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Angles on Anglicanism

What Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi describes in his essay “What Is Anglicanism?” (August/September 2007) may be true of the Anglican Province Church of Uganda, but it is not true of all the Anglican Communion. Miranda Hassett in her new book, Anglican Communion in Crisis: How Episcopal Dissidents and Their African Allies Are Reshaping Anglicanism, would even disagree with Archbishop Orombi that there is only one way to be a Ugandan Anglican. For Orombi to suggest with such insistence that Ugandan or English expressions of Anglicanism are the same or the basis of a coherent single Anglican identity is just not helpful, nor can it be historically substantiated. The Church of England’s party system reflects its own diversity, as does its 1992 Bonds of Peace resolutions that have made it possible to be an Anglican in good standing and be for or against the ordination of women to the priesthood.

Orombi describes Scripture as the only source of identity for Anglicans; this is just not true. Scripture has been a source of inspiration and authority for all Anglicans, but in different ways and to different degrees. Certainly some Anglican evangelicals around the world may resonate with Orombi’s description, but broad-church Anglicans are more likely to differ.

There has long been a tradition in Anglicanism of questioning exclusive authority and interpretation of Scripture. Indeed, the Chicago-Quadrilateral agrees on the prominence of Scripture in the life of all Anglicans but does not require one interpretation over another.

Orombi is right that the crisis in the Anglican Communion is really not about homosexuality or women’s priesthood. The crisis is generally perceived to be due to an authority vacuum and the absence of binding principles of accountability. I, however, think the crisis is far more fundamental and complex. The crisis is about how all Anglicans”liberals who advocate the sanctity of queer lives, and conservatives who find the lives of these people an abomination”can find spiritual nurturance without condemning their brothers and sisters. The presumption is that one is right and the other is wrong, but, while this may make sense following some scriptural readings and interpretations, it does not make sense to individuals who in their lives are seeking to follow Christ in their own time and manner.

The worst-case scenario for Anglicanism is that by the end of 2007 there will be a schism. If so, then all the problems of the Anglican Communion will become the problems of the fragmented schismatic churches”liberal and evangelical”in Africa, England, and America. Contrary to overly simplified media versions of Anglican controversies, there is no right and wrong splitting from each other. Rather, what is at risk of splitting is the pressure of living with difference and the presumption that there is one right way of being an Anglican.

Rev. Joseph F. Duggan

Gorton, Manchester, U.K.

Archbishop Orombi has offered a critique of the state of the Anglican Communion, one that raises questions as to the very nature of ­Anglicanism. The archbishop quite consciously reflects the particular tradition of the Church in Uganda but emphasizes also its integration within global Anglicanism. It must therefore be a matter of great sadness for him that he feels unable to participate fully in the councils of the Communion, including the forthcoming Lambeth Conference, at what protagonists on all sides of the conflict would recognize as a critical juncture in Anglican history.

As a British Anglican, but deeply rooted in the African church and with experience in ministry in different parts of Africa, I would like to offer a response to the archbishop’s article in the conviction that his witness needs to be heard throughout the Anglican Communion. The archbishop asserts that British “hegemony” in the Anglican Communion is giving way to that of “younger””by implication more dynamic and growing”churches in the developing world. It has been something of a truism for several decades that the Church is growing in Africa and declining in Europe and America. Whether this assumption is verifiable is problematic and questionable. Archbishop Orombi claims that his province, Uganda, is the second-largest in the Communion, after Nigeria. Unpalatable though it may be to many apologists for the African churches and their claim to “shape what it means to be Anglican,” the Church of England is, in fact, the largest member of the Anglican Communion. The Church of England has, of course, existed for much longer than have other provinces, and it has the ambiguities of establishment not only to complicate its statistics but also to influence its ethos toward comprehensiveness and inclusivity.

