Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Greater Understanding

The following letter was published in yesterday’s St. Paul Pioneer Press. It’s wonderful!


Seeking Greater Understanding

I must respectfully disagree with Pat Phillips’ “In Defense of Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality” (Feb. 12). Phillips writes in support of an erroneous and disrespectful teaching of the Catholic Church.

We have learned enough about human development to know that one’s sexuality is not a matter of choice. To deny homosexual persons the opportunity for intimate and caring relationships afforded to heterosexuals is an affront to our creator and antithetical to the church’s teaching on social justice.

To declare those who accept and try to live the Catholic faith as being in “mortal sin” simply because they seek the expression of their full humanness, or support others in such, is oppressive, arrogant, and unnecessarily divisive.

As a practicing, married, and heterosexual Catholic, I cannot accept the church’s position as articulated by Phillips and Archbishop John Nienstedt. I will continue to seek a greater understanding of my God and the teachings of his son Jesus through study, weekly worship, and frequent receipt of Holy Communion.

Robert B. Denardo
Eagan, MN


See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
300+ People Vigil at the Cathedral in Solidarity with LGBT Catholics
Why We Gathered
Interesting Times Ahead
An Open Letter to Archbishop Nienstedt
Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Learning Curve”: A Suggested Trajectory
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
Joan Timmerman on the “Wisdom of the Body”
Love is Love


12 comments:

Clayton said...

To deny homosexual persons the opportunity for intimate and caring relationships afforded to heterosexuals is an affront t our creator and antithetical to the church’s teaching on social justice.

The Church is not interested in denying anyone the right to intimate, caring relationships with people of the same or opposite sex.

Anyone who claims otherwise is entertaining a foolish canard.

To equate intimate, caring relationships with sodomy is an affront to the subjects involved, to right reason and to the Creator.

kevin57 said...

Mr. Phillips shows his prejudice when he refers several times to "same sex attraction." These folks read out of the same play book. It is a true shame that the Catholic Defense League is doing this stuff. Their best work used to be to point out unfair media portrayals of the Church. Now, they're turning into orthodoxy police.

The response, though, is perfect. The bottom line is, "Is homosexuality a choice?" Nearly every gay man will emphatically say it is not. Argue genetics or environment, or whatever "cause" you want. It is experienced as something "received." Once that is honestly acknowledged, then to not honor a gay person's desire to relate and love fully as any heteroexual is to say that God made a mistake, which is blasphemy.

The pointy hats fail to connect the dots.

Clayton said...

Argue genetics or environment, or whatever "cause" you want. It is experienced as something "received." Once that is honestly acknowledged, then to not honor a gay person's desire to relate and love fully as any heterosexual is to say that God made a mistake

Kevin57, you made a logical error. The Catechism itself is agnostic as to the origins of homosexual inclination. The Church invites those with a homosexual orientation to a life of celibate chastity. It does not follow that the Creator has made a mistake (except, perhaps, if you presume that the doctrine of original sin is false).

The Church does claim a place for the cross in the Christian life. What else is the cross, except a burden that one would not choose to bear of one's own accord? Every Christian has at least one. Why should those of homosexual orientation be excluded from a fundamental human experience (i.e. the cross)? And why must a small but vocal minority of them agitate for change in such a way that they not only fail to bear their own cross, but insist on inflicting additional crosses on Christ's body, the Church?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Dear Clayton:

After reading your comments I have to ask: Do you have any idea of how pompous and arrogant you come across when you assign the term “sodomy” to the intimate and caring relationships of gay people – or, for that matter, of straight people who engage in any form of non-[biological] procreative sex?

Who are you to speak for these people? Do you know better than them?

Who are you denigrate their experiences of love, their experience of God in their lives and relationships? Are you aware of how insensitive and uninformed you sound when you describe such experiences as “foolish canards,” as, in other words, false or baseless, usually derogatory stories, reports, or rumors?

Let me assure you, there’s nothing foolish, false, baseless, or derogatory about the gay relationships I witness around me. Recent studies, incidentally, support such an observation.

Also, not even the Catechism uses the term “sodomy,” and with good reason. It was a word used to describe a “crime” that for centuries the Church killed people for. It’s a word that carries for gay people an immeasurable amount of sadness and pain as it serves as a reminder of the true cross we bear. This cross isn't the gift of our sexuality, but the ignorance, fear, and bigotry of others.

