Let’s start off this weekend on a high-minded note: Ryan Harkins’ mega-defense of the Catholic Church.
You better get readin! Here is Ryan Harkins’ Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethics Dunce: The Archdiocese of Detroit”…
(I may be back at the end.)
I want to begin with a brief discussion on Catholic doctrine on sexual morality. In its essence, Catholic doctrine says that sex has two united purposes: procreation, and bonding together a husband and wife and any children they produce. To take human sexuality out of that context is harmful to both the participants who engage in disordered acts, and it is harmful to society for the precedent and scandal such activity creates. Just as eating has a specific purpose, namely fueling the body, when it is taken outside its context, it creates disorders. Enjoying the food you eat is fine; but eating solely for the enjoyment leads to bodily harm, such as obesity and diabetes. So sex, when taken beyond the context of its purposes, leads to disorders.
The problem with sexually abusive priests, the problem with sexual harassment in practically every enterprise out there, the problem with broken families and absent fathers, all trace some, if not all, their origins to sexual disorder. Making the pleasurable aspects of sex the primary goal of sexual activity leads to the use and abuse and discarding of other people as objects to be consumed. I have experienced this myself, and part of the reason I feel so strongly on this topic is because I have introduced a great amount of dysfunction into my marriage and other relationships by years of self-serving pleasure-seeking.
There’s yet a deeper aspect of human sexuality in the context of the Catholic faith, namely, the concept of man being created in the image and likeness of God, based in the text from Gensis which says, “So God created man in his image. In the divine image he create him. Male and female he created them.” Catholics note that both individually and as family, man images God. As an individual, every human has intellect and will, and in that each human is an image of God. But the Christian faith has revealed God as Trinity — God the Father, The Son who proceeds from the intellect of God (God knows God), and the Spirit, that proceeds from the will of God (God loves God). So an individual images God because an individual can perceive himself, and can love himself. But the family images God, as well, because (following Genesis), there is man, and the woman who proceeded from man, and the child that proceeds from the love of man and woman.
The reason I mention this is that when sexual morality comes under assault, it isn’t just a challenge to Church moral teaching or to Church authority. It strikes at the fundamental understanding of who man is, who God is, and how man relates to God. If the relationship between God and man is fundamental to man achieving heaven, then anything that strikes at and undermines that relationship is threatening salvation.
For example, if part of our relationship is understanding God as Father, and not simply by analogy, but in truly being Father through the adoption as sons all the faithful in Christ, then something that undermines fatherhood undermines our relationship with God. This can be seen in some portions of the black community, where some evangelists have been warned not to speak of God as father because the epidemic of absent fathers has led so many sons to see fathers as something extremely negative. Or consider the problem with the pedophile priests. It isn’t simply the sexual harm that they have caused, but they have shattered the trust people need to have with their priests, and if priests are spiritual fathers, that leads to shattering trust in God as a father.
I wish I could take the time to say more. There is so much about this that needs to be said, because the Church’s understanding of sexuality is a tapestry that touches so much. Regarding same-sex attraction, the Church teaches that the person with the attraction is always good and deserving of the same respect accorded to every other human person. The attraction itself is disordered, but is not sinful, because a desire is merely a desire. But same-sex activities cannot be condoned because they remove the sexual act from the procreative purpose of sex. As a note, same-sex activities are far from being alone in this category.
Terry Gonda has been a loyal member and supporter of the Catholic church for decades, serving as musical director of her parish for over twenty years. She is gay, but never hid the fact from her family, friends, church or pastors. She was also married, to another woman, naturally. This wasn’t a secret.
The fact that this wasn’t a secret and it wasn’t addressed is called scandal. Just as not handling pedophile priests was a scandal, so is turning a blind eye to activity that is directly contrary to Catholic teaching. Similar scandals arise when a leader in the Church divorces and remarries when a the first marriage was found to be valid, or when a teacher is found teaching concepts directly contrary to Catholic doctrine. If I had to relate this to a business, I would say the comparison is a business firing an employee for selling a competitor’s products.
That’s one hell of a way to do it: fire a loyal employee and devoted Catholic for private “immorality”—this from an institution that went to outrageous lengths not to fire pedophile priests world-wide.
