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October 14, 2003


Registered Independent Joel

It could well be argued that Sully ceased to be Catholic the moment that he embraced his homosexuality. Now he's just making it official.

Paul Pfaffenberger

... and let us never forget that Jesus calls us above all to love. Several members of a support group I lead are gay. Since the group deals with sexual abuse, it becomes a central issue. So ... what to do? The gay members of our group already have lots of Christians telling them that God abhors their acts and that they are going to burn in hell. I decidied to be a Christian who tells them that God loves them and desires that they live with him in heaven.

Registered Independent Joel

Although, it should also be acknowledged that when he says "something is rotten in the heart of the hierarchy, that it is bound up in sexual panic and a conflicted homosexual subculture that is a deep part of the Catholic Church," he may be on to something. A "conflicted homosexual subculture" in the hierarchy may indeed have contributed to the sexual abuse crisis of the past decades.

A grain of truth in an otherwise pitiful bout of denial.

Paul Pfaffenberger

"I do believe that something is rotten in the heart of the hierarchy, that it is bound up in sexual panic and a conflicted homosexual subculture that is a deep part of the Catholic Church."

I believe the same. That does not mean I condone all of Mr Sullivan's choices, but it is a valid perspective from an intelligent observer. Our focus as Catholics needs to be the restoration of our own house. It is in dire need of repair, and discrediting those delivering the message does not serve us well.


Amy, you posted in July about Andrew's comments on taking the month of August to really try hear God's voice and make some heart-wrenching decisions. At that time, I remembered thinking, "Good. Andrew is going to hike alone across Europe for a month or perhaps will go to a mountain-top cabin away from the media and noise." I think that you also called for prayer on his behalf.

It was in early September that I realized that he went to Provincetown, Rhode Island for August. Alas, I have no doubt that God's voice was difficult to hear over beach parties with dozens of admirers.

Joseph D'HIppolito

While Amy makes good points about the seeming lack of focus on Christ in Sullivan's spiritual identity crisis, Sullivan makes equally valid points about Church leadership, particularly the "sexual panic" about the "conflicted homosexual subculture" and this Pope's presiding over the decline of the faith in Europe.

That last point cannot be stressed too strongly. JPII has sat in Peter's chair for 25 years and Catholic faith throughout the developed world has declined in that time. This is an inescapable fact. Yes, people will claim that faith in the Third World has become more intense. But should we be satisfied with growth in one sector and perilous decline in another?

What's truly disturbing is that the middle and upper classes and the well-educated are leaving various manifestations of the faith. While people can blame "secularism", "materialism" and "individualism," they should also blame the Church's inability to communicate the Gospel in an effective manner to such groups. The Gospel is for everybody, not just the poor and outcast. The Gospel is God's way of reconciling humanity through repentance and faith in Christ's atoning, redemptive sacrifice as the "Lamb of God". How many Catholics truly understand this?

European Catholicism is reaping what it has sown. It has sown an obcession with control, whether of marital sexual behavior or geopolitics. It is reaping contempt. God is not mocked; Rome has forgotten that.

Jimmy Mac

Andrew still needs to discover what the rest of us who are gay and still call themselves Catholic have had to learn: our salvation does NOT depend on membership in this church but, rather, on faith in Jesus Christ. We remain Catholic by picking and choosing what is essential to our faith and what is tangential. Before the rest of you say: "Ah ha! ... just another Cafeteria Catholic", let me remind you that virtually everyone who has posted on Amy's site over the past year that I have been visiting has very carefully picked and chosen what they'll assent to and what they won't. Cafeterias have both left and right wings. The major difference, however, is that the left admits it and the right continues to deny the nose on their face.

Joseph D'Hippolito

Very well said, Jimmy Mac, particularly your points about Church membership and "cafeteria Catholicism".

frank sales

The point is that in the past couple of decades cafeteria Catholicism is much more difficult. The Vatican, under John Paul II and Ratzinger is unflinchingly defending and professing the Church's moral teachings in a way that cannot be ignored or easily sidestepped. In the Kumbaya 70's Catholics came to believe in the primacy of personal conscience without any counterweight of the Church's authority on matters of faith and morals. In the "big tent" of Catholicism in which Sullivan grew up it was easy to openly disagree with the Magisterium without feeling any less Catholic. No more! Sullivan's departure from the Church is a sign of its renewed health and vitality. The fact that someone cannot be comfortable in professing the goodness and positive value of a homosexual lifestyle while maintaining his identity as a Catholic is a cause for celebration. We are moving in the right direction.

Chris Westley

Oh give me a break, Jimmy Mac. Does what you are calling Cafeteria Catholicism apply to matters of doctrine? And by the way, your faith in Jesus Christ is strongest, and your salvation surest, when you are not cut off from the Real Presence.


You nailed it, Amy. With all of Andrew's conscience-wrestling over this issue, I have rarely heard him mention faith in Jesus Christ. (I thought the same thing when I read comments by some of the VOTF folks about how they couldn't set foot in a church for weeks/months after the scandal broke. They lost faith in their leaders blah blah blah) One wonders where the Eucharist factors in here....

We've all heard Andrew bemoan at length about the Church "declaring war on gays" and "bound up in deep sexual panic" etc. etc. Please. While I agree there is a conflicted homosexual subculture that has factored into the scandal, I'm SO tired of the "sexual panic" finger-pointing. And blaming the pope for the decline in European Christianity.

As you said Amy, a faith that is based on the efficacy of leaders is not faith.


" The fact that someone cannot be comfortable in professing the goodness and positive value of a (homosexual lifestyle) while maintaining his identity as a Catholic is a cause for celebration. We are moving in the right direction."

Hmm... if folks are gonna argue about "cafeteria Catholics", shouldn't there be a menu?

Substitute some phrases for the one in parentheses:

1) "record of voting for pro-choice candidates";
2) "marriage that includes all the loving but proscribed erotic practices";
3) "faith in the separation of Church and State, and in the moral value of freedom";
4) "healthy dislike for the Vatican's arrogance and moral myopia"; or even simply
5) "passing knowledge of the Roman Catholic Church's history"...

Hell, make your own list. But, just for fun, why not do it here?

Don't call me 'Francis.'

frank sales writes:
>The fact that someone cannot be comfortable >in professing the goodness and positive value >of a homosexual lifestyle while maintaining >his identity as a Catholic is a cause for >celebration. We are moving in the right >direction.

Sullivan has promoted promiscuity as "realism"
in his arguments on same-sex marriage in _Virtually Normal_. I find the idea repellent and condescending. I'm also apalled that Sullivan engaged in promiscuous sex after he discovered that he's HIV positive. He excused this by saying that his partners were also positive and then deluded himself into thinking that he couldn't be susceptible to a more virulent strain of HIV.

In short, I'm insulted that Sullivan portrays himself as "gay."


