29 June, 2010

NYC PRIDE :- One Catholic's Reflections

Yesterday morning I saw a CNN Report showing a group of Catholics who are gay marching in the NYC Pride parade. Immediately startling was the fact that the banner those in the first line were carrying was completely blank.

Parishioners from St. Francis Xavier parish have marched in the Pride Day Celebration for years with the sign telling who they were. This year, however, the new Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan. "asked" the pastor to see to it that the Church's name not appear on the sign, lest it imply that the Catholic Church accepts promiscuous sex.

Everyone "in the know" understands how difficult it is for Catholics who are gay and  "out" to find a Catholic parish or other place to worship, meet socially and participate actively in ministries. As the parish pastor said, neither the parish nor the group of gay parishioners advocate or support promiscuous sex.

Although the official teaching of the Church is that same-sex sexual behavior of any kind is always gravely sinful because it is sex outside of marriage (NOTE: all sex outside marriage by anyone is always gravely sinful).This position is primarily based on philosophical analysis. Today there are a number of Catholic moral theologians who hold to a personalist-relational ethic, that allows for unmarried heterosexual and homosexual sex behavior in certain circumstances.  But serious, deep love (not infatuation) is always part of the equation for them. It might be interesting, apart from gay marriage as an "issue," to watch "Gary and Tony Have a Baby" and ponder whether the two men in the documentary love each other in a way that might justify sex between them.

The marchers said one reason for their march was a chance to let other gay Catholics know that there is a place in the Church where openly Gay people are welcomed and can find a place at the Table of the Lord. It's like a "Come Home" ministry. It seems to me that only "programs" that truly appreciate the feelings of alienation, anger, and hurt that many Gay Catholics have had or are experiencing now cannot be addressed, at least in the beginning, by "standard programs." Those best qualified to "welcome back" gays to the Church are Gay Catholics who have tread the same path earlier and who now live life in the context of an accepting community of Catholics.

Although I personally support the idea that gay love can be as deep and real as heterosexual love, that under the same circumstances as with heterosexuals, gays may share complete intimate love, and that gay marriage is a good and should be permitted by civil law and the Church, I will leave that discussion to a later time.

What concerns me today is the lack of understanding compassion toward "others" who are perceived (and most often mis- perceived) to be "different," and treated accordingly. A number instances where there has been no compassion shown by Church ministers have been recounted in some of my earlier posts.

It seems to me that in the Phoenix case there was an assumption that the two moms were having illegitimate sex, otherwise why such drastic action by the priest and Archbishop? I have never seen a priest refuse Communion to young teenage couple because they are presumed to be having sex regularly. Even though many gays, especially young  men, do engage in promiscuous  sex,  is it correct, honest and compassionate to assume that all gays live most of their lives in promiscuity? Any more than do heterosexuals?

I understand that the hierarchy as a general rule feels bound to state and support the official Church position as a principle. However there is no reason that the hierarchy  should avoid concrete pastoral approaches to gays, gay life and worship. For example, tacit approval and support for parish ministry to gays is very significant. acceptance and support of the presence of  DIGNITY USA and similar "programs" like them rather than COURAGE and other programs that seem to assume  that gay people can change and become heterosexual, which is out of step with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, (#s 357-2359).
And all this because of no "Catholic Sign" for Gay Catholics and supporters to carry in the NYC Gay PRIDE DAY march.

24 June, 2010

Culture Wars in Perspective.

As part of another article, John Allen provides a long quote from the February 21st "encyclical" of Bartholomew, the Patriarch of Constantinople. In the Patriarchal document there is a positive, but careful, view of the modern world. He speaks often about the need for Orthodoxy to encounter the "modern world" and dialogue with other religious communities and other forces existing at this time in the world.

In a sense, Bartholomew's view and words are similar to those of Pope John XXIII who wanted to open the windows of the Church to dialogue with the modern world for the benefit of the Church and the world. Although aware of the defects and, yes, evil in contemporary culture, the Holy Father looked upon culture, at the very least, as a "glass half-full." The Holy Father then called the Vatican II Council which, by-and-large, succeeded.

The election of Pope John Paul II signaled a change in papal views of the Church and the World and their interrelationship. Under John Paul II, modern culture was seen more negatively. He viewed modern culture as primarily antagonistic to the Church. The Holy Father, in fact, called modern culture a "culture of death." He did not apply that phrase only to abortion, but to all of culture, so to speak, seeing modern culture as a "glass half-empty." What began with John Paul, is being implemented by Pope Benedict. This can be seen in the current emphasis on "the reform of the reform" in Liturgy, the reassertion of papal authority/control, and the almost extreme emphasis on "Secularism" and need to "re-Christianize" Europe.

Another view of modernization and modernity.

Some time ago a sociologist, Peter Berger and his colleagues wrote,  Homeless Mind: Modernization and Consciousness (1974). Some points they made, I believe, are relevant to the apparent impasse we face today:

  1. Technological change and concomitant economic development are the primary (though not sole) engines that account for changes in other aspects of society. For example, it was the development of the factory system that brought about the existence and spread of modern cities and the modern nuclear family (While we focus on our values, technology creates the parameters which constrain and limit our choice of values).
  2. The secondary "carriers" of modernization and modern consciousness are the mass media and modern mass education (Not the family and the church)
  3. In modern societies there is no longer an over-arching "meaning system" (E.g. Religion) that acts as a "glue" to hold society together.  (Religion loses it's "sacred" character).
  4. The fundamental institutions of society (E.g. Economy, Politics, Religion, and Family) become separate and compete with each other; they create their own institutional "meaning systems and each competes for our loyalty."  We begin to wear "different hats;" We love our neighbor on Sunday. On Monday we follow the "dog eat dog" norms of business. At home we struggle to develop and maintain our "own" private family meaning systems.
  5. Increasingly, individuals are free to create private meaning systems in the spaces, or interstices, not dominated by one or another institution. This, becomes what we call the private sphere.
  6. All of these sociocultural changes create and foster "modern consciousness," an approach to understanding and acting in the world that sees reality as composed of inter-changeable parts among other things drawn from the economic system and human relationships based on the impersonal pigeon holes of political bureaucracy.
Modernization is an ambiguous process.

Modernization is a blessing because it has given humans greater freedom from the "vagaries" of nature. It has also give us "freedom" in the sense of greater options.

Modernization has been a curse because it has led to high levels of alienation ( a feeling of powerlessness and feeling separated from others and from the social fabric) and anomie (a sense of "normlessnes,"  loss of meaning, and aloneness, confusion and impermanence.

Most people have become disenchanted with modernity, if not with all of modernization. Creating the "private sphere" to deal with the ambiguities of the modern situation has not worked.

Berger, et. al. suggest that there have been three responses to this disenchantment:
  1. To work ever harder and harder to increase modernization and modernity, carrying it to its logical conclusion (the conservative approach).
  2. To actually accept that modernization and modernity are here to stay and to selectively accept, reject or modify those aspects of them that will prove most helpful to ensure continued existence of human social and cultural life with a greater development of peace, justice and community. (The moderate and liberal approach).
  3. To retreat from modernity as much as possible through new nationalisms, cult-like movements and communities, or, at the extreme, to sabotage and destroy existing social arrangements and material resources (The retreatist, nativest, approach).
Many observers and commentators  claim that we already exist in a "Post-Industrial," or "Post-Modern" world and society. I disagree. Certainly the creation of the computer, many new digital devices, sophisticated software and rapid and instantaneous communication, and the rapid transfer of goods and services across the globe are inevitably pushing us further and further in the direction of a post industrial / modern society, sometimes called the "Digital Society." But we are not there yet; we are still in the process of transitioning. We must continue to construct the Post-Modern society and culture, especially in a humane form. Personally, I hope that whatever form of society that we construct will be in harmony with Christian principles.

The culture wars that we constantly hear about in the Catholic community are a prime example of the transitional state of the world and the Church. How things will settle down if they ever do, is still open. So many of the currently discussed "conflicts" in the Church are symptoms of a much deeper divide among Catholics based on fundamentally different views of the world, society and the Church. Notice how many of these issues are cast into "us verses them" terms. Or "either-or" rather than "both-and" terms. All of the differences arise from the transition period within which we live. If we place what is happening in the Church within the context of the larger world, it should highlight the importance of the process and whether the "battles" can be resolved through common dialogue or if this is a zero-sum game.

So do you think modern culture is a glass half-full or a glass half-empty?

Do you think we are already in a post-modern society or still in transition?

If these ideas resonate with you, what's next?

17 June, 2010

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: What does the Catholic Church Teach?

In 1966 less than half of the American Population supported capital punishment. Today, 75% of Americans support the death penalty. Controversy over whether or not capital punish is moral, should be legal or not, and if it is legal when it should be applied splits America. Unfortunately Catholics in the pew are also split on the issue.

The official teaching of the Church states that in theory, capital punishment is the ultimate legitimate sanction available to the state, but must be applied only under very strict guidelines and only for self-defense of society when no lesser sanctions will be effective.

