Two Visions of the Church: John O’Malley’s Grave Errors

v2People viewing first the synod, and then l’affaire Douthat, from afar may wonder how we got to this point. What is the source of these stark divisions–in the church, the synod, the theological discipline, and the laity–that cause this kind of hostility?

The answer is actually fairly simple.

One side understands that the work of the council was to produce 16 documents reorienting the eternal and unchanging teachings of the church for the modern world. This what Pope Benedict meant by a “hermeneutic of continuity.” The teachings are in perfect continuity with the teachings of the church. The council addressed praxis.

The other side practices a “hermeneutic of rupture,” which approaches the council as a kind of ongoing event, initiated in the 1960s, of ever-evolving church teachings wrapped in the fluffy gauze of the Spirit of Vatican II. This side is, of course wrong, and the precise scope of its error is encapsulated in the following quote from John O’Malley’s What Happened at Vatican II.

Apparently, what happened was not debate between liberal and conservative wings resulting in 16 documents, but a series of seismic changes…

…from commands to invitations, from laws to ideals, from definition to mystery, from threats to persuasion, from coercion to conscience, from monologue to dialogue, from ruling to serving, from withdrawn to integrated, from vertical to horizontal, from exclusion to inclusion, from hostility to friendship, from rivalry to partnership, from suspicion to trust, from static to on-going, from passive acceptance to active engagement, from fault-finding to active appreciation, from prescriptive to principled, from behavior modification to inner appropriation.

This is madness. It’s actually embarrassing that a professor at a leading university could produce such raw nonsense. And yet this is the way a certain school of theology and church history actually sees the council, and thus their role as banner-carriers for the Spirit of Vatican II, fighting threats, coercion, legalism, exclusion, hostility, suspicion, and lack of principle. (Psss, I think they mean us, Ross.)

The mind that conceives such a paragraph not only doesn’t grasp the true history of the council (for this list is so obviously wrong and biased that only a True Believer could produce it), but has cast himself as hero of a conflict playing out in his own mind. It establishes a clear set of conflicts between us (The good progressives! Yay!) and them (The bad reactionaries! Boo!). The Other (eg, Ross Douthat, and other Catholics who take a traditional line along with St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict, and others) is an obvious enemy to be mocked and crushed.

And thus it was no surprise to find the first name on the list of signatories to the petition seeking the removal of Ross Douthat from the New York Times was

…yeah, you guessed it: “John O’Malley, SJ (Georgetown University).”

Does that clarify things a bit?

What Happened at the Secret Synod Planning Session?

pentinEdward Pentin has done some first rate reporting on the factions forming to push through radical change in the Church’s unchangeable moral teaching. He has a new story in the National Catholic Register* about a secret meeting that took place at the Pontifical Gregorian University on Monday with “the aim of urging ‘pastoral innovations’ at the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Family in October.”

Around 50 “bishops, theologians and media representatives, took part in the gathering, at the invitation of the presidents of the bishops’ conferences of Germany, Switzerland and France — Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Bishop Markus Büchel and Archbishop Georges Pontier.”

It’s fairly clear that this was a strategy meeting for people aiming to change Church teaching on divorce and homosexuality at the upcoming Synod. And they didn’t like it when Pentin found out about the gathering, which was open only to hand-picked, friendly media:

No one would say why the study day was held in confidence. So secret was the meeting that even prominent Jesuits at the Gregorian were completely unaware of it. The Register learned about it when Jean-Marie Guénois leaked the information in a story in Le Figaro.

Speaking to the Register as he left the meeting, Cardinal Marx insisted the study day wasn’t secret. But he became irritated when pressed about why it wasn’t advertised, saying he had simply come to Rome in a “private capacity” and that he had every right to do so. Close to Pope Francis and part of his nine-member council of cardinals, the cardinal is known to be especially eager to reform the Church’s approach to homosexuals. During his Pentecost homily last Sunday, Cardinal Marx called for a “welcoming culture” in the Church for homosexuals, saying it’s “not the differences that count, but what unites us.”

Cardinal Marx is also not alone, among those attending the meeting, in pushing for radical changes to the Church’s life. The head of the Swiss bishops, Bishop Büchel of St. Gallen, has spoken openly in favor of women’s ordination, saying in 2011 that the Church should “pray that the Holy Spirit enables us to read the signs of the times.” Archbishop Pontier, head of the French bishops, is also known to have heterodox leanings.

The meeting’s organizers were unwilling to disclose the names of everyone who took part, but the Register has obtained a full list of participants. They included Jesuit Father Hans Langendörfer, general secretary of the German bishops’ conference, who has been the leading figure behind the recent reform of German Church labor laws to controversially allow remarried divorcees and homosexual couples to work in Church institutions.

There’s a lot more, so read it all.

It’s possible the talk of same-sex union support is just a feint to cover the push to readmit divorce and remarried people to communion. Even the most rabid progressives can’t imagine the Church would change the prohibition on homosexual acts. (Just so you know where I stand on this: I would back some revisions to the way annulments are handled, but readmitting the divorced and remarried to communion is a non-starter. “Gay marriage,” being an ontological impossibility, doesn’t even rise to “non-starter,” and anyone who attempts to justify it is a theological illiterate.)

What Pentin’s reporting has shown is an ugly heterodox underbelly that is threatening to throw the Church into schism. They’re emboldened by rhetorical incaution on the part of the Holy Father and the presence of known dissenters in his inner ranks. I do not believe they will succeed, but I do think they will continue to sow dissent and confusion that damages the Church.

All of these pipers play the same tune, urging us to “read the signs of the times” and change truth. Being truth, of course, it cannot change. It can merely be denied and abandoned by cowards who choose to be led not by the Heiligen Geist (Holy Spirit), but by the Zeitgeist (Spirit of the Age). That Zeitgeist is the voice of the devil.

I think the heterodox are a minority and will be defeated in October. I do not believe we are heading for schism. Pentin’s own reporting indicates that the European bishops are hardly a monolith. And as the growing and conservative global south asserts itself, the chances for a radical change in teachings will be less likely. Smiling on divorce and gay marriage will not fill the pews. In fact, it would empty them even faster. See also: every other Church that did it.

Perhaps the dissidents are pressing now because they feel they have the wind at their back with the current papacy and the lack of a clear “Third World” (for lack of a better descriptor) block among the bishops. It’s just possible that their reckless actions will cause that block to form, and lead the global south to speak as a single, clear, prophetic voice in favor of the unchanging truths of the faith.


*Disclosure: I write for the Register.

