Saturday, December 29, 2012

For Me, A Christmas Gift From Richard Sipe.

An old and tired looking pope gives an old and tired message.  One wonders if he will retire this year.

I was just saddened again this Christmas to hear the Pope once again castigate gays for most of the ills of the world.  Even though I've written a previous post about one of Benedict's droppings, it has left a bad taste in my mouth.  It's not like this is the first time he has chosen the Christmas season to throw lumps of coal at gays.  I happen to find this obsession of his pathological and hugely polluting for the spiritual energy of the Church.  I have never found it edifying to work for any leadership that can't admit to their own pathology because that pathology always plays out in the collective work force. It becomes the unstated underlying motivation for too many dysfunctional decisions.  In the case of Roman Catholicism, I firmly believe this is why so much time and energy is focused on dehumanizing gays and attempting to control women's reproduction through legislative means.  Call it the politics of pathology.  It's hardly surprising Catholicism leads the way in these endeavors since it's entire leadership core is carefully enculturated to both reflect and blindly accept the dysfunction coming from up the food chain, especially the dysfunction about human sexuality.

And then my mood hasn't been helped by some of the commenters now popping up and attempting a take over of the National Catholic Reporter website.  These men generally last a week or so, spew hundreds of comments, and then drop out to be replaced by other cohorts.  It's like they have a commander in chief who tells them engaging with apostates for more than a week is bad for their soul.  I have the hopeful delusion they disengage because it's bad for their lock step faith and leaves them with too many questions. Bill Lyndsey has an example of this kind of commenter over at Bilgrimage.  Droppings from the Catholic birdcage indeed. 

So all of this angst propelled me to check in with Richard Sipe's blog because if anyone could explain this bizarre need of Pope Benedict's to bash gays at Christmas it would be the world's expert on clergy and their sexuality.  He has a new post up in which he gives answers to the most frequently asked questions he receives on lecture circuits and in interviews.  I found the answers to the following questions balm for my soul.  I guess one could say, this was not a Richard Rohr Christmas for me, it was a Richard Sipe Christmas.

Why is the church against homosexuality when so many priests are gay? 
I wrote the article "Is The Pope Gay?" It focused on Pope Benedict XVI, but it was neither an attack nor an allegation of misbehavior. It was meant to provoke discussion of the topic so important for Catholic clergy and the whole church. The position of the Catholic Church about homosexuality is not only wrong headed it is unsupportable and hypocritical. Since official teaching considers homosexuality as intrinsically evil it is impossible for the Vatican to dialogue or explore its position. (This is other wise known as backing yourself into a dead end corner.)

The Church's basic teaching on human sexuality is simply wrong. It is equally as false as its former belief that the sun moves around the earth. It ignores the scientific, psychological and socio-spiritual realities of sex and human relationships.

Homosexuality is a God-given orientation just as heterosexuality is. The church's position that it is an intrinsic disorder fails equally when it comes to understanding masturbation and birth control that it plasters with the same label. This is patently false and offers inadequate pedagogy.

When I posed the question about the pope's sexual orientation it was only to raise these areas for calm and rational discussion. Many informed people in Rome believe that Pope Benedict XVI has a homosexual orientation. This is neither an accusation of fault nor any implication of wrongdoing. But the official teaching of the church proscribes that men of homosexual orientation should be allowed to train for the priesthood or be ordained (Cf.1961 Directive).

The patent hypocrisy of church teaching and practice is a travesty. Many saints had a homosexual orientation and many good priests are gay and celibate. (Pope Benedict might be reaching new heights in hypocrisy in his castigation and persecution of gays. He is apparently oblivious to the fact many of his flock think he is exactly that state of being which he condemns.)

Homosexual orientation is neither an illness nor a perversion. To oversimplify: It is an inborn attraction and disposition to love persons of the same sex, even sexually - parallel to persons of heterosexual orientation and disposition. Homosexual persons can behave perversely and be ill just as heterosexually persons can.

Hypocrisy is the greatest religious sin. Although homosexuality among the clergy and in the general population involves difficult and complicated social and moral questions to confront it is one area of necessary discussion for serious Christians.

