National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
September 5, 2003

LettersHomosexuality and the church

I gnash my teeth in frustration every time some homophobic fundamentalist runs to hide behind the Old Testament condemnation of homosexuality. They are practicing “cafeteria Bible.” We ignore other Old Testament prohibitions and/or practices by saying times have changed. We eat pork and shellfish, we don’t shudder at mixing meat and dairy, we don’t permit polygamy, and we abhor slavery, for example. Homosexuality is not a choice. It’s been with us as long as history records it. Where in the New Testament did Jesus condemn it?

Mentmore, N.M.

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Your Aug. 15 editorial states: “Official church teachings on sexuality leave gays and lesbians with no moral recourse to sexual intimacy. With modern science generally concurring that genetics play a significant role in determining sexual orientation, one can reasonably ask why the Creator has placed such special burdens on a large portion of the human family.”

Why did God let some people be born insane, blind, retarded, deaf, crippled? He just did, and we are expected to deal with the suffering we’re handed and learn from it and join it to Christ’s suffering, etc. What happened to your Catholic education?

I’ve asked a number of times, why do you keep the name “Catholic” in your logo -- it is clear to any sensible person that your organization is Protestant.

Libertyville, Ill.

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One would have to be brain dead not to accept the evidence that there is a disproportionately large number of homosexual men in the ranks of the Roman Catholic priesthood. While some gay priests can be as disagreeable as their heterosexual counterparts, the majority of gay priests I know, like many of their straight counterparts, are creative, compassionate, honorable, hard working and loyal (which is more than we can say for their leaders, gay or straight). If the statistics on homosexuals in the priesthood are correct, the new Vatican anti-same-sex-union document (NCR, Aug. 15) was probably written by some homosexual bureaucrat priests. Ouch! Talk about hypocrisy -- not to mention self-acceptance, identity issues and a smattering of self-loathing!

The latest in the wave of uninvited, unnecessary and frankly just plain mean pronouncements by the Vatican regarding all things sexual proves conclusively that there is entirely too much lead in the drinking water at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The timing of this “straight eye for the queer guy” rubric could not have been worse, as the Anglican communion proved itself again to be insightful, courageous and true to the gospel message of compassion and inclusion. The newest ecclesiastical gay bashing (and that’s just what this is) is not about orthodoxy, preserving the faith for future generations or reflecting the will of Christ. It is about fear, prejudice and the last gasp of an institution not merely in crisis, but rather in catastrophe.

Jesus had a great deal to say on many issues; however, he said nothing about same-sex, or for that matter opposite-sex, marriage. Actually he does not appear to have had any “official” position on sex at all. Yet since the time of Augustine right up to this Vatican administration’s diagnosable obsession with sex, Rome keeps crediting Catholic tradition with an invented sexual philosophy and disciple that is at best naive and at worst destructive of the human spirit. If the silly and intellectually sterile concept of the “natural law” reveals anything about God, it is that he is a good deal more creative, and certainly kinder, than we are. For reasons of his own, the Lord “naturally” makes gays and straights and some in-betweens -- kind of like the product line at General Motors. It’s that simple; it’s that “natural.”

Paterson, N.J.

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Recently the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote, “Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil.”

By urging legislators not to extend the legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, church leaders argue that providing legal protection for a mutually supportive, committed relationship between two men or women is approving evil.

When it invokes that kind of language in official documents, how can the church be surprised that millions of its members who are gay, lesbian or bisexual -- or heterosexual friends or relatives -- question whether we indeed are always part of the church’s family?

As I came out as a young adult, I came to the same conclusion that the Catechism of the Catholic Church does -- that my orientation is a given.

For years, I questioned why God would give me the same capacity and desire to love, nurture and build affirming relationships as my heterosexual friends or siblings but deny me the use of that gift of sexuality. Ultimately, after reading, observing, talking, listening, reflecting and lots and lots of praying, I felt the answer was that God wouldn’t do that. Instead, I was called to a responsible, mature way of loving. And I found that in the development of a committed partnership.

Church leaders acknowledge a unitive value to sex -- that God created sexual pleasure as a gift that strengthens the bond between partners and is an ultimate, heartfelt expression of the love that two people share for each other. Otherwise, the definition of moral sexual behavior as strictly procreative would raise real questions for couples who cannot conceive, older couples who marry after child-bearing years and the like. But this value is only acknowledged within a heterosexual marriage. The church wears blinders when confronted with the possible unitive value of sex among committed same-sex partners.

Raleigh, N.C.

Turmoil in Texas

Bravo for the Aug. 1 article “Turmoil in Texas” by Teresa Malcolm! I have been in ministry for 14 years and have witnessed unjust firings of church employees, but never because of union affiliations. Faithful ministers are at the hands of the church (i.e., bishops, pastors, priests). It gives me great pain to know my church, which promotes justice in the workplace, often is not a just place to work. I am definitely heartened by the number of lay people who are supporting their ministers in Texas. God bless you for your courage and show of confidence in the ministers who serve you. Perhaps we are finally waking up. I hope and pray God eases the pain of those directly involved, and blesses them with courage to “fight the good fight.” We need you. We are with you.

