Thursday, October 23, 2003

Addressing the Unmentionable

In the August 5th ('02) issue of the London Tablet, Donald Cozzens eloquently defends his decision to expose the current crisis in the Catholic priesthood. However, for many Catholics it is upsetting to read that "....the disproportionate number of homosexually oriented priests and seminarians may well be a significant factor in the drastic reduction in the number of candidates for our seminaries.

This factor alone is cause for serious investigation - if not alarm. Rather than focus on celibacy, the booming economy or the freedoms of the so called sexual revolution as hidden causes for the poor vocation rate in the modern Church, perhaps the focus should be on the dominance of persons with the same sex urges (and behaviours) who people our seminaries and rectories (and maybe even our chanceries).

Cozzens illustrates his insight with an example of a prospective candidate for the priesthood who visits a seminary in his attempt to discern his life call. The young man announces his decision this way: No, I won't enter. I came here expecting to meet Spencer Tracy and instead I met Truman Capote."

Earlier, Fr. Andrew Greeley has opined that the Catholic laity can generally accept a Gay priest if he is a man of Faith and can pray and lives the life of Chastity. However, says Greeley, a predominantly active gay priesthood is a different matter. Levels of sexual tolerance are definitely limited. The Catholic laity in this country has been unbelievable in its capacity to forgive the sins of priests. But is it not asking too much of the average Catholic to accept his homosexual priests as models for his children? Have we not seen too many examples of the priest sexual misbehaviour which is generally focused on teenage males? How many Catholics have been hurt --spiritually-- by the molestation of same sex afflicted priests? Does the heterosexual misbehaviour of priests have the same chilling effect as that of their homosexual colleagues? Cozzens surely challenges us to ask these hard questions.

The elders among us can recall the quick, even touching forgiveness of the so called "whiskey priest". "The poor man had a problem.." the Catholic laity would say. Yet, introducing the sexual dimension, straight or gay, does have a powerful and often lethal effect. Whether or not this represents some profound Jansenistic margin is irrelevant to the immediate issue.

A Catholic colleague of mine in a police department in an American city wept huge, sobbing tears when his nephew, a young priest, was arrested for soliciting a male over the internet. He told me that ANYTHING would be better than this----bank robbery, terrorism, anything - but not this! This is exceedingly difficult to bear. Euphemisms appealing to tolerance and counter charges do little to alleviate the shame and revulsion linked to same sex activity. And this in spite of the energy and money spent by special interest groups to persuade the American public that this is the same as any other sexual behaviour! Yet, even within the Catholic community the campaign for acceptance of same sex behaviour is gaining ground. Recently, in a large diocese in this country (at a diocesan administration meeting) the publicly known cases of three PRIEST COUPLES were discussed. Surprisingly, some of the clergy present seemed apathetic or even accepting of such relationships. No wonder, then, that this feeling seeps into the community of lay Catholics. Why should they continue to honor and respect such leaders? But more significantly why should priests be held up as role models? Why would any young man who values his integrity and chastity want to join such a group? Is Cozzens right?

In 1978 this writer made a public presentation to a religious order's General assembly urging caution in accepting candidates with same sex drives. This caution came from the presenter's extensive experience in treating homosexual priests in psychotherapy. The presentation was made after serious thought and much prayer in the hope that some men might be spared the agony and guilt attendant upon a priest acting out his same sex desires.

The well known "cognitive dissonance" of the psychologist Festinger is appropriate here. The priest called to celibacy as sign of his belief in the Kingdom of Heaven and his love of Jesus is thrown into enormous conflict if he tries to balance his commitment with acting out urgent desires. This is true for any kind of psychosexual orientation in the priest but it seems that the priest with the same sex drive has a deeper trauma than his heterosexual brother. Hence, he can suffer more ---- not so much from public disapproval as from inner guilt. The Catholic concept of "intrinsic disorder" rings very true here!

The priest is quite aware that his inordinate and inappropriate desires to act out are in conflict with what he KNOWS to be his spiritual commitment. Hence, the dissonance! The eminent psychiatrist, Robert Stroller in his famous book, "Perversion - The Erotic Form of Hatred", claims that the homosexual on a very deep psychic level agrees, at least in part, with straight society. There is a profound suspicion that something is disordered within the homosexual interior!" However, in the past decade a surprising phenomenon has developed in the Catholic world. Not only tolerance for acting out same sex desires but even encouragement for them is extended to the homosexual priest and seminarian. Such a radical departure from the "Orthodox" Catholic position, has in effect signaled a throwing down of the gauntlet. It is not the priest who needs to be rescued from incredible seduction (as it was when this writer made his bold and unwelcome caution) but the Church Herself.

