The National Catholic Review

Dear Pope Benedict,

I’ve just read your 1989 paper reprinted in Communio in the review’s featured, “Retrieving the Tradition.” In “Difficulties Confronting the Faith in Europe Today” you explain your future papacy’s resistance to change on the “interlinked” issues of contraception, homosexuality, divorce and women’s ordination.  At the end of your analysis you make a plea for more theological development of the doctrine of creation.

I heartily agree that more theological reflection on creation is needed but I was distressed and alarmed by your analyses of why  Catholics are having their differences. You attribute dissent not to honest differences on the content of what God wills for the church, but to a rejection of moral truth and Divine authority.

You interpret claims of “conscience” and “freedom” as thinly disguised rejections of God and the church.  Dissenters can thus be dismissed as modernist intellectuals advocating moral relativism and a self-centered worldview. As you say, “at first glance” this dissent “would be plainly labeled as a surrender of moral integrity, the simplifications of a lax conscience.” 

You claim that dissenters on contraception, homosexuality, divorce and women’s ordination are treating the body “as a piece of property,” to do with as they will.  But whatever can you mean?  Maybe you are confusing those who differ with you with European existential intellectuals like Sartre and atheist crusaders. I assure you that faithful Christians seek change because they judge the church to be distorting the gospel truth of God’s love, mercy and moral reality.

It is an intellectually evasive strategy to use accusations of lax conscience and moral relativism to avoid confrontation and debate over contentious issues that divide the church. You rightly point out that the issues of gender and sexuality are dependent on a theology of creation and a specific view of nature and human nature.

We are arguing over the meaning of human embodiment and God’s love.  The deep “metaphysical symbolism” of male and female gender differences that you see as core and essential can be viewed by other Christians as romantic and overblown—and no longer supported by science or philosophy. 

Is not embodied human existence in this world and the resurrection far more shaped by sacramental union with Christ, than by complementary gender identity and reproductive purposes.  In exercising your Petrine ministry you can lead the church into necessary reflection and discernment. Councils, synods, conferences and other means of open communication are ways toward truth and reconciliation.

Pray use your papal resources and personal gifts to help the center hold. 

Yours in truth,

Sidney Callahan        



Rick Fueyo | 5/31/2012 - 5:28pm
“Dissent” is an imprecise and pejorative word when used in relation to one's position on the mandate. To the extent the term ''dissent'' from Magisteriaal teachings is appropriate, it is when the teachings are on the issue of faith and morals, in which the Bishops have special competence.  The Bishops have no special competence to not do any difference with respect to issues of public policy. In that area, they are speaking of issues of American constitutional law, which is specifically outside of their competence.   Catholics should not deserve to have their loyalty to the Church called in question if they disagree with political stances taken by the Bishops.
Concededly, a large driver of the opinion of most individuals is how integral the issue of contraception is to one's perception of core Catholicism. No doubt it is a core issue as a function of positivistic Church teaching.  It is equally undeniable that most of the laity do not apply the teaching. We can dispute the proper percentages, but it's certainly a substantial majority.
All that aside, the Bishops are doing a special deference from the laity with respect to the appropriate political position.
Vince Killoran | 5/31/2012 - 9:33am
Thank you Tim #33 and my parish pastor who called me a "dissenter" the other day for disagreeing with the USCCB et al.'s anti-HHS stance for illustrating for me that the label "dissenter" is being thrown around in a careless manner. It's a lazy attempt to marginalize thoses with whom you disagree.

When Catholics engage in the full life of the Faith, including their freedom of conscience and natural reasoning, they are not "dissenting"; when they point out the invalidity of "backdoor infallibility" that is not "dissenting"; when they bring to our attention the central importance of "sensus fidelium" they are helping to make us better Catholics.
Tim O'Leary | 5/31/2012 - 12:38am
So, Jim #31 is an ex-Catholic and proud of it. And an expert at fornicating. That's wonderful! Maybe it helped you adjust to something but it certainly didn't help your anticlerical bile.

