Thursday, July 31, 2008

The ABC's of AIDS Marriages: It's About The "C"

Church Canons Silent On AIDS Marriages
JACOB KAMBILI in MwanzaDaily News; Tuesday,July 29, 2008 @00:03

Roman Catholic Church priests have acknowledged here that they find themselves in dilemma when it comes to deciding whether or not to approve marriages involving couples determined to have been infected with HIV/AIDS.

They expressed their views following a question raised by Fr Peter Mzirai from the Diocese of Same in Kilimanjaro Region, who sought clarification as to what the priests ought to do under such a situation. In response Fr John Chacha, who had previously made his presentation, at St Augustine University of Tanzania (SAUT) here, said the existing canons recognized the church as the only custodian of public morals, including matrimonial matters. However, he said, the Church, as an institution, had to take such a responsibility cautiously, considering that the HIV/AIDS infection rate was still alarmingly high, particularly among the young , with women and girls being more vulnerable.

After a heated discussion, Fr Jones Mlewa from the Diocese of Singida said that the most appropriate remedial measure was to counsel the couples into giving up their marriage plan. In his opinion, allowing the couples to marry would defeat completely “the aforesaid sacred purpose of marriage,” a remark to which 11 other participants nodded approvingly.

Wrapping up the discussion which reigned at the week-long special course organized by the University's Human Rights Centre, Fr Chacha, himself a lecturer at the Faculty of Law, advised the clergymen to use commonsense and wisdom in deciding what to do. He said, however, that the canons of the Church were silent on the matter.

The course participants were drawn from the dioceses of Geita, Musoma, Tabora, Same, Songea, Mbinga, Nyombe, Dodoma and Kigoma. In his closing remarks, the SAUT Vice Chancellor (Administration and Finance), Fr Herman Kachema, said the priests were the 'salt’ of the earth and as such they were duty bound to preach the gospel and human rights issues simultaneously.


I can certainly see where AIDS marriages pose a dilemma for priests. It seems that the only way out of the dilemma is to encourage couples not to marry. Otherwise these couples may be tempted to use condoms. Unprotected sex may expose one or the other partner to a deadly disease and any offspring which could result from their procreative sexual activity. In lieu of this, some priests have seriously suggested couples marry and then live like brother and sister. This advice is more likely to be given when the couple is raising children from previous marriages.

I always find it fascinating to watch what happens when absolutist positions clash with a reality which puts the absolutist positions in conflict with each other. Sex within AIDS marriages is one such reality. I'm not surprised the Church has no canons dealing with this issue. It's an issue which transcends the logic of Thomistic natural law.

Of course what's really happening on the ground is based in reality and not the transcendant sexual notions of the Vatican. AIDS marriages are happening all the time and people are using condoms within them. They can even have healthy AIDS free babies if they time unprotected intercourse with high CD4 (white cell counts) levels. The developing widespread access to cheap ARV's (Anti Retrovirals) is allowing people to live much longer, healthier and productive lives. AIDS is no longer a mandatory short term death sentence, and people who are responding to ARV's are also experiencing a heightened level of sexual desire. They have hope in a future and marriage is part of that hope.

In the meantime the Church in India and Burundi have made AIDS testing mandatory as part of the application for the Sacrament of Marriage. This has been received with mixed reviews. Some people feel it is an unwarranted intrusion into the couple's relationship, and others see it as one way of stopping a dishonest partner from infecting an unsuspecting partner. In both countries the Church maintains it will not prevent a marriage based on a positive test. I guess this means that it is in the hands of the local priest to decide how to counsel his couples. I actually don't understand why governments aren't mandating this as part of a marriage license. My ex husband and I had to undergo blood testing and I personally was glad to find out we had no Rh issues.

What's happening in Africa as we come to the twenty year marker for the pandemic is interesting indeed. AIDS educators have now admitted that it is absolutely essential to get the main religious leaders to speak about this subject. This is forcing the Muslim world to look at their own sexual theology. In general they reinforce the concepts of Abstinence and Being faithful, while turning the Condom issue over to their medical peers. Muslim Imams don't advocate for the use of condoms, but unlike in Catholicism it is not considered a sin to use them. They base their thinking on a form of PROPORTIONALISM. That is, it's a far lesser sin to use a condom than to potentially kill your partner by not using one. They consider this a PROLIFE position.

Anglicans stress all three of the ABC's, and officially Roman Catholics teach against the use of condoms. Officially. Unofficially the attitude is very close to that of the Imams. Priests talk about A and B and then refer to others for information on C. A position for which Caritas was castigated by an influential--probably self styled--US theologian as a purposeful tactic designed to circumvent the infallible teaching of Humanae Vitae.

It is also (sad to say) not unusual for traditionalist clergy to maintain that condoms don't work because the pores in the latex allow the virus to pass through, and that condoms break anyway. This notion, in spite of reams of evidence to the contrary, has just recently been reiterated by a Vatican Cardinal. This pronouncement would not be a case of proportionalism, but a case of delusionalism. That's the best case, delusionalism. Any other motivation for such a pronouncement would imply purposeful misinformation.

In any event, I hope we won't see any canon laws written to cover the situation of AIDS marriages. I really doubt any bishop's conference is going to want to be stuck with one position given to them from on high. The way things stand now the decisions are left at the place where they can--in theory--be best made. That at the level of the parish priest and the couple, who are the ones most impacted by their AIDS status.

The best case scenario is that the Vatican will finally come out with the very same reasoning the Islamic world has already beaten them too, and it will be OK to use condoms with in marriage. Actually that loophole was left open in the 1987 document Donum Vitae in which John Paul II declared that condoms could never be used by homosexual couples or non married couples, however, it omitted married couples. Since Cardinal Ratzinger also signed off on this, I doubt it was a clerical oversight. So while it will always be OK for gays and non married singles to kill each other through unprotected sex, ( they're sinners anyway) married couples may be given an out. I say maybe, because given the Vatican propensity to be terrified of the slippery slope, this all remains to be seen.

For those of you who might be interested in getting up to speed on what's happening on the ground in Africa in the lives of real married people dealing with AIDS within marriage, here's a great start on a great website:

Here's an update to this story. This is part of an interview with Msgr. Robert Vitillo, the Vatican advisor to Caritas International. Caritas is participating in the XVIII International AIDS Conference currently convened in Mexico City. If you read his answer to the question, you will see he doesn't answer the question. He gives the Vatican spin. The full article can be read here:

Q: Last week 50 Catholic groups asked Benedict XVI to lift the Church's ban on artificial contraception, and accused the Church's stance of having "catastrophic effects" in the spread of AIDS. Does the Church's position against condoms constitute an obstacle against fighting AIDS?

Monsignor Vitillo: I would like to slightly transpose this question in order to emphasize my strong conviction that the Church's teaching, which insists on sexual abstinence outside marriage and lifelong, mutual fidelity within marriage, is indeed scientifically valid and has offered evidence-based proof that people who observe such behavior have been able to prevent the spread of HIV.
Studies in countries where the HIV prevalence rate has been decreased in recent years, such as Uganda, Kenya, and Thailand, indicate that people in these countries were more disposed to reduce the number of their sexual partners and/or to delay the onset of sexual activity than to adopt the use of condoms.Such behaviors -- reduction of sexual partners and delay of onset of sexual activity -- are much closer to the Church's teaching on sexuality and on prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections than is an exclusive focus on condom promotion.
Regrettably, however, many scientists, HIV prevention educators, and AIDS activists are so fixed on condom promotion that they do not give due attention to the risk avoidance that is possible to achieve through abstinence outside marriage and mutual, lifelong fidelity within marriage.I believe that the Church does a great service to HIV prevention efforts by focusing on risk avoidance and on deeper and longer-lasting behavior change that is necessary to make a significant impact on reducing -- and, hopefully, stopping -- the further transmission of HIV.
There are two issues I have with this statement. The first is Msgr. Vitillo doesn't answer the question about condoms and their use in prevention, and secondly, I haven't read any report from any reputable scientific study which doesn't stress that the A and B in the ABC protocal have had a signigicantly positive effect on the transmission of AIDS. But they also state that abstinence and monogamy are cultural, age, and gender specific in thier consistency of application. Again the education level of the female has a profound effect, maybe the most profound effect. In the meantime the lack of availability of condoms is killing people, a fact the Msgr refuses to address. This is especially true in the hardest hit poor areas where Catholic services maybe the only services that people have access to.
Caritas orkers on the ground know all this and many are actively petitioning for a change in the condom policy while ignoring it as best they can in their day to day work. Thank God. The Church's refusal to allow the distribution of condoms is a pro death policy, and symbolically states just how much value the Church places on human life relative to their definition of human sin. This is a classic case of hate the sin and let the sinner die.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Boldy Going Where No Archbishop Has Gone Before, But Will Anglicans Follow?

