Month: March 2015

A Portrait of Catholic Clergy

Deal W. Hudson

Published December 1, 2002

In a survey of 1,854 Catholic priests, the Los Angeles Times has provided a fascinating—and troubling—report on the state of the priesthood. The poll tells us that our priests are more satisfied with the priesthood than is generally assumed but lack conviction about central moral teachings of their Church.

The Los Angeles Times poll was the most extensive survey of Catholic priests since its last poll in the mid-1990s. Questions were sent out to 5,000 priests, a representative sample of the nation’s 45,382 Catholic clergy. The questions were comprehensive, covering fundamental attitudes toward Catholic teaching, the sexual-abuse crisis, and the leadership of Pope John Paul II. Partial results can be viewed at http://www.latimes.com; the Times promises to release the full results at a later date.

The good news is that priests are not demoralized in the wake of the sexual-abuse scandal. Ninety-one percent of all respondents report being satisfied with their way of life as a priest. Those who think celibacy is a negative factor for priestly life should note that only 2 percent of all priests regard celibacy as “not relevant to [their] priesthood.”

As many Catholics have surely noticed, younger clergy are much more faithful to the magisterium than priests from the baby boom generation. In the poll, four in ten priests under the age of 41 described themselves as conservative while three-fourths said they are “religiously orthodox.” Younger priests evince more appreciation for the Holy Father, his moral teachings, and the magisterium of the Church in general.

But, not surprisingly, among Vatican II–generation priests between the ages of 42 and 59, 51 percent support the ordination of women, 72 percent say Catholics can disagree with Church teachings and “remain faithful,” and only 60 percent say John Paul II’s moral views are “about right.”

The results of questions about homosexuality in the priesthood were mixed but telling. Thirty-one percent of those ordained within the last 21 years said there was a homosexual subculture at their seminary. Reports from older generations of priests were markedly lower. Sixty-seven percent of all respondents said they were definitely heterosexual, while 28 percent reported being either somewhere in between or definitely homosexual (5 percent refused to answer).

While many of these statistics reflect what we might have already assumed about the state of the American priesthood, some of the numbers in the poll are shocking. For years we have been saying that the Catholic laity would be better off if only their priests would teach them. As it turns out, many priests do not themselves accept the moral teaching of the Church on culture-of-life issues. Take, for example, the following numbers:

• Only 71 percent agreed that abortion is always a sin.

• Only 59 percent agreed that committing suicide if suffering from a debilitating disease is always a sin.

• Only 49 percent agreed that homosexual behavior is always a sin.

Is it surprising that a large part of the laity dissents from the Church’s moral teaching when the clergy themselves don’t believe it? No wonder we don’t often hear homilies on abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia—many of our priests lack a firm conviction that these acts are intrinsically sinful. It is possible that by using the word “sinful” rather than, say, “wrong,” the Times invited a confused response; as they are formulated, the questions seem to elide the important distinction between personal culpability and objective evil. Perhaps the low numbers reflect an appropriate hesitation on that point. But it is also possible—and all too likely—that they reflect the popularity of situational ethics, which has nothing to do with Catholic moral theology.

“Cafeteria Catholicism” evidently exists among the teachers of the faith as well as among those who learn from them. But we shouldn’t despair quite yet. After all, perhaps the most important fact about this poll is that these numbers are actually better than the ones from the Times’s earlier poll. I have no doubt that this is in part due to the tenacity of the Holy Father in his commitment to speak the truth at all costs. The other good news is that the fervor and fidelity of our young priests is helping to rejuvenate the Church across the country. Let’s hope this trend continues.

Getting Beyond the Spite

Published December 1, 2001
DEAL W. HUDSON

Pro-life efforts rarely make the front page, much less above the fold. In fact, it seems the only time pro-life demonstrations make the evening news is when a handful of abortion activists peddle their pitch to sympathetic media ears across the street from our crowd of protestors.

It took the events of September 11 to put death back in the headlines. This time it wasn’t the death of the unborn but the ghastly, tragic death of thousands who also did not deserve to die.

