The Public Square
In his influential book The Courage to Be Catholic , George Weigel wrote about the The Truce of 1968. By that is meant the decision not to discipline the many theologians and priests who, in a public and concerted campaign, rejected the teaching of the 1968 encyclical on human sexuality, Humanae Vitae (On Human Life). Now, in view of the widespread rejection”sometimes explicit, sometimes oblique”of the November 4 Vatican instruction on homosexuality and the priesthood, the question is asked whether we should be preparing ourselves for The Truce of 2005.
An editorial in the liberal magazine Commonweal, makes the connections:
Whether it is birth control, homosexuality, or the range of sexual contact permitted between spouses, church teaching offers little that speaks to the experience of the vast majority of faithful Catholics, who now insist that they know something about sexual morality that the Church’s leadership needs to learn . . . . There is hardly a Catholic alive who doesn’t have a colleague, a neighbor, a friend, a relative, or a child who is gay. Like Humanae Vitae , barring homosexuals from the priesthood would force many Catholics, both straight and gay, into internal or outright exile from the Church.
It is not surprising when Commonweal dissents from magisterial authority. It is also conventional that dissenters assert that a document is not really all that authoritative. And so the editors say that the document was issued by a Vatican congregation, not by the pope, thus diminishing its authority. In fact, the document bears the notice: The supreme pontiff Benedict XVI, on August 31, 2005, approved this present instruction and ordered its publication. That, it would seem, is very much like a document issued by the pope. But quibbling over the forms of the document is a distraction from the substantive questions engaged.
It may be thought that the dissent of the editors of Commonweal is predictable and not terribly important. There is something to that, and, as we shall see, it is by no means the most important dissent. But the connection with Humanae Vitae and 1968 is suggestive. Recall that the Truce of 1968 was put in place when Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle, then archbishop of Washington, D.C., attempted to discipline those who had openly rejected the teaching of the encyclical, only to have the rug pulled out from under him by higher authority in Rome.
Weigel writes that everyone involved understood that Pope Paul VI wanted the Washington Case’ settled without a public retraction from the dissidents, because the pope feared that insisting on such a retraction would lead to schism”a formal split in the Church in Washington, and perhaps beyond. The pope, evidently, was willing for a time to tolerate dissent on an issue on which he had made a solemn, authoritative statement, hoping that the day would come when, in a calmer cultural and ecclesiastical atmosphere, the truth of that teaching could be appreciated. The mechanism agreed upon to buy time for that to happen was the Truce of 1968.’ We are still, according to Weigel, living with the consequences of that decision:
Whatever the intentions of those who negotiated the Truce of 1968, the net result of this remarkable episode was to promote intellectual, moral, and disciplinary disorder in the Catholic Church in the United States. The lesson learned was that rejecting moral doctrines solemnly proclaimed by the Church’s teaching authority was, essentially, penalty-free. Obedience to what the Church taught to be the truth, and obedience to legitimate ecclesiastical superiors, were now, somehow, optional. That disorder and indiscipline followed should not have been surprising.
The recent instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education is not, strictly speaking, doctrinal. It is a directive based upon moral doctrine and might best be described as a prudential judgment made by legitimate ecclesiastical superiors and to be followed by all under their authority. Further, while it is issued by the authority of the pope, it does not, unlike Humanae Vitae , carry the more solemn weight of an encyclical. That having been said, it requires a measure of exegetical agility to interpret some of the criticisms of the instruction as anything less than a rejection of the Church’s constantly held doctrine regarding human sexuality, and homosexuality in particular. The teaching is that homosexual desires are objectively disordered and homosexual acts are intrinsically immoral. This is joined to a call to respect and extend pastoral care to those who are burdened by same-sex desire, helping them to respond, along with sinners of every kind, to the universal call to holiness.
The Quality of Dissimulation
The instruction says that the Church cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture.’ Immediate objections came hard and fast to all three stipulations. What does it mean to practice homosexuality? Is support for the civil rights of homosexuals a form of support for gay culture? And, most of all, what is meant by deep-seated homosexual tendencies? Some of these questions are understandable and no doubt honestly asked. Many of the challenges to the instruction, however, reflect a continuing decline in the quality of dissimulation practiced by those who reject the magisterial teaching of the Church.
There is, for instance, a mix of candor, defiance, and evasion in a December 8 letter sent by the provincial, Father Robert Scullin, S.J., to the members of the Detroit Province of the Society of Jesus. He writes: The instruction’s call to affective maturity as a necessary condition for a healthy celibate priesthood and religious life affirms the long-standing goal of our formation program”both initial and continuing. All of us must continue to work toward an integrated affective sexual maturity if we wish to be of greater service to the Church and civil society. We continue to invite all qualified young men of either orientation who desire to lead a celibate chaste religious life to consider joining us on our mission. We welcome them and are proud to have them among us.
In short, and the instruction notwithstanding, the Society of Jesus will continue to do what it has been doing. (The reference to either orientation, with its implicit exclusion of the bisexual and transsexual, is somewhat surprising.) The above provincial is very displeased, however, by a member of the province who outed himself as gay in the Detroit Free Press . Father Thomas J. O’Brien, S.J., criticizes the teaching that homosexuality is objectively disordered. There is plentiful evidence that this is not true, he writes. Lesbian sisters and gay brothers and priests have, indeed, been models of relating to people”especially to the disenfranchised and excluded of society. Of the instruction he says, This document reveals a fundamentally disordered view of gender and sexual orientation. Affirming the invaluable contributions made by homosexual, bisexual, transgendered, and transsexual persons, Fr. O’Brien concludes: Thankfully, God is greater than any religion or any church.