Matched sets of eyebrows, same use of logic

The Archbishop of Canterbury Second Presidential Address to the Lambeth Conference 2008Posted On : July 29, 2008 5:05 PM Posted By : Admin ACORelated Categories: Features29 July 2008

‘What is Lambeth ’08 going to say?’ is the question looming larger all the time as this final week unfolds. But before trying out any thoughts on that, I want to touch on the prior question, a question that could be expressed as ‘Where is Lambeth ’08 going to speak from?’. I believe if we can answer that adequately, we shall have laid some firm foundations for whatever content there will be. And the answer, I hope, is that we speak from the centre. I don’t mean speaking from the middle point between two extremes — that just creates another sort of political alignment. I mean that we should try to speak from the heart of our identity as Anglicans; and ultimately from that deepest centre which is our awareness of living in and as the Body of Christ.

We are here at all, surely, because we believe there is an Anglican identity and that it’s worth investing our time and energy in it. I hope that some of the experience of this Conference will have reinforced that sense. And I hope too that we all acknowledge that the only responsible and Christian way of going on engaging with those who aren’t here is by speaking from that centre in Jesus Christ where we all see our lives held and focused. And, as I suggested in my opening address, speaking from the centre requires habits and practices and disciplines that make some demands upon everyone — not because something alien is being imposed, but because we know we shall only keep ourselves focused on the centre by attention and respect for each other — checking the natural instinct on all sides to cling to one dimension of the truth revealed.

I spoke about council and covenant as the shape of the way forward as I see it. And by this I meant, first, that we needed a bit more of a structure in our international affairs to be able to give clear guidance on what would and would not be a grave and lasting divisive course of action by a local church.

While at the moment the focus of this sort of question is sexual ethics, it could just as well be pressure for a new baptismal formula or the abandonment of formal reference to the Nicene Creed in a local church’s formulations; it could be a degree of variance in sacramental practice — about the elements of the Eucharist or lay presidency; it could be the regular incorporation into liturgy of non-Scriptural or even non-Christian material.

Some of these questions have a pretty clear answer, but others are open for a little more discussion; and it seems obvious that a body which commands real confidence and whose authority is recognised could help us greatly. But the key points are confidence and authority. If we do develop such a capacity in our structures, we need as a Communion to agree what sort of weight its decisions will have; hence, again, the desirability of a covenantal agreement.

Some have expressed unhappiness about the ‘legalism’ implied in a covenant. But we should be clear that good law is about guaranteeing consistence and fairness in a community; and also that in a community like the Anglican family, it can only work when there is free acceptance. Properly understood, a covenant is an expression of mutual generosity — indeed, ‘generous love’, to borrow the title of the excellent document on Inter-Faith issues which was discussed yesterday. And we might recall that powerful formulation from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks — ‘Covenant is the redemption of solitude’.

Mutual generosity : part of what this means is finding out what the other person or group really means and really needs. The process of this last ten days has been designed to help us to find out something of this — so that when we do address divisive issues, we have created enough of a community for an intelligent generosity to be born. It is by no means a full agreement, but it will, I hope, have strengthened the sense that we have at least a common language, born out of the conviction that Jesus Christ remains the one unique centre. And within that conviction, what has been heard?

I want now to engage in what might be a rather presumptuous exercise — and certainly feels like a risky one. I want to imagine what people on different sides of our most painful current debate hope others have heard or are beginning to hear in our time together. I want to imagine what the main messages would be, within an atmosphere of patience and charity, from those in our Communion who hold to a clear and traditional doctrinal and moral conviction, and also from those who, starting from the same centre, find fewer problems or none with some recent innovations.

Although these voices are inevitably rooted in the experience of the developing world and of North America, the division runs through many other provinces internally as well.

So first : what might the traditional believer hope others have heard?

‘What we seek to do in our context is faithfully to pass on what you passed on to us — Holy Scripture, apostolic ministry, sacramental discipline. But what are we to think when all these things seem to be questioned and even overturned? We want to be pastorally caring to all, to be “inclusive” as you like to say. We want to welcome everyone. Yet the gospel and the faith you passed on to us tell us that some kinds of behaviour and relationship are not blessed by God. Our love and our welcome are unreal if we don’t truthfully let others know what has shaped and directed our lives — so along with welcome, we must still challenge people to change their ways. We don’t see why welcoming the gay or lesbian person with love must mean blessing what they do in the Church’s name or accepting them for ordination whatever their lifestyle. We seek to love them — and, all right, we don’t always make a good job of it : but we can’t just say that there is nothing to challenge. Isn’t it like the dilemma of the early Church — welcoming soldiers, yet seeking to get them to lay down their arms?‘But please remember also that — while you may say that what you do needn’t affect us — your decisions make a vast difference to us. In this world of instant communication, our neighbours know what you do, and they see us as sharing the responsibility. Imagine what that means where those neighbours are passionately traditional Christians — and what it means for our own members, who will be drawn to leave us for a “safer”, more orthodox church. Imagine what it means when those neighbours are non-Christians, delighted to find a stick to beat us with. Imagine what it is to be known as the ‘gay church’ in a context where that spells real contempt and danger. ‘Don’t misunderstand us. We’re not looking for safety and comfort. Some of us know quite a lot about carrying the cross. But when that cross is laid on us by fellow-Christians, it’s quite a lot harder to bear. Don’t be too surprised if some of us want to be at a distance from you — or if we want to support minorities in your midst who seem to us to be suffering. ‘But we are here. We’ve taken a risk in coming, because many who think like us feel we’ve betrayed them just by meeting you. But we value our Communion, we want to understand you and we want you to understand us. Can you find some way of being generous that helps us believe you care about us and about the common language and belief of the Church? Can you — in plain words — step back and let us think and pray about these things without giving us the impression that the debate is over and we’ve lost and that doesn’t matter to you?’

And then : what might the not so traditional believer hope has been heard?

'What we seek to do in our context is to bring Jesus alive in the minds and hearts of the people of our culture. Trying to speak the language of the culture and relate honestly to where people really are doesn’t have to be a betrayal of Scripture and tradition. We know we’re pushing the boundaries — but don’t some Christians always have to do that? Doesn’t the Bible itself suggest that? ‘We are often hurt, angry and bewildered at the way many others in the Communion see us and treat us these days — as if we were spiritual lepers or traitors to every aspect of Christian belief. We know that no-one is the best judge in their own case, but we see in our church life at least some marks of the Spirit’s gifts. And part of that is acknowledging the gifts we’ve seen in gay and lesbian believers. They will certainly be likely to feel that the restraint you ask for is a betrayal. Please try to see why this is such a dilemma for many of us. You may not see it, but they’re still at risk in our society, still vulnerable to murderous violence. And we have to say to some of you that we long for you to speak up for your gay and lesbian neighbours in situations where they are subject to appalling discrimination. There have been Lambeth Resolutions about that too, remember.
‘A lot of the time, we feel we’re being made scapegoats. Other provinces have acute moral and disciplinary problems, or else they more or less successfully refuse to admit the realities in their midst. But those of us who have faced the complex issues around gay relationships in what we feel to be an open and prayerful way are stigmatised and demonised. ‘Not all of us, of course, supported or took part in the actions that have caused so much trouble. Some of us remain strongly opposed, many of us want to find ways of strengthening our bonds with you. But even those who don’t stand with the majority on innovations will often feel that the life of a whole church, a life that is varied and complex but often deeply and creatively faithful to Christ and the Scriptures, is being wrongly and unjustly seen by you and some of your friends. ‘We want to be generous, and we are hurt that some throw back in our faces both the experience and the resources we long to share. Can you try and see us as fellow-believers struggling to proclaim the same Christ, and to be patient with us?’

