June 2006

The Homosexual Couple at St. John the Baptist School & the Norbertines

In his Theologia Moralis, which after the Second Part of the Summa Theologiae is the most authoritative work on moral theology by a Doctor of the Church, St. Alphonsus teaches that a man who unjustly defames another, whether he be a detractor or a calumniator, is bound in justice to repair the damage he has done. He must repair the damaged reputation as soon as possible, and then all the material damage which, at least in general, he can foresee will flow from his defamation. Thus it is Michael S. Rose who ought to be writing now and doing whatever else he can to make up for his gratuitous attack on the reputation of the Norbertine Fathers published in the December 2005 NOR ("Homosexual Activism Meets Catholic Kindergarten: 'Joey Has Two Daddies'"). As it is, I will have to do at least part of his duty for him, defending our reputation, while adding to this obnoxious task the happier spiritual work of mercy called fraternal (and paternal) correction. This alone gives me consolation, that injustice can be met with charity.

I would not call his attack gratuitous, or even, subjectively at least, unjust had he serenely come to his conclusions after having spoken with one of the confreres of our Abbey who would be competent to comment on all that transpired at St. John the Baptist parish in Costa Mesa, Calif., in the last two years. As it is, he did not speak to any one of us. All the information necessary to contact us individually is easily available on our website, and if he had not gotten satisfaction from one, he could have contacted another. In fact, he wrote his article without contacting any of the priests he defamed by name or their superiors, of which I am one as Prior of the community. He may even have come to the area in person to investigate his story, but if he did, he did not see fit to seek us out. Without judging his intentions, his approach to the story was surely contrary to any standard of journalistic integrity. Rose might have at least pointed out in his article that he had not spoken to any of the priests, so as to leave the reader with some room to question the obvious inferences to be drawn from the piece.

This defect is all the more grave when one considers that Rose describes the Norbertines of St. Michael's Abbey as "a religious order that boasts one of the finest reputations for orthodoxy on the West Coast." Such a reputation is surely a very precious thing, not to be lightly endangered. That we were not contacted indicates just such levity, and renders his work unjust a priori, even without examining the article's claims. Why, I ask, such unconcern for the good of the Church's priests? The answer to this not-at-all rhetorical question should be all the more telling as it appears that those he did in fact interview received his full credence and sympathy. I ask him to examine his conscience on this point. His editors should do the same, since it is their responsibility to see that what is published has been legitimately researched. Otherwise the credibility of everything which appears in the NOR is suspect, rendering the journal unable to fulfill its high mission. More to my point of fraternal correction, however, such negligence is doubly sinful, being both the neglect of the duties of one's profession and the irresponsible handling of the reputation of an entire body of one's neighbors, and such neighbors at that: a community of the ministers of the altar, one's true Fathers.

St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae 2-2 q.73, a.1, ad 3um) teaches us that the reputation of another may be harmed in six ways, four direct and two indirect -- directly by imputing what is false, exaggerating sins, revealing what is secret, and perverting intentions; indirectly by denying the good and not telling the good. As will be made clear shortly, Rose has harmed the reputation of my confreres in all these ways, the third excepted, but most evidently in the last three.

Father Benzoni had nothing to do with the acceptance of the children in the school, nor with their adoptive parents being listed as they were in the school directory, nor with one of the men being a classroom aide. He knew less of the situation in fact than the parents who had expressed their concerns. That he should, as pastor, have been more involved with the admissions process and the running of the school, Father would be the first to admit. Yet it is true that as soon as he was sufficiently aware of the situation, he sought counsel as to how to address it prudently, and he began to do so.

This was particularly difficult to do as the concerned parents were being directed by self-appointed lay Catholic activists in the diocese, who were much given to threatening to approach the press with their complaints if action were not taken within deadlines set by them. All of this was in the first semester of the school year. These threats were carried out. It is this fact, more than any other, which made it almost impossible for Father Benzoni to handle the situation serenely and firmly with an eye both to the common good and the salvation of individuals.

The activists seem convinced that whatever action was taken by Father Benzoni was due to their pressure by way of publicity and recourse to the Holy See. This is utterly untrue. He was moved to act consistently and firmly from the very beginning, and he did so.

