Congratulations on the choice of articles for the Sept. 23 issue. These were real articles about the daily problems that people encounter. It is encouraging to hear that good people are still working so hard for the church. Fewer articles by whiners, nit-picking theologians and about the politics of the clergy would be appreciated. Maybe there is still hope for the church.
Michael F. Melloy
Complexity of Lives
Their respective positions aside, the difference in rhetoric between the essays by the Rev. Andrew R. Baker and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton is striking (9/30). While Father Baker argues from law, theory and church documents, Bishop Gumbleton’s evidence comes from the lived experience of people with whom he has met and spoken. I cannot help but see the analogy with the leaders of Jesus’ day, who insisted on abstract interpretations of religious law, and Jesus himself, who saw that the simple law of love needed to be applied to the complexity of people’s lives.
Father Baker’s essay reveals the main problem with much of Curial thinking about homosexuality: an obsession with sexual behavior. He seems locked in a thought pattern that equates orientation with behavior. In church teaching, the distinction between orientation and behavior has been made clear many times (with no sinful stigma attached to orientation); yet when it comes to developing policy about homosexuality, some church leaders cannot seem to break out of the formula that equates a homosexual orientation with not just ordinary sexual activity, but rampant sexual activity. It is no wonder that gay/lesbian people feel that church officials don’t get it, when those in such positions as Father Baker’s seem to know nothing about the reality of gay/lesbian lives.
Sexual orientation involves more than desire for physical contact; it also includes the need for affection, intimacy, companionship and love. Father Baker’s insistence on referring to a homosexual orientation as same-sex attraction reveals his perspective of seeing the phenomenon only in terms of sexual desire. Moreover, Father Baker’s use of the acronym S.S.A. for same-sex attraction pathologizes a term that the overwhelming majority of medical and psychological authorities do not. Given Father Baker’s obvious lack of scientific knowledge about homosexuality, I can see that he would use such an acronym to bolster his argument: it offers a scientific-sounding legitimacy to a controversial concept accepted by very few. However, I do not see why America’s editors would let such a dubious term be used without any explanation of its controversial nature, or at least its background and origin.
Father Baker’s concern that gay seminarians would not resist sexual temptation in an all-male environment is ludicrous. Do we worry about heterosexual priests who are serving in convents of religious women, or for that matter, anywhere in our church, so heavily populated and staffed by women as it is? Since he offers no empirical evidence that gay men cannot live celibate lives, I cannot help but think his claims are the result of an overactive imagination about how gay men live.
In the 1997 statement, Always Our Children, the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family Life asserts: Homosexual persons living chaste lives should have opportunities to lead and serve the community. Statements made over the past year about gay priests and seminarians lead many to believe that some U.S. bishops have already violated their own recommendation.
Targeting gay priests and seminarians has been a smoke screen used by church leaders to deflect attention away from the real cause of the clergy sex abuse crisis: their own lack of responsibility and accountability in dealing with individual priests who have abused. Why can’t bishops judge gay candidates for priesthood in the same way they judge heterosexual ones: on a case by case basis? The rush to scapegoating indicates that some other, highly homophobic, agenda is present in this type of response to our church’s tragic crisis.
I read the Rev. Andrew Greeley’s review of Dean Hoge’s The First Five Years of the Priesthood, A Study of Newly Ordained Catholic Priests (9/30). I was pleased that Father Greeley was the reviewer, because I have had such great respect for his expertise as a research scholar. Since seminary days 37 years ago, I have admired his work.
I was deeply saddened, though, to see such a misrepresentation of the National Federation of Priests Councils in this review. Father Greeley imputes motive where there is none. The N.F.P.C. is not motivated by a misguided ideology that would encourage leaving the priesthood, nor by an organizational commitment to optional celibacy. (We are sometimes criticized because we are not.)
What does motivate us is deep concern for the coming of the kingdom of God and love for the church and for the priesthood. We recognize the diversity that is present in the presbyterate today and encourage the community of priests. We understand the search for a clearer identity of the priest and foster studies that will help all priests to come to a deeper understanding of the nature of the priesthood and its place in the church. We search for a renewed spirituality that leads to a more lively love for God, his people and the ministry to which we are called. We care about the mission of the church and offer ways of enhancing our ministry as presbyters so that the mission may be effectively accomplished. We commission research, such as that published in Dean Hoge’s book, in an honest effort to come to know the truth of things.
The N.F.P.C. is an organization of faithful, committed, courageous and loving priests who seek the good of the church by promoting the well-being and the lives of priests, the effectiveness of the presbyteral councils by which they assist their bishops in governance of the local church and the research that undergirds the work of the presbyterate in this country.
(Rev.) Robert J. Silva
I must ask what in the world is a biblically inspired Christian anthropology? If it means, as the Rev. Andrew R. Baker suggests (9/30), that the orientation of male to female and female to male is the divinely constituted one, then it is another attempt at pseudo-science masking as scholarship. There are countless examples throughout the entire animal kingdom of same-sex attraction; its presence in our species is not unique. In all of creation there is struggle of one kind or another. That is at the heart of anything becoming anything. There never was a perfect world. Same-sex attraction is just another of the struggles. But it does not necessarily tend toward a corrupt end. Nor can it never image’ God and never contribute to the good of the person or society. Such false conclusions only mutate from a false premise.
(Rev.) Robert J. Thorsen