How church membership, conversion, and growth, or even decline, are to be defined and quantified is far from clear or straightforward. Most Western church leaders are concerned about the prevailing condition of their churches. Such observers as Elaine Graham and Martyn Percy point optimistically to the persistence of religious belief and identification with the local and national church and demand for its rites of passage among people who are neither regular worshippers nor active members in other ways. Whether this is an adequate corrective to perceptions of terminal decline in the Western church remains to be seen. Meanwhile, renewed commitment to mission may be something of a panic measure, but evangelism and church planting are by no means a monopoly of the Church in the developing world.

Questions have also to be asked about the claims of rapid church growth in Africa. Were all assertions of exponential growth and mass conversions over recent decades to be accepted at face value, and measured against the total populations of the respective areas, then we would find that church growth is outstripping population in many places. This raises questions about where all the converts are found. We would have to suppose that, in some parts of Africa, Christians are converted several times in a lifetime; conversions are not sustained by long-term commitment, and many Anglicans are deserting the Communion for other denominations, reverting to indigenous religions, or converting to Islam. While some may yet be converted a second or even a third time, the impression given is of the proverbial revolving door, which would leave the African churches no better off than their counterparts in Europe and North America.

Archbishop Orombi asserts that, in the current conflicts within the Anglican Communion, there is a danger of confusing doctrine and discipline. Many would agree with him, but the distinction he draws between doctrine, as that which is rooted in Scripture, and discipline, as the product of British culture, is problematic. He draws this distinction from the preface to the Book of Common Prayer , where it applies specifically to the ordering of public worship, not to the moral decisions Christians make during the course of their daily lives, nor for that matter to the beliefs they profess. Christian doctrine concerns God, God’s saving work in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit empowering the Church, as definitively encapsulated in the Nicene Creed. Archbishop Orombi’s compatriot, the archbishop of York, has recently pointed out precisely the problems created by elevating sexuality to the status of doctrine, and all Anglicans would do well to heed Archbishop Sentamu’s wisdom on this point.

The truth is that doctrine and discipline alike are rooted in Scripture, and this is precisely why sexuality has become such a contentious issue in the Anglican Communion, as well as in other Christian denominations. Furthermore, the doctrines to which Scripture bears witness have, throughout Christian history, been interpreted in different ways in different cultural contexts. African theology has for decades been addressing this issue, and there is a growing volume of distinctive African contributions to biblical interpretation and Christian theology. Cultural diversity has become part of the richness of Christianity, not least within the Anglican Communion, as well as inevitably giving rise to tensions and even conflicts. As well as posing challenges, this creates immense creative opportunities for those willing to explore the issues within the Communion.

The condemnation of homosexual relationships, in Lambeth resolution 1.10 of 1998 and elsewhere, needs to be tested against what the Bible actually says. The interpretation of such few texts as there are depends on our understanding not only of the social and cultural conventions of the period, which is what the biblical passages address most directly, but also on the meanings of rare and obscure Greek and Hebrew words. There are very few references in the Bible to homosexual acts or relationships, and probably none at all to consensual relations between adults of the same sex. Homosexual copulation in the course of pagan cultic prostitution is condemned no more than heterosexual coitus in the same context. The sexual exploitation of children and slaves in unequal power relationships is similarly condemned, irrespective of whether the weaker and subordinate person is of the same or the opposite sex to the dominant party. The experience of the Ugandan martyrs is not the definitive interpretive key to the teaching of Scripture on this point: The exploitation of dependants and subordinates is not comparable to consensual relationships; and, however this episode may have shaped Ugandan Christianity, it cannot be the basis for regulating human relationships throughout global Christianity.

For Archbishop Orombi to refer to the “clarity” of Scripture on this point is therefore simply misleading. What Scripture says on this issue is unclear and uncertain. This is precisely why there can be such strong disagreement within the Anglican Communion, and other denominations, among Christians equally committed to upholding the authority of Scripture and to governing their lives and those of their communities accordingly.

