Sunday, September 25, 2005

Ti guarda dal Grande Inquisitor!

At the end of the second act of Verdi's masterful thriller Don Carlo, King Philip warns the Marquis of Posa -- the most heroic, noble gay character in opera, if not all of drama -- "Beware the Grand Inquisitor."

A Vatican official with "authoritative knowledge" recently granted a confidential interview to The New York Times, informing them that the Catholic Church is about to announce stricter rules regarding the ordination of priests: homosexuals, even those who are celibate, will be barred. Vatican investigators are on their way to inspect all 229 American seminaries to look for, among other things, "evidence of homosexuality."

I hope that sounds as ominous to you as it does to me.

In an Op-Ed in today's Times, Amy Welborn lauded the developments. She tried to downplay the homosexual witch-hunt aspect by pointing out that only two sentences out of eleven pages of the Instrumentum Laboris, the "set of questions to be asked of all seminary administrators, faculty and students,” relate to homosexuality, and then recounted some lurid tales of a handful of other seminarians whose crimes were unrelated to their sexuality.

“But incidents like these,” she continued, “reflect deeper weaknesses,” such as “the presence in seminaries of gay subcultures that draw their identity from secular values rather than the Catholic moral vision.”

“Why is it considered unfair to expect priests and seminarians to live by the values of the institution they serve?” she demands.

I am not Catholic, nor do I aspire to any pretense of knowledge of Catholic doctrine. But my response is loud and insistent: if priests are called upon to serve the institution, and not God, you have a problem. The Catholic Church, as an institution, has been responsible for such sacrilegious outrages as the selling of indulgences, sponsorship of the genocidal crusades, silence during the Holocaust, and the brutal slaughter and torture of countless innocents accused of heresy and witchcraft.

Allow me to state clearly that I do not mean that as an indictment of the Catholic faith; modern-day individual Catholics are no more responsible for centuries-old crimes than I am for the witch-burnings in Salem. There is Catholic blood on Protestant hands, and the Lord’s day of vengeance awaits us all. But at times, individual conscience must be allowed to trump institutional doctrine.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding,” teaches Proverbs 3:5. For me, that is one of the hardest challenges in Scripture. How else to act or function in this world if we do not follow what we understand to be right? All we can do is submit ourselves in prayer, humble ourselves before God, pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and, God save us, do as we believe is right. I have no standing upon which to accuse Vatican officials of behaving otherwise.


In writing about the new enforcement of older rules, the Times recalled that last spring Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, expressed a need to “purify” the church after the horrific tales of molestation and abuse that have roiled the priesthood in recent years.

In a letter to the Times today, the assistant dean at the School of Social Work at Columbia University wrote to remind us that “reliable studies show that pedophiles are overwhelmingly heterosexual. Pedophilia is about sexual attraction to children (most often, regardless of their sex) and about access. If priests are abusing boys, it is not about their being homosexual but about that being the population to which they have access.”

The shortsightedness of the new plan is staggering. The anonymous church official referred to above also told the Times that “the ban would pertain only to candidates for the priesthood, not to those already ordained.” If homosexuals are the threat they are apparently perceived to be, why the grandfather clause?

The official defended the expulsion of even celibate seminarians by citing “what he contended were the specific temptations of seminaries.” “In the seminary, you are surrounded by males, not females,” a position echoed by Mike Sullivan of Catholics United for the Faith: “putting a homosexual in an all-male seminary environment subjects that person to too much temptation, and increases his likelihood for failure. It’s not appropriate to put an alcoholic in a bar, either,” he added.

In 1986, a prominent Catholic labeled the insinuation that homosexuals could not control their behavior an “unfounded and demeaning assumption.” His name was Cardinal Ratzinger.

In August of this year, the rector at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York resigned after the press exposed the affair he was having with his female secretary.

I want you to take a good look at this picture. In case you haven’t seen it before, what you are looking at is the corpse of a priest being carried away by emergency workers from the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001. Father Mychal Judge was killed by falling debris as he was giving the last rights to a dying firefighter.

