Sunday, December 04, 2005

Another Great Instruction Response

Following up on the well-received (and widely-noted) reflection of Fr. Bruce Williams, OP, of the theology faculty of the Angelicum in Rome which was published here last week, now making the rounds is another solid contribution -- this time from the English theologian James Alison.

There are many powerful passages, and you can read it all at his site. This is but a sampling.....
The instruction is clear, straightforward and logical and I don't think any service is done by anyone attempting to represent it as saying other than what it does. If they are tempted, then Cardinal Grocholewski’s elucidations on Vatican radio and Msgr Anatrella’s commentary in L’Osservatore Romano should give them pause for thought....

[H]ere is the crucial point: it is from this premise of the free-standing second teaching concerning the objective disorder of what you and I call being gay that everything else in this document flows. And yet that teaching is here presented in the most muted form I have seen it in a recent Roman document. It is almost as if some of the many higher authorities which have reviewed this document before allowing this particular dicastery to publish it might be saying something rather like this:

"Look, we know that there are a lot of us, priests, Bishops, Cardinals, seminarians, seminary teachers, and religious superiors who are gay; and there are many of us, whether straight or gay, who don’t in fact buy the line that being gay is an objective disorder. We know that there are many of us who regard being gay as no more pathological than being left-handed. Yet the fact remains that the current ordinary teaching is that being gay is more akin to a personality disorder than to left-handedness. There are improper ways of dealing with the disjunction between that widely held, if rarely expressed, opinion and the current teaching, and there is a proper way. We want to close off one of the improper ways of dealing with this in the hopes that we can all move together toward finding the proper way.

"The improper way is to pretend in public that you go along with the teaching while in fact, and in your private life, you do not. The result of going down this route has been many of us encouraging people to join the seminary and priesthood just so long as they become inducted into playing the sort of game that too many of us have been playing for too long. That is, letting it be perfectly clear off the record that being gay is fine, just so long as we don’t say in public that we’re gay, and just so long as we agree not to challenge in public the teaching that being gay is an objective disorder.

"Well, treating people in this way is to do something terrible to them: it makes them live a lie as a condition for becoming a minister of the Gospel. And it is to do something terrible to the people who we are supposed to be serving: it creates a clerical caste which has its own, tolerant rules and structures for life within the club, the price for whose maintenance is that its gay members agree not to challenge those who are publicly harsh and intolerant about matters gay whenever these surface in the public arena. In other words, the Catechism teaching is for the plebs, while we have our own hidden teaching, our own safe space, for the elite.

"Even a cursory acquaintance with the Gospel reveals that if this is how we have been living, then we should fear for our salvation, and we should be deeply penitent for having gone along with and contributed to this mess. So let us please close down this culture of dishonesty and agree only to accept candidates and form them in the light of the current teaching of the Church rather than in the light of what we think the current teaching of the Church ought to be, but are not brave enough to say so.

"For this to happen we have to agree that there is a proper way to deal with the disjunction between the current definition of gay people as defective straight people and the opinion of many of us that this definition is simply not true. And there is such a proper way: finding constructive avenues of raising the question of whether the teaching as it stands is true. This would mean studies and questions being formulated by theologians and by experts in the relevant human sciences concerning what is really true in this field, with the open-ended study process backed up by Bishops and Universities who are brave enough to say that such study is necessary. Such studies and questions would obviously respect and adhere to the major teachings of the Church and yet be able to indicate how commonly held opinions thought to be definitive may in fact be more contingent than was thought, and how perceiving this does not put into danger the integrity of the Catholic Faith or the holiness of life into which we are being inducted.

"One such area might very well be the question of whether the characterisation of the homosexual tendency in recent official documents is a matter of faith, or if it is a more or less well-founded opinion based on a currently available anthropological and psychological understanding which might indeed yield to a more complete understanding of how it is that some people are “that way”. It is certainly extremely unlikely, despite some of our more hot headed curial brothers, that any Church document should be read as trying to make a matter of faith out of a highly contingent empirical judgment – we do remember the Galileo case! But a strongly international Church, with many members in many different cultures, is also unlikely to accept the changes in its anthropological presuppositions which new contingent empirical judgments might provoke until such a time as the case for their objectivity is very well made by those who know how to bring together theological discourse, scientific expertise and the simple ring of truth-telling. And that takes time, and study, and bravery.

"So this proper way can only be engaged in by those who are prepared to be in a minority position, not have their views respected initially, and have the faith and trust that if what they say is true, then its truth and value for the life of the Church will emerge eventually, however discouraging things might seem now. There is no shortcut to this way. It is the way that is proper to the Gospel we all seek to live by.

"It is only when the case is made in such a way that it is obviously held as normal by the sane majority of the Catholic laity – and this may be fast happening in many countries already - that we can reconsider the question of who is to be admitted to the priesthood. The question before us is primarily an anthropological one, affecting all of us as humans, and only secondarily a clerical one, affecting the life of the clergy. So we must prevent the inevitably scandal-ridden discussion of clerical homosexuality becoming a substitute for the real discussion concerning what is true about humans, and which has obvious consequences for civil legislation in all our countries. What we certainly cannot tolerate is what has happened over the last decades, which is that the priesthood has run ahead and quietly allowed its members to live by a quite different understanding of what is true in this area than that which they are expected to uphold in public as the teaching of the Church for the laity.

"Because we all know that this is a particularly difficult and delicate area, in which so many of us are involved, so many of us have skeletons in our closet, and so many of us are frightened of blackmail or of being “outed”, we are going to bend over backwards to lower the barrier on this one. So we are setting out the current teaching in its most muted form in the hope that some of you will dare to raise the truth question in a way that will enable us all to move forward. We are also publishing a commentary by a psychologist (with whom we do not expect you necessarily to agree) to underline the fact that the truth in this area is one which is ultimately going to be worked out with relationship to what is empirically true in the disciplines of the human sciences. Please remember that one of the signals we are all getting from the pontificate of Papa Ratzi is that things can be talked about. John Paul’s bar on adult discussion has gone. So we beg you, don’t run and try to protect the old dishonest “don’t ask don’t tell” game we’ve all been playing, and which has had such catastrophic results. Instead, obey the instruction and find ways of enabling us to advance in truth."

Hmmmmm..... Talk about your food for thought.