Richard Hooker has rightly come to be regarded as the paradigmatic theologian of Anglicanism. His Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is a classic of Anglican theology and the quintessential embodiment of the Anglican spirit in the very particular social, historical, cultural, and political circumstances of England during the last decade of the sixteenth century. While acknowledging the supremacy of “what Scripture doth plainly deliver,” Hooker recognizes that such clear teaching is not always available. He accordingly acknowledges next “whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason” as a tool both for interpreting the Bible and for discovering God’s truth in nature and the secular sciences. Where Scripture is unclear, and human reason and experience unable to resolve the question, only then “the voice of the Church succeedeth.” It is not the function of tradition, whether that of the apostolic church or of the Ugandan martyrs, to override Scripture or to enforce one particular line of interpretation on particular biblical texts. Nor is the function of tradition to defy human reason but merely to reflect on the common heritage of faith. To use tradition to impose a particular moral discipline, one that cannot be supported on the basis of Scripture, is precisely what homophobic interpretation of selected biblical passages threatens to do.

Rev. Nicholas Taylor

University of Zululand

Kwadlangezwa, South Africa

It is with sadness that I read “What Is Anglicanism?” As a Catholic I take no joy in watching the Anglican Church being torn apart by the profound differences among its members. In his attempt to refute the liberal bishops, Orombi seeks to establish the supremacy of his position on the centrality of the authority of the Bible. But isn’t this the same argument that Martin Luther used to refute the authority of the Catholic Magisterium? And isn’t the repeated appeal to sola scriptura the ultimate cause of the continuing divisions within the Body of Christ, with each new group claiming its unique and enlightened interpretation of Scripture?

The foundational problem that all Anglicans must come to grips with is that, when they broke with Rome in the sixteenth century, they set themselves adrift from the only source of enduring unity for the Church. Because Anglicans have historically been a liturgical church (although Orombi’s description of their mission sounds far more evangelical) and have established their own limited magisterium, they have been somewhat successful in dodging the bullet”until now. But with the ordination of openly gay bishops, an issue so contentious that it is about to void their existing authority structure, it seems that the Anglican Communion”absent the Chair of Peter”cannot avoid the irreconcilable divisions that lie ahead.

Fr. Charlie Goraieb

Mesa, Arizona

Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi writes an eloquent apology for the evangelical wing of Anglicanism. We admire his faithfulness and the dedication of the other bishops of the Southern Hemisphere who have stood firm against the secularizing influences now in the seats of power in the United States.

Those of us in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, however, must differ with him in how Scripture is to be our guide. Rather than the English Reformation, we see the undivided Church of the first millennium as our teacher of the faith and practice committed to the apostles. When in doubt, we ask how Scripture has been understood since the earliest days. We would like to make common cause with Archbishop Orombi, Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria, and others of the Southern Cone in the project of piecing together a faithful province of the Anglican Communion in North America. But can we?

My predecessors met some thirty years ago in St. Louis in the hope of organizing a home for faithful Anglicanism in this country. That project split into the many fragments of the Continuing Churches, rendering us unable to stop or even slow the march to control of the Episcopal Church by revisionists. The revisionists make the secular fads of the moment their ultimate authority, and Scripture a historical curiosity. As a bishop in one of the churches of the Continuum, I must confess that we have sinned and pray God not only to forgive us but also to redeem the work we have attempted ineptly.

The large majority of us who would be faithful need somehow to find a structure in which evangelicals do not have to give up their allegiance to Scripture, and Anglo-Catholics do not need to join in what we see as the errors of the Reformers. Scripture, the creeds, the councils of the undivided Church”not the Reformation polemical Articles of Religion”are our core.

Rt. Rev. Louis Chopin Cusachs

Folsom, Louisiana

Archbishop Orombi sets out a clear, admirable, and reasonable summary of a Christian denomination. The problem is that it does not describe Anglicanism as it has been for at least a hundred years. One can argue that his ideal is what Anglicanism should aim for, but not that it reflects that ideal in its recent stresses related to sexuality, nor that it represents the leanings of most influential Anglican (and Christian) leaders. I am not suggesting that his vision is wrong, unworthy, or in need of revision. My assertion is simply that Anglicanism is, necessarily, a far bigger tent than he describes.