The “Thank You God the Synod Is Over” Post

RWell, that was fun, and by “fun” I mean “let’s never do that again.”

At least not for another year.

What a mess. The twitchy year leading up to the Synod on the Family has seen a steady rise in anxiety in the very tiny corner of the Catholic pool represented by social media and blogs.

The nature of the synod is nothing new: different factions arguing about doctrine and pastoral concerns are as old as the Church itself. Remember Galatians? “When Peter came to Antioch I rebuked him to his face, because he stood condemned.” If bloggers were covering the Council of Jerusalem, their comments would have been “zOMG! Dissidents trying to weaken doctrine by relaxing rules on circumcision!” It was All Panic All The Time.

Were there reasonable concerns about the way this synod would unfold? Very much so, and many people managed to express these concerns without headlines about “Our Doom in the Making” or posts illustrated by GIFs of wolves wandering the ruins of Rome.

I was certainly concerned that Pope Francis not only thought it was a good idea to summon a middling theologian like Cardinal Kasper from semi-retirement to shape the dialog heading into the synod, but then heaped lavish praise on his theologically faulty and wholly untenable proposals for re-admitting the divorced-and-remarried to the Eucharist. That Cardinal Kasper subsequently proved himself to be a thin-skinned, arrogant liar confirmed some of the worst fears about the Pope’s judgment.

Kasper’s “we doan need no stinkin’ Africans” gaff revealed his paternalistic Germanic colonialism. That he was perfectly willing to ruin, or at least damage, the career of a respected Vatican journalist by lying to cover his own caboose is shameful, and it would have worked if the reporter hadn’t recorded the interview. Watching a publication like Commonweal labor mightily to spin his comments even after he repudiated them was a fine reminder that the progressive wing of the church is overpopulated by political hacks.

Kasper needs to return home and we should never have to hear from him again in any serious debate. He has nothing of value to offer on the subject, and he shouldn’t have been asked to advance his opinions in the first place.

The synod proceeded to run like a broken merry-go-round, as these things often do. This time, however, the chaos of various factions fighting to advance their views was broadcast in real time thanks to social media. Add to this the usual awful Vatican media management, and you wound up with explosive headlines guaranteed to sow confusion, possibly for years to come.

The amplifying quality of modern electronic media made all this rise from mere procedural quarreling into The Pivotal Moment in the Church in Our Time and Maybe in All History No Really I’m Not Even Kidding You Guys! It’s in our nature to inflate the importance and uniqueness of our times. I read comments about the church being poised on a knife edge and think, “Yes, as always. Get a grip.”

That people could write, in all seriousness, that the “Relatio post disceptationem” was “the worst official document in the history of the church” just shows the state of ignorance of some of the people shouting the loudest. It would be nice if some who profess to love Latin so much would bother to learn it, so then maybe they’d realize that “Relatio post disceptationem” means “report after a debate” and is thus not an “official church document,” much less the “worst” official church document in our history. Have these people even heard of Siena or Pisa?

The Relatio landed with a thud as people took turns either praising its prophetic willingness to discard actual Catholic teaching or condemning it as some kind of latterday Thalia purpose-built to destroy the church. It was neither. Most of it was perfectly fine, although it provided an incomplete portrait of the debate as it stood and thus failed its basic brief. Four or five paragraphs were utterly awful, and the language in the section on homosexuality was simply a disgrace. (There are suggestions that these paragraphs were inserted–perhaps without the knowledge of Cardinal Erdo–by Special Secretary Bishop Bruno Forte.)

Now that the synod has come and gone and the October Schism anticipated by certain doomsayers failed to materialize, I wonder if some of the reactionaries are disappointed. There’s a radical fringe that would like to be shed of not merely the progressives and dissidents, but also the moderates. As 2014 unfolded, they filled social media with a nonstop klaxon of fear. I do not doubt that those who wailed the loudest did so out of love of the church and genuine concern for Her, but they were reacting from a place of anxiety not reason, and there is no fear in love: perfect love drives out fear.

Pope Francis attempted to bridge the divide in his final address to the synod fathers, but it seems to set up false equivalencies between those who want to maintain the continuity of doctrine and those who don’t. He spoke of …

… a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.

– The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”

– The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).

– The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfill the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing!

The very nature of the process–Francis deployed the word “parrhesia,” a rhetorical term meaning to speak frankly without fear of offense–means that the synod would produce documents and statements that would run against the grain. People can’t conduct a full debate without the freedom to put all points on the table and evaluate them honestly, candidly, and without fear.

The synod is a process, and the process will continue. We say some alarming things in any vigorous debate. Modern culture suffers from a sexual insanity, and any debate which touches on sexuality–as debate about the family must–will be tense, often controversial, and almost certainly misunderstood both within and without the church. The process and the perception of the process are thus at odds. We shouldn’t fear it, but we should understand it, and continue to do our best to discuss faith in charity, without undue anxiety and with confidence in the Holy Spirit Who guides and inspires us.


Fisking the Synod “Relatio”

1570457_ArticoloI’m going to do my first read-through of “Relatio post disceptationem” by Card. Péter Erdő, which is being described as an “earthquake” at the synod, and add comments as they occur to me. This is just me shooting from the hip without reflection, and should be taken as a first reaction rather than a considered response.

By the way, it’s not an “earthquake.” That’s overstating things. It’s a summary of the discussion as it stands midway through the synod. Most of it is fine*. Out of 58 paragraphs, about four are awful. In the end, I think the focus is where it should be: on finding better ways of leading people to the fullness of truth.

And please note: this is an “unofficial translation!” Things may change.

5. … It is necessary to be aware of the growing danger represented by an exasperated individualism that distorts family bonds and ends up considering each component of the family as an isolated unit, leading in some cases to the prevalence of an idea of the subject formed according to his or her own wishes, which are assumed as absolute.

This is a nod to Benedict’s “dictatorship of relativism,” and singles out the moral relativism in which everyone defines good and evil by his own conscience without any sense of transcendent values and order.

6. The most difficult test for families in our time is often solitude, which destroys and gives rise to a general sensation of impotence in relation to the socio-economic situation that often ends up crushing them. This is due to growing precariousness in the workplace that is often experienced as a nightmare, or due to heavy taxation that certainly does not encourage young people to marriage.

He’s calling out heavy taxation and the caprices of the marketplace as a burden on the family. Good. There’s a direct connection between money and the destruction of the family.

Paragraphs 7 and 8 identify the clear problems faced by the church around the world, and not just in the West where divorce and gay marriage is sucking up all the oxygen of the debate. These include polygamy, trial marriages, arranged and forced marriages, cohabitation, mixed marriages in minority-Catholic countries, family violence, war, terrorism, organized crime, and migration. All of these elements pull at the fabric of the family in different ways, and require a response from the Church.

