|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.
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.)