Michael #28
You start out complaining that the hierarchy and tradition-minded theologians use nasty words like ''dissenters, invincibly ignorant, unfaithful, selfish...'' But, look at the many comments above (malevolent, lazy, and worse). Do you really think dissenters above don't insult and defame committed Catholics (priests and laity) all the time. (I don't think Amy knows any orthodox priests). Even Sidney's opening letter was thinly veiled spite.

You say you studied moral theology for 5 years. Is your point that before then you assumed contraception was wrong and you were persuaded by your study? Or, did you go fishing for support of what you already practiced? In any case, you have done a lot more than most on this blog, so you deserve credit for that.
Thomas Piatak | 5/30/2012 - 9:18pm
Fornication is expressly denounced in the New Testament (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-10), and the Catholic Church has always regarded it as objectively immoral.  There is nothing wrong with a priest criticizing fornication, and Fr. Reutemann should not be insulted for so doing.
Frank Gibbons | 5/30/2012 - 3:20pm

Frank-that's a wonderful way of getting the last word!  My teenage kids do a version of that a couple of times a week!
Michael Barberi | 5/30/2012 - 3:09pm
It is amusing that those that disagree with a church teaching such as contraception are painted by the hierarchy and tradition-minded theologians with words like: dissenters, invinciblly ignorant, unfaithful, selfish, vicims of a distorted conscience and those infected with the evil of the secular world. 

Most Catholics I know disagree with Humanae Vitae because it is in tension with the human experience of marital love, married life, sexual intercourse, and responsible parenthood. The church's teaching is proclaimed by the magisterium as Divine Law but is it far from "intutitive". Divine law is not something for the gifted intellectuals with doctorates in theology and philosophy. It should be naturally known to all and require no special expertise.

I have studied moral theology for the past 5 years especially sexual ethics and it took me quite a number of years to understand the ambiguous speculation about the body-spirit unity, philosophical anthropology, and symbolism that underpin the JP II's notiion of God's procreative plan. His personalistic norm and theology of the body proclaimed that contraception turns the marital act into acts of selfish pleasure, destroys marital love, and is an anti-life attitude that will eventually lead to abortion if a child is conceived by accident. Unfortunately, in the past 44 years there has not been one respected and widely accepted scientific study that concluded that these claims are true. I have been married for 40 years, have two wonderful children and practiced contraception. So have most of my friends and despite the normal problems of life, we all have a good relationship with Christ and attend weekly Mass.

What the Church needs is a reasonable, intelligible and convincing moral theory that most Catholics can understandand and embrace as God's will (and procreative plan in terms of methods to regulate fertility). It is interesting to note that no one knows God's procreative plan, no pope, bishop or layperson. However, Paul VI and JP II claimed otherwise when it came to lawful and unlaw methods of birth regulation.

It is insulting to claim that Catholics who practice contraception are taking the easy way out and not practicing heroic virtue. That is a cop out and unsubtantialed. It may be true for a few Catholics but not for the majority of them, nor for those that understand moral theology and the contraception debate for the past 44 years.

When informed Catholics face a moral dilemma and are striving to understand and do God's will, they frequently look to the church for guidance. However, when the advice of their parish priest does not make sense to them, when the answers to their questions seem unreasonable and are not adequately addressed, and when many priests privately instruct them to go with their informed conscience, then we have contradiction and inconsistency within the Catholic Church itself. 

Before Benedict XVI can proclaim the absolute moral truth about contraception as God's procreative plan, he first should ensure that the word (doctrine) is the same as the deed (pastoral practices). For that matter, His Holiness should resolve the 'silent pulpit' where no priest or bishop speaks of the sacriledge of receiving the Eucharist without confession and absolution about acts of contraception. Every parish priest knows that most young married couples practice contraception and stand in line each week to receive the Eucharist. They do not deny them this sacrament or remind them about conscience, sin, and confession. Where is the heroic virtue of courage and bravery here?

Vince Killoran | 5/30/2012 - 3:09pm
"Now, I don't like lingering in a comment thread, so I won't be back.  If you want to say something to me, send me an email."

Frank-that's a wonderful way of getting the last word!  My teenage kids do a version of that a couple of times a week!
Rick Fueyo | 5/30/2012 - 1:12pm
Now we know that those that disagree are not necessarily stupid and unable to understand the essay, as first suggested.  It's because they dishonest and lazy, too  morally uncommitted to undertake teh self-evidently correct course.

