Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

You read Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s  The Case for Gay Acceptance in the Catholic Church on The Atlantic ‘s website, and scratch your head, and shuffle your feet, and drum your fingers on the table, and shuffle your feet again, trying to figure out what exactly you can say about it within the usual bounds of discourse.

The problem is that the article is precisely as idiotic as Christian Tappe shows in Because She’s a Kennedy . (Tappe writes a little exuberantly, I should say, and with an obvious pleasure in tweaking the Kennedy’s.)

For example, using (in typical propagandist fashion) a horror story from Uganda, Townsend insists that murdering homosexual people “goes against the Church’s own age-old tradition,” which is of course true. But she isn’t really referring to “Thou shalt not kill.” As Tappe writes, quoting the article:

Heck, “What other institution separates men and women and encourages them to live together in monasteries and convents where they can develop deep relationships with those who share their kind of love?”

Can you imagine? How can an institution that promotes monks hate gays? Monks live together. There are no women around. They cultivate relationships. And they “share their kind of love.” They’re practically gay.

And similarly, after declaring “how misogynistic” is the Bible, she declares that things have changed for the better. “Happily,” writes Tappe quoting Townsend,
“that has now changed. Women have entered schools of theology and can now show that Jesus was one of the first great feminists. Mary Magdalene is no longer thought of as a prostitute but as the ‘apostle to the apostles.’”

It’s good that women are finally allowed to enter those big forbidding schools of theology and wrest from the clutches of the misogynist priests (not the monks, though, they’re charming and their habits are so fabulous!) those long-secret passages of theology—like John 20:16 and Mark 16:9—that showed Mary Magdalene wasn’t just some filthy whore.

[NOTE: Peter Abelard and many others referred to Mary Magdalene as the “apostle to the apostles” as early as 1132. I can only assume that Abelard was really a female theologian.]

I think the title “Apostle to the Apostles” is even more ancient, as is the title used in the East, “Equal to the Apostles,” but in any case Townsend seems genuinely ignorant that the Church’s understanding of St. Mary Magdalene and women in general didn’t change from darkness to light fairly recently. And as a friend noted, her idea that Mary Magdalene was once considered a prostitute but is now considered an apostle to the Apostles   “sums it up rather nicely.  The implicit assumption that she cannot be both  of those things shows a near-perfect ignorance of Christianity.”

Yet, as she writes near the beginning of her essay, “This is what I wrote about in my book,  Failing America’s Faithful . While researching it, I gained many insights into the Church and its history of both prejudice and tolerance.” You expect to find a smiley face at the end of this sentence.

One thinks that an organ like The Atlantic  could surely do better than this. As a Catholic, I could write a better defense of homosexuality than Townsend has managed. (Not that I’m going to.)

Maybe, another friend wrote, the editors at The Atlantic  ”have accurately gagued accurately their reader’s general level of knowledge, prejudice, sense, and credulity towards ‘celebrities’.” Or maybe they don’t think they need to do better, that the Catholic position is so weak that good argument is superfluous, and can be left to the golly gee whiz writers. Maybe — I think of a baseball team so unconcerned about the other team that the manager starts his third stringers — they think they discredit it even more effectively by leaving the attack to writers like Kathleen Townsend Kennedy.

My thanks to David Poecking and William Tighe for their comments.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles