Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Church & sexuality: our "rough ride" has begun

Even though I gave up on trying to keep abreast of "Church news" on this blog years ago, as a committed Catholic Christian who is, by the grace of God and the indulgence of my sisters and brothers, a cleric, I still follow important developments in the Church quite closely. Since the explosions of late last summer that added more chapters to the never-ending story of the sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy, the first of which was the Pennsylvania grand jury report, the only thing worth posting about was the disclosure of all the names of clerics, living or dead, against whom there are credible or proven charges of sexually abusing minors. This reporting was done by many dioceses and religious orders.

In my post "Updated reporting on clerical sexual abuse," I carefully reviewed the disclosures made by my own diocese. The only other development since then that bears mentioning- something about which I did not post- is Peter Steinfels's analysis of the Pennsylvania grand jury report (see "The PA Grand-Jury Report: Not What It Seems It’s Inaccurate, Unfair & Misleading"). Steinfels does not so much debunk the grand jury report as he show the ways in which it is what he maintains in the subtitle of his report.

In the lead up to the Vatican summit involving the Holy Father and the heads of all national and regional episcopal conferences on how to deal with the evil scourge of the sexual abuse of minors throughout the universal Church, Theodore McCarrick was definitively laicized. He was not laicized by "the Holy See" generically (i.e., by a canonical court), but specifically by Pope Francis. As a result of this papal ruling, McCarrick's laicization is definitive and cannot be (further) appealed. The reason the Pope ruled on this directly is because McCarrick appealed the initial decision handed down by the canonical tribunal to the Pontiff.

One of the healthiest signs of the current climate is how many of the laity are chafed at McCarrick's laicization - "Reduced to the lay state?" Such a phrase pretty blatantly implies that the clerical state is a higher state. While, distinct from the lay state, the clerical state is not a higher state. If anything, it is a lower state. Those of us who are ordained are ordained to serve, not to lord over, our sisters and brothers. Jesus could not have been clearer about this (see Luke 22:25-26). Why else is everyone who is ordained first ordained a deacon, that is, a servant? I find it disheartening that the comprehensive reform called for by the Second Vatican Council is likely going to occur in response to this pain-filled demonstration as to why such a reforms have to happen. Nonetheless, I bow to God's providence and to Christ's care for his unfaithful bride, his beloved casta meretrix.

It was in anticipation of this long overdue lay uprising that in heat of last summer I composed "Make abusive and gravely errant clerics penitents." In his Letter to the People of God, also written last August, Pope Francis identified clericalism as the rot that has spread in the Church. He calls on us all, lay and clergy alike, to overcome this diabolical phenomenon that has taken root among us. Clericalism is not only something fostered by status-seeking clerics, but arises from the laity. I take the kinds of protests that have come in the wake of Ted McCarrick's laicization as a healthy indicator. Accountability to one another is not merely important, or even just necessary, it is vital for the health of Christ's Body.

The other big event in the lead up the Vatican summit on how to combat the sexual abuse of minors, one that has dominated the news this week, was the publication of Frédéric Martel’s explosive book, In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy. I have not yet read this book but I have read several in-depth takes on it. I first read the initial offerings of an on-line Symposium, which features contributions by theological, sociologial/psychological, and pastoral experts. It is a good place to start analyzing Martel's sensational book because, while taking the book seriously and receiving what it divulges as the truth, the respondents themselves are not sensationalistic.

Just this morning, I ran across Andrew Sullivan's take on Martel's book: "The Corruption of the Vatican’s Gay Elite Has Been Exposed." Sullivan is always worth reading no matter what issue he addresses. No, I don't always agree with him. What all of this demonstrates to me is how utterly correct James Alison is in his years, even decades-long, analysis of these corrosive dynamics.

Looking back at what Alison wrote in last August's heat, "We're in for a rough ride," which appeared in two installments in Great Britain's Catholic weekly The Tablet, it seems quite apparent that Alison was aware of Martel's research and his book well before it was published. The tip-off is the heads up he gave about a notoriously homophobic and sexual distorter, the late Alfonse Cardinal López-Trujillo, who was notoriously brutal to the male prostitutes he employed. Writing about López-Trujillo in his August piece, Alison noted:
Would it shock you to know that the leading force behind the term "gender ideology" and the campaign against it, was a gay cardinal? Or that a gay priest wrote the official 2005 explanation as to why gay men could not be priests? I learned of the (now dead) Latin American Cardinal’s reputation for violence towards the rentboys he frequented from a social worker in his home town, and later discovered that this and other outrages were open secrets in both his homeland and Rome
As far as the now-disgraced Msgr Tony Anatrella, the "gay priest" to whom Alison refers, was called to answer for his misdeeds shortly after these articles were published.

Like Sullivan, who is and remains Catholic, and Alison, who is and remains not only a priest but one in good-standing, albeit not currently incardinated in either a religious order (he left the Dominicans) or a diocese, I am a person of hope. Being a person of hope does not mean that I am terribly optimistic. Because hope lies beyond optimism, to be optimistic in this case amounts to being in denial. Christ lives. Christ redeems. The Church remains the people of God. Let's keep acting like it.

If you're looking for some hope in this mess I highly recommend acquiring and reading a copy of Alison's book Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay. Wouldn't it be utterly cool if some brave bishop brought Alison in the from the cold by incardinating him?

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