Father Judge was gay.

Mayor Giuliani has called Judge a saint, and so have others; in fact, there’s a website ( devoted to support for his canonization. In researching an article on the late priest, the Times contacted “several of Father Judge’s admirers from conservative backgrounds [who] declined…to discuss his sexuality because they said it had no relevance.”

That would be the most astute comment any Catholic could offer.

Welborn, for her part, complained “a seminary owes us, the people in the pews, psychologically mature priests who aren’t engaged in an eternal and ego-driven struggle with their own problems.” For me, the very definition of Christian faith is the eternal struggle with our own problems; I condemn the suggestion that homosexuality is a “psychologically [im]mature” condition. Ms. Welborn would have tossed seminarian Mychal Judge out on his ear.

For readers who thought the opening of this post was unnecessarily dramatic and would like to reassure me that there is no longer such thing as the Inquisition, I have but one question: if the church official is telling the truth, why did he request anonymity?

Guardiamo dal Grande Inquisitor.


Matthew said...

I'm not a Catholic, either (surprise!), but from what I know of it have found it to be a little too steeped in earthly institutions and traditions, as opposed to a more spiritual way of life.

All churches and religions are guilty of this to an extent, but Catholicism seems to be really bad.

They've given us some great church architecture, though.

Andy said...

Actually I would argue that the Catholic faith is more deeply spiritual and even mystic than any other mainstream Christian discipline. The Church actually has a better, more sophisticated record on science and intellectual matters than many of its detractors would like to admit. But in the same way that I have argued previously that it's okay, in the process of exploring your faith, to question God, it MUST therefore be okay to question another person's or group's assertions about God.

God is Truth, so the seeking of truth by questioning authority ought to be fully legitimate. The fact that in this circumstance it is deemed not to be would indicate to me that this new impulse to purge the faith is not coming from God. The God I believe in is not afraid of questions.

Julia said...

I'm posting a long response from my friend the Catholic apologist John Zmirak, whose hilarious book "The Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living" has just been published (see Before I do so, however, I want to add that the Church's position in the crusades, the Inquisition, and WWII has been somewhat misunderstood. The Crusades were a probably necessary defense of Europe from Muslim invaders, who had always preached conversion at the point of the sword. While it's true that the Inquisition put to death about 2,000 people (and, by the way, Don Carlo is my favorite Verdi opera), witch-burning reached its apotheosis in the Protestant lands, who killed many more than 2,000 in their zeal. As for the Church's response to WWII, see In fact, the chief Rabbi of Rome converted to Catholicism following the war, partly in response to the great magnanimity that Pius XII showed the Jews during that awful time. Nazism was anti-Christian at its roots, partially because the Jews bore Christ into the world; see

In response to your post, John Zmirak had this to say:

"There are a number of factors which are essential in considering the
sanctity of any person proposed for canonization. When you or I, in casual
conversation, say that the "Dalai Lama" is a saint, we are obviously
speaking in a loose sense of someone who has a powerful religious and
ethical commitment, whose behavior we consider admirable. This is the
loosest use of the term, and one with no theological content. It is in this
sense that a pro-abortion politician like Rudolph Giuliani can dub someone a
"saint." For a more meaningful use of the term, we must go to a higher

In a second use of the term, the word "saint" refers to anybody who has
and gone to heaven. Thus, it applies to good souls whose names have been
forgotten--as well as the laxest of sinners, who after purification in
purgatory, enter heaven. These are the saints we honor on "All Saints Day."

In the final, strictest sense of the term, we use "saint" to refer to
who have been canonized by the Church--the corporate, earthly instantiation
of the Mystical Body of Christ, led by her shepherds--by a lengthy
investigative process, and deemed examples of holiness, fidelity, and
service. These canonizations are considered infallible--at least those
declared by papal authority, as all canonizations have been since the late
Middle Ages. The word "fidelity" here means, at least in part, fidelity
the public teachings of the Church. While some of these saints have taught
doctrines which later were declared incorrect (Aquinas didn't believe in the
Immaculate Conception, and Augustine thought unbaptized infants were
damned), NONE of them consciously taught doctrines which were condemned at
the time by the Church. (Think of a doctor prescribing drugs that have been
banned by the FDA.)