In no snese could their disagreement be sincere and reasoned, even if errant.

The challenge of the ubermensch to tolerate the lesser is great, but given their superior discipline and intellect, possible, at least for them.

Sad, but predictable
John Reutemann | 5/30/2012 - 12:45pm
Since there seems to be some misunderstandings about my comment, allow me to explain further. First, however, I do wish that Amy Ho-Ohn didn't try to turn this into a clergy vs. laity debate, especially since her only reason for doing so was seeing that I signed my name 'father.' My comment itself could have been just as easily posted by a layman or woman who similarly wonders how Sidney Callahan is able to assert that people who chose to act contrary to the teaching of the Church are really not doing anything wrong but rather interpreting Christ and His Gospel as they should be interpreted. That's all I was wondering, especially given that there is something in all of us, laity and clergy (and myself absolutely included), which, on a certain level, wants the easy way out and doesn't like the fact that being a Christian is often hard to do. For example, when a couple chooses to contracept (instead of either abstaining or just having sex the way it was intended), is it necessarily because they've really wrestled with the Church teaching and have, in their infinite wisdom, chosen to 'judge the church [sic] to be distorting the gospel truth' on this particular issue? Well, I suppose that happens sometimes, but isn't it more likely that they just don't like the alternatives (abstaining or having sex the way it was intended) and just want to do what they want to do? I again ask my original question, how can the former be assumed, and even asserted, over the latter?
Jeanne Linconnue | 5/30/2012 - 12:16pm
In some ways, parts of this discussion remind me of the mommy-wars - who works ''harder''?

I do know that I was totally disgusted with a bulletin column by a former pastor who was complaining that his housekeeper/cook was on vacation for a week and so he had to prepare a sandwich or two for himself. Mostly he went out to restaurants for dinner (paid for by parish groupies). He was also lamenting his overbusy life. He walked about 100 yards from his very comfortable home (market value about $750,000) to the rectory office. From there to the church and outbuildings was another 25 or so yards. So he doesn't waste hours each day in highly stressful commuting. He also doesn't get up really early in the morning to throw a load of wash in the machine, before making breakfast for the family, packing lunches, getting himself put together for work, and racing out to the car - making sure the kids have all their books etc before sending them to the bus or dropping them off at school. Not to mention a clean uniform for the parochial school, should they attend one. He doesn't then go to work and pray that the school doesn't call to tell him that one of his kids is sick or injured and needs to be picked up.  He doesn't worry about racing to the babysitter ''on-time'' after work, before starting the rounds of sports practices, music lessons, etc - religious ed if in public school -  that comprise the average kid's after-school life these days. He doesn't then do the grocery shopping for the family, keeping in mind not only ''healthy'' meals but everyone's allergies and/or preferences, continue to work on laundry while cooking dinner, helping the kids with homework, overseing bathtimes for the younger and chores for all kids, squeezing in a little ''quality'' time with the kids by reading and talking, before getting ready for the next day. These parents also usually try to do a bit of volunteer work for school and, yes,for the parish. The priest may be called to a dying person's bedside at night now and then, but most pastors now send pastoral care staff. If ''last rites'' are requested, the hospital chaplain is called.  He will definitely not be up the next morning early after walking a crying child all night because he or she has an ear infection, nor does he scramble to figure out how to adjust the schedule so one parent can take the sick child to the doc and then stay home from work afterward in spite of the deadline for the project report.  He has never waited up at night, sick with worry, for a teen-ager to come home who is late and can't be reached. He has never answered a phone call that tells him that ''there has been an accident'.  He doesn't have to figure out how to console the child who is being bullied and help him or her learn to survive in spite of it, nor to comfort the child who has failed his reading test - again - and struggles with school, self-esteem fading every day.  He doesnt' stay up nights worrying how to pay the mortgage to keep a roof over his family's head, nor to pay the reading tutor for the child with challenges, nor to pay the pediatrician and orthodontist.  Or how to pay the Catholic school tuititon. Etc, etc, etc. Yes, he may worry about paying to fix the church roof, but that problem doesn't smack most priests in the gut the way worry about losing your own family home does. Nor does he have to worry about financing his own retirement someday. Unless of course the bishops continue to protect pedophiles and more billions are wasted on litigation. Given the abysmal track record of the bishops during the last decade, the priests might need to begin worrying about their retirement money after all.

