Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Will Those Catholics Who Voted for Obama Have "Second Thoughts"?

Many Catholics were amazed, even appalled, when they discovered that a large percentage of Catholics voted for Barack Obama for President of the United States. It was startling that fellow religionists would support a candidate who so clearly ( even if with clever and studied ambiguous rhetoric) advocated positions antithetical to Catholic teaching and tradition. His first few days in office saw him shedding his planned cloudiness to blatantly (by Executive Order) implement some of the most “far left” political, cultural and moral stances in the country’s history. Some of his “vision” seems exciting and right. But others are frightening and dangerous.  The new President approaches his role with a quasi majestic, almost canonized tilt of the jaw, slightly reminiscent of Il Duce in Italy. His self concept conveys a sense of an all knowing, superior, all powerful, benign, elitist Father Figure. It seems that he, in his own mind, knows what is best for the rest of us (the masses?). Perhaps, this is the earmark of History’s successful Dictators.

Obviously, the chief concern for practicing Catholics would be Obama’s position on abortion. During the Warren debate in California he did a verbal tap dance which could make Professor Irwin Corry[1] jealous. He was responding to the question of the beginning of “life” but gave us the old routine of “Some say this and some say that” never pointedly saying what he really believed. To those, however, who listen well and who can read between the lines, the message was clear. He was not Pro-life. Politically and culturally, he is the opposite. Such a conclusion is easily reached when one reads his statement to NARAL prior to the election, promising that one of the first things he would do, on assumption of office, would be to abolish and abrogate all restrictions on abortion.

A 13 year old girl needs no longer to get parental permission to “terminate” her pregnancy. Botched abortions will legally allow the child to die without help. The barbarism of late term abortion is to be fully lawful. The inconvenience of an unborn child can now easily be handled by quick and available recourse at all institutions funded with Government monies. There is now no limit to what one wishes to do relative to abortion. Kill the unborn child with impunity. “It” is not a person legally but only some kind of cluster of blobs and cells. Further, in effect, Obama and his policies will mean the probable closure of all Catholic hospitals and medical facilities. If Catholic hospitals cannot, in conscience, provide abortion services, they will then be ineligible for government funding without which the facility cannot continue. Did Catholic voters know this?

One concrete example of the force of “funding” is that of the Archdiocese of Boston, where adoption agencies which refused to provide adoptive children to same sex couples, were denied public funds for their religious beliefs. There was no option for the Archdiocese but to close the facilities thereby depriving the Public of the valued services previously supplied by Catholics. How can any Catholic square his euphoria at Obama’s election with the recent Vatican statement certainly implying that the American political scene is one of the most perilous situations ever. The assumption that Obama will support embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) is widespread. Cloning research is not far off.

Further for decades the Catholic Church has stood hard and fast against the political philosophy called “Socialism” because it devalues the human being. If one digs deeply enough, one finds the Nazi horror to be, at base, a Socialist society. Such a society, in effect, owns all modes of production and, practically, controls the lives of the members of that society on most levels of function. The many faces of Communism have frightened us for years as they devoured more and more of our individual freedom. To Catholics this philosophy is inimical to our Faith. It assaults our key notions of unique human value and the free will to make decisions for ourselves.

The seasoned political commentator, Dick Morris recently likened the Obama victory to a “Trojan Horse.” The application to modern politics is that, like the huge legendary animal which contained a hidden group of Trojan soldiers who would leap out (once the horse is within the walls) and destroy the defenders, Obama might have pretended that his interests are just for the common man and for a more equitable redistribution of wealth. But once inside the ‘walls’, he will drop the mask and expose his full program of total control and loss of freedom. He did subtly warn us of an intent take over our lives but few heard him. An end unattainable by millions of sophisticated and deadly foreign military but reachable by the art of rhetoric and political dexterity! This was and will be done, however, on an incremental basis with the public being relatively unaware of what has happened. Recall the story of the frog and the boiling water? Put the frog in lukewarm water first. Then increase the temperature gradually and soon the poor little frog doesn’t even know he is being boiled alive!

