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Issue Date:  August 26, 2005

From the Editor's Desk

Listening to parents

“What I’m learning in all of this is everything in life has goodness and love -- and shadow. Everything has both. Do I see that in the Catholic church? Absolutely. Do I walk away because of that? No. I have to stay with it because it’s the church that’s been a part of us too.”

While that declaration could have come from countless Catholics who are staying despite scandals, lack of hierarchical accountability, less than pastoral pastors and the second-class status of women, the above was spoken by Deb LeMay. She is a member of what I would call a set of Catholics for whom staying in the Catholic community takes extraordinary courage and resolve. She is the parent of a gay child.

I know well some Catholic parents of gay children. I have spoken to many more. And what always strikes me is the fact that these parents know their children in so many other ways: as loving, obstinate, creative, lazy, perky, sullen, all the things kids are, as fully human, before they know them as straight or gay.

It’s tempting but I won’t give away any more of Kris Berggren’s column. Just don’t miss it. ( See story.)

I don’t mean to overstate the experience of parents and families, imagining that somehow that experience could be overstated, but I think it is not out of line to suggest that families are a good starting point for pastoral theology in the matter of homosexuality.

Certainly any pastoral approach to humans, no matter what orientation, cannot be found in such phrases as “objectively disordered” or “intrinsically inclined toward evil,” used in the past by the Vatican in characterizing homosexuals.

I can only presume that what we don’t know about homosexuality would fairly overwhelm what we do know and that what the sciences are learning about homosexuality is hardly consulted by those in the church proclaiming on the subject.

Someday, we can hope, our insights will catch up to our ignorance, and the understanding of homosexuality will be vastly different from that of today. Until then, we’ll trust our understanding that gays and lesbians are our children, all of ours, and that they are as intrinsically inclined toward goodness as all of our other children.

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If parents are a good starting point for some pastoral theology perhaps they are a good starting point, too, for international policy.

Cindy Sheehan, mother of Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, who was killed in Iraq last April, set up a makeshift camp in Crawford, Texas, asking for President Bush to come out to see her. (See story.)

Is it more a publicity stunt, as some critics have charged, than a real concern for the troops? Is this an improper way to conduct a debate on foreign policy? Is it over the top, unreasonable, divisive? Probably some of all of the above.

I don’t know Cindy Sheehan. But what is clear is that even though she took such dramatic action, her questions keep getting submerged beneath the media’s need for quick lines and the administration’s need to spin.

A former Catholic youth minister, according to reports, Sheehan’s main point has been that her son died in what she thinks is an immoral and unnecessary war. Her primary question seems to be why her son died in a war started for reasons that have been shown by memos, statements by former members of the administration, simple empirical evidence and other means, to have been manufactured.

Unfortunately, her point seems too often to be conveyed as a simple-minded plea to get the troops out of Iraq. Mr. Bush, in a brief response, also reduced Sheehan’s effort to that plea, adding that she had a right to say whatever she wanted because this is America.

No one disputes that point or questions her rights. The response, however, does not answer Cindy Sheehan.

The question now is whether one mother’s radical action will be a kind of tipping point by inspiring other mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, to openly ask the questions they have been quietly harboring and to demand answers.

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John L. Allen Jr. was on the papal plane to Cologne, Germany, last week to cover Pope Benedict XVI’s first big road trip when he heads for World Youth Day, which actually occurs over a period of several days. Allen was filing daily to the NCR Web site, That coverage will replace his weekly column, The Word from Rome, for Aug. 19.

A full report on World Youth Day activities by John Allen will appear in the paper issue of NCR dated Sept. 2.

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Finally, your help has been extremely effective in bringing in new subscribers. We’re just 300 short of our goal of 2,000 new subscriptions by the end of summer. So we’re making one last plea with an ad in this week’s issue and we’re including one more round of promotional materials for those who think they can help the cause.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, August 26, 2005

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