Let's look at the issues confronting the pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish:

The children enrolled had been baptized, giving them a strict right to a Catholic education, the fulfillment of which, whether in the school or outside it, had to be evaluated and handled with care. Their rights are independent of the moral condition of their adoptive parents. Let tradition-minded readers keep in mind the famous Mortara case during the reign of Blessed Pius IX to see to what lengths churchmen have gone to vindicate this right in the past, even when the child should not have been baptized in the first place. (Note: Pius IX approved the removal from his family of a Jewish infant who had been illicitly, but validly, baptized by a Christian servant, since his baptism gave him the strict right to a Christian education, even though it was wrong for her to baptize him against the will of his parents. This was continually brought up as an obstacle to his beatification. John Paul II evidently did not think it was.) Thus it was not immediately apparent that they should be removed from the school, nor did all the concerned parents and activists demand this, although some did. No one to my knowledge intended the children's rights to religious instruction to be the issue. Thus, parenthetically, I note that William Donohue's declaration was not at all to the point, nor was it helpful, quite the contrary. Activist involvement in complex, concrete situations rarely is. As events unfolded, every "side" in the parish and beyond had its activists, and all of them opposed the clergy. This, at least, they had in common.

The two men, as Catholics, had the right to be properly instructed about Catholic moral teaching and sacramental practice, and to be challenged and required to conform to it. The pastor, on his part, strove to fulfill his obligation to instruct and call to conversion. He made the most recent teachings of the Holy See available to parishioners on the parish website, including the very clear instruction on same-sex unions and adoption. The response of the pair cannot be a matter of public discussion, both because of the natural law, which forbids their pastor to discuss his private dealings with them publicly, and the civil, which would hold him liable to breach of confidence. Suffice it to say that the media attention sought and obtained by the activists did not make the care of these souls any easier; in fact it rendered it morally impossible. God knows how open these men were to instruction and conversion. I tremble for them, but even more for the activists who tore apart the bruised reed and snuffed the smoldering wick. They will have to answer when the thoughts of many hearts are revealed. And this again is not just rhetoric, it is a statement based on sure knowledge, and should fill them all with holy dread.

A word is in order regarding the reception of Holy Communion. A priest may not deny Holy Communion to one who approaches the altar and whom the priest knows is unfit, unless his unsuitability is publicly known. At what point this becomes the case is a matter of practical prudence. And even when it does, the person must ordinarily be warned and corrected first. The fact that the couple stopped receiving after their relationship became well known simply indicates that this condition was present and that they apparently accepted direction. What is there to reproach in this? That the two men and their pastor evidently did exactly as they ought to have done under the circumstances? But then, who could hope to satisfy the kind of activists who came to certain Masses just to observe whether they communicated?

I do not know what was the response of the two men to the requirement that they never appear as a couple at the school or any school function. I do know that their adopted boys are no longer in the school. This requirement was an application by the pastor of the very general diocesan policy given by Rose in the article. There was also a new, diocesan-approved statement specific to the school for its handbook, which he might have quoted as well, and could have obtained, had he spoken to one of us. Both the Bishop of Orange, Calif., and the diocesan counsel accepted the requirement as reasonable. Rose never mentions that the adopted children of the two men are no longer at the school, nor does he mention the diocesan authorities' approval of the requirement that they not appear together. These are two very relevant facts that the article apparently passes over. Pointing them out would have shown that the clergy had been careful to repair any impression which might have been made that homosexual marriage and adoption were not gravely contrary to the moral law. It is certainly fair to say that the reader of Rose's article comes away with an entirely different impression.

Father Benzoni endured a genuine persecution because of his requirement that the two men not present themselves as a couple. The "orthodox" activists displayed such hatred of him that they could not bring themselves to acknowledge his efforts, or the personal losses he had to suffer because of his stance. All along, he alone had had the individual, pastoral care of these men, and now he was trying his best to take care of the common good. Thus he "got it from both sides" so to speak: a merciless, cynical "too little, too late" attitude characterized a number of the orthodox, while the other side stormed the rectory.

Father Norbert Wood is a priest of vast professional experience, an observant religious, and thoroughly, uncompromisingly orthodox. When he came to the school as its Rector, it was in an uproar. He was determined to end the discord before the new school year began. This he did, and very competently. He called in the two men and exhorted them. He required some of the activist parents on both sides to apologize for any unjust or uncharitable behavior toward each other, the school administration, or the clergy. He was determined to maintain Church teaching, justice, and charity. At no time whatsoever was any parent persecuted or criticized for taking a stand for Catholic orthodoxy. This was obviously not the point of the apologies. The fact was, however, that the concerned parents were not all without fault. All but a very few parents apologized. The apologies required were for specific actions or words, and differed from person to person.