.Of course one might note the incredible tax burden he is placing on the shoulders of future generations among other perceptions. But the personal concern raised here is the opaque (or puzzling) viewpoint of the American Catholic who voted for this man. But is he to blame? The American Catholic is not guiltless! How does one explain a Catholic Vice President who speaks not only with substantial ignorance of the Catholic Faith but who defends values utterly opposite to our Tradition? And who is applauded when he goes to Communion in his local church? Who is this Speaker of the House, allegedly a Catholic who blandly holds that the Catholic Church is unsure as to when life begins? Are we weasels that we grovel before political power and pretend that there is no disloyalty to the Faith? How do we explain anti-Catholic behavior of the Pelosis, Harkins, Leahys, Durbins, and that 50% of the Congress which is nominally Catholic? At least, Obama never claimed allegiance with Catholicism. These others indignantly profess deep love and appreciation of the their “Catholic” Faith while at the same time supporting, protecting and applauding positions utterly counter to our Identity. “My patriotism allows me to represent those who do not share my faith, standing with them in matters my Faith says are evil.”

How explain this strange dissonance? Immediately before the election in November of 2008, a Catholic magazine, run by a prestigious religious Order published an article which ought to create an uproar! It held that allegedly a Catholic can vote for a candidate who upholds intrinsically evil programs--- this was to be done by the great art of “Distinction.” It is moral “providing some essential factors are present.” It struck me as sheer balderdash and a lame attempt to persuade “undecided” voters to back the Radical. “See the other side.” In some situations, there is no other side! Nazi genocide, South African Apartheid, destruction of defenseless human beings in abortion! What other side?

Did Catholics not know this? Or is it that Catholics are ignorant of their own Faith? Apart from massive Diabolic intervention, massive ignorance seems the only believable answer.

It might originate with the foundational work of John Kennedy whose identity as Catholic seems much more cultural and social than spiritual and theologic. The “acceptable” behavior for the Catholic politician apparently means that one can jettison values when necessary. The goal is to win the campaign. No matter how one wins, one must win. Winning is everything! Does Right matter? Does Truth? Or does loyalty to a political party trump everything –including God’s Will?

Who is this “average and nominal” Catholic who while blaming others for the ills of the world, does not feel any obligation to articulate his Catholic Faith? Perhaps it is we who are really to blame. Perhaps it is we who have lost our identity as Catholics. The facile dismissal of Catholic thought as an attempt to ‘impose’ our values on the Country sounds hollow here!

My guess is that within one year into his presidency Obama will lose the support of those millions of Catholics who somewhat blindly jumped onto his bandwagon seduced by a strong speaking voice, rhetoric and the promise of earthly paradise. Let us hope that our country and our Faith will not be permanently devastated by an acted out fantasy! I hear as of date (2,3,09) a faint hint that the Honeymoon will dissolve faster than is usual.

[1] “Doctor” Corry made a fortune in show business pretending to be an intellectual by using a combination of nonsense syllables and meaningless word formations. He drew up a complete miasma of word fog and fast talk. He was funny but he was not running for public office.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Was Michelangelo a Homosexual?

I was sitting in a little Italian bistro with my longtime friend, a Retired Big Shot in the NYPD whose marriage I witnessed and whose kids I baptized into the Body of Christ. While enjoying s bit of pasta and glass of Chianti, I found myself defending those historic figures (like Michelangelo ) who, for one reason or another chose not to marry. The assumption, in the mind of my friend, was that “non-married” translates into homosexual. Starting with Jesus, through Paul and the long line of saints, I argued that, while marriage is the right and ordered pathway for the overwhelming majority of the human race, celibacy can be a healthy option for some people. Being unmarried does not, ipso facto, necessarily indicate a same sex proclivity. It, in fact, might mean something else. But in certain walled off bubble cultures, it is thought that the Catholic priesthood, for example, means homosexual, and that the majority of priests have the same-sex orientation. “They simply are not interested in women, they have no feeling for marriage and hence they become priests.” This is so absurd that I would belly laugh if it weren’t so damaging. I know there are homosexuals in the Catholic priesthood. I know that most of the hurt from the scandals came from the repulsive behavior of homosexual priests. But I also know that the overwhelming majority of priests is striving for holiness with a sexuality attuned to God’s Will. My observations are confined largely to this slice of the population. So, these observations are basically to challenge the facile notion that “unmarried equals homosexual.”