I think Sullivan really misses the boat when he claims that the something is really rotten at the heart of the hierarchy. One, he overstates his case (and mirrors the language of Luther who saw absolutely nothing good in human nature). The term rotten implies something much more sinister than sinful. Second, the heart of the Church is Christ (okay, it is not the same as the heart of the hierarchy).

Maybe the hierarchy is in sexual panic and conflicted sexually, but my advice to Sullivan would be to watch television for a week. All one sees is people who are sexually panicking and seriously sexually conflicted. I do not think the Church is sexually conflicted but it is our culture that is conflicted and, therefore, conflicted by the teaching of the Church. Sullivan and his contemporaries (straight or gay) are so conflicted they can not wrap their minds around what the Church actually does teach. The teaching can hardly be deemed conflicted.

frank sales

TheAmericanist: If your general point is that criticism of the Church is often well-founded and salutary, you won't get a big argument from me. St. Paul was quite right in taking Peter to task. However, don't confuse this with 1)heresy or 2) a refusal to submit will and intellect to authoritative pronouncements on faith and morals. To take your first example, if every Catholic who advocates, aids or abets the murder of the unborn decided that they could no longer do so and remain in the Church, this would be another example of salutory stain removal.

Don't call me 'Francis.'

Mike Petrik writes:

The teaching can hardly be deemed conflicted.

Sullivan hasn't made this claim. It's your strawman. You'll have to try harder to win the argument.


A Catholic I know said the Catholic Church should stay out of her sex life. I thought: if the Church can't give guidance about sex, one of the most controversial topics around, then what good is it?

Sean Gallagher


How do you assess what Amy had to say about the historical context of the Church's decline in parts of Europe, that it stretches back at least to the French Revolution?

While we shouldn't ignore the actions going on now in society to push Christianity to the margins, we also should not place the blame for this movement squarely on the shoulders of society in general, let alone one man, over the past 25 years for this.


I for one find some hope in the fact that Sullivan seemed to struggle with the question. He clearly sees the tension, even if he isn't completely honest about what's causing the break. (But, assuming he truly has affection and love for the Church, can't we cut him a bit of slack and say that the moments right after making a decision like that are probably more guided by emotion than reason?)

But I've got to respond to you Jimmy Mac. I hear this all the time, that there are both left and right cafeteria Catholics. What I never see are examples of it. Mind offering some? And don't confuse difference in emphasis for an example of picking and choosing Catholic doctrines. Show me examples of those "on the right" (whatever you mean by that) rejecting a Catholic doctrine. I think you your examples will be few and far between.

But why bother -- it's not like you actually have a complaint with cafeteria Catholicism.

Joe McFaul

I would respond to Jack that George Weigel seems to be eating at a differnt cafeteria than three out of the last four Popes when it comes to just war, for example. There are many others who join him.



I suppose the death penalty comes to mind, but Vatican pronouncements on that one are considerably less authoritative than those against contraception.

But somebody ought to speak up for the French Revolution -- or more precisely, if not for the Jacobins at least against the Church's role at the time and later.

It has always bugged me how Leftist intellectuals (notably Marxists) look on the French Revolution as a kind of template for all human politics and even human nature itself, while pretty much regarding the American Revolution (which happened first, fercryingoutloud) as a fluke.

But these intellectual habits are almost inescapable -- even the labels "left" for reformers and revolutionaries and "right" for conservatives and reactionaries come from the French Revolution. Still, just because we all talk so we understand each other doesn't mean we shouldn't make sense, now and again.

The fact is, the Roman Catholic Church was emphatically FOR the royalists and the divine right of kings, and against human rights and the dignity of individuals. The model of the Papacy is royal in character -- and that is not NECESSARILY because that's the way God wants it. (For one thing, it isn't the way the Church started.) That's why the French Revolution was such a body blow to an already hollow institution, the Vatican role in the political and military decisions of Europe. The Church was simply on the wrong side of history --which it refused to recognize until WAY after everybody else knew it. Pius IX actually excommunicated the entire Italian Army at one point, while hiring mercenaries in his utterly losing cause -- shortly before (hand smacking forehead) 'discovering' that the infallibility on matters of faith and doctrine that had long been considered the property of the Church as a whole, actually belonged to the Pope alone... just as he finally lost all his military and direct political clout. (And about time, too.)

I think a big part of Sullivan's confusion is simply that he's a BRITISH Catholic in many ways, formed after and as a result of all this history -- and worse, one transplanted to America. Can't blame the guy for being confused -- the Vatican has never understood that the American Revolution was fundamentally different from all European experience. So for a gay Catholic to try to understand what it means for him to become an AMERICAN Catholic at the same time is a mite more than system tolerances.

The idea that governments (including the Vatican) do not grant rights, that we're born with 'em, and that the only legitimate purpose of governments (including the Vatican) is to protect 'em, is so alien to some that they literally cannot conceive it. I don't doubt Sullivan understands that -- but not in a Catholic context for the simple reason that, there ain't any such Catholic context for that self-evident notion.

David Hart

While I do not believe much of what Andrew said about the problems of the church I do believe that if the Church recovers from the decline since Vatican II that many are going to have a different opinion of JPII than they have now. Since Vatican II the collegiality factor has risen to such great heights that the the only corrective action against laity and clergy seems through indirect comments made by spokesman.

What we are seing in the latter half of the 20th century is another kind of heresy. Call it modernism, media indullgence, secularism but whatever it is the Church has to stamp it out amongst its members first before it can hope to evangelize the rest of hummanity. I think the best term would be the secular reformation of the Protestant reformation.

I don't completely know what is needed. Maybe a new creed, a reaffirmation from all Catholics that they believe in the same things.

What is happening is that the media can now point out all the discension amongst are ranks so that any evangelization that is done is completely wiped out by the discenters. What is needed is for the Church to start functioning like an confident religious institution that is trying to promote its beliefs rather than an indecisive Unitarian meeting house.

The Church reacted to the reformation first by doing nothing; next by closing ranksm, getting the liturgy and doctrine standardized; and finally after that, then to confidently promote the faith throughout the rest of the world. We are going to have to accept that the Church of the future may be a much smaller Church than the Church of today. We don't have the luxury of the Reformation where we had to right off much of the Protestant countries because we still had a great deal of influence pull in the countries that had Catholic majorities. We are just simply going to have to tell people who disagree with Church doctrine to be quiet about it or to leave the Church until the feel that they agree with it.

It is not because I am holier than the Catholic down the street but only because I believe what the Church says and my neighbor might believe that the important thing is JC and not his Church (which is a man made insitution anyway) that I can be a representive of my Church. My neighboor may have a much better prayer life and maybe a much better chance to go to heaven. However, he probably never going to lead anyone into our Church whereas I might be able to convince someone to come to come to Church, so somebody who is holier than I can convince him to stay.

I think a good analogy (I know that people will hate using the analogy of the Church as a company but it a much better way of looking at what the problem is) would be of a company salesman. If I owned a company I'd rather have a bad salesman who believed in the company product than a good salesman who bad mouthed the product to everyone but his customers. Yes, the bad salesman doesn't directly tell his customers that the product is bad, but eventually the bad mouthing gets to to the customers one way or another.

