Ubiquitous and Protean
Buried in the substantial disinformation throughout the Rev. Andrew R. Baker’s Ordination and Same Sex Attraction (9/30), old chestnuts about allegedly effeminate affective manners and proper masculine behavior most alerted my historian’s antennae. As Carolyn Dean shows in her fine recent study of sexuality between 1918 and 1940 (The Frail Social Body: Pornography, Homosexuality, and Other Fantasies in Interwar France ), the crushing evidence of World War I trenches forced postwar medical doctors to abandon their fin-de-siècle belief that a male’s feminine appearance indicated same sex attraction. As a consequence, anxiety ran rampant among cultural critics throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s: if effeminate men might be heterosexual while masculine men might actually be inverts, then appearances could no longer be relied upon. Anyone might be passing for straight, raising the specter that inversion was both more ubiquitous and protean than previously thought. (The example of the burly rugby-playing hero of Sept. 11’s Flight 93, Mark Binghama gay mannicely illustrates the present-day anxieties over prudent doubt and moral certitude.) In several ways, Father Baker’s essay reflects the very latest in 19th-century thought: fascinating reading for the professional historian, but perhaps not more widely helpful.
Stephen Schloesser, S.J.
Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Anti-Matter Over Mind
In Ordination and Same Sex Attraction (9/30), you’re pulling our collective, metaphorical leg, right? Please tell us someone spiked the office coffee and you decided on a frat-boy, Dear-Abby contest to come up with the most outrageous defense of an untenable argument that you could muster, just to see who was awake. Otherwise we’d have to believe that an ordained person could pen such a specious triumph of anti-matter over mind, and that would be one more disillusionment.
St. Paul’s delicate analogy of the divine/spousal relationship has been stretched torturously in many a painful homily through the years, but this anthropomorphic (anatomical?) excess plumbs new depths. Is it naïve to hope that reflections on the choice and charisms of celibacy would center on the kind of love and unity one is moving towardrather than the kind of sexual activity one is leaving behind? Are we really to think that God is impressed with self-congratulatory reflection on the girl(s) I left behind me and indifferent to the fact that I seek the grace not to become a repressed robot, but to redirect my affective nature from an individual focus to a conscious, all-inclusive and effective devotion to God and those I am called to serve?
In the Archdiocese of Boston we have had sad reason to become more discerning about arrested developmentwhether of the sexual, anti-intellectual or power-hungry kindand to look for a new appreciation of Gospel values. In 50 years of various lay ministries, priests I have known whose orientation Father Baker would dis have been among the most insightful, compassionate, justice-committed servers of the word and God’s people that one could want in an alter Christus. (Perhaps their very struggle has given them more of a Christ-like sensitivity to the hurting and the marginalized than their critics have sometimes evidenced.)
Are there sexually obsessed, predatory and exploitative con-men among homosexuals? Of course, as there are among heterosexuals. Are they the majority? No. While we’re winnowingand getting help forthe pathologically immature, the clerical orientation we most need to challenge is the one that puts preserving image ahead of reforming reality, aspires to Roman preferment over pastoral service; and identifies more with structural accretions steeped in imperial and feudal inequities than with the caring ekklesia and communio to which Jesus still calls us.
May God re-orient us all. Or isn’t that what metanoia is about?
In his review of Garry Wills’s book Why I Am a Catholic, Scott Appleby commends Wills for his unflinching honesty (9/30). I am sorry that I cannot agree. An honest critic would not misrepresent his sources the way Wills has misrepresented the document Dominus Iesus and the accompanying note regarding the expression sister churches. On p. 269 of his book, Wills says: Dominus Iesus became instantly notorious for calling all churches or religions but the Catholic church gravely deficient.’ What Dominus Iesus actually says is: If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the church, have the fullness of the means of salvation. Nothing is said here about all churches or religions. Comparing the means of grace had by followers of other religions with the fullness of such means had by those in the church, it says that the former are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with the latter. I would agree that this is an infelicitous way of putting it. But it is a long way from saying what Wills claims it says. He goes on to say: In an accompanying protocol, Ratzinger told ecumenists to stop using the term sister churches’ for anything but particular Catholic churches. There is but a single church.’ And even among Catholic churches, Rome is not a sister church but mother of all the particular churches’ (emphasis in original). What Ratzinger has actually said is: One may also speak of sister churches, in a proper sense, in reference to particular Catholic and non-Catholic churches; thus the particular church of Rome can also be called the sister of all other particular churches. Every affirmation that Ratzinger has made in that sentence is flatly contradicted in Wills’s version of it.
Francis A. Sullivan, S.J.
Chestnut Hill, Mass.
As a long time subscriber to America, I congratulate you on Ten Lessons From Good Pope John, by Gerald Twomey (10/7).
I believe it is vitally important for us to remember what was really accomplished during the Second Vatican Council, and equally important to remember that much of what was mandated has still not been fulfilled.
In these times, when many people believe the primary problems with the church lie in the lack of married priests or female priests, it is good to remember how secondary those issues are when compared to the laity’s participation in the life of the church, the need for dialogue and respect for divergent viewpoints, the need to maintain an optimistic spirit and the necessity of cultivating a sense of humor when things go wrong, as well as the numerous other teachings of Vatican II referred to in the article.
I congratulate you on having reminded all of us about the best that is in the religious tradition that we all seek to make part of our lives.
Carl C. Landegger
New York, N.Y.