Friday, January 09, 2004

Pastoral Failures Regarding Homosexuals? Undoubtedly, But Whose Failures?

Recently, the National Catholic Reporter told us about a number of priests in the Archdiocese of Chicago who penned a letter of "protest" about the Church's teaching on homosexuality. The Reporter's story can be found here, and the text of the letter can be found here. I've also quoted the letter below in blue, and responded to it in black. The letter does a very good job -- albeit unintentionally -- of pointing out where the problems lie in presenting the Gospel to homosexuals.

"As Catholic pastors, we have become increasingly disturbed by the tone and, in some cases, content of documents and statements from the Vatican, bishops' conferences and individual bishops on issues categorized under the heading of "homosexual" or "gay/lesbian." We respect the teaching authority of the Church. Because of this, we find particularly troubling the increase in the use of violent and abusive language directed at any human person. Such language is inappropriate. This is especially so when addressing members of the community of the faithful. These divisive and exclusionary statements from the Church are contrary to sound pastoral practice.""

Well, that depends on the objectives of pastoral practice. I certainly think the language of the Church regarding homosexuality is contrary to some possible objectives, but not to all of them. Unfortunately, it will be seen that the fathers' letter leaves us very confused about their pastoral objectives.

"The life journey in faith is unique and sacred, including the personal integration of sexuality and spirituality. Condemnations leveled at sincere Catholics attempting to make sense out of their journey are inappropriate and pastorally destructive.""

The validity of this observation depends on the approach to integrating sexuality and spirituality being considered. If one believes that his sexuality must be conformed to a divine revelation, he will propose different terms for this "integration" than if he believes divine revelation has already been given in the form of his sexual preferences. There are, for example, any number of sincere people who deny that lifelong monogamy is part of human "nature," and they can deny it quite plausibly using evidence produced by every relevant area of social study. But if suppose we examined all this this evidence in the context of the Fall and Redemption of man; the sincere case for "natural" promiscuity becomes not only less persuasive, but actually irrelevant to our decisions about what marriage is. When marriage is viewed in that light the Church, when she points out the realities of man's fallen nature and describes repentance and grace as the necessary conditions of marriage, is the only voice in the dialogue that actually makes sense about man's journey toward sexual and spiritual fidelity.

I agree that the Church's clergy would be faltering in their mission if they confined their teaching on homosexuality (or human sexuality in general) to narrow legal categories of licit and illicit acts without any further exploration of and ministry to the human condition. But even in these deeper and more nuanced discussions we can't escape the fact that some human paradigms and sentiments -- however sincerely held -- are unable to sustain a harmonious friendship between man and God. The priests' letter, however, is ambiguous because they don't seem to understand this fact. They entirely fail to acknowledge that sound pastoral guidance rooted in the Church's teachings will inevitably condemn some sincerely-held and contradictory beliefs, and that one can perfer the Church's teaching over the views of dissenters for reasons that have nothing to do with bigotry.

The fathers' ambiguity is even more disturbing when one notices their implicit assumption that all homosexuals address Church teaching in the same way. From the letter's viewpoint there are no actual human differences among prelates, priests, or parishioners. They can all be neatly separated into two groups, "the hierarchy" which says such-and-so about homosexuals and "homosexual brothers and sisters" who all predictably and identically react the same way to what the hierarchy says. It's astounding to see the degree of ideologized naivete required for this dichotomy present among men who have spent decades in the rough-and-tumble of parish life. Does anyone know Catholics who can be so neatly sorted? Someone might think he does, but if so let him say the word "sinful" in connection with the death penalty or progressive taxation, or ask another Catholic whether he can (or should) vote Republican or Democrat. He will soon find out that the uniformity of Catholicism has a very odd way of producing an almost infinite variety of human responses. Even what follows isn't a comprehensive description of Catholic responses to Church sexual teaching; but it's enough to point out that the fathers have some very straight-jacketed views of the Church and their flocks.

There are homosexuals (and heterosexuals) who accept -- and even love -- the Church's teaching on sexuality, however burdensome and sorrowful it must be for them in this life. These men and women unite themselves to Jesus Christ in a special way, for He too knew burdens, lonliness, and sorrow. What our country, awash in sexual depravity, has gained in God's mercy as a result of these men and women's fidelity is likely beyond description this side of the Last Judgment. There are also homosexuals who (like many Catholic laymen) suffer from varying degrees of ignorance, confusion, or rebellion over teaching which they abstractly know must be accepted but which they still can't always (or even largely) make into a solid framework for their lives. There are also men and women in the Church who, regardless of their sexual orientations, have absolutely no interest whatsoever in conforming their sexual/romantic lives to the Church's teaching, and who instead brashly demand that the Church "integrate" herself into their sexuality and spirituality by contradicting her own treasure of divine revelation. They demand a specific contradiction in which the Church abandons God's revelation about the unhappiness of a sexuality lived without reference to His law, and therefore, without the benefit of His grace. Even more dangerously, they demand general contradiction which substitutes man's present, fallen condition for God's revelation in the order of priorities which should govern Christian thought about sexual morality.

Knowledge of these very human experiences doesn't appear in the fathers' letter, which instead gives us a trite and stereotypical division of Catholic humanity into an imaginary power group and its constituency of fungible homosexual units. Authentic pastoral concern cannot be realized in such a myopic and ideologized framework. Authentic pastoral action must find ways to affirm saints in their fidelity, encourage strugglers and doubters to persevere, and provide a clear diagnosis of spiritual ills and an unambiguous direction to the rebellious. None of that can be done effectively without "condemning" some things in some ways that have specific, meaningful consequences for the lives of Catholics.

The letter's inability, one might even say studied unwillingness, to address these facts causes some justified sense of skepticism about the pastoral abilities of the priests who composed and signed it. One wonders if they're not unintentionally operating as "managerial" priests, mid-level ombudsmen whose function is to smooth over any perceived conflict between an organization's priorities and a constituency's perceptions of ill-service. Ombudsmen always risk straddling their respective fences whenever that task means reducing unhappiness with a product that is, in fact, not what the consumer wants. Within that situation one can easily understand an urge to create a happy obfuscation, to ply the consumer with saccharine assurances of eventual satisfaction while upbraiding "corporate" for putting its foot wrong by making inopportune and counterproductive statements.