One of the parents who refused to apologize and who is named in Rose's piece threatened at the time to go to the Catholic press, specifically the NOR; it seems she made good on her threat. (By the by, there were responsible, orthodox and even activist Catholic journals that refused the story, and precisely because they did not want to jeopardize the pastoral efforts of the clergy locally.) It is certain that Father Wood did not call names in his interviews with her or any parent. How sad that a priest conscientiously fulfilling his duty to admonish and to reconcile should be depicted as a persecutor of the just.

I am writing on this Saturday after Ash Wednesday at our cloistered Norbertine Sisters' priory in mountains above the high desert. A very significant benefactor has deserted them because of the December article. These women rise daily at midnight to sing Matins in the icy cold. They practice silence, seclusion, and perpetual abstinence. They pray continually in order to draw down mercy on the living and the dead. That is what these sisters do for the Church. Perhaps you could not have foreseen this material damage to these holy women, but it is a direct result of the damage to the reputation of the Norbertine Fathers which you surely could foresee. Perhaps by shooting your own wounded you can pretend you are fighting the Enemy. How great your remorse will be when you realize that you have unwittingly helped him. May it please the Savior and His Holy Mother, the Virgin Most Prudent, that you feel this remorse soon, and repent.

Our Catholic Faith is not an ideology. The cura animarum, not activism, is its innate inclination. As execrable and filthy as sin is, it is a disease from which men need healing and protection, not just a personal affront to cherished convictions. True, the Savior cleansed the temple with violence, but this is not the image of Him that stands on our altars, but rather that of His Crucified Love. The former image touches only the Great High Priest and His Vicars who alone have the power and the duty to purify God's temple; the latter is the one we all must bear each in his own place. Woe to self-appointed universal lay reformers and the canonical storefront clergy who serve them, but not their local churches: they will never have to care for the good of a concrete community of the faithful. They can fly in and fly out. They can move from protest to protest. Yet the time is growing late: Do they know where their children are? The rest of us, few though we may be, will be content to soldier on, living in the midst of an ever darker world with the light of a faith that overcomes it, taking care of those entrusted to us, while correcting our errors and hoping against hope. Those who have different hopes may contact the secular media; they might just get a story.

When I first learned of Rose's article, I obtained the whole text from the NOR website. Within a couple of days, I found it was now only accessible in full if the reader paid. I understand that this is standard practice, and it is necessary for you to raise money for your journalistic apostolate. Even so, my guardian angel has suggested an easy way for you to make amends. Take some of the money gained from accessing the article on the web and use it for Mass stipends to be given to the needy priest of your choice for the following intentions: reparation for your negligences; the sanctification, consolation, and perseverance of priests; the deliverance of the laity from illusion and the deceptions of the devil; and the repose of the souls of all the departed who sinned because of scandal. "Charity covereth a multitude of sins."

May Jesus heal and correct in us all that is lacking, confirm what is good, and fill us all with the power of His Passion and the true spirit of His Church.

Paternally yours in Christ,

(The Very Rev.) Hugh Barbour, O.Praem.
Prior, St. Michael's Abbey
Trabuco Canyon, California




MICHAEL S. ROSE REPLIES:

Fr. Hugh's letter is a firm testament that he has misunderstood the central problem of the debacle at St. John the Baptist School in Costa Mesa, Calif.: The school administration, the pastor, and some members of the parish were used as dupes -- some willingly and others unwittingly -- by homosexual activists. Moreover, much of Fr. Hugh's secondhand account seriously distorts what public and private records show actually transpired. I stand by every word in my article, and I'll tell you why Fr. Hugh gets it wrong.