A trauma of this magnitude is bound to teach us much about ourselves—to expose the strengths and weaknesses of individual and corporate character. Most of what we have learned about ourselves, about our much-derided, decadent culture, has been a welcome surprise: the long-ignored courage and sacrifice of our police, firemen, and armed forces, along with the deep generosity of a philanthropic nation ready to help those who lost friends and family.

But not all the reports have been so edifying. There have been disappointments as well. For example, we have all heard rumblings through pro-life communities, both Protestant and Catholic, that America got what it deserved for harboring a culture of death. Some have said that the towers of the World Trade Center were symbols of America’s godlessness, of its greed, its gross commercialism, and its trade in baby-killing.

Other pro-lifers have complained about the volume of public grief over the events of September 11: How can we lament so loudly, they ask, when nothing is said about the unborn?

You may be thinking these comments are from a radical fringe. They are not. They began shortly after September 11 with the televised statements of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and have persisted in spite of the subsequent apologies of those two men.

In these attitudes—revealed suddenly by the flash of an immense tragedy—we can see one reason why the pro-life movement has reached an impasse: It has come to suffer from spite. Such comments suggest that a passionate protest against one form of evil has led some pro-lifers to begrudge the grief of those who suffer from another. Obeying the gospel admonition to “love thy enemy” is difficult. Hating the enemies of life infuses the pro-life message with an unfortunate bitterness.

Don’t get me wrong—I understand how and why these thoughts and feelings can arise. Year after year, we watch children die. They die in the name of love and happiness; they die in the name of equal rights and freedom. How can we not get angry, or be tempted to spite? How can we not pray for the moment when this truth is revealed to all who deny it, who scorn it, laugh at it?

Because children continue to die in this way, all other causes of death seem to pale in comparison. In other words, how can anyone be upset with terrorism when abortion goes on and on?

Those who aim the highest will always face the greatest of spiritual temptations—in this case, the temptation to pride and envy in the cause of defending life. Could anything but pride exploit the September 11 disaster as proof of a given cause, even the pro-life cause? Is it anything but envy that begrudges mourning the thousands who died in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the four downed airliners?

Now is the time for showing a compassion that isn’t reserved for only one group of victims, no matter how large, no matter how innocent. Many souls have been shaken in the wake of this tragedy. The witness of the Church must be heard without the dissonant voices of pent-up frustrations and resentful “I-told-you-so’s.”

The concern for innocent life can be a new common ground for evangelical outreach. It’s an opportunity for Americans to hear the gospel without spite or bitterness. The pro-life community surely has a large enough heart to embrace the suffering of those who have rejected its pleas.

The U.S. Catholic Conference Strikes Again

Published December 1, 2000
DEAL W. HUDSON

Catholics must wonder sometimes why the U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC) exists. On October 16, Catholic News Service (CNS) of the USCC issued a story with the headline, “Gore sees hope for ‘common ground’ movement on abortion.” Written by Patricia Zapor, based on an interview with the vice president, the article serves to provide official Catholic cover for a pro-abortion presidential candidate whose most ardent supporters are the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) and Planned Parenthood.

The phrase “common ground,” of course, was brought into Catholic parlance by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernadin of Chicago, who wanted to provide a forum for Catholics to discuss their differences on issues like Church authority and the role of the priesthood. Abortion was never put on the common ground table: To seek common ground on abortion is to accept that some number of innocent lives can be taken. This is Gore’s position. Cardinal Bernadin would have never accepted such a compromise with the culture of death.

The fact that such a story would come out of CNS makes one wonder how much the culture of death has a grip on the USCC. That those who edit these stories and write their headlines would not immediately reject such a wording indicates a serious lack of Catholic judgment at CNS. It is not the case that Zapor was simply quoting Gore with comment; she uses his language without quotation in the middle of the article: “Gore said he sees a bourgeoning grassroots movement seeking common ground on abortion.”

