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MegaphoneIreland, of all places, was recently the first country to hold a public referendum in which the public approved the legalization of gay marriage.

The response of the Vatican was loud and clear.

The Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, referred to the vote as a ‘defeat for humanity’, a step which must be countered by the Church in efforts to ‘strengthen its commitment to evangelization’. I, for one, hope that means something other that shouting its teachings more often and more loudly until someone listens.

When it comes to a ‘defeat for humanity’, my mind turns more to thoughts of Hitler, Stalin,  Boko Haram, ISIS, and institutionalized slavery as historic episodes where humanity came close to defeat. Not so much thoughts of gay marriage.

Of course, what was so stunning in the vote (which wasn’t even close), is that in what had been a staunchly Catholic country, the public apparently doesn’t care what the Church teaches when it comes to marriage and human sexuality.

So how did we get to this point?

You cannot separate the Church’s position on homosexual marriage from the broader perspective of the nature of human sexuality and the place of marriage in God’s plan.

If we are to get past the hand-wringing and angry recriminations that do little good, we need to reflect on two issues as we consider how the words we use and the actions we take render a message easily ignored:

  1. A look at what is taught with regards to marriage and human sexuality
  2. How to enforce teachings in a modern, connected world

What is taught.

I admit, as a person who has occasionally challenged teachings and proclamations that sound a discordant note with something inside of me, I started to research this topic with the intention of uncovering what exactly it was in our catechism teachings with which I disagreed, tenants that could explain the dismissal of Church teachings on a national scale. (Not that I disagree with the teachings of contraception, but I have a friend…)

But despite my most cynical efforts, when it comes to the teachings about sexuality and marriage, I found that the core essence of what was being expressed was indeed consistent with a ‘truth’ that I could not deny:

The intimacy of sexual unions should never be considered casual; they embody a deeply personal sharing that are reserved for a man and wife. The sacrament of Matrimony marks the flow of grace to strengthen the union between husband and wife and their role as parents for the gift of children.

Who can disagree with that?

Regarding homosexuality, the Church calls those with such an inclination to chastity.

“What’s the problem with that?” wrote the heterosexual blogger.

There are two little words from the teachings however, that give me pause.

Paragraph 2370 from our catechism includes the definitive statement on the Church’s position on artificial contraception as initially described in Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae:

“…every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil.

Evil?

There certainly is a difference between the ‘marital act’ which is solely unitive in nature, and one which  includes the possibility for procreation. Married adults get that. Most, if not all married Catholic couples cherish and welcome those opportunities when intimacy and pleasure combines with the knowledge that new life is possible.

But when Church teachings argue that any instance when married Catholics use artificial contraception is an act that turns their intimacy into a something evil, then one begins to understand the meaning of overreach.

The teachings on marriage and procreation set the backdrop for today’s politically charged stage.

The Church’s opposition to gay marriage centers around the view of the family as the core unit of society, a family that originates with the love between a man and woman that brings forth new life. Relationships that are not open to procreation are something less than marriage, and society shouldn’t pretend that they aren’t.

I sometimes wonder how much better that message would be received if it weren’t for the catechism’s use of the word ‘disordered’ elsewhere in its teaching.

The catechism is pretty liberal with the term ‘disordered’, attaching it to everything from venial sins, unhealthy desire of a neighbor’s goods, the nature of warfare, masturbation, …and homosexual inclinations.

No spin by professional catechists and no impassioned statement contending a ‘love for the sinner while hating the sin’ can hide the common man’s interpretation that if you have homosexual inclinations, you are disordered.  There are no kind synonyms here. Attempts to disassociate inclinations from character fall short.

I do not understand the gay lifestyle. I firmly believe and accept that our sacrament of Matrimony is reserved for a man and woman. And I certainly accept the role of a married man and woman in raising the children they receive as gifts from God.

But there is something very wrong with language that, in effect, moves us to look askance at our gay brothers and sisters as ‘disordered’. At some time in our lives, we are all disordered as we act in ways that distance us from God. If ‘disordered’ must be used, apply it to the first person plural.

Given the Church’s reasoning behind the nature of marriage in which many heteros are engaged in ‘evil’ acts, and the perception that Catholics look at gays as persons who are disordered creations of God, is it a surprise that those outside the Church would question Her rationale in arguing that lifelong gay companions don’t deserve the legal protections afforded to married heteros?