When I responded to my buddy, I did not argue that all unmarried and celibate people are healthy, peaceful and enjoying life exceedingly. However, I related a story about one of my students from a large eastern major seminary. As he was nearing ordination and wrestling with the reality that he was about to promise publicly that he would never marry, he began to feel nagging doubts. Was this pattern-style for all candidates for the celibate life? Does every one go through such a soul searching process? My young student friend was fearful lest he might be unable to “handle” celibacy and perhaps would forever be regretful of his choice. In effect, he asked “Will celibacy hurt me?” His very question signaled his vibrant attraction toward females. This was a full blooded young American with a full supply of testosterone as well as a mature appreciation of female beauty. He had, in lay life, practiced as a lawyer, dated attractive women and lived the free life style of so many young people in New York City. Today he is the Pastor of a flourishing parish and continually delighting in his choice to be a priest.

The real underlying notion of the doubt can be both psychological and spiritual. Will a life of celibacy “hurt me?”—“will it make me unhappy?” As a reasonably experienced psychologist, I had to reply: “It might.” The reason for my caution centered on his (or anyone’s) state of legitimate self regard---how did this young man view himself? This is basic. If he viewed himself as significantly inadequate on the profound level of “Can I find a mate who would deeply love me”, he would probably have interpersonal trouble, homosexual or otherwise. He would have the underlying inferiority feeling that no woman would want him! He would constantly be using the privileges of the priesthood to assure himself that he is lovable and worthy. His insatiable needs of assurance could be so great that he would “use” others, young or old, not for spiritual motivation but for selfishness. This unfortunate tendency can, of course, occur in the psyches of heterosexual as well as homosexual people. They all should be discouraged from entering the priesthood. However, on the other hand, if the candidate for priesthood (even unconsciously) knows and accepts his own personal gifts, particularly his confidence that he could certainly find and mate with a wonderful woman, he can make a healthy choice for not marrying. He makes the Promise or Vow of celibacy sure of himself. He chooses to be a chaste celibate. The fearful, insecure person makes, not a choice, but fearfully backs into a way of life which does not really suit his psychological structure. Since he, on his own, doesn’t usually “Make it” with others, (given his personality and character) he enlists in a structure which does it for him! His low self esteem does reduce his freedom but which, at the same time, might seek some kind of sexual satisfaction. In a sense he is unable to do otherwise. In this case, my friend is right. The man who fearfully becomes a priest because of his own sense of inadequacy, particularly with interpersonal relationships with women, does contribute to this distorted perception of the ‘unmarried.”

And of course there is a high possibility (in this case) that such a Priest will be same sex oriented. Yet, it must be insisted. Celibacy can be a healthy and joyful way of life—for some! The late Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan, psychiatrist, of the Identity Clinic of New York Hospital made this point again and again. From a psychological point of view, there was no argument!

How many priests I have known who become priests with strong attractions to females! How many of them value the innocence of children which they desire to protect! How many of them believe in their own physical possibility of grandchildren and the delight of owning one’s own home! It is not fear of women which induced them to become priests but rather an overwhelming sense of God which gradually clarifies and strengthens as time goes on. This is a free choice between two goods! This is not homosexuality. This is a huge expression of love for the beautiful God. Whom he senses but cannot see. Such men are not homosexuals. They are in Love with God. But probably unless one has been there such a statement is incomprehensible.