Referring to Fr. O’Brien’s public statement, Fr. Scullin, his provincial, writes: I can appreciate the distress that led him to speak out. Yet we are first members of an apostolic body, and so personal actions, however compelling we feel them to be, have consequences for all our brothers and all our works. Fr. Scullin therefore asks that no Jesuit take any controversial public step without prior, direct consultation with the provincial. Fr. Scullin in no way suggests that he disagrees with Fr. O’Brien’s rejection of church teaching, only that it should be kept within the family, so to speak. As he puts it, This is our way of proceeding. It is a way of proceeding that candidly says (at least within the family) that the instruction will be ignored, while asking Jesuits to be publicly discreet about their repudiation of the Church’s teaching on sexuality.
While members of other religious orders, some diocesan priests, and even a few bishops who have cultivated a reputation for being gay-friendly have sharply criticized the November instruction, the Jesuits do seem to be in the vanguard of the attack. Father Thomas Reese, S.J., who recently resigned as editor of America, a Jesuit weekly”or was removed, depending on which account one credits (see First Things August/September 2005)”complains, The Vatican is making decisions about the appropriateness of ordaining homosexuals in total ignorance of how many current priests are homosexuals, how well they observe celibacy, and how well they do ministry.
The instruction makes the point that nobody has a right to be ordained to the priesthood and that the final decision rests with the Church which is responsible for her own ministry. To which Fr. Reese responds, If someone is called to the priesthood by God but denied it by church officials, then it is not a violation of a human right; it is a violation of a divine right”the right of God to call whomever he chooses to the priesthood. Presumably, the individual discerns whether he”or, for that matter, she”is called to the priesthood, and the role of the Church is limited to ratifying that discernment. Needless to say, this is not the way the Catholic Church understands the vocation to priesthood.
Father John Coleman, S.J., is acclaimed by some as one of the leading intellectual lights among contemporary Jesuits. He teaches at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and is a frequent contributor to America and Theological Studies , a Jesuit quarterly. He recently addressed the annual meeting of the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries. I am, simultaneously, a gay man, a professional sociologist, and an ordained priest of the Roman Catholic Church, he said. Not surprisingly, these different, even conflicting, roles and their expectations sometimes cause me to experience intense cognitive dissonance.
The dissonance, he said, results from the universal love and outreach of Jesus to all, even sinners, versus a sense that homosexuality, if practiced, is against the teaching of Christianity. When people succeed in integrating their identities, Fr. Coleman said, it will lead to something new, and for some, an oxymoron: a GLBT practicing Christian and practicing homosexual. That gives rise to the questions, he said, Can you ordain them? Can you have holy union ceremonies? The Jesuit policy, he said, is not don’t ask, don’t tell , but, rather, do ask and do tell . You’re not going to have integrated, mature sexuality unless you process it”and therefore yes, ask; yes, tell; yes, process.
It should not be thought that these are simply expressions of unhappiness with the instruction from Rome. What can only be described as Jesuit repudiation of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality is considered and apparently entrenched in the leadership of the Society. Theological Studies , the Jesuit academic quarterly, publishes articles such as The Open Debate: Moral Theology and the Lives of Gay and Lesbian Persons. Father James F. Keenan, S.J., professor of moral theology at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Massachusetts, leaves no doubt that he thinks it is a legitimate debate and it is wide open. He cites numerous gay and gay-friendly Catholic thinkers who agree with him. In comparison to the other Christian churches, the Vatican’s position has changed only a little even though a lively debate exists within the Church at every other level. The Vatican’s teaching remains so because its contemporary exponents privilege as a condition of truthfulness a teaching’s unchanged status.
Put differently, the contemporary exponents, including John Paul II and Benedict XVI, impermissibly privilege their view on the assumption that two millennia of consistent Christian reflection and teaching may have a bearing on truthfulness. The authors whom Fr. Keenan favorably cites challenge the reluctance of the late moral theologian, Richard McCormick, also a Jesuit, to affirm that the homosexual condition and homogenital acts are good and normal. It is said that McCormick has been outdated by developments that initially appear threatening and disruptive but lead to a recognition that homosexuality can be a new name for its own embodying manifestation of Godlife. Pope John Paul’s extensive writings on nuptial sexuality are criticized for privileging gender complementarity and providing grounds for excluding the moral validity of expressed same-sex love.
Homosexuality was once viewed in terms of inversion, and Fr. Keenan is taken with the suggestion that we should find consolation in God’s revolutionary movements of inverting all things. He concludes his reflection with this:
The open debate is an extensive one, occurring throughout the Catholic world. As they engage in this debate, moral theologians do not superficially validate personal lifestyles but rather propose a variety of criteria for assessing the morality of the way ordinary gay and lesbian persons live their lives. The debate helps us to see, then, that the Catholic tradition is rich, human, and capable of being relevant to help gay and lesbian persons find moral ways of living out their lives and the ways they are called to love. Gay and lesbian persons respond by offering, from their experience, a variety of ways of imagining not only their own self-understanding, but the way we are called to be Church. Like other groups of people who have been oppressed by, among others, the Church, they help us to see that by silencing and marginalizing them, we do harm to them, ourselves, the Church, and the gospel.
Again, the Jesuits are not alone in proposing a thoroughly revisionist sexual morality. They seem to be the most outspoken, however, perhaps because they command more effective instruments of communication and control numerous colleges and universities in this country and elsewhere. Then too, and despite the Jesuits’ diminishing numbers, prestige, and influence, there are still those who think the word Jesuit carries a certain intellectual cachet.