The testimonies of gay Catholics who have "come out" of the Gay lifestyle (a term defined by gay activists) mount yearly, and attest to the power of the same sex drive. Such evidences arise in the safety of Courage meetings where one can truly explore the truth of one's interiority. Shattering revelations of confessors in respected Churches encouraging these men to CONTINUE in their self destructive relationships and practices are almost routine.

One vocation Director of a religious community has been known in his interview with prospective candidates to ask (in the approximately fourth question) how he (the candidate) would feel joining an Order where 50% of the members are homosexuals.

The consequences of such an approach are obvious. The Straight candidate is usually repelled (as was the young man mentioned by Cozzens) who then either seeks membership in a more psychosexually normal group or abandons the idea of the priesthood altogether.

The makeup of the future personnel is also obvious.

Because of the secretive nature of the homosexual bonding (as described some years ago by Enrique T. Rueda in his "The Homosexual Network") the question raised by Cozzens so explosively, is assiduously avoided either by outright denial or by techniques of name calling. The rare one who dares to confront the reality here outlined risks being labeled homophobic or uncompassionate or unchristian. The gay group has been eminently successful in this tactic of diversion.

Clearly, Cozzens has done a great service in confronting those who "only want to live in peace with everyone..." or those who just hope it will go away. If nothing is done and the present direction continues as is, there will be a definite negative effect in the vitality of the American church. The "Old Timers" who pray at the daily Masses and who fill the collection baskets will soon be gone and there are left the Truman Capotes who talk only to each other.

Whatever happened to the great spiritual principle so succinctly articulated by the Episcopalian Bishop of Atlanta, Bishop Bennett Simms: "Compassion does not mean endorsement!"?

Where does this leave us?
1. We MUST talk about this crisis- openly and if possible with intelligence and humility. We cannot countenance name calling and suppression of perspectives. We can function only within the parameters of the Gospel.
2. We must come up with a modern, workable, prayerful, creative approach within the framework of the Catholic church. "Church" is defined in this context by Tradition and Scripture expressed by the Holy Spirit through the Councils.

Who is to do this? I wish I could but it needs a wiser and stronger person than I!
May the gracious Lord and His Mother protect us.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Jonesy: So English! So Jesuit! So Insightful !

His name was Jones but everyone called him "Jonesy". He was VERY English and very anxious that this be known. He had a great bullneck surrounded by an Anglican-type clerical collar, two sizes too large. He had a huge bald head which came to a kind of point on the top. He smoked a smelly pipe which he kept between fashionably clenched false teeth. His eyeglasses were the thick egg shell variety surrounded by black tortoise shell rims. His cassock or soutane was the classic Oxford don style with twin tails flowing off his shoulders.

He was exceedingly intimidating to me, a very green,very inexperienced, freshly minted little priest just out of a hot house seminary in Washington DC. I had just disembarked from a 9,000 ton freighter after a 17 day voyage on the Atlantic. I had spent 17 boring and frustrating days watching flying fish,reading,eating big meals, chipping paint, listening to the pained declarations of happiness of a married minister as he screamed all day at his children and trying to learn French from three Marists Brothers en route to a difficult and primitive mission in Rhodesia.

Jonesy terrified me. Even after I saw him grovelling appropriately before the Irish Capuchin Bishop of Capetown, with his "Yes, me Lord. No, me Lord", I was still scared of him. He was not only a Jesuit, a factor enough to panic any dirty necked kid from the New York tenements like me, but he was also ENGLISH! As they used to say: "If he were any more English, he couldn't speak."

So when the Pastor of the very swanky seaside parish where I was staying awaiting transport into the " interior", asked two of his parishioners to take me for day tour of the beautiful Cape of Good Hope, I ran into my Jonesy problem. The two parishioners were very good looking young women, who, by happy chance, were also VERY wealthy.