And if you disagree.

The catechism is clear about the requirement that persons with homosexual inclinations cannot be the subject of discrimination.

It is quite different, however, if one publicly endorses activities in the civil setting that runs counter to Church teachings.

  • The Vatican refuses to accept the nomination of a French diplomat as ambassador to the Holy See because he is a gay Catholic
  • A music minister who had served his church for 8 years was dismissed after marrying his partner of 23 years
  • A manager of a Catholic parish’s food pantry was dismissed after coming out as gay
  • The Archdiocese of Miami has issued a warning to all employees that anyone opposing the Church’s position on gay marriage may be dismissed
  • A senior administrator for Catholic Relief Services resigned after person posted an un-official image of the administrator’s marriage to a partner of the same gender.

The Church bureaucracy has every right to expect its employees and representatives to uphold Catholic Christian teaching. It is legal and acceptable that our Church officials set standards that determine whether or not a person can be part of the club.

But if that is the case, why shouldn’t all public political activities be subject to review?  Shouldn’t Catholics who publicly support the Affordable Care Act be fired?  Should Catholics who voted in favor of abolishing the death penalty be promoted (assuming they haven’t previously been fired)?

Don’t any other teachings matter?  Isn’t belief in the Resurrection the key tenant of our teaching? How about the Trinity? Do employment applicants accept the responsibility to care for the poor? Are all heteros faithful to their spouses? Are married employees practicing artificial birth control? Should the next staff meeting ask employees for a show of hands about masturbation? (Stop giggling).

If adherence to Church teaching is a requirement, shouldn’t there be some kind of written test, and what is the passing grade for employment?

Church officials may argue that they are building an institution with persons whose beliefs support Church teaching, but in practice, such policies focus on the public behaviors that clash with teachings on sexuality and marriage. Name one person fired for questioning the doctrine of Purgatory.

Intended or not, the public practices of dismissing gay ambassadors and terminating administrators and educators who support civil gay marriage is part of the overall message the Church sends to the world, a message that says something like ‘we love them, but if they love someone, they’re fired.’

So what to do?

Teach the truth.

Earlier I mentioned that the core essence of Church teachings contain a wisdom and beauty that captures the kind of persons God calls us to be. But if the core truth of our Church teaching is a symphony, the things we do and words we use sometimes sound like a guy playing a kazoo. And like the musician who has no intention on changing the melody and its arrangement, attention turns more to the need to improve the skill of its delivery.

And there is opportunity here.

At a time when the Church’s apparent teaching authority is sorely suspect, there is an opportunity during the upcoming Synod of the Family to issue a re-statement of truths, a re-statement that will presumably be read, understood, and appreciated by the average reader.

I pray that someone, somewhere is drafting a new summary section that appears in the various sections of the catechism, a newly worded summary of what we know to be true of marriage and sex:

We know that the Catholic sacrament of Matrimony is granted to men and women as we pledge a new life of commitment to each other and to the family we pray we will be blessed with. We understand that the intimacy of sexual relations is a deeply personal gift to be exchanged between men and women who are committed to the permanence of this new life. Sexual relations outside this permanent commitment, and closed to the possibility of new life, are activities that are something less than what is possible between people of faith – and God never asks us to be less.

And if the Vatican editors really have a pressing need to use the words ‘evil’ and ‘disordered’, we could add a follow-up that puts those words where they need to be:

Any sexual activity conducted for self-gratification that disregards the spiritual, emotional, or physical interests of a partner, especially activities that violate persons who are physically or emotionally unable to understand or resist the nature of sexual relations, are evil activities that are intrinsically, gravely, disordered.

I don’t think there are any truths here that have been ‘changed’. In fact, one could argue that the second paragraph more forcefully and broadly condemns any act that takes advantage of a partner, including forms of sexual abuse between spouses as well as some of the more heinous acts against minors and the elderly.

What to do about civil gay marriage?

It is apparent that the handwriting is on the wall when it comes for Church’s need to separate civil marriage from our sacrament of Matrimony. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be pretty. But for those persons wanting a more fully developed sense of ‘identity’, the rite of Matrimony, as a service distinct from that of a civil ceremony, would remain everything Catholics have always said it should be. No compromises, no redefinitions,  just people praying for God’s grace to support a man and woman who pledge eternal faithfulness to each other and God’s plan.

