Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Beware of the Self-Anointed "Orthodox," Part 23,465

Continuing our coverage of Tribal Chiefs And The Problems They Cause, a friend sends along the following story
Years ago, I befriended an ex-seminarian who had been let go by his diocese - one of the extremely liberal dioceses that are supposed to be gay-friendly. He was aggressively "orthodox" and was constantly dismayed by the lack of commitment to the magisterium by his fellow candidates and seminarians, and he believed that his bishop and vocations director had it in for him because he was a conservative. He also confided that he was homosexual, which I am sure was a difficult thing for him to do. He was a nice, well-meaning guy who seemed a little bit lost and was working a job that was way beneath his abilities. As time went on, however, it became clear that he was indeed very troubled. Everything he said and did was in disturbingly lugubrious tones. He became strangely devoted to the seven sorrows of the Blessed Virgin. Over time, his romantic interests in me became more pronounced and obsessive, and it became necessary for me to cut off contact with him. He did not get the hint, so he kept on leaving messages on my voice mail every few days, to my annoyance. At some point, he moved back to his hometown (I think) and that was the end of that. A couple of years later, I ran into him by accident, and he bitterly chastised me for rejecting him. I didn't have the heart to tell him that he had become an obsessive pest.

It seems clear that the diocese did the right thing by getting rid of him... he was fighting too many demons to be of much pastoral use. While it would be unlikely that he would have ever become as screwed up as Father Erickson, he seemed to have just enough self-knowledge to damage himself and others but not enough to be able to actually come to terms with himself. And, remember, this diocese is well-known for its gay-friendly clergy. My conclusion is that, if it is true that the diocesan priests there are as gay as claimed, then they must do a fairly reasonable job of keeping the well-adjusted gays and getting rid of the maladjusted gays.
And in the latter lies the crux. But of course, being nuanced, discerning and intelligent doesn't serve The Agenda -- because it's not really about getting gays, it's about getting *GASP* liberals. (Because the gays and kid-touchers are all liberals and never use Latin or obsess about things Marian. Puh-leeze. Cipolla, anyone?)

According to this theory, conservative gays can just be kept inside the closet and left to take their self-hatred out on others as cassocks, incense and altar boys (no girls in the Sacristy, hmm-hmm) swirl around them and Father cries at the consecration on Respect Life Sunday... And, most importantly in this parallel universe of 1958, what happens behind closed doors stays behind closed doors. And that's seen as OK. And that's what's demoralizing good priests and tarnishing the repute of their priesthood these days, people.

It almost seems as if someone really wants to let a thousand Ericksons bloom. But that's what happens when the life of the People of God is turned into a vehicle for flawed political agendas. And this is one agenda item too far.



Blogger Gene O'Grady said...

Meaning no one any harm, but it has been my experience of (pretty openly) gay priests that their Marian devotion is more strongly felt and expressed than is typical. Does this correspond to the experiences of others?

Perhaps it's my West Coast perspective, but my experience has also been that the priests of my acquaintance with conspicuous Marian devotion (in most instances not noticeably gay) are quite "liberal" in meaningful senses. Perhaps their closeness to the Hispanic communities has to do with this?

I realize this is only a reaction to the final sentence of the third from the last paragraph (whose tone I am unable to judge) in a significant post, but thought the comments worth making. Interested if others have had similar experiences.

5/10/05 17:35  
Blogger Jeff said...

"According to this theory, conservative gays can just be kept inside the closet and left to take their self-hatred out on others as cassocks, incense and altar boys (no girls in the Sacristy, hmm-hmm) swirl around them and Father cries at the consecration... And, most importantly, in this parallel universe of 1958, what happens behind closed doors stays behind closed doors. And that's seen as OK."

This is truly bizarre and off the wall. Where do you get such ideas? I don't know anyone who thinks it's fine for gays to be in the priesthood so long as they're "conservative." People who have serious psychosexual problems should not be priests, whether they they like smells-and-bells or not.

Of course, priests should also believe in the Catholic Faith and not some ersatz do-it-yourself thing; but I realize that's another controversial statement these days.

5/10/05 17:36  
Blogger Jeff said...

Just read Gene O'Grady's comment. I suppose that one of the forms that psychosexual misery might take is a sort of special attachment to the "showy" and overtly emotional elements of religion. There are other forms as well. Many of the flashiest Catholic gays that have zipped across the news in the last few years, posting in chat rooms and such, have hardly been noted for devotion to the Blessed Virgin, have they?

And of course, no one could outdo Karol Wojtyla in Marian devotion. I haven't yet heard that theory that he was a repressed homosexual, have you?

5/10/05 17:43  
Blogger Jon said...

"If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them."

Wow, Rock, what kind of nutjob would say such a thing?

5/10/05 18:07  
Blogger Jeff said...

Yes, Jon. The Scriptural and Traditional words used about homosexuality have a certain special ring to them, don't they? "Abomination," "unnatural," "perverse," "depravity." Sound kinda homophobic, don't they?

