Laws, Roman and American

John Allen had an op-ed early this week in the New York Times outlining how an Italian understanding of law as an ideal rather than a strict rule might influence interpretations of the ban on ordaining gay men that supposedly is coming down the pike.

For your benefit, here's a short letter that I wrote in response, but which the Grey Lady in her wisdom didn't see fit to print:

John Allen is an astute decoder of the often murky ways of the Vatican; if he ever opts for a change of career, he would be uniquely positioned for a posting to Pyongyang. From my limited knowledge of Vatican practice and canon law, he is absolutely correct to note the distinction between Italian and Anglo-Saxon attitudes towards law.

One might note, however, an additional wrinkle: while the distinction between a legal ideal and a more humane reality on the ground makes perfect sense in an Italian context, those same laws are not going to be interpreted and applied in the United States by Italians, but by Americans with a thoroughly Anglo-Saxon understanding of jurisprudence. The closest recent parallel to the current discussion of ordaining gay men might be the conflict in the last ten years over the encyclical _Ex Corde Ecclesiae_. That document suggested that Roman Catholic theologians ought to receive a mandate to teach from their local bishop. By making this suggestion a legal requirement, the Vatican thought it was expressing its respect for the position of theologians in the church; American theologians and bishops, however, immediately interpreted it as a legal requirement which quickly established the two as parties in opposition, a situation with continuing repercussions up to now.

Similarly, in this case, Italian law will be enforced by American prelates, with a different sense of this law's significance. While time in Rome may have given many of our leading clergy a greater taste in Italian cuisine and wine, it is unlikely in most cases to have thoroughly changed their basic intellectual horizon. They will enforce the law as Americans, not Italians, and the space left for exceptions to the rule will be narrower in the United States than in non-Anglo-Saxon cultures. Bracketing the troubling question of whether such a situation is "ideal" to begin with, this move to limit the ordination of gay men is complicated by problems of enculturation -- problems which are likely to lead not to an Italianate application of charity but to a systemic exclusion of qualified men from the priesthood.

Priests are finally responding...and getting hurt for it

For those of you outside of the Boston area, there's been a lot of brouhaha lately, and an attempt to enlist the support of Catholic priests in a petition drive to put a new anti-same-sex marriage amendment on the ballot appears to be backfiring.

First, Fr. Walter Cuenin, a beloved pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians in Newton was abruptly removed from his pastorate last weekend for financial reasons. Now, he was not embezzling cash or something, but received a stipend and a use of the car from the parish. All of this was on the up-and-up, with the financial council approving it. It had never even been addressed in past diocesan audits...until last weekend, when Fr. Cuenin refused to distribute the petition at the Sunday masses and wrote in his bulletin letter against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Now one of the most respected pastors in the diocese, a diocese with a shortage of priests and a history of, shall we say, less than respectable priests in some parishes in recent years, is out of a position.

Meanwhile, the AP also reports today that Fr. George Lange of St. Luke the Evangelist in Westborough was replaced last weekend at all Masses by Bishop McManus for writing in his parish bulletin last weekend (not uploaded to their website) that "The priests of this parish do not feel that they can support this amendment. They do not see any value to it and they see it as an attack upon certain people in our parish, namely those who are gay." Fr. Lange was reprimanded by McManus from the pulpit.

I 've been rather sad in recent weeks about everything that is happening in my church, a community that I love and for which I'm afraid. I've been blogging less partly due to other commitments, and partly out of sheer inertia in the face of the enormity of these weeks. As a gay man, I'm particularly afraid for my gay brothers who are priests and seminarians. But these two items, disturbing as they are, give me a great deal of hope. These are priests who are acting in persona Christi, to use the technical language, in a very real way, and are paying a price for it. Bonhoeffer talks about "costly grace", and we laity need to stand up and thank our clergy when they challenge us and challenge their colleagues, their peers, and especially their bosses. Perhaps that indelible character thing might be working after all. Please keep Frs. Cuenin and Lange, their parishioners, and our still bruised church here in Boston in your prayers.


Pope approves barring gay seminarians

Catholic World News is reporting that Benedict has approved a proposed instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education that homosexual men, even if celibate, should not be admitted to seminaries.

