Regardless of what position you personally may hold in the question of “outing” priests, I think it laudable that there is a considered and lively discussion within the LGBT community, of both the ethical concerns owed to individuals and the demands of justice. I am grateful to all of you who took the time to write comments on my posts. Some of those comments were supportive of concerns which I voiced and some were challenging of those comments. However, all comments were both helpful and valued.
This is a matter which will affect many people both personally and profoundly, so it needs to be treated very carefully. At the same time, LGBT people have struggled for decades and many have actually lost their lives, in an attempt to simply be able to be. To be able to live free from socially imposed shame. Free to live without fear of verbal, emotional, physical abuse and discrimination at the work place and in housing. As I write these words I am painfully cognizant that there are those in this society, and internationally, who would very much like to see us exterminated, or at least made to live invisible and fear filled lives.
This past week alone, the parliament of Uganda considered legislation which would make being a homosexual in that country punishable by life imprisonment and/or death. Cardinal Barragan announced that “homosexuals and transgendered will not go to heaven.” The cardinal’s statement is presumptuous assuming only God can judge individuals; however, such statements engender and encourage both bigotry and hate crimes here on Earth. Many Catholics commenting on the cardinal’s statement have stated that the cardinal does not represent the “official” teachings of the Church on this matter. This is technically accurate. However, if he had stated that “contraception is morally permissible for good Catholics” he would have been instantly reprimanded by Benedict XVI or his representative.
The cardinal would have been forced to make a public retraction of his statement along with a public apology. Please note that the Pope has not reacted to the cardinal’s theologically inaccurate and inflammatory statement. The silence and inaction of the Pope regarding the cardinal therefore, must be interpreted as the cardinal speaking in place of the Pope. This is a way in which Benedict XVI can effect change without actually personally declaring a change of policy. This taken in conjunction with many prominent Roman Catholic bishops signing the Manhattan Declaration, without any correction from the Vatican, clearly denotes a new much more aggressive stance against LGBT minorities by Benedict XVI. It also reveals an intention on the part of Benedict XVI to try and dictate civil law in America and elsewhere.
The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has changed its position on the question of homosexual people. It has done so twice in the last 39 years. In 1975, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Church’s watchdog for orthodoxy) produced a document entitled: “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics.” In this document, they made the most remarkable statement. They stated that there are “homosexuals who are such because of some kind of innate instinct.” That statement was made towards the end of the Papacy of Paul VI and it reflected new insights gained from the science of psychology. Theologians informed by the human science and pastoral experience came to the realization that St. Paul’s statements regarding homosexuality where the product of scientific errors and social prejudices of his time. St. Paul’s statements regarding homosexuality were not revealed truths, but rather the product of the human limitations of an inspired author of Scripture.
This radical change in the understanding of homosexuality in the Scriptures opened the way to a new sensitivity towards homosexual persons which sought to offer them pastoral support to assist them in creating and sustaining life affirming relationships. These new theological insights were made possible both by the advances in human science and by the Second Vatican Council which was for the Roman Catholic Church a “second Pentecost.”
All of this began to change under the papacy of John Paul II in 1978. One of the changes mandated by the Second Vatican was the creation of a new code of Canon [Church] law. The new code was promulgated in the mid 1980’s. John Paul II personally edited the new code’s law on marriage. As originally written, the law was gender neutral leaving the very real possibility that it could be applied to same sex couples. John Paul II personally altered the language to read so that it could only be applied to opposite sex couples.
As John Paul’s papacy continued he used the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI), as an enforcer to crack down on bishops who offered pastoral support to homosexual people. Most notable the Hunthausen intervention in Seattle, in which Donald Wuerl was used as an instrument of Ratzinger to force the Archbishop of Seattle to abandon his pastoral services to LGBT people. The same heavy handed approach forced Archbishop Quinn of San Francisco into a nervous breakdown and an early retirement. Quinn was replaced by William Levada who greatly limited and/or dismantled LGBT ministries in San Francisco. This earned Levada a promotion to cardinal and a new job as head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Beginning with the papacy of John Paul II and continuing with the papacy of Benedict XVI, the Roman Catholic Church has effected a reversal of the papacy of Paul VI. This reversal is an about-face on several issues. Some of these include an aperture to the ordination of women, the autonomy of Catholic Universities from hierarchical control (John Paul II dictated that the discussion of the ordination of women, even by university professors with their students was forbidden), the question of mandatory celibacy for priestly ordination, the pastoral care of homosexual Catholics and of the ecclesiological changes initiated at the Second Vatican Council. The Council had envisioned a collaborative governing relationship between individual bishops and the pope. The reality created by John Paul II and Benedict XVI is a highly centralized monarchical system in which individual bishops are little more than subordinate branch managers.