Two sets of feelings and perceptions, two appeals for generosity. For the first speaker, the cost of generosity may be accusation of compromise : you’ve been bought, you’ve been deceived by airy talk into tolerating unscriptural and unfaithful policies.

For the second speaker, the cost of generosity may be accusations of sacrificing the needs of an oppressed group for the sake of a false or delusional unity, giving up a precious Anglican principle for the sake of a dangerous centralisation. But there is the challenge. If both were able to hear and to respond generously, perhaps we could have something more like a conversation of equals — even something more like a Church.

At Dar-es-Salaam, the primates tried to find a way of inviting different groups to take a step forward simultaneously towards each other. It didn’t happen, and each group was content to blame the other. But the last 18 months don’t suggest that this was a good outcome. Can this Conference now put the same kind of challenge?

To the innovator, can we say, ‘Don’t isolate yourself; don’t create facts on the ground that make the invitation to debate ring a bit hollow’? Can we say to the traditionalist, ‘Don’t invest everything in a church of pure and likeminded souls; try to understand the pastoral and human and theological issues that are urgent for those you are opposing, even if you think them deeply wrong’?

I think we perhaps can, if and only if we are captured by the vision of the true Centre, the heart of God out of which flows the impulse of an eternal generosity which creates and heals and promises. It is this generosity which sustains our mission and service in Our Lord’s name. And it is this we are called to show to each other.

At the moment, we seem often to be threatening death to each other, not offering life. What some see as confused or reckless innovation in some provinces is felt as a body-blow to the integrity of mission and a matter of literal physical risk to Christians. The reaction to this is in turn felt as an annihilating judgement on a whole local church, undermining its legitimacy and pouring scorn on its witness.

We need to speak life to each other; and that means change. I’ve made no secret of what I think that change should be — a Covenant that recognizes the need to grow towards each other (and also recognizes that not all may choose that way). I find it hard at present to see another way forward that would avoid further disintegration. But whatever your views on this, at least ask the question : ‘Having heard the other person, the other group, as fully and fairly as I can, what generous initiative can I take to break through into a new and transformed relation of communion in Christ?’

I sometimes wonder if the Anglican situation doesn't need a Captain Kirk to invent a solution and smack every obstacle out the way, rather than a Commander Spock who tries to use emotionless logic. In either case, things always worked out at the last minute on Star Trek. Therefore there is hope for the Anglicans. Anyway Spock always did represent the transcendent middle ground between Dr. McCoy and Captain Kirk and gave us a lot of humor in the process. I can see where no one sees much humor in the current situation, but like all things of purely human invention, there is humor in there somewhere.
A couple of the points that Dr. Williams makes in his insightful assessment of both sides need to be reiterated. He speaks of the fact that while the South has made no bones about their opposition to the gay friendly moves in the North, the North has refrained from pointing out the obvious problems with sexual morality in the South. Things like the tolerance for polygamy, the genital mutilation of women and other forms of male oppression, and the seeming Divine right of male sexual expression which places little or no value on monogamous sexual relationships.
"A lot of the time, we feel we’re being made scapegoats. Other provinces have acute moral and disciplinary problems, or else they more or less successfully refuse to admit the realities in their midst."
The other point I would like to highlite is the one he makes for the South. It's an important point because it speaks to a reality we here in the North don't experience and that is sectarian violence.
"Imagine what it means when those neighbours are non-Christians, delighted to find a stick to beat us with. Imagine what it is to be known as the ‘gay church’ in a context where that spells real contempt and danger."
I have to admire Dr. Williams for at least airing some of the unexpressed issues behind the homosexuality debate between North and South. It's almost as if homosexuality has become the defining issue for the real cultural differences between North and South that encompass far more than attitudes towards homosexuals. It's not surprising that the Southern Cone and GAFCON have poached parishes and dioceses from the North because they need the financial assets of these dioceses if they continue their march towards separation from Canterbury.
Archbishop Akinola can blather on all he wants about giving these conservative dioceses a scriptural home, but it's about their assets. I wish Rowan Williams would have made this point very forcefully. The North has no similar pressing reason to poach dioceses in the South. Money has been the silent force fueling a lot of this debate, and there is no doubt in my mind, that some in Akinola's movement are getting a lot of it from homophobic interests in the North. People whose agenda seems to be to split the South from the leavening influences of the North. Perhaps this has to do with certain Northern factions not being especially welcoming to notions of social justice and fair economic distribution.
On the other hand, in a world of Islamic extremists, a gay friendly perception is certainly fuel for their particular brand of enforcing conversion and scriptural fidelity. To say the fundamentalist islamic male is homophobic is an understatement in the extreme. Had the South come out and admitted this one particular fact of their life more forcefully, I might have had a lot more sympathy for their objections. Except for one thing. Christian witness calls for witnessing. It always has and it always will.
The Vatican can't be left out of the equation. For whatever their reasons the various Cardinals who have traipsed to Lambeth have given some mixed messages. Benedict says the Church doesn't want to be a force seen to be stirring the schizmatic pot. Then his Cardinals do just that, babbling on about how the ordination of women and openly gay bishops places obstacles in ecumenical dialogue. If that wasn't enough of a mixed message we hear that Cardinal Levada and the CDF are expediting their analysis of doctrinal procedures that would allow for the 'conversion' of whole Anglican Catholic dioceses into Catholicism. Looks to me that this is more poaching and more picking at the percieved soon to be Anglican corpse. Always at the expense of the North, of course. These are the dioceses with material wealth. Shock and awe.
Lastly Archbishop Spock has begun to lift the lid on some real facts swirling around the issue of Anglicanism and homosexuality. There is a very real trend here in which the assets of the North are being selectively picked under the cover of scriptural differences. The question is, will the leadership in the North finally find the courage to call a spade a spade? There can be no meaningful dialogue in an environment of deception and cloaked agendas.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bishop Gene Robinson concelebrates Mass with--double horror--a woman priest.

From the London Sunday Times by Rosie Millard--7-27-2008

Interview: The Rev Gene Robinson
The homosexual US bishop causing uproar in the Church of England is unrepentant

The world’s first openly gay bishop greets me in a small park behind the sports hall at Kent University – although I tell the Rev Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, that we should probably have met down the road at Canterbury cathedral – maybe on the spot where Thomas à Becket was martyred.

He roars with laughter: “I don’t feel like a martyr. But by an accident of history I feel I am somewhat of a symbol.”

Indeed, and to some people a very unwelcome one. The only bishop out of 800 Anglican prelates not to be invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Lambeth Conference at Kent University, Robinson decided that he would go anyway.

More than 200 African and Asian bishops are boycotting the conference in protest – not just because they want Robinson to keep away but also because the American bishops who consecrated him are attending. Clearly, even breathing the same air as a bishop who may once have shaken hands with a gay bishop is offensive to some people.

The arrival of Robinson has not so much spoilt the party as driven a noisy pantechnicon right through it. Everything else on the agenda has been kicked into second place: whether or not the Anglican church can tolerate gay clergy is practically the only thing anyone has wanted to talk about since the holy beanfeast – held only once a decade – began last week. And Robinson – small, trim and dapper in a purple ecclesiastical shirt – has been the nonguest that everyone (bar the bishops) has wanted to buttonhole.

