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There is lively interest, to put it gently, in the instruction from Rome regarding the admission of those with strong same-sex attractions to the seminary and priesthood. The instruction, which is not officially released until today, was leaked last week to an Italian newspaper and has since been widely disseminated in several languages.

It says, among other things, "When dealing . . . with homosexual tendencies that might only be a manifestation of a transitory problem, as, for example, delayed adolescence, these must be clearly overcome at least three years before diaconal ordination.” On the other hand, men with a fixed and "deep-seated" identity as homosexuals should not be ordained.

The instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education has the merit of making difficult but necessary distinctions with respect to homosexuality. The American media tend to use the word “gay” to cover everything from an adolescent crush on an eleven-year-old friend to an adult addiction to bath house orgies.

Those who would nitpick the instruction into irrelevance raise numerous objections. They say, for instance, that it does not explain the difference between “transitory” and “deep-seated” homosexual tendencies. They should check a dictionary.

A canon lawyer says, "You can slice and dice this thing a thousand different ways." Only if you are really determined to do so. Others observe that it is issued as a statement of the congregation and not directly by the pope. The fact is that the pope approved the document and ordered its release. There is no doubt about its binding authority.

Father James Martin, a Jesuit, is a more straightforward critic of the instruction. "An honest reading of the document shows that the Vatican is simply banning gays," he said. "The ‘application’ of the document, even the portion of the document that says that rectors are ultimately responsible for their men, will be meaningless: No emotionally mature gay applicant these days will want to enter." With respect to the “mature” gay, see the instruction on “delayed adolescence”¯or, as it used to be termed in psychiatric circles, arrested adolescence.

A more detailed examination of the document and its implications is forthcoming in the pages of FIRST THINGS.

Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post is a sensible liberal whose column I read with some regularity. In a column of a few days ago, he reflected on President Bush’s Asia tour, noting that “realists” in the foreign policy establishment were unhappy about his focus on supposedly peripheral subjects such as religious freedom and the advance of democracy. Hoagland writes: “China deserved the frank admonitions about religious freedoms that Bush delivered in his well-conceived celebration of democracy’s reach in Asia. Here at home, he needs to establish that he can make religion a force for change without making it a tool of governance, or vice versa.”

I admit to being thrown by that vice versa. Bush needs to establish that he can make religion a tool of governance without making it a force for change? Even sensible liberals, it seems, tie themselves into knots in trying to understand the religiously-grounded moral vision that comes so naturally to George W. Bush.

I believe it was the nineteenth-century Swiss historian Jakob Burckhardt who said that you can always count on Rome to come to terms with the barbarians. He did not intend it as a criticism but merely to observe that the Church will make political accomodations necessary to securing its mission. The observation is pertinent to the long-standing desire of the Vatican to normalize relations with China.

John Allen spoke recently with Ambassador Chou-seng Tou of Taiwan. The Holy See is the last remaining European state to maintain relations with Taiwan. "Once the people of mainland China enjoy religious freedom, the demand for other freedoms will follow," Tou said. "The regime is afraid that it will become a tidal wave and things will get out of control."

"We are somewhat the victims of the Holy See’s strong desire for rapprochement with the mainland," Tou said.

He cited the fact that the Holy See has not appointed a nuncio, or full ambassador, to Taiwan since 1979. The pope is represented in Taipei by a chargé d’affaires, in what many see as preparation for an eventual shift to Beijing. "We’re the victims," Tou repeated, "but we also understand." Perhaps Mr. Tou has read Burckhardt.

President Bush was in China last week and was outspoken about the imperative of religious freedom. According to the Italian daily La Stampa , anonymous Vatican sources called his efforts unschedued and unhelpful. "If we go to Beijing, it will certainly not be on the back of the U.S.," a Vatican official was quoted as saying. "The Chinese authorities will not grant us greater religious freedom on the basis that Bush asked for it."

This is a typically churlish expression of the anti-Americanism that is to be found in some Vatican circles. American officials were quick to point out that the Vatican has on several occasions explicitly asked for American intervention with China on questions of religious freedom.

As Allen notes, “It may be the same diplomatic two-step that goes on whenever America exercises its influence internationally¯even people grateful for the intervention may not want to be identified with it.”

Ambassador Tou noted that, if and when Rome and Beijing normalize relations, it will not necessarily be bad for Taiwan. It would, he thought, reflect a degree of progress in China that would make possible also a peaceful and secure relationship with Taiwan.

There were very strong responses to Allen Hertzke’s “The Shame of Darfur” in the October 2005 issue, including sharp critiques by Charles Colson and Michael Horowitz. These appear in the issue that should be received by subscribers in a couple of weeks. Obviously, some thought Hertzke was unfair to evangelicals who, they say, are doing more than he allows for the people of Darfur. Hertzke’s extended answer includes this: "Ultimately the question comes down to this: Can the Bush administration do more to end the crisis in Darfur? The answer is: Yes, it can. And increased religious activism need not reduce the president’s maneuvering room to mount smart initiatives on multiple fronts. To be sure, the whole region is fragile, complications abound, and success is not guaranteed, but ‘never again’ will ring hauntingly if the highest levels of the U.S. government are not engaged in halting the slow-motion decimation of a people¯and if the American religious community does not do all it can to make that happen. This is a great moral issue, one that deserves our voices and strategic visions". (To become a subscriber to FIRST THINGS, check out the “Subscribe” button above.)

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