Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Benedict and the lavender mafia

An editorial by Dale Vree getting considerable discussion lately is that from the June 2006 issue of New Oxford Review, entitled "Is the Catholic Church Going the Way of the Episcopal Church?" In the first part of the editorial, he addresses the purging of the topic of homosexuality from our lectionaries (the longer as well as the shorter forms), which we addressed in a post entitled "Lectionary Censorship" (July 11, 2006). In the subsequent portion of the essay, he draws disturbing parallels between the direction the Episcopal Church has taken in the United States over the past several decades and the direction the Catholic Church could be taking today, particularly in revisioning its traditional opposition to homosexuality in a 'gay-friendly' milieu. First, he notes that Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus, Editor of First Things, seems particularly dismayed by the scandal of homosexuality in the priesthood and episcopate (citing First Things, Feb. 2006, pp. 55-61):
In a take-off of the dictum Roma locuta est, causa finita est ("Rome has spoken, the case is closed"), Fr. Neuhaus says regarding the document on homosexuals in the seminaries, "Rome has spoken and the question is anything but settled." Neuhaus speaks of the "Truce of 1968" where "many theologians and priests...rejected the teaching of the 1968 encyclical on human sexuality, Humanae Vitae [reiterating the Church's rejection of contraception]." In 1968, says Neuhaus, "Rome caved." Indeed, it did.
Now, says Vree, Neuhaus is worried that there will be a "Truce of 2005" regarding the document on homosexuals in the seminaries. He continues:
Neuhaus is mighty concerned that Rome will "cave" once again. Neuhaus calls on Benedict to issue a "discernable and decisive response" to the document on homos in the seminaries. An Editorial in Commonweal says Fr. Neuhaus has "issued an ultimatum" to Benedict, and even taunts Neuhaus: "Even some of his admirers may be taken aback by the ferocity and sweep of the petition he has just nailed to Benedict's door..." (Feb. 10). Shades of Martin Luther, who nailed his petition to the pope on the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg, and as Commonweal points out, Fr. Neuhaus was "once a Lutheran." Truly, a cheap shot.
Maybe so. Vree thinks there is little likelihood that Benedict will issue a "decisive response." And he says that Neuhaus surely knows this, since he says that Benedict is a "gentle man and averse to unpleasantness." Neuhaus says that for Benedict "there is the fear of schism," but Neuhaus counters with "where would the rejectionists go?" "We agree with Fr. Neuhaus," writes Vree. "Benedict needs to get some courage, and let the chips fall where they may."

Vree thinks that the Vatican has been far too ambiguous and wishy-washy in its treatment of the question at issue. In fact, he suggests that the first thing Benedict should do is to withdraw "the murky and open-ended document" on homosexuals in the seminaries and "start again." He argues that homosexual priests cannot be spiritual Fathers, that they cannot discipline, that they "nuance" all sorts of things, that their "love" is permissive and unconditional, and pastoral to the point of being contentless. That's a bold, broad-brushing of the issues, certainly, but there you have it.

What is really the most interesting -- and potentially controversial -- part of the editorial is the exposure Vree grants to the lavender spin doctors of Pope Benedict's encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, particularly the spin offered by Fr. James Alison, a London-based theologian who, in 2003, identified himself as an unpartnered homosexual priest.

But first, a little background on Fr. Alison. The San Francisco Faith (April 2006), reporting on a conference in San Francisco on February 12th, sponsored by the (Jesuit) University of San Francisco's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning Caucus and the University's Lane Center for Catholic Studies and Social Thought, stated that "Alison called for patience from the gay and lesbian Catholic community because society at large is on the verge of endorsing ... homosexuals." Alison is quoted as declaring that homosexuality is "being taken out of the sphere of doctrine and left where it belongs, in the sphere of the human sciences, with all the consequences that will follow from that." The article reports: "One of those consequences, according to Alison, is that the Church will be compelled to change, and in fact is already changing, its position on homosexuality." (Sound familiar? For readers of this blog, this language will doubtless be redolent of the so-called "Spirit of Vatican II.")

Vree comments that we can already see these tendencies in the document on homosexuals in the seminaries, where once no homosexuals of whatever kind could be admitted, but now just about anything is permitted in the way of homosexual seminarians, depending on how the bishop or the major suprior chooses to interpret it.