“It’s a pity I chose this week to give up smoking,” he says, puffing gratefully on a Marlboro. I don’t think that even he had forecast what it would be like to be the target of venom from a global assortment of prelates (the Archbishop of Nigeria described gays as lower than dogs; the Archbishop of Kenya said “the devil has clearly entered the church”).
{Wow what lovely Christian statements. One wonders who needs the muzzle.}

Was the American bishop right to turn up? Surely arriving uninvited and then holding an open-air service last week for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual Anglicans outside the cathedral – just as the Archbishop of Canterbury was inside, saying, “Unity in diversity is the cherished Anglican tradition” – was a touch provocative? Even childish, some might say.

“I took a vow, as did all bishops, to participate in the councils of the church,” says Robinson. “I am only fulfilling my vow.” What about the vows of the 230 boycotting bishops? Haven’t you ruined the conference for them? “I can’t control their choices,” he says. “They were the ones who demanded I not be included at the table and the Archbishop of Canterbury acceded to their requests – and lo and behold that’s not enough. Even the bishops who consecrated me are found to be offensive.

“And my guess is that if the archbishop had not invited the entire American church, these [protesting] bishops still wouldn’t be here. Bullies never get enough.” {I agree. Maintaining Anglican unity is not their real agenda. Bishop Robinson is just the perfect storm around which to work out their own agenda.}

Is Rowan Williams, leader of the global Anglican community, really being bullied? “I believe so. I think most of the world perceives that as bullying.”
What do you think of Williams’s leader-ship? “He is in an almost impossible job. And I think that in giving in to some of the demands made on him, matters have got worse. Nothing short of total victory will satisfy them and I wonder when he is going to learn that.”

Robinson, 61, says he always knew that he was gay: “From the age of 13 I learnt to censor every word I was going to say – gay people do this all the time.” Yet he was married to a woman for 13 years, trying what he calls the “white-knuckle” method of suppressing his true sexuality.
“I grew up at a time when there were no role models: to be gay or lesbian was to be a failure. Oh, I shared the fact that I was attracted to men within two weeks of meeting [my ex-wife] Isabella. All of my real romantic relations previous to her had been with men. I felt ready for a relationship with her, but I was still unsure about marriage. Isabella assured me we’d deal with it together. And we did, 13 years later.”

By this time they had two daughters: Jamie, then 8, and Ella, 4. After Robinson read Jamie a gay children’s book about two men living together, she said: “I hope you find a boyfriend, daddy.” After the divorce, Isabella remarried and Robinson met his companion, Mark Andrew. There appear to have been few problems, if any: his daughters have loved having “three dads”, according to the bishop, and they happily spent every weekend with him and Andrew.

It seems, too, that even the most strait-laced of New England matrons in his New Hampshire diocese have taken him to their generous bosoms. He and Andrew celebrated their civil union in his own church just six weeks ago before an approving congregation. With that sort of grassroots assurance, it’s not difficult to see why Robinson feels that he can walk the Kent campus with confidence. Young people, particularly, seem to warm to him. “I have rarely met a person under 30 who can understand what all of this is about,” he says. “They all have gay and lesbian friends. It’s no big deal – and the fuss makes the church look hopelessly irrelevant.”

It certainly makes the Church of England’s famous reputation for tolerance seem rather weedy. While New Hampshire Anglicans have apparently celebrated their bishop’s civil union without turning a hair, the Church of England is still nervous of appearing to support the ordination of any homosexual. Robinson has been allowed to meet Williams only once – about three years ago. By comparison, he has had three one-on-one meetings with Barack Obama, the US presidential candidate.

“I had long wanted a meeting with the archbishop, but he was very unwilling to meet me,” says Robinson. In the end the meeting was so cloaked in secrecy that he was not even told the venue until almost the last minute.

Are we more prejudiced over here? “I would say you are just as far along this issue as we are, only you won’t admit it,” he says. “You have so many gay clergy, gay partnered clergy, gay couples who are both clergy. The bishops know it. Their congregations know it. But can you get anyone to talk about it? Oh no. I think it’s a hold-over from Victorian times.”

Irrelevant, out of touch with society, blinkered . . . no description could be more damaging for a church with a falling roll call that is signally failing to attract new generations. Robinson says Williams knows this. It’s also one of the reasons why he is happy to be a thorn in the side of Anglicanism: “I am simply not willing to let these guys meet without being reminded that in every single one of their churches, no matter what country it is in, they all have gay and lesbian people.”

Perhaps this is just what the Anglican church needs: a natural self-publicist who is equally comfortable hobnobbing with the likes of Sir Ian McKellan, the gay actor, as he is talking about the scriptures. Robinson seems happy to accept the mantle of missionary: “I think the American compulsion to talk about everything openly is a great strength – and a weakness. We appear unnecessarily brash, but I love that about us. I feel called to be as open as I can be about my life so that young lesbians and gay men will understand that they can have wonderful relationships, be mothers and fathers and [achieve] real distinction for themselves in their careers.

“Does anyone think that if I were hit by one of your marvellous double-decker buses this issue is going to go away? That’s what’s so remarkable about the Archbishop of Sudan’s statement this week that, if I resigned, the church would go back to being the way it was.”

He laughs: “There are faithful gay and lesbian people all over this church who are ready to serve as bishops. And if I dropped off the face of this earth tomorrow, that isn’t going to stop.”

Conforming somewhat to a certain archetype, Robinson loves cooking, keeps an immaculate house with Andrew, talks openly about having been tested for HIV and has masses of female friends who talk to him about their problems. But he is also a man of the church, who speaks about having his life saved by the Bible. He clearly has a profound faith: at dawn each day this week he has gone to a Canterbury monastery to pray with Franciscan monks.

Okay. So, if you believe the Bible is God’s word, what about all that stuff in the scriptures that forbids same-sex unions? “The scriptures were written in patriachal times,” he says, “times of slavery, times of polygamy. And when you go for a literalist reading you run into trouble. Women wear hats in church, for example, because St Paul said you should keep your head covered. And your mouth shut, by the way.
“We are arguing about scripture itself and not the God to whom it points. I have to wonder, as young men are knifing each other all over London and when more than a billion people try to exist on less than $1 a day, why the church is tearing itself apart over the issue of sexuality. It is such a waste of our time and energy.”
{You aren't the only one Bishop. Maybe it's because arguing about sex is a whole lot cheaper than trying to do something about unequal distribution of wealth.}

Doesn’t he worry that his presence could goad the boycotting bishops into doing something permanently destructive? There have already been murmurings about a “wounded” church. Isn’t he simply rubbing salt into the schism? “If someone chooses to feel wounded, that’s their responsibility,” he says. “I’m not attempting to storm into the pulpit and rip the microphone from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s hands.”

No, but neither is he going to go quietly. Robinson has been making the most of his outsider status in Canterbury, holding “open nights” in which he hopes to convert waverers. The next “Conversation with Bishop Gene Robinson” is on Wednesday night. It’s a fringe event and on the fringe is precisely where he wants to be, subtly indicating that his camp is where true Christianity lies.