Much of Fr. Hugh's hyperventilating stems from his grievance that I did not quote the Norbertines. It's important to note here that my article was an analytical overview of events, most of which were public, that occurred over the course of one school year. As I reported, the Norbertines made their "side of the story" known in both a public and private way through the course of that year. Contrary to Fr. Hugh's claim, I quoted the Norbertines and the school administration in the article from documented evidence: their press releases, school memos, correspondence made available to me, and from previously published news reports in the Los Angeles Times, in which Fr. Martin Benzoni, Pastor at St. John, is quoted defending his position to support the homosexual activist couple: "I firmly believe that this policy is in line with the teaching of the Catholic Church" -- a defense which is patently false when compared to the Church's teaching in the 2003 Vatican document "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons," referenced in my article.

Far from being a "gratuitous attack," or for that matter any kind of "attack," on the Norbertines, my article was painstakingly researched. It was a cautionary tale drawing on more than 100 pages of carefully documented evidence gathered over the course of a year.

Fr. Hugh is hot under the collar because he believes my article damaged the reputation of his religious order. If the reputation of the Norbertines was damaged in any way, then the actions and omissions of individual Norbertine priests and those who work directly for them are to blame -- not the messenger. At the same time, Fr. Hugh accuses me of not reporting the "good," even though I chronicled the attempt by Fr. Martin to take proper action by removing the "gay"-friendly principal, who was at the center of the scandal and who treated the presence of the homosexual activists as a cause célèbre of tolerance and compassion. But the Norbertines backed away from this after liberal protestors created a media circus at the rectory.

I also specifically credited the Norbertines as "a religious order that boasts one of the finest reputations for orthodoxy on the West Coast." Indeed, throughout California, the Norbertines of Orange are known as the "Great White Hope" on account of their white habits and their reputation for orthodoxy. But even members of an orthodox religious order can make mistakes; they can be naïve; they can be vindictive. Orthodoxy is not a license to "lord it over" the laity with the kind of clerical attitude that has got the Catholic Church into some very, very hot water in recent years. In fact, Fr. Hugh's own attitude toward the concerned parents at the school speaks volumes. He is basically saying: Shut up and keep sending us your money.

Fr. Hugh defends Fr. Martin by saying the former pastor had nothing to do with accepting a same-sex couple and their children into the school, listing the children as having two fathers in the school directory, or giving both openly homosexual men jobs at the school: "He knew less of the situation in fact than the parents who had expressed their concerns." But the fact remains: As I reported, those parents did express their concerns to Fr. Martin even before the school year began, only to be told, "it's a done deal" -- the kind of response that smacks of Fr. Hugh's "pay, pray, and obey" brand of clericalism. The problem at St. John's escalated precisely because Fr. Martin was satisfied to harbor "gay" activists at the parish and school, even after incontrovertible evidence was presented to him demonstrating that the "married" homosexual men were activists implementing an agenda.

And really, are we expected to believe that Fr. Martin, who supposedly had no knowledge of a same-sex couple and their adoptive children at the parish and school, was privately working in some sort of pastoral role with these men, educating them about the Catholic Faith, as Fr. Hugh suggests? This smacks of a convenient excuse to explain away Fr. Martin's missteps.

For someone so concerned about wounding reputations, Fr. Hugh exhausts an inordinate amount of words vilifying the concerned parents.

As my article clearly stated, those who were involved with the issue were parents concerned that their Catholic school was being used by homosexual activists to advance the idea of "tolerance" of sinful lifestyles among their children, beginning in kindergarten! These mothers and fathers had every right to make their legitimate concerns known. To their great credit, they first did this privately, one on one, meeting with the pastor and the principal. When these parents were rebuffed and told that they -- and not the homosexual activists -- were the problem, the parents began informing other parents in the school, something Fr. Hugh denounces as "activism."

But Fr. Hugh doesn't stop there. He goes further out on a limb to demonstrate his confusion when he summarizes the problem at St. John's this way: "The children had been baptized, giving them a strict right to a Catholic education, the fulfillment of which...had to be evaluated and handled with care. Their rights are independent of the moral condition of their adoptive parents." As I explained in my article, this was never at issue with the concerned parents. If the homosexual couple truly wanted a Catholic education for their children -- they did not -- they would not have made a public scene by regularly appearing at the school, arm-in-arm, to pick up their children or by going up to receive Holy Communion as a "family" at parish Masses. Yet the school administration and some teachers actually went out of their way to show support for the same-sex "dads" by giving them preferential treatment. One of the men was even chosen (over many mothers who had been volunteering to help for years) to serve as a teacher's aide in a kindergarten classroom.