Recent popes while affirming this traditional position, have said again and again that, "only for self-defense of society when no lesser sanctions will be effective," must be seen in view of modern society's ability to administer justice and protect society through "lesser means," as, for example, using, "life in prison without parole."

Those identified as moderate or liberal Catholics are strong supporters of the Church's position and the pope's teachings on Capital Punishment.

What about Conservative or Reactionary Catholics? One might expect them to be more supportive of capital punishment as political conservatives are.

One site claiming to be "truly Catholic" exemplifies the most extreme reactionary position I have seen on this issue. It tries to accept the brief, general statements in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. However,  this site, absolutely opposes the recent popes' teaching. They exaggerate a sound theological principle that there is a distinction between an infallible papal statement and other  papal statements that must be taken seriously by reducing the popes' statements on capital punishment to "just his opinion."

You, dear reader, owe it to yourself to read  the argument made on this site and form your own opinion.

No one will deny that Mother Angelica's Eternal Word Network represents a Conservative Catholic source of information and teaching. There is an article on this  "conservative" site that is very well written, logical, easy to understand, and it presents the teaching on capital punishment that any bishop or liberal catholic will find acceptable.  Read it. Compare it to the first statement.

If nothing else this post (especially the last link) should present the official teaching of the Catholic Church on Capital Punishment and show the diversity of thinking going on during these "culture wars."

06 June, 2010

Men and Catholics More Accepting of Gay/Lesbian Relationships

On May 25th the New York Times released a report on the moral acceptability of Gay/Lesbian Relations. Here are a few interesting results:

  1. For the first time in Gallop Polling history a very slight majority (52%) of adult (18+ years old) Americans  support the moral acceptability of Gay/Lesbian Relations.
  2. For the first time, the percentage of men (53%) who accept the idea that homosexual relations are moral is larger than the percentage of women (51%) who accept  the idea that homosexual relations are moral.
  3. The percentage of the American population who accept gay/lesbian relations acceptable varies in different segments of the population. Most startling here is the finding that the percentage increase in support of the acceptability of homosexual relations among Catholics (+16%) is second only to that among younger men (18-49).
I will make only a few comments here.  Sixty-two percent of American Catholic adults find homosexual relations acceptable. This is higher than the Protestant (42%) rate of acceptance. In fact, the Protestant acceptance rate in 2010 (42%) is actually lower than Catholic rate in 2006 (46%).

The willingness to accept Gay relations as morally okay is noticeably less for Protestants (42%)  and Catholics (62%) than for Non-Christians (84%) and those claiming no religion at all (85%).

But the real startling news is the amount of change between 2006 and 2010. There was a 16%  change (from 46% to 62% ) among Catholics. This 16% increase is second only to the change (+20%) for men 18-49 years old.

One might create a stereotyped summary with some truth as to who supports the idea that Gay relations are acceptable. The "typical" supporter might just well be: A younger male who is a Catholic or not Christian. He is most likely an Independent or Democrat in terms of political party affiliation and  moderate  or liberal in political philosophy. Those among whom the change toward acceptance has been greatest are: younger men (+20%), Catholics (16%), political moderates (+14%), and Independent voters (+11%). Thus, movement in the direction of greater acceptance of homosexual relations as moral, is coming from those in the middle not from either extreme.

One question rises immediately. Why are Catholics as supportive as they are  of the view that homosexual relations are morally acceptable? There are many possible answers. I do do not know which answer, which combination of answers, or which additional answers might be reasonable.

If one takes into account only those Catholics who go to Mass every Sunday, the support for the moral acceptability Gay/Lesbian relations would be significantly lower. However, the mix of those who go to Mass every Sunday and those who go less often has been the same during each year. That Catholics are generally less faithful to the Gospel and to the "Church," is an ideological statement that will not stand up to the evidence. True, the Catholic Church has a loss rate higher than any other major Christian in the U.S. but these are not primarily "liberal / progressive" members.

There is another intriguing possibility. The Catholic worldview has some essential characteristics. It believes that the spiritual is mediated to us through persons and natural elements. It also has a both-and view of things. Even when Catholics see sin like "sexual sins" there is an ability to see them as arising out of human weakness. Since Vatican II there has been an emphasis on a personal-relational emphasis in moral theology. Even when "ordinary" Catholics do not read contemporary theology, they pick up current ideas in the Church, relate them to the findings of science and their gut feelings about what is "right."

It seems incumbent upon the Magisterium  to squarely face and openly listen to contemporary moral theologians and what the experience of real people indicates about the fundamentals of human sexuality.

Comments, criticisms and suggestions are welcomed.