Not this town... The U.S. Catholic Bishops are gathering in Baltimore for their annual meeting, and they are preparing to make some scary and destructive pronouncements. It's okay, though, because I doubt that anyone's listening.
In the recent past, when Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of sainted memory was the head of the U.S. Council of Bishops, the gathered bishops made sweeping and important -and helpful, for crying out loud- statements about war and peace and other social justice issues. They didn't get everything right (in the world according to Andrea) but they were engaged in the actual challenges of the day and were contributing to the discourse. Now they're more wrapped up in internal problems. This shift could be good, especially if they were focused on the reality that in statistically significant numbers children aren't safe from parish priests. To name but one example where internal housekeeping could be in order.
I can't quite wrap my brain around their thinking here. But this meeting and other examples, liturgical in particular, suggest that they think that the sexual abuse crisis happened because the laity doesn't understand...well, much of anything. How it follows that our lack of understanding causes some priests to prey on children escapes me, but I really don't think I'm making this up. So this meeting focuses on crafting documents that will explain the teachings of the church to us. Because... they're not written down anywhere and our literacy can't be assumed, I suppose. How this is going to revitalize parish life absolutely eludes me.
They're going to affirm (barring serious intervention from the long-suffering holy spirit) that marriage must be between one man and one woman. But they're also going to consider and doubtless affirm the scientifically validated claim that people of homosexual orientation should not be subjected to therapy hoping to change that orientation. Those two things may seem not to be related or troublesome, but they really are. Watch.
Remember before we start that this is a church that is very rigorous about logical and theological consistency. They work hard to be sure that moral theology doesn't contain mutually exclusive requirements, for example. And actually they're quite good at this.
First up, sexual ethics. This is surely an area where the bishops get to provide moral leadership. In a way-too-simple formulation, those ethics suggest that sex is holy when it's in a marriage, functions in a unitive way for the couple, and is open to children. The sexual act is not going to result in children in a homosexual union, which is why (oooh, this is getting almost too simplified) the church has seen fit to deny sacramental marriage to gays. Internally it makes sense. (Although I'm entirely open to and willing to participate in the enterprise of standing outside, looking in, and going -For God's sake, THAT's ridiculous.)
But hang on. Social justice teaching rests on the claim that there is inherent dignity in everything that lives, humans in particular. Assuming they affirm the statement that there need be no misguided "therapy" for gay people, that will be because this is a fundamental aspect of their nature rather than a mere inclination, which could be subject to change. If that's true, if homosexuality is part of some people's very nature, then it falls under the human dignity rules.
I don't see how they can have it both ways. They're walking into a logical trap (which I guess they assume we won't see, because after all we're not very smart.) where the sexual ethics conflict with the social justice teachings.
And all of this begs the question as to why they're thinking about it at all. Re-craft the theology of the priesthood, and then get back to me about what I'm supposed to be doing in my bedroom. Until and unless they do that, and ensure that the people chosen for that newly envisioned priesthood are psychologically healthy, what they're in fact teaching us is just to ignore them. We've got that pretty well practiced with the ban on artificial contraception, which is widely ignored in this country, and we'll just move right along to the next thing. Is that really a precedent they want to set?