One parent characterized the situation aptly: The homosexual activists were not there to be converted; they were present at the school and parish with the mission to convert others to their own un-Catholic way of thinking and living out their lives -- and by all accounts, it was working. Fr. Hugh's suggestion that the protesting parents made it "morally impossible" for Fr. Martin to minister is just overly dramatic pietism ("I tremble for...the activists who tore apart the bruised reed and snuffed the smoldering wick"), and another lame excuse for Fr. Martin's inaction.

Fr. Hugh rightly recognizes William Donohue's press release supporting the presence of the homosexual couple's children at the school as "not at all to the point, nor...helpful." Bravo! But wait, Fr. Hugh fails to acknowledge that it was Fr. Martin, the Norbertine Pastor of St. John the Baptist, who, when requested by the concerned parents to provide a copy of the Vatican's 2003 document on homosexual unions, flatly refused, instead opting to publish Donohue's press release in full in the parish bulletin. Fr. Hugh contradicts himself by claiming that Fr. Martin acted "firmly from the very beginning."

Instead of providing facts, Fr. Hugh implies that the children of the homosexual couple were, in the end, dismissed from the school. That was not at all the case. At the end of the school year, after nine months of parent protests, the same-sex couple was asked not to appear at the school together, where they had been presenting themselves as a "married" couple. Since that was their reason for being there in the first place -- they wanted to show all the Catholic parents how wonderful and normal a couple of "gay parents" can be -- they decided to enroll their children in a different parish school the following year.

Even so, the persecution of the concerned parents continued into the next year when another Norbertine, Fr. Norbert Wood, arrived at St. John's School, demanding that they sign a written apology statement he had drafted. I have copies of these forced apology statements (as quoted in my article), as well as Fr. Norbert's written demand for it to be signed under threat of expulsion of their children from the school. Thus, while the Norbertines were very concerned not to expel the adopted children of the homosexual couple for the actions of their "parents," these orthodox priests had no reservations about threatening to expel the children of the protesting parents -- even after the ordeal was, for all intents and purposes, finished. Moreover, Fr. Norbert chose to lock arms with the school principal, the main catalyst for the scandal, and placate the teachers and parents who welcomed the homosexual activists as heroes. Something is very wrong here!

As if that is not enough, the woman who was deemed to be the "ringleader" of the concerned parents was told (in writing -- yes, I have a copy of that too) that, in addition to having to sign the apology drafted by Fr. Norbert, she was banned from appearing on school property and at any school function, including school Masses -- a clear violation of this woman's canonical rights. Talk about vindictive! Far from ending the discord at the parish school, Fr. Norbert escalated it with his threats and name-calling. Ah, but Fr. Hugh claims to know, despite corroborating eyewitness accounts of several parents, that there was no name-calling by his orthodox confrere. (Ahem, how does he know this? He provides no evidence.)

Fr. Hugh's defense of the Norbertines is so skewed and contains so many fallacies that I would have to use most of the 48 pages in this issue to adequately respond to each one. I think the best defense to Fr. Hugh's unsubstantiated and sanctimonious salvo is my original article itself. But one last point needs to be addressed. Among Fr. Hugh's many reckless and false accusations, he claims: "there was also a new, diocesan-approved statement specific to the school for its handbook, which [Rose] might have quoted as well, and could have obtained, had he spoken to one of us," regarding homosexuals not appearing as a couple at school functions. Well, if Fr. Hugh had made a serious attempt to read my article, he would know that I did obtain a copy and did quote it. It is this sort of inaccuracy that characterizes Fr. Hugh's entire letter.

I'm glad to know that Fr. Hugh is familiar with the Summa Theologiae. He can go on quoting Thomas Aquinas until the Second Coming, but it will never justify the missteps of the Norbertines and the wrongful actions of the administration and teachers at St. John the Baptist School. It will never justify the vindictiveness of "orthodox" priests toward those in their pastoral care. Trying to cover up one's mistakes and blaming others who bring their concerns to you is not the best way to protect a reputation. Maintaining one's reputation requires putting Truth before politics. In this case, the Norbertines failed mightily.





THE EDITOR REPLIES:

Msgr. William B. Smith, a reliably orthodox commentator and a professor at St. Joseph's Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York, has a regular Q&A column in Homiletic & Pastoral Review. In the March 2005 issue, the question is this: "The pastor of one local parish has stated that the child of a same-sex couple will not be admitted to the Catholic school, whereas, the pastor of another parish says it's not a problem -- children should not be punished for the faults of others."

