A Brief Ecumenical Note

Alas, Victor is still traveling, but I have found time for a brief note.  One of our readers, Rei, brought this blog post concerning the Orthodox Jewish position on homosexuality to my attention.  Unlike the infamous “Halloween Letter” written by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVIth) when he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to Bishops on the pastoral care of “homosexual persons;” the Statement of Principles originates from a Rabbi, who then allowed it to be “commented upon by and revised based on the input from dozens of talmidei chachamim, educators, communal rabbis, mental health professionals and a number of individuals in our community who are homosexual in orientation.” This statement was then signed  by many Rabbis and other prominent Orthodox Jews who agreed with the sentiments espoused therein. Both authorship and audience ought to be kept in mind while drawing comparisons.

The first thing that struck me was that the language of the Statement of Principles was far more welcoming.  Compare, for instance, the first few lines of each:

We, the undersigned Orthodox rabbis, rashei yeshivaramim, Jewish educators and communal leaders affirm the following principles with regard to the place of Jews with a homosexual orientation in our community…

with

The issue of homosexuality and the moral evaluation of homosexual acts have increasingly become a matter of public debate, even in Catholic circles. Since this debate often advances arguments and makes assertions inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church, it is quite rightly a cause for concern to all engaged in the pastoral ministry, and this Congregation has judged it to be of sufficiently grave and widespread importance to address to the Bishops of the Catholic Church this Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.

The disparity in language here cannot be attributed to mere differences in authorship, style, religious structure, or audience (although those do factor in).  The Statement of Principles clearly underlines that there are practicing homosexual Jews within the community, whereas the “Halloween Letter” only speaks of homosexuality in a way that distances its readers, as an abstract concept; the document discusses homosexual acts, not homosexual Catholics.  We are not included in the community.  This is particularly interesting, as the Statement of Principles is not actually any less damning than the Halloween Letter in its moral evaluation of homosexuality.  It affirms that no matter what the cause of homosexuality, such interactions are prohibited:

4. Halakhic Judaism views all male and female same-sex sexual interactions as prohibited. The question of whether sexual orientation is primarily genetic, or rather environmentally generated, is irrelevant to this prohibition.

Interestingly enough, the Halloween letter discusses the possibility that homosexuality is not a choice:

11. It has been argued that the homosexual orientation in certain cases is not the result of deliberate choice; and so the homosexual person would then have no choice but to behave in a homosexual fashion. Lacking freedom, such a person, even if engaged in homosexual activity, would not be culpable.

Here, the Church’s wise moral tradition is necessary since it warns against generalizations in judging individual cases. In fact, circumstances may exist, or may have existed in the past, which would reduce or remove the culpability of the individual in a given instance…

Although, it immediately warns its readers against “the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behaviour of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and therefore inculpable,” as

What is essential is that the fundamental liberty which characterizes the human person and gives him his dignity be recognized as belonging to the homosexual person as well. As in every conversion from evil, the abandonment of homosexual activity will require a profound collaboration of the individual with God’s liberating grace.

While both the Halloween Letter and the Statement agree on the unacceptability of homosexual relations, the latter contains something that the Halloween letter lacks:  an awareness that the religious community has a fundamental duty to welcome those within it, even if they are homosexual, and an understanding of the harsh psychological toll well-meaning devout persons may have on those who are LGBTQ.  The Statement clearly addresses this issue immediately:

1.  All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kevod haberiyot). Every Jew is obligated to fulfill the entire range of mitzvot between person and person in relation to persons who are homosexual or have feelings of same sex attraction. Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism.

This is reiterated again, and again and again.  The document “affirm[s] the religious right of those with a homosexual orientation to reject therapeutic approaches they reasonably see as useless or dangerous,” and warns against marriages between someone who is gay, to someone of the opposite gender, as “this can lead to great tragedy, unrequited love, shame, dishonesty and ruined lives.”  Furthermore, the document makes it quite clear that the children of homosexual couples, both biological and adoptive, are also to be welcomed into the community.[1] Quite a far cry from what one may see/experience in any conservative Catholic setting.  And who can be surprised, as only once–quite far into the document–does the Halloween letter demonstrate any sensitivity on the part of the Church to such considerations:

10. It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.

This is quickly followed up (lest the reader should forget!) by a reminder that homosexuality is in no way to be condoned.

I am amazed that conservatives of another religion have managed to write a document that is just as hardline on the morality of homosexuality, while simultaneously managing to remind people that GLBTQ are part of their community, and ought to be treated as such, and remaining psychologically sensitive.  I would wish to see similar language from hardliners within my Church.

In Corde Mariae,

Eiluned


[1] One has the sense that this would not happen.

