As you might imagine, I spend a good deal of time talking with reporters. I usually don't mind it. It comes with the territory. With notable exceptions, reporters are people of good will working hard to write a story that will please their editors. It is true that they are not always the sharpest knives in the drawer. These days most of them have gone to journalism school, or j-school, as it is called. In intellectual rankings at universities, journalism is just a notch above education, which is, unfortunately, at the bottom.
An eager young thing with a national paper was interviewing me about yet another instance of political corruption. "Is this something new?" she asked. "No," I said, "it's been around ever since that unfortunate afternoon in the garden." There was a long pause and then she asked, "What garden was that?" It was touching.
What prompts me to mention this today is that I'm just off the phone with a reporter from the same national paper. He's doing a story on Pope Benedict's new encyclical. In the course of discussing the pontificate, I referred to the pope as the bishop of Rome. "That raises an interesting point," he said. "Is it unusual that this pope is also the bishop of Rome?" He obviously thought he was on to a new angle. Once again, I tried to be gentle. Toward the end of our talk, he said with manifest sincerity, "My job is not only to get the story right but to explain what it means." Ah yes, he is just the fellow to explain what this pontificate and the encyclical really mean. It is poignant.
Wherever you go, you run into people who say they were disillusioned with the press when they saw how a story in which they were involved was reported. What they knew for sure had happened was grossly misrepresented. Frequently they say the reporter was biased or even malicious, and that is undoubtedly sometimes the case. But over the years of dealing with reporters--and, again, there are notable exceptions--I have been led to embrace something like an Occam's razor with respect to journalistic distortions: Do not multiply explanations when ignorance will suffice.
Andrew Sullivan says he agrees with me that the recent instruction from Rome on gays and the priesthood "is not really going to be enforced." Well, I didn't quite say that. I said that the instruction is meeting with vigorous resistance and there is reason for concern that it may not be effectively implemented. Of course, Mr. Sullivan thinks it should not be implemented. He describes the instruction this way:
It's morally preposterous. Given this, many friends - especially in the clergy--have urged me to cool it. They assure me that nothing is really going to happen, that Benedict doesn't mean it, that even if he does, he's old and no one in America is going to enforce it, and so on. What they're really saying is that there are two churches--the one Benedict pretends to govern, and the one that actually exists. Although I'm relieved at the resistance to the Vatican's bigotry, I find this too glib a response. For one thing, the Church has now a public voice in this, and it is clear: gay men are uniquely psychologically and morally flawed, "objectively disordered," and so on.
Mr. Sullivan's remarks may be found here. They pose many problems, and that's well before he gets to the "and so on." Neither in the instruction nor in the Church's teaching is it suggested that gay men are "uniquely" flawed. There are many sins with which human beings have to cope, and many propensities that preclude, or should preclude, a man from becoming a priest. Mr. Sullivan incessantly objects to the language of "objectively disordered." We are all objectively disordered in different ways. Once again, the teaching is that homosexual acts are intrinsically immoral. If that is true, the desire to commit homosexual acts is disordered. It's really quite simple: One cannot have a rightly ordered desire to do what is morally wrong.
People experience many disordered desires. They are called temptations and, by the grace of God, they are successfully resisted. In the course of successfully resisting temptation to sin, a person is changed, growing in grace in response to what the Church teaches is the "universal call to holiness." Contra Mr. Sullivan and others, there is nothing so very "unique" about homosexual sin.
Reacting to the same item in the current issue of FIRST THINGS, a young man who I am told is a Jesuit scholastic goes on at some length in a widely circulated statement and concludes with: "Father Neuhaus and others need to wake up to the fact that the Society of Jesus is not engaged in some vast conspiracy to undermine the Church."
But of course not. Although the society is much reduced in size, there are thousands of Jesuits in the world, and a great many of them are in my experience men of vibrant orthodoxy, fidelity, and intelligence. It may be a cliché to say it, but it is hardly incidental that I count some of them among my closest friends. I am greatly indebted to them. From young scholastics to distinguished veterans, they have helped me understand many things, including the problems faced by the Society of Jesus.
While there is no vast conspiracy to undermine the Church, it is the case that many of those resisting, misrepresenting, or rejecting the instruction in question are Jesuits. Jesuits are by no means alone in this respect, but they are conspicuous. I have great respect for young Jesuits who are wide awake to the problems but who are nonetheless determined to renew the Ignatian charism in the fullness of the fidelity for which the Society of Jesus was once and deservedly famous.
In addition to which:
"From Ratzinger to Benedict" is Avery Cardinal Dulles' critical evaluation of the pope's critical evaluation of Vatican Council II. Also in the February issue is Stephen Barr on design and evolution, Stephen Webb on the achievement, and mistakes, of Stanley Hauerwas, and Robert P. George on why private acts are a legitimate public concern. To subscribe to FIRST THINGS, click here.