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Our readersNovember 04, 2002

A Dreadful Mistake

It seems, if I correctly understand the authors responding to Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., (10/21) that I may have made a dreadful mistake. Whatever was I thinking when I responded to Jesus’ gracious invitation and entered the church? Whatever was God thinking? Didn’t he know that I, as a Jew, didn’t need to be evangelized?

Of course, I wasn’t a practicing Jew at the time. Does that matter? Is the Gospel to be irrelevant to Jews as individuals, or to Jews as a people? Perhaps agnostic or atheistic Jews might appropriately be evangelized, while only observant Jews should be exempted from hearing about Jesus? Now, would that be just Orthodox observant Jews, or perhaps also Conservative Jews; what then about Reform Jews? Or are we talking issues of genetics and ethnicity here? (Non-practicing baptized Catholics are part of the covenant toodo they then not need evangelization either?)

St. Edith Stein, help me! Or did you make a dreadful mistake, too? Oh, yes, you died before the rules changed, so you’re O.K.

Of course God’s covenants (plural, please) with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David et al., have never been revoked. But when did Catholic tradition begin to set aside inconvenient biblical truths, rather than learn to live with the tension between seemingly incompatible precepts? We used to call these mysteries.

Cardinal Dulles, always polite, terms the views expressed in Covenant and Mission ambiguous, if not erroneous. To this observer, they appear deficient, defective and distorted. I think it is clear who is making a dreadful mistake. Perhaps evangelization (as opposed to proselytization) might be best understood as proclaiming the Gospel, forthrightly and honestly, to everyone who is willing to listen.

Robert V. Levine
Collegeville, Pa.


As novice director for the past eight years, I read Bishop Donald W. Wuerl’s Seminary Visitation (9/30) with great interest. I was particularly curious about the reasons why such a visit was necessary.

Bishop Wuerl does not state a clear reason, but he does explain that the impetus for the proposed apostolic visitation is the recent scandal involving the sexual abuse of minors by clergy and their subsequent reassignment to pastoral ministry.

The article seems to imply that despite the successful conclusion of the last apostolic visitation (1981-90), something in priestly formation in this country has gone terribly wrong. If not, why another visitation so soon?

Here are my questions. Is it not true that the vast majority of sexual abuse cases are among clergy who were ordained over 25 years ago? It seems to me that fact is evidence that seminaries are currently doing a fine job. What direct link is there between the current sexual abuse scandal and seminary formation?

The second part of the impetus statement has to do with the reassignment of abusive priests. What does that have to do with seminary formation? Isn’t that the sole responsibility of the bishops?

Robert A. Fambrini, S.J.
Culver City, Calif.


As someone who has recently retired after almost 40 years of teaching at Catholic colleges and universities, may I second the concern expressed by Thomas P. Rausch, S.J., about the theological illiteracy of so many young Catholics today (10/14)? A substantial majority of undergraduate students at Catholic universities enter with little or no formal background in theology, for they have not attended Catholic high schools. Unfortunately, if they enroll in professional schools at Catholic universities, it is likely that their curricula will barely address their illiteracy. A survey of professional schools and colleges (e.g., nursing, engineering, physical therapy) in Catholic universities reveals that the majority require no more than two courses in theology out of the 40 or so courses needed for a bachelor’s degree. Colleges of liberal studies are somewhat better.

Thomas Anderson
Milwaukee, Wis.

Puzzling Theology

I write to thank you for publishing Another Generation Gap, by Thomas P. Rausch, S.J. (10/14).

It answers many questions I’ve had over the past five or six years, especially in dealing with newly ordained priests and a generation of younger Catholics, whose conservative theology has puzzled me. The author has clarified the issue for meat least for nowas he spells out the needs of this generation: evangelization, renewed sense of Catholic identity and collegial exercise of authority. As an older Catholic educator, I could not understand the conservative trend among our young people, especially their fascination with the miraculous, Marian apparitions and other expressions of the supernatural. I very much appreciate Father Rausch’s insights, especially as I deal with young parents preparing children for sacraments. I look forward to some more of his good teaching.

Mary Riordan, R.S.M.
Gulfport, Miss.

Granting Pardon

Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., points out in When to Forgive (10/7) that forgiveness ordinarily presupposes certain conditions in the person being forgiven. He has in mind contrition, amendment and satisfaction, and he adds, so far as we can judge from holy Scripture, God himself requires these conditions. That may well be true ordinarily or usually, but it is not always the case, as Cardinal Dulles himself carefully admits. The late eminent Catholic Scripture scholar, Raymond E. Brown, S.S., explicitly pointed out (The Death of the Messiah, pp. 1,045 and 1,010) four or five examples of Luke’s theology of divine forgiveness even before repentance is expressed, one prime example being Jesus’ guarantee of paradise to the person we commonly call the good thief. It simply does not appear that Jesus was always as squeamish or as demanding as we tend to be when it comes to granting pardon. It also seems to me that in the Gospels he has challenged us always at least to be open to attempt to forgive all those who offend us, not simply those who meet a certain number of inflexible requirements.

Andrew A. Galligan
Tracy, Calif.

It Depends

It was not clear that the discussion in America (9/30) on the ordination of gay men was up for a vote from the readership. I will cast mine anyway.

The Rev. Andrew R. Baker’s response to the question was coldly logical and based on a number of false premises. To begin with, he assumes that the orientation of homosexuality is in itself a disorder that somehow can be chosen and subsequently be changed. Aside from the fact that that sort thinking is simply wrong, it also leads to discrimination and violence. Has he forgotten that these, too, are morally wrong? I am offended by his misuse of Scripture to justify this position.

Second, Father Baker seems to do a lot of hairsplitting in determining the motives of a man choosing celibacy. I wonder how many candidates for the priesthood really think through clearly what the full implications are for ordination, namely spiritual fatherhood and a spousal relationship with the church. Father Baker assumes that ipso facto, gay men are somehow not masculine enough to fulfill these roles. He also implies that gay priests cannot model either masculinity or spirituality to the larger church. Gay men are fully as masculine and spiritual as are straight men, and they can be just as capable of spiritual fatherhood. Maybe the real problem is the lack of integration in so many men of masculine and feminine characteristicssomething in which these effeminate men could in fact lead the way in forming better priests.

Finally, he asserts that gay men are more devious in hiding their orientation or repressing it while in seminary formation. Funny how, if it’s homosexual, it’s repressing, whereas if it is heterosexual, it is sublimating. Small wonder that a certain hiding may occur when an institution that does not want them has forced gays to do it. Yet they are no more devious than other underdeveloped straight men who seek a kind of spiritual/political power over other people as church careerists. There are far too many of those, I am afraid. When a man does come out, it is a graced process that leads to real integrity before God and the church he loves, even in the face of possible rejection by some of its members. Then his choice to serve the people of God is a real sacrifice of a true father and spouse.

Unless I am profoundly mistaken, the last I heard, Christ chooses his spouses. Is it not possible that a gay man who lives a celibate life according to church teachings might be called to just such a spousal relation to Christ and his church? As Bishop Gumbleton has pointed out, it is not only possible, but has happened throughout the church’s history. Personally, I know many such deeply committed ministers of the Gospel who just happen to be gay. They are the true lovers of God and God’s people, the church. I can only conclude that God has called them to service as priests. This is the gist of Bishop Gumbleton’s response, one that I find more balanced and resonant with everything I know of the teachings and example of Christ.

Should gay men be ordained? Should straight men be ordained? I would say it depends. The criterion should be the same for both with regard to their moral, spiritual and psychosocial health.

Michael Sheridan
Astoria, N.Y.

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