Why exclude women from the priesthood? Excluding women from the priesthood is based on a bad cultural habit and destructive tradition of degrading women and keeping them from equality and power. That stance has a long history and must be faced just as the practice of slavery was.
There are no solid theological reasons for keeping women out of ministry. There is a good deal of misogyny in clerical culture. Fear and loathing of women is deeply entrenched in the power structure of the church. The threat of women to this power extends even to a married clergy.
 (Yes, the threat women somehow pose to the Roman Catholic clerical system is so high, it precludes married priests, much less the ordination of women. We need to investigate why the idea of women is such a threat.)
Is Celibacy the cause of sexual perversion and should it be abolished? There is no question that Mandatory celibacy is untenable. No one can impose a charism (a grace). And the forced celibate obligation is without a doubt a factor in the abuse of minors as well other clerical sexual aberrations. Some scholars say that celibacy is a perversion in itself and a violation of God's original command to Adam,  "to increase and multiply".

I was present at an audience with Pope John Paul II in 1993 during which he said that he (and no (other) pope) had the authority to change the requirement for a vow of celibacy in order to be ordained to the priesthood. And he and other popes have acted in defiance of this proclamation. The same restriction on his power obviated the ordination of women to the priesthood. I do not believe either statement. (I don't either, it's nothing more than self justifying magical thinking.)

I agree that mandatory celibacy for ordination must be changed. It simply does not work. I do not agree that religious celibacy is a perversion nor that celibacy that is freely chosen and lived is a cause of perversion. Celibacy is a charism - a gift - and it cannot be forced or legislated. To attempt do so is a perversion. That is why it has never worked well nor been successful for a majority of priests and caused so much pain and destruction. (It's not just the forcing of a charism on people that makes forced celibacy a perversion, but the corruption it brings with it when celibacy is not followed.)

Is the church too focused on controlling sex? Yes, for two reasons: it has lost touch with its spiritual origins and it has failed to listen to the experience of married people. There was a perception during the early days of the church of a necessity to control the organization, discipline and material goods of this budding social and spiritual entity. The demand for celibacy that had some very real and deep regard for the spirituality of men who did give up everything to imitate Jesus (like the monks of the desert) was used to implement organizational control. Like the sower of seed in the Gospel weeds and wheat grew up together. Celibacy has had mixed results in the life of the Church. But the real question is one of control, power and money. The concentration of money and power in the church has been a constant source of its corruption.

Jesus, and the New Testament generally, offer no directives about celibacy and little about sexuality. The process of evolution continues to infuse knowledge and understanding of human development and also of biblical scholarship. We must respect our God-given capacity to learn and develop an informed conscience.

Does corruption proceeds from the top down? Yes. At the First National Conference for Victims & Survivors of Roman Catholic Clergy Abuse held in Chicago, October 1992 I said:  "the problem of child abuse now visible is the tip of the iceberg. When the whole story of sexual abuse by presumed celibate clergy is told it will lead to the highest corridors of the Vatican." 
Corruption in the Church comes from the top down. Many saints have held this position. Wherever one finds sexual abuse of minors on any level of the clergy there are inevitably men in authority above them who are sexually active themselves or who are tolerant of such behavior. If celibacy were truly and widely practiced on the highest levels of the Church there would be no room for the abuse of minors. (And no opportunity for blackmail, bribery, or need for 'omerta'.)
As I collected data on the behaviors of bishops and priests the systemic dynamic of celibate/sexual violations became more and more apparent. Bishops and priests are sexually active behind a veil of feigned abstinence. The sexual crisis of the Roman Catholic Church splashed in bold headlines across continents demonstrates the workings of their secret world. 

What is your religious commitment? People frequently ask if I am still a believer? Jesus Christ is the foundation and ground of my life and being. I believe in Who and What Jesus said He is. 

The two operational pillars of my theology and work are secured in two directives: Thomas Aquinas' dictum,  "grace builds on nature" and St. Irenaeus' belief that  "the glory of God is man fully human". These tie together my experience of religion and psychiatry and my existence at the interface of psychology and spirituality. (The 'glory of God is man fully human' is a truth for the ages.)

Like so many Catholics today I retain nostalgia for the comfort of ritual, the beauty and grandeur of music, gesture and vesture. But the current sexual and financial corruption of the Church renders churches and ritual unavailable and empty. This is a painful phase of a profound reformation precipitated by the definitions of the Second Vatican Council like those articulated in Gaudium et Spes. We, not the hierarchy, are the Church - the People of God. (Yes, exactly. For too many of us  the current level of corruption literally makes churches and ritual 'unavailable and empty'.)

