Friday, March 03, 2006


How Do Conservatives Feel About Pope Benedict --
Via Roman Catholic Blog, a Richard McBrien article suggesting that conservative Catholics are beginning to feel uneasy about Pope Benedict XVI.

I've noted some uneasiness on Catholic blogs out there. There is wondering about why Benedict hasn't gotten around to smiting the liberals as they expected. There was displeasure because the Vatican deplored equally the disrespect of the Danish Muhammad cartoons and the ensuing violence.


Neuhaus and others, including Father Joseph Fessio, one of Joseph Ratzinger's former students, were not happy with the pope's appointment of Archbishop William Levada to succeed himself as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In fact, Neuhaus writes, the appointment has "occasioned widespread puzzlement"-presumably among the same Catholics who were most enthusiastic about the results of last April's conclave.

Father Neuhaus's criticism of Archbishop Levada is based on what he perceives as a certain softness in his approach to the issue of homosexuality while heading a diocese centered in a city "commonly called the gay capital of the world."

To compound the new pope's "puzzling" appointment of Archbishop Levada to the CDF was his subsequent appointment of George Niederauer as Levada's successor in San Francisco. According to Neuhaus, Niederauer, while bishop of Salt Lake City, "had a reputation of being... gay-friendly," and was "somewhat ambivalent," in Neuhaus's opinion, regarding the recent Vatican instruction on gays in seminaries and the priesthood. Father Neuhaus was particularly "astonished" by Bishop Niederauer's publicly stated rejection of sexual orientation as the cause of the sexual-abuse scandal in the priesthood.


But let's go straight to the source. Neuhaus writes:


Among those who greatly admired Cardinal Ratzinger and were elated by his election as pope, there is a palpable uneasiness. As of this writing, he has not made what are perceived to be needed personnel changes at the top levels of the Curia. Benedict’s first major appointment, that of Archbishop William Levada to succeed him at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, occasioned widespread puzzlement. With particular pertinence to the present discussion, Levada, for all his considerable gifts, did not distinguish himself in his teaching, and his seeing to it that others taught, the Church’s moral doctrine during his ten years as archbishop of San Francisco, a city commonly called the gay capital of the world.

Troubling also to those who watch this pontificate with hopeful concern is Benedict’s appointment of George H. Niederauer as Levada’s successor in San Francisco. While in Salt Lake City, Bishop Niederauer had a reputation of being, as it is said, gay-friendly. He broke with other religious leaders in opposing a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The announcement of his appointment to San Francisco was met with great public rejoicing by Dignity, New Ways Ministry, and other gay advocacy groups.

In an interview with his diocesan paper in Salt Lake City, Niederauer seemed somewhat ambivalent about the recent Vatican instruction. He is asked about requisites for being ordained to the priesthood, and takes the aforementioned position of dissenters on what is meant by “affective maturity”:

Nierderauer: One implication is the need for what this document calls “affective maturity,” meaning that all the loving and relating that a priest does must be centered in Christ and consistent with the priest’s commitment to Christ and the Church. This kind of single-heartedness does not allow for a relationship in any priest’s life that would weaken his commitment to Christ and his Church. Another implication of this affective maturity is that every celibate priest needs to be free to relate in a warm, human way to the men, women, and children to whom he ministers, in a manner that is genuine and still consistent with his commitment to Christ the Priest.

Interviewer: That’s all fine and good, but can a man who is homosexual be an effective priest?

Niederauer: If any priest has the affective maturity described above, and in the document, then with God’s grace, he can effectively minister as a priest. What the Church, the bishop, and the seminary must determine in the course of a priestly candidate’s formation is whether the candidate has the gifts of affective maturity, has made them his own, and is living them out faithfully.

Bishop Niederauer does say, “In addition, it would be inconsistent for the priest and confusing for the Catholic faithful if a priest differs from the Church in any of its moral teachings.” He does not say, at least in this interview, what that moral teaching is with respect to homosexuality, and, perhaps more significantly, he does not say what should be done, if anything, about priests who are inconsistent and causing confusion to the faithful; never mind that they are, according to Catholic teaching, imperiling their souls and the souls of others.

The statement by Niederauer that attracted most attention, however, was this: “Also, some who are seriously mistaken have named sexual orientation as the cause of the recent scandal regarding the sexual abuse of minors by priests.” This is nothing short of astonishing. One can agree that it was not the cause, meaning the only cause. There is, for instance, the negligence and complicity of bishops, and of the seminaries in their charge. But to deny, as the bishop seems to be denying, a causal relationship between homosexual priests and the sexual abuse scandal is, well, astonishing. Research commissioned by the bishops themselves shows, as the whole world now knows, that more than 80 percent of the instances of abuse were with teenage boys and young men. It does not require a Ph.D. in psychology to recognize—although a Ph.D. in psychology might be helpful in denying—that men who want to have sex with boys are more likely to have sex with boys than men who do not want to have sex with boys.

Those who several years ago tried to deny the obviousness of the connection have, with notable exceptions, run out of delusions. Even the editors of Commonweal write:

At least in this regard, Rome’s concerns are not entirely misplaced. It is no secret that something went terribly wrong in U.S. seminaries in the late 1960s, the 1970s, and even into the 1980s. Both gay and straight priests, as well as former seminarians, acknowledge that, as many priests left to marry, the proportion of priests who were gay increased dramatically, and in some places, gay subcultures flourished. What role this breakdown in discipline and morality played in the sexual abuse of minors is not clear, but the idea that it played no role in a pattern of abuse in which 80 percent of the victims were male is untenable.

The appointment of Archbishop Levada to head CDF was certainly Benedict’s decision, as was the appointment of Bishop Niederauer to succeed him in San Francisco. According to informed sources, the latter appointment was made on the recommendation of Archbishop Levada.


For people like Neuhaus, homosexuality has become a prime issue. He holds it as the primary cause of the priest abuse scandals. He does have some points in that we do live in an overly sex-obsessed culture and sex/gender identity as become too large of a component for personal identity for too many people. I think Pope Benedict would say that we have to appropriately balance sexual identity with other portions of ourselves rather than sublimating it entirely. He sounds a lot like disenchanted liberals who want the Democrats to stand for something rather than rolling out pandering Kerry-esque politicians. For Neuhaus, the Church is in no way inspiring unless it stands strongly for something, and he wants that stance to be over homosexuality.
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