I know that many priests are very dedicated, unspoiled men. But, even among the unspoiled, few have a clue about real family life. It's not very much like their idealized vision of the Holy Family, and it seems few have really reflected on the realities Mary and Joseph dealt with. They have no understanding of the consoling and unitive importance marital sex really plays and why most married couples follow their conscience to choose the method of family planning that best supports their marriage, regardless of what celibate males have decided is ''moral'' or ''immoral''. For a few this is NFP; for the vast majority it is not and has nothing to do with being lazy christians. The pope should have listened to the collective wisdom of the birth control commission. Rome began losing its ''moral'' authority then, and it has gotten much worse because of its continued failure to take honest responsibility for its immoral decisions to protect pedophile priests and an institution rather than kids.

When young priests, barely ordained and some still in their 20s, isolated from the ''real'' world for years in seminaries, judge the laity, it seems not only presumptuous and judgmental, it sometimes smacks of the kind of clerical arrogance one hears much too often about today's younger priests. One might suggest that this generation of young priests reflect a bit more deeply on God's mercy and love (and on some of the NT passages about scribes and pharisees).  And perhaps ask for the insights of their parishoners arising from their ''real'' lives and actually LISTEN to them without sermonizing.  Perhaps after a few years of humble listening, these young priests will eventually develop a deeper and more real understanding about what ''living a totally Christian life'' really means. Many haven't a clue.
Nobody in Rome and few in chanceries will ever read this open letter, although perhaps one or two bishops might read America's blog in order to keep up with the thinking of the ''dissenters''. However, one could hope that a few priests do read this journal and blog and that they will have the humility to open their minds and hearts and actually listen.
Vince Killoran | 5/30/2012 - 12:05pm

"The priest in my parish this past Sunday quoted Father Walter Burghardt S.J. at length."

Fran, that's great!  Boy, I wish my parish priest would do that!  You aksed for examples. My parish priest has given two highly political anit-HHS homilies, the most recent was this past weekend. This past winter I attended Mass in another parish with the same theme.  Friends and family report similar experiences.

Here's one from another priest to consult: The priest in this homiily refers to "the demons, the powers that be."

Becky Theisen | 5/30/2012 - 11:57am
To Jim Belna:  Thank you for your reasoned and thoughtful response.   Unfortunately, it's obvious that most respondents (and readers of this letter) will not read the full original document.  It is much easier for people to believe spiteful and distorted commentary than use their ability to research the subject and draw their own informed conclusions.  I'm all for humor and the occasional jab to make people sit up and think.  However, stooping to the tactics of misrepresentation and slander are a lazy tactic to create sensationalism.  I see this over and over, wondering why people continue to believe this kind of stuff, than even consider the need for further examination of the complete story.  Exactly the proof to your point.  
Frank Gibbons | 5/30/2012 - 11:29am

I haven't ever heard a priest give a "anti-HHS/Obama" homily. The priest in my parish this past Sunday quoted Father Walter Burghardt S.J. at length. Parish bulletins frequently print the priest's homily.  Perhaps you can send us a sample of the kind of homily that you're talking about.
Vince Killoran | 5/30/2012 - 11:20am
Picking up on Amy, Frank, & Thomas' discussion thread, I wonder if there is something to the reality of the overworked diocesan parish priests that contributes to the narrowing of the faith life of many parishes today.  To be sure, diocesan seminary training seems very conservative, very narrow-but how about the full schedule of the pastor's life today? Most parishes have exactly one priest on the staff.  This leaves little time to reflect, read, meet people beyond those who flock around them after Mass to tell them how great was their anti-HHS/Obama homily. Gravitating to the most boiled-down, top-down form of religious understanding must be so tempting.
Thomas Rooney OFS | 5/30/2012 - 11:02am
@ Amy, I must agree with Frank.  In my experience and in our parish of 5,000 families, our 3 priests are extremely busy in all aspects of parish life.  Daily Mass and confession, CCD and adult faith formation, marriage prep, baptism prep, weddings, baptisms, funerals etc. and so on!