Now what do we do? It doesn't help that the CWN report seems to almost gloat, or at least suggest that this entirely makes sense. For example,

The pending release of the Instruction, in the face of certain criticism from liberal forces in America and Western Europe, demonstrates the determination of the Vatican to improve the quality of priestly ministry, and to protect the Church from some of the scandals that have recently shaken the Catholic community-- and no doubt deterred many men from entering priestly training.

Yes, all those gay men were ruining the quality. Sorry, that's snippier than I usually intend to be, but I'm kind of not so happy right now.

Updated 9:26 pm
Newsday also has a story reporting on the CWN story. It seems that Catholic World News might not be an entirely objective source (!), which is significant in that while everyone knew that the pope was looking at the document, the Vatican hasn't made a formal pronouncement yet. CWN's website describes it as staffed by lay catholic journalists and states that it "seeks to provide loyal Catholics and other interested readers with all the daily news that affects their Church and their faith." One with more suspicious motives (not me, of course), might wonder if the good folks of CWN were trying to push somebody's hand; if it's been reported that the pope has banned something, it would take a lot more publicity and explanation as to why the pope was now "in favor of" ordaining homosexuals if the initial reports were wrong...

Recruits Sought for Porn Squad

It's difficult for something to be funny and sad at the same time. But this administration seems to be pretty good at it. (To be fair, it's partially the result of a congressional mandate...)
More substantive posts in the next day or so, I have a few in the editing stage, but have been, to use my native patois, wickit busy.


His Noodly Appendage...

For some comic relief, check out the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

More substantive posts to follow, my students are moving in.


Barbara Bush is a Mean Old Biddie

There, now that I've gotten your attention. I'm hoping this is a problem of context, taken from the American Public Media radio show, Marketplace:

In a segment at the top of the show on the surge of
evacuees to the Texas city, Barbara Bush said: "Almost
everyone I’ve talked to says we're going to move to

Then she added: "What I’m hearing which is sort of
scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is
so overwhelmed by the hospitality.

"And so many of the people in the arena here, you
know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she
chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."

Yeah, so well.


Louisiana Province of Jesuits

Is accepting donations directly at their website for victims of Katrina.


Marian Litany for the US

Nathan over at Exiled Catholic has created a litany invoking Mary as she is titled patroness for all 50 states (and the District of Columbia!). I'm a little nervous that this could be used in a nationalist way, but still think it's pretty neat. Where did you find the list of titles, Nathan?

New Orleans, Christianity and the Future

Over lunch today, my political scientist partner remarked that the experience of New Orleans provided a pedagogically helpful starting point for discussing the Hobbesian view of human life and nature, as nasty, brutish, and all that. Some of the sufferings of the poor and marginalized of New Orleans seem to bear that out.

Psalm 72, one of the Psalms from last evening's daily office, includes one of my favorite passages from the psalms: "May people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field." As I've explained to some people before, I always find that supposedly breathtaking natural vistas fill me wonder and a sense of their beauty, but cityscapes are truly breathtaking to me; seeing Boston's skyline after turning the bend on I-93 excited me every time as a child, and still makes me feel like I'm floating today. Cities are not mentioned too much in the Psalms, except in reference to Jerusalem or to the City of God, and most imagery tends to be natural or pastoral in tone. But the grandeur of cities pokes its way through at many places, like here in last evening's Psalm.

It was therefore with a great sense of mourning last evening that I prayed those words while watching scenes of New Orleans falling apart. And more. While not wanting to be alarmist, I think that it might be realistic to expect that New Orleans is not the last major American city we're going to find in pieces in our lifetimes. Whether due to more storms, to terrorist attacks, or to the simple crumbling of a civic landscape running on fumes in a number of senses (if you want to see New Orleans in slow motion, look what we've let happen to Detroit), our cities remain fragile places, fragile islands where hundreds of thousands of people are able to live together peacefully not necessarily through their own merits or efforts, but through our dumb luck of living in the prosperity of the early twenty-first century. We are not in the habit of shoring up our cities; we are not in the habit of patching up the levees of our own greed and self-interest with the decisions and sacrifices needed to maintain a common good, a "commonwealth", in these times. We are not in the habits of learning to care for each other and, more, to put others ahead of ourselves, when the lights fail, when the trains don't run, when food becomes more scarce. While I very much hope that I'm wrong, I've also read enough Bernard Lonergan and enough history to know how easily a lack of attentive, rational, responsible living can begin and hasten a merciless cycle of decline.