Also among those who accept the Church’s sexual ethic, there are significant differences in the understanding of the recent instruction. Father Bruce Williams, a Dominican teaching at the Angelicum in Rome, writes that the term homosexuality, as used in this and other Vatican documents, always has reference to genital acts”the doing of them or the desire to do them. Thus the instruction is not so much concerned with what might be called personality types but with people who act or are likely to act in ways clearly incompatible with living a life of chaste celibacy. Fr. Williams explains:
These criteria [specified by the instruction] would appear not to exclude a good number of men who might be broadly described as gay in common parlance. Consider a man who was homogenitally active in the past and overcame or outgrew this activity in young adulthood. He still experiences warm affection toward men, but homogenital temptations are extremely infrequent and always dismissed quickly and easily. He has never been sexually attracted to women, though he relates normally and even warmly to them also. He does not participate or take an interest in gay culture, though he does favor some particular political initiatives aimed at securing civil rights for homosexual people.
He is comfortable with who he is by the grace of God, and wants to give himself to the Lord’s service as a celibate priest. He is not in the closet about his sexuality, but sexual orientation does not enter into his self-definition; it simply is not an issue in his life, nor is he driven to make an issue of it in dealing with others. Many people might still label such a man as gay; he might even accept this designation, understanding it as an acknowledgment of some affectional and lightly erotic but essentially non-genital bearing toward other men. One could argue whether the appellation gay is appropriate here; but, as far as I can see, one cannot plausibly argue that this man has deep-seated homosexual tendencies or supports gay culture in the sense conveyed by the new Roman instruction.
As many cultural observers have noted, the success of the gay ideology in recent decades has almost obliterated the memory of those who used to be called bachelors. They were understood to be those who could get along, or preferred to get along, without sex or marriage. Today it is the entrenched cultural orthodoxy that, whatever the orientation of one’s sexual desire, that desire and acting on that desire are essential to one’s identity and psychological well-being. Fr. Williams offers the important reminder that, contra our sex-obsessed culture, there are many people, including men who discern a call to the priesthood, for whom sex is simply not that big a deal. (Studies indicate that that is also the case with many married couples, although some of them are a bit embarrassed about it.)
The Priestly Sacrifice
A somewhat different perspective is pressed by Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne, Indiana. D’Arcy has extensive experience in seminary formation, has been a bishop for thirty years, and is widely respected for his thoughtful straightforwardness. (Not incidentally, as an auxiliary bishop in Boston he many years ago raised the alarm about priestly sex abuse in the archdiocese. For his efforts, he was exiled to Fort Wayne in 1985.) In response to the Roman instruction, Bishop D’Arcy writes:
To be happy, a priest must be convinced in his heart that he would be a good father and good husband. Like marriage, the priesthood involves making a gift of oneself to another. Pope John Paul II called it an officium caritatus , that is, an Office of Love. It cannot be an escape for someone who is afraid of marriage, believed he would not be happy in marriage or would not be a good spouse or father. The priest gives up something very beautiful”a lifelong relationship with a good woman, children, and grandchildren. [These are] needs that are deep within our humanity. He gives it up for something beautiful”to be a priest and shepherd after the heart of Christ. He must believe that Christ is calling him. It is a sacrifice. It’s supposed to be a sacrifice. It is not a sacrifice in the same way for a person with deep-seated homosexual tendencies. He is not drawn to marriage in the same way. Thus, immediately, there is a division in the priesthood.
Some have said that, if this document is implemented, it will lead to a shortage of priests. I do not believe that. I think the way out of the shortage is to ordain young men of quality”not supermen, which would eliminate all of us”but good men who would also make good husbands and fathers, and who can make a gift of themselves to others. These, in turn, will draw similar men.
There is a division in the priesthood. I expect most bishops and priests would agree with that, and can cite chapter and verse from their own experience. Those who write about a lavender mafia that dominates some seminaries, chancery offices, and church bureaucracies may sometimes overstate the matter. But it is no surprise that like attracts like. Generally speaking, men who are attracted to men are attracted to men who are attracted to men. Sociologists call it elective affinity.
Father Bruce Williams, O.P., and Bishop D’Arcy both affirm the Church’s teaching on human sexuality and welcome the new instruction. Fr. Williams titles his essay, Rome and Gays: A Nuanced Response. Bishop D’Arcy says, in effect, that it is such nuance that got us into the present mess. While the Church must be loving and pastorally concerned in dealing with everyone, he says, when it comes to the priesthood, the word must go forth that the Church is looking for manly men.
Those who are sharply critical of the instruction are slicing and dicing definitions of transitory and deep-seated same-sex desires, and disingenuously claiming to be puzzled by what on earth the instruction can mean by gay culture. By gay culture the instruction means the culture of which many of these critics are part. Particularly upsetting to some is the understanding that, if the criteria set forth by the instruction were applied when they were ordained, they would not have been ordained. The fact that they are priests, and that they think they are good priests, is, they say, decisive proof that gays can be good priests. It has a certain syllogistic charm.
The truth is that, by the criteria set out in the instruction, many who are priests today would not have been ordained. The further truth is that many of these men have turned out to be good and holy priests, despite the temptations attending the disability of same-sex attraction. The yet-further truth is that many are not good and holy priests. Rome has made a prudential judgment: With respect to giving candidates the benefit of the doubt, too many risks were taken in the past. The benefit of the doubt must now be given to protecting the integrity of the priesthood. With the new normalization of homosexuality in the general culture, with the acceptance of that normalization by many priests and not a few bishops, and with consequences such as the sex abuse scandals, the Church simply cannot afford to take the risks that were taken, frequently with the best intentions, in the past.
The Smell of Mendacity
There is a smell of mendacity surrounding much of the response to the instruction. The definitional slicing and dicing, the claim that the instruction means by maturity that one is happy being gay, rather than that, as it explicitly says, deep-seated same-sex desire is evidence of an unfinished adolescence”it is all evasion and mendacity. With many of the critics, it is possible to cut through the obfuscation by simply asking whether they accept the Church’s teaching that homosexual desire is disordered and homogenital acts are intrinsically immoral. The emphasis here is not on the disorder but on the act. If it is agreed that the act is immoral, then it follows that the desire to commit the act is disordered. One cannot have a rightly ordered desire to do wrong.
