Friday, January 18, 2008

Far from "Innocuous"

Earlier this week, the January 2008 issue of The Progressive Catholic Voice online journal was published. It contains a number of interesting and insightful articles – including an in-depth investigation by Paula Ruddy on the efforts by the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis to deny victims of child sex abuse the right to sue for damages after the age of 24.

Also included in the January 2008 Progressive Catholic Voice is the transcript of the powerful talk given by peace activist Peter Thompson at the recent Candlelight Vigil for the Children of Iraq and Other Child Victims of War. (For images of this event, click

CPCSM-cofounder David McCaffrey also has a piece in the latest Progressive Catholic Voice, in which he responds to a recent commentary in the Star Tribune by University of St. Thomas professor Stephen Heaney. In this commentary, Heaney – who, incidentally, sits on the board of the Archdiocese’s Faith in Action (a.k.a Courage) program – attempts to defend recent statements on homosexuality by Coadjutor Archbishop John Nienstedt.

As I’m sure you’ll agree, David McCaffrey’s well-researched and reasoned response methodically and effectively demolishes Heaney’s argument. In doing so, it also exposes the Archbishop’s statements and, by extension, the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, as being both intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I think that as Catholics we can do better.

Following is David McCaffrey’s response to Stephen Heaney.


Far from “Innocuous”
A response to Stephen’s Heaney’s defense
Coadjutor Archbishop Nienstedt’s
“innocuous” statements on homosexuality

By David J. McCaffrey
The Progressive Catholic Voice
January 2008

David J. McCaffrey is an honors graduate of the University of St. Thomas (1969, magna cum laude) and has spent almost 30 years working in medical and social science research at the University of Minnesota. He is a co-founder of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), an independent lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) education and pastoral ministry group that has worked with local archdiocesan agencies, parishes, and schools for over 27-year years.

In his December 29 commentary in the Star Tribune, University of Minnesota professor Stephen J. Heaney implied that there are a small number of people who oppose the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, as recently articulated by Coadjutor Archbishop Nienstedt in his column in The Catholic Spirit. Furthermore, Heaney asserts that Nienstedt’s column about homosexuality, far from being of concern or controversy, is in fact “innocuous.” That particular column includes the following “innocuous” statement of the archbishop’s:

Those who actively encourage or promote homosexual acts or such activity within a homosexual lifestyle formally cooperate in a grave evil and, if they do so knowingly and willingly, are guilty of mortal sin. They have broken communion with the church and are prohibited from receiving holy Communion until they have had a conversion of heart, expressed sorrow for their action and received sacramental absolution from a priest.

I assert that Heaney is wrong on both accounts. Not a small number of people oppose the type of anti-gay speech from religious leaders like Archbishop Nienstedt, and such speech is far from “innocuous.”

For example, as for Heaney’s implication that there is a small number opposing Nienstedt’s articulation of the Church's teaching on homosexuality, in a Fall 2007 Harris Study of heterosexual Americans, 56 % of all those surveyed – and 60 % of those aged 18 to 44 – said people should be more supportive of equal rights for gay people. Further, according to the poll’s findings, a majority of Americans (71 %) said they have spoken out against anti-gay comments, saying they felt it was “the right thing to do.”

Also, according to the September 2007
study among young people in the U.S., aged 16 to 29, by Christian pollster George Barna, 91% of non-Christians and 80% of churchgoers say present-day Christianity is “anti-homosexual.” And that “they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians.” Such research results do not represent small numbers of people, as Professor Heaney would have us believe.

Refuting Heaney’s assertion that Nienstedt’s column is “innocuous” is a 2003 national survey of adults by the prestigious Pew Research Center for The People & The Press and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. This study found that “people who hear clergy talk [negatively] about homosexuality are more likely to have highly unfavorable views of gays and lesbians.” If that is true, then statements such as Nienstedt’s, from a religious leader, are far from “innocuous.”

How many local Catholics, including families with LGBT members, have been encouraged to hold negative views toward their loved ones after reading or hearing Nienstedt’s statements? How many more coworkers, neighbors, and even family members will now feel more self-righteous permission to further discriminate against members of sexual minorities who are trying to live honest and self-actualized lives?

Beyond the significance and the impact of Nienstedt’s recent statement on homosexuality, we need to seriously consider both this statement’s substance – that those who encourage and support gay people are cooperating in a grave evil and thereby are guilty of mortal sin; and its foundation – that persons who are innately homosexual and attempt to live honest, self-actualized lives, as their consciences dictate, are “intrinsically disordered.” I assert, as does virtually every reputable medical and mental health professional organization, that homosexuality is innate and not based on choice and that it cannot and should not be changed through unsafe and unethical methods known as “reparative” or “conversion" therapy.

Therefore, the Church’s teaching that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered” and that those who find themselves to be constitutively homosexual must maintain life-long sexual abstinence is clearly based on outdated science and must go the same way as the Church’s past teachings on the solar system, slavery, the dynamics of human reproduction, and the status of women – all of which were also based upon outdated science.

For any academic institution to be relevant and credible, its curriculum must remain consonant with the findings of today’s human sciences. In the case of a Catholic academic institution like the University of St. Thomas, its curriculum should also be open to theological developments that are informed by the sciences and the lived experience of the faithful. In this way, such academic institutions will continue to grow with society and with the living faith of the people of God.

The recent decision by St. Thomas’ board of trustees to proactively democratize its board structure by making the chairman and vice-chairman positions electable represents one such change to ensure the University’s relevance and credibility. Traditionally, both board positions had been held ex-officio by the Archbishop and the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, respectively. However, based upon advice from the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities following a review of St. Thomas’ board structure, the University’s trustees voted in October to make the board’s by-law changes.

Another clear sign of such progress would be for the University administration and faculty to cease clinging to concepts about human nature, and especially human sexuality, that are based upon medieval notions seriously out of sync with today’s mainstream science and the authentic life experiences of gay people of faith. Such a change would greatly assist these students as they follow their conscience in seeking honest and fulfilling lives that are true to how God created them while enabling them to utilize their many talents to the fullest in responding to the multiple needs of today’s world.

David J. McCaffrey is also The Progressive Catholic Voice’s technical editor and a founding member of its editorial team.

Recommended Off-site Link:
The Progressive Catholic Voice

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
CPCSM Co-Founder Responds to “Not Catholic” Assertion
St. Francis of Assisi: Dancer, Rebel, Archetype (to read about the genesis of The Progressive Catholic Voice).
What Scientists in the U.K. Are Saying About Homosexuality
“Gaydar,” “Gendermaps,” and the “Fundamentally Social Purpose” of Homosexuality
From Rome to Minneapolis, Dialogue Is What’s Needed
Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Learning Curve”: A Suggested Trajectory

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