Msgr. Smith answers: Quoting the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's doctrinal Instruction issued on June 3, 2003, "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons," it teaches this: "As experience has shown, the absence of sexual complementarity in these unions creates obstacles to the normal development of children who would be placed in the care of such persons.... Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to the children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conductive to their full human development. This is gravely immoral...."

Msgr. Smith says, "While this CDF Instruction does not directly address the school question, it does address and reject the adoption [by same-sex couples] question, which is at the root of the school problem."

Msgr. Smith says that allowing adopted children of a homosexual couple would be a "theological scandal and a contradictory witness." He says: "It is...essential to insist on and cultivate parental involvement in Catholic education. Parent-teacher association is both desirable and necessary. Parental involvement in sacramental preparation (Penance, First Communion, Confirmation) is now a universal feature in Catholic education. I doubt that any pastor or Catholic school principal wants to be confronted with an immoral arrangement.... It seems to me most unwise to admit a child or children to a Catholic school with the droll requirement that the couple that sends the child may not and should not attend (as a couple) any parental meetings, groups or sacramental preparation programs. It seems to me that couple could and would cause scandal. If same-sex couples were afforded the same status as true parents, would not the Catholic school and the parish be sending a message of counter-witness?... When what is taught in church and school is contradicted in life and home environment by objectively immoral circumstances, that does not support consistent witness but rather counter-witness. Thus, if I were the pastor of the parish school I would...avoid this situation by preventing it...."

About half of Fr. Hugh's letter consists of piety, some would call it pious claptrap, but it will not cover up this theological scandal. We do hope that Fr. Hugh has learned his lesson.





From an Open Letter to Bishop Loverde of the Arlington Diocese

I am very disappointed in your recent decision to discard tradition and allow girls to serve as "altar boys."

Since Vatican II, Mass attendance has plummeted. Why should Catholics want to attend Sunday Mass anymore?

-- The beautiful Latin Mass has been replaced by the ugly vernacular.

-- Priests, once oriented in a way leading us in prayer to God, now face us and come between us and God.

-- Older churches have literally had the heart ripped out of them and new churches look like auditoriums or Friends Meeting Rooms.

-- Tabernacles, once prominent "front and center," leaving no doubt about the importance of the Real Presence, are cast to the side or exiled to other places in the church.

-- Lifelike statues of our friends, the saints, have been either banished or replaced by undecipherable stick figures. Same with Stations of the Cross.

-- Beautiful stained-glass windows, once filling the church with light and most telling stories or depicting important events are replaced with lightless slits or plain glass.

-- Choirs now compete for attention with the priest by being moved forward. Are we there to focus on the altar or is Mass now mainly a communal sing-along?

-- Traditional hymns are replaced with banal modern songs generally unfit to be sung; some Masses are turned into hootenannies, and most have people singing into microphones.

-- Pastors refuse to enforce even the most minimal dress code, as a result many parishioners show up as if they're on their way to the beach.

And now, to top off all these insults, altar girls.

Thomas M. Hughes
Vienna, Virginia




Are We All Protestants Now?

I love our relativistic Church! It doesn't matter what I believe, whether it is artificial contraception, abortion, divorce and remarriage, or homosexual marriage -- I am able to find a Catholic priest and bishop, not to mention lay Catholics, who are on my side of the issue. It also doesn't matter that I like to raise my hands and hold hands with my neighbor at Mass. I also like it when words to prayers and readings at Mass are changed to be more inclusive so that nobody's feelings are hurt by sexist or judgmental language. Again, I have no trouble finding a priest and bishop who are as sensitive and enlightened as I.

Then, if somehow I become more "traditional," I could join the Society of St. Pius X and insist only on the Latin Mass and declare with all the authority I have that Vatican II, an ecumenical council, was neither valid nor binding.

Yes, I can shop for a parish that appeals to my sensitivities and theological judgment and even musical taste. I can go to a Catholic Mass that makes me feel good because of its wonderful sense of community. I don't have to worry about sin since my conscience doesn't allow for it anyway.

Please tell me how and why the Catholic Church is much better or different from a Protestant church.

(Please note the sarcasm.)