Those who reject the instruction and the moral doctrine on which it is based”Jesuits being conspicuous but by no means alone”render a perversely valuable contribution. They have clarified what is at stake. Which brings us back to the Truce of 1968 and what could, God forbid, turn out to be the Truce of 2005. Although the instruction reiterates the consistent teaching of Scripture and tradition through the ages, and although the document is explicitly approved by the pope and issued by his authority, will it be allowed, as it was allowed with Humanae Vitae , for official representatives of the Church to reject the doctrine and the directives, and to do so with impunity? There can be no doubt that the rejectionists have thrown down the gauntlet in challenging the still-young pontificate of Benedict XVI.
Of course, the pope, because he is the pope, need not respond on the terms or within the timetable set by those who seem determined to precipitate a crisis of authority. But a discernible and decisive response is required if such a crisis is to be avoided. In the absence of a clear response, it is more than possible that the effective leadership of this pontificate, now just getting underway, will be gravely weakened.
Among those who greatly admired Cardinal Ratzinger and were elated by his election as pope, there is a palpable uneasiness. As of this writing, he has not made what are perceived to be needed personnel changes at the top levels of the Curia. Benedict’s first major appointment, that of Archbishop William Levada to succeed him at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, occasioned widespread puzzlement. With particular pertinence to the present discussion, Levada, for all his considerable gifts, did not distinguish himself in his teaching, and his seeing to it that others taught, the Church’s moral doctrine during his ten years as archbishop of San Francisco, a city commonly called the gay capital of the world.
Troubling also to those who watch this pontificate with hopeful concern is Benedict’s appointment of George H. Niederauer as Levada’s successor in San Francisco. While in Salt Lake City, Bishop Niederauer had a reputation of being, as it is said, gay-friendly. He broke with other religious leaders in opposing a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The announcement of his appointment to San Francisco was met with great public rejoicing by Dignity, New Ways Ministry, and other gay advocacy groups.
In an interview with his diocesan paper in Salt Lake City, Niederauer seemed somewhat ambivalent about the recent Vatican instruction. He is asked about requisites for being ordained to the priesthood, and takes the aforementioned position of dissenters on what is meant by affective maturity:
Nierderauer: One implication is the need for what this document calls affective maturity, meaning that all the loving and relating that a priest does must be centered in Christ and consistent with the priest’s commitment to Christ and the Church. This kind of single-heartedness does not allow for a relationship in any priest’s life that would weaken his commitment to Christ and his Church. Another implication of this affective maturity is that every celibate priest needs to be free to relate in a warm, human way to the men, women, and children to whom he ministers, in a manner that is genuine and still consistent with his commitment to Christ the Priest.
Interviewer: That’s all fine and good, but can a man who is homosexual be an effective priest?
Niederauer: If any priest has the affective maturity described above, and in the document, then with God’s grace, he can effectively minister as a priest. What the Church, the bishop, and the seminary must determine in the course of a priestly candidate’s formation is whether the candidate has the gifts of affective maturity, has made them his own, and is living them out faithfully.
Bishop Niederauer does say, In addition, it would be inconsistent for the priest and confusing for the Catholic faithful if a priest differs from the Church in any of its moral teachings. He does not say, at least in this interview, what that moral teaching is with respect to homosexuality, and, perhaps more significantly, he does not say what should be done, if anything, about priests who are inconsistent and causing confusion to the faithful; never mind that they are, according to Catholic teaching, imperiling their souls and the souls of others.
The statement by Niederauer that attracted most attention, however, was this: Also, some who are seriously mistaken have named sexual orientation as the cause of the recent scandal regarding the sexual abuse of minors by priests. This is nothing short of astonishing. One can agree that it was not the cause, meaning the only cause. There is, for instance, the negligence and complicity of bishops, and of the seminaries in their charge. But to deny, as the bishop seems to be denying, a causal relationship between homosexual priests and the sexual abuse scandal is, well, astonishing. Research commissioned by the bishops themselves shows, as the whole world now knows, that more than 80 percent of the instances of abuse were with teenage boys and young men. It does not require a Ph.D. in psychology to recognize”although a Ph.D. in psychology might be helpful in denying”that men who want to have sex with boys are more likely to have sex with boys than men who do not want to have sex with boys.
Those who several years ago tried to deny the obviousness of the connection have, with notable exceptions, run out of delusions. Even the editors of Commonweal write:
At least in this regard, Rome’s concerns are not entirely misplaced. It is no secret that something went terribly wrong in U.S. seminaries in the late 1960s, the 1970s, and even into the 1980s. Both gay and straight priests, as well as former seminarians, acknowledge that, as many priests left to marry, the proportion of priests who were gay increased dramatically, and in some places, gay subcultures flourished. What role this breakdown in discipline and morality played in the sexual abuse of minors is not clear, but the idea that it played no role in a pattern of abuse in which 80 percent of the victims were male is untenable.
The appointment of Archbishop Levada to head CDF was certainly Benedict’s decision, as was the appointment of Bishop Niederauer to succeed him in San Francisco. According to informed sources, the latter appointment was made on the recommendation of Archbishop Levada.
A Defining Test
And so it is that we are faced with what may be a defining test of the pontificate of Benedict XVI. As all who know him can attest, he is in personal relations a gentle man and averse to unpleasantness. He cannot relish the prospect of a direct confrontation with major institutions such as the Society of Jesus. Early on in his pontificate, John Paul II made an effort to bring the Jesuits into closer alignment with church teaching and authority, and ended up with little to show for it. As is his custom, the father general of the society, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, remains publicly aloof.
With this pope, as with all popes, there is the fear of schism. That was a great fear in 1968. Public confrontation would undoubtedly spark a media storm of historic proportions, but, after the dust settled, where would the rejectionists go? Lefebvrism of the left, whether in this country or elsewhere, cannot hold much appeal.