Seen in that perpsective, the priests' ambiguity makes a kind of sense, although it would also mean they're willing to entertain the appearance of schism if not its actual existence. It would also mean that the fathers see themselves as "triangulators," men whose positions and actions are not grounded in a fixed internal sense of orthodoxy but instead merely react to external factional pressures which have to be constantly juggled and cajoled in order to "keep the lid on." One need only imagine an actual shepherd dealing with his sheep in this fashion to become very concerned about the quality of "pastoral guidance" which these priests are providing and equally cautious about accepting their criticisms of their fellow (and superior) shepherds.

"As priests and pastors we are speaking out to make clear that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are all members of God's family, brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus and deserving of the same dignity and respect owed any human being. Recognition of the inalienable dignity of the human person is the only path toward justice and reconciliation. We affirm the goodness of all homosexual persons."

But this isn't entirely true. Human dignity and the concomitant obligation of personal respect aren't man's property; they are God's gifts to mankind, freely imparted in His act of creation and Redemption: "The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God; it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude."[1] The Church steadfastly refuses to make human dignity and respect contingent on the will of men; that's why she condemns (and can condemn) racism, abortion, and the entire Culture of Death -- all those evils depend on making human dignity the outcome of political judgments and social conventions rather than what it should be, the foundation of those judgments and conventions.

We must respect human dignity as a irreducible gift God has entrusted to man's stewardship just as He's entrusted all His other gifts to us. Fundamentally and properly understood, respecting human dignity is not a "right" men assert against one another. It is a continual obligation men owe to the eternal God who has created human dignity in us and enjoined us to respect one another because we respect Him. So did Jesus Christ identify a link between the commandment that we love God with our entire persons and that we love one another as we love ourselves: by recognizing and honoring the expression of God's divine love in ourselves and our neighbors, we recognize and honor God Himself and thus move closer to the purpose of human life and the true source of human happiness.[2]

A continual obligation to God means a continual obligation to do what God wills. One can't do God's will by endorsing or accepting things that are contrary to His will, His call to human happiness in the divine beatitude. Doing that in the name of "respecting human dignity" divides God against Himself. It means accepting some of His gifts while rejecting other things He has given us so that all our gifts might be enjoyed and brought to fruition in Him. Our ability to think (in whatever degree) must be respected as a part of our God-given dignity, but God didn't give us intelligence so that we could seduce each others' spouses or devise the perfect murder. Elevating the idea of "human dignity" above the God-given conditions in which that dignity is realized transforms Christ's commandment to love one another into accepting and approving of human choices without asking about their conformity to His will. That doesn't just try to make God into a non-entity. It tries to make Him a conspirator and accomplice in every crime we might commit.

So when the fathers say, "[w]e affirm the goodness of all homosexual persons," they're encouraging a very dangerous obscurity in our contemplation of homosexuality. If the fathers mean to affirm the goodness of homosexual persons as bearers of the imago Dei, heirs to the kingdom of Christ, that's well and good. We should affirm the goodness of every human person because each of us (however sinful) bears the image of God and the hope (however remote) of divine beatitude.

But if the fathers meant to say that, they shouldn't be so angry about the Church's calling a homosexual orientation intrinsically disordered in relation to God's will, or homosexual acts intrinsically immoral because they are against God's will. We can't divide God against Himself, accepting some of His gifts (like the imago Dei in homosexual persons) while rejecting other things He has given us (like His teaching about our sexuality). By suggesting that the Church must affirm the goodness of homosexual persons and not use pejorative (or even ugly) words to describe what they may choose to do, the fathers are implicitly elevating the dignity of homosexual persons above the God-given moral conditions in which that dignity has to be realized.

No one with an authentic pastoral concern for the growth of homosexual persons in the Catholic faith can let the need to affirm the dignity of human persons become a commandment to regard what a homosexual person may do, say, or believe as inconsequential, unobjectionable, or irresistible. The Church has to talk about the morality and immorality involved with homosexuality for the same reason the Church has to talk about the morality and immorality involved with all of our choices -- our human freedom means nothing unless we use it to come away from evil and draw closer to God.

"We root ourselves in the U.S. Bishops' statement "Always Our Children." Additionally, we re-affirm the understanding of the goodness of the human person as put forth throughout the papacy of Pope John Paul II. Further, we want to state clearly that ministering to and with our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is mutually beneficial, as is all ministerial activity. Pre-judging where any believer's journey will take them is inappropriate. Walking with them, as we do with our heterosexual brothers and sisters, is the appropriate Christian response."

This is well said, considered in and of itself. But the letter's ambiguities about the morality vel non of homosexuality continue to plague our understanding of what the fathers mean. When they say we should walk with our homosexual brothers and sisters "as we do with our heterosexual brothers and sisters," do thet mean that we can't make a distinction between homosexuals and heterosexuals in any case? I can heartily appreciate a truly-pastoral unwillingness to pursue the intricacies of scholasticism in order to find justification for imposing a harsher penance on a homosexual who has committed fornication than on a heterosexual who has committed adultery. Sin is sin. It is always wrong, always ugly, and always being committed somewhere, sometime, by someone; we have little reason for sorting our pew-seats among tacitly-identified cliques of righteous and unclean parishioners.

The fathers' anger at Church teaching about the wrongfulness which attends homosexuality is confusing; apparently, they think the "appropriate Christian response" of "walking with our homosexual brothers and sisters" means acting as though the place of heterosexuality in Church teaching can be interchangeably occupied by homosexuality, and this without the need for any special or additional moral commentary. The Catholic Church has never considered homosexuality something to be "walked with" as though it were an inconsequential variation on the pattern of Adam and Eve. If the "appropriate Christian response" is Church in which homosexuals are "walked with" no differently than (or "as though they were") heterosexuals, then Catholicism is not authentically Christian. If that's true, the fathers needn't have troubled to write so much: They could have announced their resignation from a ministry dedicated to an inauthentic realization of the Gospel in one sentence. The fathers' unwillingness to recognize this fact, and to make honest choices as a result, is disturbing. If they can't do that, how are their parishioners going to accept the truth and make honest choices about their sexual -- or confessional -- identity?

"In the recent past, individual bishops, bishops' conferences and the Vatican have assumed a tone of such violence and abusiveness toward these sons and daughters of the Church, we can no longer remain silent."

