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“When men stop believing in God they don’t believe in nothing; they believe in anything.” Umberto Eco said that observation is commonly attributed to G.K. Chesterton, and I flatly asserted in response that it is attributed to him because he wrote it. I may have been wrong about that. A Chesterton scholar (there are such) says that, while it certainly reflects the great man’s view on the matter, the actual sentence cannot be found in his writings. On the other hand, a passionate GKC amateur insists that he did write it and promises to get back to me when he discovers exactly when and where. Stay tuned.

I see that Andrew Sullivan has this item titled “Neuhaus versus Neuhaus.” With gotcha gleefulness he pounces on something I wrote three years ago and compares it with what I recently wrote about the Vatican instruction on homosexuality and the priesthood.

“Here,” Sullivan writes, “are two quotes from theocon-in-chief, Richard John Neuhaus, on the issue of gay priests.” He then cites this from a 2002 reflection in F IRST T HINGS : “It seems likely that, in centuries past, some priests who have been canonized as saints would meet today’s criteria as having a ‘homosexual orientation.’ The issue was not then, and should not be today, the nature of the temptations resisted but the fidelity of the resistance.”

Mr. Sullivan compares that with my more recent statement: “There are priests and bishops who are afflicted by same-sex attraction, and it is by now no secret that some have acted upon that attraction. Those who are afflicted but have been chastely celibate protest that the instruction cannot possibly mean that, were they candidates for ordination today, they should be refused. But that is precisely what the instruction seems to say. That does not mean they cannot continue as good and faithful priests. Most certainly it does not in any way throw into question the validity of their priesthood and therefore the validity of the sacraments they administer. But it would seem to mean that they should not have been ordained in the first place, and those with a similar lack of ‘affective maturity’ should not be ordained in the future.”

Mr. Sullivan writes: “Just to clarify. Neuhaus is now in favor of the proposition that those who he once opined were saints should now be barred from the priesthood? Why the change? What’s the argument? Do we not need saints in the Church?”

I’m afraid Mr. Sullivan confuses rather than clarifies. Set aside the last question, which is fatuous and perhaps intended to be so. The interesting question is, Why the change? That question is perhaps deserving of a more considered response than would otherwise be warranted by yet another provocation from Mr. Sullivan.

If, as seems likely, there were among the thousands of canonized saints some who had a problem with what today is called homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction, they recognized it as a temptation to sin and heroically resisted obsessing about it, never mind acting upon it. Certainly they did not embrace it, or celebrate it, or assert that it was the core of their identity. In a word, they were not “gay,” as that term is commonly used today.

What has changed, thanks to the agitation of Andrew Sullivan and many others, is that today there is a widespread insistence that homosexual practices are normal and to be morally approved. This is in explicit repudiation of thousands of years of moral wisdom and the consistent teaching of the Church. Moreover, that insistence has been insinuated into the life of the Church, with self-described gay priests, dissident theologians, and “gay-friendly” bishops capitulating to the cultural advance of the homosexual cause.

Liberals are given to invoking the Second Vatican Council’s statement that the Church should “read the signs of the times.” One sign of our times is the widespread acceptance of gay ideology. Bishops have also read the analyses of the recent sex abuse crisis, which show that the great majority of incidents involved priests and teenage males. What has changed is that¯among men interested in the priesthood and those responsible for their formation¯adherence to the Church’s teaching can no longer be assumed.

It used to be thought¯in some cases rightly, in too many wrongly¯that a candidate afflicted with same-sex attractions would be able to cope with the problem and live a chaste life in fidelity to his sacred vows. The Church’s teaching is unchanged. Homosexual desires are objectively disordered and homosexual acts are sinful. The new instruction speaks of same-sex attraction in the adult male as “unfinished adolescence,” much as it is described by psychoanlysts of a Freudian disposition as “arrested adolesence.”

As the Church’s teaching has not changed, so also, contra Mr. Sullivan’s claim on other occasions, the efficacy of the grace of God is not in question. Spiritual disabilities and great temptations can, thank God, be overcome. What has changed is an appreciation on the part of church authorities of the dramatic advance of gay ideology in the culture and also in the Church. The grace of God will not likely overcome disordered desires that are embraced, affirmed, and declared to be the will of God.

In concern for the integrity of the Church’s ministry, and in fairness to men under severe pressure from their deviant desires, from the culture, and from errant seminary formation, Rome decided it was urgently necessary to reassert long-standing directives that those who have not reached sexual maturity should not be admitted to the seminary or the priesthood.

Mr. Sullivan wants to know what has changed. One important thing that has changed is the extensive, but by no means universal, success of the cause that he champions. One might suggest that Andrew Sullivan and others who champion that cause should receive a significant measure of the credit for the recent directive from the Congregation for Catholic Education.

This is the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Will Herberg’s Protestant-Catholic-Jew , and Kevin Schultz of the University of Virginia examines its enduring strengths and weaknesses in the forthcoming issue of F IRST T HINGS . He says this, for instance:

"In the argument of Protestant-Catholic-Jew , if the specific dogmatic elements of each faith were not important, then religion must have become simply one way a minority group could ease its way into the mainstream. Religion had become the central mode of earning acceptance, although what was unique about this particular type of assimilations was that nobody expected religious minorities¯Catholic or Jews¯to depart fully from the tenets of their faith. They could remain Catholic or Jewish and still be good Americans.

"This, then, was certainly not assimilation, nor was it the melting pot. Today’s notions of multiculturalism insist on acceptance of group identities and give priority to harmonious, society-wide group relations. Protestant-Catholic-Jew is an early articulation of this ideal. Catholics and Jews, Herberg was saying, were rightful participants in American society, despite the fact that they were not Protestant. With a common ideological foundation¯the American Way of Life¯underlying each social group, the three groups could then properly contest for society’s rewards. The ‘communal tensions’ between the groups were ‘of major importance in the life of the nation,’ Herberg added, suggesting that they began non-divisive discussions about the limits of American democracy and allowed all 96 percent of Americans who identified as Protestant, Catholic, or Jew to have some social, political, and cultural recognition in America. In theory at least, they achieved what the advocates of today’s multiculturalism so desperately seek." (To become a subscriber to F IRST T HINGS , check out the “Subscribe” button above.)

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