It is these realities that comprise the “burden we do not choose to bear of our own accord.” Unfortunately, the experience of such realities is all too often a “fundamental human experience,” a cross that many gay people have to carry. Your words, my friend, lay additional weight to such a cross.

And as for your contention that we comprise a “small but vocal minority,” well, I certainly think you would like to think that that is the case. The world and the Church, however, are changing. I sense that that bothers you. Indeed, I sense a certain fear and resentment in your comments. I think deep down you know that the Church is wrong on this issue and that change is inevitable. Yet your understanding of Church prohibits change! As a result, you've backed yourself into quite a corner! Though insensitive and provocative, your hurling from this corner of words and phrases such as “sodomy” “small but vocal minority,” and “foolish canards” is ultimately pitiful.

In fact, I have to tell you that when I first read your comments I experienced a flash of anger. But then I felt a deep sadness for you. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I wanted to give you a big hug; to tell you that it’s okay, that “all will be well.” Your words hurt me, it’s true. But I thing they come from a place of greater hurt in your life. And so tonight before I retire I’ll pray for you – pray that you may know healing and liberation in your life.

Another thing that I realized and which saddened me was that you have no voice of your own, which tells me you’ve probably had very little real experience of life. You simply parrot the impoverished and dysfunctional sexual theology of the Vatican. Not to be flip, but I really think you need to get out more.

Peace,

Michael

Clayton said...

Michael,

Let me clarify a few things.

First, I believe that people with same-sex orientation can engage in caring, intimate, holy relationships with one another. Indeed, the Church would seem to indicate this with its recommendation of disinterested friendship to those of homosexual orientation. The phrase "disinterested friendship" needs to be explained and unpacked, as I think some people have the impression that it means a sort of cold, distant cordiality. Not at all what I think the Church has in mind with this phrase. I don't claim to have a definitive interpretation of disinterested friendship, but I get the strong sense that it would be something along the lines of what St. Aelred proposes in his work on spiritual friendship.

My point was that the writer of the editorial seemed to be using this unassailable premise (that everyone deserves to have intimate, caring relationships with people of the same or opposite sex) to elicit support for a conclusion that is unacceptable from a Christian point-of-view: that same-sex genital activity is a gift from the Creator. Can you see how this rhetorical technique could be construed as disingenuous?

I do not exclude the possibility that the relationships of those who "engage in any form of non-[biological] procreative sex" could include elements of generosity and goodness. At the same time, the goodness and generosity in such relationships would exist despite, not because, of the decision to engage in genital activity that fails to honor the Creator's intentions. How can failing to respect the meaning of one's God-given sexuality (and that of another person) be a sign of generosity in itself? This is the primary counter-witness to love given by heterosexuals who contracept... just to be clear, the the Church's admonition is not directed to those who are same-sex attracted, per se, but to any who fail to honor the connection between conjugal love and the procreative potential of such love.

I don't recall speaking on behalf of anyone else. Please clarify that point.

I'm not excessively concerned about how I sound to you, but at the same time I can appreciate the importance of not putting a stumbling block in anyone's way by inflammatory language. I used such language here, and for this I apologize.

However, I would also point out that inflammatory language has been a constant mark of your communication with me on this blog. Not that this excuses my responding in kind.

You disagree with the Church about methods for determining the goodness of sexual activity. I understand that. I don't agree with your methodology, since it always seems to come at the expense of faithfulness to the apostolic tradition and the way that tradition has unfolded in the Church's history. You have not proposed progress/development of the Church's position on human sexuality, but merely a change in it. By progress a thing becomes more itself. By change a thing becomes something it was not before. You seem to be an advocate for change, not progress.

I am aware that there are all kinds of expressions of bigotry / all kinds of misunderstanding directed at those who are same-sex attracted in the Church. I think it is unjust. I think there is a call to conversion that needs to be addressed to the larger community and the culture regarding this. But the answer is not to misrepresent the Church's teaching. The answer is to propose a bold, attractive, winning vision of what a life of holiness looks like for those of homosexual orientation. I know you think you have provided just this, but the teaching authority of the Church begs to differ.

As to the remainder of your comments, offered as personal judgments of my interior life, I feel no need to dignify such comments with any kind of defense. In what sense are you justified in deciding / speculating about my intentions and or experience? That, I would posit, is nothing less than presumptuous and is unworthy of someone who has claimed to be interested in a serious discussion of the topic at hand.

Again, I take responsibility for the tone of my responses here, and I would ask you to do the same. To your point: when someone resorts to personal attack, it's hard to avoid the impression that they have little confidence in their position. And I don't recall launching a personal attack on you. Please clarify if you disagree.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Dear Clayton,

Thanks for your attempts at clarification, but from my perspective they fall woefully short.

The inherent arrogance of the Vatican’s claim that it and it alone can best speak for people with regards human sexuality continues to be conveyed in your attitudes and words. Like the majority of Catholics, I find such a claim offensive, insensitive, and erroneous. Let us not forget that the same sexual theology that condemns “homosexual acts” also prohibits contraception – a prohibition ignored by an estimated 96 percent of Catholic married couples. The average Catholic - gay or straight - is quite aware that with regards to sexual matters, the Catholic hierarchy has no credibility – moral or otherwise. That’s a great shame, but nevertheless glaringly obvious to people both within and beyond the Church.

The term “disinterested friendship” is an oxymoron, and an insult to thinking and feeling people. You yourself can’t even offer an adequate description of this phrase.

I don’t believe that God’s intention for sex is limited to biological procreation, or that such procreation determines the unique nature of human sexuality. I appreciate the perspective of Daniel Helminiak on the “non-negotiables” of human sex. He notes that:

To be sure, procreation is an inherent aspect of sexuality. But there is more to sex than that, especially when we look at sex in human beings. Procreation is an animal function. In humans sex is taken up into a new array of purposes. Human sex involves emotional bonding and the dreams and promises of lovers. That is to say, beyond the physical, human sex also involves the psychological and the spiritual. (I see “dreams and promises,” or ideals, and beliefs and ethics – all ways of suggestion meaning and value – as spiritual matters.) So having sex (physical) seduces lovers (emotional) into dreaming dreams and making promises (spiritual). The trend of sex is toward higher things. And since the spiritual dimension of human sexual sharing is the highest and most significant, it is what determines the unique nature of human sexuality, so it is what must be preserved in every case. Not procreation, but genuine care and loving are the non-negotiables of human sex.

Also, further change in the Church’s teaching on homosexuality would be a continuation of the progress already underway. Truth, my friend, is discovered through time. Tradition evolves. The Church is currently teaching in Section 2358 of the Catechism, that homosexuals should be treated with compassion and sensitivity. That represents evolution of the tradition – “change,” if you like. There is no reason that the moral teaching on the matter of “intrinsic disorder” of homosexuality and the “evil” of homosexual acts should not evolve and change also. There is certainly plenty of scientific evidence and moral/pastoral reasoning that it should – and quickly.

Your distinction between progress and change rings hollow – and, more than anything, convey a certain fear, a fear of change, I guess, and of what such change will mean for your understanding of “the Church.” Your plea to “faithfulness to the apostolic tradition” on the issue of homosexuality also comes across as uninformed and desperate. That tradition has only come to be informed of the complexity of human sexuality in the last hundred years or so. It’s yet to integrate these insights. Such integration is taking place at the “grassroots” level of the Church, but the hierarchy, due to it’s own “unhealed wound” around sexuality, is yet to seriously undertake this important work of integration.

Despite the hierarchy’s malaise, Catholics “in the pews” are intuitively sensing the truth in statements like the following by National Catholic Reporter editor, Tom Roberts, who in January 2006 wrote that, “[Some insist] that current thinking that is tolerant of homosexuality [is] ignoring ancient wisdom. I happen to think that current wisdom that welcomes homosexuals is, more correctly, finally dropping centuries of ancient ignorance.”

The editors of the 1994 anthology Sexuality and the Sacred: Sources of Theological Reflection suggest that this ignorance stems, in part, from the fact that “throughout most of Christian history the vast majority of theologians who wrote about sexuality tried to approach the subject from one direction only: they began with affirmations and assertions of the faith (from scriptures, from doctrines, from churchly teachings, and so on) and then applied those to human sexuality. Now, theologians are assuming that the other direction of inquiry is important as well: What does our sexual experience reveal about God? About the ways we understand the gospel? About the ways we read scripture and tradition and attempt to live out the faith?”