This is nothing but hyperbole. Still, if you have a point to make, hyperbole can help. I have no cause for complaint here.

" Has any other group of people within the Body of Christ been so assaulted and violated by such mean-spirited language?"

This is a classic example of a leading question: "Have you ever beaten your wife as badly as you beat her today?" Christian invective can get pretty fierce. One reads St. Peter referring to some people within the Body of Christ as "unlearned and unstable." [3] The Marcionites fell, at least by implication, under Polycarp's description of their founder as the "firstborn of Satan."[4] "The axe of the Gospel," wrote St. Jerome, "must therefore be now laid to the root of the barren tree, and both it and its fruitless foliage cast into the fire, so that Helvidius -- who has never learnt to speak -- may at length learn to hold his tongue."[5] The word anathema, used throughout Church history for groups which were (until then) within the Body of Christ, can be fairly described as "mean." That all points out the limits of the fathers' hyperbole: They beg careful questions such as whether language that can be called "mean" and "violent" can at the same time be appropriate, and even charitable.

It also highlights the continuing presence of the fathers' ambiguity about what homosexuals ought to expect from the Catholic Church. If one thinks human dignity means a right to a high regard of one's own goodness, any statement which suggests the presence of badness will be easily mistaken for "mean-spirited" sinfulness. Of course the fathers need not have violated the commandment against idolatry to create this ambiguity; the simple belief that homosexuality is intrinsically good would justify their sentiments, however incorrect that belief would be. But since neither idolatry nor sloppy presentations of Church teaching are sound pastoral practice, we again have to wonder about the source of the problems these priests' parishioners are experiencing.

"Examples from the most recent Vatican document show all too clearly the demonization of these children of God, referring to homosexuality as a "troubling moral and social phenomenon," "a serious depravity," "the spread of the phenomenon," "approval or legalization of evil," "grave detriment to the common good," "harmful to the proper development of human society," "intrinsically disordered." Does anyone consider this vile and toxic language invitational?"

We've seen that the fathers' letter maintains a studied ambiguity about whether homosexuality can be lived by the laity and "walked with" by the Church as though it were morally identical to heterosexuality. It's therefore extremely interesting to see that the fathers' sweeping and histrionic indictment of the magisterium is actually focused on just one Church statement -- the recent condemnation of "homosexual marriage" by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ("CDF") titled Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons (hereafter, "Considerations").[6] Given the content of Considerations, it's difficult to see why the fathers express so much outrage.

Catholic priests and bishops have been insisting (with varying degrees of charity) on the impossibility of homosexual marriages since before Eusebius of Caesarea preached in 319 A.D. that God had "forbidden all unlawful marriage, and all unseemly practice, and the union of women with women and men with men."[7] The constancy of this prohibition, merely repeated in Considerations, cannot have been a surprise to these priests; one wonders if, instead, Considerations hasn't come as a surprise to their (now angry) parishioners. Ombudsmen always take risks whenever they try to reduce unhappiness with something that is, in fact, not what the customer wants. Is this priestly rebuke of Considerations an attempt to ply dissatisfied parishioners with suggestions of eventual and satisfactory "change" while upbraiding "corporate" for putting its foot wrong by making inopportune and counterproductive statements? That the question can be plausibly asked indicates that these priests are not as conversant with arts of pastoral guidance as they suppose; true pastoral guidance leaves no doubt about its inspiration or its goals.

It's instructive to examine the terms taken from Considerations which the fathers say are "demonizing children of God" merely because they are attracted to their own sex:
" . . . troubling moral and social phenomenon . . .
Homosexuality is a troubling moral and social phenomenon -- even in those countries where it does not present significant legal issues. Considerations, ? 1
" . . . a serious depravity . . . intrinsically disordered . . ."
Sacred Scripture condemns homosexual acts "as a serious depravity . . . (cf. Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1 Tim 1:10). This judgment of Scripture does not of course permit us to conclude that all those who suffer from this anomaly are personally responsible for it, but it does attest to the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered". This same moral judgment is found in many Christian writers of the first centuries and is unanimously accepted by Catholic Tradition. Id. ?4
"". . . the spread of the phenomenon . . . approval or legalization of evil . . ."
Faced with the fact of homosexual unions, civil authorities adopt different positions. At times they simply tolerate the phenomenon; at other times they advocate legal recognition of such unions . . . [or] favour giving homosexual unions legal equivalence to marriage properly so-called, along with the legal possibility of adopting children. . . . Where the government's policy is de facto tolerance and there is no explicit legal recognition of homosexual unions, it is necessary to distinguish carefully the various aspects of the problem. Moral conscience requires that, in every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth, which is contradicted both by approval of homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons. Therefore, discreet and prudent actions can be effective; these might involve: unmasking the way in which such tolerance might be exploited or used in the service of ideology; stating clearly the immoral nature of these unions; reminding the government of the need to contain the phenomenon within certain limits so as to safeguard public morality and, above all, to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defences and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon. Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil. Id., ? 5
"grave detriment to the common good"
If, from the legal standpoint, marriage between a man and a woman were to be considered just one possible form of marriage, the concept of marriage would undergo a radical transformation, with grave detriment to the common good. Id., ? 8
"harmful to the proper development of human society"
Not even in a remote analogous sense do homosexual unions fulfil the purpose for which marriage and family deserve specific categorical recognition. On the contrary, there are good reasons for holding that such unions are harmful to the proper development of human society, especially if their impact on society were to increase. Id., ? 8

Of these five quotations, three aren't talking about "homosexuality" at all. While the fathers point to the CDF's use of the word "phenomenon" so as to strongly suggest the CDF is making a kind of grotesque analogy between homosexual persons and plague bacilli, they do so at the price of appearing moronic, if not deceitful. When one reads the CDF's references to "the phenomenon" in the context of paragraphs 5 and 8, one easily sees that they don't refer to "the phenomenon" of same-sex attraction but to the "phenomenon" of same-sex "marriages" which are either irregularly formed or regularized by the secular law. Only by tolerating confusion between what homosexual attractions and what can be done with respect to those attractions (a tactic which certain critics of the Church delight in using when and as it suits their purpose) can these passages even possibly be read as referring to every homosexual person.