There are four possible combinations of liberal and conservative positions with respect to dogma and the Christian life: liberal in both dogma and life; liberal in dogma but not in life; liberal in life but not in dogma; and conservative in both dogma and life. The assumption is often made that there are only two options”liberal or conservative”and it is likely the case that the majority of Anglicans could be so categorized. But there are many individuals who fall into one of the middle combinations. I know many Anglicans who are right of center on dogma and left on daily life. There are likely fewer like me, liberal in terms of dogma but socially conservative.

Irrespective of the righteousness of Bishop Orombi’s and my cause, the fact remains that the majority of Canadian, and perhaps American, Anglicans disagree. Although the world church may reasonably sever ties with its Canadian branch, the consequences in Canada will, at best, be mixed. On the one hand, the current dishonest ambiguity will end and some churches will separate from the Anglican Communion and attempt to form ties with the world church. On the other hand, the liberal wing will deal firmly with the remaining churches (the vast majority, many with large minorities of conservative parishioners), as we have seen in British Columbia (the New Westminster diocese), where blessing of same-sex couples has been imposed and continues.

Perhaps the least offensive way out would be to decentralize decisions to the level of the parish. Given that there is no long line of gay couples wanting either civil or religious wedding ceremonies in Canada, change might at least be postponed. After all, the Anglican Church has always been a big tent, and there have long been doctrinal differences. It would be good to go back fifty years when it was said, only half in jest, that the great thing about the Church of England was that it did not interfere with one’s religion. But given the facts that we are an episcopal church and that there is nothing so formidable as self-righteous liberals on the march, that is a highly improbable resolution.

There is no happy ending.

Mark Holmes

Port Hope, Canada

DiIulio’s Next President

Americans are already complaining that there’s too much coverage of the 2008 political contest and that the election process has started too early, but political junkies like me can’t get enough. So, when November’s First Things arrived, it was only natural that I turned immediately to “The Next President.” Nat Hentoff’s comments regarding the sanctity of life were useful, considered, and welcome. It is fitting that a commentator discussing the sanctity of life should lead off the discussion about electing the next president. After all, there can be nothing more critical in this election than the right to life, not just because the executive can lead the political direction and establish the tenor of the debate but also because the next president will almost certainly be appointing at least one Supreme Court justice.

The life issues are not the only reason I found John DiIulio’s take on the election disturbing, but they were right out front. In a discussion of the political future of the nation, one simply degrades a position entirely when he separates anything from “the life issues.” It doesn’t matter how fast the GNP grows when the lives of the humans who benefit from it are worthless. The particular benefits of this poverty program or that health initiative are so much straw when four thousand babies a day are abruptly removed from the population these programs serve.

First Things might be the only place where an intellectually honest discussion about the Christian’s response to social injustice can begin. For that discussion to begin, the entirety of the Church’s teaching on social justice needs to be considered. Regrettably, DiIulio’s opinion of who are the best candidates to benefit the poor revolves around the tired definition of who will be arranging the best handout. We have assumed for so long that the solution to poverty is to hand the poor some material benefit that we’ve failed to notice that this does not, in fact, end poverty. DiIulio likes Hillary’s plan to alleviate poverty by “strengthening middle-class families” yet ignores the damage to middle-class families that the inevitable increase in taxes will cause. Further, he sees her expanding of government programs to the middle class as strengthening these families rather than causing an unhealthy dependence.

DiIulio thinks that “Clinton conceives government’s role as empowering average citizens to lead productive if not uniformly prosperous lives.” Oh my. Government can do no such thing. Our American tradition and our Catholic tradition both teach that the individual person is empowered by God and given infinite value from the Creator. Each of us is born with inalienable rights that come from him. In the American constitutional tradition, the job of the government is to stay out of God’s way, to protect the liberties that he provides at conception. Government in general, and Hillary in particular, can’t empower anyone.