“Jesus spent the majority of his time with people on the margins and might well have been more interested in those on the fringes, those who have been excluded,” he says. So he’s even got Jesus backing him.
The only thing which differentiates Gene Robinson from the thousands of other gay Roman Catholic and Anglican clergy is he is TRUTHFUL, HONEST and OPEN about it. Apparently to be accepted as a true Christian he is supposed to DECEPTIVE, DISHONEST, and CLOSETED.
The USCCB even gives this as pastoral advice to their gay members. They more or less state you are welcome to be with us at the table if you are celibate and in the closet. Celibate is not enough, you must also be 'discrete' which I read as deceptive. SWhould fellow parishioners ask you about your single dating status be very deceptive, don't make an issue of your orientation.
Where in the Gospels does Jesus tell us we must be deceptive, dishonest, and closeted about the truth of ourselves in order to follow Him? I've looked and failed to find it. However, with the issue of homosexuality that has been the long standing traditional advice. I have never understood what makes homosexuality the sins of sins. It's obviously not that big a deal to the younger generations, who don't seem to be able to fathom it's unique sinfulness anymore than I do.
They, just like me, read the doom and gloom message given by the righteous right about the drawbacks of this 'disordered lifestyle' and see right beyond the message to the fact that most of the drawbacks are the result of attempting to live your truth in a culture that refuses to deal with the existence of that truth. This is the cultural world espoused by Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola who considers gays worse than dogs and the spawn of Satan, and Benedict XVI who has decided the gay 'lifestyle' is the biggest threat to world peace. These are pretty stressful descriptors for a young gay person to hear. Stressors which will most certainly impact the length of their lives, and in too many cases lead them to deal with their orientation by ending their lives---their celibate lives.
Even using the term 'lifestyle' implies homosexuality is willfully chosen rather than an ontological fact of life which must be accepted as a personal truth. Like heterosexuality, only when gayness is accepted as a fact of one's life, can any meaningful decision be made about how to express that truth. Unfortunately the major religious institutions do everything they can to make that acceptance as difficult as possible. Is Bishop Gene correct when he says it's the last vestiges of Victorian sexual sensibilities? That it's a sort of game we all play with ourselves, knowing full well the truth is far different from the deception we choose to participate in?
The problem is it's the will full participation in the deception which undercuts the message of Christ and the credibility of ecclesiastical teaching, not homosexuality itself. In other words the real sin is the games played around homosexuality, especially the games played by closeted gay clergy. Bishop Gene Robinson must be especially threatening to them. It's too bad, because his real message is exactly the opposite. If you live openly and honestly your people will accept you for who you are and get on with their lives. They can't, if you won't.
I treasure the courage of Bishop Gene Robinson and his choice to be present at Lambeth. If his walking honestly around the edges of this conference inspires just one more bishop to come out with their truth, it's one more light shining in the trumped up wilderness surrounding homosexuality and Christianity.
When I look at Bishop Gene, I see Fr. Mykal Judge, and I hope Fr. Mykal is giving Bishop Gene an additional boost of courage. It grieves me that a man like Fr. Judge, who was very much Christ personified to his diverse flock, has become something of a conundrum because it's now common knowledge he was gay. It doesn't even seem to matter that he was celibate. Somehow the very fact he refused to live his gay truth deceptively has cast stain on his candidacy for sainthood.
This is happening at the same time the Church has decided to dig up Cardinal Newman and separate him from the love of his life---the man Cardinal Newman stated unequivocally he wished to be buried with. Cardinal Newman was also celibate, but also capable of loving a man very deeply. Deeply enough that he compared his grief at the death of Fr. St. John, to that of husband who loses his spouse.
The deception being played out here is that Cardinal Newman's love for Fr. St John is being spun as the love between two friends. In this scenario the Church isn't really separating two people who really profoundly loved each other like a husband and a wife. The married metaphor, which Cardinal Newman used himself for their love, implies sexual expression. Can't have that kind of association with a candidate for sainthood whose candidacy is seemingly being used as an invitation to invite Anglicans who have issues with women clergy. I wonder what Cardinal Newman would have to say about being separated from Fr. St. John so he can be used to entice Anglicans who don't like the idea of women clergy.
It all gets so complicated it makes my head spin. It could all change with one simple understanding. Homosexuality is about the same exact kind of love that heterosexuality is about. It's not about the sexual activity anymore than heterosexuality. It's about the love one has for another person. Cardinal Newman thought of the love he had for Fr. St John in the only way he could have, that of a deeply married couple, because that's exactly what it was. It doesn't mean their love had to have a sexual expression even though they lived together in the same house for years. Why is it so difficult to accept that two people of the same sex can love each other exactly as two people of the opposite sex?---or for that matter, as irresponsibly and selfishly.
Do heterosexual Christians really need to single out gays as scapegoats for their own sexual hangups and their own sexual sins? If so, they've never accepted their own sexual truth and maybe this is the real issue.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Beyond The Sex Selective Abortion Debate

This morning I came across a pro life article which asked an interesting question: "Where are the feminists in the sex selection debate?" The full article can be read here: Don't expect rocket science because it's a CNA article. However, it does ask a pertinent question. So I took myself to Google to see where the feminists are on this issue.

The reality is that feminists in the orient, India, and South East Asia have been very vocal on this issue and have been responsible for making sex selective abortions illegal in India and China.

They have done it because they see both the misogyny behind it, and the ramifications it's practice has had on their respective cultures. They've also found out something else. Making it illegal doesn't stop it. It seems in cultures in which the pressure is on to have sons, the pressure is on to have sons. India is also impacted by the dowry structure, and it's ultimately much more expensive to have girls than boys. It's a culture thing. Why roll this particular die if you don't have to.

In the West and the North, sex selective abortion is juxtaposed against to right to obtain a legal abortion. This has been a dilemma for a lot of feminists who are sickened by the whole notion of sex selective abortion, but also see that making it illegal is a doorway to eliminating current abortion laws. It seems in the West both the pro choice and pro life camps are prone to the slippery slope argument.

However, another reason feminists may be keeping a low profile on this argument is that if there is sex selection going on in Western countries, it's appearance is showing up in a preference for girls. Kind of hard to make the misogyny claim when that argument may actually be under cut by real life birth statistics. It's also true that in the Indian and Asian immigrant populations the same preference for males is being enacted in the West. A trend which is expected to decline as these populations assimilate.

In the West though, there is another technology beginning to put more emphasis on this issue and that's the new procedures used in reproductive technology which are aimed at determining the sex BEFORE conception. Sex is determined by separating male sperm from female sperm in then implanting the chosen preferential sperm. Abortion is not an issue, but sex selection in it's most basic form is the issue. Except it's not the only issue. In pre conceptual genetic tinkering we have the potential to do a lot of things. Here's an extract from an article in a publication of the Council For Responsible Genetics:

"When Mary Anne Warren considered sex selection in 1985, she summarily dismissed concerns of its contribution to a new eugenics as “implausible” on the grounds that “[t]here is at present no highly powerful interest group which is committed to the development and use of immoral forms of human genetic engineering.”(5)

However, less than two decades later, a disturbing number of highly powerful figures are in fact committed to the development and use of a form of human genetic engineering that huge majorities here and abroad consider immoral — inheritable genetic modification, or manipulating the genes passed on to our children. These scientists, bioethicists, biotech entrepreneurs, and libertarians are actively advocating a new market-based, high-tech eugenics.

Princeton University molecular biologist Lee Silver, for example, positively anticipates the emergence of genetic castes and human sub-species. “[T]he GenRich class and the Natural class will become . . . entirely separate species,” he writes, “with no ability to cross-breed, and with as much romantic interest in each other as a current human would have for a chimpanzee.”(6) Nobel laureate James Watson promotes redesigning the genes of our children with statements such as, “People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great.”
{I couldn't help but notice, James Watson didn't write 'make all girls smart'.}

None of this is happening in humans at this point, but it is in lab animals. The above technology requires actual manipulation of genetic material. What we do have is pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). This is a routine scanning of pre-implanted embryos for known genetically based diseases and deformities. Lately it's been used to screen for sex, for late adult onset diseases, and for tissue matching for siblings who require specific genetics for transplant purposes. Practitioners of PGD are arguing for even wider useage. "Bioethicist Edgar Dahl recently published an essay arguing that if a “safe and reliable genetic test” for sexual orientation were to become available, “parents should clearly be allowed” to use it, as long as they are permitted to select for homosexual as well as heterosexual children." I'm sure heterosexual parents are going to be lining up to select their children for homosexuality.