More to the point, the word "phenomenon" is neutral. It's certainly more neutral than the terms of Biblical judgments about homosexuality. No doubt some of the fathers would argue this fact alone justifies their rebuke of the CDF. By using neutral language, they would say, the CDF has rendered homosexual persons into objects, denying their human dignity and legitimating a brutal disregard for their rights and souls. Very well, then we may ask them: If the magisterium is not to use pejorative terms like "depravity" or "disordered" in referring to same-sex attraction, and if the magisterium is not to use neutral terms like "phenomenon," when referring to it, what sort of word will do? Why, they must answer, favorable words like "commitment," "friendship," and -- (why not?) -- "love such as David had for Jonathan." The agenda would then be a little more clear -- the Church errs when it describes homosexuality (either the attraction or anything done in furtherance of it) on other than favorable terms. But even without that confirmation, the fathers' uproar over Considerations' language indicates that they either haven't sufficiently thought through the implications of what it means to "respect the teaching authority of the Church" or that we must think about what the fathers apparently mean by "respect" and "authority."

Unfortunately, it is we who must do the thinking; it is the word of God Himself which these priests have called "vile and toxic":
Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity. Romans 1:26-27 (NAB).


We know that the law is good, provided that one uses it as law, with the understanding that law is meant not for a righteous person but for the lawless and unruly, the godless and sinful, the unholy and profane, those who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, the unchaste, practicing homosexuals, kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is opposed to sound teaching according to the glorious Gospel of the blessed Lord, with which I have been entrusted. 1 Tim. 1:8-10 (NAB).


Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Cor. 6:9 (NAB).
For this reason, the Catechism says that "homosexual attractions and acts" -- not homosexual persons -- "are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life."[8] Non-Catholics are free to conjure all sorts of variant bibilical interpretations, readings which allow not only what some imagine to be David's love for Jonathan but also the love any David can have for any Jonathan. Priests who claim to "respect the teaching authority of the Church" do not have this imaginative liberty. The fathers' description of Scripture and the Catechism as "vile" and "toxic" is either the product of an unstable judgment or a direct challenge to Christ Himself. Either prospect should inspire a good deal of caution about accepting these priests' judgments about what is and isn't "pastoral."

Considerations' remaining references are unobjectionable if one has accepted Jesus Christ as the divine teacher of mankind and the Holy Catholic Church as His divinely-appointed servant. If that's true, it follows that one must consider the legalization of homosexual marriage an "evil" in the same way one must consider our divorce laws' legalization of serial polygamy an "evil." For the same reason, one should hope to restrict the spread of attitudes which promote the foundation of human communities on homosexual relationships just as one would hope to retard the legal/social conventions by which children are prematurely and improperly sexualized via television and public education -- both "phenomena" are "grave detriments to the common good" and "harmful to the proper development of human society."

The fathers archly inquire if anyone would consider the language used by God, the Catechism, and the CDF to be "invitational." I certainly do. I find it odd that priests who are, as they themselves protest, concerned for the development of homosexual persons within the Catholic faith would somehow find the Church's "invitational" language obnoxious. The only reason I can see for their disgust is a belief that anything the Church says about homosexuality and homosexual actions should be taken as a complete description of a homosexual person's "being." The Church, of course, says otherwise:
"The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition."[9]


Sacred Scripture condemns homosexual acts "as a serious depravity["] . . . This judgment of Scripture does not of course permit us to conclude that all those who suffer from this anomaly are personally responsible for it, but it does attest to the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." . . . Nonetheless, according to the teaching of the Church, men and women with homosexual tendencies "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided". They are called, like other Christians, to live the virtue of chastity.[10]
Why should anyone, let alone a priest, be offended by this language? It's what the Church says about everyone: "[H]uman nature . . . is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called 'concupiscence'."[11] Are we supposed to be "offended" by the notion that we have disordered inclinations? If so, it's small wonder that people almost killed Jesus a number of times before Calvary; his "invitational" message of a disordered humanity which must repent of its depravity and follow Him must have seemed unutterably "vile and toxic."

The fact is that God calls everyone -- God invites everyone -- to abandon our particular brands of disorder, shamefulness, perversity, and unholy lust so that we can receive life in the Kingdom. Only a frightened and arrogant glutton would insist that he can accept God's invitation without changing anything besides the teaching that says his fondest affections are actually disordered vices. But critics of Church teaching on homosexuality do precisely that whenever they insist, as the fathers have done, on ignoring Catholicism's distinction between a homosexual person, a homosexual attraction, and a decision to engage in homosexuality. The only reason anyone would want to ignore that merciful and wonderful distinction is if he believes that the celebration and fulfillment of a person's homosexual inclinations is such a divine and vital part of human life that the teaching of God's Church must be judged against it rather than the other way around.

"For many gay and lesbian Catholics, this most recent series of attacks has forced them, out of self-respect and self-love, to withdraw from active participation in the Church and question how they can remain members of a Church they experience as abusive."

The "abusiveness" of Church language about homosexuality is no more "abusive" than the Church's description of anyone else's intrinsically-disordered inclinations to evil. This rebuke is, therefore, a very odd one from priests who, one should expect, are dedicated to helping us triumph over our disordered inclinations rather than helping us cherish a particular species of disorder. Other than the managerialism mentioned above I can't think what might prompt a priest into such cosseting unless it's a very misplaced idea of Christian sympathy.

I remember when the Holy Father condemned lust in marriage. One didn't see many heterosexual married Catholics perceiving that as an "attack" and leaving the Church from self-respect and self-love. Granted, few people understand the Church's teaching on sex within marriage. But then few people (including, apparently, the priests who wrote this letter) have grappled seriously with the Church's teaching on homosexuality. Where one finds parallels with homosexuality, I think, is with people who are "forced" by "attacks" on the idea of dissolvable marriages to leave a Church they experience as "abusive" because self-respect and self-love require them to marry, divorce, remarry, divorce, etc. More poignant is the plight of people who hear the Church say that what they were originally told were valid marriages (often of long duration and sometimes accompanied by large families) were actually not valid marriages in contradiction of their own sincerest beliefs and desires. No doubt some of these people are simply angry over the Church's refusal to spite their partner by refusing him or her permission to marry another, but the varieties of human experience counsels that not all (or even many) of them become angry from such unworthy motives.