Keeping with the Church as a company analogy, Andrew seems to be a good salemsan who bemoans the company he works for. Many are wishing that he stay with the company but aren't we better off with someone who doesn't believe in the product. I know that Andrew is worse off but at some point we have to say it has finally gotten to the point where it doesn't matter what position our company takes on a issue, there will always be some prominent employee (often in management) who will say the our product is defective, our senior management is too conservative and we aren't just flexible enough. Why would anybody want to join a company like that?

The Holy Spirit guides people to our Church but if you are a potential member and see what some of our members are doing and advocating you might feel that it isn't the Holy Spirit but a lack of focus which is guiding the Roman Catholic Church of today. What does the Catholic Church believe on an issue? Is the Pope right that abortion is wrong or is Sen. Ted Kennedy (hey he's a Catholic, too!) right? Is capital punishment something we should have grown out of as the Pope says or is Justice Scalia right correct in saying that we really don't have to pay much attention to those teachings, especially if we are a judge? Are free markets devoid of both moral and jurdical restraints where the free market is best solution to help mankind or is the Pope (and the previous Popes) when they wanted a way between unrestrained (note that I didn't mention a single individual because I would have to indict the entire neo-con movement to do so and they write so much beter than I do:-) capitalism and socialism?

No, while I will mourn for the personal tragedy of Andrew not stepping in our Church anymore I will not mourn for the loss to our Church. Yet, I will have to say he is right in saying that Church history may not look as adoringly on JPII as it does today. Using that horrible company metaphor, if we started talking about a former CEO's accomplishments and said that he was a personaly a very good man, a great writer of position papers and was an incessent traveler to branch offices what would the reaction be. Probably the reaction would be "that sounds very good but what were the sales and profits during his tenure." In the same way won't Church history be less kind to JPII if one of his sucessors discovers the magic recipe of declining Mass attendance and vocations in Europe and North America?

Donald R. McClarey

Interesting thread. All the usual suspects ride their hobby horses while purporting to comment on Sullivan's self excommunication, so I may as well mount up myself. Sullivan prefers his sin to his religion. This has been self evident for years. The mystery is that it took Sullivan so long to leave. The Church, as has been often said, is a hospital for sinners. Sullivan's attitude to the Church was like a patient with a serious disease asking his doctor to not only cease treating him but also to cease treating all his other patients and to proclaim the illness as a good thing. Since the Church did not join Sullivan in his make-believe world Sullivan has separated from the Church. I predict the Church will do fine without Sullivan; I am not so sanguine as to how Sullivan will do without the Church.


A. Sullivan leaving the church may be a good sign that the center is still holding.

Henry Dieterich

(First of all, Amanda, Provincetown is in Massachusetts, not Rhode Island. It is at the tip of Cape Cod and is, so I have heard, a favorite destination for the gaily inclined.)

I would like to say that I believe I have at least a "passing knowledge of the Roman Catholic Church's history" (I even have a Ph.D. to prove it) and I am still a faithful Catholic. I know a bit about the French Revolution, too, and the whole question of the relationship of the authorities in the Church to the French (and American) Revolutions is a complex one. But there is an underlying principle that underlies the French Revolution, and is not entirely absent in America, of the primacy of the political process. Rousseau argues in The Social Contract that all religions should be tolerated, except those that admit an authority higher than that of the General Will. That would be the Catholic Church. The hostility of the Church to the French Revolution was founded in the insistence by the National Assembly that the Church function at the will of the Nation.

In America we have been so taught to revere democracy that we forget that while democracy is a very good system of government, it is not the ultimate source of moral or even scientific truth. Socrates (if Plato's portrayal of him is accurate) recognized this, and the people of Athens executed him because they accurately perceived that his ideas were a danger to democracy. Since the French Revolution, the State has become increasingly totalitarian, whether that power is exercised by representatives elected in competitive elections or by the leaders of a single ideological party. In America, it has been slower coming, but it is very much here.

Mais revenons à nos moutons (pour mieux dire à notre agneau perdu)--to believe Mr. Sullivan and others who make a similar argument, one might think that the Church suddenly decided to teach that homosexual activity was wrong sometime in the last 25 years. Hardly. If someone gave him that impression, they were doing him a disservice. And as for the devastation of the Church, I would contend that the devastation occurred under the watch of Paul VI, although how much of it was owing to his leadership I will leave to God to decide.

What Jesus Christ, through His Church, asks of Mr. Sullivan is the same thing He asks of me and of every other child whom He receives: that we die to ourselves, take up our Cross daily, and follow Him. It means putting Him first, ahead of our possessions, our comfort, our sexual urges, our desire for control. For me, and for Mr. Sullivan, it means that He is calling us to refrain from exercising our sexual appetites (even though the directions of the appetites are different, the call is still the same), and to repent when we fall. To be Catholic means to take that easy yoke and sweet burden. It means to make use of the means of grace provided to bear it. It is Christ Mr. Sullivan is spurning, and as a friend said to me just before my conversion some thirty years ago, "Turn your back on Jesus and you'll be refusing the best friend you could ever have."


The so-called sexually enlightened churches of Europe are becoming extinct. Step into one. It will be empty. Anything goes, relativism is a fake facade of tolerance decorated with superficial nicety. Behind the facade is a hideous truth: the systematic ruthless extinction of all diversity and true individuality and all that makes us human. This was the legacy of communism and fasism and it will be the legacy of enlghtened secularism, socialism, and consumerism.

T. Marzen

Thanks to Henry Dietrich, who made reading this blogstream worthwhile.

Don't call me 'Francis.'

Henry Dietrich writes:
What Jesus Christ, through His Church, asks of Mr. Sullivan is the same thing He asks of me and of every other child whom He receives: that we die to ourselves, take up our Cross daily, and follow Him. It means putting Him first, ahead of our possessions, our comfort, our sexual urges, our desire for control. ... To be Catholic means to take that easy yoke and sweet burden. It means to make use of the means of grace provided to bear it. It is Christ Mr. Sullivan is spurning, and as a friend said to me just before my conversion some thirty years ago, "Turn your back on Jesus and you'll be refusing the best friend you could ever have."
Mr. Dietrich, your vision of Christ is the common Catholic metaphor. It is Christ as Orwell's "Big Brother," the annihilation of individual identity and conscience.

Your trivialization the rejection of this vision as a lack of sexual self-control is the greatest act of dishonesty that I've witnessed in my life time.

Mark Adams

Don't cal me 'Francis"

Feeling a little dramatic today?

Henry Dieterich

Well, Mr. Elliott, you can attack me if you like, but at least spell my name right.

I don't know what you mean, exactly. I get my "vision of Christ" from the Scripture, to which, since there are no other sources, the alternative is conjecture. You are no doubt perfectly aware that much of that paragraph was a close paraphrase of the Gospels. Where did you get a knowledge of Christ superior to the one presented there?

