gays in the seminary was a reason for leaving.

Not in the sense of feeling like there was a "lavender mafia", but in the sense of feeling like they had the call to celibacy, but I didn't - and that maybe this has always been true in the Church.

Of course, some folks will argue that I am merely trying to justify my decision to leave by pointing out that there are potentially large numbers of gay priests, even if chaste.

That's fair criticism, and if I were the only person saying it, maybe my opinion would be easy to dismiss.

But close church watchers have been saying it for years, and even insiders are speaking up.

The sex abuse scandal has also put a spot-light on the sexuality of priests.

So, I simply ask others to consider the possibility that my perception is somehow based in reality, and ask what that means for the Church?

By the way, I am very happily (and chastely) married now. But a side of me still feels called to priesthood: married priesthood!


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

More Fun With Math...

In the post below, I stated that there are 1.1 billion Catholics worldwide.

Let's assume a mere one percent of the Catholic population is gay.

1,100,000,000 x 0.01 = 11,000,000

Half these are men: 5,500,000.

According to the Church all 5.5 million are called to chaste celibacy.

There are 397,000 priests.

According to the John Jay report, about four percent of priests have abused minors. About eighty percent of the abuse involved boys (mostly teenagers).

There are currently about 397,000 priests world-wide, and if approximately four percent of priest abuse minors, and about 80 percent of those do so with boys, here's the formula:

397,000 x 0.04 x 0.80 = 12,704 men who abuse minor males.
397,000 x 0.04 x 0.20 = 3,176 men who abuse minor females.

Let's just say that we considering not just screening seminarians who might become future priests, but defrocking every gay priest currently wearing a collar.

If 70 percent of all priest are gay, as I asserted, the formula is simple:

397,000 x 0.70 = 277,900 gay priests, of which 12,704 will abuse boys.

Why discriminate against 265,196 innocent men in order to prevent 12,704 cases of abuse?

And what about the 3,176 straight priests who keep abusing minors?

Even if you do not accept that 70 percent of priests are gay, do you accept ten percent?


397,000 x 0.10 = 39,700

Why are you going to kick out 26,996 innocent men in order to make sure you got at the 12,704 you were seeking?

And what about the 3,176 straight men who abuse minors that you let get away?

I do not know how to be more clear that the issue involved in solving the abuse crisis is not gay men.

The issue we want solved is weeding out men who have sex with minors!

This is not a gay or straight issue, no matter how many gay priests and seminarians you think there are.

But if we want to talk about how many there are, we know there at least the three percent who abused boys, but we all suspect it much higher than that.

What if the total number of gay priests is 5 percent?

I doubt anyone honestly thinks the number of gays in priesthood is that low, but let's do the math.

397,000 x 0.05 = 19,850.

So, we defrock 7,146 innocent men to get the 12,704, while letting the 3,176 straight men get away.

Why kick out more than twice as many innocent men as the guilty you let through?

Further, every reader would likely concede that the number of gay priests is not less than 10 percent - so somewhere between ten and seventy percent is where we're going to land.

Given that 5.5 million Catholic men in the world are called to chaste celibacy if they want to remain Catholic, why should a high percentage of 397,000 priests being gay surprise us?

Yet, even with ten percent, we unjustly discriminate against almost 27,000 men without truly solving the problem.

Let's play the numbers game a different way. Let's assume that the same percentage of gay men abuse minors as the percentage of straight men who abuse minors.

What would our facts from the John Jay study tell us about how many gay men are priesthood?

It would tell us eighty percent of priests are gay, not that gay men need to be weeded out!

What if it is statistically demonstrable that gays have a higher statistical probability of abusing minors than straights?

The only way to know that is to prove that less than eighty percent of priests are gay before you weed anyone out.

I don't think the pope or the bishops really want anyone to know the exact number of gays in priesthood.

But without that number, you cannot prove that gays are more likley to abuse minors than straights. The 80 percent ratio of abuse with boys only leads me to the conclusion that the number of gay men in priesthood is very high - well past fifty percent.