In terms of ‘enforcement’ of Catholic identity through employment practices, the success of a Catholic institution has been, and always will be in its ability to carry out the mission of service. If institutional leaders believe that its employees must adhere to Church teachings, then be fair about it and require documented tests that cover all the essentials of our teachings in order evaluate how good a Catholic a person has to be in order to be employed.

And if one thinks that such a policy is an exercise of futility that focuses more on image rather than substance, then have the employees of Catholic institutions sign a piece of paper that includes the Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Beatitudes. Then tell them get back to work in service to the Gospel.

This is about marriage and the family.

The Church is correct in the importance of family as a societal unit.

But the language used in some of Her teachings, and in the hyperbole used by some members of the clergy, fly in the face of the truth understood by all people that you do not build something up by tearing others down.

The US Catholic Church has invested significant financial resources in the support of civil campaigns to prevent legalization of same sex marriages. In Minnesota alone, the church directed $650,000 to a 2012 campaign in support of an amendment defining marriage as something between a man and woman. The amendment lost by a narrow margin.

Regardless of how much the Church has spent nationally, 37 of the 50 states in the US, representing nearly 70% of the population, have approved same sex marriage. Not that popularity makes right. But such a widespread trend paints a picture that calls for better work to be done.

And if the Church objectives are to strengthen the family, the objective measures of success should involve something that has to do with Catholic families.

More than one in four marriages involving Catholics end in divorce, accounting for 11 million individuals. While Catholics have a divorce rate lower than other Christian denominations, there is evidence that more needs to be done to minister and support single heads of households and to root out the main causes of divorce. Heterosexual marriages aren’t failing because gays are living with each other.

That means greater emphasis on the (counter-cultural) view that a person’s promises and commitments should actually mean something, approaching millenials to better articulate the role of cohabitation in reducing the likelihood of a successful marriage between young persons, improved spiritual development programs for adults that place God’s plan above financial aspirations, and broader, more visible programs to provide recovery services from substance abuse and intervention programs to help marriages in trouble.

We have been working to bring the light of truth to our world for 2,000 years (4,000 if you count our Jewish buddies). We are now rightfully being called to be part of a New Evangelization to apply ‘new ardor, new methods and new expressions’ of the Gospel; to do so we must honestly asses how effectively the truth is being proclaimed in word and deed.

Our commitment to God’s promise is deep, but our passions and the shortcomings of human language sometimes project a message that fails to capture what can only be experienced.

When our message fails, our commitment to its truth demands that we focus less on blaming the listener, and more on examining if what we say and what we do truly reflect what we mean.


References:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/26/vatican-ireland-gay-marriage-referendum-vote-defeat-for-humanity

http://www.uscatholic.org/articles/201402/its-time-separate-church-and-state-marriages-28452

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20030731_homosexual-unions_en.html

http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/catholics-continue-to-have-lowest-divorce-rates-report-finds/

http://time.com/20386/how-shacking-up-before-marriage-affects-a-relationships-success/

http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/

 

 

Fresco of St. Paul and St. Thecla

Fresco of St. Paul and St. Thecla

“The introduction of girl servers also led many boys to abandon altar service. Young boys don’t want to do things with girls. It’s just natural. The girls were also very good at altar service. So many boys drifted away over time. “ – Raymond Cardinal Burke

The quote above was from an interview conducted by Matthew Christoff of the New Emangelization project (read that word closely, I’m not making this up). His observation is part of a trend that encourages fewer girls to participate as altar servers in order to encourage more boys to participate, theoretically leading to growth in the number of boys who choose to become priests.

The feeling was recently echoed by Rev. Joseph Illo at the Star of the Sea church in San Francisco which recently stopped allowing girls to serve at the altar.

“The specifics of serving at the altar is a priestly function,” Illo said. “And the Catholic church does not ordain women.”

So while Pope Francis calls for a “more profound theology of women”, some senior church clerics and pastors have come to the conclusion that this deepened theology is best developed by having young girls watch what boys do.

It must be pointed out that wherever such statements are made, the speaker always adds the caveat that the position or decision has nothing to do with equality. Rather, according to Cardinal Burke, the policy is a much needed step to counter ‘the radical feminism which has assaulted the Church and society since the 1960s’, leaving men feel ‘marginalized’.

(Radical feminism is a term within the feminist movement during the 1960’s and 70’s that argued that many social structures based on patriarchy unfairly oppress women.)