The Church’s position on social justice is too often delivered piecemeal and out of context, devoid of three critical principles necessary for an informed opinion and a useful discussion. First, the Church believes in the right to private property. Those writers who acknowledge this are quick to point out that the Church also warns that the right to private property is not absolute. But this does not mean that it doesn’t exist. When we decide that all issues of privation are to be solved by simply confiscating the goods or services from one person and giving them to the deprived, we ignore the rights of the owners. There are limits to the government’s role in redistributing wealth, because those goods belong to others. People of goodwill can disagree on where those limits are, and under what conditions they can be changed, but Catholic Americans cannot have a fair and balanced discussion without first acknowledging that the goods to be distributed belong to others.

When the government wants to expand its programs to the middle class, it must necessarily admit that it not only limits the freedoms of those it purports to benefit but also limits the freedom of those from whom it takes the resources. It isn’t just the money that needs to be considered but the labor as well. Each encroachment of the government on health care necessarily involves the regulating and commandeering of the services of doctors, nurses, and dozens of other health-care workers and professionals. This has the faint odor of slavery about it.

The second principle is that of subsidiarity. This principle, outlined in one way or another in all writings about social justice, is most recently stated in Centesimus Annus : “A community of a higher order should not interfere with the life of a community of a lower order, taking over its functions.” Thankfully, the Church advises that accountable and efficient charity is best handled by lower-order communities. First comes the family. (Remember the family?) Then comes the neighborhood, followed by the town. What can’t be solved at these levels should be the domain of the county, then the state. When all else fails, and only when all else fails, should the federal government then consider a program. When this is forgotten, the bureaucratic labyrinth of the Veterans Administration, not to mention the onerous drudgery of the particulars inherent in the No Child Left Behind initiative, becomes the inevitable result.

Using this subsidiarity principle as a guideline, the last entity to be handling social-justice issues should be the federal government. Not only are the benefits more efficiently administered at a local level, but accountability must be considered as well.

The principle of accountability speaks to the responsibilities of the poor themselves. As Teddy Roosevelt observed, “The first requisite of a good citizen in this republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his weight.” Teddy brings to the table the ever useful Protestant work ethic, with its ideal of self-reliance. Simply put, the poor have to exert every effort of their own to escape poverty. Succinctly, a renewed emphasis on following the Ten Commandments would do much to eliminate poverty. Work hard, stay in school, don’t have children until after marriage, and stay faithfully married. No discussion of poverty, especially in a magazine that deals with the role of religion in the public square, can be complete without the firm statement of these principles. And no government, especially a government that thinks it can’t inject God into a public conversation, can solve social problems while ignoring the moral pathology that contributes to it.

Let’s solve poverty, ignorance, injustice, racism, and every other ailment of civilization, but let’s do so with a renewed emphasis on Judeo-Christian morality, private property, and local charity. These things work. That’s why God invented them. There’s no economic disparity that the free market, tempered with Christian morality, can’t conquer. This is, of course, if we remember that each individual’s right to life must be restored to the culture before we can even consider ourselves to be civilized.

William F.X. Maughan

St. Pius X High School

Bangor, Pennsylvania

John J. DiIulio Jr. replies:

Had First Things asked me to write on “life issues” or abortion, I would have researched and written about each candidate’s positions on the subject and nominated Mike Huckabee as the best Republican and nobody as the best Democrat (save the spirit of my late, great friend Governor Bob Casey of Pennsylvania). As it was, my explicit and specific mandate from the magazine was to address competing policies on “poverty and economics.” I settled on Huckabee for the Republicans and Hillary Clinton for the Democrats. My assignment, not my catechetical comprehension and fidelity, was “piecemeal.” Readers who want to relate Catholic teaching to actual public laws and social policies might consult my book Godly Republic: A Centrist Blueprint for America’s Faith-Based Future . Under the chapter 6 heading “Think Catholic,” they will learn a bit more about subsidiarity doctrine and how it can do more than animate abstract musings about government.