Luckily we've a full parish staff, 2 sisters, 2 deacons, and an active congregation...but the priests are fully engaged. 
Frank Gibbons | 5/30/2012 - 10:17am
Amy Ho-Ohn wrote that priests have "two hour work days on Sunday and [do] whatever they feel like the rest of the week". The priests that I know say daily Mass, visit the sick, engage in pastoral counsling, celebrate weddings, bury the dead, conduct healing services and are responsible for parish administration. At La Salette Shrine in Attleboro, MA, eighty-one year old Father Dick Delisle, M.S. recently spent of string of Saturdays managing the clean-up of the Shrine's grounds. 
james belna | 5/29/2012 - 6:36pm
Dear Sidney Callahan,

I’ve just read your “Letter to Pope Benedict”, after which I read the full text of “Difficulties Confronting the Faith in Europe Today”. I suggest that anyone who wants to make a fair judgment about your concerns do so as well.  (

I don’t know if you are being disingenuous, or whether you truly cannot understand the Pope’s rather obvious point that progressive claims about the metaphysical irrelevance of biological gender reduce the body to mere property. In any event, I doubt anyone else will have much difficulty comprehending his argument, even if they disagree with it.

It is ironic that you have accused the Pope of using an intellectually evasive strategy, as perceptive readers will note how you mischaracterized his letter as “a plea for more theological development of the doctrine of creation.” He did no such thing. Rather, the Pope trenchantly observed that modern theologians have abandoned the doctrine on creation altogether and replaced it with “vague considerations from existential philosophy”.

You also claim that “[w]e are arguing over the meaning of human embodiment and God’s love.” It would be more accurate to say that you want to have that argument. Do you believe that all Church doctrine is up for grabs, or only the parts that you personally disagree with?

I certainly hope that you really did send this letter to Pope Benedict, and that you will share any reply.

Yours in truth (or should I say “truth”?),

Jim Belna
David Pasinski | 5/29/2012 - 4:58pm
Thank you.

 I think he may be a bit overwhelmed right now with household issues, but I'm SURE he'll read this... or at least the rest of us will appreciate it!

More parfticularly, don't these thought simply represent the Augustinian tradition and the influence of von Balthasar in ways that are so constitutive that to deny them would mean a dramatic awkening of a "dogmatic slumber" that would be miraculous?
Crystal Watson | 5/29/2012 - 4:33pm
Good letter!  Sadly, I doubt he'll listen.
Michael Barberi | 6/2/2012 - 3:55pm

There is only one truth. However, history has taught us that our "understanding of truth" is progressive, not as it pertains to the fundamentals of our faith (even if this has occurred), but more importantly to certain moral norms. Everyone strives to know the truth and an individual conscience can err. However, the Church has also erred many times on serious issues of morals.

Most of us look to the Church for guidance and it is our obligation to respect its teachings. However, if after one informs his or her conscience properly, asks all the questions until there are no more, seeks the guidance of the Holy Spirit and their parish priest, then God will not judge us by what is objectively right or wrong, but on the sincerity of our hearts in doing what is right, good and true according to our best judgment and the Gospel of Christ. This does not mean we can pick and choose teachings that fit our personal and relational circumstances, but neither does it mean that we must go against our informed conscience.

The theology of conscience and non-reception is complex. It is rarely discussed or taught because of the exaggerated fear that Catholics will tend to individuallism and relativism. There is some truth to that fear. There is also truth in the fact that the magisterium has lost its authority and credibility long ago. They will admit to no wrong, any sense of error, cupability or responsibility regarding many contemporary issues. Thus, we live in a divided church and in a crisis of truth. This will eventually pass, but not without pain and suffering.
Ray Hardwick, s.f.o. | 6/1/2012 - 4:23pm
The comments here remind me of an old proverb that says: There is my truth, your truth and I might add the Bishop's truth and the truth.
Michael Barberi | 5/31/2012 - 5:54pm
Tim #33:

Keeping our dialectic civil and respectful, despite our differences is important.There is bad behavior by theologians, clergy and laity that represent both sides of the theological debate on sexual ethics. Fortunately, this has grown less over the past 44 years but it still exists. However, in my experience the tradtion-minded group inclusive of John Paul II had no patience for those that disagreed with Humanae Vitae in particular and sexual ethics in general which dominated his papacy. This is being kind. 