Persons making vows of celibacy and chastity (there is a difference) believe that this donation of self is by invitation from a Higher Power (God). They believe they have a “call” or vocation to the celibate state. Implicit in this belief is the conviction that God will help them, with His powerful Grace, to fulfill their vows with generosity and joy. There is Grace for every life call for all of us, regardless of the type of call. Holy men and women live in different times and places and speak different languages. Each found his “home” in a place suited to his desires. Mother Teresa once advised a candidate to seek “your own Calcutta.” You don’t need to come to India to be holy! We don’t have to be like any one else. We have to be who God intended us to be. We believe that the Lord made us in His image and clearly He demands chastity from us all. If God expects us to be chaste (and we believe that homosexual practice is unchaste) then chaste is what we must be.

Certainly, such a call is not fully answered solely by one’s own strength. It is with the power of Grace that one “does it.” The clenched white fist approach generally and understandably fails. There are two basic points at issue here: a) authentic celibacy can be healthy[2] and b) authentic celibacy flourishes with the help of God’s grace. The history of the priesthood, for example, is replete with data. In the scandals of the early 21st century, it is interesting to note that over a 60 year period, the data suggest that of all the outrageous behaviors of delinquent priests, over 80% were from homosexual priests. Obviously, some infidelities were from heterosexual priests. Whether these falls came from sexual orientation or not, is difficult to discover and may be moot. However, despite the unhappy and crushing reality of these infidelities, the dominant history of the priesthood has been one of love, fidelity and respect.

Dr. Freud significantly pointed out that the sexual drives of the human psyche can be healthily and productively redirected in ways other than genital discharge. This is called the mental mechanism of Sublimation. The non-use of the genital power does not, in itself, demonstrate that same sex attraction exists in any given person. Such an assumption would be a monocular view. In fact, some authors suggest that Freud himself, some time after his fortieth year, became celibate in order to invest himself totally in his work. In my own work as chaplain of the Retired Detectives of the NYPD I met more than a few men who, totally dedicated to law enforcement, were unmarried. These men were so involved in the fascinating work of investigating crime (getting huge emotional and spiritual reward thereby) that, in a sense, there was little room for the “goods” we associate with marriage. These were masculine males with minimal self centeredness but with strong outgoing dynamics for the social good (and often spiritual development). Deficiency of testosterone and fear of women simply do not apply here. Their basic fulfillment was elsewhere.

But much of real discovery and understanding depends on securing authentic data. While jumping to conclusions might be fodder for late night comedians twitting exercise, serious students of human behavior know that no one has X-ray vision. Much of what drives human behavior is not easily available for scrutiny. It is risky to say (especially when said with supreme confidence) that artists such as Michelangelo were homosexuals not only because they were unmarried but also because many of their male models were handsome and lean while their females models were muscular and masculine. It might be true—maybe these people are same-sex attracted! But for reasonable certainty more factual evidence is needed to justify such “shooting from the hip.” If we believe we argue from a scientific point of view, it is essential that we know the difference between correlation and causation! Even a casual knowledge of history shows that often “apprentices” lodged with a Master of a specific Genre---Paint, stone, sound, architecture---- in order to gain as much expertise as possible. To assume that it meant more easy access to sexual deviance is really “drawing on the long Bow” as is said in County Cork to describe the process of reaching conclusions beyond premises.

Answering the question opening this essay requires some serious thought. And some modest caution. While, one can honestly argue about the complex nature of homosexuality, there is no other side to the implication of my friend. Non-marriage, per se, does not equal homosexual. To insist on such an awkward conclusion is not only intellectually cloudy but is basically academically dishonest.

[1] Michelangelo may possibly have been SSA but that is as now speculation. However my point is to challenge the immediate assumption that Unmarried means homosexual.
[2] It is the Catholic contention that, regardless of the 1973 APA statement, the homosexual or same sex attracted person has an intrinsic disorder.