There is hope in this, however, a hope that we can begin learning in the concrete details of our own personal experiences of suffering. Christians have, by and large, always lived in unimaginable times. They do today as well. It's only my experience and, to make some assumptions, by and large the experience of anyone reading this blog, that makes Christianity seem to fit so easily into the bourgeois security of middle class, educated America. I fear that the coming decades will give many more of us the opportunity to practice Christianity, or to abandon it, in the difficulties of collective disorder, of a stumbling economy, of a more profound insecurity. September 11th no longer seems like such an isolated incident anymore. Will we sacrifice our values of non-violence and love of neighbor when that neighbor's survival will threaten our comfort? Will we have the ability to practice "costly discipleship" in the years to come? Will we be able to call ourselves Christians in any meaningful sense, and will we suffer for it?

Augustine wrote The City of God as Roman civilization was becoming increasingly irrational around him in Western Europe, and as refugees from the sack of Rome were landing on his shores in North Africa. Even as I re-read my words, they seem too rooted in fear and in the heat in the air at the end of the summer. But watching New Orleans stumble and fall is sending me back to Augustine; if I'm wrong, I'll know my Augustine much better; if I'm sadly prescient for a change, I'll start gaining some wisdom regarding how to follow Christ in times of famine.


John Paul Two, We, Er, Condemn You...

From a traditionalist website, "100 Direct Contradictions to the Catholic Faith by John Paul II." Wowsers. And who says that JPII was too traditionalist?

Haven't been blogging...warning...rambling ahead...

So I'm sorry, I guess...but I have had other things to do for the last few weeks.

My partner and I moved at the end of July into our new digs at John Winthrop House, an undergraduate residential community at Harvard University. Due to the joys of institutional logistics, we weren't able to move into our final apartment until around the 18th of the month, and were living in a temporary apartment next door. It's amazing how much one's attitude towards life and ability to work gets affected simply by the fact of living out of boxes and suitcases -- a realization that has been increasingly disturbing as I've been following the headlines out of New Orleans. I'm only now just getting ready to get back into work full swing, and feeling grounded enough in my own space to start sending missives out into the blogosphere again. I can only begin to imagine how emotionally deadened the residents of New Orleans, both those trapped in the increasingly desperate city and those staying with friends or family miles away for what they thought would only be a day or two, must be to realize that their homes, their ground, has literally washed away from under them.

I received email today that the Jesuit colleges and universities in the country may start taking on students from flooded out Loyola New Orleans as visiting students. They've still been unable to get in touch with Fr. Kevin Wildes, the president of Loyola. There are lots of ways to contribute money to help the victims of the disaster to start re-building their lives; I've always used Catholic Charities USA (the domestic sister program of Catholic Relief Services, which provides U.S. Catholic funding for international crises, like Darfur and Niger), because by using the Catholic institutions already in place, they're usually able to get a large amount of aid out there quickly with a very high percentage of the donation going directly to relief.

In our new space at Harvard, we'll have responsibilities for about 30 students in our immediate area, as well as for students in our concentrations, and LGBT students and issues in the house. Since there are only about 10 religioius studies students in each class at Harvard, I'm going to be trying to expand the idea of what a "religious studies tutor" is all about; though there are fewer religion concentrators, there are lots of religious undergraduates who have a good deal of support within their own religious communities, but might not necessarily feel that appreciated or understood by "godless Harvard" as a whole, or in the various institutions of the university in particular. That might be an impression that needs correcting, and I have no doubt that there are numbers of tutors, staff and faculty who are much more sensitive to issues of religious practice than the phrase "godless Harvard" might imply; on the other hand, being sensitive to religious practictioners is something different than having real, live practicings someone's living on your hall or being in a position of authority in academia. From my short experience, that is a bit rarer, and I'm hoping that by being a point person for "all things religious" around the House, I might help in opening some points of common discussion.

In other news, the Paulist Center Catholic community, my home church, is starting to gear up again for the fall. I had a small hand in finally getting webpages up for our Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and Reception of Baptized Christians into Full Communion programs. So, if you know someone in the Boston area who's thinking about becoming a Christian, completing an initiation begun in childhood baptism, or becoming a Roman Catholic Christian, now you know where to send them!