In a theology of Liberation, Gustavo Gutierrez and Leonardo Boff speak of systemic injustice. Essentially what he means by the term is that a particular institution/system so stacks the deck against justice that it itself must be radically changed for justice to stand any chance at being realized. Boff continues to be a controversial figure in the Catholic Church, primarily for his sharp criticism of the church's hierarchy, which he sees as "fundamentalist" ("A cardinal like J. Ratzinger, who publishes an official paper stating that the only true Church is the Catholic Church, and the others aren't even churches, that the only legitimate religion is Catholicism and the others don't even possess a faith, being just beliefs, perpetrates religious terrorism, besides being a grave theological error".) It appears that under Ratzinger (the Roman Catholic Church has reached that point. Many within the Church wait for the next Conclave [election of a new pope] with the hope that another John XXIII will be sent to us by the Holy Spirit. That the errors of Ratzinger will be revisited and corrected. That the work begun at the Second Vatican Council will be taken up again and brought to completion.
Henri Belloc wrote that “hope is a light diet, but very sustaining.” That is an inspiring and noble sentiment; however, St. Augustine said “Pray as if all depends on God, but act as if all depends on you.” This brings us to the question of “priest outing” as a tool for forcing change not merely “in” the Church; but rather, “of” the Church. If forced outing of a large percentage of priests were to occur it would shake the Church to its very core. It would be covered by the news media and therefore, in the consciousness of lay Catholics. It would expose not the tortured lives of individual priests; but rather, the hypocrisy of the hierarchy who are not merely complicit in these myriad of double-lives but, are part of a system which benefits (in wealth and power) from such a monstrous arrangement.
Outing anyone is a touchy issue. Being forced out against one’s will, even when done with the most selfless and pure motives, even when it is done out of love for the one being forced out, is suspect. As I considered this issue I suddenly remembered my first day of school. I was a small child and I vividly remember that morning. After breakfast Mom bundled me up and gave me my cigar box with my school supplies. She then kissed me, opened the front door of the house and gently forced me out. I was crying terribly, I didn’t want to leave home. I thought Mom was being cruel. There I stood on the front porch with my cigar box and then, I started to walk up the hill towards school. I made new friends, I learned wonderful things and I got to use my crayons and color outside the lines. Mom knew that I’d be safe. She knew that this would help me grow and be happy. Are these the motives of people who out someone else?
I had the opportunity to have an extended telephone conversation with the founder of www.churchouting.org I was very relieved and encouraged both by his warmth and genuine concern for individual priests. I believe that his motives towards priests is wholesome. If what he is attempting succeeds, I believe it will be a liberation both for many priests and for the greater Church. May God grant him the wisdom of Solomon and the charity of St. Francis, he’ll need both. In speaking with a former priest two days ago, he suggested the formation of spiritual support groups for priests and perhaps even a program to help those leaving active ministry to transition into secular society and jobs. All of these are good thoughts, hopefully they will materialize into helpful realities. I would invite Catholic legislators to seriously look at exemptions which have been given to the institutional Church. While many of these exemptions were granted out of charity towards the Church, many of them are in fact tyrannies imposed on individual priests. For example, laws which permit bishops to strip a priest of a pension, should he leave active ministry after decades of service. Laws which exempt priests from the protection of labor laws.
Public outings of priests in various dioceses would force the hierarchy to reconsider many of their public statements and policies. It would cause the general public to view statements by the hierarchy on sexual morality with greater scrutiny. It would undermine the ability of bishops to usurp the role of politicians by dictating how they are to vote. A bishop’s place is in the sanctuary not the halls of government.
- Boycott the Knights of Columbus
- A wedding sermon.
- An open letter to my parish community.
- Why was a college student in the car of drunken Archbishop-elect Cordileone at 12:26 AM, when Cordileone was arrested for a DUI?
- When the Church married Same-Sex couples.
- The Supreme Court’s Decisions and the New Mason-Dixon Line
- How It All began
- What the Vatican & American bishops DO NOT want you (and Politicians) to know.
- The Morality of Sex, gay & straight.
- San Francisco in archbishop Cordileone’s sight