Anyone who is in the business of Catholic journalism knows full well that to use the phrase “common ground” is to draw on the moral and spiritual capital of Cardinal Bernadin’s legacy. I suppose we can look forward to further CNS articles on the search for common ground on euthanasia and partial-birth abortion.

The USCC also raised numerous eyebrows with the release of its presidential candidate questionnaire on October 17. The first nine pages of the questionnaire were released that morning, with the remaining eleven pages inexplicably added the next afternoon. For legal reasons, the USCC explains, the questionnaire contains “verbatim responses and comments” of candidates to questions posed by the conference. Legal arguments aside, the result is unfortunate, because once again a pro-abortion candidate is provided an official Catholic forum to mislead the Catholic public.

On partial-birth abortion, Gore is quoted as saying, “Al Gore opposes late-term abortion and the procedure of partial-birth abortion…. Al Gore believes that any law prohibiting the partial-birth abortion procedure must be narrowly tailored, and should include protections for the life and health of the mother.” (Note that Gore sent his comments to the USCC in the third person, which makes them appear written by the bishops, while Bush’s comments were published in the first person.) The leadership at the

USCC knows that the health exception effectively negates the partial-birth abortion ban, but the format allows Gore to mislead Catholics who are not fully informed on this issue.

This is a repeat of the 1996 USCC candidate questionnaire that allowed Clinton to get away with the same misrepresentation of his position on abortion. Catholics helped to elect Clinton, and the unborn have been his victims. Protests were lodged then, so this time the conference action is surely intentional. If the USCC cannot present the candidates’ views in a way that truthfully informs the Catholic public, then the conference should stop issuing questionnaires altogether.

There is no doubt in my mind that the USCC legal department is overly cautious: I am sure that Catholic bishops have the constitutional right to inform Catholics how a candidate’s position stands in relation to a clearly defined moral teaching of the Church. Moral guidance is a bishop’s job, and as far as I know, the IRS cannot and will not object. Such judgments do not constitute partisan activity, although they may affect the voting behavior of Catholic voters.

There are many issues of public policy where common ground should be sought between Democrats and Republicans in relation to Catholic social teaching—abortion is not one of them. Catholics depend on the USCC for accuracy in promulgating the teachings of the Church and representing them to those in the media and to Congress. These events during the crucial final weeks before the election demand scrutiny of the CNS and a reassessment of future candidate questionnaires.

Why Catholics Should Reject the Jesus Seminar

Published December 1, 1999

Deal W. Hudson

Normally the average Catholic need not worry about a group of academicians who meet every year to discuss the “historicity” of the Gospels. These debates have been going on inside ivy walls for over a century. But with the recent national road-show of the Jesus Seminar, founded in 1985 and led by Protestant scholar Robert W. Funk, we are witnessing more than innocuous speculation for the initiated few—we are witnessing a well-funded, public assault on the Jesus Christ held in faith by the Church.

For the past 15 years, the members of the Jesus Seminar, composed of a who’s who of colleges, universities, and seminaries, have met annually to vote on the words and deeds of Jesus they consider to be historically accurate. They have come to the conclusion that more than 82 percent of what he said in the four Gospels is not historically accurate. Of the deeds of Jesus in the Gospels, 176 in number, only ten are historical. Thus, Jesus was not resurrected from the dead and did not pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Jesus, as taught by the Jesus Seminar, is a not a Savior whose redemptive death is the way of our salvation but rather an ancient cynic philosopher with some interesting things to say about the importance of love and relationships. This message is something the “Jesus Seminar on the Road” is taking to the Christian layperson across the country. Its two-day seminars have or will be offered in California, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, British Columbia, Rhode Island, and Ohio. I became concerned about them when some Catholic friends of mine attended a seminar at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and came back very confused.

Everyone knows that our Protestant brethren are more savvy when it comes to matters of biblical authority and interpretation than average Catholics in the pew. Catholics, it seems to me, have a strong but vague reverence for the words of Scripture. They lack exposure to the direct attacks on the authority of Scripture, while being more familiar with the dissenters’ attacks on the authority of the Magisterium. What Catholics need to realize is that Catholic dissenters, having failed in their attack on the Magisterium, have now begun using the avenue of the scriptural controversies raised by the Jesus Seminar. The literature of dissent is becoming more and more steeped in the appeals to Scripture understood historically apart from the faith of the Church.