Such questions, I admit, can be unsettling. But I think that it is not the Catholic way to shy away from them and to retreat instead into some fantasy world where, despite evidence to the contrary, we insist that we have all the possible answers (and thus knowledge) available to us about what it means to be human.

I don’t see you engaging such questions, Clayton, but merely serving as a mouthpiece for the “fantasy world” of the Vatican.

Finally, your insensitive, arrogant, and dismissive labeling as “sodomy” those experiences that I and other gay people experience as intimate and caring relationships is what “justifies [my] speculating about [your] intentions and/or experience.” Do you really think you can waltz on into my blogsite, spew that shit, and not be called on it?

I think what also “justifies” my exploring of your intentions is the fact that I was once where you’re at. I too was once backed into that “corner” of denying my own reality and blindly following what the Church teaches. Thank God I was freed from such a lifeless place. And as a result, I can totally resonate with Christopher Evans when he writes:

I distrust piety. I distrust piety because I was once extremely pious. And in the name of piety, could be really judgmental, world denying, self-loathing, and a real no-fun pain in the ass in my quiet pursed lips way. And too many of the pious I hung around with were likewise thus. You could almost feel our assholes pucker (insert stick) whenever we encountered someone laughing and enjoying life and committing sins (as we so judged). Like more than one saint (including some of the canonized) with a docetic bent, I wanted to throw off this veil of flesh, with all the mess, ambiguity, struggle, sinning, and those temptations to joy and delight and fun because they were messy, ambiguous, filled with struggle, and always likely to be a mixture of virtue and sinning. I wanted to divorce the Incarnation from the Creation, Salvation from Ordinary Life. And the Church’s stance on sexuality encouraged just that type of rules-keeping, flesh-fleeing thinking as what is meant by holiness – at the heart of such teaching is a flesh-hating vision that suggests theologically that the earth is wicked and God is out to get us. So flee from the very ooomph! of life. No fusses, no musses, no squirts and puddles and messes.

Christopher goes on to note that: “Only my ‘coming out’ really saved me from a life of piety, and I discovered how quickly the pious can turn on their own when one begins to find reverence/awe/fear of the LORD in the everyday. And ever since, revisioning what praying, practicing, living, and being a follower of Christ might be has been a journey in having my piety stripped away piece by piece, slowly but surely until I find myself left with the daily. . . Sooner or later you realize that real holiness is quite human.”

I’ve come to understanding that such a realization means putting away the “childish things” presented to us by the hierarchical Church and growing up. It’s that simple.

Yet it’s also quite a difficult undertaking within Roman Catholicism. For as Tom Doyle notes:

What we [are seeing is] a clash between the deeply rooted clerical dependency that has been systematically woven into our very being by the institutional church, and Catholic Adulthood. Its a long, excruciatingly painful process to grow up in the Catholic Church. Most chronological adults never make it. No matter how liberated and avant-garde they believe themselves to be, there is still a very powerful core, deep down inside, that causes dependency feelings to take over whenever one is faced with the challenge of taking the risk of not only thinking but acting like an adult when in the realm of the Church world. To do so means to challenge the clerical office holders and to express opinions that they do not want to hear. To do so means taking the risk that some of them might try to capitalize on the magical thinking that has supported their power by threatening canonical penalties or equating disobedience to them with disobedience to Christ.

And finally, as for “serious discussion,” I’ve come to the conclusion that you and I have gone as far as we can with such dialogue. Quite frankly, further attempts at discussion are a waste of my time and energy. I’d rather expend such time and energy on the proactive work I’m doing with CPCSM, The Progressive Catholic Voice, and, of course, The Wild Reed.

I believe that at this point in my life, my work with these organizations and projects comprises a vocation. God has very carefully and lovingly guided me to people and places that have enabled me to bring forth my talents and gifts, and to use them in combination with the talents and gifts of others so as to help our fellow Catholics “think and act like adults in the Church world.” And judging from the increasing correspondence that we’re receiving, such work is greatly appreciated and hungered for by Catholics.