Catholicism is pro-life, pro-family, pro-poor, and pro-just war, with an emphasis on “just.” The Catechism rails against “sinful inequalities,” requires us to seek the “common good,” and forbids us to be either allergic to government or addicted to it as we witness our faith by works embodying our “preferential love for the poor.” In the New Testament, the first full sermon Jesus Christ preaches (Luke 4:18) begins as follows: “The spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.”

Readers who truly care to know what different candidates have averred about given policy issues, domestic and international, should study their respective speeches, books, and websites, and consult what diverse experts, including nonpartisan ones who really know the field, have concluded about each.

Finally, on behalf of my late maternal Catholic grandmother, who attended Mass every day, worked in sweatshops, raised a huge family that sometimes went hungry during the Great Depression, tended even to less well-off neighbors, and lit three candles every day”one each for the two sons she lost during World War II and one for Franklin Delano Roosevelt”no, “the free market, tempered with Christian morality” is not, in fact, enough to “conquer” every “economic disparity.” Thank God most Americans and most leaders in both parties know this.

God’s Legitimate Authority

Fr. Neuhaus opines that it is right and necessary that the question of whose right to life must be protected should be decided politically. This is allegedly so “because our constitutional order vests political sovereignty in the people.” The American constitutional order leaves much to be desired, as Pope Leo XIII noted in Longinqua Oceani . Indeed, it derives from a fundamental philosophical error, one directly contradictory to Scripture: “There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Rom. 13:1).

The sovereignty of states comes from above, not from below, from God, and not from the consent of the governed. Hence, laws must not be “framed according to the delusive caprices and opinions of the mass of the people, but by truth and by justice” (Leo XIII, Immortale Dei ). The state is obliged to impose the morally right law, which protects all persons from murder, regardless of what percentage of the population believes that certain persons should not be protected from murder. To claim that it is right to leave the fate of countless innocents in the hands of a popular vote is morally repugnant. Whoever has power has it from God and is obliged to use it forthwith to stay the executioner’s hand. Discourse aimed at persuading the majority of the population of the rightness of the pro-life position need not precede whatever action is necessary to stop the bleeding.

Ben Douglass

Herndon, Virginia

RJN replies:

Mr. Douglass states succinctly a problem that many Catholics and other Christians have with the American constitutional order. That order does, indeed, leave much to be desired, as do all temporal orders short of the promised Kingdom of God. All legitimate authority is from God, and, in the liberal democratic tradition of which our polity is part, the people are the political sovereign and the state is their servant. In the continuing development of Catholic social doctrine, as articulated in, for instance, the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus , the people and their representatives are to ensure that laws are in conformity with the natural law discerned by the gift of reason.

Butter, No Guns

In the October, November, and December issues of First Things , Fr. Neuhaus discusses Paul Collier’s book The Bottom Billion , along with several other books about the plight of the world’s poorest people. Neuhaus seems to be at least half convinced by Collier’s thesis that we should include the bottom billion in the circle of world trade, by military means if necessary.

I disagree. If we use military or even diplomatic measures to open Somalia to labor-intensive light industry, then some factories that would have employed the poor of Bangladesh will instead hire the poor of Somalia. What is worse, because of the extra competition from the Somalian workers, the wages in other low-income countries will be cut, and all the poor nations will earn less per T-shirt and toaster produced. This will give them less foreign exchange to buy the first-world capital equipment they need for economic growth.

As Paul Collier points out, many nations where the bottom billion live are trapped by civil war, bad government, and other factors. But Bangladesh and other poor nations relatively open to trade will probably thrive on the industries that China and other former low-income nations shed. As the super-cheap labor of the poorest nations becomes progressively more scarce, even the trapped nations will decide to open up; but I believe there is little to be gained and much to be lost by forcing them to open up.

Richard Bruce

Davis, California

Losing His Religion

I want to make three points about Belief: A Memoir . First, N. John Hall was my classmate in the diocesan seminary and is still a close friend, and I know that he entered the seminary, was ordained, and served as a priest in good faith. His ministry was praised by bishops and the laity. Second, it is noteworthy that the seminary system as we knew it before Vatican II presented Catholicism pretty much as a rule book, and Dr. Hall describes this in the book.