Davison, Mich.

Catholic credibility

Your Aug. l issue included an article by Michael Shields headlined “Double standard in public life hurts Catholic credibility.” He makes a good point that many conservative Catholics are too anxious to condemn other Catholics for their pro-choice stance while themselves ignoring gospel issues such as justice, hunger, poverty and the death penalty.

However, in South Dakota we always say during hunting season that we must take careful aim before we shoot. One of the examples he gives is Bishop Robert Carlson of South Dakota.

Apparently, Bishop Carlson did say in some private correspondence to Senate Minority Leader Tom Dashle of South Dakota that the senator’s pro-choice stance raises some question about the sincerity of his Catholic affiliation. (Somehow the media learned of it.)

But Bishop Carlson is known as a champion of the poor and marginal citizens of our state on gospel issues of social justice. Not only does his diocese sponsor outreaches to the poor through housing, shelter, clothing and food to the hungry, he has also cosponsored an initiative in the last general election against state gambling as it exploits the poor. He has opened a hospice for those living with AIDS. He has been a sharp critic of our state’s sales tax on food. He has been vocal in his opposition to capital punishment. Like the present pope, he is theologically conservative, but has a strong bent towards social justice issues.

Attorney Shields said something that needs to be said, but I caution him not to paint all conservatives with the same brush.

Sioux Falls, S.D.

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Michael L. Shields was granted carte blanche to express a viewpoint that seeks to divide and confuse. It is not worthy of a publication seeking sincere discourse. How can one profess to believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, and then dismiss Bishops William Weigand and Robert Carlson as “self-described true Catholics?”

Our bishops are gravely concerned over abortions in America. It is reasonably estimated that 43 million souls have been callously lost due to Roe v. Wade, yet Mr. Shields reduces the concern to an unfair imposition by “conservative” Catholics. To undiscerning readers he implies that the bishops can be disregarded because other conservative Catholics fail to oppose the death penalty as vigorously as they oppose abortion (even though our bishops are absolutely consistent in their teachings on both issues) -- and further because conservative Catholics are not as generous to the poor as Mr. Shields would have them be. Besides, he says, American women arguably have a “right” to abort their children.

There have been 871 executions and 43 million abortions since the Supreme Court empowered both practices. You have lent your publication to a disingenuous effort to thwart and ridicule our bishops’ emphasis on the larger problem.


Sex and celibacy

Let me comment on the article by Fr. Frank Cordaro (NCR, Aug. 15) -- and I use the term “Father” deliberately. First of all, Cordaro says because he “can’t be celibate” he has resigned from the priesthood. While I admire his candor in admitting his losing battle with celibacy, he ignores the ultimate need for his decision: the demand by a solely male hierarchy that celibacy is a necessary prerequisite for ordination.

Secondly, and more important, I object to the phrase “resigned from the priesthood.” One can resign from the active ministry, but one cannot resign from the priesthood. How can one resign from the priesthood if, as the church has told all of us who received Sacred Orders, that “once a priest, always a priest”? In light of the church’s teaching, there is no such thing as an ex-priest or a former priest.

I write as a married priest who, this week, is observing his 33rd year of happiness with a wife. I have been happy as a priest; I am now happy as a husband and father. Also, I am both a conscientious priest, and a conscientious husband and father.

Fr. (and father) MAYNARD J. BRENNAN
Springdale, Pa.

NCR’s sexual obsession

I had to laugh at your “Vatican Disconnect” editorial (NCR, Aug. 15) when it claims the church is “fixated on sex.” Looking at your Web page, I found not only your editorial, but a story on a priest resigning over celibacy, several stories on gay unions and the Episcopalians, a movie review of “The Magdalene Sisters,” a secrecy in sex case story, a Last Words quote on sexuality, and an article on the environment as women’s work. This saturation makes clear that sex is also your obsession.

That is not surprising because, as the latter part of the editorial exposes, sex is the means to your end, which is power. Power to control and change the church.

An honest editorial or article I would like to see is why NCR Catholics stay in the church when they viscerally disagree with what constitutes the fundamental nature of being human.

I suspect it is much easier to covet and grab the levers of power from within.

Eagan, Minn.

Unsupported statements

The letter of James Asher (NCR, Aug. 15) is one of the most ignorant, racist and non-Christian items that I have seen recently.

1) How can the Palestinians be “anti-Semite,” when they themselves are “Semites”? 2) Asher’s statement that Palestinian “hatred” of Israelis is akin to the hatred by “Americans” (undefined) for the “Indians” (undefined) is ludicrous. The United States is populated by “native Americans” and by “immigrants and their offspring.” Let us call them that openly and honestly while avoiding any unsupported statements about “hatred.” 3) The statement that the “Palestinian homeland” concept depends on a concession in recent history by Yitzhak Rabin is inaccurate. “Palestine” existed from the end of World War I until the 1948 partition.