And so the great work continues . . .

Peace,

Michael

kevin57 said...

Clayton,

I thank you for engaging in this discussion, as personal as it can get. Many of those who claim to carry the banner of orthodoxy in the Church would consider it "impure" even to associate with this blog.

Your last post criticized this blog's advocacy of a "change" in church doctrine rather than "progress/development." Perhaps, but all great social movements have done so and made the establishment mindset nervous. Abolitionists did not, in the main, support a slow dissolution of slavery. They cried out for all slavery to be eliminated, yesterday. Women's rights advocates, similarly, in the 20s advocated for that which is commonplace today but utterly radical for their times.

The real problem in the Church is that its moral methodology has not kept pace with modern thinking. You and many in your camp completely ignore, or worse, condemn the theological community's insights and the dynamic of the "sensus fidelium"; that is, how a teaching is received by the faithful. If you have studied Church history at all, you know well that these two elements used to be considered essential in a teaching's authenticity.

However you'd like to spin it, the Church is very quickly losing any authority when it comes to sexual ethics/morality. Artificial contraception is the most obvious example. The Church has rejected it, the Church of the faithful. The theological community has rejected it. The bishops and clergy reject it (and please don't allude to official statements. It is rare to hear any bishop at least here or in Europe even allude to the teaching.).

The same is happening with homosexuality and homosexual relationships. It just is, and no number of appeals to the magisterium is going to convince one soul. Just isn't.

P.S. I even had one bishop say to me, "Who am I to tell a gay couple, who's been in a loving relationship for twenty years, that in order to save their souls they have to separate?" Indeed, Clayton, what sort of "compassion" and "truth" would ever lead someone to say this?

Clayton said...

Michael -

I agree with you that our conversation here is not proving constructive. After 5 years of attempting to dialogue with you, the effort is over, per your wishes.

Anonymous said...

I am confused by Philips' article. He says that only 4% of priests abused children and then that 80-90% of priestly "attacks" involved post-pubescent males. Does he mean 80-90% of the 4%?

Now if 4% of all priests are involved in sex with minors -- which is at the dicy fringe of sexual activity -- how can it be plausibly asserted that "The vast majority [of gay priests] do not give in to the desire for sex with another male, let alone a minor."

The following sentence contains a piece of quasi-Stalinist newspeak: "There are good priests, of course, who are AFFLICTED with same-sex attraction, probably some of the most caring and concerned."

Anonymous said...

This is one of the most brilliant combox discussions I have ever read -- I am keeping a copy!

Michael J. Bayly said...

Clayton,

I don't expect you to respond to this, but I feel that I have to respond to your concern that I personally attacked you.

Perhaps my previous comments have been unnecessarily harsh and even presumptuous, but, to be honest, I found (and continue to find) your opening comment to be a personal attack on me and other gay people who experience and express their love in intimate and physical ways:

To equate intimate, caring relationships with sodomy is an affront to the subjects involved, to right reason and to the Creator.

Later, you wrote that:

I believe that people with same-sex orientation can engage in caring, intimate, holy relationships with one another.

Yes, but not on the terms of those actually experiencing such relationships, but rather on an outside authority that you happen to agree with.

It was these comments of yours that compelled me to label your writings (and, by extension, the Church's teaching on sexuality) as arrogant, pompous, uninformed, and insensitive. Why? Because in your comments you separate "intimate and caring relationships" from those physical expressions of such relationships that you dismiss and condemn as "sodomy."

In the Bible, "sodomy" is clearly a reference to homosexual rape. I resent such a term being used to describe gay people's experiences of intimate and caring relationships.

The reality is that gay people, along with heterosexual people, can and do experience sexual relationships marked by justice, wholeness, and life-giving love.

Like Maria Harris and others, I “see homosexuality as part of God’s creation, sanctified by the Incarnation.”

Writes Harris:

The world of our bodily senses is not a veil that obscures divinity. The material world, whatever its groans and travails, is the expression of divine goodness. The best impulses of that world – the genuine struggles for the fulfillment of bodily existence – cannot be dismissed . . . People’s sexual expressions have to be seen within that context.