9. Faced with the social framework outlined above, a greater need is encountered among individuals to take care of themselves, to know their inner being, and to live in greater harmony with their emotions and sentiments, seeking a relational quality in emotional life. In the same way, it is possible to encounter a widespread desire for family accompanied by the search for oneself.

The phrasing is squishy, but I understand what he’s trying to get across: we do need to understand ourselves and our emotional life if we are to truly understand our needs and desires before God. The next section clarifies things a little:

10. Today’s world appears to promote limitless affectivity, seeking to explore all its aspects, including the most complex. Indeed, the question of emotional fragility is very current: a narcissistic, unstable or changeable affectivity do not always help greater maturity to be reached.

In other words, our limitless naval-gazing does not make us more mature, but less mature, and leads us into the narcissism that destroys relationships or creates unhealthy ones. We’re not going to find the answers within, but we keep looking there anyway.

11. In this context the Church is aware of the need to offer a meaningful word of hope. It is necessary to set out from the conviction that man comes from God and that, therefore, a reflection able to reframe the great questions on the meaning of human existence, may find fertile ground in humanity’s most profound expectations. The great values of marriage and the Christian family correspond to the search that distinguishes human existence even in a time marked by individualism and hedonism. It is necessary to accept people in their concrete being, to know how to support their search, to encourage the wish for God and the will to feel fully part of the Church, also on the part of those who have experienced failure or find themselves in the most diverse situations. This requires that the doctrine of the faith, the basic content of which should be made increasingly better known, be proposed alongside with mercy.

And here we go. I can’t fault the points here, but the dog whistle “mercy” has become such a bone of contention that people seem to be talking past each other when they use it.

Does the speaker mean mercy as, well … mercy? Or does he mean it as “compromise”?

Mercy isn’t compromise, and in faith and charity we should probably assume that when someone says “mercy” he means “mercy.” Instead, many are reading “mercy” and translating it into “heresy.” This is assuming bad faith, which we should not do, and which has been the fruit of so much poisonous invective entering the synod.

To me, paragraph 11 is saying that people are yearning for the truth, but to guide them to it more effectively, we may need to try a different approach. I see nothing in there that compromises any dogma or doctrine. The condemnation of “individualism and hedonism” certainly doesn’t seem like a retreat from our values.

13. From the moment that the order of creation is determined by orientation towards Christ, it becomes necessary to distinguish without separating the various levels through which God communicates the grace of the covenant to humanity. Through the law of gradualness (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 34), typical of divine pedagogy, this means interpreting the nuptial covenant in terms of continuity and novelty, in the order of creation and in that of redemption.

14. Jesus Himself, referring to the primordial plan for the human couple, reaffirms the indissoluble union between man and woman, while understanding that “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning” (Mt 19,8). In this way, He shows how divine condescension always accompanies the path of humanity, directing it towards its new beginning, not without passing through the cross.

Well that’s just a hash. I’m not sure whether he’s coming or going in those two paragraphs, although the line about divine condescension comes close to making a decent point. He seems to be talking about the way God guided Israel through history to salvation in stages, and that this proves a “law of gradualness.” Of course, that guidance reached fulfillment in Christ, so we’re not still being prepared for any new revelation, but rather conditioned to live the final revelation more fully.

He’s deploying the phrase “law of gradualness” as if it’s an actual law, rather than merely a rhetorical flourish by St. John Paul II. Gradualism is the idea that we work towards perfect in stages and the church needs to help us with that, and there’s nothing wrong with this approach.

Calling it “typical of divine pedagogy” is flawed, and the meaning of “interpreting the nuptial covenant in terms of continuity and novelty, in the order of creation and in that of redemption” is a mystery to me. What does he mean by novelty? How does it relate to creation and redemption? I don’t care for this section at all: it’s badly worded and confusing, and raises more questions than it answers.

Erdo gets back on track with paragraphs 15 and 16, where he talks about how the “spousal covenant, inaugurated in creation and revealed in the history of God and Israel, reaches its fullest expression with Christ in the Church.” Good stuff here.

20. Realizing the need, therefore, for spiritual discernment with regard to cohabitation, civil marriages and divorced and remarried persons, it is the task of the Church to recognize those seeds of the Word that have spread beyond its visible and sacramental boundaries. Following the expansive gaze of Christ, whose light illuminates every man (cf. Jn 1,9; cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22), the Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings.

Paragraphs 17 to 23 attempt to shift the tone of discussion of irregular marriage, and how to deal with it. I don’t disagree with its contents, although I have to wonder what the practice of its application would mean. The idea is to help the positive grow into something that will align people more fully with the Church, finding the seeds of Christ in every man and woman and family, and helping them reconfigure the person and the family towards Christ. The language is pretty decent here, affirming that fullness of the truth is found only in the Church, but that elements of the truth may be found anywhere, and we should work towards using the elements to help souls.

21. The Gospel of the family, while it shines in the witness of many families who live coherently their fidelity to the sacrament, with their mature fruits of authentic daily sanctity must also nurture those seeds that are yet to mature, and must care for those trees that have dried up and wish not to be neglected.

I really can’t fault this at all. I just wonder what it means as a practical application of Church teaching on the streets and in the pews. At what point does nurturing become complicity?

25. …The Church has to carry this out with the tenderness of a mother and the clarity of a teacher (cf. Eph 4,15), in fidelity to the merciful kenosi of Christ. The truth is incarnated in human fragility not to condemn it, but to cure it.

Excellent. Well said.

I’m not going to quote paragraphs 24 to 35 because they run through a number of points that set the ground for the debate and are worth reading. In short, it addresses the need for to evangelize more fully at all levels of the church, both lay and ecclesiastic. It’s the most Vatican IIish section, urging us to ground ourselves in the truth of our teachings and then go out and engage the world. We need to form couples more fully for marriage, and be there for them–both lay people and priests–during the early years of a marriage and the challenges faced throughout.

At paragraph 36 we turn back to irregular marital states with language that may bother some: Positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation

Naturally, these states are problematic, as the subsequent paragraph affirms:

36. A new sensitivity in today’s pastoral consists in grasping the positive reality of civil weddings and, having pointed out our differences, of cohabitation. It is necessary that in the ecclesial proposal, while clearly presenting the ideal, we also indicate the constructive elements in those situations that do not yet or no longer correspond to that ideal.