Roma locuta est, causa finita est . Or so the great Augustine is supposed to have said. With respect to homosexuality and the priesthood, Rome has spoken and the question is anything but settled. An official visitation of U.S. seminaries is currently underway, and is scheduled to be completed in May. The findings will be sent directly to the curial congregation that issued the recent instruction, and the next steps will be up to the congregation in response to the directives of the pope. But that does not address the question of what will be done, if anything, about theologians and priests, backed by bishops and religious orders, who have thrown down the gauntlet in publicly rejecting the Church’s teaching and authority with respect to human sexuality.
In 1968, an effort was made to hold accountable those who are solemnly vowed to the service of the Church. And then Rome caved. We are still living with the unhappy consequences of the Truce of 1968. Of course the Church will survive. We have Our Lord’s promise on that. But no one who cares about this pontificate and the integrity of the Church’s ministry can contemplate with equanimity the consequences of a Truce of 2005.
Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, born in 1906 and martyred by the Nazis in April of 1945, has been depicted as an apostle of religionless Christianity and a radical opponent of tradition. Eberhard Bethge, his friend and biographer, has over the years vigorously protested this depiction. It is protested also by Bonhoeffer’s own words, as witness this passage from Ethics on the decadence of Germany, and of the West, in the 1930s:
If we now find ourselves obliged to raise precisely this question once again and to think it over afresh, we must first of all make it clear that we are here taking the concept of good in its widest sense, that is to say, simply as the contrary of vicious, lawless and scandalous, as the opposite of public transgression of the moral law, as good in contrast to the publican and harlot. Good, in this sense, contains an extremely wide range of gradations, extending from the purely external observance of good order to the most intimate self-examination and character-formation and to personal self-sacrifice for the most sublime human values. It was very necessary to protest against that bourgeois self-satisfaction which, by a convenient reversal of the gospel, considered being good simply as a preliminary to being Christian and which supposed that the ascent from being good to being Christian could be accomplished more or less without a break. This protest has, however, taken the form of an equally dangerous distortion of the gospel in the opposite sense which was brought forward in the most impassioned terms at various times in the course of the nineteenth century and then especially during the past twenty years. The justification of the good has been replaced by the justification of the wicked; the idealization of good citizenship has given way to the idealization of its opposite, of disorder, chaos, anarchy and catastrophe; the forgiving love of Jesus for the sinful woman, for the adulteress and for the publican, has been misrepresented, for psychological or political reasons, in order to make of it a Christian sanctioning of anti-social marginal existences,’ prostitutes and traitors to their country. In seeking to recover the power of the gospel this protest unintentionally transformed the gospel of the sinner into a commendation of sin. And good, in its citizen-like sense, was held up to ridicule.
While We’re At It
The Christmas wars have come and gone. Until next December”or, more accurately, the start-up of the shopping season in late October. The wars received more attention than usual this time, with numerous localities dubbing Christmas trees as holiday trees or winter trees, which elicited widespread demands that Christmas be called Christmas. In response, major retailers reverted to Merry Christmas in advertising and greetings by sales personnel. Cultural critics reached to discover ironies in all this (irony being the paydirt of cultural criticism). For instance, Adam Cohen, writing in the New York Times , is excited by the discovery that the Puritans of Massachusetts despised Christmas as an unbiblical papist innovation. When, later, merchants discovered that money was to be made from the season, Christian leaders deplored its commercialization. Already in 1906, Mr. Cohen writes, the Jews of New York had the right idea about observing the season when they demanded the banning of Christmas carols from public schools. The de-Christianization of Christmas, he suggests, is the truly American way required out of respect for the nation’s religious diversity. But now, all of a sudden, you have these religious fanatics with their campaign to make America more like a theocracy, with Christian displays on public property and Christian prayer in public schools. Forget about prayer in schools. The annual campaign to Keep Christ in Christmas goes back to the beginning of the discovery of the season’s commercial possibilities. Mr. Cohen sides with the Puritans, forgetting that they knew a thing or two about theocracy. Not incidentally, they did not take kindly to Jews in their holy commonwealth. For a very different Jewish view of Christianity in our public life, I recommend the late Rabbi Jakob Petuchowski’s A Rabbi’s Christmas (FT, December 1991).
Rabbi Petuchowski was nothing if not Jewish, and he relished the carols, festivities, and pageantry of Christmas. He never missed watching on television the papal Midnight Mass from Rome. Still all of that is a matter of mere externals, he wrote. What really intrigues [me] is the fact that millions of [my] non-Jewish fellow human beings are celebrating the birthday of a Jewish child. And they are doing so by extolling the values of peace and good will. All the more misplaced . . . are the efforts by some supposedly Jewish organizations to arouse, through their battles against Christmas symbols in public places, the ill will and resentment of Christians”at the very time when the Christian religion, more than at other times of the year, inspires its followers with irenic and philanthropic sentiments. Rabbi Petuchowski notes that it is the Orthodox Jews from Eastern Europe who may have the most bitter memories of living in a Christian society. But they are not the ones leading the charge against the public observance of Christmas. In other words, what we are really dealing with in this annual battle against public Christian observance is not so much a Jewish’ attack on that observance as it is a secularist one”with some of the prominent secularists identifying themselves as Jews. They are the same people who fight the use of public school facilities for meetings of high school religious-interest groups, and state support of private schools. They fight with equal vigor the attempts by other Jewish groups to have Jewish religious symbols exhibited alongside the Christian ones, such as the efforts of the Chabad (Lubavitch) group of Orthodox Jews to place a Hanukkah candelabrum on the public square when a Christmas tree is put there, which would be a fitting demonstration of America’s religious pluralism. They are, in other words, not singling out Christianity. They are against the public manifestation of religion per se ”even (or perhaps particularly) against the public manifestation of the religion of their own ancestors.