Paul Sinsigalli
Sewickley, Pennsylvania




A Means of Mass Destruction

Sheila Mullin Cardano's letter (March) says that Joe Wall's article, "Murder in the Cathedral" (Nov. 2005), about the intentional U.S. bombing of the Münster Catholic Cathedral in World War II, was a "despicable article," implying that it should never have been published. She gives her story of being a survivor of the Blitz on London.

Being German, I would like to add my point of view. I am way too young and was not in Germany during World War II, but both my parents were there, for five long years of their childhood. They had to run into basements or head for the trenches or whatever kind of "shelter" they could find. My mom was seven years old when she saw British planes aiming at her and others lying in the trenches.

Regarding the amount of bombs dropped on Germany by British and U.S. forces: To the best of my knowledge it was about a hundred times the amount of what was dropped on Britain, and interestingly enough, a huge part of it during the last few months of the war. The tiny island of Helgoland, 0.6 square miles in size, was bombed to ashes less than three weeks before the end of the war; 5,000 tons were dropped within two days.

It is clear that the bombing of Germany had become a means of mass destruction. The argument that the bombing was expected to turn people against the regime is preposterous, as nobody can expect any good from an enemy that is pursuing such a devastating strategy -- a lesson that should be understood by the powers of today.

I encourage anyone who is interested to read the Amazon.com online review of the book Der Brand by Joerg Friedrich. There may be a reason that books such as this are not available in English.

Christoph Mathieu
Edina, Minnesota




When Did We Get a New Divine Revelation?

Hey! What did I miss? Has there been a New Divine Revelation? My understanding is that Divine Revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle. Jesus revealed to us the First Person of the Trinity: He called Him Father! He taught us to pray to "Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name." So when did the Divine Revelation change to call God "mother"?

What if males started complaining and whining about how they feel "left out" when Holy Mother Church is referred to in the feminine? Or they reveal how "separated" they feel from being called the Bride of Christ? Or they just can't "identify" with expecting to be a "handmaid of the Lord"? Sounds rather petty and immature, doesn't it? Interestingly, at Mass, when Ephesians 5:21ff. is read, even though I always hear gasps and disgusted grunts from women when the wives' role is read, I have never heard the same from men when they are told to give up their lives for their wives!

A good litmus test to gauge how well we are living the Gospel is to compare the Church to the world. When the Church reflects what is going on in the world, she is not being countercultural and is failing to live up to her calling. Therefore, since the world insists on politically correct, "inclusive" language, we should be alarmed that we see the Church mirroring it. This is especially true when the words of Scripture are changed. If I am struggling with a passage of Scripture, I always conclude that the problem is with me, not God's Divine Revelation!

Bonita Schmid
Minden, Nevada




Does God Love Satan

George A. Kendall says in his letter (April) that "God loves even the souls in Hell." If so, then God loves Satan in Hell, which is absurd.

Tom Anderson
Brookings, Oregon




'Thou Hatest All the Workers of iniquity'

Your exchange in the April letters section is best settled by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa, I, q20, a2, reply to objection 4. The objection says: "It is written (Ps. 5:7 [Douay-Rheims version; in other versions it is Ps. 5:5]) 'Thou hatest all the workers of iniquity.' Now nothing is at the same time hated and loved. Therefore, God does not love all things."

St. Thomas answers: "Nothing prevents one and the same thing being loved under one aspect, while it is hated under another. God loves sinners in so far as they are existing natures, for they have existence, and have it from Him. In so far as they are sinners, they have no existence at all, but fall short of it; and this in them is not from God. Hence it is under this aspect that they are hated by Him."

Paula Haigh
Nazareth, Kentucky




Ed. Note:

This is exactly what we said: "The opposite of love is not hatred..." -- and we are glad to have support from St. Thomas -- and adding that the opposite of love is indifference.





The NOR Is Not Seriously Interested in the Truth

When I wrote a letter opposing the NOR's assertion that God hates unrepentant sinners (April), I had hoped for a response that went beyond an arrogant repetition of your previous arguments. I had hoped, in fact, for a degree of theological sophistication, and got a dismissal instead. Undaunted, I add a few more comments:

St. Thomas in a sense agrees with you that God hates sinners, but only after making one of his usual very careful and precise distinctions. He says: "Nothing prevents one and the same thing being loved under one aspect, while it is hated under another. God loves sinners in so far as they are existing natures; for they have existence and have it from Him. In so far as they are sinners, they have not existence at all, but fall short of it; and this in them is not from God. Hence under this aspect, they are hated by Him" (Summa Theologiae).

