Saturday, December 01, 2007

Grab a Tray, Archbishop

I'm a Catholic boy - says so right under the name on the blog. I understand that there are people who are Catholics in name only, or in a cultural sense. There are plenty of "EC" Catholics - the ones who show up for Mass on Easter and Christmas only. They are usually easy to spot, because they are dressed to the nines and look nervous upon entering. We live in a secular society and I prefer it that way. No one other than my kids has to answer to me for how they live their lives. If someone wants to be an EC Catholic, that's fine.

I have more of a problem with "Cafeteria Catholics," however. A Cafeteria Catholic is someone who picks and chooses which parts of Church doctrine he chooses to believe and ignores the others. I wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece the other day about Nick Coleman, the annoying Star Tribune columnist who fanices himself an expert on all things. I don't know if Coleman is actually Catholic or not, but he decided to take the incoming Archbishop, John Nienstedt, to task for having the effrontery to actually offer Church teaching on homosexuality. The Archbishop responded to Coleman's column in Friday's Star Tribune and his response speaks for itself. Today, of course, the responses to the response came in. And that's what I'm going to write about today.

The Star Tribune letters section is usually a Greek chorus of leftist magpies - often the complaints aired there are Daily Kos boilerplate or variations on the emanations that issue from college campuses these days. Although it's usually not said explicitly, the primary purpose of these pronouncements is to ensure that those who are not in favor on the Left are punished for their sins. Because the Church has stood foursquare on the wrong side of the abortion debate, and has not endorsed whatever lifestyle a liberal might want to live at any given time, any churchman will automatically face suspicion. And a fellow like Archbishop Nienstedt, who came of age under John Paul II and who has evidently taken what JPII's teachings to heart, is an enemy to be confronted.

Typical is this letter, written by a gentleman in Minnesota Lake, who thinks he's found a hole in the Archbishop's armor:

Did any other reader notice that in Archbishop Nienstedt's response to Nick Coleman's Nov. 28 column regarding the church's and archbishop's lack of compassion toward gays, none of Nienstedt's biblical references included a direct statement by Jesus?

Oddly enough, Jesus never addressed racism or envirnomental degradation either. So are we to assume that it's okay to be racist, or to trash the planet? After all, Jesus never addressed the matter, so it must be okay, right? But the writer goes on.

There of course is a reason for that, [which is what?-Ed] leaving open the question: What would Jesus say? Many of us Christians faithfully believe that Jesus would be open, and, yes, compassionate and accepting toward his homosexual brethren.

Jesus did address the subject of adultery, of course. He told the rock-toting Pharisees, "whoever among you is without sin may cast the first stone." But he also told the woman who was to be stoned this: "Go and sin no more."

Is homosexuality a sin? That's a subject for debate in the overall secular society, as it should be. But within the Church, it's a matter of doctrine. And the Archbishop's primary charge is to teach and, when necessary, enforce Church doctrine. One can be compassionate and even accepting of homosexuals and homosexuality, while still decrying homosexual behavior. That's been the Church's stance for many, many years now. But that's not what this letter writer, and the Rainbow Sash people, and Nick Coleman want. They want an endorsement of homosexual behavior from the Church. Harry Flynn has been finessing the matter, tolerating the antics of places like St. Joan of Arc (Minneapolis's finest pagan Catholic church) but banning the Rainbow Sash people at the Cathedral. Nienstedt won't play that game. So the game is on.


Anonymous said...

Good for Nienstadt. It's about time somebody takes a stand for what the Church proclaims. The Bishop in Madison is a lot like Nienstadt in that he came of age under JP II. Both are charitable men who treat people with respect, but that doesn't mean watering down the faith or agreeing with the agenda of the local liberals. For too long Church leaders were too quiet on hot-button topics like abortion, homosexuality, etc. Thanks to JP II's lasting legacy, that is no longer the case.

Anonymous said...

My favorite part of Coleman's column lectures Nienstedt about what the Catechism "really says" regarding homosexuality. Talk about cajones!

The Lady Logician said...

Born in Berwyn, graduated from Beloit College and living in MN....gee that sounds vaguely familiar (almost like me - raised in Wheaton IL and moved to Madison before coming to the Cities....).

Mark - the go and sin no more command was spot on. That is the part that the gay activists forget. In order to be forgiven you have to REPENT of your sin and REMOVE yourself from the sin. Maybe Nick needs to go back and read his Bible...

Cajones is right anon!


Mark said...