Again, we return to the theme: maintain and teach the ideal, but work with what we’ve got. And, once again, I cannot fault the intent, but wonder about what it means here on the ground. Can we nurture the good while maintaining the truth?

That’s not something that can be done by synods and councils and bishops. That’s the work of priests: the front line soldiers and medics on this battlefield of modern culture. And while we have many, many good priests, I know others whom I would not trust to make that distinction effectively.

39. All these situations have to be dealt with in a constructive manner, seeking to transform them into opportunities to walk towards the fullness of marriage and the family in the light of the Gospel. They need to be welcomed and accompanied with patience and delicacy. With a view to this, the attractive testimony of authentic Christian families is important, as subjects for the evangelization of the family.

There are going to be a lot of people who only take away the “shocking” aspects of this document, so paragraph 39 is there to, once again, remind people that we are not compromising truth, but trying to find new ways to guide people to that truth.

Paragraphs 40 to 49 tackles the thorny issue of divorce and remarriage, and how these people are to be treated. The suggestions include “abandonment of the need for the double conforming sentence; the possibility of establishing an administrative means under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop; a summary process to be used in cases of clear nullity.”

Unlike others, I don’t see these suggestions as striking at the very foundation of the church. It seems, to me (a layperson and catechist with training in theology and church history, rather than a canon lawyer), like a revision of the process, not a compromise of Truth.

Then there’s this:

44. As regards matrimonial suits, the speeding-up of the procedure, requested by many, as well as the preparation of a sufficient number of operators, clerics and lay people, dedicating themselves to this, requires an increase in the responsibilities of the diocesan bishop, who in his diocese might charge a specially trained priest who would be able to offer the parties advice on the validity of their marriage.

Again, I don’t see the problem here.

Paragraphs 47 to 49 are the “Kasper solution,”:

47. As regards the possibility of partaking of the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, some argued in favor of the present regulations because of their theological foundation, others were in favor of a greater opening on very precise conditions when dealing with situations that cannot be resolved without creating new injustices and suffering. For some, partaking of the sacraments might occur were it preceded by a penitential path – under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop –, and with a clear undertaking in favor of the children. This would not be a general possibility, but the fruit of a discernment applied on a case-by-case basis, according to a law of gradualness, that takes into consideration the distinction between state of sin, state of grace and the attenuating circumstances.

This is another pile of hash. I can’t see it working at all, and the idea that it can be addressed on a “case-by-case basis” (by whom?)  “according to a law of gradualness” (LOLWHUT?) is a nonstarter.

I cannot see how we can square that circle of allowing a path to communion in the absence of a valid annulment. Sure, we can make the annulment procedure more simple and, I believe, we should find ways to fast-track certain cases of civil marriage and abandonment, but readmission to communion after remarriage following a prior, sacramentally valid marriage? I don’t see how a penitential path can offer that. It’s a bridge too far.

Paragraphs 50 to 52 are going to generate headlines as they address homosexual unions and “orientation.” These paragraphs are mostly gibberish and use problematic language. Yes, we need to better at ministering to people who identify as homosexual and finding ways to lead them to the truth in mercy, but this language just clouds a complex issue. It’s both too much and not enough. Fr. Longenecker identifies this as the sentimental claptrap it is.

I don’t want to cherry pick quotes, so read the whole section. In short, we get acknowledgement of homosexual identity without any of the usual caveats that it’s not so much an identity as an objective disorder, the seriously troubling  phrase “accepting and valuing their sexual orientation,” the weak language about gay “marriage,” and an overall sense of saying nothing and saying it badly. Awful stuff. And it’s all we’re going to hear about.

Paragraphs 53 to 55 reaffirm Humane vitae and merely suggest better ways of helping people get the message. No problems here.

And then it concludes.

This is a quick pass through the document without taking a lot of time to mull it over. Perhaps on further reflection I’ll moderate this view or that, but right now I see mostly non-controversial material about changes messaging and processes, a brief defense of the Kasper proposal, and a lot of weak tea about homosexuality. More of it is good than bad, and most of it, really, is just fine.

But, of course, we’re only going to hear about the bad parts, because that’s how we do things now.

Related: John Paul II on Gradualism

Elizabeth Scalia has a different perspective on paragraph 50. 

Simcha Fisher: No Earthquake Here

Fr. Dwight Longenecker: Homosexuals Have Gifts to Offer?

*After a second read I downgraded my assessment from “very good” to “fine.” Too much that should have been said was not.

St. John Paul II on Gradualism

John Allen points out that the idea of “gradualism” is being floated at the synod, with the expected responses of support from the progressives, skepticism from the orthodox, and outrage from the reactionaries. It’s not particularly clear if either side is really understanding how the word is being deployed in this case, including the people using it. The general cloud of sloppy theology and mawkishness that’s fogged so much of the synod rhetoric (and thank you for that Cardinal Kasper) makes sorting out meaning and truth more difficult than it should be.pope-john-paul-II

“In his opening address on Monday,” writes Allen, “Cardinal Péter Erdő of Hungary argued that Humanae Vitae should be read in light of graduality.”

Cue pearl clutching from the reactionaries and cheers from the dissidents.

In the meantime, we have the words of St. John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio, where he pointed out that, yes, the praxis of implementing Humanae Vitae in a marriage may be subject to a kind of gradualism because “man, who has been called to live God’s wise and loving design in a responsible manner, is an historical being who day by day builds himself up through his many free decisions; and so he knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by stages of growth.”

However … the truth of Humanae Vitae can never be subjected to gradualism. As he famously said on the issue: “And so what is known as ‘the law of gradualness’ or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law,’ as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations.”

Applying comments about contraception to the situation under discussion at the synod is not wholly appropriate. Correcting an irregular marriage is not as clear a matter as contraception. A couple can simply stop contracepting, but there is a legal process involved in correcting an irregular marriage.

St. John Paul’s understanding of the way we accomplish “moral good by stages of growth,” however, is a useful point of reference when dealing with anyone in a state of sin, and that includes people engaged in adultery because they have remarried following a previous marriage without the benefit of an annulment.

People progress in their moral behavior by stages. This doesn’t mean that a fully moral life is compromised, but that we must recognize the challenges some have in living that fully moral life. If moral perfection was a simple matter, we’d have no need for reconciliation. We’re all fallen and damaged and yearning towards a perfect Good, and more often than not, failing to achieve it. The Church is here to guide sinners not by compromising moral standards (which of course cannot be compromised) but by providing the medicine of sacraments and guidance of truth, without taxing people with unnecessary burdens.