It's difficult to identify the point at which one should no longer be sympathetic with people in these situations; it must be especially difficult for priests whose hearts are rightly consumed with affection for their parishioners. But I think sympathy must end when people begin speaking and behaving as though the Church has no right to trammel upon -- or even destroy -- their temporal happiness. The entire concept of discipleship depends on abandoning one's rights to dictate the terms of one's own happiness. "If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:26-27 (DRV). The Church calls men in this world to destroy many things which are delightful to them. She calls on industrialists to destroy unacceptable sources of wealth. She calls on governments to destroy intrinsically-evil means of power. She demands that artists forego opportunities and experiences which are as attractive as they are ultimately destructive of human dignity.

The Church does these things because she knows that industrialists, presidents, and artists -- like homosexuals, like all of us -- suffer from intrinsically-disordered orientations: "[H]uman nature . . . is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called 'concupiscence'."[12] Granted, homosexuals do not have the kind of temporal power enjoyed by industrialists and governments and so homosexuals are susceptible to Church discipline with a particular and disparate immediacy. That is one of the reasons some homosexuals clamor for the Church to recognize in them same kind of institutionalized power which she must recognize in states and industry. Still, the redemption of the human person through the teaching, prayer, and sacraments of Christ's own Body isn't contingent on the similar redemption of every other, or any other, group or person. "[H]e said to another: Follow me. And he said: Lord, suffer me first to go and to bury my father. And Jesus said to him: Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God." Luke 9:61 (DRV).

We can't expect corporate industrialists to obey the Church and forego exploitative methods of making money if we claim for ourselves the right to disobediently dictate the terms of our own happiness. We can't demand that our governments heed the Church and stop inflicting the death penalty in ways that violate human dignity if we claim an independent right to decide the meaning and purpose of our lives. Sympathy must stop when war is, however tacitly, declared against the Church's ability to rule over us. For a Catholic, indulging fantasies about an individual's superior right to interpret and apply God's teaching about anything, most particularly about ourselves, is not discipleship. It's hypocrisy, and these priests are unintentionally making it into a virtue. By all means, let the Church be held to herself, and her leaders' actions also be measured by her rule. But once we take "self-love" and "self-respect" as things sufficient in themselves to justify rejection of Church teaching as "abusive," we've turned our backs on God altogether no matter how much we might pat Him on the head occasionally and trot Him out as a metaphor for our own choices.

"It is not possible to minister to and with the needs of our homosexual brothers and sisters with language of this tone as a foundation."

This is not a straightforward and reliable criticism about anything, because the fathers' criticisms can't be honestly understood as being confined to simple complaints about style and rhetoric: They themselves admit their criticisms are also directed at the "content" of Church teaching. If there is something about the "tone" of Church teaching on the evil of concupiscence manifested in homosexuality that can be changed while clearly and forcefully conveying the content of Church teaching, surely the fathers ought to be able to explain what that is. I doubt they can do so, and they themselves don't even try. If there's a way to tell someone that his most intense glimpse of human happiness is contrary to the goodness, beauty, and holiness of God without the risk that your message will be experienced as "toxic," "abusive," and "vile," no one's found it in 2,000 years. For that reason alone one ought to expect a little more moderation and a little less hysteria in the fathers' appreciation of how the CDF and God have handled the same dilemma.

Still, the fathers are probably right as to the impossibility of ministering to some, perhaps many, of their homosexual parishioners. "Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it, said: This saying is hard; and who can hear it?" John 6:60 (DRV). It must be very difficult to minister to someone if your ministry requires standing for things that will be perceived -- however charitably or neutrally they are in reality -- as "toxic," "vile," and "abusive." Here are other burdens for these good priests to carry, for the Church has trammeled on what would otherwise be sources of their own happiness as pastors. Like the widow who wants to know if her husband is in Heaven, these priests' homosexual parishioners cannot be told what they most deeply (and understandably) desire to hear; they cannot be told things which any decent and compassionate priest would love to be able to tell them.

There is a cost to discipleship, intimately connected to the very purpose of discipleship -- to become something that is unexpected and, at times, distinctly uncomfortable. "If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." John 15:19 (DRV). No doubt a ministry to a corporate boardroom or the guest list at Playboy Mansion would be impossible given the "tone" of what the Church has to say about capitalism and sexual license. But a Church which has only positive and assuring words to say about capitalism and orgies wouldn't be worth following. It wouldn't be able to protect man from himself, a necessity which should also cause us to be wary of "affirming the goodness" of people without making any distinctions about how they can be good and how they can be bad.

"The Catholic Church is most catholic when it is inclusive and embracing, and least reflective of the gospel of Jesus when it is exclusive and rigid. For this reason, we also want to affirm the many pastoral and positive statements by certain bishops and bishops' conferences (e.g. "Always Our Children")."

This confuses the Church's call to evangelism with a criteria that judges the Church by human standards, as though "catholicity" were a matter of demographics. Catholicity can't be judged according to how many diversities of opinion or lifestyle are spared contradiction or rebuke. If it were otherwise, being "catholic" would only mean "having a pulse." The Church of Christ is not "most catholic" when it allows anyone to think and do anything. The Church of Christ is only "most catholic" when it's universally preaching the universal truths of God to the universe.

That's why the priests' repeated appeal to "Always Our Children" (hereafter "Always"), a pastoral statement of the United States Conference of Catholic bishops to the parents and priests of homosexual persons, is so bizzare. After reading the fathers' vilification of the CDF's statement prohibiting homosexual marriage, one would expect that the fathers praise "Always" because it somehow contradicts the CDF. To the contrary, the texts of the documents match almost perfectly. In "Always," the bishops note that "our total personhood is more encompassing than sexual orientation," which directly contradicts the priests' own assumption that describing a homosexual orientation as "disordered" or as an "evil" somehow denies the dignity of the homosexual person. Like the CDF and the Catechism, "Always," makes a distinction between a homosexual orientation and sinful choices to express that orientation in sexual acts: "By itself, therefore, a homosexual orientation cannot be considered sinful, for morality presumes the freedom to choose." (There is no statement by the CDF or the Catechism that a homosexual orientation is, by itself and without any choice on the part of the person who has it, a sin).

