For some time now, I have intended to write you to commend you on your excellent writing and articles on the sexual abuse issues in the Catholic Church. The report in Signs of the Times (7/29) about the remarks of Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz prompts me to write.
Current understanding among human development professionals includes the idea that each human person finds herself/himself somewhere on a continuum with regard to sexuality and affectional preference. That is, some people are more inclined to think of members of the opposite gender when they think of someone loving them; others think of persons of the same gender. And some people are emotionally attracted to members of both genders equally.
Bishop Bruskewitz focuses on two elements that I think are not indicated by the life experience of persons of either affectional preference. One element is to equate homosexuality with addiction (note his reference to persons suffering from drug addiction, alcohol dependence and kleptomania). Another troublesome element is his implication that persons who are attracted to persons of the same gender are driven to sexual promiscuity. To turn the tables, one might (erroneously) make the argument that it is not appropriate to ordain heterosexuals because they would likely be at risk of giving in to temptation of having sex with the wives and daughters of parishioners!
As a licensed counselor, I have met no person with a same-gender affectional preference who says that it is right to have sexual relations with children. Most gay people of my acquaintance want what most people want from a relationship: a special, monogamous relationship with the ability to love and be loved. And that does not always include genital sexual expression! Many persons of the gay affectional preference have been so rejected by their culture and/or family members that they certainly do not put themselves in the position to be rejected again. In sum, they are not pedophiles, nor are they sexual predators, in my experience.
One priest wrote in another publication, I believe God asks of homosexual relationships exactly what God asks of heterosexual relationships: truth, faithfulness, longsuffering, and the continuing forgiveness of the other. He then quotes Gal. 5:23: Against these there is no law.
We can all learn from one another. Your articles on this topic reflect good writing and pastoral sensitivity.
I was surprised and disappointed by the article on teaching children to behave in church (5/6). Despite the author’s well-intentioned effort, I am afraid she misleads parents. Moreover, it seems to me that the underlying theology of the article contradicts the theology of full and active participation envisioned by the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and subsequent liturgical documents, summarized so well by Thomas Slon, S.J., in the same issue.
As a parent and a director of religious education, I encounter this issue of children in church frequently. I have come to the conclusion that most of the time we approach it from the wrong perspective. The important issue is not so much whether parents are training their children to behave in church, as Mrs. Ficocelli suggests, but whether parents are raising their children to participate in liturgy.
I admit that doing the second is more challenging. It does not lend itself to simple prescriptions that will comfort members of the assembly who are distracted by the food, toys, books and other items families use to keep their children quiet. It also assumes that it is actually possible for children or adults to participate fully and actively in the average parish liturgy.
Apparently Mrs. Ficocelli believes that singing joyfully (even swaying and bouncing to the music!), responding enthusiastically and carefully, bowing reverently, bringing up the gifts and serving as eucharistic ministers constitutes full and active participation. I am afraid many Catholic adults (and, I would guess, most children) do not.
Children are fast learners, as Mrs. Ficocelli observes. What are they learning if we follow her example? It seems to me that there is a real danger that they will grow up exactly like their parents, who were taught that the role of the assembly is to stand, sit and kneel quietly and reverently, to speak only when spoken to, and then to respond only with carefully scripted formulas that allow no room for personal expression or community experience. Eventually, like so many adult Catholics, these children will remove themselves from the assembly altogethernot because they lack the hunger or desire to participate more fully, but because they are tired of being treated like unruly distractions who have never learned to behave and have never been allowed to participate.
Jesus said, Let the little children come to me. Did I miss the part where he added, but only if they have been properly instructed ahead of time, quietly follow along in the printed script and apologize to the people around them if their behavior is distracting? No doubt many adults are sick and tired of being interrupted by the emotional outbursts of small children. So were the disciples. We know the Lord’s response when they tried to anticipate her advice and remove the children from the assembly at the first moment that they create a disturbance.