The current fuss about readmitting people in this state to communion has seemed peculiar to me all along. If people think enough of the Eucharist to refrain from presenting themselves due to an irregular marital state, then that person is a well-formed Catholic who is doing the right thing.

The question is: how do we best help them achieve a more perfect moral state so they will be worthy to join us at the table?

Our problem isn’t that too few people are presenting themselves for communion, but that too many are doing so unworthily.

How many people do you see refraining from communion at mass? Precious few.

How many people do you see at confession? Same answer.

Are all those people presenting themselves for communion in a worthy state to receive? That’s extremely unlikely.

Thus, people who are remarried without benefit of an annulment and are refraining from communion are not a serious problem. They accept the teaching of the church, recognize their state of sin, and desire to return to communion.

The challenge is this: how do we (and, really, can we) admit these people to communion without damaging justice? The whole justice versus mercy debate is nonsense. Neither violates the other. Justice is merciful, and mercy is just.

Simplifying the process is hardly a blow against justice. Processes change. The current process is flawed. If it can be altered without further damaging the commands of the Lord about divorce, then it should be.

Ross Douthat makes an excellent point: a civil marriage is not recognized as sacramental by the church, so why should it be recognized by the church during the annulment process? Given how we form couples for marriage (something that also needs to be improved), how can we behave as though a couple marred civilly or in another religion have met our standards for a true and valid marriage?

Please also note, in the following passages, how much emphasis St. John Paul puts on the role of priests. This is crucial. Priests need to be an essential part of this process. A good priest knows how to council and guide, so people can be led through this process with charity.

Here is the whole section by St. John Paul, so you can read what he says in full context.

Familiaris Consortio: The Moral Progress of Married People

34. It is always very important to have a right notion of the moral order, its values and its norms; and the importance is all the greater when the difficulties in the way of respecting them become more numerous and serious.

Since the moral order reveals and sets forth the plan of God the Creator, for this very reason it cannot be something that harms man, something impersonal. On the contrary, by responding to the deepest demands of the human being created by God, it places itself at the service of that person’s full humanity with the delicate and binding love whereby God Himself inspires, sustains and guides every creature towards its happiness.

But man, who has been called to live God’s wise and loving design in a responsible manner, is an historical being who day by day builds himself up through his many free decisions; and so he knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by stages of growth.

Married people too are called upon to progress unceasingly in their moral life, with the support of a sincere and active desire to gain ever better knowledge of the values enshrined in and fostered by the law of God. They must also be supported by an upright and generous willingness to embody these values in their concrete decisions. They cannot however look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future: they must consider it as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy. “And so what is known as ‘the law of gradualness’ or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law,’ as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations. In God’s plan, all husbands and wives are called in marriage to holiness, and this lofty vocation is fulfilled to the extent that the human person is able to respond to God’s command with serene confidence in God’s grace and in his or her own will.”(95) On the same lines, it is part of the Church’s pedagogy that husbands and wives should first of all recognize clearly the teaching of Humanae vitae as indicating the norm for the exercise of their sexuality, and that they should endeavor to establish the conditions necessary for observing that norm.

As the Synod noted, this pedagogy embraces the whole of married life. Accordingly, the function of transmitting life must be integrated into the overall mission of Christian life as a whole, which without the Cross cannot reach the Resurrection. In such a context it is understandable that sacrifice cannot be removed from family life, but must in fact be wholeheartedly accepted if the love between husband and wife is to be deepened and become a source of intimate joy.

This shared progress demands reflection, instruction and suitable education on the part of the priests, religious and lay people engaged in family pastoral work: they will all be able to assist married people in their human and spiritual progress, a progress that demands awareness of sin, a sincere commitment to observe the moral law, and the ministry of reconciliation. It must also be kept in mind that conjugal intimacy involves the wills of two persons, who are however called to harmonize their mentality and behavior: this requires much patience, understanding and time. Uniquely important in this field is unity of moral and pastoral judgment by priests, a unity that must be carefully sought and ensured, in order that the faithful may not have to suffer anxiety of conscience.(96)

It will be easier for married people to make progress if, with respect for the Church’s teaching and with trust in the grace of Christ, and with the help and support of the pastors of souls and the entire ecclesial community, they are able to discover and experience the liberating and inspiring value of the authentic love that is offered by the Gospel and set before us by the Lord’s commandment. Instilling Conviction and Offering Practical Help

35. With regard to the question of lawful birth regulation, the ecclesial community at the present time must take on the task of instilling conviction and offering practical help to those who wish to live out their parenthood in a truly responsible way.

In this matter, while the Church notes with satisfaction the results achieved by scientific research aimed at a more precise knowledge of the rhythms of women’s fertility, and while it encourages a more decisive and wide-ranging extension of that research, it cannot fail to call with renewed vigor on the responsibility of all-doctors, experts, marriage counselors, teachers and married couples-who can actually help married people to live their love with respect for the structure and finalities of the conjugal act which expresses that love. This implies a broader, more decisive and more systematic effort to make the natural methods of regulating fertility known, respected and applied.(97)

A very valuable witness can and should be given by those husbands and wives who through the joint exercise of periodic continence have reached a more mature personal responsibility with regard to love and life. As Paul VI wrote: “To them the Lord entrusts the task of making visible to people the holiness and sweetness of the law which unites the mutual love of husband and wife with their cooperation with the love of God, the author of human life.”

John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, Apostolic Exhortations (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1981).

The Synod on The Family and Technology

The issue of communion for the divorced and remarried has occupied so much attention in the run-up to the Synod on the Family that the many other topics addressed in the working document are being largely ignored.

One issue was how technology effects the family, and I addressed it in two pieces:

Tech Addiction: Technology & The Synod on the Family

Electronic gadgets have a powerful gravitational pull. The quick look at Facebook becomes an endless spiral of links, memes, cute videos, and listicles. A session of World of Warcraft doesn’t end until five hours later. There’s a growing unease when five minutes pass without checking a smartphone.

What do all these behaviors have in common other than the general medium of “new technology?” What do they provide that makes them so appealing and hard to resist?

Alienation: Technology & The Synod on the Family

The concern expressed in the Synod working document is that “television, smart phones and computers can be a real impediment to dialogue among family members, leading to a breakdown and alienation in relationships within a family, where communication depends more and more on technology.”

This is an image of the atomized home, with each person disappearing to their own electronic bubble, thus isolating individuals in the family.
Some of this is essential in modern life. I could not work without it. My children learn and play and create using many of the same tools singled out for criticism. My son is studying college-level biology this summer in an online course. My daughter is writing a book and painting on her iPad. These solitary moments are not necessarily an evil, any more than someone sitting alone sewing, reading, or studying would be.