The current crisis has moved many deprived Catholics to realize that our core spirituality and the truth of our religion is beyond the outward forms and prevails in communion with the living presence of Jesus. This is not a rejection of sacramentality, but a more profound awareness of its essence that will be realized more completely - beyond magic and myth - when this Reformation is formulated. Spiritual life like all life is a process. I think of the process in mundane terms like pealing an orange - the essence is there and more accessible once one removes the outside skin. (This is just a profound paragraph and expresses my own spiritual situation far better than I could. Truly, sometimes mere words are precious gifts.)


  1. Thank you for this post. So many of my Catholic friends admit to feeling like they are in the desert. What happenned to the church, they ask. Sexual abuse, a doubling down on sketchy teachings, mostly sexual and cultural, as in the role of women. And the wildly over the top condemnations of homosexuality. And there they stand, the most vociferous among them - think Cardinal Burke - all in their finery and superfluous accessories and their bombastic certainties - one could feel sorry for them for their lack of insight and self-awareness. It is both hilarious and profoundly sad. Mostly sad

    1. I don't know Winifred, I think what happened to the Church is when John XXIII opened the windows for the Holy Spirit, She went and opened up all the closets as well. It's just taken the People of God forever to go through the closets because the closet keepers, who can't shut the doors anymore, keep throwing obstacles in front of us so we can't get to the closets.

      Now it seems to be a race between the old closet keepers and their defenders and the rest of the Church as to who runs out of will power first. Pope Benedict looks very old and tired to me.

    2. He does to me also, but I doubt whether the Pope would retire. He likes his power too much.

  2. What a wonderful post. Thank you for speaking out against Benedict and his Christmas castigation of the gays. I want to respond. It is hard to know where to begin.

    First, I am so tired of the right wing roman catholic fanatics trying to shut down any conversation on issues which may threaten their well being. Let them write to NCR non stop. It’s sick. The only investment they have is that their shallow religious beliefs are threatened. Yes, authority is not the rock of religious faith except theirs. I want them to testify to what their real day to day struggles are. Until I hear that, I will give them no credibility.

    So Benedict is gay, probably pretty repressed. Many thought Paul VI was gay. There are many who attribute that fact to Paul VI’s vacillating on the report from the lay commission saying that there was nothing wrong with trying to regulate birth. I guess I must add, by chemical means.

    One of the insights that I take on this whole debate is from Mark Jordan who is/was a professor at Emory University in Atlanta. I have read his book, The Silence of Sodom. I even was introduced to him after a Mass at the Newman Chapel in Atlanta. As I recall, part of his thesis is that the official church takes its strong stance against homosexuality so that lowly lay folk will not notice all the homoerotism in the Roman Catholic Church. That homoeroticism can be found in the ritual and especially in the vestured finery of the hierarchy. Yes, Cardinal Burke. There is a long list of Roman Church officials; popes, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and priests who exhibit a homosexual bent. Jordan would say that the hierarchs protest too much. Well let me say it: they're gay. Richard Sipe documents this quite well.

    All of this tends to get hidden behind the skirts of the cardinals and bishops. What has changed? The skirts have been lifted, the cover has been blown particularly by all those officials who have been complicit in the cover up of the sexual abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church.

    I suspect this dynamic has something to do with the official church's opposition to ordaining women. It's not because Jesus did not want women priests. It's because women priests threaten the present vatican empire.

    It seems like business as usual from Benedict and the Vatican this Christmas. Benedict bashing the gays. There is every right to be outraged. The good news: Folks grounded in reality, in touch with life see through the hypocrisy.

    Forward: Gay liberation, Marriage Equality.

    1. I agree with everything you said, but I must take issue with one sentence (in bold): "There are many who attribute that fact to Paul VI’s vacillating on the report from the lay commission saying that there was nothing wrong with trying to regulate birth. I guess I must add, by chemical means."

      This would imply that there is an intelligible distinction between what the magisterium considers licit means of regulating births (so-called "natural family planning," and all that) and what they consider illicit (i.e., everything else).

      This is giving them and their teaching more credit than they deserve! Condoms, after all, are not "chemical means," and are no more acceptable under official teaching than, say, birth control pills.

      If you'll excuse the shameless self-promotion, I would urge you to read my blog post about Jesuit Fr. Bernard Lonergan's explanation of why there is no moral distinction between the so-called licit means of regulating births on the one hand, and condoms, the Pill, etc., on the other (and therefore there is no "natural law" argument to support the magisterium's teaching with regard to the latter forms of regulating births). JPII admitted as much when he asked moral theologians to find a meaningful distinction between them. Obviously he didn't know what it was, either--but that did stop him from being really sure that there was one!

