The New Catholics

This past Sunday's Boston Globe magazine has an article about "the new Catholic", a rolling interview with a number of young Catholics from the Boston area, some of whom are going to World Youth Day this month. One thing that I found most interesting was the fact that while many of them agree with positions that we might label "liberal" or "conservative", they really are a scattershot of ideas. While this is obviously a less than scientific empirical sample, it provides a good example of how a dichotomous model approach to analyzing these sorts of things doesn't always work so well. (Perhaps especially when it comes to divisions within churches? I'm not ready to stand by that, but my social scientist friends, help me out...)

One things that was quite heartening for me is that the 18-year-old who took more conservative stances on the ordination of women and on abortion had this to say about homosexuality:

I know people who are gay, and I'm fine with it. I'm for gay rights and things of that nature. This is one area where I don't agree with the church 100 percent.

Whether this will continue to be the case only in North American Roman Catholicism is an open question.

Conversely, in today's Word from Rome by John Allen of NCR (regular readers know that he's my most trustworthy source for matters Romish), Allen reports on a panel at which he spoke at Graymoor, the motherhouse of the Friars and Sisters of the Atonement, who have been leaders in ecumenical work for more than one hundred years. Dale Irwin, the dean of the New York Theological Seminary, had this to say on attitudes towards homosexuality in Africa, which have become such a focus of conflict in the Anglican communion:

Based on his contacts with Christians in the developing world, Irwin said the liberal/conservative distinction isn't the lone, or perhaps even the main, factor in shaping African attitudes. Instead, he said, African Christians recall the long, and still not completely resolved, battles they fought to abolish their custom of polygamy because Western Christians insisted that only monogamous heterosexual marriage is moral. Now, he said, they resent Western attempts to shift the goalposts by saying that homosexuality is really okay. It comes across as another Western colonial imposition.

That's a really interesting problem that we who are frustrated, or frightened, by the advances of Christianity in the global south and some of the "conservative" positions taken by African and Asian Christians on sexual matters need to reflect on for a while. How do we present what we have found to be a true vision of God's will in non-traditional understandings of sexuality, without imposing, or appearing to impose, our views on other cultures once more? There's more to think about here, in terms of the relationships between inculturation and ethics, so watch for a later post where I'll try to develop my views more.


Fr. B said...

Thanks for a fascinating posting. I work a great deal with young Catholics. They love the Church, they love being Catholic, they even like going to Mass. They are also pretty knowledgeable for people of their age. But it is also true that they are untroubled by 'matters conflictive' which our generation might call deal-breakers. For better or worse they have also bought into the secular values of American society. Values like tolerance for all and all beliefs, the primacy of personal opinion, and the gay and feminist agendas. They seem surprised that we see a problem here. Perhaps they bring us a refreshing insight and way out of our own conundrums.

I'm also looking forward to your musings on Africa's perception of western imperialism in the realm of the ecclesiastical. I watch with great interest the Anglican tensions as they seek to remain "One Body" of very different minds.

Fr. B.

lazarus said...

Hey Brian,
Your comments on Africa remind me of something that James Alison brought up in conversation last February when he was in DC. He was talking about the Anglican commissions report that Willaims called for after Robinson's ordination to a mostly episcopal audience. A lady remarked that there is plenty of scholarship to argue on 'our' side (same-sex relationships are fine). James reply: All the scholarship in the world means nothing without the real human stories that embody their truth. In Catholicism we have our own problems of local versus universal to deal with, but in a church that explicitly founds itself on nationalism the problem becomes different (the problem of imperialism that you mention), especially since the scholarship is filtered through a media that makes same-sex relations just look like a logical consequence of consumerism: choose a man, choose a woman, have it how you like it. Hope you're enjoying your new digs.