Jonesy patently disapproved of this venture. He glared at me from his high station and muttered in a veddy,veddy English manner: "WELL.....I SUPPOSE WE ALL MUST HAVE OUR POUND OF HORSE (pronounced "hawse") FLESH, MUSTN'T WE??

I was shaken. What did this patriarchal figure mean? Was I doing something wrong in driving with these charming women? Was I demeaning an older priest by letting these two pretty gals take me out all day to watch the melding of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans? What was he telling me ? He couldn't be wrong. He was a JESUIT! And even more, he was ENGLISH!

It has taken me decades to savor Jonesy's meaning. He was instructing a callow and gossoon-like priest with two basic lessons of life.

1. Every one has to deal with temptation. Not just with concupiscience but with tendencies to greed,laziness,deceit,inordinate ambition,envy, human respect,non-compassion, mercilessness, unforgiveness, narcississm, over sensitivity,pride in its disguised forms,hardness of heart and covetousness. All of us are subject to Original sin. Jonesey was saying even young priests with high flown ideals and aspirations must be aware of their own fragility. He says, in effect, --remember that you are human and with humility admit that if we wish to lose "weight" we have to stay away from the symbolic food which could imperiously demand our adoration.

2. There is no such thing as real perfection in any human being. We all have our characterologic scars and spiritual warts and multiple soul wrinkles. Jonesy says that it is all right to be human and to admit that one is fallible. Hurrah! And one can be reminded that in the whole history of the human race, there have been only two perfect persons. Jesus, Who being God, found it relatively easy and Our Blessed Lady who by a singular theologic exception was without sin.

The gloriously liberating emotional result of this insight was simply:

"It is all right to have scars and wrinkle and warts. Join the club of Adam and Eve." As long as one is deeply and truly aware that Godloves him with and implacable love and that in return one tries to love God back with all one's brokenness and imperfection and even after many regretted sins, somehow --with the Lord--- it is all right!!!!!

It was to say that the Catholic Church is not a museum for plastic saints but a clinic for sinners!!!!! That means ---- all of us! Many years ago I had instructed a truly brilliant Jewish woman preparatory to Baptism. But she insisted, before entering the Church, that I declare to her that Hitler is burning in Hell. This I could not do--even tho' I,myself am half Jewish. My religion is the religion of the second chance, the perennial font of hope, the religion of forgiveness. My religion totally believes in the POWER of God's mercy and of the force of grace to reform and rehabilitate.

As sinners, we are to respect all others. We are to hurt no one deliberately. WE are to try to do unto the other as we would have him do unto us. These are difficult lessons to implement when we understand the human nature that Jonesy trumpeted. So, it takes a lifetime even to approach such implementation. Such is a deduction from my Jonesy 54 years ago. So,hopefully, I will meet him in heaven and I shall cup my heavenly hands and shout over the din of the harps and whatever makes people happy "up there":

Hey Jonesy! I FINALLY GOT IT! As someone said somewhere, "better late than never..." Right, Jonesy?

Sunday, September 21, 2003

The Sacristan and the Altar Boys

His name was Stephen and he came from some mysterious section of an eastern European country. He smelled of garlic exceedingly and spoke with a kind of Bela Lugosi accent. He almost always wore a long black soutane with many food stains down the front. But most fascinating of all was his wig which was mouldy and old and seemed always to be askew and mismatching the natural hair on the back of his neck.

He was the Major domo of the altar, the sanctuary, the church and the sacristy. The linens were sparkling clean. The chalices glistened. The candles were "pruned" of wax. The choreography of assigning priests to the many side altars every half hour was his. And of course he RULED the altar boys.

He initiated us into the mysteries of lighting the thurible or tenser by swinging it in complete circles using the centrifugal force nature provided. He taught us how to ring the great bell used for the liturgical ceremonies-- a highly prized assignment for 11 year olds. He taught us how to pronounce the Latin responses, how to genuflect to the Lord in the tabernacle, how to fold our hands in the proper manner, how to handle the liturgical three pronged biretta or hat all priests used going to and from the altar. He was the Headmaster of a corps of kids who had a Marine-like pride in belonging. And he ruled by respect, fear and a touch of love.