The bishops go on to say that a homosexual person has the power and freedom to use his sexuality for "evil." Homosexuals are reminded that "the chaste life is possible, though not always easy, for it involves a continual effort to turn toward God and away from sin, especially with the strength of the sacraments of Penance and Eucharist." They say that this continual conversion requires realizing two truths:
First, it is God's plan that sexual intercourse occur only within marriage between a man and a woman. Second, every act of intercourse must be open to the possible creation of new human life. Homosexual intercourse cannot fulfill these two conditions. Therefore, the Church teaches that homogenital behavior is objectively immoral, while making the important distinction between this behavior and a homosexual orientation, which is not immoral in itself.[13]
If the CDF must be rebuked for saying that homosexuality is "objectively disordered," it's difficult to understand why these priests don't rebuke the NCCB for saying that acting on that inclination is "objectively immoral." If the CDF must be censured for saying that Catholics should oppose the spread of homosexual marriage, it's difficult to understand why the NCCB shouldn't be censured for directing parents and priests of homosexual persons to counsel them to live chastely. If the CDF is to be castigated for attempting to deny homosexuals' rights to marriage, the NCCB should be condemned for explaining that the Church will rightly "deny public roles of service and leadership to . . . homosexual[s] . . . whose public behavior openly violates its teachings."[14]

The only reason I can see for the priests' favorable attitude about "Always" lies in a criticism of the document by Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz:
[T]his document fail to take into account the latest revision in the authentic Latin version of The Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding homosexuality, but it juxtaposes several quotes from the Catechism in order to pretend falsely and preposterously that the Catechism says homosexuality is a gift from God and should be accepted as a fixed and permanent identity.[15]
Bishop Bruskewitz refers to this section of "Always":
A deep respect for the total person leads the Church to hold and teach that sexuality is a gift of God. Being created a male or a female person is an essential part of the divine plan, for it is their sexuality ? a mysterious blend of spirit and body ? that allows human beings to share in God's own creative love and life. "Everyone...should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2333).[16]
Bishop Bruskewitz's criticism is inaccurate. Paragraph 2333 is directed at men and women, who are told to accept their sexual identity and realize that manhood and womanhood are complementary and "oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life." But "Always" also identifies the gift of sexuality as the gift of being created a male or female person. The real problem is the USCC's tagging the quoted sentence of the Catechism onto the paragraph in such a way as to render the document vulnerable to heterodox suggestions in the reader's mind that homosexuality is a third identity given by God to be celebrated and approved like masculinity and femininity. But this kind of vulnerability is as far as "Always" goes; the document certainly doesn't establish an "alternative" teaching that contradicts the CDF's description of our obligations to oppose the phenomenon of homosexual marriage; withhold approval and celebrity from the phenomenon of homosexual orientation; or regard homosexual acts as depraved and evil.[17]

The priests' appeal to "Always" is one of the most disturbing things about their letter. If the fathers are to read "Always" as contradicting Considerations, the Catechism, and Scripture, they must first make "Always" into a toybox of vague phrases, statements ripped from contexts, and plastic suggestions vulnerable to heterodox manipulation. In short, they would have to accept the truth of Bishop Bruskewitz' rash criticisms, which do set "Always" in opposition to the CDF and the Catechism -- except that, unlike the good Bishop, these priests would be approving of what Bishop Bruskewitz (wrongly) found in the document. Astonishingly, one of the letter's authors tells us that this is precisely how the fathers read "Always":
A principal drafter of the letter, Fr. Richard Prendergast, pastor of a suburban parish, said he was moved to take action in part by the experience of a lesbian couple in his parish. They had adopted a baby from an orphanage in a foreign country. She was considered developmentally impaired when she arrived in the United States. Prendergast said that now, 18 months later, the couple has "loved her back to a normal level" of development. "To call their loving of that child an abomination is outrageous," he said. [18]
The problem with these hyperventilations is that neither Fr. Prendergast nor any of his colleagues will be able to point out where, exactly, the Catechism or the CDF has ever said that loving and caring for a child is an "abomination." One can make that leap only by intruding the morality of a lesbian marriage into the scene, like a drunk allowed into an art gallery, and then complaining about how everyone admires painting and tolerates drunks but no one wants to appreciate the beauty of ripped canvas. It's very difficult to understand Fr. Prendergast's comments outside of a commitment to rewriting the Gospel so that homosexuality and heterosexuality become equally-magnificent expressions of God's love. That's a frightening prospect, because it would mean that Fr. Prendergast and his colleagues have effectively been betraying their parishioners' pastoral rights to authentic Church teaching.[19]

"The Church's theology, including her moral teaching, is always in dialogue with the broader lived experience of her members, which shapes and rearticulates the ancient deposit of faith. We encourage a new atmosphere of openness to dialogue which includes the lived experience of many Catholic members. We recognize the blessings of countless homosexuals in a variety of relationships. We believe their experiences must be listened to respectfully."

Yes, of course, but to what end? Are the fathers arguing that we can profit from the lived experience of homosexual Catholics to "rearticulate" the Church's authentic and immutable teaching on human sexuality, or do they want us to "rewrite" that teaching? The fathers' earlier ambiguity on this point continues.

"While we do not know the reasons for the increasingly violent and abusive language, we deplore it as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ and ask that it stop immediately."

As noted, the fathers have done nothing to explain why the Church is using "violent and abusive language" when it describes concupiscence manifested in homosexual attractions as "intrinsically disordered" or homosexual actions themselves as "intrinsically immoral." That being the case, one can only read this request as either nonsense or an request that Church to stop teaching mankind about sexuality.

"Furthermore, we request that all those in official positions of teaching authority in the Church refrain from any more statements directed AT the gay and lesbian members of the Body of Christ, and instead begin an earnest dialogue WITH those same members of the Body of Christ."