This strategy is most clever. At the heart of the scholarly debate is a blatant challenge to the centuries-old faith of the Church, and indeed the entire Christian community. These attacks, under the guise of scholarly pursuits, threaten to undermine the living and apostolic faith in the Per-son, Divinity, and mission of Christ; the Church He founded; and the authority of the pope.

If the consensus of the Jesus Seminar prevails, the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John will be dismissed as mythical elaborations of the real Jesus found in Mark and a hypothetical document known as “Q,” itself a controversial and much-debated document whose existence remains speculative.

At the heart of the debate is the question of whether Matthew and Luke rely on the Gospel of Mark and Q (the “Two-Source” theory). If Mark is the earliest Gospel and the source for the others, then something has to account for the presence in Matthew and Luke of what is not found in Mark, thus the necessity of Q.

The place given to Q as a source of Jesus’s sayings has led some scholars to accept the importance of the Gospel of Thomas, an apocryphal Gospel discovered in 1945 but written in the late-second to fourth century. Thomas, like Q, contains nothing about Jesus’s redemptive death and resurrection but rather absurd sayings, such as:

Simon Peter said to Him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of Life.” Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

If the Jesus Seminar vision of Christianity were to prevail, we would be left with a very strange Jesus indeed. And in the name of scholarship and enlightenment, these scholars would leave us less in our Church and in our Faith than what they have left us of Jesus’s words and deeds.

The Truth of Truth

Published December 1, 1998
DEAL W. HUDSON

In his previous encyclicals, the Holy Father has shown how truth has a moral beauty that shines through the lives of the saints. Now, in Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), our philosopher-pope explains why that light no longer shines through the work of most philosophers, as well as the corrosive effects of that darkness on our culture. Moving beyond the destructive moral and political consequences of bad ideas, John Paul II takes on the state of philosophy itself: its loss of true metaphysical inquiry and its lack of confidence in, of all things, intelligence.

Parents in recent decades have become increasingly concerned about the effect of post-secondary education on their children’s core beliefs—and perhaps for better reason than they know. The pervasive mentality of today’s academy encourages, whether intentionally or not, precisely the nihilism that John Paul II finds at the heart of postmodern philosophy and all its scholarly corollaries.

Of course some academics will defend themselves by claiming that they are taking the Socratic high road of questioning and fostering dialogue. The trouble is that the postmodern technique of deconstruction—the radical denial of intelligible order in reality—goes far beyond challenging a youthful mind with reasonable doubt. Even Descartes employed his method of doubt to reaffirm the immortality of the soul and the existence of God. In the hands of its postmodern practitioners, Socratic questioning has become an endless array of objections leading to the removal of all foundations for knowledge, except politics. It is as if Aquinas’s articles started with the objections and ended with the front page of the New York Times.

The student deserves more than to be persuaded to adopt an attitude of permanent alienation and perfect docility to the pressures of public opinion. As the Holy Father writes, “Whether we admit it or not, there comes for everyone the moment when personal existence must be anchored to a truth recognized as final, a truth that confers a certitude no longer open to doubt.”

The meanings of all these crucial terms—finality, truth, and certitude—have no place in postmodernism except as evidence of unenlightened prejudice. Such old-fashioned attitudes have to be removed so that human action can be judged, not from the vantage point of natural law, but from the perspective of the dominant ideology and the media establishment it controls.

Fides et Ratio reminds the Catholic world that the Magisterium still reveres the capacity of the human mind to achieve a fundamental “consonance” with objective reality. The stirring passages of Leo XIII’s Aeterni Patris (1879) sound strongly through the pages of the present encyclical. Yet we hear not only the Thomistic harmonies of faith and reason, but also those perpetually pertinent Augustinian chords reminding us of the necessity of releasing intelligence from its bondage to the bad habits of the flesh: “The coming of Christ was the saving event which [set reason] free from the shackles in which it has imprisoned itself.”