Somehow, when I see the young ladies serving at the altar, I rarely look at them as leading a radical charge to marginalize my sense of self-worth. But apparently, I must be missing their diabolical intent. I must also be missing the signs of this movement’s success, as to me, at first glance, most popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, and deacons appear to be men.

The policy of female altar servers is a voluntary decision made at the parish level by pastors, providing the diocesan bishop has granted permission for such a choice. If the bishop says its OK, it is then up to the pastor to determine if young ladies are to be permitted as altar servers.

In the cases of Cardinal Burke’s opinion, and the policy in San Francisco, along with a number of cathedrals and parishes (Phoenix, Ann Arbor), as well as the entire diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, the idea is that female altar servers result in fewer boys who want to become priests.

Even though there is little hard data to support such a supposition, these church leaders feel that this belief is a hypothesis worth testing.

So long as we don’t need much (if any) data for a hypothesis, here’s mine:

Increasing the visibility and roles of women at our liturgy and in pastoral roles would increase pastoral outreach, improve the spiritual role of priests, and increase religious vocations.

To start, I am not going to touch on the role of women as ordained priests. It is not because I do or do not agree with the suggestion, but because the exclusive role of men as priests is so deeply ingrained in the tradition of our church the issue is a non-starter with anyone whose opinion matters (and they would all be men).

St. Pope John Paul II used his 1994 Apostolic Letter Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men to summarize the reasons why women could never be priests:

“[because of]…the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God’s plan for his Church.”

Although I would love to write something inflammatory on the subject (and anything written about this is bound to inflame somebody), I honestly don’t have the spiritual maturity to suggest an interpretation of God’s plan for His church when discussing who is or is not qualified to act on behalf of Jesus as a church leader.

But while I am unqualified to explore the dogma of male ordination to the priesthood, my role as a parishioner qualifies me to touch on the role of women in other services to the community.

It is time to allow women to become deacons in the Roman Catholic Church.

The history of deacons goes back to the earliest years of the Church. Male deacons primarily served at the pleasure of bishops in order to conduct most of the administrative functions of the diocese. At the beginning of Church history, there also existed women deaconesses who would tend to the needs of the women of the community — though in those days, that generally meant presiding over the baptism of women faithful — which at that time took place in the nude.

The ‘official’ rationale for opposing the admission of women to the diaconate centers on the mind-numbing exercise of interpreting the intentions of the 4th century Church. When the Council of Nicea was clarifying the role of deaconess, they were clear that these were persons who, unlike male deacons, were not ordained. Furthermore, as people started wearing clothes to baptisms, there was no longer a perceived need for women to minister to women. So, along with the increasing importance of male deacons, the role of female deaconesses gradually faded.

Today, opposition to deaconesses remains little changed from Nicea. The more conservative interpretation collectively encompasses the roles of deacon, priest and bishop as ‘ordained’ – or empowered by the Sacrament of Holy Orders. And as pointed out earlier, only males can be ordained because, well,  Jesus was male and only males can act in the personhood of Christ. Deaconesses were never meant to be deacons, the argument continues, so why start now.

More liberal arguments contend that deacons cannot (among a number of priestly actions) conduct the sacramental duties associated with the Eucharist (consecrating bread) or administering the Sacarment of Penance — examples of actions that represent the personhood of Christ. Since deacons cannot act in personhood of Christ, they must be acting as Christ’s servant. Therefore, the male-personhood restriction to deacons should not apply. (I told you it was mind-numbing).

I’m going to simplify vocabulary here by calling for male and female deacons. Today, we do not assume that a lay deacon is a ‘priest in training’ and the 4th century Church’s dismissal of the spiritual needs of women was a trend that reflected little more than the social norms of Late Antiquity. (Someone find me a scriptural reference that women’s spiritual needs are to be ignored). Attempts to maintain separate deacon/deaconess roles reflect nothing more than an interest in retaining 4th century job descriptions and career paths.

Today, thanks to Vatican Council II’s restored emphasis on the role of deacons, if I, as a man, have a problem with my career, my marriage, or any other issue of personal importance, I can reach out to a handful of male deacons at my parish.

Would I reach out about problems involving my marriage or issues of a sexual nature to a woman deacon? Would I want to talk to a women about manhood issues? Not likely.

