The flood of commentary on the Vatican instruction on homosexuality and the priesthood will not likely abate for some time. Here is William Saletan at Slate targeting what he views as the pope's hangup about homosexuality, imaginatively titled "Gland Inquisitor":
"Notice two things. First, deep-rooted 'tendencies' are now independent and automatic grounds for dismissal, regardless of whether you 'practice' homosexuality or 'support' gay culture (whatever that is). Second, even if these tendencies are merely a 'situation' in which you 'find yourself,' they 'gravely obstruct' you from relating properly to men and women. Through no fault of your own, you're doomed. The Catechism's paths to perfectionself-mastery, chastity, prayer, and graceno longer suffice. The church won't settle for your self-restraint, even with God's help."
The "whatever that is" is a nice touch and is cropping up in much of the hostile commentary. Apparently these people live in small rural villages and have never heard of Chelsea, the West Village, or San Francisco. And, of course, they have no access to gay magazines or Andrew Sullivan's blog that go on and on about the "gay culture." The gay culture? Never heard of it.
Contra Saletan, the Church pastorally cares and prays for people who struggle with disordered desires. But she should not jeopardize the mission of the priesthood by ordaining those who are thought likely to succumb to such desires.
Cardinal Grocholewski, head of the dicastery issuing the instruction, puts it this way: "It is not discrimination, for example, if one does not admit a person who suffers from vertigo to a school for astronauts." More precisely, it is discrimination, although not in the pejorative sense of the term. I suppose it is possible that somebody with a transitory, or even deep-seated, problem with vertigo might be a successful astronaut, but as a matter of policy you don't want to put the possibility to the test.
In a long essay over on the New Pantagruel, Caleb Stegall is trying to get Joseph (Jody) Bottum and me to fight. Taking off from Jody's recent article in FIRST THINGS on capital punishment (August/September) and mine on our American Babylon (December), he claims to discern contradictions:
"If it is true that a demythologized modern state has no room for political theology or natural law as Bottum says, and if it is true that a state without a political theology will devolve into raw power politics, either in the open or more likely hidden behind lip service paid to positive law, as Neuhaus says, then the sheer circularity of their contradictory conclusions is dizzying. The fact that Bottum and Neuhaus are so hung up in this intellectual feedback loop is useful for what it reveals: namely, that despite all the valiant efforts of the First Things crew over the years, the modern public square really is nakedwhich is to say, shorn of any real political theology or mythologyand will always remain so. Better to abandon the liberal project altogether, at which point a penitent, Christian, political theology will again be possible."
Stegall's is an interesting argument, and he raises a few questions deserving of detailed attention. But that is for another time. Very briefly, what he calls the demythologized modern state is not capable of bearing "the story of the world," namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ. No state is. That is the mission of the Church. I am not at all sure that we should want the kind of "political theology" that Mr. Stegall apparently has in mind. The goal, rather, is a secular state in a confessional society in which government is democratically held accountable to the moral truth to which the Church bears witness.
While Mr. Bottum and I decline the invitation to fight, it should be noted that the New Pantagruel, while not as Rabelaisian as the title may suggest, is a lively Internet quarterly well worth a look.
"Good Popes Don't Make Good Programming." That's the headline of the review by David Blum of two television productions on the life of John Paul II. The basic problem with ABC's "Have No Fear," Blum writes in the New York Sun, is that it "embraces the notion of Wojtyla's essential goodness."
"I could imagine," writes Blum, "a far more fascinating movie about the life of Rodrigo Borgia, the Spanish pope of the Renaissance who famously had sex with his beautiful daughter Lucreziaas did his son Caesare. He may not have been a pope worth revering but his story makes for richer entertainment."
Alexander VI's sordid immorality was bad enough without Mr. Blum tarting it up, but his point is that he thinks sin is more interesting than virtue. Many people do think that way. The word for that is decadence.
Mr. Blum concludes: "This is Catholic comfort food from networks afraid to offend anyone. They may earn the numbers executives crave, but only because Nielsen boxes can't calculate levels of boredom and disappointment." So the programs will be a great ratings success because people like being bored and disappointed?
No, of course not. Mr. Blum obviously means that those people may enjoy and even be edified by these programs, but a more sophisticated ratings system would take note that those who prefer the "richer entertainment" of papal incest are bored and disappointed.
Prudence is falsely thought to be a weak virtue. In the forthcoming issue, which subscribers will soon be receiving, the distinguished Lincoln scholar Allen C. Guelzo reflects on "The Prudence of Abraham Lincoln." He writes: "Providence was, for Lincoln, a means for balancing respect for a divine purpose in human affairs with the candid recognition that it was surpassingly difficult to know what purposes God might have. It was also a means he inherited from his long years as a Whig for recognizing the secular structure of the American federal government without surrendering entirely to the notion that it was totally secular'that shallow doctrine of the Monticello School,' as a Whig journal put it in 1846or that the power of religious belief in society had to go untapped by civil government in its avoidance of seeming to establish a civic religion. By attaching the Emancipation Proclamation to his vow to God, Lincoln demonstrated what James C. Welling, the editor of Washington's flagship newspaper during the Civil War, called 'that prudent and reverent waiting on Providence,' which allowed Lincoln to fend off 'the danger of identifying the proclamation in the popular mind with a panic cry of despair." (To become a subscriber to FIRST THINGS, check out the "Subscribe" button above.)
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