Because truth itself is passed on between parents and children, teachers and students, priest and parishioner, the divorce between character and truth-telling cannot be accepted. Truth and sanctity demand one another. Thus the pope suggests that if our arguments have failed to transform the culture we should begin by examining ourselves

Looking at the authentic witness of the martyrs, he recalls how their words continue to inspire us because “from the moment they speak to us of what we perceive deep down as the truth we have sought for so long, the martyrs provide evidence of a love that has no need of lengthy arguments in order to convince.”

Although aimed at those who control Catholic education in schools, universities, and seminaries, the lessons of Fides et Ratio are far from abstract. Truth is handed on through the traditions of family and community as much, or more, than it is through formal learning. Perhaps the most pernicious aspect of postmodernism is its attack on the instinctive and intuitive learning that results from the relationships of love and trust in the natural hierarchies existing through our social fabric.

Our culture, by its apparent acceptance of the divorce between private behavior and public trust, has revealed its postmodern character. Not only can we not know the truth, we cannot live it—we are only capable of advocating politically correct policies. And, even then, a pro-feminist president is not expected to avoid sexually harassing his staff. Social standards have fallen so far that even seasoned Beltway pundits are shocked. Once again, however, it is John Paul II alone among world leaders who stands at the threshold of hope.

Christmas is for Children

Published December 1, 1997
DEAL W. HUDSON

I heard our president on the radio this morning, announcing, “We must make sure that parents are able to spend time with their children whenever they can.” If the “we” had been the American people, not the government, then the comment was merely an obvious truism. Apparently, though, the president feels that the facts—a fifty percent divorce rate, the spread of the two salary family— require that the government step in and ensure children get enough quality time with their parents.

Sad, isn’t it, that we have created a society in which we must talk about children in this way. In a country where forty-five percent of all children under a year old are in day care, it’s no wonder manger scenes are banned from public places. We don’t like reminders of the family we have lost.

The Christmas season reveals the fault lines everywhere— inside ourselves, within our families, and throughout society. It’s not simply a matter of our anxiety about meeting emotional expectations. At Christmas we relive the definitive entrance of God into the world, establishing himself for all time as “the way, the truth, and the life.” Christmas inevitably reveals the direction of our spiritual compass.

It is ticklish, to say the least, to raise the issue of childcare in this way. So many heroic parents are raising children by themselves, so many others are working hard together to support their families. But as much as those parents want our sympathy and support, I would imagine those same parents deeply wish for a world of intact families where every child is raised by a parent at home. In other words, it is one thing to sympathize with the present situation, and quite another to hope for what children really need.

We have lapsed into the cynicism of accepting the status quo, speaking vaguely for the need for sympathy, and resolving to “face reality.” What troubles me, however, are the deeper currents that course through the culture. I notice, for example, how a kind of gay chic has taken hold of the popular mind. The call for toleration has been replaced not merely by normalization but by positive celebration. Nothing could spread messages more at odds with either Catholic social teaching or the natural law.

We have seen it all before. Remember the speech in Plato’s Symposium extolling the superiority of homosexual love over heterosexual? The argument is based upon the supposed advantage of begetting ideas and “beautiful conversations,” rather than the gross matter of human life. Heterosexual couples, or “breeders” as they are now sometimes called, are naturally inclined toward shaping their lives around the creation of a family, specifically for the purpose of raising children. With the mainstreaming of homosexuality into our culture, children are pushed more and more into the background of our attention and our caring.

In the context of Greek culture, we understand why abstract ideas are given more importance than the life of a human person. Even Aristotle, for all his realism, didn’t base his argument for heterosexuality on the creation of life, but on proper biological functioning. With the coming of the Incarnation, however, it was no longer possible to misunderstand the unique value of the person, or the fundamental purpose of marriage, family, and sexuality to beget and nurture persons.