And then we come to the encyclical:
Fr. Alison cites as an example Benedict's first encyclical, God Is Love. Alison says: "It leaves room for us, and I suggest that we read it as an invitation for us to work out what the rich elements and gifts of same-sex love can be. How we are to set creating a Catholic culture of same-sex love."

The Church, says Alison, will accept homosexuality slowly, "in a way that keeps everybody on board," so as to avoid "schism." In God Is Love, Benedict has "subtly begun this process," the story reports Alison as saying. Alison calls our attention to God Is Love, where Benedict makes reference to Plato. Benedict quotes Plato: "man was originally spherical" (#11). The story quotes Alison as summarizing the reference: "there are some people who are spherical, formed of one part male and the other part female, and there are some people spherical formed of one part male and the other part male, and there are some who are spherical formed one part female and one part female. And that these people will always be looking for their other half." We went back to Number 11, where Benedict says that "only in communion with the opposite sex can he become 'complete.'" This would seem to contradict what Alison is saying. Or is this a matter of Benedict's subtlety?

Andrew Sullivan, the "gay" activist, notes that in God Is Love, Benedict rests his support of eros on the ancient Greek philosophers, who Sullivan says embraced "gay" love. Indeed, Benedict acknowledges that eros does not appear in the New Testament (God Is Love, #3)....

According to the San Francisco Faith: "Alison gave other examples [not listed], which, he claims, show that the pope will eventually write an encyclical acknowledging the anthropological validity of homosexuality and homosexual relationships." Alison is quoted as saying that the Vatican is "trying to work out ways...to write the encyclical which finally says, 'as the Church has always taught....'"
Again, sound familiar? To readers of this blog, it certainly should. Fr. Joseph O'Leary (a.k.a. "Spirit of Vatican II") is notorious for this sort of spin, as most of you know. However, as my son, Christopher (Ratzinger Fan Club), says, anybody can spin an encyclical. As he demonstrates amply, countless liberals have done so -- it is their modus operandi to selectively quote and provide justification for their agenda with every document that comes out of the Vatican. See, for example, the following links:As Christopher notes, it seems that whoever tries to put a liberal spin on the encyclical will be at pains to square that with Benedict's strong position on the family as traditionally defined, as he reiterated it in Spain recently in responding to the Spanish gay marriage campaign (see John Allen, Jr., "Benedict offers Spain gentle, unambiguous defense of tradition," NCR, July 9, 2006).

All of which raises the question as to what Vree is up to in 'playing up' this sort of 'spin' in his editorial of June 2006, rather than offering a critique of it. Does Vree really doubt Benedict? I find it hard to think so. I think he is clearly frustrated. This comes out in his language at points, as when he says the following: "The defining moment of Pope Benedict's papacy so far has been the document on homosexuals in the seminaries, and he flubbed it." One of my readers wrote me with the express concern that this seemed frightfully disrespectful of the Holy Father. I understand and share his concern. I also understand and share Vree's frustration. Vree also wrote:
Benedict appointed George Niederauer to be the Archbishop of San Francisco, who said, regarding the Church's opposition to "gay marriage," that he could not foresee that "evolving anytime soon" (see our New Oxford Note, May). Anytime soon? But maybe later! If homosexuality is accepted, it will happen slowly, so the laity won't notice, so as to keep everybody on board.
This kind of language, coming from the bishops, the shepherds of the sheep, is hardly helpful. I think Vree's 'playing up' of the 'spin-doctors' interpretation of the encyclical is a reflection of his frustration -- a sort of prognostication and warning: here's where things are headed unless we correct our course, folks. Vree concludes his editorial with the following words: "We are asked to pray for Pope Benedict at every Mass. But we are not told what to pray for. We suggest praying for Fortitude, one of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and one of the Cardinal Virtues." A heartfelt 'Amen' to that. I would only add -- and here I echo voices wiser than my own -- if we do take issue with the ideas of our bishops and, especially, of our Holy Father, as perhaps sometimes we must, let us endeavor to do so with all due respect and charity.

By the way, the Editor of New Oxford Review has now made it possible for readers to post online comments to his editorials, in case any of you are interested. I would encourage any of you, especially those readers most vociferious in their protestations of my earlier posts defending of Dale Vree and the New Oxford Review against their critics, to avail themselves of this avenue of direct communication with their brother-Pit-Bull-in-Christ. Cheers!

[Hat tip to Christopher and other, anonymous correspondents in various witness protection programs]

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