As for my studies, I started out with the same philosophy that I have today. I give equal time and effort to studying the works of theologians representing the both sides of the theological divide. Keeping an open mind and thinking critically is important to me in striving for the truth, regardless what my intuition and experience tells me. In order to ensure I understood both sides, I engaged two prominent moral theologians representing the tradition-minded and less-tradition minded group. They have taught me well for the past 2 years, and I continue to learn.

My only goal is to help move the conversation forward so that our church leaders will solidify a divided church in a crisis of truth. This may not happen in my lifetime, but it will happen one day because as history has taught us, a moral doctrine not received has always been reformed.

I hope this answers you question.

Jeanne Linconnue | 5/31/2012 - 11:09am
#33, It seems possible that you may be misunderstanding Jim McCrea's point. He is drawing attention to the way Fr. John R seems to link committed marital lovemaking using contraception with ''fornication.'' Hopefully this implication is not intentional - since he is a priest, he must be extra careful in passing such judgments. In the next post, Jim extends the thought - that perhaps this young priest (and most priests) look at marital lovemaking as a form of ''fornication'' because they have no personal experience of what committed, married sexual love really means in marriage.  They haven't experienced it. They have only theoretical book knowledge put forth by other male celibates, who seem to be very off-base at times in their understanding of what it means to have sex ''the way it was intended.''  Married people understand through lived experience what having sex the ''way it was intended'' means. Many celibates don't understand because it's all theoretical to them. An abstract.

 Do some people use modern birth control methods for sex outside of marriage? Of course. Does the fact that some people abuse sex by using modern contraception mean that all sex using modern contraception is ''fornication''? Of course not.  Many ''neutrals'' or even ''goods'' are abused. Food is a ''good'' - but food is often abused.  Alcohol, according to modern medicine, is  ''good'' for health, if used in moderation. But all know that it can be destructive when used addictively. Modern prescription painkillers are a blessing to millions. But painkillers can also be abused. This does not mean that using painkillers is always evil. Modern, safe, reliable contraceptive methods are also a blessing - but they too can be abused.  Priests should know better than to imply that marital lovemaking is ''fornication'' simply because a couple followed their own conscience in choosing the method of family planning that best supports their marriage and family life.  The teaching on contraception has not been ''received.''  According to Newman and many others, when a doctrine is not ''received'', it is probable that the doctrine is in error and must be re-examined. The church has had to do this many times in its history - make a course correction. It's long overdue in the matter of contraception.
Jim McCrea | 5/30/2012 - 8:05pm
But, then, as a priest with presumably no experience in "fornicating," maybe I should not be surprised at your attitude.

It's priests such as you who constantly reassure me that dusting my feet of Roman Catholicism was one of the healthiest things I have done in years.
Jim McCrea | 5/30/2012 - 8:02pm
@ #7:  you have a rather strange view of marital relations especially for a priest:

"I have a hard time believing that when people are fornicating ..."
Frank Gibbons | 5/30/2012 - 2:56pm

Thanks for the link to Father Reutemann's homily.  Now, if he gives this homily every week to the neglect of the wider Gospel message, that would be an issue. But I would hardly consider the homily a rant or even overtly partisan. I've read homilies from, say, Fairfield's Father Paul Carrier S.J. that from my perspective were anti-Bush rants. But if you're a reader of America you'd probably think he was spot on.  

I don't know Father Reutemann but even if you disagree with parts of his homily, I find enough good things in it that lead me to believe he will make a fine priest.  