Thanks for stopping by, LL. You have a very strong presence on the local blogging scene and your kind words mean a lot to me. And yep, it does seem that a lot of us end up drifting north.


Anonymous said...

Do you honestly think that acknowledging a persons inherent sexual orientation, and telling them to go and sin no more is a compassionate position? The adulteress had an outlet – a committed relationship and marriage. Inside the Church, homosexuals currently do not.
The Church, more than most institutions, should understand how truly difficult it is to sublimate sexual desire. It seems to me that yours and the Archbiushops arguments against homosexuality hinge upon the doctrinal notion of the homosexual act being sinful, but as you yourself acknowledge, Church doctrine can and does change. If the Church truly accepts homosexuality as an inherent condition, and wants to “love the sinner, but hate the sin” of adultery, wouldn’t the proper conservative position be to adapt, and allow Gays to marry. At least from a Burkean sense (if Burke can still regarded as a conservative).
Given the huge number of openly gay couples in our society, many with children, and that our laws and society are so rapidly responding to this social reality, it seems to me that the Church is faced with a practical decision: What shall they do about this? What is happening now, as a defacto response, is that gays who remain in the Church are forming domestic partnerships, and thus, subtly undermining marriage. And so marriage becomes less special and less constructive an institution. Of course, those opposed to gay marriages never oppose these marriages with nuanced or Hayekian social arguments. All I ever hear is truisms - "marriage is between a man and a woman" - or religious invocations of the "sanctity" of a civil institution. If you want to keep the institution of marriage sacrosanct, then shouldn’t all people in a loving, committed and monogamous relationship be allowed to partake in it? Why must it remain a socially liberal position to resist the conservative logic of including everyone within the same family structure, with the same responsibilities?
I suppose marriage equality is socially liberal in that it attempts to defend and integrate a denigrated minority (which I think, is also usually a position of the Church). But it should also be a socially conservative position in its attempt to include that minority in the traditions and responsibilities of family life, and end a disincentive to family life among a minority group that needs more social stability and acceptance. If, as an institution, the Church can acknowledge that gay people are the equals of straight people, then encouraging their marriages to one another is, in my mind, one of the most socially conservative measures the Church could take. I suppose this make me a “Cafeteria Catholic”, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time I was accused of that.
Rich Kerwin

Mark said...


Here's my take on it. The Church has taken a consistent position for its entire history, one that has been consistent with all recorded human experience.

The primary, paramount purpose of marriage has always been to provide a stable foundation for the creation of families and, crucially, children. And that has also always been the Church's stance on such matters.

Homosexual marriage is by definition a non-sequitur. I do not dispute for a moment that a certain percentage of the population has a homosexual orientation. I wish no ill on anyone who is homosexual; indeed, it would be highly unlikely that many people would choose to be homosexual, given how difficult such a life is.

I like Burke and Hayek as much as the next guy, but they were political philosophers, not theologians. And because marriage is about the creation of families, it's not really for gay couples, even if gay couples happen to adopt children.

We are in the midst of a great change right now, I agree: what's happening involves a vast repudiation of the received wisdom and experience of human history regarding sexuality and the role of parents and parenting. And we don't know what the long-term implications are. My sense is that, in the end, marriage in the religious sense will ultimately be decoupled from the notion of giving a governmental imprimatur to same-sex relationships. And I have no problem with civil unions at all. I generally am pretty much a libertarian on such matters. If we as a society feel that this is the way to go, I might grumble about it, but I'll accept it without worrying.

It's different where the Church is concerned, however. The thing is, teaching the meaning of marriage in the context of the Church is a decision for the Church to make; not for me, you or any of the cavalcade of organizations currently belaboring the incoming Archbishop of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

And accepting Church teachings is hard, but we have ample evidence from scripture and from history that it's supposed to be hard. Jill and I have accepted that, because of our marriage, we have to make sacrifices for the children we have brought into the world. We take it seriously. 25 years ago, I know you did too, because you got married and took responsibility. That so many others do not take their vows seriously doesn't change the fact of what a Christian marriage is.

And we are all sinners; always have been, always will be. I cannot pretend to know the will of God; I may turn out to be entirely wrong about everything I believe. But I can only rely on what I know, what I've been taught and what I've experienced.

Archbishop Nienstedt has spent his life trying to understand and teach the Word of God. He has forsaken much to do so, as all priests do. I might look at Burke, or Hayek, or even John Rawls for political philosophy. But when it comes to my faith, I need to look to people like Nienstedt. And what he is teaching is utterly consistent with what I've known and experienced as a Catholic for my entire life.