Moreover, in the context of this discussion, I don't think referring to sexual self-control is a "trivialization." Mr. Sullivan's stated reason for leaving the Catholic Church is that he cannot continue as a Catholic because 1) the Church holds to a teaching that certain actions of his are sinful; and 2) he is unwilling to repent, if necessary again and again, for these actions. In fact, he defines his identity primarily as one who seeks out and enjoys a particular kind of sexual activity. I was only speaking of controlling one's actions, or at least making the attempt to do so, but if we pay attention to the words of Jesus, it goes further than that. "Jesus told his disciples, 'If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me'"(Mt 16:24; italics added). To deny, that is to disown, one's self is to mortify one's own identity in favor of identification with Christ. And He promises immediately after, "Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (v.25).

Those are hard words, but they are inescapable. If Mr. Sullivan cannot accept them, and prefers his identity as a gay person over his identity in Christ, then he is right to state that he cannot be a Catholic.

Don't call me 'Francis.'

Mr. Dieterich,

The Church uses the words of Christ as weapons not as counsel. In the hands of the Church denial of self has meant denial of conscience. Dissent is suppressed with a fervor which would shame even the Soviets, though not the great Papal hero who single-handedly overthrew, and identity is now proof of immorality and a justification for persecution.

I am celibate because of the AIDS epidemic in my community,
and I must thank the Church for its endorsement of chastity. I cannot accept the notion that I must call evil good by praising the Church for its tactics in the supression of gay people. I cannot applaud the Church's blood libel of gays as child molesters, while the guilty are protected by bishops and cardinals and popes. I cannot cheer the suicide of another gay teenager driven to despair by your Church's libels.

The Church has made "death to self" mean the murder of my conscience. I'll never assent to that.


I do agree with Amy that Andrew Sullivan needs to go back to the Gospels (or needed to) in order to reconnect. I'm not sure if the implication is that he would have found the Catholic faith there.

The Catholic Church is like the Hotel California, you check out anytime you like, but you can never leave. I have experienced strong feelings regarding the Catholic Church to the point that I admit only to being Christian now and Catholic superficially. For me, when the inner turmoil came spurred by a perfect storm of Catholic events, turning to the Gospel did not lead me closer to the Catholic faith, it restored a previous brand of faith. I'm technically Catholic, my life literally revolves around being Catholic, my wife and kids are Catholic, I go to Mass weekly, but on a fundamental level, there's little convergence on basic Christian belief.

I think Amy's point is that Andrew needs to take responsibility for his actions and not blame his leaving on other factors. I agree, although I have to say that it is important that when people "leave" the church, it needs to do an honest self appraisal and examine its structures to see if they truly represent what Christ intended.

There are a Billion Catholics worldwide and losing a few here and there would not be a big deal. However, it is a steady drip leaking out of a small crack in the dam and should not be ignored in an organization that count's its existence in terms of centuries. Overtime, as with the Reformation, too many leaks could cause a flood. Part of the lesson of the Reformation is that the Church cannot under the guise of authenticity of faith or heresy, etc, ignore real problems brewing beneath the surface.

Jimmy Mac

Jack, old buddy, the folks who responded to your question of me did it much better that I would have. The history of so many church doctrines ("extra ecclesia nulla salus"; usury;slavery, etc.) and how they have changed (oops ... "developed") leads one to speculate that putting so very much faith in the pronouncements of the day can be deleterious to one's spritual and mental health.

The cafeteria has meat and potatoes that sustain us all. However, the side dishes are there to take or pass by.


Ono says:

I do agree with Amy that Andrew Sullivan needs to go back to the Gospels (or needed to) in order to reconnect. I'm not sure if the implication is that he would have found the Catholic faith there.

Amy said:

Here's what saddens me the most with Sullivan and others...where's Jesus? I'm not saying that if you focus on Christ, you'll automatically and every time wind up okay with Rome - we all have free will and different experiences and viewpoints that make that unlikely, to say the least.

So no, Ono, I not only didn't imply that, I said that it was "unlikely."



Did you read the link that you posted? Are you seriously equating that with the cafeteria catholicisim that Jimmy Mac is advocating?

Knowing TheAmericanist's track record, I'll forgive him for throwing the death penalty out on the table when he knows well enough that more often than not people who even only entertain the possibility that the death penalty might be legitimately applied in certain cases get condemned as "dissenters" by folks who take the Church's teachings on the death penalty farther than the Church does.

Jimmy Mac: Well, at least you cut to the chase and just offered justifications for cafeteria catholicism.


Henry Dieterich,

Beautifully said. I hope Americanist, Ono, Jimmy Mac and Don't call me 'Francis' were taking notes.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

I'm ambivalent. On the one hand, I have difficulty with Catholic teaching at some of the same places that Andrew Sullivan does - the teachings on contraception and homosexuality clash with some of my own observation of long-term gay and contracepting couples. I can certainly sympathize with his frustration over the coverup of child abuse, and, yes, I agree with him about conflicted homosexuality within the priesthood. And I've liked Andrew Sullivan the conservative advocate of gay marriage.

But there's also a libertine streak to Andrew Sullivan that troubles me. When he criticizes the Catholic Church's teaching on sexuality, I don't feel he's offering an alternative that I can see as superior. I've been troubled, for example, by his "isn't it great that California is electing a governor who's had group sex and used steroids" take on Schwarzenegger.

I feel as if he's saying that Catholicism is conflicted about sexuality, but modern secular culture is just fine on the topic. I don't think modern secular culture is just fine. I don't think that the opposite of Catholicism can be the right way (either by the standard of my reading of Jesus, or by the standard of my personal experience and observation of family life).

So, I respect Sullivan's sense that he can't in integrity call himself a Catholic any more, and I sympathize with some of his struggles, but I don't agree with all of his conclusions.

Don't call me 'Francis.'

Cheryl writes
Henry Dieterich,

Beautifully said. I hope Americanist, Ono, Jimmy Mac and Don't call me 'Francis' were taking notes.

Let's just say I'm not about to join the Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club (http://www.ratzingerfanclub.com/index.html) although the mug is really nifty.


Why does it matter what Andrew Sullivan thinks?


Carrie, it matters because he is not alone. His struggle with Catholicism is shared by many, and not only about this issue. Lots of people have a difficult time trying to match up what they would like to believe is true, or what the institution they'd like to think they are a part of says is true with their own experience.

It's like a mirror.

And I think Lynn has a very good point, BTW.

Gypsy Boots

I saw this coming for a long time in Andrew Sullivan's posts and in stories about him. At least he finally did the honest thing.

My question is this. Will he show integrity in refusing the role of "Catholic" commentator, in not allowing himself to be interviewed by publications that cast him in that role, in turning down requests for comments or pieces from publications that still think he is a "Catholic" commentator, etc.?

Mark Kasper


Many of your posters voice the opinion that human sexuality is outside of the realm of morality. This is incomprehensible.

Can it actually be that the wage relationship between employer and employee has greater moral content than the relationship between husband and wife?