This entirely ignores the fact that Considerations, like the Catechism (or, for that matter, the Bible) isn't directed "AT" gay and lesbian people any more than it's directed "AT" the rest of the human race. The Gospel being the Gospel, what sort of "dialogue" is the Church supposed to have with homosexuals that doesn't involve talking about the disordered nature of their inclinations and the immorality of homosexual acts? Apparently the Church isn't to have any such kind of dialogue, because it would be castigating homosexuals with language that the Church refuses to use with murderers, pimps, and drug-dealers.
Another signer, Fr. Robert McLaughlin, also a suburban pastor, said, "It seems so simple that you don't talk to anyone the way the church talks to lesbians and gays. We don't even talk to mafia dons that way. Can't we respond to people in pastoral language?"[20]
Fr. McLaughlin has managed to be absolutely correct and entirely wrong at the same time. The Church doesn't talk to homosexuals the way it talks to mafia bosses:
USA TODAY -- Pope John Paul II was on an anti-mafia crusade through Sicily Sunday as he paid tribute to magistrates killed by the mafia. He urged young Italians to have the courage to reject organized crime. "God once said, `Don't kill.' Man, any man, any group of men, the mafia, can't change and trample this most sacred law of God!" the pope said as he lashed out at mafia bosses, warning they face the wrath of God unless they forsake their ways. The pope reportedly spoke in a voice shaking with rage and his outburst - at the end of his second visit to Sicily in his papacy - was the Roman Catholic Church's strongest condemnation of organized crime. Before returning to the Vatican, the pope met with the parents of murdered Judge Rosario Livatino. The mafia is believed to have ordered Livatino's slaying after he refused to let the mafia sway him in issuing a sentence.[21]


NAPLES, Italy, MAR. 22, 2001 ( Calls for justice and democratic participation were among the antidotes proposed to challenge the mafia, as Italy marked a day of commemoration for its victims.

The Sixth National Day of Remembrance and Commitment in Honor of Victims of the Mafia, celebrated Wednesday, was an initiative promoted and coordinated by Catholic clergy.

The idea was launched in 1995 by Father Luigi Ciotti, with the foundation of Libera, a network of 700 organizations, to struggle against the mafia by teaching respect for law.

On Wednesday, three events took place to highlight the anti-mafia struggle. One was in the context of the 4th Congress of Sicilian Churches, being held in Acireale. Another was at Torre Annunziata, a city near Naples, where the area?s mafia, the Camorra, is dominant. The third was in Palermo, capital of Sicily and symbol of the Italian mafia.

At Acireale, the Catholic Church of Sicily remembered the numerous Catholic laymen and priests who were killed by the mafia for opposing its regime of terror and "culture of death."

Priests and journalists met to honor the memory of the dead and agreed that activities must be promoted so that their sacrifice will not be forgotten. The dead also will serve as models to combat the mafia through education and respect for the law, the priests and journalists said.[22]
The Church doesn't sponsor a Day of Remembrance and Commitment in Honor of Victims of Homosexuals in which the people are exhorted to "oppose homosexuality," and homosexuals are described as forming "regime of terror and 'culture of death.'" One doesn't see the Pope (or any bishop) "shaking with rage" as he threatens active homosexuals with the wrath of God unless they live chastely, and one can search Considerations and the Catechism in vain for such thundering language. No, the Church definitely doesn't talk to (or "AT") homosexuals the way it talks to mafia bosses.

What the Church does do, as Cardinal George of Chicago pointed out in response to the letter, is use "philosophical and theological language in a society that understands, at best, only psychological and political terms."[23] These priests are experiencing pastoral problems because their Church is speaking rationally and reasonably to people who are too uneducated, too selfish, or too unstable to realize that their "rights" and their "feelings" aren't the center of the universe. According to the National Catholic Reporter, Cardinal George says this theological language "does not help us in welcoming men and women of homosexual orientation." He's probably right. The purpose of the CDF and the Catechism isn't to make men and women of homosexual orientation feel "welcome" in the Church or, for that matter, to feel anything at all. Their purpose is to clearly and accurate describe Church teaching, and this brings us back to a "pastoral" perspective.

Welcoming sinners into the Body of Christ is a job for priests. Priests shouldn't be fanning fears and nursing grudges in their homosexual parishioners by translating the Church's theological/philosophical statements into personal psychological rebukes and nightmare persecution scenarios ("Does anyone consider this vile and toxic language invitational?"). Fr. McLaughlin, Fr. Prendergast, and their colleagues ought to know better than that. Their insistence on a course of action which must, as a necessary by-product, torture parishioners with lunatic descriptions of Church teaching (that, for example, the love of a child is an abomination if you're gay; if you're gay you're altogether and unredeemably sick and disordered; if you're gay you have to be excluded from all human society) is a form of pastoral abuse as ugly as anything which they try to lay on Cardinal Ratzinger's doorstep.

The Church isn't to blame because God chose to design men and women so that homosexual attraction isn't "objectively ordered" and homosexual marriage isn't "objectively moral." When the Church points out what God has done, she's not talking "AT" gay and lesbian people any more than she's talking "AT" heterosexuals when she condemns fornication and adultery. It's quite normal for someone to wish that the Church wouldn't talk "AT" them. I've certainly wished that the Church wouldn't talk "AT" me when it condemns the sins to which my disordered inclinations lead. No less a saint than Augustine experienced irritation at God's talking "AT" him about his sins: "But, wretched youth that I was . . . I had entreated chastity of thee and had prayed, ?Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.' For I was afraid lest thou shouldst hear me too soon, and too soon cure me of my disease of lust which I desired to have satisfied rather than extinguished."[24]

The Church should have no objections to beginning an earnest dialogue with homosexual Catholics about why homosexuality isn't good, isn't normal, and why homosexual attractions are invitations to a life plagued by misery and mortal sin. But the priests' letter, together with their comments in the National Catholic Reporter, leave little doubt that this isn't the kind of "dialogue"[25] they have in mind. They seem to want permission for their flocks to live Augustine's wretched youth, knowing that something's wrong but not having the courage to do anything about it. The fathers forget that Augustine's youth was wretched because of his fear (itself a product of the Fall) that God really wanted him to be miserable and unhappy. Watching priests wholeheartedly encouraging that same tyrannous fear in their flocks, calling for a "dialogue" that really is nothing more than a conspiracy to resist the truth, is a miserable spectacle. If one wants to identify a major cause of needless suffering among homosexuals in the Catholic Church, one need look no further than priests like Fr. McLaughlin, Fr. Prendergast, and their colleagues.

"For our part, we pledge to treat all who seek to continue their faith journey with us with respect and dignity, regardless of their sexual orientation."

This pledge, unfortunately, suffers from the ambiguity which dominates the fathers' letter. If they're pledging to comfort their parishioners with promises of God's love and the resulting possibility of wholesome chastity then they're good priests. But if they're promising to perpetuate an anti-Gospel that describes Scripture's message about homosexual acts as "vile" and "toxic" they're not exactly tributes to St. John Vianney's legacy of pastoral concern. Cardinal George made an apt, if understated, comment about the signatories when he said: "If you yourself cannot resolve that tension between welcoming people as they are and still calling them to leave their sinfulness . . . or if you yourself do not accept the church's moral teaching on the use of the gift of sexuality, it would be all the more important for us to talk."[26]

"We join the countless men and women, heterosexual and homosexual, who seek justice, mercy and compassion in and through the Catholic Church."