The problem is that the atomization is spreading to more and more parts of ordinary life. The smartphones are at the dinner table. The time spent gaming or online is growing. The escape into a boundless electronic world of instant gratification and stimulation can mean a retreat from the comparatively mundane world of the family.

Alienation: Technology & The Synod on the Family

The Patheos Catholic Channel is hosting a Symposium on the Family in light of the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family in October and the recent release of the working document for the Synod.


Yesterday, I wrote about Tech Addiction as one of several technology- and media-related problems cited in working document for the upcoming Synod on the Family. Today I want to write about another issue they mention: alienation.

Alienation is part of addiction, but can also be found in individuals and families without addictive behaviors. Addiction works through stimulation. The addict begins with pleasure-seeking behavior, and ends in destructive dependence.

Technology adds two new factors to this stimulation: 1) it often stimulates an emotion or sensation by proxy, and 2) it is ubiquitous and instant.

Things we encounter in the virtual space are proxies for reality. Even a dialog with a good friend over email or Facebook is one step removed from a conversation on the phone, which is itself one step removed from a conversation in person.

We can’t automatically assume these removes are bad. There are people I either would not or could not communicate with in person or on the phone. Thus, I am drawn closer to them by communicating via social media, text, or email.

On the other hand, there are people who I should and could communicate with in person or on the phone, and yet I opt for email or social media. Why do I choose this distancing mechanism for communication?

There are several answers to that question.

We do it for convenience: It is easier for us to respond to messages at a time of our choosing. Talking to someone takes work. Sometimes, it requires an emotional investment. Often, we’re unwilling to put ourselves out for that.

We do it for brevity: One thing gained by this more efficient form of communication is also something lost. In gaining the brevity allowed by a text or email, we lose the more expansive dialog inherent in personal conversation. What we save in time we lose in a certain kind of quality.

We do it for control: Asynchronous communication allows each side to ponder their replies more carefully. We can create an answer that might not come to us in more immediate forms of communication. We can shape an image of ourselves as we want to be perceived, not necessarily as we are.

In person, people can be nervous about their appearance, speech, and the way they present themselves. With new forms of communication, the individual can present the best side of himself. There may be a falseness to this, as we craft a persona that is inaccessible to us in real-time encounters. But there is also freedom for those with social anxiety issues, poor self-esteem, and other personality traits that make live conversation challenging for some.

Conversely, these new forms allow an anonymity that encourages some to unleash an id that would otherwise be kept in check by social pressures. Even when the subjects are not anonymous, new media communication easily leads to a dehumanization of the other. People are not reflexively seen as humans on the other end of a two-way conversation, but as abstract entities.

We will always incline to respond with greater humanity to the individual in front of us that we will to some abstract idea of an individual a thousand miles away, being represented on screen by a picture of their cat.

Communication online mimics human conversation without fully capturing it.  Without the verbal and visual cues that are a natural part of human conversation, misunderstandings leading to anger and pain are commonplace, a now amount of emoticons can really rectify that. Texting, email, social media, and comboxes will always be pale imitations of conversation.

On the other hand, in their ideal state (N.B.!) some of these forms of communication can actually improve upon standard dialog. Slowing down the need for a response enables emotions to cool and reason to work through a point in contention.  That this ideal state is rare speaks to the evolving nature of the medium and the temperamental and emotional nature of much human interaction.

Alienation is also a product of the ubiquity of the technology. It has become inescapable.

Technology that alienates is not new in the home. Television already directs people to a single point rather that providing a point of communication with one another. Looked at this way, new media is almost an improvement, since it tends to reduce television-watching time and adds elements of interaction. A parent can text a child to stay in touch when a phone call is not possible, send her a link to an interesting article or website, or discover something new to do together.

Parents who leave children to play on their game consoles are missing an opportunity. Many games have splitscreen play modes that allow parent and child to play side by side, both competitively and cooperatively. Games do not need to be a point of alienation in the family. In fact they can be a point of communion. Certainly this was an essential part of the appeal of Nintendo’s Wii system.

The concern expressed in the Synod working document is that “television, smart phones and computers can be a real impediment to dialogue among family members, leading to a breakdown and alienation in relationships within a family, where communication depends more and more on technology.”

This is an image of the atomized home, with each person disappearing to their own electronic bubble, thus isolating individuals in the family.

Some of this is essential in modern life. I could not work without it. My children learn and play and create using many of the same tools singled out for criticism. My son is studying college-level biology this summer in an online course. My daughter is writing a book and painting on her iPad. These solitary moments are not necessarily an evil, any more than someone sitting alone sewing, reading, or studying would be.

The problem is that the atomization is spreading to more and more parts of ordinary life. The smartphones are at the dinner table. The time spent gaming or online is growing. The escape into a boundless electronic world of instant gratification and stimulation can mean a retreat from the comparatively mundane world of the family.

As this happens, family relationships can suffer. As with addiction, awareness of the problem and a conscious decision to do something about it is part of the solution. Families need to make choices and rules: no devices at the dinner table, digital-free time, family games or activities, and similar actions to carve out un-wired time.

If a piece technology does not serve the human–individual, family, community, and beyond–then it is destructive and should be avoided. Any technology, from the wheel to the mind-controlled artificial limb, must function for our benefit. Our family is a domestic church. If the technology we allow into this church profanes it, interferes with its mission (making saints), other is otherwise destructive, then we need reconsider our use of that technology, and whether or not it gives us more than it takes away from us.

Tech Addiction:Technology & The Synod on the Family

The Patheos Catholic Channel is hosting a Symposium on the Family in light of the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family in October and the recent release of the working document for the Synod.

The working document for the upcoming Synod on the Family lists “Dependence, the Media, and the Social Network” as one of the critical situations within the Family. The passage identifies various areas of concern with the way media and technology impacts the life of the family. I’m breaking these down into four distinct categories:

  • Addiction: Compulsive and damaging use of new technology.
  • Alienation: The ability of technology and media to push us further apart, eroding relationships within the family.
  • Values: Transmission of false values.
  • Information Noise: Information overloaded coupled with the dubious quality of much of what we see and read.

I’m going to try to write a post on each of these, starting with addiction.

Technology Addiction
Electronic gadgets have a powerful gravitational pull. The quick look at Facebook becomes an endless spiral of links, memes, cute videos, and listicles. A session of World of Warcraft doesn’t end until five hours later. There’s a growing unease when five minutes pass without checking a smartphone.