The moral life is intensely concerned with the interactions between humans. It is odd that God would have no concern with the most intimate and, I would say, most important of interactions, human sexuality.

Joe McFaul


Yes I did read the link that's exactly why I posted it. Yes to your second question of me as well.

If this causes you trouble I'd re-read Lynn's post, which was very deep and worth some serious reflection.

m warren

amen-andrew should look at the gospels and see that through the grace of God oneday the church will stop putting aquinas above Jesus and include all of God's children. the church doesn't see the mentally ill as devil possessed anymore does she! like it or not "evolution" has and always will occur in an institution made up of humans. mike w


Yes, Amy, I recognize that Andrew is not alone. But I'm still not sure why he matters, though the number of posts in this thread indicate that he does matter.

History is littered with the names of people who could not reconcile their experience of living with the teachings of Catholicism. In the end, some find a way and convert, like Augustine. Others fail to find a way and leave the Church, like Martin Luther. And always there are some who remain in the Church with all of their conflicts in tact, like the majority of American Catholic couples. And the Church goes on.

Why does Andrew's angst matter while the couple three pews back at Mass on Sunday who can't reconcile the teaching on birth control with their experience doesn't matter? What is it about Andrew Sullivan that captivates our attention?

We have no tolerance for Francis Kissling, but we debate Andrew Sullivan's conflicts endlessly, it would seem.

Fr. Brian Stanley

In many of these comments, there seems to be a rush to find someone to blame for Andrew Sullivan leaving the Church. Some blame Andrew, Andrew and others blame the hierarchy, some blame the whole institution of the Church, and now, someone blames Aquinas [or at least those who would place Aquinas' thought higher than Jesus' teaching]. I'm for having Andrew take responsibility for his thoughts and actions. He is an adult, and he is far to articulate to convince me that he is a victim of anyone or anything here. He is a very sad case nonetheless.

I think we should pray for him, for he is so much like the rich young man, who went away sad because he would not accept the Lord's invitation. It is highly instructive that Jesus did not go chasing after that rich young man, or withdraw his instruction to him, or amend said instruction so that it would be an easier life. Jesus' invitation comes when He looks deep into our hearts, when He looks at us with love, and then asks us to put Him first, to make Him our sole possession, so that in the end, we would be possessed by Him. All this has me asking myself the question: what is the Lord asking me to do in order that I might follow Him more closely? Is he telling me to give up something that I hold on to more tightly than I hold on to Him?

Fr. Brian Stanley

I apologize for the following mistake: in the first paragraph, last sentence, it should read "far TOO articulate."


Carrie, I think that if you take the kind of stories that I deal with on this blog, you'll see that all of those cases which you mention do matter. They might not matter to some posters, but they matter to me, and I discuss it.

Joseph D'Hippolito

Sean Gallagher, to answer your question, read the final paragraph of my previous post on this thread and combine that with TheAmericanist's outstanding analysis of the Catholic Church's response to the French Revolution (and to the American view of inalienable rights).

JACK, I knew very well what I was posting. I was commending Jimmy Mac for pointing out the hypocracy of "conservatives" who condemn "cafeteria Catholicism" in others and refuse to confront it in themselves.

Of course, the greatest "Cafeteria Catholic" today is JPII, who engages in theological revisionism concerning capital punishment and seeks to place Islam on the same level as Christianity...

Dave P.

I think A-Sull matters for three reasons.

One, he's highly visible and outspoken and, thus, a spokesman for the rank-and-filers in the pews who tend to agree with him.

Two, that he's exceptionally intelligent and articulate is beyond question -- while how *wise* he is is up for grabs.

And three, he has a flair for the dramatic gesture and/or statement, which makes the positions he stakes out perfect case studies (i.e., low-hanging fruit) readymade for the analyzing (i.e., chewing on and/or throwing).

And what a fascinating thread this is.

Sean Gallagher


I could write quite a bit in response to what you wrote in the last paragraph of your initial comment and on TheAmericanist's (to borrow your phrase) "outstanding analysis of the Catholic Church's response to the French Revolution (and to the American view of inalienable rights)", but I don't have to--Henry Dieterich did a fine job of that in his initial comment.


Joseph D'Hippolito wrote that "JPII...seeks to place Islam on the same level as Christianity..." What!?!!! What on earth are you talking about?


It’s not that Andrew Sullivan’s journey is more important than others, but it has been more public. For good or for ill he has shared some of his thought process publicly, and thus become a symbol of others in a similar place.

To me, it’s not that he’s more important than the couple three pews back at Mass on Sunday who can't reconcile the teaching on birth control with their experience; he IS that couple. He’s the friend who watches a lesbian couple live a relationship that is clearly life-giving and has problems understanding that as morally disordered. He’s the parents who have doubts about whether to bring up their daughter in a church that doesn’t ordain women.

The juxtaposition of this thread with the previous one on Terry Schiavo symbolizes the importance in my mind. Our turmoil as a church on issues of sexuality impedes our ability to bear witness to God’s word in this world, to be the voice for Terry Schiavo, to act for justice and peace.

Jimmy Mac

Bless you, Regina ... bless you!


I figured that if I kept reading someone might express my thoughts much better than I could. Thanks, Regina.


Amy, just in case there is a misunderstanding, I'm not criticizing you for bringing this up. I'm trying to understand why we focus particularly on Sullivan. Why so many people choose to comment in this thread and not in other threads. What about Sullivan attracts our attention when others who bemoan their inability to reconcile their beliefs with the Church do not necessarily attract our attention. I'm not sure whether it's the topic or Sullivan, himself, that we're discussing here.

I have a nagging sense that we might be in the process of trying to come to terms with homosexuality and the Church's teaching on this. That we are, perhaps, reluctant to confront the topic directly, and so use Sullivan as a vehicle for discussing it.

Or is it that we have a picture of Sullivan as the champion of abused children, and we can't reconcile that picture with his homosexuality? Whatever it is, Sullivan seems to nag at us in some subtle way.

Am I out in left field?

Dave P.

Regina writes: "Our turmoil as a church on issues of sexuality impedes our ability to bear witness to God’s word in this world, to be the voice for Terry Schiavo, to act for justice and peace."

And our "turmoil as a church" would be quieted, our Christian discipleship and witness strengthened, if we blessed same-sex unions, ordained women and declared contraception morally unproblematic?

Am I hearing you right on this, Regina?


Amen, Regina.

One of the best questions I ever heard, came in a theology class taught by a Jesuit (if that isn't redundant) many years ago. I think it was planned, but it sounded spontaneous at the time -- in the middle of a set up about what the Church teaches, and the importance of free will, and the Big Issues involved, he suddenly stopped, and glared at us, and as if talking to himself, asked: "What happens if you guys take this seriously?"