Now, I don't like lingering in a comment thread, so I won't be back.  If you want to say something to me, send me an email.
JOHN SULLIVAN | 5/30/2012 - 1:15pm
THANK YOU, THANK YOU Jeanne for your post. I would hope and pray that the "clericals" out there would read every word of your post. This is, IMO, the one of the best posts I have read. God Bless You.
David Pasinski | 5/30/2012 - 1:01pm
"having sex the way it was intended"

The commentary on that could go on and on!

"they want to do what they want to do"


Won't even go there.

Anne Chapman | 5/30/2012 - 1:00pm
#20, Has it ever occurred to you to ask? Why do YOU assume that most couples do not consult their consciences? Do you automatically assume the worst?

 Most couples that I know wrestled extensively with the church's teaching on contraception - firstly because it makes no sense intellectually, and more importantly because it does not reflect the reality of marital love as the very people who actually live the sacrament of marriage understand. They often come to realize that the church's teaching reflects a distorted understanding of married sexuality, rooted in many of the misunderstandings of the ancient fathers, especially Augustine.  You might want to review the history of the birth control commission - and reflect on how the bishops and theologians who actually LISTENED to the few laity who were invited (for the first time in church history) to give their insights and experiences allowed the Holy Spirit to penetrate their minds and consciences and change their previous misconceptions. In spite of multiple manipulations of the membership of the commission (meant to ensure a vote that upheld ''traditional'' teaching), the commission had too many honest men - and they voted overwhelmingly to change the teaching. But this didn't please Ottiviani and others in the Curia, who feared that a change would undermine the pope's ''authority''. Rather ironic that their fear of change led to precisely the outcome they were trying to prevent. Perhaps they never read Newman's Rambler article on ''Consulting with the Faithful on Matters of Doctrine.''

Vatican II reaffirmed that the Holy Spirit speaks through the WHOLE church - not just through a handful of celibate males in Rome.  But, when that handful refuse to listen to THE church, they are in danger of missing a lot of important understandings.
John Reutemann | 5/30/2012 - 12:49pm
Dear Vince, my homily also made it clear that we cannot and may not demonize anyone (as some preachers would like to do), but rather, as St. Paul reminds us, realize that our true enemies are the fallen angels who inspire evil and error.
Rick Fueyo | 5/30/2012 - 11:42am
I think Ms. Callahan’s points are valid, notwithstanding the condescension she was subjected to, inappropriately, in my opinion. It appears that some of the defenders of this essay seeks to replicate its attempt to intellectually bully. However, my reading of the essay, and this may reflect my theologically underdeveloped mind, is that the purported "logic" in the piece is missing. Instead, it seems to invoke metaphysics and natural law in the caricature derided by Oliver Wendell Holmes, referring to the "brooding omnipresence in the sky”, that can only be interpreted, Oracle like, with entrails, by some.
I think the key line in the whole piece of straw man reasoning is the conclusion of the plaintiffs paragraph that first sets up the strawman as to why many believers do not accept the Church's teachings in some areas of sexuality by suggesting that they wanted to be "less confining", as opposed to the end result of actual conscientious reasoning, and then, characterizes the ultimate objection as the fact that many modern believers "are no longer prepared to subordinate [conscience] to some external authority."
It's always about subordination to authority, especially when the speaker is the authority.
And the failure to believe that those that disagree can actually be engaged in conscientious reasoning dispels any opportunity to persuade. Indeed, the essay is not about persuasion, not excepting authority unthinkingly.
Perhaps the most nonsensical strawman argument was a description of a so-called "philosophy of evolution" which seeks to discard the laws of nature. I can't see any proponent of evolution, which is a theoretical construct of natural selection, as believing that discards the laws of nature. This seems to be just a bizarre, intellectually flimsy attempt, to link disparate thoughts into a common enemy
Vince Killoran | 5/30/2012 - 10:11am
A strong letter that calls for a restoration of the responsibility of individual Catholics in shaping their conscience.  I can't see how it  endorses, as Fr. Reutemann claims in #7, "living a less-than-totally-Christian life [that]is easier and less demanding." 

Far from it. To paraphrase Garry Wills, we must recover the place of natural reason, good information, and good faith in our development of our faith lives.
Beth Cioffoletti | 5/30/2012 - 7:33am
Why must the truth be so complicated, requiring years of reading and study?  Why aren't "intellectual giants" able to phrase the truth in such a way that it resounds in the life experience of even the most illiterate of us? 