And that is the point. Women in our Church have few (if any) women of spiritual standing to talk to about problems that involve womanhood. Women don’t have the luxury of reaching out to a spiritual leader/mentor who really understands the female perspective of spousal abuse, post-partum depression,  breast cancer, family discord or any other facts of life that affect women in a unique way.

The absence of female deacons in our Church denies women equal access to adequate pastoral care. And in today’s world, that inequality of access is wrong.

********

Young ladies and young men must have equal opportunity to act as altar servers.

The crux of the female altar server matter lies in the belief that eliminating young ladies as altar servers will result in more male vocations to the priesthood.

So, is there no other way to recruit men to the priesthood? No program of enhanced religious education, no after-school program of sports activities that can be combined to encourage consideration of religious vocations, no social events run by seminarians in the parish setting to introduce young people to religious life?

While young boys may find themselves uncomfortable around girls –  are there no scheduling options that can give young boys the space they need? Some dioceses that wish to encourage the Latin Mass often use that form as a setting to revisit the classical altar boy role without booting girls from the other masses.

Are these leaders serious in saying that only effective way to encourage priesthood is to post a sign that says ‘no girls allowed’ near the altar?

No one really knows how much of a factor altar serving is in encouraging vocations(*). There is only scant anecdotal data that points to pockets of increased priestly vocations at all-boy parishes, and even those instances can’t easily factor out the strength of a parish religious ed program, the vitality of the parochial schools, or the engagement of the diocesan recruiting team.

Some Church leaders do consider the possibility that a young lady serving at the altar may, as a result, be drawn to a vocation with the women’s religious orders. It’s not as though we don’t need more women religious to serve in our Catholic hospitals, schools, healthcare facilities or social service organizations. The Arlington archdiocese admitted as much, with Bishop Paul S. Loverde writing that altar serving provides “an experience which can facilitate a young woman’s discernment of the Lord’s call to religious life.”

By removing young women as altar servers, our Church says to our young ladies, “We know you want to serve our Lord and Church, and maybe this experience could encourage you to think of devoting your life in a religious vocation. But you are scaring the boys away and we need more men in the priesthood. So thank you, but please go back to the pews and sit next to mommy. We’ll think of something else for you to do. It’s nothing personal.”

Most arguments one reads about boys-only altar serving suggest that girls can be directed to other, less visible roles in the sacristy or steered to participate in other girls-only organizations in the parish.  Will these ‘alternate paths’ be full of the same spiritual experience as serving at the Lord’s table? Probably not.

This isn’t about equal rights. This is about providing all young people with equal opportunity to respond to a calling to serve.

Our young girls deserve equal opportunity to respond to the Holy Spirit’s calling to experience the spiritual connection that comes with being an altar server. This opportunity may lead to interest in roles with religious communities or as lay leaders in the parish. To deny young girls such an opportunity because of their gender is wrong.

**********

So on what specific suppositions do I base a hypothesis that increased visibility of women in the church would enhance the role of priests and increase pastoral outreach?

We will start with the obvious —- more girls acting as altar servers will be exposed to the spirituality of our liturgy. This exposure may well fuel interest in pursuing vocations in any of the religious orders.

And I have already mentioned the value provided by female deacons in serving the women in our parish community — serving in a way that men just can’t because, well, because they are men.

And while our all male diaconate has held the privilege of proclaiming the gospel, what church foundations would be shaken to hear a woman’s gospel reflection?

Take the Gospel of the Annunciation. How long do women have to listen to a man explain the emotions of being an expectant mother?

A formal re-introduction of female deacons would also increase the pool of women candidates to act as parish administrators – a role that is already open to men and women at the discretion of the bishop. Numerous parishes already have parish administrators absorbing many of the critical operational roles in a parish where the priest/pastor is unable or incapable of serving.

In fact, there would appear a certain family-like symmetry in parishes where the spiritual pastor-priest works as an equal with a female parish administrator to advance the kingdom.

Finally, the good men who follow the priestly vocation would need less time in parish administration and more time to administer the sacraments and provide increased emphasis on the spiritual development of the flock. One would think that such an emphasis is the reason men became priests in the first place.

So yes, I hypothesize that increasing the visibility and roles of women at our liturgy and in service would increase pastoral outreach, improve the spiritual role of priests, and increase religious vocations.

It’s a hypothesis worth testing.

 

(*) – The US Conference of Bishops has conducted surveys strongly suggesting correlation – some 80% of one class of ordinands having served as altar boys.