I still think the Huck Finn parallel, which Hemingway found the origin of American literature) is worth something: Huck had been taught his whole life that slavery was pre-ordained and would last (as the Bible teaches) until the Apocalypse. When he is confronted with the choice between betraying his friend Jim, and the morality he had been taught his whole life (which the Roman Catholic Church shared, since the Vatican chose Augustine over Patrick), he chose to do the WRONG thing: "All right, then I'll GO to hell."

That's an American story. Why isn't it also a Catholic one?

Mark Shea

I hate to interrupt this eulogy to glories of America, the nation that had to kill 2 percent of it population to resolve the question of slavery that Rome had given clear teaching on for centuries. But right now the glorious American judicial system is in the act of murdering a woman for the crime of possessing a life unworthy of being lived (another issue Rome has been remarkable clear about). Some of the dumb stupid small-minded Catholics on this board are volunteering funds so that Fr. Rob Johansen can go to Florida and try to provide some pastoral care to a dying woman who is being denied it by a system that is almost as superior to everbody as Americanist is. Would either Joe or Americanist care to donate to this cause, should Fr. Rob be able to get permission to go?

Or are you both nothing but hot gas?

Henry Dieterich

The Americanist is free to disagree with me if he likes, but I will not tolerate his accusation of dishonesty.

When I say the relationship of the Church and monarchy (even Ancien Régime monarchy) is complex I am not trying to obfuscate anything. The absolute monarchs of the early modern period were great friends of the Church--if she would do their bidding. When she would not, then they could be considerably less friendly. In this respect the French Revolutionaries were just trying to complete what Louis XIV had begun. And if we go back further, into the Middle Ages, we find that the most assertive monarchs were also those most at odds with the Church.

Since Mr. Donnelly is by his own admission an Americanist, I will not comment on the condemnation of Americanism. However, I would point out that no one who favors the importation of one type of secular political ideas into the government of the Church is in much of a position to criticize the importation of other ideas, merely because they are imported.

The notion that "freedom has a moral value," whether self-evident or not, is also not something that you would find many Catholic thinkers, past or present, to argue with. But while freedom may often be observed to flourish in a democracy, it is not logically limited to such governments, and may in fact be as limited by a repressive majority as by a repressive monarch.

Bear in mind that Popes made many pronouncements upon doctrine, enforced by excommunication, before the definition of infallibility (even before the French Revolution) and have made only two declarations pronounced as infallible since (neither on the subject of sexual morality). The condemnation of Americanism was made in the same way as the condemnation of Jansenism back in the days when kings ruled unchallenged.

The general tenor of Mr. Donnelly's posts suggests to me that he is hostile to the Catholic Church and its tradition in general. If that is the case, I am sorry; obviously we disagree about some important subjects. But although I consider that he is mistaken, and that he needs to learn a little more history from genuine scholars rather than partisans, I would never, as he has done to me, accuse him of dishonesty.

As for the subject at hand, and its wider implications, I think that our distinguished hostess has raised an excellent point about the conflicts that many people feel. I would not draw from these conflicts the conclusion that Mr. Sullivan, and evidently some of the posters here, draw, but their emotional force is real. I believe it is a case of what the social psychologists call "cognitive dissonance." It can lead one to leave the Church, or it can lead to new depths of faith. I intend to address the general issue in my own blog, rather than here, so as not to trespass excessively on Mrs. Wellborn's hospitality.


Reasrding Carrie's earlier comments:

I have noted, in every orthodox/trad/conservative Anglican or Catholic discussion area that I have ever visited, that discussion threads involving the "gay question" get the highest traffic and generate the most heat.

Some years ago (before the pederasty scandal hit the front pages), I asked the leader of a Catholic activist group why he focused on the issue of gay priests so much, seemingly to the neglect of other issues. He said that he wanted to talk about other things, but that hardly anyone would pay attention if he did.

A couple of conservative Anglican leaders told me the same.

It's telling ... and grim.


I think Henry Dieterich’s phrase of “cognitive dissonance” is a great description of what’s going on in the Church in the U.S. today, although I might not end up with the same conclusions he does. After all, we can’t even agree on what the problem is. We have one portion of the church that see the problem as the stubbornness of sin, of people’s unwillingness to change their ways, even though they subconsciously know the church teachings are correct. Another portion sees it as the working of the Holy Spirit, prompting a reexamination of church teachings once seen as fixed.

(There’s also another kind of cognitive dissonance I didn’t really understand until I began to spend time at St. Blogs, the pain of Catholics who fully accept the Church teachings on gender and sexuality and can’t understand why the Church isn’t living those teachings more forcefully.)

I think one reason Andrew Sullivan’s journey is attracting so much interest is the way it represents a part of the struggle inside the church. How do we resolve the conflict of teachings and lived experience? Is it the attraction of sin or the promptings of the Spirit? Over time it may be clear, but in the short term it’s very hard to see. “For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”


Dave P. asks: “And our "turmoil as a church" would be quieted, our Christian discipleship and witness strengthened, if we blessed same-sex unions, ordained women and declared contraception morally unproblematic?”

I was actually trying to be careful not to draw that conclusion. Frankly, I really wish I could just say yes. Or even no. It would be so much easier to be clear, unambiguous, and able to answer all the problems that easily. But I don’t think it’s that simple. I think we have to work through this together, as a church. We have to figure out what it means to be one body when our various body parts seem to be going in different directions.

My point is simply that, even as Mr. Sullivan leaves the church, the problem isn’t going away. And the turmoil of the conflict itself causes a lot of collateral damage, especially to our ability to witness to the good news of Jesus. We’ve always had conflicts within the church. It may be we always will. Maybe part of our challenge isn’t just to determine who “wins,” but how we deal with the discord itself; what it means to work out our disagreements as Christians.

Dave P.

Regina writes:

"I think we have to work through this together, as a church. We have to figure out what it means to be one body when our various body parts seem to be going in different directions. ... Maybe part of our challenge isn’t just to determine who 'wins,' but how we deal with the discord itself; what it means to work out our disagreements as Christians."

Stated like a very hopeful Episcopalian, Regina!

I'm afraid there can be no unity with no final apostolic authority. If faith and morals are a matter of an ongoing, unresolvable dialogue -- and the job of church leadership is to keep all the voices in play -- then there's no "there" there. The center cannot hold because there is no center, only constantly changing perimeters. Most of the old line Protesant denominations are finding this out only now, in the wake of the sexual revolution, even though the writing has been on their walls for generations.

No, the answer to your question about "what it means to work out our disagreements as Christians" is, indeed, simple. Say it with me now: Fidelity, fidelity, fidelity!


Grim, Lee? Maybe it's just an indication that we are having a hard time sorting out the morality.

Andrew Sullivan is intelligent and articulate. He is a high profile commentator. For that reason he has a measure of credibility most of us lack. So when he says something, we listen. And when he opposes the Church, we weigh his opinion more carefully than we would weigh the opinion of the pastor on Sunday morning, perhaps. Sullivan gives a good argument, so we want to agree with him. It's pc to agree with him. Recognizing that we are neither as well known nor perhaps as articulate and educated as he is, we find it difficult to deny his position. And when we do deny his position, we hope that others will affirm our own. I think the Catholic conscience on homosexuality is still in the formative stages.