Yes, that's fine with me, although I might wish for "truth" to have been included in the list. Without truth, justice cannot be known, mercy cannot be asked, and compassion cannot be shown.

"We extend an invitation all who share our concern to duplicate this letter, sign it, and send it to their pastor, local bishop, National Bishop's Conference or the Vatican."

Again, for what purpose? Having read what I've read, I can only surmise that the fathers want positive proof that Gresham's law is applicable to theological and pastoral discussions.


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, ? 1700.

[2] "And one of them, a doctor of the law, asked him, tempting him: Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets." Matthew 22:35-40 (DRV).

[3] 2 Peter 3:16.

[4] "[W]hen Marcion, after whom the Marcionites are called, met the holy Polycarp on one occasion, and said 'Recognize us, Polycarp[?]' he said in reply to Marcion, 'Yes indeed, I recognize the firstborn of Satan.'" The Letter of the Smyrneans or Martyrdom of Polycarp, J.B. Lightfoot, trans. The entire text can be found here.

[5] St. Jerome, Against Helvidius, ? 1. The full text can be found here.

[6] The full text of Considerations can be found here. Henceforth in the notes, the document will be referred to by that shorthand title.

[7] Eusebius of Caesarea, Proof of the Gospel, 4:10. I am aware that Christians of other confessions might dispute my identification of Eusebius of Caesarea or any other early-Church personage with the Roman Catholic Church. Since, however, I'm dealing with Roman Catholic priests writing to Roman Catholic Bishops about the nature of Roman Catholicism, I think I may be pardoned for failing to include apologetics on this subject.

[8] Catechism of the Catholic Church, ? 2357.

[9] Catechism of the Catholic Church, ? 2358.

[10] Considerations ? 4.

[11] Catechism of the Catholic Church, ? 405.

[12] Id.

[13] National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Committee on Marriage and Family, "Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers." The full text can be found here.. As in the text, references to this document will be to "Always."

[14] Id.

[15] Bp. Fabian Bruskewitz, "On Always Our Children." The full text can be found here.

[16] NCCB, "Always."

[17] Bishop Bruskewitz's response is filled with hasty condemnations that do his magnificent (and deserved) reputation little justice. He contends that "Always" is "wicked to counsel parents not to intervene, but rather to adopt a ?wait and see' attitude when they find their adolescent children ?experimenting' with homosexual acts. Parents have a grave moral duty to prevent their children from committing mortal sins when they can." But that's not what "Always" actually counsels:
The second way to communicate love is to seek appropriate help for your child and for yourself. If your son or daughter is an adolescent, it is possible that he or she may be experimenting with some homosexual behaviors as part of the process of coming to terms with sexual identity. Isolated acts do not make someone homosexual. Adolescence is often accompanied by anxiety or confusion about sexual identity. Sometimes the best approach may be a "wait and see" attitude, while you try to maintain a trusting relationship and provide various kinds of support, information, and encouragement.
I think the fairer reading of "Always" is that a parent is to "wait and see" if a child's homosexual behavior is a transient attraction that can be healed and replaced by a more mature and developed sense of sexuality and faith before reacting as though it's really a deeper and more permanent problem that requires a lifelong familial coping process.

Further, Bishop Bruskewitz would have us read "Always" as addressing "experimenting with homosexual acts" such as intercourse, which is mortal sin, when the document's actual phrase ("some homosexual behaviors") may involve things (like saying "I love you" to a friend of the same sex) that might be disturbing in context but whose sinfulness is far more difficult to determine. Bishop Bruskewitz likewise overlooks the fact that the performance of a parent's "grave moral duty" to "prevent sin" by children (of any age) may be limited to "providing various kinds of support, information and encouragement." Assuming that this means helping a child live paganism's dream of responsible and fulfilling homosexuality rather than using catechesis, prayer, and urgings to faithful chastity is -- regardless of our justified suspicions about the NCCB's enthusiastic fidelity to the magisterium -- a rash judgment.

Sometimes Bishop Bruskewitz's criticism of "Always" borders on the nonsensical. He writes, "[t]he document says to parents, ?Do not blame yourselves for a homosexual orientation in your child'. Many scientists and psychologists say that the orientation is likely and often due to certain parental defects, which are usually unconsciously present, and proper therapy requires that these matters be confronted." Yes, indeed, but since Bishop Bruskewitz himself says these parental defects are "usually unconsciously present" and since sin requres knowledge, assent, and voluntariness, it's difficult to understand why the NCCB erroneously suggests that a parent shouldn't judge his failings as though they were blameworthy sins. It's also worth noting that the same paragraph of "Always" says: "Do everything possible to continue demonstrating love for your child. However, accepting his or her homosexual orientation does not have to include approving all related attitudes and behavioral choices. In fact, you may need to challenge certain aspects of a lifestyle which you find objectionable."

[18] Robert J. McClory, "Priests Protest Language on Gays," National Catholic Reporter, 1/9/04. The full text can be found here.

[19] "Lay people have the duty and the right to acquire the knowledge of Christian teaching which is appropriate to each one's capacity and condition, so that they may be able to live according to this teaching, to proclaim it and if necessary to defend it, and may be capable of playing their part in the exercise of the apostolate. " Code of Canon Law, Can. 229 ?1 (1983).

[20] Robert J. McClory, "Priests Protest Language on Gays," National Catholic Reporter, 1/9/04. The full text can be found here. Henceforth "Priests Protest."

[21] USA Today, "Pope Strongly Condemns Mafia Durign Second Visit to Sicily." 5/10/93. The article is only available by payment. I have quoted it in full.

[22] ZENIT, "A Day to Rally Support Against the Mafia," 3/22/01. The full text is available here.

[23] "Priests Protest."

[24] St. Augustine, Confessions, Bk. VIII, Ch. vii, ? 17.

[25] For a very good explanation of what "dialogue" actually means, see I. Shawn McElhinney's essay on the subject, On the Intricacies of Dialogue

[26] "Priests Protest."

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