REFERENCES

http://www.catholicstand.com/cardinal-burke-on-female-altar-servers/

http://www.newemangelization.com/uncategorized/cardinal-raymond-leo-burke-on-the-catholic-man-crisis-and-what-to-do-about-it/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_altar_servers

http://www.ewtn.com/library/LITURGY/AROSEBY.TXT

http://the-american-catholic.com/2009/05/20/can-women-be-deacons/

http://www.arlingtondiocese.org/newsdetails.aspx?Pageid=422&id=3780

http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/2011/09/can-catholic-church-ordain-female.html
http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/popes-remarks-on-women-in-the-church-call-for-deeper-theology-says-expert/

https://www.osv.com/OSVNewsweekly/ByIssue/Article/TabId/735/ArtMID/13636/ArticleID/15688/Study-offers-strategies-for-increasing-vocations.aspx

http://www.onepeterfive.com/altar-girls-altar-boys-and-the-priesthood-connecting-the-dots/

Finally, the current election season is drawing to a close. Now that I have some time,  I’ve tried to return one of the 32 phone calls I received from Mitt Romney, but he is apparently busy.

We also have some time to consider another election that seems to be taking place – an election in which a growing number of Americans are casting a ballot to leave organized religion.

Of course, I am talking about the recent report from the Public Religion Research Institute. Its data closely follows the broader study conducted by the PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life in 2008.

By now, these statistics are old news to most of us:

  • 28% of all Americans have left the faith in which they were raised
  • While 31% of Americans were raised as Catholics, 24% currently describe themselves as Catholic
  • 19% of Americans describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated (even though only 36% of those unaffiliated describe themselves as atheists or agnostics).

It looks like a number of formerly religious folks are voting with their feet for ‘none of the above’ when it comes to their current slate of candidates.

These surveys outlined a number of reasons why so many have left the traditions of their upbringing, including rejection of teachings they received during childhood, negative personal experiences with organized religion, and perceptions that religious people are hypocritical, among other reasons.

There are truckloads of social scientists trying to explain why this is happening, so there are plenty of folks (much smarter than I am) who can shed insight on this trend.

But while I can’t speak for the millions of ex-faithful who have left the Church, I can speak for my personal sampling of 1 (myself), explaining why I too have sometimes struggled with my religious heritage.

Some may describe this attitude as ‘cognitive dissonance’, others call it conscience, and probably others call it heresy. Doesn’t matter, there are things the Church does and says that are contrary to my life’s experiences, and in some cases, my past education as a Catholic.

So, exploring the feelings of my sample of 1 from a population of persons who feel they are sometimes being pushed away from the Church, here are the current trends that make me want to vote with my feet during these politically and socially charged times.

On the topic of bishops telling me how to vote (which, for the record, they don’t do, even though it sure felt like it), I think results are more important that rhetoric.

In this election year, I reject the requirement that when it comes to abortion, the only Catholic vote is one for the candidate promising to make abortion illegal.

If we could remove a behavior by making something illegal, we’d have empty prisons and no drug problem. Countries with more liberal abortion restrictions have abortion rates lower than those of the US. Abortion is ‘caused’ by bad decisions carried out most often by the poor and uneducated (see David Frum’s commentary  for some insight). Solely focusing on making abortion illegal as the ONLY solution to to the problem is the easy way out – let the government deal with the problem by putting people in jail – then there’s nothing more we would have to do – problem solved (except for the uneducated poor who will still continue to make bad choices).

If a Catholic feels the best way to reduce abortions is to criminalize the act and prosecute the perpetrators, then they should act and vote accordingly. But there is no apparent justification for the Church hierarchy to criticize Catholics who choose to reduce the abortion rate by focusing on poverty reduction, increasing educational opportunities for women, delivering child-care services to teenage moms, and attacking patterns of sexual abuse.

Stop with the ‘Intrinsic Evil’

Church leaders and spokespersons are too liberal in attaching the ‘intrinsically evil’ label on most of the contrarian stands on the reproductive and sexual identity issues that face us. (For my non-Catholic friends, ‘intrinsic evil’ is to readers of the Catholic Catechism what ‘communism’ was to Americans in the 1950’s – it is the moniker attached to those behaviors that are to be avoided at all costs.)