Orthodox Catholics, for the most part, have concluded abortion is wrong. Hence when Francis Kissling speaks, we simply tune out. But we haven't reached the same conviction with homosexuality, so when Sullivan speaks we still listen. And then we debate.

Mark Shea


Works for me. You tell me where the money goes and I'm happy to send it (when I've got more).

Lemme put in a plug for Mercy Corps (www.mercycorps.org) too, one of my favorite relief agencies. They run a lean operation and the money actually goes to the people who need it and not relief agency bureaucrats.


LOL -- an instance of intellectual dishonesty: "And if we go back further, into the Middle Ages, we find that the most assertive monarchs were also those most at odds with the Church. "

Riiiiight -- Constantine was obviously a wuss. No point in going THAT far back cuz reality is SUCH an unpredictable thang.


I don't know much about the Schiavo case, and don't like such controversies generally. Like abortion itself, they're rarely as straightforward as partisans on either side like to make 'em out to be -- sorta like that Cuban kid from a few years ago. Elian Gonzalez promptly became a Cause for the Miami Cubans, but he was still just his father's son. The simplest way to resolve the matter was to recognize it was a custody case -- much as folks got everything ELSE involved, from Godless Communism and Castro's tyranny to Dave Barry.

And that's as far as I can go on the Schiavo case. I don't think the state is morally superior to her parents OR her husband. I just think somebody, someplace, has to make the call and the law apparently provides that to her husband.

So, no: I won't kick in so a priest who (so far as I know) has no particular tie to her or her husband can be imposed on them -- or, even better for the Cause, can be turned away at the hospital door.

Frankly, I am inclined to think about such efforts the way I reacted to the Miami Cubans over that little kid (because I am both a husband and a father) -- who ELSE are you guys willing to stomp on to get to lead your parade?

No offense intended to Father Rob.

Dave P.


So you "don't like such controversies." As if anyone does. It's interesting that you see both the killing of millions of viable babies and the starving of Terry Schiavo to death as "controversial issues" rather than unjust killings in which real people die despite the heroic actions of humble people, not power-hungry partisans, to save them.

Interesting, and telling.


It's too late for you or me to accomplish anything for Terry Schiavo. If the governor and AG of Florida can't or won't make a difference, Fr. Rob won't. If you really want to accomplish something for future Terry's, I suggest you e-mail or write your elected state officials to try to get enacted into law the mandatory appointment of a guardian ad litem in all cases when the legal guardian of a person claimed to be in PV state petitions to remove life support or feeding tubes, with full access to the person and records of the patient.


Man, the hypocrisy in this is thick enough to plow.

The abortion reference reminds me (of all things) of Diego Garcia, an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean that the U.S. uses to refuel long range bombers. I knew a guy in college who wrote a paper in college on it, and ever after steered every discussion he was ever in, ever so slowly, toward Diego Garcia because THAT was the one on which he felt comfortable. (Later, I saw a more sophisticated form of the technique used to elect a guy to Congerss in 1982, when Diego Garcia was Social Security.) Folks just like to hit the same nail -- let the word Griswold suffice.

Hypocrisy: Catholic hospitals use DNR orders and morphine drips all the time -- on the signatures of those authorized by the law. I'm not confident of making biological or legal, much less moral distinctions between removing breathing tubes, feeding tubes, or respirators, still less providing debilitating but palliative treatment.

But I WILL say that the bravest thing I ever personally witnessed was the middle daughter of a large family who was authorized by her parents and siblings to enforce a DNR order on the dying mother. She stayed in the room when the breathing tube was removed, knowing that if the mom couldn't breathe on her own, even if she pleaded as she died, the DNR meant that they would let her go.

And if anybody posting here had sought to enter that room to intervene, I'd have, er, prevented that, and felt quite righteous about it, too.

Mike Petrik

Don't call me "Francis":
Wrong yet again. Wasn't me, chief.

Henry Dieterich

The Americanist writes:

LOL -- an instance of intellectual dishonesty: "And if we go back further, into the Middle Ages, we find that the most assertive monarchs were also those most at odds with the Church. "

Riiiiight -- Constantine was obviously a wuss. No point in going THAT far back cuz reality is SUCH an unpredictable thang.


Well, the time of Constantine is not generally considered part of the Middle Ages, but he's not a bad example. Having legalized Christianity and called the Council of Nicaea, which condemned Arianism, he turned Arian himself and when he was baptized on his deathbed, it was by an Arian bishop. Two of his sons persecuted Catholics (the other was a Catholic; they also fought each other to the death). I was, however, thinking of guys like Emperors Henry IV and Frederick I (and II for that matter), and Henry II of England. There were examples of strong monarchs who were also allies of the Church, like St. Louis IX of France, but in general there was an opposition between those who believed that secular power should rule the Church and those who believed than kings were members of the Church like everyone else.

Watch it before you go accusing people of dishonesty. Even those who are mistaken can be mistaken honestly. Like you, for example.

Dave P.


Actually, 'twas you who introduced the abortion reference. Here's what you said:

"I don't know much about the Schiavo case, and don't like such controversies generally. Like abortion itself, they're rarely as straightforward as partisans on either side like to make 'em out to be ..."

Sing it with me one time: "I'm not aware of too many things, but I know what I know if you know what I mean ..."

Mike Petrik

Dave P.

Good one!


Re; church and monarchy. The French kings, who certain Radtrads hold up as exemplifying the ideal social order, were generally very strong upholders of "the rights of the Gallican Church" - i.e. that it should generally take its orders from the king and not from the Pope. One of the many examples of Hilaire Belloc's tendency to equate Catholicism with worship of France is that in his book on Louis XIV he sides with Louis in his jurisdictional disputes with the Pope, and even sneers at one Pope for accepting the support of Jansenists on the issue.


LOL -- an honest mistake, fair enough. But as a rule, when you err and somebody points it out once (however harshly) honesty requires that you not make the same error the SECOND time -- which is when HD decided to let us all know that his error was honest. (And I'm sure I speak for everybody in saying we appreciate that admission.)

Thus, 'forgive and forget' -- which, as Twain might have observed of the RCC, means forgetting you made a mistake and then forgiving yourself for the lapse. As he noted, that may seem morally problematic at first, but with practice it becomes so easy folks may come to consider it an essential part of righteousness -- even a matter of faith and doctrine.


One sin of historians is to confuse sequence -- put another way, to apply the characterizations and rules of what came after (like the present) with what came before. So it is surely understandable that HD -- who bragged of his knowledge -- would so easily misunderstand the council of Nicea -- which was PRESIDED over by an Arian, hand-picked by Constantine. It's so much easier to understand how the Council was interpreted 70 or 700 years later, than how it actually happened at the time. Curiously, this also winds up supporting the Vatican's authority... like many such interpretations.