One evening when a group of altar boys had gathered in what was called the altar boys’ sacristy, we engaged in a favorite past time. The lights were doused and we slugged whomever we wished. A kid named Hills was next to me and I delivered a beautiful right hand to his solar plexus in the classic Bob Fitzsimmons style. Hills was unprepared and he took my punch which almost killed him. He lay on the floor writing in pain, gasping for breath. With the lights now on and the kids all frightened at the sight of the pale body prostrate, Stephen arrived and demanded to know who was the assailant. I was too terrified to own up and I retreated into my cowardice. Stephen then with a real Dracula snarl announced that the boy who did this will have his right arm wither up from cancer which will drop off in three weeks. Each morning thereafter, I anxiously watched my ulna, elbow and wrist waiting for the inevitable because we all knew the power of Stephen’s curse. And after all, an eleven year near killer should pay for his misdeeds.

However, my reputation grew since at the next soiree when I began to mix it up with a bigger and stronger kid, he, having discovered his opponent to be "killer Lloyd", ran in panic from me.

When Stephen "trained" us for serving at the Holy Mass, he played the role of the priest. In so doing he amazed us. He didn’t walk. He glided. He didn’t formalize his genuflection. He seemed to pray it. Was it to impress us or did he really believe it? A rumor had it that he was an unfrocked priest from some tiny obscure rite. They rumored that he liked Girlie magazines. We didn’t know but we still revered and feared him. Some said that he "liked" boys. Once he hugged me VERY tightly and had aglazed, trancelike look in his eyes. I was neither frightened nor angry. I thought : "This guy is a kind of a nut." I just let it pass. We knew nothing of child molestation or sexual harassment. This was just Stephen.

He would take us in groups of four or five to Broadway plays--usually of a questionable nature, like The Dead End Kids. This was a bit racy in those days and afterwards Stephen would lecture us on the " social sins" and "whores". Neither of these topics could compare for interest with the fascinations of stickball or building model airplanes.

When I reached the street wise age of 14 and was graduating from Grammar school, I took my "autograph book" to Stephen to sign. This was a subtle but effective way for graduates to wring from adults some quantity of silver coins, preferably quarters. Stephen slipped a DOLLAR into my book saying: "Remember Lloydy (his name for me LloydY ) not everyone will be as good to you as is Stephen." His gestures were not unnoticed. We all knew his generosity and goodness--even, God help us, the priests. The Fathers would unhesitatingly seek his advice on rubrics, liturgy, art and theology. Everyone joked about him and his crazy wig but everyone valued him and in some strange way respected him.

How does one assess this strange and complicated man? From my vantage point of 77 years, I am most aware of the "Don’t judge" factor so strongly stressed in Scripture. Who knows how he stands before the Lord? He trained and influenced two generations of altar boys. This encompasses literally scores and scores of young men who are now senior citizens or themselves in the bosom of God. Whenever I meet old and former colleagues of the Altar boy fraternity (and they are of every level and attainment) inevitably they speak of Stephen with humor and fun but also with respect and gratitude. All of these men are men with deep feeling for the Eucharist and the Mass. This is certainly from family background, tradition, Holy Cross sisters and the like. But the icing on the cake, the formulation of external behaviour (for many of us) probably comes from Stephen. God rest you, Sacristan. May you be recognized in the Celestial sanctuary for all you have done for the dirty neck kids from the West side of Manhattan and beyond.

What does all of this say? It says that all people are broken in one way or another but brokenness does not preclude doing good for others or even being a saint. My friend Stephen to me is a beautiful example of an old Catholic principle. God DOES write straight with crooked lines.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

A Personal View of Abortion

It was a well kept, hush-hush family secret that I ( as an embryo or fetus ) might have been on the abortion block. Were it not for the simple, clear faith and love of my beautiful mother, I might never have been at all. I would have missed all the fun I had as a kid playing stick ball and learning the fascinating discoveries of school. I would never have had the joy of being a Missionary in Africa or the excitement of hosting a TV show on NBC for 15 years.

I would never have known the warmth of human affection and appreciation of human beings. I would never have had the opportunity to feed GOOD into others’ lives as I have done. I would never have had the thrills of teaching in seminaries and graduate schools. I would never have had the belly stretching paroxyms of telling and hearing jokes. I would have missed all the exhilaration I have known in the " dining out" experience. I would never have known about the landing on the moon and computers and CD music. My personal list seems endless.