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Published in: on August 5, 2010 at 10:08 pm  Comments (1)  
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Gender, Priesthood, and the Church

I’m sure we all remember last October, when the Church welcomed traditionalist Anglicans into the Roman Catholic fold. Perhaps you had a reaction similar to mine:  “Yay!  Anglican-use parishes!  Wait…we’re acting as a refuge for ‘Anglicans uncomfortable with their church’s acceptance of female priests and openly gay bishops?'” [1] Do we need more people like that?  We want people to convert, not because they’ve come to terms with say, the authority of the Pope, or, more importantly—for some Anglicans—transubstantiation, but because of problems with the sexual orientation and gender of those performing the sacraments?

There are those who would argue that the disagreement over the gender/orientation of those performing the sacraments is deeply theological, and not to be taken lightly.  I am not convinced, however, that some are changing their faith due to deep theological convictions.  The conservatively minded sometimes employ theology to justify the disgust they feel at GLBTQ folks or their desire to keep the status quo (as do we all, from time to time).

On the other hand, perhaps I am convinced that these Anglicans have no good reason to leave because I, myself am not particularly moved by arguments as to why women can’t be priests.  Both sides toss well-worn premises around with unfortunate predictability:[2]

Anti:  We can’t have female priests, Christ chose 12 men, and only men even though He had female disciples.

Pro:  This doesn’t tell us anything about his feelings about a female priesthood, He was merely adhering to the social norms of the times.

Anti:  Christ was the Son of God, he can do anything.  If He wanted to make women priests, He would have.  He didn’t.  Clearly, He didn’t want women to be priests.

Pro:  He also didn’t choose Asian, Innuit, or African priests, does that mean that he clearly only wanted people from his portion of the world to be priests?   Furthermore, as an observant Jew, Christ kept kosher, surely that means He wanted us to keep kosher?

And so forth, with variations and discussions about social norms, Christ’s desire to ignore/embrace them in the service of His church, the innate fitness of women for the priesthood, etc.  Arguments frequently descend to people finding parts of the New Testament where Christ is doing something not in current Church teaching and asking why if this has been dispensed with, why not the prohibition on women priests?

On the other hand, we have the more allegorical argument that Church is Mother, and the priest, as Alter Christus, marries the Church, serving as Father to his spiritual children.  As someone deeply interested in allegory, I would probably find this image more convincing, were it not for my gender and orientation convictions.  Not only do I have no problem with the image of a woman marrying a woman, but I also have no difficulty with the idea that a woman can act as a father/fatherly/fathering figure.  Aside from the biological fact that only women can bear children, I don’t see gender as a defining characteristic for the roles of mother- and fatherhood.

On the other hand, being a true believer in my Church, I’m not ready to just start ordaining women without official sanction, as these people have.

Women ordaining women

If anything, I worry that they make the case for woman priests look bad, as, while they claim to be working within the Church, they are actually making a new Church hierarchy for themselves.   While sympathetic with their cause, I am not so sympathetic with their means.

This week, as I’m sure many of you know, the Vatican issued its revised internal laws for the discipline of pedophilic priests.  (The text of the document itself is to be found here).  Article five of that document reads as follows:

Art. 5

The more grave delict of the attempted sacred ordination of a woman is  also reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

1° With due regard for can. 1378 of the Code of Canon Law, both the one who attempts to confer sacred ordination on a woman, and she who attempts to receive sacred ordination, incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

2° If the one attempting to confer sacred ordination, or the woman who attempts to receive sacred ordination, is a member of the Christian faithful subject to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, with due regard for can. 1443 of that Code, he or she is to be punished by major excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

3° If the guilty party is a cleric he may be punished by dismissal or deposition.

The Times suggests that,

“The decision to link the issues appears to reflect the determination of embattled Vatican leaders to resist any suggestion that pedophilia within the priesthood can be addressed by ending the celibacy requirement or by allowing women to become priests.”

On one hand, I’m not entirely sure the analysis is correct.  The document does contain, not merely the rules for dealing with abuse of minors, but also other kinds of abuses associated with sacraments (see, for example, Article 3, which deals with sacrilegious acts against the Eucharist.)  The inclusion of a discussion about female priests takes place in the context of sacramental abuses, not specifically  in a discussion about pedophilic priests.  On the other hand, there is no mention (that I can find, perhaps your eyes are sharper, dear readers) of what action may be taken against priests who attempt to marry, or those who attempt to ordain an already married man, which would also be an abuse of Holy Orders.[3] Thus, only the ordination of women is put on par (in terms of sinfulness) with desecration of the Blessed Sacrament, and abuse of children.  This feels pointed and unwarranted, and I am deeply disturbed that the Vatican seems bent on providing more fodder for those who would portray it as a hidebound misogynistic club of old men.

In Corde Mariae,

Eiluned


[1] Of course, the NYT may overstate what the Vatican  actually said, but the point is still worth observing.

[2] Clearly, I am simplifying the arguments on both sides.

[3] I refer, of course, to cases in which the men in question are Roman Catholic, not converts from other traditions.

Published in: on July 18, 2010 at 3:25 pm  Comments (5)  
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