But to leave ancient history out of it, that sorta proves the point. The Church has often been in error, but never in doubt.

After all, this is the same institution that taught slavery was inevitable for at least 1500 years (siding with Augustine, who kept slaves and may even have raped them, overuling Patrick, the first to unequivocally condemn slavery); which invented anti-Semitism and backed the divine right of kings.... yet somehow, forgets all that history when it insists on its right to moral leadership. It insists on its unswerving dedication to a universal truth that transcends human error -- while skipping over a half-dozen or more cardinal errors that is has made and corrected, er, 'developed'.

I can't speak for Sullivan, but it seems pretty straightforward that he cannot reconcile what he considers himself to BE -- a gay man who needs love --- and the fact that the Catholic Church regards his identity itself as a sin. When he looks at the practical facts of it (even in theological terms), the 'love the sinner but hate the sin' rubric, he sees himself instructed on who he IS, by an institution that is -- in fact -- deeply conflicted about itself, particularly on sexual matters.

I personally know priests who have refused to marry couples in a Catholic church because the couple was insufficiently Catholic -- yet it turns out that those same priests were covering up not merely sins, but crimes.... in the same churches.

Hell, I used to serve mass for a bishop who destroyed evidence in criminal cases.

An institution is how it acts -- especially when it 'forgives and forgets' so conveniently.

Dave P.

" ... an institution that is -- in fact -- deeply conflicted about itself, particularly on sexual matters."

Spoken like a true modern Americanist: View the Church through the eyes of the popular culture rather than viewing the popular culture through the eyes of the Church.

My friend, the Church is not conflicted in the least on sexual matters. Its teachings on human sexuality are as clear as crystal, and millions love and do their best to abide by them joyfully.

Meanwhile, many of the Church's members are deeply conflicted as to whether they are American first and Catholic second -- or the other way around.

An interesting phenomenon, this tick they call "projection."

Dave P.

Americanist says: "An institution IS how it acts."

Yet an institution only "acts" as its members act. To judge a church with a billion members by the most offensive subset of actions committed by a tiny percentage of its members is to view that church through ScandalVision glasses. Made in America, I guess, in this case.

It might be interesting to see what kinds of things you'd tend to notice, and thus judge the institution by, if you sported a pair of GoodWorks glasses every now and again.

Here's another way to look at it. In your extended family -- including your most distant cousins, aunts, uncles and so on -- do you not have one or two black sheep? Even among the mostly respected elders, perhaps? Consider this. How would you take it if you invited a friend to a family reunion at which one of the black sheep made a complete ass of himself, offending everyone, and ever after your friend went around saying, "Man, Americanist's family is *incredibly* screwed up. Those people are *hopeless*!"

Would that seem like a fair and just assessment to you, Americanist?

Lynn Gazis-Sax

But I WILL say that the bravest thing I ever personally witnessed was the middle daughter of a large family who was authorized by her parents and siblings to enforce a DNR order on the dying mother.

Americanist, am I understanding this situation properly? I'm reading this as a case where the mother was still coherent and capable of stating whether she wanted to be resuscitated, and the family got to make the decision, and enforce it regardless of whether she pleaded to have life support back. Surely I'm misreading you here?

Dave P.


Thanks for setting me straight. I guess I got a little carried away trying to apply those goofy theological virtues, faith, hope and love, in my attitude toward the leaders of our Church. And in trying to support and pray for the Church rather than smiting, spiting and castigating it.

From now on, I'll try to "handle the truth" more like you do: by wallowing in suspicion, despair and unforgiveness, and passing up no opportunity to express those feelings. And by constantly asking not what I can do for the Church, but rather why the Church isn't doing more about my righteous indignation over its putrid performance.

Is this the kind of knowing of the truth that will set me free, Joe?


Henry Dieterich observed above that:

"For me, and for Mr. Sullivan, it means that
He is calling us to refrain from exercising
our sexual appetites (even though the
directions of the appetites are different,
the call is still the same)"

Something about this rubbed me the wrong way. I sat and analyzed why, and I will try to explain.

It's that I find an apparent failure of empathy there, in the way Mr. Dieterich equates his own situation to that of Mr. Sullivan. His point is essentially, "I'm obeying the Church teaching on sex; why can't you, Andrew?"

Reading his blog, I see that Mr. Dieterich was married once, and presumably enjoyed sex within those confines. He has since had that marriage annulled, and is now free to marry again. Any time he meets a single woman, he knows that, in theory, given sufficient mutual appreciation, they can get married, and he can again enjoy the pleasures of rapturous integration with his mate.

They may both have their "crosses to carry", as Mr. Dieterich puts it, but next to Mr. Sullivan's, Mr. Dieterich's cross looks relatively padded and comfortable.

Many Catholics, the married ones, don't face the issue of celibacy at all. Some, like Mr. Dieterich, single for the moment at least, do face it, but I think it must be far easier for them to endure the long desert march of resisted sexual temptation, when they know it can end in an oasis where those feelings can finally be properly and blessedly expressed.

And I think that is exactly what makes priestly celibacy both so challenging and so admired: its completeness and endlessness. Knowing ahead of time, that you will never touch or be touched like that, will never enjoy the emotional comforts of a loving spouse...

But I went further and thought about ways in which it's even more difficult yet, for a homosexual than a priest, to be celibate:

1. Calling. Priests are an exceptional and tiny minority who've felt a specific calling from God to the vocation. Gays are generally aware of no such special calling, and they are around 1-10% of the general population. (I've never seen an estimate lower than 1, or higher than 10).

2. Opting out. I have heard more than one devout man say something like "I thought about being a priest, but I know myself and I know I'm too sexual; I just couldn't handle the celibacy." Gays have no way of opting out: strongly sexual or not, you're "in" and must attempt celibacy.

3. Honor. Priests are honored for their sacrifice ("I can't imagine giving up sex myself, but he gave it up, to serve us!"). Whereas celibate gays who've confessed their orientation will be given ostensible smiles from the congregation ("oh he's a wonderful Christian"), but somehow they won't be invited to dinner much, and won't
be trusted with kids.

4. "Off limits". Priests spend most of their day surrounded by people who know they're off limits, and often wear a collar that raises the issue as well.

5. Support. Realizing that unlike the mass of humanity, celibate priests have no lifemates, the Church has evolved various support mechanisms and living arrangements, and it provides a kind of alternate family, extending to retirement, where priests live with other retired priests.

My point is that we all acknowledge celibacy is very difficult even for priests. And that there are reasons to believe gays must make even more heroic efforts to attain it than priests do. Given this, I think we should be more circumspect before saying "we all have our crosses to bear" by way of telling a homosexual to "buck up".

Telling someone who just lost his spouse that God will make it all work out for the best may be theologically true, but it's not a terribly tactful thing to say at that particular moment. And telling someone "we both have our crosses to bear" when yours is ten pounds and his is 100...and lifting your ten pound weight in his face by way of example...at a minimum that must be somewhat exasperating for the guy with the 100 pounder.

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