    2. Prickliest, I really appreciated your own comments interpreting what Lonergan is arguing. The statistical approach concerning insemination vs conception is an argument one rarely hears anymore, but it truly does undercut the natural law argument against chemical birth control.

      The other argument against HV I found cogent is the one that argues if the Church allows the manipulation of time and temperature for conceptive purposes, how can it rationally refuse the manipulation of chemistry since both time and chemistry are foundational expressions of the material realm. Why favor time over chemistry, especially given that tweaking chemistry is far more effective.

    3. Wild, Mark Jordan has a very good point. It has always sort of amazed me that it took me such a very long time to really see the homoeroticism in the Church. It took a gay priest to get me to see it, and mostly by his sort of mild form of misogyny. Once my eyes were opened I could see it everywhere. It sort of explained why I had never had any desire to consider women's ordination for myself, or support it for any other woman.

      Roman clericalism is it's own little world with it's own little reality--to take a page from LaOsservatore Romano. How else does one explain Ratzinger's and Burke's rise to glory?

    4. Prickliest, thanks for the comment and expansion of my thought. I have and will visit your site and read your post about Lonergan.

  3. "I was just saddened again this Christmas to hear the Pope once again castigate gays for most of the ills of the world."

    ## He's been widely misreported - the misreporting I've seen has consisted in describing his words in a very heated way, without giving a link to what he did say. So here, for anyone who wants to know what he said, is the English translation of the entire address:

    ISTM that he, like anyone else, deserves better than to blamed on the strength, not of accurate & fair quotations, but of articles based on articles that in turn fail to quote him. There's lot of unfairness on the Net; this is my go at decreasing it. The words that have caused the fuss are in the paragraph, about half-way down the page, that begins:

    "The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study..."

    FWIW, his main target is not even gay marriage. This is not the first time an article in the press has represented him as breathing destruction against gay people, only for his words to say something far milder than is reported. Sensationalism of this kind is very unjust, and does no-one anyone favours: what happened to fact-checking by journalists ? They don't have to like what a Pope says - but they should be least be able to avoid inflammatory & misleading reporting. They would after all not like their own words to be misreported. If we are not fair to others, there is no reason why those who disagree very strongly with us, should be fair to us. Even Popes deserve to be fairly reported.

    "When I posed the question about the pope's sexual orientation it was only to raise these areas for calm and rational discussion."

    ## Sorry, but that deserves the reponse "You gotta be kidding me". There is a great need for just such a discussion - and a more clumsy way of beginning it is hard to imagine. The writer can't "play cute" if he starts like that. But he seems to want to.

    1. Sorry Rat, I wrote a previous article on this address to the curia and quoted extensively from the translation on the Vatican website. You, amongst others, made very good comments on the Pope's speech. My analysis did not stress the unstated gay marriage aspect of his thoughts, but did address gay adoption.

      I have not addressed the article in LaOsservatore Romano written by their one and only female reporter which most certainly attacked gays, going so far as to compare the 'gay agenda' with the communist agenda. Nor have I addressed a speech a few days earlier in which Pope Benedict once again stated gay marriage threatened world peace. Given this stellar lead up to his speech to the curia, I don't find it surprising that reporters covering the pope saw Benedict's words on gender bending as aimed at gays.

      As to Sipe's opening statement about the Pope's orientation I don't find it disingenuous at all. This is a pope who has repeatedly stated gay men can not be ordained as priests and has made gay marriage one of the major issues of his papacy. We absolutely need calm and rational discussion about the hypocrisy of gays very safely ordained to the priesthood, many in high positions of power, attacking other gays and denying them the same opportunities. It is a cancer in the body politic and one which must be cut out.

  4. "I have never found it edifying to work for any leadership that can't admit to their own pathology because that pathology always plays out in the collective work force. It becomes the unstated underlying motivation for too many dysfunctional decisions."

    Wonderful wisdom, Colleen. It provides a strong rationale for why we all should care that Rome continues to place gay folks and women in the crosshairs. All of this plays out in a pathological way down every pathway from Rome, throughout the institution, causing suffering to many folks, as the pathology eats its way into the entire institution.

    1. I'm not surprised you agreed with this Bill, having experienced this kind of dysfunctional leadership yourself. It just sucks all the way around.

      And you are right that it is playing out everywhere. Look what the dysfunction has wrought in the American theology scene. Sheer terror on the part of too many theologians.