And that is precisely what Fr. Mychal Judge did. He was an organizer and an
activist for the group "Dignity," which taught and still teaches that
Church's historic position on sexuality is wrong, the result of bigotry
rather than theology, and can be ignored in good conscience by Catholics. He
made no secret of his association with this group, and refused to help the
other, orthodox Catholic group--Courage--which provided fellowship and
support for Catholics with same-sex attraction, but which did NOT flout
Church teaching. I have heard this first hand from an organizer of the group
Courage. He counseled and provided spiritual direction to homosexuals--and
never (according to my sources, which include members of BOTH groups) urged
them to remain celibate.

This is precisely the kind of behavior we can expect from openly homosexual
people who enter the seminary--at least, in an historical period when the
Church teachings under greatest attack are those concerning sexuality. In
the past--and perhaps again in the future--it was possible to accept such
people in small numbers, confident that they knew the Church's teaching and
would maintain it, regardless of their private temptations. The explosion of
a homosexual subculture within the priesthood--some estimates place the
proportion of gay priests between 25% and 60%--indicates that this policy is
no longer prudent at this time. There are persistent, widespread anecdotal
reports of heterosexual seminarians being driven away from the priesthood by
a suffocating, actively gay atmosphere, at places which have been dubbed
"pink palaces," which indicates that what we have is a self-sustaining
mechanism which can only be corrected by decisive action, however painful
this may prove to sincere, well-meaning individuals who happen to be both
orthodox and same sex attracted.

Something comparable happened in France in the 1920s and 30s, when activist
Catholic circles were dominated by members of the Action Francaise--a right
wing group led by atheists which supported the Church as a prop to French
nationalism. The Vatican had to apply the fiercest strictures against these
people in order to wrest control of the local church away from people who
had been overly influenced by an alien world-view. Many worthy individuals
suffered; hearts were broken. But it was necessary.

Likewise, a Church which teaches that the only expression of sexuality
endorsed by God is marital sexuality unimpeded by artificial contraception
cannot long endure having its leadership co-opted by people who have every
cultural, personal, and psychological reason for teaching a very different
doctrine. Those who say otherwise are either naïve or disingenuous,
interested in changing the doctrine itself.

Regarding Fr. Judge, I do venerate him as a man who died in the service of
the Church, and who probably saved his soul--if only because he died hearing
confessions, not while preaching false doctrine. But a saint whom we should

Andy said...

Well, the Church's position on homosexuality IS wrong, and IS based on prejudice rather than Gospel-centered theology.

And even if they were correct, Christ died for all of us, each and every one. We are all of us worthy in His eyes. If the Church wants to make celibacy a requirement of the priesthood, that is its prerogative, I suppose, though there is no Scriptural support for such a position. But to ban even celibate gays from the priesthood is unconscionable and unChristian.

It is the conclusion of people who think that homosexuals are at a level lower than the rest of mankind and have no free access to the Holy Spirit and therefore no power to minister to others. It is the conclusion of people whose fear of homosexual activity leads them to condemn an entire group of people for the "sins" of a few -- sins which are committed in equal frequency by heterosexuals. It is the conclusion of people who refuse to accept the blatantly obvious reality that deep and abiding love, monogamous commitment and sanctified sexual expression is possible between two people of the same gender.

Remember in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus taught, "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened."

The Vatican is acting as if it has the power to shut that door. It does not.

Esther said...

I do not wish to offend you, Andy. I am curious about your opinion on a matter. Maybe you posted on this once and you can direct me to your post.

You cite the Bible quite frequently and obviously hold it as authoritative. What is your response to I Cor. 6:9-11 where it says that "homosexual offenders" will not inherit the kingdom of God? You can look it up here: Although I am sure you have a Bible . . .