I'm still trying to figure out how you get past the very basic fact that men and women are meant for one another and men and men, women and women, obviously, in the most elementary and observable sense, just AREN'T. But we aren't supposed to notice that any more, are we?

My question is, How do they think they're going to keep it from people? By shouting, "Bigot"?

5/10/05 19:29  
Blogger Ephraem said...

The biggest problem is what your Protestant Great-Aunts, if you have any, would call "seminary manners". Oleagenous displays of religion, especially of the lace and Madonna kind, are usually a sign of psychosis. Anyone who likes the "Sound of Music" or any Bing Crosby film involving priests should be dismissed immediately from any seminary or indeed parish ministry.

So too, Homophobia - I've never met an out-there homophone who didn't have something to hide. Strange they're the last ones to find out usually. One minute they're denouncing the Sin that Cries to Heaven for Vengeance, the next you see pictures of them dressed as Marilyn Munroe in the Mardi Gras. I have encountered this dynamic heaps of times in seminarians (and indeed, in earnest evangelical protestant youth ministers - marriage is no cure).

Being "all things to all men" 24/7 breeds a nest of deeply destabilised chameleons, not a presbyterate. And as we all know, but often omit to say, the personal sexual corruption of the clergy was only the tip of the abuse iceberg. It was compulsive liars in the Episcopate that drew down Heaven's Vengeance. Where did they learn that, I wonder?

Solution? Apart from a miracle of Divine Grace, get rid of seminaries altogether. They were never a good idea unless the alumni were off to face immediate martyrdom. They certainly aren't a good idea now except in mission territories. The more they are reformed the worse they get. Why do we think we can "form" or "train" people? It's a form of hubris as much the responsibility of the people as the clergy (personailty cults take at least two people). Everyone wants to see rows of clean cut asexual kids, learning their Greek verbs and saying the rosary during Holy Hour, then coming to have cups of tea with Nanna and playing games with the kiddies (though not too enthusiastically). This is a recipe for a clergy with no self-knowledge and little of anything else.

Rocco is right about the issue not being Progressive/Conservative. There are characteristic manifestations of disease in both camps. The Taste Test is their grasp of the "Ars Celebrandi" - if they do not disappear into the Mystery they celebrate, I do not mean by displays of conspicuous piety of left (low rent earnestness about dolphins and plastic shopping bags, oh yes, and feeling, lots of emotions) or of right (the jarring vocabulary of long dead devotionalism) , but by the people not remembering or caring who the priest is after Mass, then they are charlatans and false prophets, who celebrate themselves not Christ.

Another issue is the Theology of "Vocation". Isn't in the Creed, I don't believe it, except in the general sense of Divine Providence. I get goosebumps on my neck and start walking backwards out of a room when I hear priests talking of "my priesthood" or seminarians of "my vocation". Sorry chaps, just isn't yours! You are no closer to the Resurrection up the front of the Church than down the back.

Neither are the people closer because you are the celebrant. We really ought to go back to the ad Orientem position, to put a dent in this. Also stop those hideous commentators announcing "Today's Celebrant is Fr Chuck O'Bubblegum" at the beginning of Mass. Who cares as long as he gets through it in good order. Waugh's, admittedly aristocratic, view of the clergy as plumbers is a wholesome one.

A priest ought to consider Holy Orders a spiritual burden that he would be better off without, like John Chrysostom hiding under his bed when they came to ordain him. This isn't an attitude just for saints. The image of the road to Hell paved with clerical skulls is one that ought to be on vocations pamphlets. The soft focus PR collage of the youngest, handsomest priest liturgising, caring, and generally being a nice guy in twenty poses is sick-making (unless you are a sixty-five year old woman whose real son never visits).

One of the Desert Fathers, Abba Moses (I think), said that a good monk should absolutely avoid talking to Bishops and to women. Give them an entree and they'll never leave you alone and you'll never have any peace.

5/10/05 19:37  
Blogger Neil said...

I am hesitant to post on a topic where one is forced, really, to be all too speculative. But it is conceivable that certain forms of homosexuality could be linked with (obviously) distorted aspects of "conservative" spirituality.

Fr Paul Crowley, SJ, has an article in the 2004 Theological Studies entitled, "Homosexuality and the Counsel of the Cross," that elaborates on the Catechism's counsel that homosexuals "unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition." But this union (if misinterpreted) can lead to a mistaken theology of the Cross and an unhealthy spirituality:

"A theology of the Cross that simply stresses the avoidance of what is a priori deemed evil may tend toward a form of latter-day Manichaeism, stressing a flight from the world and nature, and seeing the world, and creation as God has wrought it, even in its variety, as something to be eschewed because tainted with evil. Renunciation of nature as it is given in the name of renunciation of evil can hardly comport with a spirituality of the Cross rooted in gratitude to God and desire to follow in the way of Jesus. On the contrary, we could fall into 'a pseudo-ethical or pseudo-religious paroxysm of sacrifice which is not willed by God and which is basically not a real loving surrender to God's will' (Spiritual Exercises 242-3). Such would in the end become an act of despair, because it would not be the response to an invitation so much as an act of sheer will, hope against hope, which can only dissolve into hopelessness."