Simple things, like forgiveness and humility, we can all understand and know their power to transform our lives.  Instead we're all tangled up trying to be clever, hoping to outsmart lesser, fornicating beings. 
Tim O'Leary | 5/29/2012 - 10:08pm
Dear Sidney,

Thank you so much for bringing to our attention a most timely letter by this holy and intellectual giant. It was written in the halcyon days of progressivism, just before it all began to crumble, when the Berlin wall came tumbling down. Dare I say it’s the best thing you have chosen to share in a long time! No matter that you don’t comprehend it all. We can’t all hear the symphony of Catholic philosophy. But, a stray note might still get through. I heartily agree with you that more theological reflection (any theological reflection?) is needed.

Warm Regards,

Amy Ho-Ohn | 5/29/2012 - 9:11pm
" ... progressive claims about the metaphysical irrelevance of biological gender reduce the body to mere property"

I know hundreds of self-described "progressives" and not one of them believes biological gender is metaphysically irrelevant. Some believe it is less relevant than is often asserted, and some believe the implications of its relevance are not those that are often asserted. But this mythical progressive who believes biological gender is irrelevant is a pure straw man.

And it's a little bit odd IMHO to hear a Catholic priest accusing lay people of wanting to live "easier and less demanding" lives. Lives don't get much easier and less demanding than the Catholic priesthood: free rent, free housekeeper-cook-laundress, free health insurance, no pension contributions to pay, free "education," free "diocesan retreats" in the Bahamas, free lawyers, absolute job security, two hour work days on Sunday and whatever they feel like the rest of the week. Kind of hard to believe the 'gospel truth of God's love, mercy and moral reality' is the first thing on their minds either.
John Reutemann | 5/29/2012 - 8:27pm
How can you so easily and confidently assert that ''I assure you that faithful Christians seek change because they judge the church [sic] to be distorting the gospel truth of God’s love, mercy and moral reality''? Are you sure it's not just because living a less-than-totally-Christian life is easier and less demanding? I have a hard time believing that when people are fornicating, simulating ordination, etc, that ''the gospel truth of God’s love, mercy and moral reality'' is the first thing on their mind.
Jim McCrea | 5/29/2012 - 6:05pm
Maybe if someone leaks on your letter it'll get prompter attention.

{ ; < }}
david power | 5/29/2012 - 6:05pm
This thing has real teeth.
I think that in that period Ratzinger was under a malevolent influence and to say anything beyond the romantic overblown vision  would have meant trouble.
Back in the day I actually believed in the complementarity  thing but as time  has passed I see it as a part of nature but not essential to the Gospel in any way.
The problem is that as a Priest of his day they only heard of sexual activity as it poured forth from a wracked conscience.
No catholic woman was ever gonna enter the confesional and start to speak about her wonderful sex life etc.
The Flux of everything , the fact that maybe Jesus has as much interest in our sexual activity as he has in our musical preferences this all escapes those trained on the breviary.
Conferences ,synods and the like have as much weight as my comment here.Nobody listens to them.Bishops have been playing catchup for about 50 years now and are falling ever more behind.
Would the Holy Father read this?I think he would.Would he listen?I think he would.But this is short and contains only a few points and as much as people can knock the man only an ignoramus would doubt his intellectual clout.   
What would he take from it?I think he would zero in on the science and philosophy gambit and tear that to pieces from a Christian perspective , and sadly maybe never get beyond that.

Below  are two of his best essays . I never tire of reading them.
Beth Cioffoletti | 5/29/2012 - 5:33pm
"Is not embodied human existence in this world and the resurrection far more shaped by sacramental union with Christ, than by complementary gender identity and reproductive purposes."

Exactly the way I see it.  That God became bodily human is so outrageous that this insight must shed light on (and even trump) any and all ways that we use to explain who and how we are.

I've never thought to write a letter to the Pope.  Just seeing this one makes me smile.  Wonder what he thinks, getting a letter on morals from an American woman ...

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