Charity requires a great deal more than sensitivity and concern for the heroic efforts of single parents who raise children, or for those parents whose two salaries combine to put their children in private schools. Charity requires that we actively work and pray for a transformed society, one that does not depend upon government daycare to do the job of parenting, but one where fathers and mothers are actually present.

At Christmas time, we focus primarily on the perfect humility of Mary but in the midst of these thoughts my mind turns to Joseph. Joseph married the woman he loved, but found that he would never consummate his marriage or receive its physical comforts in the expected fashion. Despite this, he remained chaste and true to his family. He is the purest example of a true promise keeper. Joseph understood his role as one of taking care of his family, not of using his family as a means to his own personal fulfillment.

Gay chic, following on the heels of the “pro-choice” movement, only throws fuel on the fire of the culture of death. It is for this reason the Church has wisely chosen the term “objective disorder” in describing the tragedy of homosexual orientation. Since lay Catholics have been invited to join a dialogue on homosexuality, we at CRISIS think that the gathering of the Holy Family at Christmastide is an ideal occasion for beginning that conversation.

Special Report — Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Homosexuality: What the Bishops Didn’t Say

Published December 1, 1997
DEAL W. HUDSON

When reporting on “Always Our Children,” the secular media failed to note that this was not a document issued by the entire NCCB. What must be said at the outset is that a small committee of the bishops’ conference should not be allowed to use the media to shape opinion on Church teaching. Structural changes in the bishops’ conference must be made to ensure it truly speaks for all the bishops. They also need to review procedures for releasing statements to the press that are pastoral, not doctrinal, in nature. The press, not knowing better, completely ignores this distinction, thus ensuring that the “pastoral” teaching gets passed into the public square; as the “the Catholic Church now teaches. . . .”

No one can doubt the good intentions of those who have drawn up the document. Their desire to help anguished parents, and show compassion to homosexual men and women, is obvious throughout the text. Its concern is expressly pastoral, not doctrinal, meaning that the statement leaves out much Church teaching on homosexuality. At such a moment, it is helpful to remember what was left out.

Two generations ago, the phenomenon of homosexuality would have been fundamentally a personal matter, a truly individual pastoral concern. The classical personal moral norms developed by the Church would have been rather clearly, if not easily, applicable. If an individual experienced strong same-sex attractions, he or she would have to be vigilant in avoiding occasions of sin, such as gathering places for homosexual persons. He or she would have to “mortify” the imagination, avoiding unclean thoughts and inciting reading material. Two generations ago that would have been easier to do than in our own day. Homosexual gathering places were few and difficult to find, and homosexual pornography was almost nonexistent.

The earnest Catholic suffering from same-sex sexual attraction disorder used his common sense and avoided going on a weekend camping trip with a friend he found attractive, or would shower at home rather than in the YMCA locker room. Finally, there was always recourse to the sacraments, to penance, to the Eucharist, to retreats and spiritual direction.

Today homosexuality has developed into a social/cultural phenomenon. The first executive order President Bill Clinton issued after his inauguration overturned established military and legal tradition by admitting homosexual persons to military service. During both of President Clinton’s inaugural celebrations, there were special balls for homosexual persons. The inaugural parade featured a “family float” with homosexual couples. Major corporations have chosen to provide health care and other social benefits to homosexual partnerships. Princeton University opened its married graduate student housing to homosexual couples, excluding some heterosexual married couples because there was no longer enough housing available. Harvard University permitted a homosexual “wedding ceremony” in its chapel. The state of Hawaii seriously has considered granting legal marital status to homosexual partnerships.

A character on a national TV sitcom declares her homosexuality, and major news magazines celebrate the event with laudatory cover stories. Homosexual persons now proudly broadcast their proclivities by flying the homosexual rainbow flag from their windows and affixing homosexual symbols to their automobile bumpers. Homosexual activists take to the streets, linking arms in common cause with feminists to support access to abortion.