One can easily imagine a spirituality, mistakenly seeing itself as a form of union with the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross, that becomes focused on romantic self-destruction or excessively theatrical and self-conscious displays of sacrifice that are really desperate (and self-referential) acts of "sheer will, hope against hope." This sort of self-abasement might at first seem merely like an intensified form of conservatism, while it might really - and sadly - reflect nothing more than an existential prison.



5/10/05 19:49  
Blogger michigancatholic said...

Save the bile, Rocco. It's boring.

6/10/05 00:08  
Blogger Venerable Aussie said...

Ephraem, get up, stop hiding under the bed, I've got some words for your disillusioned soul! (and forgive me if parts of your contribution was tongue-in-cheek):

What's this "Everyone wants to see rows of clean cut asexual kids, learning their Greek verbs and saying the rosary during Holy Hour..." nonsense?

Us young Catholics - perhaps particularly those with kids - want and deserve priests who have been well-educated, are holy, AND who know, understand, internalize and PREACH the fulness of the Church's teachings INCLUDING her sexual ethics. Period.

Surely you're tongue-in-cheek with "Apart from a miracle of Divine Grace, get rid of seminaries altogether." Is this some macabre Dominican plot to empty the diocesan ranks?

What did Vatican II say about this? "Major seminaries are necessary for priestly formation. In them the whole training of students ought to provide for the development of true shepherds of souls after the model of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was Teacher, Priest, and Shepherd." (Optatam Totius - and if you've got an Abbott version, check the interesting footnote!)

Finally, I don't really know what to make of "You are no closer to the Resurrection up the front of the Church than down the back." Strange comment. This attitude sure does exist among the many Fr Bozo clerical-types who constantly abuse the faithful with their "I'm the Master here and I'll do what I like" approach. But it does NOT exist among the many young seminarians and young faith-filled priests of my acquaintance. And they would be the first to concede that the less focus on them in Mass the better. Ad Orientem? They wouldn't have a problem!

But at the same time they take the Vatican II admonition seriously to "build up the People of God". (Presbyterorum Ordinis)

And about that "sick-making" PR featuring clean-cut young priests? Well you better get Dom Murphy to rework the vocations section of your Aussie Dominican's website!

6/10/05 01:33  
Blogger Ephraem said...

My point wasn't that we shouldn't have secular priests but that we need to look at the education of prospective clergy.

Yes, I'm in favour of the Church's teaching on sexuality, but my comments reflect Seneca - "there is a difference between someone who doesn't know how to sin and one who choses not to". The experience of the last few decades has taught us that nostalgic nostrums haven't worked. I recommend Montaigne's essay on Education, especially the par condemned by the Holy Office.

Yes, I know there are many good men in seminaries, staff and students. Doesn't mean it's the only or even best way, though. Ought to be more emphasis on the intellectual life, especially philosophy and the practice and study of the liturgy (Now that is a Dominican plot!)and less regimentation.

Yes I was stirring the possum, but I think this particular possum could do with some stirring.

As for Dom's web-site, far be it from me....

6/10/05 02:45  
Blogger Gotpraecht said...

I'm still trying to figure out how you get past the very basic fact that men and women are meant for one another and men and men, women and women, obviously, in the most elementary and observable sense, just AREN'T. But we aren't supposed to notice that any more, are we?

Sure, but don't assume that those who have a rather different attitude towards gay issues than you suddenly and arbitrarily take it upon themselves, to become "liberals" on this issue.

There is also the observable, and perhaps even "elementary" fact, that many same-sex relationships, judged by some and perhaps even most of the criteria which Catholics employ to discern "goodness" are good both for those immediately involved and for their society. It's at that point that Catholics like me begin to wonder whether we don't need to go back -- as we have done on many occasions in the past -- and reexamine those texts and traditions.

I never wanted to experience this cognitive dissonance, but I can't pretend that the church's teaching, and the kind of sentiments you express just don't correspond to what I've observed.

I wouldn't deny for a minute that there are some highly dysfunctional gay people and gay relationships. I've encountered plenty. I've also encountered plenty in the rest of our Catholic community as well. But having got to know various exemplary gay people, many of them in partnerships, I realised that I just couldn't look them in the face and simper something about hating the sin and loving the sinner.

We did it with usury, and that was only people's businesses the church was messing with. Here we're dealing with people's lives, and we had better be damn sure that those "self-evident" observations and traditional texts mean what we've assumed they do or we will be judged more harshly than the Pharisees.

6/10/05 12:33  

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