His memoir describes Catholic seminary education and clerical life in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with its strong focus on canon law and manuals of moral theology. Scripture was used almost entirely as a source of proof texts, which only questionably supported church teaching, since they were usually taken out of context. Those who are seeking to “restore” seminary education should be aware that the 1950s were not a “golden age” and that priestly formation in those days had serious defects.

Dr. Hall was not exposed to the scriptural scholarship and study of the Church Fathers that flowered after Vatican II. By returning to its theological roots, the Church lifted the heavy pall of guilt and fear that had characterized much Catholic culture for both the clergy and the faithful. Hearing the gospel in their own language was a revelation for most Catholics. Dr. Hall had only a short time in this new atmosphere before seeking a dispensation from the priesthood.

Finally, Dr. Hall is one of thousands of priests who applied for dispensations almost as soon as Pope Paul VI made them available. Many of those men who received dispensations continued to live as Catholic laymen in good standing, becoming exemplary husbands and fathers. But there are a significant number of former priests who did leave the Church and, sadly, the faith. Several have written angry books about their experiences, but Dr. Hall should be commended for telling his story without bitterness. He continues to support Catholic charities, and his story provides valuable insights into the defects of priestly formation in the 1950s.

We should pray for our brother Jack, and for all those like him”that the Holy Spirit will reawaken their faith that at present is only a memory.

Gerald P. Pindar

Florence, New Jersey

Approaching my fiftieth anniversary as a happy and reasonably fulfilled Roman Catholic priest, I am puzzled at First Things ’ recent review of N. John Hall’s Belief: A Memoir . I found it to be a delightful read”good-humored (often downright funny!), truthful, and respectful. I shared the author’s seminary experience in the same era and then a pastoral ministry similar to his own. With a touch of envy, I marvel at the accuracy of his detailed memory.

John Hall seems to be committed to human love and human goodness. Since, according to Jesus’ teaching, those are the main objectives of authentic religion, does it really matter that his conscience no longer allows the leap of faith in God?

Rev. Richard G. Rento

Lavallette, New Jersey

Faithful Living

I write to clarify statements that were made in the November issue’s Public Square under the headline “Homosexuality and Love’s Duty,” in which quotes from a column I wrote for our diocesan newspaper were prominently featured. I reported in that column the remarks I had heard from persons who were participating in a task force on how the Diocese of Tucson might establish a ministry to Catholics of same-sex inclination in the letter and spirit of “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care” from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

First Things states that the way I “put” one of the remarks was “problematic.” That remark was, “It would be helpful if there would be a parish where Catholics of same-sex orientation could worship in an accepting environment that would help them in living faithfully as Catholics.” First Things states that “the bishop does not say whether or not he approves of the idea.” For the record, I certainly do not approve of the idea of a parish that would encourage or condone any behaviors contrary to church teaching. In our diocesan discussion, this suggestion is not being pursued.

In addition, I think it important to note that the member of the task force who offered that suggestion did so in the hope that such a parish would be a place in which Catholics of same-sex inclination could find support for faithfully living what the Church teaches. His intention was in no way meant to suggest that such a parish would serve only persons of same-sex inclination or encourage or condone behaviors contrary to church teaching. That would have been farthest from his mind. The intent of our task force is to seek to find ways that help people of same-sex inclination to live their lives in keeping with what we believe as Catholics.

Most Rev. Gerald F. Kicanas

Bishop of Tucson

Tucson, Arizona

Therapy, Then Fidelity

As coauthor of Broken Trust , I would like to respond to Richard John Neuhaus’ rather dismissive comments about the book in the November issue’s Public Square. Who can argue with Fr. Neuhaus’ explanation and rallying cry in regard to the priest sexual-abuse scandal”“fidelity, fidelity, fidelity.” The question is why some priests failed to remain faithful to their vow of celibacy, especially those who abused the young, and what to do about it. Broken Trust attempts to provide some answers that can help us move forward. It also invites the Church and society to another aspect of fidelity: faithfulness to the gospel values of compassion, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation”a fidelity sorely lacking in some of the responses by the Church and by society to the sexual-abuse crisis.