Du bist Albert Einstein . Germans are being treated to a television barrage of slick commercials aimed at elevating their self-esteem. Germans are feeling poorly about themselves. The economy is stagnant, the culture is in the doldrums, the churches are relics, and it seems nobody but Muslim immigrants is having babies. Forty years ago, German thinkers produced a philosophy of the future and theology of the future. And now there is no future. One commercial says: Beat your wings. Uproot trees. You are the wings. You are the tree. You are Germany. It is the fatuity of deep depression. Not many years ago, Germany was to be reinvigorated by the reunification of East and West. The West poured billions upon billions into the East, and it seems to have vanished without a trace. Richard Bernstein writes: Now the westerners are unhappy because the disappearance of all that money is seen as the root of Germany’s economic stagnation and high unemployment. The easterners are notoriously unhappy because life is less secure than it used to be under Communism, and, as this cycle continues, the westerners are irritated that the easterners are unhappy. In the nineteenth century, Germany was the model of high culture; in the twentieth, the archetype of barbarity. That was briefly followed by a celebrated economic miracle and success in democratic government. As Steven Ozment writes in A Mighty Fortress , Germans want so desperately to be a normal nation (While We’re At It, November 2004). At the same time, they decided, couple by couple, not to have babies, not to have a future, not to have hope. It seems the last thing Germans need to hear is Du bist Einstein.
St. Edmund Campion is a figure of monumental heroism in Catholic history and, more specifically, in the Jesuit tradition. A convert, scholar, and powerful preacher, he was, for his refusal to revert to the Church of England, put on the rack and executed at Tyburn on December 1, 1581. The University of San Francisco is an institution in the Jesuit tradition. A notice from Dave Macmillan, vice president for university advancement, alerts the faculty to the fact that Campion Hall will be renamed Kalmanovitz Hall. Paul Kalmanovitz was a beer and real-estate magnate, and the family foundation offered the university $7.5 million to renovate the hall if it would be renamed in his honor. The leadership of the university, however, is deeply devoted to St. Edmund Campion and the Jesuit tradition. Mr. Macmillan reports that the university asked the foundation to upgrade its naming commitment’ to $10 million. The foundation agreed. Campion Hall is now Kalmanovitz Hall. As Winston Churchill said to the offended lady, We already know what you are. We are simply haggling over the price. Not to worry, however. Mr. Macmillan reassuringly notes that there are still tributes to St. Edmund Campion at other Jesuit institutions.
Several readers have suggested that I was unfair in my criticism of a statement signed by many evangelical Protestant leaders, For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility. It would be a sad irony, I said, if evangelicals followed in the path of the old National Council of Churches in conflating the gospel with a political agenda, and that is true. But I should have said more about the merits of the statement. The document is comprehensive and considered. It tries hard to bridge conventional liberal/conservative, left/right divisions on many issues in dispute, and to do so without fudging disagreements. It recognizes that the Bible does not answer every question about the right ordering of society; that biblical witness must be joined to experience, reason, and attentiveness to something like natural law (although that last term is not used). On policy specifics there is little with which to disagree, in part because the document largely limits itself to generalizations and both/and affirmations. All in all, For the Health of the Nation is an encouraging response to Carl Henry’s call of a half century ago for evangelicals to engage responsibly the cultural, social, and political tasks of our time. It is also a welcome answer to Mark Noll’s observation that evangelical engagements in public tasks are too often episodic and reactive. The statement seeks to provide a thoughtful framework for sustained commitment. And yet . . .
Disclaimers to the contrary, For the Health of the Nation gives an unwarranted priority to the political. Disengagement is not an option, we are told. Maybe not for Christians in general, but some Christian vocations are rightly disengaged from the political task. Then the signers say their commitments constitute the platform for evangelicals to engage in common action. Should churches have political platforms? While the statement calls for humility, it may not be unfair to detect a touch of hubris at points. For instance, We make up fully one quarter of all voters in the most powerful nation in history. Is this the language of the little flock to whom Our Lord promises the kingdom, or of the principalities and powers of the present time? If evangelicals do not assert the lordship of Christ over the world, it is said at another point, the result would be to functionally abandon it to the Evil One. Is it then the case that the lordship of Christ is dependent upon us? If we do not rule, it is then the case that not Christ but the Evil One rules? The statement urges Christians to speak prophetically to society, but the certification of prophets and the discernment of prophecies is left unclear. Christians, we are told, bring a unique vision to politics, but there is no policy mentioned that is not supported also by non-Christians. Instead of insisting upon their uniqueness, should not Christians cultivate a vision of justice that God has imprinted on the hearts of all? Personal conversion and social transformation are repeatedly put on what would seem to be the same plane. Environmental concern is urged by invoking the great eschatological vision of Romans 8 (the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay), which, the statement says, teaches us that God is not only redeeming his people but is also restoring the whole creation. I expect St. Paul would be surprised by the lesson drawn: [Christians] shape their personal lives in creation-friendly ways: practicing effective recycling, conserving resources, and experiencing the joy of contact with nature. This is what is meant by the glory that is to be revealed to us? While at one point recognizing that government cannot do everything, we are told that it is not the primary role of government to provide everything that humans need for their well-being. Is it then the secondary role, perhaps? God’s prophets call his people to create just and righteous societies. That is followed by references to Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos. The apparent assumption is that Christians are in the same prophetic relationship to American society as were the Old Testament prophets to Israel of old.