Unfortunately, the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church on human sexuality do dismiss "the genuine struggles for the fulfillment of bodily existence [and divine goodness]" of many. As a result, the people and relationships that embody such genuine struggles are discounted and maligned - often through dehumanizing stereotypes

For instance, like the vast majority of gay men, I don’t fit either of the limited stereotypes officially promoted by Roman Catholicism. I am neither a martyr to celibacy nor an irreligious hedonist consumed by promiscuity.

Indeed, as I’ve said elsewhere, I’m not very good at being either celibate or promiscuous. Instead, I’m dedicated to a searching life “somewhere in between.” It’s not a desperately searching life, but rather one filled with hope and the joy of pilgrimage, one that is respectful of honest doubts, and open to different types of authentic relationships (and thus to God present in my life and the world in different ways).

I hope and trust that one day one of those “types of authentic relationships” will be defined and sustained by the mutual attraction and connection I’ll share and express (sacramentally and sexually) with another man. Together we’ll endeavor to ensure that such “mutual attraction and connection” serves to welcome and nurture experiences that, in the words of D. Stephen Heersink, will be “pregnant with meaning, intimacy, caring, sharing, mutuality, and immersion.” They’ll be life-giving experiences, in other words. (So much for expressions of gay love not being “procreative”!)

I’m grateful that I live at a time when such life-giving sharing and expressions of love between two people of the same gender are increasingly being recognized, affirmed, and accepted – by individuals, families, societies, and, yes, faith communities - including many within the community of Roman Catholicism.

I'm sorry that you and others are not prepared to join in what I and others consider to be the holy work of such recognition, affirmation, and acceptance.

Yet that seems to be the reality of the situation. Accordingly, I doubt that you and I will ever come to any point of agreement on such matters. And you know what? That's okay.

I wish you well on your journey, and thank you for attempting to dialogue.

Peace,

Michael

Clayton said...

kevin57,

You wrote:
Your last post criticized this blog's advocacy of a "change" in church doctrine rather than "progress/development." Perhaps, but all great social movements have done so and made the establishment mindset nervous.

The church is not merely a social movement. To define the church as a social movement is to take a secular and politicized view of her. There is a reason the Catholic Church does not allow her priests to serve in political office.

The real problem in the Church is that its moral methodology has not kept pace with modern thinking.

Do you really believe this? I'd be interested in hearing you surface/illustrate some examples.

You and many in your camp completely ignore, or worse, condemn the theological community's insights and the dynamic of the "sensus fidelium".

Please let me know what insights I have ignored or condemned. Also, I don't belong to a camp. I belong to a church. I would hope, as a priest of the Catholic church, that you would identify yourself in the same way. I think you and I disagree about what the Church means by the sensus fidelium. You would seem to limit it to those alive on earth right now. I don't believe the Church understands it this way... the fidelium includes the faithful departed. Are you suggesting that those already in the communion of saints would change their minds about the Church's teaching about extramarital genital activity?

However you'd like to spin it, the Church is very quickly losing any authority when it comes to sexual ethics/morality. Artificial contraception is the most obvious example. The Church has rejected it, the Church of the faithful. The theological community has rejected it. The bishops and clergy reject it (and please don't allude to official statements. It is rare to hear any bishop at least here or in Europe even allude to the teaching.)

In what sense does rejecting the Church's teaching make one faithful to the Church? Faithful to what? You seem to propose a false dichotomy: being faithful to the Church's teaching, and being faithful to humanity.

The Church has rejected its own teaching on artificial contraception? Please elaborate. The only sense in which I could see this to be true is this: in the same sense in which Jesus' listeners rejected his teaching in John 6. The rejection doesn't serve to make the teaching false. There are 'hard sayings' in Christianity, no? We should expect some to reject them.

No number of appeals to the magisterium is going to convince one soul [about the Church's teaching on homosexuality]. Just isn't.

I tend to agree. See my post on what I call the "theological trump card" here. An effective apologist is not a fundamentalist, proof texting with the hope of coercing the will. The truth of the human person attracts us from within, and makes an appeal that we experience to be true. This is the beauty of personalism.

As a priest, you might find this site interesting. Not every one of your brother priests rejects the Church's teaching on artificial contraception:
http://www.humanaevitaepriests.org