  5. I told my son, Toby, who is gay trans, that the Pope has decided that gays are destroying the family and the Free World as we know it. He replied that, since all he does is work, go to college, and come home and sit on his butt and watch TV that he must not be doing his part and he's really sorry. He promises to get right on that destroying stuff right away.

    1. LOL, I would too Terri, but I can't afford it. It's expensive to destroy the world and I just don't have access to that kind of money. Tell Toby I'll understand if he's in the same boat and forgive him for his laxness in the cause.

  6. "I was just saddened again this Christmas to hear the Pope once again castigate gays for most of the ills of the world."

    when and where? could you tell me the passage where the Pope did this?

    "I happen to find this obsession of his pathological and hugely polluting for the spiritual energy of the Church."

    Obsession? could you tell me how many times in his hundrends of messages and speeches the Pope talked about this topic?

    1. Domics, Pope Benedict has chosen Christmas for these sometimes direct and sometimes sideways attacks on gays precisely because he knows the global press will cover it. It's Christmas.

      It's intentional whether you care to believe it or not.

    2. oh yes, so the Pope should thanks global press for its aid in carry forward his agenda.

  7. Dr Sipe.
    with his site and articles he seems to me more interested in this topic of the Pope as I never saw him talking about something else during this years.

    Regarding sexual abuses let's remember to Dr Sipe that in the United States approximately 300,000 children are sexually abused not by mandatory celibated priests but by common people (fathers, mothers, relatives, teachers...).
    Anyway, as there is any 'mandatory priesthood' there is any 'mandatory celibacy'.

    1. Domics, your first sentence impugns your credibility. Dr Sipes website has far more on it than the few which deal with Pope Benedict.

    2. sorry, my English is very bad. For 'he seems to me more interested in this topic of the Pope' read 'he seems to me more interested in this topics than the Pope'.
      It was a response to those who accuse the Pope of being interested only in sexual matters when, it is my opinion, that it is the press interested in the Pope only if he talks about the sex.

      I add that "an estimated 39 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse exist in America today" (even 60 according other statistics) but the press is not interested to these data.

    3. Domics, I learned at my mother's knee (some fifty years ago) that it is shameful to try to excuse your own bad behavior by pointing out the bad behavior of others. "Well, everyone else is doing it," is no excuse for the clergy to be doing it. In fact, they should be triply ashamed as they represent themselves as men who speak for God and teach His Word.

    4. Terri,
      Dr Sipe' opinion is that child sexual abuses in the Catholic Church are due to her particular situation and stances (that is male hierarchy maybe dominated by covert gays, mandatory celibacy). I just remember that the same problem is also in institution or in the same secular society that have none of the problems Dr Sipe identifies in the Catholic Church.
      It is not about the level of blame (and you are right) but about the causes of the phenomenon assuming that Dr Sipe is speaking as expert psychiatrist and not as moralist.
      That's all.

    5. Domics, you might be missing Sipe's main point, and that was the seminary system, especially the old preseminary system, kept men in a immature state of psychosexual development. It kept them boys when it came to sexual maturity. That's a big point and it is specific to the old seminary system.

      If you look, you can see a somewhat similar phenomenon in men's professional sports. There is a lot of immature male behavior in locker rooms.

    6. If this is his main point I'm in a greater disagreement.
      I think that Mr Sipe as a clinical mental health counselor (I wrongly assumed he was a psychiatrist or psycologist with a Ph.D) having met mainly disturbed priests he generalized a little too much. As far I know there are no clinical or scientific studies claiming that Catholic priests are mentally worse than the general population or immature as you claim.

  8. Popes don't retire. This one won't either. Besides there will be another to take his place...

    1. I don't think he will retire either, but you never know. There is precedent. If such a thing should happen, it would only be because he knew beforehand who his successor would be.

    2. Is there any protocol for retiring a Pope for senility...or absurdity?

    3. Terri,
      what the current Pope says is exactly what said the previous one. Have you ever asked the same question for the previous one?

    4. domics, as far as sexual abuse in the clergy, Pope Benedict is heads and shoulders above JPII, at least as far as clergy offenders are concerned as JPII did virtually nothing. As far as Bishop abusers and those who covered up abuse, neither one has done much of anything.

      JPII actually wrote a protocol for the retirement of a pope due to health or age reasons. I guess he just couldn't follow through with it in his own case. Or he wasn't allowed too.