Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Response to an article by Fr. R. McBrien in the National Catholic Reporter c. 02-24-2010

Some interesting comments--someone seems to have hit a nerve! But, getting back to what Fr. McBrien was writing about: internal divisions within the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion--or the Roman Catholic Communion and the Anglican Catholic Church. I admire and have always benefited from Fr. McBrien's writings: theologically acute; readable; appealing to the only authority really worth having--moral authority. I agree that the Anglican Communion (the third largest Christian body in the world after the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches and which also considers itself to be an authentically Catholic Church) must deal with the problem of the status of gay and lesbian people in the Church and in the world. There are questions which, once raised, must be addressed without hesitation: slavery, civil rights, the equality of women are all examples; one could go on to hunger, disease, housing, education, medical care. The point is that the place and role--the radical equality--of gay and lesbian people in the Church and in the world was raised and continues to be raised. Martin Luther King's "Why We Can't Wait" is an eloquent response to those who would rather postpone or simply not deal with the question. Scientific knowledge and medical opinion based upon it provide no foundation for the opinion that gay and lesbian (as well as bi-sexual and transgendered) people are aberrant or perverse: they occur in nature just as heterosexual people do. The incidence of their occurrence may be less than that of heterosexual people, but they are just as "normal". Once we accept the arguments of science and medicine--and those who do not offer no convincing opposing  views--the consequences of that acceptance seem reasonably clear: discriminating against gay and lesbian people is contrary to our Christian commitment as well as their rights in a just society--or just church, for that matter. And, so, Anglicans have no choice but to insist on addressing the "homosexuality" question and responding to it out of convictions based on rational discourse as well as faith.
As to "bad" or "lapsed" Roman Catholics. My experience, admittedly anecdotal, is supported by the studies that have been done: there is little homogeneity. Some have left because of individual and personal experiences of priests or ecclesiastical authorities that angered or offended them in some way. Others have left because they could no longer in good conscience accept what was offered to them as the "church's teaching". Others have simply found the Church to be irrelevant to their lives. In my experience, most of the former Roman Catholics (or about-to-become-former Roman Catholics) with whom I have some relationship have left or considered leaving around disagreements with the church having to do with sexuality: artificial contraception; marriage of the clergy; ordination of women; admission to communion of divorced and remarried people; women's freedom of choice about abortion; and the place of lesbian and gay people in the church. According to almost all of reliable studies, the majority of practicing Roman Catholics in the US disagree with the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on all of these issues (except, perhaps, on the question of freedom to choose to terminate a pregnancy); and, yet, they remain in the church and do not consider their rejection of the church's teaching to be an obstacle to being faithful Catholics. As one of them said to me recently, "Did the Incarnation really take place in order to control people's sex lives?" Many who have left the Roman Catholic Church, however, found themselves unable to be members of a church that teaches what the Roman Catholic Church teaches.

Perhaps, in the Anglican Communion/Roman Catholic desire to find a middle ground that may increase our participation in our Lord's desire that the Church be one, we should encourage (as Pope Benedict XVI has done) Anglican dissidents to join the Roman Catholic Church and Roman Catholic dissidents to join the Anglican Communion. I have not heard the Archbishop of Canterbury explicitly welcome dissident Roman Catholics to become part of the Anglican Communion, but I am certain that he would not be displeased if that were to take place. Maybe then we would experience a cross fertilization that would eventually lead to a renewed ecumenical desire.

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