I am simply curious. I do not mean to demean you in any way. I do not think that homosexuals should be treated as "lower" than anyone else. The truth is, I have a neighbor and a female college friend who are homosexuals and both of them are very much against Christianity and church in general so it is interesting to find that you champion Christianity so well.

Julia said...

Andy, I entirely agree with you that homosexuals should not be barred from the priesthood if they are living celibate lives. Same with heterosexuals. I don't think one's sexual orientation has any bearing on whether one is a good priest or not. The point is chastity. The Catholic Church believes homosexual behavior is sinful, just as it believes all sexual behavior outside of a sacramental marriage is sinful. However, some sound priests and authorities are starting to realize that Ideation is not the same as acting out (true, the Church believes that homosexual desire itself is disordered). But the Church does not officially believe or teach that any class or group of person is inferior to any other. The standard teaching is that homosexuality is a cross to bear. If you're a seriously practicing gay Catholic, you're expected to refrain from sexual behavior, but it's recognized that God made you this way. There is the whole theology of suffering in Catholic teaching that's not thoroughly understood in our time, that if one unites one's sufferings to Chist's, one finds consolation. The suffering of giving up sex is part of it. I know it's not a very happy kind of consolation. But the same is true for heterosexuals living outside of marriage. You are not supposed to act on your sexual desire with another or with yourself. This doesn't mean that you don't have desires; it means, however, that you heroically attempt to sublimate them through prayer. I understand this is not hugely appealing to anyone, and is difficult to follow; part of a priest's job is to counsel the seeker and to hear his/her confession. It's understood that one falls. I would say that the Church's attitude toward homosexuals is not at its heart one of prejudice, although I am distressed by this forthcoming Vatican pronouncement; I think it goes way too far.

As far as the power to shut doors, the Vatican believes it has that authority because of the Petrine succession; c.f. Matthew 16, in which Christ tells Peter "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church . . .what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

Andy said...

Julia, you know I love you dearly and respect your faith as devout and sincere. When I wrote this post I worried that I might upset you (and other Catholic friends). I don't claim to be an expert about Catholic doctrine, but nowhere in the Gospel do I read Jesus' instructions to Peter about why homosexuals in particular are unfit to communicate God's word to the laity. Also, the requirement of celibacy, if I understand my church history correctly, was imposed nearly 1,000 years after the death of Christ. I have always believed that sex, like fire, is one of God's greatest gifts, but a clear double-edged sword. It is needed to sustain life, but used incautiously it burns you. And by "sustain life," I do not intend to mean "procreation." I believe that sex is a spiritual communion that, held in the right attitude of reverence and respect, is holy between any two persons.

Andy said...

Esther, I am not offended by your questions, rather I'm grateful for your interest. I recognize in certain circles that this qualifies as heresy, but I think the Pauline epistles are secondary to the Gospels. Paul was right a lot of the time, but not always. (I'm glad you cited the NIV, it means you and I are working out of the same translation.) In Ephesians 5, Paul wrote "For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church." Do you believe that to be true? If so, okay. If not, well...

I came out to myself when I was 13. I have spent my life in prayer since then. I ask you only to accept, one believer to another, that this was no choice of mine, that I was made this way. Why, I cannot say. I am not gay because I reject the "natural order" of things to derive perverse pleasure from being evil. And I have known that it is possible to love another man purely and deeply. We can't fool God; He sees into all of our own hearts. I know He sees mine, and I am not ashamed.

Julia said...

Andy, I love you too, and I admire and respect your faith and the way that you "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." You did not offend me, no worries. I am also saddened by this forthcoming pronouncement; I think it's going too far in the wrong direction.

Esther said...

Andy, I understand what you mean about Paul's letters. There are a couple points in there that I have a difficult time with as well. Namely, Romans 13, because people like to throw that one at any Christian who is interested in politics.

I admit that some of what you say challenges my beliefs and I shall definitely do a lot more thinking and studying. So much of what you say is obviously right, however, and I can definitely accept you as another believer and as God made you.