Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sleight of hand

Speaking in Barcelona, Spain on November 7th Benedict XVI stated: "The generous and indissoluble love of a man and a woman is the effective context and foundation of human life in its gestation, birth, growth and natural end." Let’s examine Benedict’s statement more closely.

Indissoluble” In plain English this means that divorce is forbidden (and should be illegal, but we can’t quite pull that off yet). Benedict would point to the Gospel as the scriptural proof for this statement. However, the Catholic Church itself finds a legal way around these scriptural requirements for heterosexual couples.

“Context and foundation” Well, yes and no, Yes, biological reproduction necessitates a sperm and an egg. However, not all heterosexual marriages are capable of biological reproduction. The first marriage I officiated as a priest was between two people in there 70’s. The Catholic Church has always recognized marriages incapable of biological reproduction as valid and sacramental marriages. In fact, in the marriage rites of the Catholic Church references to children appear in red brackets. This is so the priest may easily omit such references in the cases where the begetting of children is impossible. So if two heterosexuals (who are incapable of reproduction) may enter into marriage, which the Catholic Church defines as a “Union of Love and Life”, then why can’t two people homosexuals enter into marriage?

Benedict employs a false logic when he creates a false opposition between heterosexual marriage and Same-sex marriage. How specifically and exactly do Same-sex marriages endanger, or undermine heterosexual marriages? Benedict and Maggie Gallagher desperately avoid these logical fine points, because this is where logic fails them and reveals their arguments as mere bigotry.

At the start of the visit on Saturday the Pope compared the "aggressive lay mentality, anticlericalism and secularisation" of modern Spain to that of the 1930s, when the church suffered a wave of violence and persecution as the country lurched from an unstable democracy to civil war.During that time the church claims that 4,184 members of the clergy were put to death by supporters of the Republican cause for their perceived backing of General Francisco Franco, whose 36-year fascist dictatorship ended with his death in 1975. The comparison angered many. An editorial in Spain's left-leaning newspaper El Pais declared such an opinion to be based on "ignorance"

The problem with Benedict’s historical references is that they focus on a true historic event; however, they are cited out of context. It would be the equivalent of citing General Sherman’s burning of Atlanta or the fire bombing of Dresden by the Union/Allies as immoral acts. Yes, one may certainly make a moral case against both of those historic acts; however, they must be read within the greater historic context in which they occurred. The Confederacy and the Third Reich through their governmental injustices contributed to the conditions that contributed to these acts. Likewise, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Spain after centuries of abuse helped to create the conditions that contributed to the acts of the Spanish Republic.

Benedict said "at a time in which man claims to be able to build his life without God, as if God had nothing to say to him." The percentage of atheists in our country is rather small. I don't think that most people in our society have a problem with God; but rather, with those who claim to be God's official spokespersons. In the case of Benedict and the catholic hierarchy, especially in the light of the Sex Abuse Cover-Up Scandal, I fully understand and empathize with their skepticism.


The Honourable Husband said...

As always, Geoff, a lucid and cogent argument.

It shocks me how blatantly the Church seeks to rewrite history. The murder of 4184 priests under Franco was both sinful and tragic. So was the murder of tens of thousands of others under Franco. Many were political opponents of the Catholic Church, so we hear no mention of them from the Pope.

I shudder to think of those murdered with the Church's blessing and often active participation, during the Spanish Inquisition. It was a similar number, I understand, and many, many more were hounded and harassed.

Has the Church ever been held to account for these war crimes, these hate crimes, these crimes against humanity?

No more than had Franco.

Michael Dodd said...

Recently I found myself trying to explain to a non-Catholic what an annulment actually means in Catholic theory and practice. As I did so, I experienced that familiar split-brain thing that used to happen to me when I explained a Catholic position that made sense within its own Catholic context but which made little sense to someone whose worldview was different. This was always particularly frustrating when that person’s worldview seemed to be the one based on real life experience and the Catholic position, neat though it might be in and of itself, appeared to have nothing to do with the world in which people actually live and breathe and have their being.

I flashed back to an experience in a moral theology class in seminary. As the professor droned on and on about whatever the issue was – most likely something to do with artificial birth control – the word “epicycles” came into my mind. The professor, in defending the traditional Catholic position, sounded like a Ptolemaic astronomer who posited circles going around circles going around fixed points orbiting other fixed points – all as a way of making the observable facts of planetary motion fit the accepted theory that all movement in the heavens was perfectly circular, when anyone who looked could see that the planets were in fact not moving in perfect circles. The epicycles thing all made sense once you grasped it, and it even worked as a mathematical model. It was, however, simply wrong.

More and more, when I read about Church statements on issues of sexuality, relationships and marriage – straight or gay – I hear it still echoing in my ears: “Epicycles, epicycles, epicycles.”

Roberta K. said...

As an outside observer, it seems to me that the Catholic strictures against married priests is more detrimental towards marriage than any same-sex union could be. I once dated a young man who was torn between service to the Church and wanting to get married and raise a family; we ultimately broke up because of this. He later did get married, but I have to wonder if he was ever truly happy.

DPL said...

Fr Geoff, I am a gay man in a long term relationship with a Catholic priest. Although I am out, I can't talk to anyone, gay or straight, about our relationship for fear of outing him. I get very depressed and lonely at times and wish I had someone to talk to. I came across your blog while looking for any kind of support for people in relationships with priests. I understand how taboo this is, and that there probably isn't any support for people like me.

It is sad that I feel the need to say this, but, for the record, I am not a minor. My partner is not a pedophile. He has never had sex with a minor.

DPL (depressed priest lover)

Father Geoff said...

Dear DPL,

I was a Chaplain in the US Air Force; there are many people who cannot come “out” without the destruction of their career and a loss of their income. My therapist pointed out to me that many professionals (e.g. attorneys, physicians, etc) who would have their practices suffer if they were to come “out.”

I do not intend any of this to justify living one’s life in shame, nor do I advocate living a double life. However, it must be understood that many LGBTQ people throughout history and even today find themselves living in fear. Most of us learned deception as a survival skill. The cost of this deception is self-loathing and ultimately this is a Faustian contract. Each of us is at a different point of self-acceptance and for the vast majority of us; this is a life long process and not an “event.”

Love is a selfless decision to place the loved one and their needs, hopes and dreams on par with, or even above your own. Loving another means building the loved one up, encouraging him/her and at times it also means challenging him/her. I believe that it was Oscar Wilde who said, “You can judge the character of a man not in how he speaks to his enemies, but in how he speaks to his friends.”

There are times when loving the other entails risking the relationship itself for the sake and well being of the other. I recall a woman married to an alcoholic; she decided to separate from him until he sought help for his alcoholism.

There are no easy answers, no simple solutions to the complex developmental, emotional and psychological issues each of us face. Having said all of that, your own mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual health is also important. As airline flight safety instructions clearly indicate, you must place your oxygen mask on before doing so for others. If not, both of you could asphyxiate.

My advice is that you speak with a competent therapist about your own process. After a several sessions, you may both find it helpful to go to couples therapy and discuss these issues.

Anonymous said...

I lost my lover of 30 years who was a catholic priest....I am 56 years old and I wish I had someone to talk to....I miss him terribly and I can relate to many of the people who have commented here...
Hang in there AND DON'T GIVE UP..