What do all these behaviors have in common other than the general medium of “new technology?” What do they provide that makes them so appealing and hard to resist?

Technology use stimulates pleasure in the brain. The stimulation of pleasure is nothing new for humans: a sight, sound, smell, sensation, or taste can give us pleasure or trigger some psychological or physiological response. The smell of a sizzling steak can make us hungry. The touch of a lover’s hand can make us aroused.

This pleasure-seeking behavior is not in itself always a problem, but it can easily be taken to excess and lead to sinful and illegal acts. People have over-eaten, used pornography, used drugs, and found other ways of stimulating pleasure. Those who did so compulsively and to excess became addicted: that is, they lost the will to break away from a certain behavior even after that behavior became destructive.

Today, we see new forms addiction with excessive use of social media, inability to disconnect from technology, long hours spent in virtual environments such as games, and pornography.

These addictions pose a different challenge to us because they are free and easy to indulge, they are in the home, and often they appear harmless.

Checking your Facebook status is a perfectly reasonable behavior. Checking it a hundred times a day is not.

Playing a video or computer game for a couple hours is a nice way to spend the time and even interact with friends. Playing the game for 5 or 8 hours at a stretch is unhealthy.

The barrier to finding pornography has vanished. In the past, a man (it’s almost always men) had to buy certain magazines, rent certain movies, or go to certain parts of town to experience pornography. That involved being seen in public and interacting with people, with all the attendant embarrassment and potential social stigma that entails (or, at least, used to entail before the mainstreaming of porn).

Now porn is, literally, anywhere you want it, any time, for free. You can carry an endless supply around in your pocket. Your kids can find it by typing harmless phrases into a search engine. This drastically reduces the challenge of getting it. The effect is akin to running a line of sewage into every house in America.

Thanks to the internet and our gadgets, we are now living full-time in a Skinner Box. Technically called an “operant conditioning chamber,” a Skinner Box is a basic research device in which a cue signals a test subject to perform an action for a reward. The light goes on, the rat hits a lever, a food treat is dispensed.

The structure of much new media and technology creates a compulsion loop. We see something (for example, a link to a video), we click it and experience it, and we react emotionally, either with pleasure or outrage. In either case, there is a psychological and, potentially, neurochemical, reaction. And it was all effortless.

With social media, we shape an image of ourselves through status, comments and link-sharing; projecting that image into the virtual space and then revising it for reactions which provide affirmation. Even people engaged in hostile and trolling behavior online are responding to a pleasure drive: it’s just that their pleasure comes from making others feel bad. Their pleasure is found in unleashing the id in a consequence-free environment.

Games provide instant gratification and constant feedback. They are cannily designed to balance risk and reward in order to keep the gamer playing. There’s always another level, another batch of gold or points, another foe. The compulsion loop is actually part of the design.

(And we haven’t even seen the worst of it. Members of the Synod are probably unaware that we’re preparing to sail into uncharted waters of virtual reality with Oculus Rift. If Call of Duty on a screen is addictive for some people now, imagine it as a fully immersive virtual world with a headset that shuts out the world. Pornographers are already trying to figure out how to harness its power to deliver visual and tactile sexual stimulation.)

Is there an answer to addiction?

Not an easy one, no. To some degree, many of us already probably have it in our households and experience it ourselves. How many of us feel twitchy without our smartphones or check to see who liked or shared a recent post or comment? How many have kids who need to dragged away from videogames or YouTube? How many men dial up some quick and easy porn?

We need to learn to draw back, as families, because as families we can do things together that might be more difficult to do alone.

Families need digital detox days in which they unplug in part or completely for a day in order to reconnect with the world around us. We need to set limits on how long we spend, and if we can’t set those limits ourselves, we need to use tools which turn off certain sites or block certain technology after a specified amount of time.

Our technology needs to find its proper place in the scheme of family life so there’s no room for addictions and compulsive behavior to take root.

Simple actions like this may help us face some challenges, but long-term solutions are going to be hard to come by. All of this technology is still new and we haven’t yet learned to fear it as much as we love it.

Fire is easy. Fire burns. We learn to respect its power and harness is for positive ends.

The internet, mobile devices, and other new media do not burn; not right away at least. We’re the proverbial frog in the pot, enjoying the rising temperature of the water so much that by the time we notice it’s boiling we’re already dead.

Should Parents Turn Gay Kids “Over to Satan”?

Since this post wound up being too long, I’ll get to the short answer to the titular question and say, “No.” And let me just add “duh.”

But noted anti-Catholic John MacArthur has a different perspective . He was asked a question about how a parent should respond to a child who is gay, and this was his response:

There’s a problem of language here: he’s speaking Protestantese to people who only understand English. Most people will hear “turning over to Satan” and think “damnation.”

That may in fact be what MacArthur has in mind, and the dark depths of the Calvinist brain are well beyond my ability to understand. But let’s look at what he may be trying to say, on his own terms.

In the video, he suggests two ways for a parent to respond to a gay child. If the child claims to be a Christian, he is to be confront sternly. If there is no response, you’re to tell the church and there is to be a public “putting-out” of the child.  Shunning, in other words. You have to alienate them and separate them. You don’t eat with them. You “turn them over to Satan” as Scripture says.

If the adult child does not claim to be a Christian, it’s a “whole different issue.” You have to treat them like a non-believer, by bringing the Gospel to them directly and confrontationally.

Okay, so exactly what part of the Scripture is MacArthur misinterpreting here?

First up, 1 Timothy 1:18-20:

18 This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among them Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

Satan is a liar, not a teacher, so we cannot view this as a “learning” discipline. Hymenaeus and Alexander, who were teaching heresy, won’t learn to avoid error from the father of heresies. So what does Paul mean?

St. Thomas offers two interpretations:

First, that just as the Lord gave the apostles power over unclean spirits to cast them out (Matt 10:8), so by the same power they could command the unclean spirits to torment in the body those whom they judged deserved it. Accordingly, the Apostle commanded the Corinthians on his own authority to deliver this fornicator to Satan to be tortured. Hence, secondly, he discloses the effect of this sentence when he says: for the destruction of the flesh, i.e., for the torment and affliction of the flesh in which he sinned: “One is punished by the very things by which he sins” (Wis 11:16). Thirdly, he mentions its fruit when he says: that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus, i.e., that he may be saved on the day of death or on the day of judgment, as was explained above (3:15): “but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire,” i.e., of temporal punishment. For the Apostle did not deliver the sinner over to Satan’s power forever, but until the time when he would be converted to repentance by bodily torment: “Vexation alone shall make you understand what you hear” (Is 28:19). This sentence of the Apostle corresponds to what the Lord observed, when he said to Satan: “Behold he is in your hand (namely, his flesh), but yet keep his life unharmed” (Jb 2:6).