In essence PGD is about SOCIAL selection, not just specifically social sex selection. As it currently stands the professional group The American Society for Reproductive Medicine does not endorse PGD for routine sex selection. It must be stated though, that in 2001 the president of their Ethics Committee, unilaterally encouraged repeal of this statute. After women's groups and NGO's vociferously protested the change, the ASRM reaffirmed it's policy against social sex selection. Given there are bio-tech companies with so much capital invested in the field though, it's just a matter of time before they try to reopen the door.

As of now, PGD is a form of conception which is principally available for the wealthy, a form of social selection in itself. The fact PGD avoids the whole abortion issue is in it's favor as far as corporate concerns go. The fact that sex can be determined before conception via manipulation of the sperm, places this choice beyond the moral arguments surrounding conception.

So where are the feminists in this brave new world? Rethinking the absoluteness of libertarian concepts of choice. As author Margaret Talbot writes: "If we allow people to select a child’s sex, then there really is no barrier to picking embryos — or, ultimately, genetically programming children — based on any whim, any faddish notion of what constitutes superior stock. . . . A world in which people (wealthy people, anyway) can custom-design human beings unhampered by law or social sanction is not a dystopian sci-fi fantasy any longer but a realistic scenario. It is not a world most of us would want to live in."

If most of us truly do not want to live in a world in which embryos can be custom designed, it maybe time opposing sides recognize at least this common interest. It would seem to me that the common good and social justice would demand this. We need to get beyond the abortion issue before it becomes the distraction that lets the James Watson's, Lee Silver's and the Edgar Dahl's of the scientific community foist their ideas of a Brave New World on those otherwise occupied on the issues of the last century.

The full article from the Council For Responsible Genetics can be accessed here:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Self Discipline or Birth Control? Neither Works

Amid the raging debate on artificial methods of birth control, Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales’s advice to all married couples is to exercise more “self-discipline” and “self-control” in bed.

In his message to the Catholic flock at Friday’s prayer rally marking the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical on the Regulation of Birth or Humanae Vitae, Rosales said the lack of discipline in the marital bed rebounds on other aspects of life.

Because life should be valued and its creation is a serious matter, “there should be discipline and self-control” between couples, the prelate said in Filipino.

Couples who have the discipline to practice the Church-sanctioned natural family planning methods are “in possession of true values of life” and tend to pass it on to their children. They also tend to be good citizens, he said.

“If there is discipline in the marital bed, then there is discipline in the streets, there is discipline in schools, there is discipline in the government,” he added.

The Catholic community held a massive gathering at the University of Santo Tomas parade grounds on Friday to reaffirm their commitment to Humanae Vitae, which prohibits artificial contraceptives on grounds that they deliberately impeded life, and to denounce a proposal in the House of Representatives to create a national reproductive health policy.

The Catholic Church approves only of natural family planning methods, which entail close observation of a woman's temperature and discharges, to determine her fertile days. Couples who practice natural contraception methods avoid having sex when the woman is fertile.
In his message, the Manila archbishop said the Catholic Church will fight for the “defenseless” fetus.

According to Rosales, anyone who halts the life of an unborn child can be likened to Herod, the king who ordered the massacre of infants after Christ was born.
“Wherever this happens, in the clinics, health centers, or hospitals, ending the life of a child inside a mother’s womb is a repeat of Herod’s massacre of the innocents… and a Herod could be your neighbor,” he said.

Meanwhile, in opposition to the Catholic Church’s hard-line stance against contraceptives, an evangelical group on Saturday said it supported artificial birth control methods because of the “alarming growth of our population.”

While the Bible tells mankind to multiply, it also has specific instructions for humanity to care and protect all of creation, the board of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) said in a statement.

“About 5,800 babies are born daily.… One doesn’t have to be an economist to tally how much more food, water, shelter, medicine, and other resources will be needed for their support. At the [present] growth rate, there will be 100 million Filipinos by 2013,” the group said.
To ignore this problem is a “totally irresponsible” decision, the group said, given the high cost of living in the country.

“The present uncontrolled population growth over these many years has undeniably contributed to, and accelerated the poor getting poorer, and has led to thousands of abortions, unnecessary maternal deaths, thousands of abandoned children, increase of street dwellers, among other ills of society,” the PCEC said.

The PCEC position on population is the exact opposite of the Catholic Church’s stance.
According to Church officials, the idea of a burgeoning population is a myth used to scare the public into supporting artificial contraceptives.

PCEC stressed that it does not support abortion, a crime in the Philippines, because it is tantamount to murder and against the teachings of the Bible.
However, PCEC said it supports various birth control methods to prevent conception. Such action, the group said, is not a sin, because no life is harmed or created yet.

“Unborn babies, at whatever stage of pregnancy should be preserved and protected. Termination of this life is sinful and offensive to God,” PCEC said.
“But preventing pregnancy or conception is not abortion for no life has yet been conceived and there is nothing to be terminated,” it stressed.

As such, the PCEC said they support policies that “will help control the population growth.”
Instead of banning artificial, non-abortive birth control methods from public health centers, the PCEC said couples should be given comprehensive instructions on them, along with information on natural family methods.

PCEC said couples should be given a wide array of birth control methods and the right to decide what is best for them.
In some respects these two positions, the one taken by Cardinal Rosales, and the other taken by PCEC, represent the problem with the birth control debate. Cardinal Rosales sees the use of birth control as giving unfettered license to sexual immorality of all kinds, and PCEC present the case as strictly an issue of population control. One position stresses self discipline and the other stresses reproductive choice. The problem with both positions is that unitive love is left out, ignored, or given lip service.
The truth is most couples marry because they love each other, want to be with each other, and that means desire to express their love sexually. That desire is enhanced by spontaneity and spontaneity keeps relationships fresh and creative. Spontaneity is not necessarily synonymous with lack of discipline or mere lust. It very often results from a need to just express the love that one feels for one's partner at any God given moment. Natural Family Planning is not conducive to that kind of expression. It's use places avoiding conception as first and foremost in the lives of the couple and places most of the onus on the woman. I admire couples who can work around this, but those couples represent a relational understanding which is not shared by many.
On the other hand, the attitude of CPEC and other groups is way too often couched in terms which really do come across as anti child and coercive. Most couples I know who use artificial birth control are not anti child. They have very serious concerns about when and how many children they can bring into the marriage and give those children a decent quality of life. This is not a selfish attitude, it's a responsible attitude which cherishes children.
In many respects the 'war' over contraception now being waged in the Philippines is the perfect symbol of just how far the debate about birth control has come since Paul VI gave us his encyclical Humanae Vitae. It's gone no where. Some of the rhetoric defending the 'prophetic' qualities of this encyclical have left me befuddled. I've read a number of analysis which place every social ill at the feet of contraception. Even articles which admit most of these social ills were well on their way long before Paul VI became a prophet. Divorce, unwed mothers, poverty, children living off the streets, all of these were rising precipitously before 1968, but somehow, the use of artificial birth control caused all of them. Personally I think blaming the availability of birth control is a convenient excuse to ignore the fact that some of the real reasons for these increases are poverty with all it's attendant ills, and the drastic changes with in society which have served to break family ties.
People can't afford to live in family enclaves anymore. They are forced to move where the jobs are, and this places a huge amount of extra pressure on the nuclear unit. The kinds of pressures which in the past had been spread out amongst family generations. Men who had never been raised with any expectations of actually doing the day to day chores of parenting were now forced to adjust to a role for which they were not prepared. In many of their minds, they became an interactive parent when the child was old enough to throw a baseball, before then it was mommy's job. Unfortunately, too many mommys had to work just to see to it that the nuclear family had the economic resources to support itself. She too had to take on responsibilities which were not part of her gender upbringing, especially if the couple had any hope to maintain the economic status they were born into. It wasn't birth control which forced the advent of the working mother, it was economics. It's not surprising that the divorce rate skyrocketed because most couples were facing a reality that their parents had never faced.
While the Church extols the sanctity of Humanae Vitae, couples in the West are navigating a totally different path. The age for marriage keeps increasing as young adults grapple with the concepts of marriage and family and how to economically put in place a framework which can sustain the change. I see this worry surfacing again and again. Young adults will tell me they really love their partner, but have early memories of the struggles in their own young lives of missing their parents, and the constant arguing over how make the monthly bills between them. Even the most wanted children feel like a burden when their day to day experience tells them that mom and dad are having a hard time handling their existence.
I've written previously that the most widely used form of birth control in the Phillipines is abortion. Women don't abort for grins and giggles. They abort when they know they can not withstand another child. That to carry another pregnancy through to full term will have a major impact on their existing children. For Cardinal Rosales to tout the benefits of self discipline over looks the fact that in machismo cultures males are not required to practice self discipline and women are raised to accept that as their lot in life. To say no becomes an invitation to marital rape.
I don't think it's any accident that the most telling statistic about population reduction is not from birth control, but from the education of women. The higher the education in the female, the lower the birth rate. Educating women empowers them far more than providing birth control. I wish both sides would stop the debating and deal with this one simple fact. Over population is not about lack of reproductive choice, it's alout lack of education in women. Ultimately it's about placing a higher value on males than females. In this respect the Church is every bit as much behind the eight ball as China and India, whose experiences with sex selective abortion is going to bite them in the ass big time.
The Catholic Church in the Phillipines would do well to ponder on these facts. If they truly want to end the staggering abortion statistics among their flock they should stop talking about self discipline and start spending some money on the education of their women. On the other hand, educating women brings the risk of empowering them to question the assumptions behind patriarchy and the machismo culture. So which is more important, patriarchy or the rights of the unborn innocent? Who is really supporting the culture which creates the Herods Cardinal Rosales rants about?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Seriously, A Different Take On Humanae Vitae

