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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Due Diligence And Responsibility

I want to begin this post by saying that I am overwhelmed by a sense of thankfulness for Providence for Rita's relative lack of damage. But I'm also forced to be thankful, in a sense, for Rita.

I can't escape the idea that the threat that Rita posed (and did not inflict) underlined some of the major vulnerabilities in our society which we have been refusing to face. If we will look at what we feared would happen and address those vulnerabilities, in the end this hurricane will save far more lives than it took. Most specifically, Rita showed us that we can't ignore New Orleans' greatly increased exposure to storms. We are going to have to be very careful about how we construct a new system of levees to protect what we can feasibly protect of this area.

Now to the due diligence, etc:

I have been reading, with no little amazement, the rhetoric over the news that the Vatican is sending a team to visit each Catholic seminary in the US with regard to their teachings and their scrutiny of who they ordain. Naturally, given our society's obsession with sex, most of the commentary in the press focuses on homosexuals. Now the Vatican has always made it clear that it defines homosexuality largely in terms of practice (consonant with the Bible, btw), and not with some modern idea of affections. Catholic priests don't marry and are expected not to have sex with anyone, so they are hardly worried about imposing a standard of heterosexuality upon candidates for the priesthood. They are concerned about imposing standards of adherence to Catholic doctrine upon those who direct seminaries, teach in them, and study in them.

If you want to cut through the BS on this issue, try this link and this one. Both are about Catholic priests dying of AIDS in alarming numbers. I will quote at length from the second one (2000):
Many priests and behavioral experts argue that the church's adherence to 12th-century doctrine about the virtues of celibacy and its teachings on homosexuality have contributed to the spread of AIDS within the clergy. Unwittingly, the church has kept fledgling priests -- some of whom were as young as 14 when they entered seminary in the '60s and '70s -- uneducated about the reality of a sexual world and its temptations.

Moreover, by treating homosexual acts as an abomination and the breaking of celibacy vows as shameful, the church has scared priests into silence, some say.

"I think this speaks to a failure on the part of the church," said Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of the Archdiocese of Detroit. "Gay priests and heterosexual priests didn't know how to handle their sexuality, their sexual drive. And so they would handle it in ways that were not healthy.

"How to be celibate and to be gay at the same time, and how to be celibate and heterosexual at the same time, that's what we were never really taught how to do. And that was a major failing."
Let's put it this way - if you take your vows of celibacy seriously, you don't need to worry about getting AIDS. An article such as this clearly indicates the problem with US seminaries. You don't need an education on safe sex practices if you intend to be celibate. Note that the implication here from some was that the Vatican's teachings on celibacy itself were the problem. This was coming from priests and bishops, not from secular critics.

My heartfelt congratulations to Pope Benedict XVI for taking this situation seriously and attempting to clean house starting at the seminaries. That's where it needs to be done, and a whole lot of bishops need to be retired gracefully as well. What the Vatican is seeking to do is not weed out people who prefer Bruce's butt to Bonnie's, but candidates for the priesthood who will not take all of its obligations seriously. This is a matter of responsibility, not sexuality. The bishops and archbishops who weren't removing clergy who abused their parishoners obviously had a huge moral problem.

What's lost or not considered in the press is that the life of a priest or a nun or a monk is entirely a life against nature. It's not at all just no sex. It's the lack of family, of possessions, the requirement to take on others' sorrows, to serve generously and without seeking one's own profit. You can't do this without help from God, and you can't do this by preserving mental reservations about whether you should try to do it. Would you contemplate a life that had you attending several deathbeds a week? Having to deal with the desolate, shocked sorrow of yet another family? Being there for them? Hearing them out? Most of the difficulties of a priest's or a minister's life are not the sexual ones.

The doctrine of the Catholic church is not that people who have homosexual inclinations are uniquely sinful. The message is the same to all people and all genders. You may not use other people for satisfaction. You may not pick people up when it is convenient for you and drop them when it is not convenient for you. There is no sex purely for your own satisfaction under the theology of the Catholic church, which teaches that the only proper sexual association is a permanent union of a man and a woman who will mutually accept the consequences of their mutual relationship, whatever those consequences may be. If that offends you, seek another church.

Priests who sleep around are hardly in a position to preach and teach that message, are they? Those who are criticizing the church about this measure are really criticizing its teachings about responsible sexual behavior, which are pretty much those of Christianity as a whole. Well, no one is forcing you to remain in the church. If you disagree, go elsewhere.

Those who are not Catholic and presume to be able to show the church the error of its ways are hypocritical fools. The Catholic church of today is entirely an association of free will. This is just as true for the religious in the church as for the laity. As an outsider, you have no right to demand that this voluntary association change its rules. It amounts to imposing a requirement on a married man and woman that one of them should have the right to change the rules unilaterally - for instance, that a woman should be able to inform her husband that he's just not giving her enough and so she's going to be bringing over Larry on Thursday nights. That is between the two who are married, and it is none of your business.

Two who have written superbly (and fairly) about the issue are The Anchoress and Sigmund, Carl and Alfred. All I want to say about the doctrinal issues is this: I do not believe that anyone's sexuality is inherently sinful, but acting on some sexual desires is evil incarnate.

It is unquestionable that what use you make of your sexuality, how you express it, and how you interact with other people sexually can be profoundly sinful because it can be profoundly harmful. I don't know many people who think that every sexual urge of every person should be expressed, and I wouldn't let those who do near any children or vulnerable people. There are people who have intense sexual desires for young children, for rape, even for brutalizing another person. That is a fact of human nature. In other words, "if it feels good, do it" can never be a moral standard for sexual ethics.

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