To deliver this man to Satan can also be understood as referring to the sentence of excommunicating by which a person is cut off from the community of believers and from partaking of the sacraments and is deprived of the blessings of the Church. Hence it says in S. of S. (6:10): “Terrible as an army set in array,” i.e., to the devils. For the destruction of the flesh would mean that, being cut off from the Church and exposed to the temptations of the devil, he might more easily fall into sin: “Let the filthy still be filthy” (Rev 22:11). Hence he calls mortal sins the destruction of the flesh, because “He who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption” (Gal 6:8). But he adds: that his spirit may be saved, i.e., that the sinner, recognizing his vileness, may repent and thus be healed: “I was ashamed, and I was confounded, because I bore the disgrace of my youth” (Jer 31:19). This can also mean that his spirit, namely, the Church’s Holy Spirit, may be saved for the faithful in the day of judgment, i.e., that they not destroy it by contact with the sinner, because it says in Wis (1:5): “For a holy and disciplined spirit will flee from deceit and will rise and depart from foolish thoughts.”

“Turning over to Satan” is excommunication, since the person is put out of the Church. He becomes part of the world rather than part the body of Christ, and is thus a subject of the Lord of the World: Satan. This is a medicinal penalty in Catholicism, meant to correct grave and persistent sin.

There is also the sense that “turning over to Satan” involves punishment of the body, in the hope that by the torments of Satan the sinner may be drawn back to the straight path.

Next, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 5:

1 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. 3 For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment 4 in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

As the flesh will be glorified in salvation, so is it corrupted in sin, and the punishment of this flesh is the work of the devil.  As St. John Chrysostom writes: “For the gain is greater than the punishment: one being but for a season, the other everlasting.”

So we have this notion of the obstinate sinner being punished in order to draw him back to the church. Is that how MacArthur understands the passage? I don’t know. Calvinists tend to think most of us are damned, so I’m guessing he has something else in mind.

But here’s where we get to the really fun part with MacArthur, because he and other fundamentalists are awfully selective when it comes to what they think is worthy of divine punishment. See, there are other people who should be turned over to Satan, according to Paul:

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; 10 not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.”

Here we have the distinction MacArthur is attempting to make: Paul is not referring to the “immoral of this world” (non-Christians), but to he who “bears the name of brother” (Christians).

Please note, however, the list of people included.  Is MacArthur suggesting we turn people over to Satan for speaking harshly of others (“revilers”) and stop eating with people are greedy? Drunks are to be put out of the church? In fact, are all the “immoral” to be put out of the Church and cut off from family? You’ll have a pretty small church.

Elsewhere, Paul identifies others deserving of harsh judgement. Among them is “any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body.” That means anyone who fails to recognize the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Like John MacArthur.

In fact, Paul makes this link direct in 1 Corinthians 5 when he writes “let us celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” This is the Eucharist.

The Council of Trent took a more sensible line, tempered by mercy, as taught to us by the One who ate with sinners:

Should they, however, happen to sin in any manner through human frailty, that precept of the apostle is to be observed by them, that they reprove, entreat, rebuke them in all kindness and patience, since benevolence towards those to be corrected often effects more than austerity, exhortation more than menacing, charity more than power. But if, on account of the grievousness of the transgression, there be need of the rod, then is rigour to be used with gentleness, judgment with mercy, severity with lenity; that so discipline, salutary and necessary for the people, may be preserved without harshness; and that they who are chastised may be amended; or, if they be unwilling to repent, that others, by the wholesome example of their punishment, may be deterred from vices; since it is the office of a pastor, at once diligent and kind, first to apply gentle fomentations to the disorders of his sheep, afterwards, when the grievousness of the distemper may require them, to proceed to sharper and more painful remedies; but if not even these are effectual in removing those disorders, then is he to free the other sheep at least from the danger of contagion. (Trent, Session 13, De Reformatione, Chapter 1)

It’s worthwhile to note that this decree follows one on the Eucharist. Thus, in context, Paul is not recommending that parents stop having dinner with their kids, but that the Eucharist should be withheld from people engaged in obstinate sin, whether that sin is sodomy or greed. Notably, this power is reserved to the Church, not the individual or the community.

And, of course, merely “coming out”–the criteria which is used by MacArthur–is not enough to trigger any of this. Declaring one’s sexual preference is separate from engaging in gravely disordered sexual acts. The acts, not the ontological state, are the sin.

So how are we to respond to a child who comes out? 

MacArthur missed the one word that should have led all the others: love. With love. How parents navigate this tricky minefield of modern sexuality is no easy thing, and we can hope that the Synod on the family turns its attention to offering real guidelines for dealing with children and loved ones with mercy, love, and faith. It’s not easy. The world has gone mad and our children are not immune to this madness.

There’s a fine line to be walked, and we need a little guidance on how to walk it. Do we attend a gay wedding? No, because that would be creating a public scandal. But do we stop talking to a gay child?

Of course not, and there is nothing in Paul or anywhere else to suggest that we should. You can’t just yank out a line from Paul, isolate it, and use it as a one-size-fits-all guideline. This is just Religion by Proof-Texting, not the faith of a living Church.

The obsession of Christian fundamentalists, and in some sectors of Catholicism, with homosexuality is an unfortunate byproduct of our times. Political and social issues are becoming entangled with the faith, and some are losing perspective on the reality of sin.

It’s kind of strange to see people talking so much about the sinfulness of sodomy (which affects the non-sodomite not at all) while giving little attention to the other three sins that cry out to heaven: murder,  oppression of the poor, and defrauding workers of their just wages.

We don’t see a lot of Bible-belters carrying signs that say “God hates defrauding workers of their just wage.” But drag sodomy into the discussion, and suddenly some people get very interested in letting you know what they think. This has more to do with the individual and his insecurities than with the sin itself.

As for me, I intend neither to sodomize nor to be sodomized, and so the sin is of little interest to me, except in the way it indicates a general decline in the public’s understanding of healthy sexuality and the continuing erosion of marriage. If a child of mine fell into that behavior, I would be heartbroken and do I would could to help him or her find the way to live a life of faith in chastity.

It would not be an easy road to walk, but I would not leave my child to walk that road alone.

As the Fathers of Trent observed, “rigour [is] to be used with gentleness, judgment with mercy, severity with lenity; that so discipline, salutary and necessary for the people, may be preserved without harshness.”