4) The statement that if native Americans could conquer “America” they would have “every right” to do so is in total opposition to the ideas of Christianity. The suppression of the natives by the whites was (and is) immoral and unjust; but two “wrongs” don’t make one “right.” To suggest that this “making things right” should be brought about by violence is incredible.

San Diego

Catholic adoption policies

Between 1949 and 1972, 6 million single, white, middle-class women lost their babies to adoption. I was one of these women. Although we did not have Magdalene laundries (NCR, Aug. 15) here in the United States, we had homes for unwed mothers throughout the country, many run by Catholic Charities. I was an unwed, pregnant, 20-year-old college junior when I lived at St. Vincent’s Orphanage in Philadelphia in 1959.

I was not deliberately humiliated by anyone during my time at St. Vincent’s, but I was deliberately misinformed. I wasn’t told about any “option” except adoption. I didn’t know I was entitled to welfare. I didn’t know I could sue my child’s father for support. Daily I was told how I was “giving some poor childless couple a wonderful gift.” Daily I was told, “Never say ‘my baby.’ Always say, ‘the baby’ so you won’t become attached to it.” But I had wanted my child from the moment of his conception.

If I had had a year of financial aid from his father, my family or Catholic Charities, I could have raised my son. At the time I was forced to surrender my son, I had more educational and economic potential than the couple who adopted him.

I remember a nurse entering my ward after my arduous delivery with my son in her arms. Out of nowhere a nun stepped in front of her. “She can’t have that baby,” she shouted and took my son back to the nursery. I never held or touched my child. I would have never even seen him if I hadn’t crawled out of bed in the middle of the night to peer at him through the nursery glass.

No, we didn’t have Magdalene laundries. Instead we had social policy that dictated that unwed equaled unfit in order to justify the transfer of babies from “unwed,” powerless women to more affluent, childless, married women without consideration of the long-term repercussions on the “natural” mothers or their children who grew up believing they were “unwanted.”

Since the Catholic church, Catholic Charities, priests and various orders of nuns are now apologizing to the “victims” of their misguided ministrations, perhaps they can now send official condolences to those of us who were coerced into surrendering our babies to strangers for the sake of the multimillion-dollar adoption industry and have lived with disenfranchised grief ever since.

Hudson, Ohio

International Criminal Court

The decision to cut aid to over 30 countries is yet another example of the Bush administration’s obsessive campaign to shield the United States from jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, demonstrating this president’s disrespect for international law. I do not believe our soldiers will commit the horrendous crimes covered by the court -- genocide, mass murders and mass rapes.

The United States has now cut off military funds to train peacekeepers and police, teach good human rights practices, and transport disaster relief to some of the world’s poorest countries unless nations agree to exempt U.S. officials and citizens from the court. This policy openly contradicts our other foreign policy priorities -- promoting democracy, peace and security.

There are 139 nations of the world that respect the court’s jurisdiction. Why are we so wary of an international court of law?

Raymore, Mo.

Child labor victims

Pat Morrison introduced us to young victims of child labor in her potent July 18 “Perspectives” column, and it broke my heart.

Such issues of social injustice sadly have taken a media back seat to the pressing crisis of clergy sexual abuse and misconduct in our bruised Catholic church.

Nevertheless, Morrison points out the reality of other social injustice bruises, indeed, holding them up for all to see. She has given us a gift of awareness, and with it the seed of change, which each one of us can choose to plant. By doing so, people of good will can answer the call by becoming informed and standing up in defense of the abused and the powerless.

Flush with abundance and choices galore in stores of every description, Americans can spend their lives shopping in an oblivious, insular daze. All the while, the child labor that produces many of the coveted goods in our stores continues to be an appalling issue worldwide.

Toledo, Ohio

Ten Commandments

Murder, stealing, greed and adultery run rampant in our American culture. Does anyone really believe that posting the Ten Commandments everywhere will help curtail our penchant for sinning? Will God bless America more if the Ten Commandments are posted in every school and significant public place? Will their posting lessen the source of most wrongdoing -- the love of money, or greed? If they had been on display at Enron’s corporate headquarters, could a scandal have been averted?

Public display of the Ten Commandments to show America’s religiosity does not honor God. To be effective, the commandments must be engraved on a person’s heart, soul and conscience. Emanating out of such a soul will come an outward manifestation of what really pleases God -- a pure and genuine religion that puts God first, others second and self last. Many people are misguided by politicians’ attempts to make religion a political issue, but God is not fooled.

Louisville, Ky.

Letters to the editor should be limited to 250 words and preferably typed. If a letter refers to a previous issue of NCR, please give us that issue’s date. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Letters, National Catholic Reporter, P.O. Box 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141. Fax: (816) 968-2280. E-mail: Please be sure to include your street address, city, state, zip and daytime telephone number.

National Catholic Reporter, September 5, 2003