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Issue Date:  November 11, 2005

From the Editor's Desk

As his conscience dictated

John McNeill is not among the pantheon of current church movers and shakers. He is an example of one who, having been compelled to tell the truth as his conscience dictated, was then ostracized from the community (see story). He didn’t fit, as is the case with so many of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. His understanding of homosexuality -- informed not only by experience but also by deep study and contemplation -- didn’t fit. And his lifestyle, a supposed celibate living with a partner, was certainly out of synch and seen by many of his Jesuit confreres at the time as betrayal. And so he was exiled from his order.

One need not agree with every detail of McNeill’s life, however, to understand his significance to the Catholic discussion of homosexuality, limited as it is today. One can also imagine the day when his book The Church and Homosexuality will be consulted as a classic, a foundational text in increasingly new and sophisticated understandings of homosexuality.

That day, granted, is a long way off. The church changes in tiny steps.

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So why all of the articles recently about homosexuality in general and homosexual priests? We’ve highlighted an anonymous gay priest, opinion pieces on homosexuality and gay priests and this week you’ll find an account of a gay priest who has gone public ( see story).

First, the issue is important and timely, given the seminary survey underway and the impending Vatican document on gays in the priesthood.

Most important, however, is the fact that the discussion that is occurring on our pages in the form of stories by and about homosexuals and gay priests is the very discussion that should be occurring -- and for the most part does not happen -- among priests and bishops. Of course, frank and open discussion of sexuality is difficult among ministers in an institution where admitting one’s homosexuality could get you in a lot of trouble. It is one of those self-defeating loops to which the hierarchical model of leadership seems especially prone.

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I donít want to sign off before mentioning both the cover and the Letters pages. Charles de Foucauld is the kind of figure -- quirky to say the least, a strangely wild dreamer and faithful to Gospel demands in what many would say were extreme ways -- that I find consoling and affirming of the Catholic pilgrimage. Whatever one thinks of canonizing saints, his life is worth knowing about and contemplating (see story).

Don’t line the birdcage with this issue before you check the Letters pages ( see story). What a treasure. There’s a lively exchange between Alan Dershowitz and NCR columnist Neve Gordon over a recent Gordon review, as well as a deeply moving and challenging correspondence about a recent article on life imprisonment sentences from Antoinette Bosco, a mother of murder victims. Bishop Robert C. Morlino reacts to an editorial critical of his acceptance of an appointment to the board of the former School of the Americas and raises an interesting point. “I truly believe that had I not accepted this appointment, I would be saying to my diocese, the church and the world that human rights are someone else’s responsibility.” That’s a thought, far more measured than his initial statement to his diocesan paper (NCR, Oct. 21) that would be worth a much longer discussion.

Finally, there is the mother who takes us to task for using the descriptive “adopted” when referring to children in a recent appreciation. “Why is it necessary to distinguish in an obituary that the deceased’s children did not share the same DNA as their parent?” she asks. I don’t know, is my immediate answer. I thought, quite frankly, that it said something about the generosity of the parent. I hadn’t thought much about the other side of the consideration.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, November 11, 2005

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