Homosexuality has, over the past twenty years, become de rigueur. Now it is a cause celebre, the “in” thing. Undergraduates who formerly dabbled in leftish causes now dabble in homosexuality. Hardly a week goes by in which National Public Radio does not have a homosexual feature. Every major city now has “gay and lesbian” bookstores, cafes, theaters, gyms, restaurants, and newspapers.

What is most perplexing about “Always Our Children” is the total lack of acknowledgment—or even recognition—of this terribly complicating social/cultural phenomenon. Those well-intentioned people who, in their naive desire to be sensitive, use the ostensibly benign terms “gay” and “lesbian” do not see how this plays into the larger social picture. This lack of insight is even more perplexing when church ministers are asked to use the words homosexual, gay, and lesbian in “honest and accurate ways . . . from the pulpit.” The whole tenor of the pastoral message leads one to think that its authors would be horrified if those words were indeed used in “honest and accurate ways from the pulpit.” In that instance, “homosexual” would refer to one with a same-sex sexual attraction disorder that is ordered toward objectively sinful actions. “Gay” and “lesbian” would be identified as the charged political—indeed, ideological— terms that they are.

To name these realities accurately is no disservice to those who suffer from the disorder, but instead provides the basis for the kind of pastoral care and family solicitude homosexuals require.

The spiritual writers were unanimous in counseling immediate flight from any sexual temptation, avoiding even an occasion of sexual sin with the same rigor one would avoid the sin itself. One did not dally with sexual temptation, or be so arrogant as to think one could “handle” it— because experience had long shown that one would lose more often than not.

Sexual questions have always formed part of the training of Catholic priests. There was a time when the awesome power, the delicacy, and the divine character of human sexuality was so acknowledged that moral theologians, lecturing on sex, would don white surplices over their cassocks and keep a lighted candle on the desk! Such was the reverence— and the realism—shown by the teachers of the Church before the power of human sexuality.

In the pastoral message, one does not sense this respectful, cautionary attitude toward the power of the human sex drive. That caution is all the more in order when the drive for life has become fundamentally disordered. It then becomes, potentially, a drive toward death rather than life, as Josef Pieper makes clear in his chapter on temperance in The Four Cardinal Virtues. Homosexual acts always have been potentially destructive, even before the advent of HIV/AIDS.

Our society has come to speak of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (yes, honest-to-goodness) as though they constituted a particular race of human beings. These categories have actually come to be used in the nondiscrimination policies of many civil jurisdictions and companies, and homosexuals are listed among protected classes of persons who suffer from hate crimes.

No one should be subject to unjust discrimination or violence in this country or anywhere in the world. However, immunity from prejudice or violence is derived from the dignity of our fundamental humanity, not from an accidental human characteristic such as race or sex or ethnicity.

When it comes to providing some special societal protection or privilege to certain individuals by virtue of their homosexuality, the question must arise: What is a homosexual? Or if one prefers to use the nomenclature: Who is gay? Who is lesbian?

Is one gay or lesbian by self-proclamation? Is the designation based on outward behaviors or inner dispositions? Is it determined by the magazines one reads, by the bars one frequents, by the fantasies in which one indulges? Is there really such a thing as a homosexual, and if there is, how is he so classed? If he feels a strong same-sex sexual attraction but has never acted upon it, does he qualify as a homosexual? Would he want to qualify? If, in a moment of weakness, he committed a single homosexual act over the last five years, does he qualify as a homosexual? Would he want to qualify? Why would anyone want to adopt as one’s fundamental social identity a persona based on a sexual attraction, strong or weak?

In 1986, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued its “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” it chose its words very carefully. It did not speak of homosexuals. It certainly did not speak of gays and lesbians. It spoke first and fundamentally of persons, because persons are those who carry the dignity of the children of God. The document refused to reduce persons with immortal souls, persons destined to the divine dignity of the Godhead, to sexual proclivities. Sexual drives are not to be ignored, to be sure, but they do not define us. God has created only men and women, men and women who are either chaste or unchaste, whether the actions they engage in are homosexual or heterosexual.

Scripture still has it straight: “Male and female he created them.”