The following is an article from Catholic News Agency, more or less written by Cardinal Stafford on the effects of the dissent around the encyclical on the brotherhood of priests in Baltimore.

Priests still suffering from effects of Humanae Vitae dissenters, Vatican cardinal says
Cardinal James Francis Stafford

Rome, Jul 25, 2008 / 04:08 am (CNA).- Today marks the 40th anniversary of the often debated papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, in which Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the Church’s teaching against contraception. Looking back at the events as he experienced them, Cardinal James Francis Stafford writes that the reaction by dissenters to the papal document involved a level of infidelity which divided the ranks of the clergy to such an extent that they have still not recovered.

The recounting of the events of 1968 by Cardinal Stafford-who was the Archbishop of Baltimore at the time of the encyclical’s release-is eloquent, laced with scriptural allusions and the insights of a scholar. He set out to peer into the summer of 1968, “a record of God’s hottest hour,” as he dubs it, at the request of L’Osservatore Romano and has made his submission available to CNA.

{This statement is completely wrong. Cardinal Stafford was conscecrated as an auxilliary bishop in Baltimore in 1976. He was subsequently appointed as the Archbishop of Denver. I hate using CNA for a source. Their writers are awful.}

This “is not an easy or welcome task. But since it may help some followers of Jesus to live what Pope Paul VI called a more ‘disciplined’ life (HV 21), I will explore that event,” the cardinal writes.

Before launching into the retelling of the trial surrounding the dissent of priests to Humanae Vitae, Cardinal Stafford lends his readers some of his scholarly wisdom.

“Lead us not into temptation” is the sixth petition of the Our Father. Πειρασμός (Peirasmòs), the Greek word used in this passage for ‘temptation’, means a trial or test. Disciples petition God to be protected against the supreme test of ungodly powers. The trial is related to Jesus’s cup in Gethsemane, the same cup which his disciples would also taste (Mk 10: 35-45). The dark side of the interior of the cup is an abyss. It reveals the awful consequences of God’s judgment upon sinful humanity. In August, 1968, the weight of the evangelical Πειρασμός fell on many priests, including myself,” the cardinal began.

“The summer of 1968 is a record of God’s hottest hour. The memories are not forgotten; they are painful. They remain vivid like a tornado in the plains of Colorado. They inhabit the whirlwind where God’s wrath dwells. In 1968 something terrible happened in the Church. Within the ministerial priesthood ruptures developed everywhere among friends which never healed. And the wounds continue to affect the whole Church. The dissent, together with the leaders’ manipulation of the anger they fomented, became a supreme test. It changed fundamental relationships within the Church. It was a Πειρασμός for many."

{A number of other things also happened in 1968, things like the assasinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the escalation of the war in Viet Nam, the major race riots, the scintillating democratic convention in Daly town, and huge student demonstrations all over the world. But I forget, this is Cardinal Stafford's personal cup we're reading about here.}

An insider’s view of Paul VI’s Commission
The American cardinal then delved into some of the inner-workings of the Vatican that he was privy to in the years leading up to the issuing of Humanae Vitae. In particular, he recalled that, Cardinal Lawrence J. Shehan, the sixth Archbishop of Baltimore, who was his ecclesiastical superior at the time, was a member of the Papal Commission for the Study of Problems of the Family, Population, and Birth Rates, first established by Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1963 during the Second Vatican Council.

As Pope Paul’s commission prepared to deliberate about the Church’s teaching on contraception, Cardinal Shehan “sent confidential letters to various persons of the Church of Baltimore seeking their advice. I received such a letter,” Stafford writes.

“My response drew upon experience, both personal and pastoral. Family and education had given me a Christian understanding of sex. Yet, in many ways, Cardinal Stafford explains that, “Not one of my professional acquaintances anticipated the crisis of trust which was just around the corner in the relations between men and women.” It wasn’t until a 1961 encounter with a 16 year-old parishioner who was a drug user that he came to the realization of what he had to tell Cardinal Shehan about contraception. {I wonder what kind of bubble these professionals lived in. Even my mother saw that the days when a woman was stuck in a horrific marriage were coming to an end.}

“A sixteen-year old had been jailed in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. At the time of my late afternoon visit to him, he was experiencing drug withdrawal unattended and alone in a tiny cell. His screams filled the corridors and adjoining cells. Through the iron bars dividing us, I was horror-stricken watching him in his torment. The abyss he was looking into was unimaginably terrifying. In this drugged youth writhing in agony on the floor next to an open toilet I saw the bitter fruits of the estrangement of men and women. His mother, separated from her husband, lived with her younger children in a sweltering third floor flat on Light St. in old South Baltimore. The father was non-existent for them. The failure of men in their paternal and spousal roles was unfolding before my eyes and ears. Since then more and more American men have refused to accept responsibility for their sexuality.” {Which is precisely one of the major reasons why women took to taking the pill. The male propensity to dump their responsibilities had always been prevalent amongst the poor.}

This experience, Stafford explained in a confidential letter to Cardinal Shehan resulted in an insight “which was elliptical: the gift of love should be allowed to be fruitful. These two fixed points are constant. This simple idea lit up everything like lightning in a storm. I wrote about it more formally to the Cardinal: the unitive and procreative meanings of marriage cannot be separated. Consequently, to deprive a conjugal act deliberately of its fertility is intrinsically wrong. To encourage or approve such an abuse would lead to the eclipse of fatherhood and to disrespect for women.” {I'm sorry, but I have never been able to get my head around this logic. The major assumption seems to be that people are incapable of demonstrating legitimate love unless they are engaged in making babies. This has to be the direct result of male celibates experiencing sexual arousal primarily in the form of unattached lust, which by definition objectifies the woman.}

For reasons unknown, this idea failed to sway Cardinal Shehan who sided with the majority of the papal commission, which advised that the Church’s teaching on contraception be changed in light of new circumstances. {Interestingly enough, the only archbishop who was on the commission and didn't bother to show for the vote was Karol Wojtyla, and he may not have attended any of the meetings, although he is reputed to have been one of the voices who swayed PPVI to stick with prior teaching. His objection was apparently over the impact the change would have on the laity's perceptions of Papal infallibility.}

“This sets the scene for the tragic drama following the actual date of the publication of the encyclical letter on July 29, 1968,” Cardinal Stafford writes.
Following the publication of Humanae Vitae, Stafford recalls the way the rejection of the Pope’s encyclical unfolded.