Yes, there are limits to what is acceptable and appropriate at Mass, even for children. But the article misleads parents about the true nature of liturgy and teaches children that their role is to behave, not participate. I’m not sure it was helpful (or theologically consistent) for America to offer its readersand countless worried parentswhat your headline so aptly labeled Mass hysteria.
Paul Wilkes’s review of George Aschenbrenner’s new book Quickening the Fire in Our Midst on the challenge of diocesan priestly spirituality (8/12) resonates with the pastoral (broken) hearts of parish priests today who are dealing with the current sex abuse scandals in their parishes. Wilkes’s juxtaposition of the proposals in this stimulating and challenging book with the daily headlines and unprecedented publicity about American priests (and bishops) was astute. I should like to follow up on that review.
One of the distinguishing characteristics in the call to diocesan priesthood is ecclesiological. The parish priest’s call to serve in a diocese is concretized in his service to the people of the parish to which he is assigned. Relationships in faith and love are fostered and deepened in these real-life contexts. This is why the transfer of a priest can be so difficult for all concerned. Catholics miss a parish priest after he is transferred, yet while he is among them his presence and ministry is (rightly) presumed. Parish priests work out their spirituality in large part with and among their parishioners. Even though the Second Vatican Council wisely called for the restoration of a collegial understanding of the ordained presbyterate, most parish priests are not in regular contact with other diocesan priests (at least not in large numbers). But they are in daily contact with the people they serve.
This is where they regularly experience collegial relationships. A major part of that collegial, dynamic relationship is expressed in liturgy and preaching. All surveys of diocesan priests since Vatican II indicate that the two highest sources for ministerial satisfaction are liturgy and preaching. Would it not be correct to presume that the celebration of liturgy and preaching in parish contexts should be central to diocesan priests’ spirituality? The key is how the celebration of liturgy derives from and deepens a pastoral heart and priestly life. Part of the collegial relationship of parish priest to parishioner is experienced in individual pastoral care (counseling, visiting the sick, etc.). Some of it is in staff, committee and parish meetings. Some of it is in teaching. These relationships and relational opportunities need to be seen as intrinsic to the diocesan priest’s spirituality. Regrettably, the sexual abuse crisis may well lead to a distancing of parish priests from parishionersthe very life blood that diocesan priesthood presumes and is often based on. Eccle-
siology is at the heart of a parish priest’s life. Parish priests need to be nurtured by a spirituality that (among other things) fits priest-to-parishioner relationships.
(Rev. Msgr.) Kevin W. Irwin
Pledge for Justice
I read with interest George Kearney’s article Proud to Pledge (8/12). However, I cannot share his enthusiasm for reciting the Pledge of Allegiance
It all started years ago, when I was associate director of the Southwest Community Center in Philadelphia, Pa. During the summers in those days I would take, along with volunteers, 50 young children to a camp that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia generously gave us for four days.
It was a wonderful time, with inner-city kids trapping fish, catching frogs, swimming and enjoying the summer away from their impacted community. But each morning at reveille all of the campers were to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. As we lined up, I wondered how many of these young girls would be pregnant before they were 14, how many of these young boys would live to be 25 or end up in jail. I just could not recite justice for all in the pledge, as my experience showed me it was a hollow saying.
Now that the under God part seems to have been settled, perhaps we could move on to the justice for all part of the pledge. I join Mr. Kearney in the hope that all Americans will take the Pledge of Allegiance seriously, especially the part about justice for all.
Hugh Maguire, F.S.C.
Write to Congress
The latest issue on the anniversary of 9/11 is excellent. The articles generally are moving and insightful. But the article by John Langan, S.J., Should We Attack Iraq? (9/9) is outstanding. His analogy is brilliant as a teaching device, and he carries off the comparisons in a way that is cogent. I hope that many take his analysis to heart and write to our elected representatives, as I intend to do.
William A. Barry, S.J.
With and for your gift, I raise my mobile mug in thanksgiving to America. I shall drink to your generosity and pray for your continued service to the people of God in the ministry of proclaiming truth.
(Most Rev.) David B. Thompson
Retired Bishop of Charleston
Mount Pleasant, S.C..