DEFENDING THE VATICAN

You notice a couple of things about the two NYT op-eds that have appeared on the subject of the proposed ban on chaste gay seminarians in the Catholic church. The difference between Amy Welborn’s description of the new policy on her own website as “insane” and her milque-toast defense of the new policy in the NYT just speaks to the limits of someone’s ability to tell the full truth when the spotlight is really on her. But John Allen’s piece is merely bizarre. The Vatican’s defense of their reversal of the classic policy of “hate the sin, love the sinner” to “ban all gays, regardless of their conduct” now comes to this: we won’t really enforce it. Of course, they’ve already conceded that by saying that they wouldn’t bar any already-ordained gay priests (the only logic here is prudential; if they actually enforced their new policy, they could lose up to a third of their current employees).

A GERMAN POPE: But Allen goes further by attributing the new nakedly homophobic policy to Italian cultural norms. I’m sorry but when the Italian Paul VI ran the Church, we had a ground-breaking document rebutting the notion that homosexuality in itself is a sin. The last Italian pope, Pope John Paul I, had, in his previous career, spoken very positively about gay men and relationships. The force behind this new discrimination is not Italian: it is from a German pope whose history shows he has a very clear idea of what he means by authority and how he means to enforce it. I may have missed one of those fatwas from Ratzinger’s Congregation that was intended not to be enforced, but it certainly hasn’t been his style. The new policy is backed by a group of hard-right Catholic American intellectuals who are very, very close to Benedict’s ear. The policy may well not be able to be enforced because a) many seminaries and religious orders in the U.S. will simply refuse to go along; b) many gay seminarians will dissemble their way in (those may well be the least adjusted gay seminarians and the most likely to be unethical in their future actual conduct); and c) the church cannot practically afford to lose more candidates for the priesthood. But the idea that the policy is designed not to be enforced is, well, weird. Even if true, it amounts simply to a rhetorical statement that gays are somehow inherently morally inferior to straights, whatever they do and however they act. Doesn’t that make the policy even worse? That it is not actually intended to address an actual perceived “problem” and to solve it, but as a kind of homophobic mood-setter for the Church’s cultural climate?

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