Let me say it again: For the Health of the Nation is an admirable statement in many respects. I agree with almost all its policy recommendations. But some of its formulations are infelicitous, and others theologically mischievous or incoherent. Lacking a developed ecclesiology, the church is proposed as God’s lobby for the New Israel that America is or is to become. Almost entirely absent is St. Augustine’s awareness of the pilgrim City of God in ambiguous interaction with the politics of the city of man that is in bondage to the libido dominandi of earthly powers. And yes, it is in important ways similar to the putatively prophetic pronouncements of the old National Council of Churches in its proposal of a political platform that presumably claims the allegiance of all who acknowledge the lordship of Christ. Some of the policy lyrics are different”most significantly on the protection of human life at every stage of development and decline”but the melody is troublingly familiar. For the Health of the Nation is a welcome effort to provide a comprehensive framework for sustained evangelical engagement in public affairs. But half a century after Carl F.H. Henry issued his challenge, evangelicals are no longer newly arrived refugees from their fundamentalist exile. Given the current influence and responsibility of evangelicals, they, their fellow-Christians, and their fellow-citizens are entitled to something better than this.
Here is something really fine. It is an eminently accessible and informed introduction to one of the greatest questions facing our society, and every mortal in our society, which means all of us. Taking Care: Ethical Caregiving in Our Aging Society is published by the President’s Council on Bioethics. Leon Kass, past chairman of the council, writes: As a society, we have not yet faced up to this difficulty especially in its human dimensions. And the popular legal instruments that we are being encouraged to employ to avoid the problem will fall short of what we need as individuals. As this report points out in great detail, living wills, drafted years in advance, are not the answer. They simply cannot substitute for reliable and responsible caregivers on the spot, devoted to the welfare of the incapacitated person here and now. Even worse is the deadly solution’ of legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia, advocates for which are again active in several state legislatures. Caring wholeheartedly for a frail patient or a disabled loved one is incompatible with thinking that engineering their death is an acceptable therapeutic option.’ Betrayal and abandonment of the elderly can never be part of a decent and compassionate society, one devoted to the equal worth and dignity of every human life, from start to fish, regardless of personal strengths, weaknesses, or disabilities. There is in prospect a great conflict. As we bend our efforts in support of the elderly, we can ill afford to neglect the needs of the young, who, unlike the old, have no organized voice to speak up for their needs. We must at all costs avoid a conflict between the generations over scarce resources. But be assured that this is not a book of sweeping policy generalizations. In its three-hundred-plus pages, it treats in detail the problems encountered in growing older and more dependent, and addresses with moral wisdom the difficult decisions to be made about care toward the end of life. I have come across no single book that covers so much so well of a subject of inevitable interest to all of us. (For a copy of Taking Care , write the President’s Council on Bioethics, 1801 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C., 20006, or visit www.bioethics.gov. )
Poland, with a population of forty million, is the largest of the ten states recently joining the European Union. I recently wrote here about whether Poland would, on crucial social, cultural, and economic questions, be more influenced by or be an influence on the EU. A little test came in December when the Polish delegation erected a pro-life exhibit in a corridor of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Parliamentarians from France and elsewhere protested vigorously and the exhibit was promptly removed. As a result of Poland’s presence, said British parliamentarian Michael Cashman, On women’s rights and gay equality, we are fighting battles that we thought we had won years ago. Poland’s low-tax and growth-oriented economic policies are also seen as a threat to the stagnating economies of such as Germany and France. As if that were not enough, the Poles were more assertive than the EU thought necessary in supporting democracy in Ukraine, and, in their support for U.S. foreign policy, seem not to understand what the EU is for. We want to see Europe based on a Christian ethic, says Maciej Giertych, one of the ten Polish members of the EU parliament. Of the intolerance displayed in the removal of the pro-life exhibit, he says, It reminds us of what we had in Poland before 1989.
Forget his use of the ugly and misleading phrase organized religion. You know what he means. Stephen Prothero of Boston University is reviewing Restless Souls by Leigh Eric Schmidt, professor of religion at Princeton. Schmidt takes the side of the many seekers who are into spirituality and can’t give the time of day to religion. Prothero writes: One of the grand conceits of the Spiritual Left is that each of us can (and should) invent our own spirituality, which to be authentic must also be unborrowed. But the meditation techniques and yoga postures so loved among spirituality’s champions did not spring forth fully formed from the genius of any American. They were cultivated over millennia by Hindus and Buddhists in India and Tibet and Japan, who were themselves sustained in those practices by institutions and clerics and everything else that [Ralph Waldo] Emerson loved to hate. Mr. Schmidt knows this, of course. And at a few points he seems to sense the irony of foisting an intellectual genealogy on folks who, like Charlie Brown and his friends, fancy themselves parentless. In the end, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is in contemporary American spirituality more than a modicum of the feckless teenager who imagines that his foolish parents have bequeathed him nothing except perhaps a new car. The problem with this conceit is not simply that it is historically inaccurate or that it fails to give credit where credit is due. The problem”and this should matter more to spirituality’s friends than to its enemies”is that spirituality depends very much on organized religion, since each of its key characteristics (even its disdain for religion itself) was created and sustained by religious believers operating inside religious institutions and for religion’s sake. What is missing from this otherwise intelligent book is a hard-headed engagement with the broader question of spirituality’s provenance, specifically its symbiotic relationship with organized religion itself. Spirituality is not so much an alternative to religion as a part of it. Should the prophesy of the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier ever come to pass”that altar, church, priest, and ritual will pass away’”spirituality would go with them.
The sprightly newsletter catholic eye notes that during the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist the New York Times Rome correspondent reported that the Eucharist is the sacrament of bread and wine in which believers commune with the body and blood of Christ. On another day, he reported that it is the Catholic rite in which the sacrament of bread and wine are distributed. The editors of catholic eye apparently do not understand that the New York Times is a newspaper where a reporter’s ignorance of a subject is considered a qualification. I’m not making this up. More than one person at the Times has explained to me that having someone report on a subject with which he is not familiar provides a fresh and unbiased perspective, and makes it more likely his reporting will be readily understood by non-specialists. That is not the policy on really important subjects, mind you, such as science, the Supreme Court, and same-sex marriage. But it will do for religion. It is perhaps noteworthy that, in this case, the reporter and his editors assume that readers of the Times will not know what the Eucharist is. Perhaps so, which says a great deal about the readers whom the Times assures us are highly educated. In any event, it is striking that a reporter covering a three-week deliberation on the Eucharist comes up with descriptions that nobody in the synod would recognize as the subject of their deliberation.
William Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore is interviewed by John Allen on Jewish-Catholic relations, a longtime passion with the Cardinal. Keeler tells the story of John Paul II’s refusing the request of a Catholic couple to baptize a child whom they had rescued from the Holocaust but who had Jewish parents who may still have been living. In my view, says Keeler, that’s the big difference between the situation now and 150 years ago, when Pius IX did not hesitate to claim a Jewish child for the Church. Well, not quite. The big difference, one might respectfully note, is that in that much-publicized nineteenth-century instance the child was already baptized, the country’s law forbade Catholic children to be raised by Jews, and the boy, effectively adopted by Pius IX, went on to become a priest and declared himself forever grateful for the intervention of the pope. Pius IX, in short, was responding to a very different situation from that addressed by John Paul II. John Allen goes on to ask about the delicate question of conversion in the Jewish-Catholic dialogue. His Eminence responds: We speak to them now as beloved elder brothers and sisters in the faith. Obviously, if an individual Jew should be persuaded that the Catholic-Christian faith is where God is calling him or her, our teaching on religious liberty means that choice must be respected, and we will receive that person with great joy. It is not evident why it should be an occasion of great joy if nothing more than the exercise of religious liberty is involved. John Allen presses on: You use the verb persuaded,’ which begs the question. Should we be attempting to persuade Jews? Keeler: The Church has no organization directed to the conversion of the Jews at this time. I think that’s the most I can say on that question. Allen then changes the subject. It would seem, however, that a great deal more can and should be said about conversion. The magisterial teaching of the Church”powerfully set forth in, for instance, the encyclical Redemptoris Missio ”is that we are under the mandate to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with everyone. The Second Vatican Council states that those who are persuaded that the Catholic Church is what she claims to be must, in order to be saved, enter into and remain in full communion with her. Among the children of Abraham, Jews are indeed our elder brothers. According to Romans 9:11, we are to revere God’s abiding covenant with Israel. One unfortunate interview does not detract from Cardinal Keeler’s many contributions to Jewish-Catholic relations, but after more than thirty years of dialogue, the Jews and Christians involved should have achieved a level of mutual trust that precludes nervousness about truth claims in tension and sometimes in conflict. Of course Christians hope and pray that all, including Jews, will come to accept the fullness of truth revealed in Jesus Christ. We need not condescend to our Jewish interlocutors by fudging that fact of the faith. Nor does that fact diminish all that Jews and Christians have in common that is worth dialoguing about until Christ returns in glory, at which time the great question between us will be definitively settled. The counsel of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is ever pertinent: Interfaith dialogue begins with faith.
Coming out this month is Thomas Oden’s Turning Around the Mainline: How Renewal Movements are Changing the Church (Baker Press). This is undoubtedly an important book. Oden, a United Methodist, was for many years professor of theology at Drew University and has made inestimable contributions to Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Many have assumed that the drift and decline of the mainline/oldline Protestant churches”United Methodist, Presbyterian USA, Episcopal, United Church of Christ, ELCA Lutheran, et al .”is unstoppable. As his title suggests, Oden enters a vigorous dissent. Writing, as he says, more as an archivist than as a historian, he documents the decades-long efforts within these bodies to return them to a center of theological orthodoxy and moral sobriety. The goal is to restore their confessional identities and sense of mission, but without the denominational rivalries of the past. Oden has elsewhere written at length about the possibility of reconstituting confessional integrity on the basis of the consensual tradition of the first millennium of Christian history. He is sanguine about the possibility of achieving this goal. Some would say he is naively sanguine, but, as he documents in the present volume, many people have been working at this for a very long time, and not without some encouraging results. He repeatedly says that the goal does not include organic union among the churches. This would seem to preclude the goal of full communion as understood by Catholics and others, where full communion means unity in faith, sacraments, and ordered ministry. But perhaps not. As you might imagine, Tom Oden and I have discussed these questions frequently and at length. I have serious reservations about the theological coherence of his consensual tradition and the ecumenical coherence of his vision of a mainline/oldline renewed. Nonetheless, Turning Around the Mainline is an indispensable introduction to the people and organizations who are determined not to despair of the denominations that they love.
The morning service at Harvard University’s Memorial Church is strictly limited to fifteen minutes, of which the sermon gets no more than five. Harvey Mansfield, professor of government, packed a lot into his allotted time, including this: Both science and religion seek truth, and both respond to human needs. Science responds to the human need for power. We need power because we are weak; without science we cannot protect ourselves securely against the risks to which we are exposed by our mortality. With science we have the means, in Francis Bacon’s phrase, for the relief of man’s estate.’ Religion, too, must face the fact of death, but it does so differently, in a spirit of gratitude. The Christian religion says that though life is imperfect, life is sweet because man is made in the image of God. When we consider the divinity within us we are reminded that life is good, life is a gift”but also that we are imperfect in goodness as well as in power. We yearn for perfection in both goodness and power. Science offers only an increase in power and has no way to understand goodness, let alone produce it. For all its wonderful benefits it cannot tell you what is a benefit, what not. Science believes in progress and has no gratitude for the past. It feels no debt to St. Jerome and others from the so-called Dark Ages who preserved philosophy”hence science”when it could have been extinguished. The Christian religion, or any religion concerned with both goodness and power, is wiser, more sophisticated, and more responsible than our modern science. As individuals, scientists are not mad for power, but the enterprise of science is sure, though sure it cannot prove, that more power from science is good for humanity. In its c