There is a thoughtful explanation discussing intrinsic evil vs moral correctness at America Magazine  (I admit I smiled at the rhetorical question of whether the federal government should outlaw the ‘intrinsically evil’ act of masturbation).

Too often we use the ‘IE’ term as a label attached to specific acts regardless of the morality of the act —- and we spend too much time attaching that label onto people who don’t look and act as we do.

I often think that we would be able to move closer to the Kingdom if we taught and adhered to the true foundations of Church teaching, a foundation in which we are to avoid any behavior that demeans the sanctity and value of human life, our relationship with others, and any other act that (according to the Catechism) ‘authentically opposed to the good of persons’. Then, ‘intrinsically evil’ would be less likely to be hijacked as a tool of judgement, a tool which isn’t ours to use.

My Book of Kings beats your Deuteronomy…

I am really tired of people trying to ‘out-Bible’ each other – engaging in contests involving volleys of scriptural verses, excerpts of Canon Law, and most of all, uncontrolled demonizing of others. As the incessant arguments continue with quote after quote and verse after verse, you get the feeling that some folks would rather use Scripture for a legal opinion rather than spiritual enlightenment.

It is when these honest disagreements give way to unrelenting virulence — that some probably choose to leave the squabbling family behind and try to find a quieter place for the spiritual feast.

So, now what?

Those are a few of the points that have always challenged me as a ‘recovering’ Catholic. So what can we do about it?

In the perspective of the laity, we need to spend less time judging each other and more time reaching out to those who need to be reached. There is nothing new in disagreeing on which ‘moral teachings’ are more important than others – we all are shaped by our experiences, and we see the Church’s teaching through different lenses. But the essence of the Christian message is to help those in need, to proclaim that our lives can and do have meaning, regardless of past failings, and that our faith always has and always will call us to find God in each other.

What is more important, the signs we carry on the street, or the signs others see through the examples of our personal ministries?

Do young adults have a place at our table?

The ‘formal’ Church also needs to find a better way to connect with the young adults of ‘modern’ industrialized countries. This is not my opinion, this is a matter of numbers. The PEW foundation report indicates that of those age 18-29, one in four attest to no religious affiliation. Other reports indicate that more than 50% of the Catholics who leave the faith are under the age of 28. No business would accept a 50% dropout rate for its customers and neither should our Church.

Yet much of the outreach messaging from the the Church’s lay media representatives do little more than repeat Church dogma with a decidedly conservative slant (I sometimes watch EWTN, but when the host of a commentary show introduced Pat Buchanan as the ‘sage’ of American politics, I turned to ‘Laverne and Shirley’ reruns.)

The operations of Church machinery sometimes riles the sensibilities of those from the progressive / liberal side of the spectrum.

I don’t expect Hans Kung to be on Pope Benedict’s Christmas card list, but one has to ask why the Church shows endless patience with ultra-conservative bishops while showing Melinda Gates the door because she dares use the ‘C’ word (contraception) as part of her work in Africa. Some people argue that this approach is OK, that a smaller, conservative church of devout followers is better than a larger, noisier church that deals with the unseemly details of diversity. I doubt that is what is expected of us.

The Church’s message to young people is competing with a 24×7 media behemoth that stresses instant self-gratification and materialism and a social-media engine that seems to focus on little more than self-importance. This is what the Church is up against, and if it really wants to stop the bleeding of young followers, its message has to be delivered from spokespersons who can relate to young men and women in a way that speaks to the heart of their issues. (No, Pat Buchanan doesn’t count.)

Focusing on a messages and dogma that resonates only with today’s followers does little to draw the interest of those standing outside the door.

But, in the end….

But in the end, I have faith in my Church. She has endured much as a result of human shortcomings, mistakes, and poor judgments. If she can make it through the Inquisition and Galileo, she can make it through the Facebook era. And I, as well as other well-meaning members of the flock must always remember that there is something to be said for humility.

I may not like everything my candidate does or says – but I vote to stay.


References:

http://religions.pewforum.org/reports

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1705604,00.html

http://www.fathersforgood.org/ffg/en/month/archive/mar09/bert.html

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57470508-10391704/melinda-gates-promotes-birth-control-as-an-important-part-of-family-planning/

http://www.cathnewsusa.com/2012/07/vatican-newspaper-says-melinda-gates-misinformed/

http://publicreligion.org/research/2012/10/american-values-survey-2012/