Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Conservative Interpretation Of Cardinal Schonborn's Interview

Founder of Ignatius Press, Fr. Joseph Fessio shakes hands with his old time theology professor. This was a connection which impressed Tom Monaghan enough to fire Fessio twice from Ave Maria University.

Father Fessio explains Cardinal Schönborn’s remarks on homosexuality
Catholic World News - May 12, 2010

Father Joseph Fessio, the publisher of Ignatius Press, has written a column defending and clarifying remarks made by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn during a meeting with journalists.
The cardinal had been characterized as saying that an enduring same-sex union is preferable to a series of encounters, telling the journalists that “a stable relationship is certainly better than if someone simply indulges in promiscuity.” (Schonborn wasn't 'characterised' he was directly quoted, just like you have directly quoted him.)

Father Fessio commented:

The Church attempts to lead men to their ultimate happiness, which is the vision of God in his essence. Moral norms are meant to do that; they have that as their end or purpose. The norms themselves are unchanging. However, our approach to obeying them is gradual and our efforts are a mixture of success and failure. This means that while certain moral norms are absolute, that is, they hold in all circumstances without exception, our approach to obeying them may be halting and imperfect. This is commonly referred to as “the law of gradualism” and is opposed to “the gradualism of the law,” as if the law itself were somehow variable. This is the context for the cardinal’s saying: “We should give more consideration to the quality of homosexual relationships,” adding: “A stable relationship is certainly better than if someone chooses to be promiscuous.” (Fessio's use of the particular word happiness is in direct reference to Cardinal Schonborn: "Instead of a morality based on duty, we should work towards a morality based on happiness". Fessio is letting us know happiness is really found in doing one's moral duty, just like it always has been.)

This does not at all mean that the cardinal was advocating or even suggesting that the Church might change her teaching that homosexuality is a disorder and homosexual activity is always a grave evil. It is always grave, but there can be gradations of gravity—or, to call it by its true name, objective depravity. (Is this sort of like killing the innocent in an unjust war is less depraves than killing the innocent unborn?)

This is also the context of the Tablet’s statement: “The cardinal also said the Church needed to reconsider its view of re-married divorcees ‘as many people don’t even marry at all any longer’.” This “reconsideration” does not mean a change in the Church’s teaching that a valid marriage is indissoluble, and that someone who is validly married cannot remarry validly. It means that perhaps—but only perhaps, because this is an opinion that does not have the authority of a magisterial pronouncementthe Church should find new ways of leading the weak and confused to the difficult but liberating challenge of Christ’s demands. (If we're going to use a gradualism scale, I'd rather be thought of as one of the 'simple' laity, than one of the weak and confused laity--or one of the less depraved laity.)


Fr. Fessio really should let Cardinal Sconborn explain himself. I somehow doubt Schonborn was thinking in terms of graduated depravity when discussing monogamous gay relationships. Although come to think of it, this is the same kind of logic Dr. Reker's tried to use about paying for purposely sexually stimulating massage. He was not engaging in any form of depraved gay sex. It was just massage.

In this type of mindset it seems secular relativism is bad but moral gradualism is nifty. This weak and confused and simple lay person doesn't really get the difference. Obviously my bad. My confusion is always my bad, and I am to understand it's never their teaching or their inability to act on their teaching.

Fr Fessio is a neo con Jesuit who has been involved in a number of different clashes with authority figures. These include the provincial leadership of the Jesuits in California over his connections with Campion College, and on the other end of the spectrum, Ave Maria University and it's owner/dictator Tom Monaghan--where he was let go twice.
Fessio was a grad student under Cardinal Ratzinger. Some speculate it was this association with Ratzinger that persuaded the administration of Ave Maria to hire and then rehire him. His theological connections with Ratzinger also gave him an acquaintanceship with Cardinal Sconborn. Schonborn was supportive of Fessio's involvement with Campion College as the Cardinal saw the orthodox aims of Campion as supportive of the theological bent of JPII's edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church of which Sconborn was the editor.

I'm not really surprised that conservative theologians are attempting to re interpret Cardinal Schonborn's remarks. Schonborn has long had credentials as a conservative icon, potential papabile, and all around JPII kind of guy. While his latest interview has given the progressive world a moment of guarded hope, it's had the opposite effect on the conservative world. Conservatives may practice a form of 'gradualist morality' when it comes to their personal behavior, but they have no such policy for community behavior and Schonborn reads like he is thinking thoughts outside the approved conservative box.
I've made the point before that conservative theology seems to place a higher value on correct thinking rather than correct acts. Fessio's need to reinterpret of Schonborg's thinking really underscores this point.

In the meantime Cardinal Sconborn has not seen fit to clarify his own remarks and Pope Benedict is making some interesting statements himself--statements which will undoubtedly necessitate interpretation by neo con priests for the sake of our collective duty bound happiness.


  1. One wonders why Cardinal Schönborn would think they "should give more consideration to the quality of homosexual relationships" if he thinks that both committed gay relationships and gay promiscuity are simply "gradations" of an "objective depravity."

    If that's what Schönborn thinks, why would he even think it was worth mentioning? What would be the consequences of such a distinction? If both "gradations" are still objectively depraved, you're still pretty much damned either way, right?

    Somehow I doubt Schönborn had such a minor academic distinction in mind. Fessio is trying to console himself and his fellow conservatives, nothing more.

  2. Prickliest when I read this I so laughed out loud. It's pathetic, just pathetic, OK and sad.

  3. Jan Visser, co-author of Persona Humana 1975, which condemns masturbation and gay sex, said the same sort of thing as Card. Schoenborn. Fessio is more or less right, I fear.

  4. Given the fact that the Cardinal has not retracted or sought to "clarify" his comments since he issued them--now almost two weeks have gone by--I really don't think we can take any attempts by conservatives to try and put another spin on them as if these were Schonborn's intended implications.

    As we watch these conservatives scramble and skwerm it is greatly encouraging to see that the Archbishop of Vienna has continued to make it a point not to "clarify" anything he said.

    Note, when he remarked about celibacy possibly being a catalyst in the clergy/sexual-abuse scandal he did see it necessary to clarify his remarks, and did so promptly. Why not now...?

    Also, the words from the Holy Father promoting dialogue and respect of understand and respect from those entities who disagree with other is indeed cause of great positive attention. Could it be that Pope Benedict really is laying the way--even if not during his pontificate--for a profound renewal and revaluation of the way the Church has defined truth in relation to so many trends and issues of importance in the world today?

  5. Colleen, if you think Fessio is funny, you just have to read this.

  6. Prickliest Pear, I read that link. It was far from funny. SIGH!

  7. Why did Tom Monaghan fire Father Fessio twice? I don't quite understand that.

  8. "Why did Tom Monaghan fire Father Fessio twice? I don't quite understand that."

    I think many ppl are completely bewildered by this. The only suggestion I can make is that maybe Fessio was not fanatical enough for Monaghan(?).

    Anon Y. Mouse

  9. Mouse, I think it's a little more than that. I think Fessio had a real problem with the financial end of things. He might have made the mistake of wondering where and how the financial aspect of the property development part was separated from the business end of the college part. I suspect that would have been a virtually unforgiveable mistake.