Almost every priest or brother whom I have counseled who has failed in fidelity to celibacy, including those who have abused minors, started their vocational careers with the intention to be faithful to their vow. What we see in counseling, which we relate in Broken Trust , is that these priest abusers have usually been sexually abused or otherwise seriously traumatized in their youth”they are as caught in the cycle of abuse as their victims. Their untreated trauma leads to the development of a sexually addictive disease process that can progress into sexually abusive behavior. The combination of their abuse history and their sexual compulsivity renders them incapable of living their vow of celibacy, despite their best intentions.

Fr. Neuhaus’ comments miss this central finding of the book. The focus of our psychological and spiritual work with clergy is not, as Fr. Neuhaus suggests, merely “teaching about boundaries between ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate’ touching””something not even mentioned in the book”but to bring them to deep healing in Christ”body, mind, and spirit.

Then they can be whole enough in recovery to be capable of the fidelity they yearn for. To merely preach “fidelity” and to “be faithful” without the opportunity for such healing is a cruel joke. To tell them also to “go away, get lost,” as some have used the Dallas Charter to do, is not only irresponsible to society and a denial of our theology of the priesthood; it is also deep infidelity to the gospel message and the healing ministry of Jesus.

As His Eminence Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, recently stated, such an approach would have “nothing to do with respect of the human person, with helping the victims, nor with recovery of the guilty”whom we cannot abandon to hell.”

In stating that Broken Trust “contributes little to our understanding of the sex abuse scandal,” Fr. Neuhaus seems to have overlooked the substance of what we are saying in the book. The contribution that we hope to make is to attempt to change the current dialogue of blame, judgment, lawsuits, and adversarial camps to a gospel conversation of healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemptive, spiritual transformation. Through the priest and victim stories, the psychological and spiritual commentary, and the research cited, we make several points: This is certainly not solely a Catholic problem; the priests themselves were victims as children; victims and abusers are not adversaries but are linked by the same trauma, similar symptoms, and similar paths of healing. Also, the core problem behind the priests’ sexual abuse is not the bishops, not seminary formation, not celibacy, not homosexuality, but rather the psychosexual, even spiritual woundedness and compulsivity that results from the childhood abuse and trauma experienced by the abusers themselves. Healing comes through both psychotherapy (despite Fr. Neuhaus’ dismissal of the same) and renewal of the spirit by faith.

Perhaps what is most distressing about Fr. Neuhaus’ comments is his seeming rejection of the positive role that psychology and therapy can play in the healing of this crisis in the Church. One of the great strengths of the Catholic Church is its ability over the centuries”from the early Fathers, through Aquinas, to the great leaders and teachers of our own time (despite glaring historical failures)”to accept, integrate, and transform the various knowledge bases of the time, such as philosophy, art, and the sciences.

Psychology, and its applied wing, psychotherapy, is one of the key knowledge bases of our time. As a Catholic psychotherapist for twenty-three years, I have worked to integrate faith and psychology in the humble hope that my therapeutic work might be an instrument of Christ’s healing. I have observed that psychology without faith is empty, and yet religion without an adequate psychology is blind and prone to judgment. In Broken Trust , our intention is simply to be an instrument of Christ’s healing, through psychology and faith, for the terrible wound of sexual abuse in the Church and society.

Patrick Fleming

Kirkwood, Missouri

RJN replies:

I do not doubt the fine intentions of the authors or the constructive uses of psychology in healing. I?have frequently written about the betrayal of trust by bishops who, invoking the Dallas Charter, have abdicated their responsibility for priests in trouble. I?am sure that some readers may find Broken Trust very helpful.