Yes, there are worse evils to which some members of the Church have turned a blind eye. But I emphasize the “some members” because the Church is not simply the Pope and the other bishops that we have right now. The Church is its entire membership and its deposit of learning and teaching for the past two thousand years. The Catholic Church has not embraced priestly pedophilia; some members acting against clear Catholic moral doctrine and against Canon Law have done so, and they need to be held accountable. The very fact that anyone can levy the insult of hypocrisy against Catholics is because the Catholic Church explicitly teaches that pedophilic acts by its priests is wrong, and that covering up the crimes committed by those priests is wrong. There is no one arguing that those priests and those covering them up represented a change in Catholic teaching, or were in any in the right.
As regards firing an employee for “private immorality”, it is hard to make the case that they were a loyal, devoted Catholic when flaunting explicit Catholic teaching. You can argue that Catholic teaching in this regard is wrong, but that doesn’t change the fact that being an openly married homosexual couple run directly counter to that teaching.
As a thought, Jack, I didn’t see anything in the rationalization list the encapsulates this idea: “Because we didn’t enforce the law (or rule or regulation) in the past, we can’t enforce it now.” The closest I saw was the Tortoise Excuse, “Better Late than Never”. The thought I have here is kind of the flip side of the Tortoise Excuse.
“They’re trying to sweep the gays out of the church,” added her spouse. “Would they rather we live in sin?”
I think this question shows the bulk of the problem. By Church teaching, they already are living in sin. The firing here is analogous to the lady who was fired from her government job for refusing to hand out marriage license to same-sex couples. If the authority you submit to says you are in the wrong, but you believe you are in the right, by all means follow your conscience. But you don’t have the right to protest you were improperly treated when the authority fires you for holding to your convictions against their authority.
“What Gonda finds especially maddening is that instead of just not renewing her contract when it expired on June 30, the church chose to fire her instead.”
This I will agree. This could have been handled with a great deal more kindness. Letting the contract expire, especially with so short a time remaining, seems like it would have been the prudent course of action. However, I would suspect there is a great deal more going on here. The Church is fighting a lot of dissidence in its ranks, especially over sexual matters, and the Church, if she is what she claims to be, cannot change its doctrines with the whims of the times. Doctrine can developed, become more nuanced, but it cannot contradict previous doctrine. Which leads to my final response:
“Religious institutions that treat people like Gonda so unfairly are, little by little, step by step, undermining the place of organized religion in society, and it has an essential role to fill in conveying and strengthening values.”
If a religious institution is going to have any role in society, it cannot cave to pressures to compromise its core beliefs. The reason I went into such lengths on Catholic teaching on sexuality was to demonstrate that sexuality does rank in the Church’s core beliefs. The world is demanding the Catholic Church to compromise on this front. It comes from everyone who wants the Church to get on board with contraception, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, the ordination of women, and so on. It also comes from within as members of the Church constantly rebel against her moral authority. The Church has to stand firm in its defense of its doctrines.
Religious institutes cannot convey and strengthen values if all they do is parrot what the whims of the times desire. That is actually the moment they lose relevance and fade from public influence. Why should I listen to any religion, if in a few years it will just repeat back to me what I’m already saying?
I’m back for a few points…
- The strength of ethics is that it evolves; the strength of morality is that it doesn’t.
- Morality’s problem, and thus religion’s, is that ancient moral codes are based on human misconceptions that science, experience, and, yes, ethics continually expose.
- “If a religious institution is going to have any role in society, it cannot cave to pressures to compromise its core beliefs.” That reads well, but with all respect, it’s fantasy. If a religious institution is going to have any role in society, it can’t persist in saying that the world is flat when it is clear to everyone else that it isn’t. It doesn’t take many obvious untruths that the Church denies to make it untrustworthy. The Catholic Church has long played the game of changing what are its “core beliefs” according to which of them become too unpopular to maintain.
- Its condemnation of homosexuality will eventually join that “Core beliefs? Oh no, this isn’t a core belief!” category. Bet on it. The Church will do what it has to do to survive, like all institutions. Integrity is usually the casualty.
- ….Bringing me to my final point: “The Church isn’t the Church’s leadership!” is a desperate rationalization. The Pope heads the Church, and has a red phone to God. He is accountable, like all leaders, for the conduct of the organization he heads.