It places me solidly, obviously, in the Pro-life camp. I do not need any recourse to abstract statistical argumentations arid graphs. Nor even concrete argumentation. OUT FRONT I have enjoyed being alive. And absurd as it seems,if there were such a forum for aborted babies, I would have lodged a formal complaint with the highest court of that forum. I would have been VERY much upset if I had been denied life.

My thanks to my God and to my beloved mother who, though only 21 at the time, had the inerrant instinct about the value of a kid-- and particularly HER kid. Because of the fierce and irrational prejudices of the earlier 20th century one of my father’s family suggested abortion to my mother since she had already had one child who was obviously headed for the Christian family. Another would have been difficult to conceal from my Jewish grandparents who, likewise, were part of the family conspiracy of silence, This was a process where everyone nonverbally pretended that things were not the way they were.

The family member proposing what she sincerely considered to be the "sensible" way out of an inconvenience offered to pay the total cost of the procedure. Then all would be just Dandy. Except for me.

The human mind clearly is complex beyond words. When something confronts me which I find unpleasant, terrifying, inconvenient or difficult, I can --by the remarkable device called denial--simply not see IT. Case in point. The American Declaration of Independence posits certain inalienable rights coming from the CREATOR; the first of which is LIFE. Without life, nothing is possible. If I find that an embryo is inconvenient, perhaps I can look away or under or above or through but let me never look AT the truth of that little life which does deserve a shot like the rest of us.

My cousin David, good, intelligent, compassionate, could never agree with me. Nor could other countless and good Americans. So be it. Because this is, as stated, a PERSONAL view of abortion. Boy, am I glad Mom stood her ground !

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Reflection on Meaning

I had planned to spend the night writing my reflections on many things--alleged motivation, phony excuses, lying tendencies of the hustler but I have been interrupted time and time again so that I have no time to do what I had wished. That which is pleasant and fulfilling. But it is not to be. Is it that life is a series of interruptions? And the "others" are really the periphery? {"others" might mean what I THOUGHT was important} I have been on the telephone talking to others and listening to them and their ideas while I keep mine restrained and un articulated! I have paid my bills. I have balanced my checkbook! I have talked with John Charles R. as he struggles with his present deterioration--and how he appreciates it! He grasps my hand as I leave and thanks me for being with him. Perhaps this is what I am for! Perhaps my desires to write and make burning points which awaken me at night and demand written expression, are really the detours. The masks. The facades. Who would read my writings? Is it not for myself that I write? Is it not my way of clarifying where I truly stand vis-a-vis my God and my own meaning?

Perhaps, this is why the Lord leaves me here so long in good health with vigor and confidence! To serve His people who are broken and bruised from the beating that life gives everyone one way or another! If this is so, halleluia! I am delighted to be the surgeon for the Lord WHO guides my hand and my mind and my tongue! I am gifted with some kind of spiritual healing-for years now. So gracias a Dio for what I have had. The Future? Who knows? It has been a GREAT ride!!!!

Saturday, January 18, 2003

Sexual Behaviour Outside of Marriage

Ok this is a presentation on the Catholic church’s official teaching on sexual behaviour outside of marriage defined as a sacramental union between a man and a woman (or in the cases of unbaptized persons of a non-sacramental nature)

Basically the Church teaches and holds as a part of the ordinary position of the teaching magisterium that ANY kind of sexual behaviour (even as sketchily defined by the Clinton type minds) is wrong and immoral and displeasing to the Lord. Much of this behaviour is described in the Hebrew tradition as Toevah or disgusting.

Certainly, this position is unpopular with the narcissistic contemporary person who has been raised to believe that he/she has the right to immediate and unrestricted gratification OF ANY KIND. This type of modern finds the notion of the Cross repugnant and offensive to freedom and the American spirit. Hence, he will necessarily see the Church’s position as intolerable and oppressive. Hence, he feels justified in his fury with the stance of the Holy Father and the Cardinal and Fr Harvey and any one else medieval enough to hold to the mainstream Judeo-Christian position.

It is important to note, however, that to a Catholic there is NO contradiction between insisting that homosexual behaviour is sinful before God but that the homosexual ORIENTATION is not. This is a practical application of the position of Jesus Himself Who teaches us to hate the sin BUT to love the sinner. This is what we believe we do when we follow the lead of Pope John Paul 2 and Cardinal O’Connor and the general tone of the Catholic moral teaching.