“Rev. Charles E. Curran, instructor of moral theology of The Catholic University of America … and nine other professors of theology of the Catholic University met, by evident prearrangement, in Caldwell Hall to receive, again by prearrangement with the Washington Post, the encyclical, part by part, as it came from the press. The story further indicated that by nine o’clock that night, they had received the whole encyclical, had read it, had analyzed it, criticized it, and had composed their six-hundred word ‘Statement of Dissent.’ Then they began that long series of telephone calls to ‘theologians’ throughout the East, which went on, according to the Post, until 3:30 A.M., seeking authorization, to attach their names as endorsers (signers was the term used) of the statement, although those to whom they had telephoned could not have had an opportunity to see either the encyclical or their statement. Meanwhile, they had arranged through one of the local television stations to have the statement broadcast that night.”

Cardinal Shehan was “scornful” of the reaction. “In 1982 he wrote, ‘The first thing that we have to note about the whole performance is this: so far as I have been able to discern, never in the recorded history of the Church has a solemn proclamation of a Pope been received by any group of Catholic people with so much disrespect and contempt’.” {This was Cardinal Shehan's public position. His private position was totally different. Cardinal Shehan wasn't the only Archbishop who was sending mixed messages, the public one for Rome, and the private one for pastoral counseling.}

The test in Baltimore
“The personal Πειρασμός, the test, began,” writes Stafford, who was a priest of the Diocese of Baltimore at the time.
He remembers that the trial began with a phone call inviting him to St. William of York parish in southwest Baltimore to discuss the encyclical. “The meeting was set for Sunday evening, August 4. I agreed to come. Eventually a large number of priests were gathered in the rectory’s basement. I knew them all,” Stafford relates.

Although he expected a chance to read the papal document and discuss it, nothing of the sort happened. Instead, one pastor/ leader, assisted by some priests from the local seminary read the Washington statement aloud. Then the leader asked each of us to agree to have our names attached to it. No time was allowed for discussion, reflection, or prayer. Each priest was required individually to give a verbal ‘yes’ or ‘no’.” {One has to remember that the laity weren't given a chance to read it or vote on it. We were given only the choice to follow it. It's hard for me to generate much sympathy for poor Cardinal Stafford.}

“I could not sign it,” states Cardinal Stafford. ‘My earlier letter to Cardinal Shehan came to mind. I remained convinced of the truth of my judgement and conclusions.” … However, Stafford says that no one else there held his convictions; “Everyone agreed to sign. There were no abstentions. As the last called upon, I felt isolated. The basement became suffocating.”

What happened next involved was unprecedented in the history of the Baltimore presbyterate, according to Stafford. “They had planned carefully how to exert what amounted to emotional and intellectual coercion. … The priest/leader, drawing upon some scatological language from his Marine Corp past in the II World War responded contemptuously to my decision. He tried to force me to change. He became visibly angry and verbally abusive. The underlying, ‘fraternal’ violence became more evident. He questioned and then derided my integrity. He taunted me to risk my ecclesiastical ‘future,’ although his reference was more anatomically specific. The abuse went on.” {At least you weren't threatened with eternal damnation for commiting a gravely immoral act.}

“We all had been subjected to a new thing in the Church, something unexpected. A pastor and several seminary professors had abused rhetoric to undermine the truth within the evangelical community. When opposed, they assumed the role of Job’s friends. Their contempt became a nightmare,” Stafford observes.

The aftermath of dissent
This type of abuse was paralleled in the secular history of the time as well, says the cardinal, citing an encounter from April 1968 with the same priest who would a few months later lead the dissent meeting at St. William of York.

As the riots in Baltimore raged following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Father Stafford called the pastor to see if he might need food, medical assistance, or other help from the city. When the pastor answered the phone, Stafford could hear “disillusionment and fear” in the priest’s voice as he described how, “Everything has been set ablaze.”

The memory of this incident prompted Stafford to realize that, “Ecclesial dissent can become a kind of spiritual violence in its form and content. …Violence and truth don’t mix. … The violence of the priests’ August gathering gave rise to its own ferocious acrimony. Conversations among the clergy, where they existed, became contaminated with fear. Suspicions among priests were chronic. …The Archdiocesan priesthood lost something of the fraternal whole which Baltimore priests had known for generations.” {Apparently this climate of fear and mistrust was accelerated under JPII and now we have archbishops authorizing secret surveillance of their religious empoyees. Things have certainly improved.}

“Something else happened among priests on that violent August night,” explains Cardinal Stafford, “Friendship in the Church sustained a direct hit.”

A lesson learned
In spite of all the damage done by the dissent, Stafford stresses that, “that night was not a total loss.” “Paradoxically, in the hot, August night a new sign shown unexpectedly on the path to future life. It read, ‘Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered’.” {Am I to understand this to mean that obedience trumps love and obedience is the major lesson I should take from the life of Christ?}

“I did not become ‘ashamed of the Gospel’ that night and found ‘sweet delight in what is right.’ It was not a bad lesson. Ecclesial obedience ran the distance,” the American cardinal writes.
The lesson to be learned from this is that, “Contemporary obedience of disciples to the Successor of Peter cannot be separated from the poverty of spirit and purity of heart modeled and won by the Word on the Cross,” writes Stafford. {Now I get it. I'm to equate obedience to the Papacy with modeling the life of Christ. According to Cardinal Stafford they 'cannot be separated'.
Cardinal Stafford closes his reflections by giving his honest assessment of where the Church stands after the decades of dissent.
“Diocesan presbyterates have not recovered from the July/August nights in 1968. Many in consecrated life also failed the evangelical test. Since January 2002, the abyss has opened up elsewhere. The whole people of God, including children and adolescents, now must look into the abyss and see what dread beasts are at its bottom. Each of us shudders before the wrath of God, each weeps in sorrow for our sins and each begs for the Father’s merciful remembrance of Christ’s obedience.” {And now the pedophelia scandal is attributed to clerical dissent with Humanae Vitae. Must be some form of proportionalism or something.}


I think I've read the above article a half a dozen times and am still not sure what point I'm supposed to take from it except that total obedience to the Papacy is equal to total obedience to Christ. I guess instead of a Holy Trinity, we now have a Holy Foursome.

It's hard for me to have much sympathy for the plight of Cardinal Stafford, but I will give him a great deal of credit for operating in total integrity. One of the things which really impacted my perception of the hierarchy was all the double messages they sent during this time. It was hard to take any public pronouncement seriously when the grapevine and actual pastoral practice was so opposite. The public face of many in the hierarchy was the primacy of obedience to the papacy where the private pastoral face was the primacy of individual conscience. Humanae Vitae put many true Vatican II bishops in a horrible bind between their personal conscience on this issue and the institutional demand for obedience with in the ranks.

If Humanae Vitae has proven anything, it's how destating the effects can be when a pronouncement is patently out of sync with the majority of the people of God, and most especially when it's out of sync with the majority of the clergy. I also think that Humanae Vitae brought out another conflict. Many, many people percieved that relaxing the ban on artifial birth control was an act of compassion, and when one reaches that understanding, teaching compliance to the ban as an act of obedience holds little water.

The spin now is to couple Paul's writing with John Paul's theology of the body and try to raise this encyclical to new levels of spiritually brilliant insight. The truth is it was never prophetic insight, it was rehash of old arguments based in the notion that sex exists primarily for procreation with a token argument about unity. The only thing unifying about Humanae Vitae is that to practice NFP both partners have to be totally unified in agreeing to engage in the practice to avoid conception. I see this as just another one of those hypocritical theological arguments which thinks up a 'new' process in order to circumvent some other absolute traditional and scriptural truth. Just like the annulment process. In my book, birth control is birth control and divorce is divorce, and as many angels as want to can dance on the head of a pin.