But in ordinary speech, when we say that someone hates something or someone, we mean that he hates what that thing is, not what it is not. What St. Thomas says here is for all practical purposes equivalent to the classic formula that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. If I were sure that was all the NOR meant by its assertion that God hates unrepentant sinners, I would drop the matter, but you seem to be insisting on something more than that.

Regarding all the biblical passages that I am accused of contradicting, I must say that you seem to be falling into the Protestant fundamentalist practice known as proof-texting, where each party in a debate comes up with as many Bible verses as possible in defense of his position, and the one who has the most verses at the end is the winner. To which I will add the obvious -- that the Bible does not use language in the theologically precise way that Catholic doctrine uses it. Genesis tells us that God "repented" of having created man, but there is no way to take this literally without falling into heresy. Many passages speak of the "arm" of God or the "hand" of God. Does God have body parts? Jesus told us to hate our fathers and mothers. Taken literally, that would contradict the Fourth Commandment. It is not appropriate to read the Bible as if it were a theological treatise, any more than it is appropriate to read Genesis as if it were a textbook of physics and natural history. The statement that God hates unrepentant sinners, or that He hates His enemies, needs to be understood as St. Thomas does in the passage cited above -- that He hates them under the aspect of their sinfulness but not in themselves.

By the way, in Jeremiah 31:3, God says, speaking to Israel: "I have loved thee with an everlasting love." Now, we know that Israel fell into grave sin after Jeremiah's time, so if the NOR is right, He must have been mistaken when He said this (the NOR isn't the only one that can play at proof-texting).

As regards God hating His enemies, Jesus, as He was being crucified, prayed for the people crucifying Him. If, as you say, He hates His enemies, He should have been loudly spewing out curses at them, as I imagine false messiahs, in similar circumstances, did.

The NOR makes much of St. Paul's statement in Romans 1:18-20,24, that God has abandoned unrepentant sinners. You need to consider the possibility that the abandonment may itself be a work of divine love, by which God, exercising His permissive will, lets us go on sinning till we "hit bottom," experiencing the destructiveness of sin so fully that we are finally moved to repentance (this is what happened to the prodigal son). If He gives us enough rope, we will either hang ourselves with it or decide we would rather live after all and turn back to God for forgiveness and healing.

In the Sermon on the Mount, the theme underlying Jesus' commands is the overriding requirement to be like God, our heavenly Father: "Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt. 5:48). "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mt. 5:43-45). If Jesus isn't telling us in this passage that God loves His enemies, so we bloody well better love ours, I can't imagine what else He could have meant. I find quite disturbing the NOR's idea that, while we are commanded to love our enemies, God may not be bound to do so. That is a Calvinist rather than a Catholic notion of divine law. Calvinism tends to hold that the moral law is groundless, that it is a matter of God's arbitrary will, and that God could change it anytime He wishes (this is also Islamic teaching). Thus, for instance, God could, if He wished, command us to commit adultery rather than not to. But for Catholic teaching, God's law for us is grounded in our nature as His creatures, a nature which in turn is grounded in His nature. Hence there is a right order in the creation which images the Creator Himself, and the Creator cannot go against it, because that would be to go against Himself. He is in a sense bound by it, but only in the sense that He cannot go against His own nature -- that God cannot not be God.

You are on very shaky ground when you assert that if God truly loved the souls in Hell, He would annihilate them. Ontologically, it is always better to be than not to be, even it to be means to suffer. A loving God will not take away being from a creature, not even if that creature wants Him to.

I should note, by the way, that in some of your arguments you conflate wrath and hatred. The fact that God is angry with sinners doesn't mean that He hates them. Otherwise, every parent who ever gets mad at his kid could be accused of hating his kid.

On this whole topic, you seem determined to reflexively defend an indefensible position, while refusing to listen to those who point this out to you, and refusing even to consider the possibility that you might be wrong. I have to wonder whether you are seriously interested in the truth here, or merely trying to shore up your editorial ego. The NOR has done some wonderful things in the past, but it strikes me that it is becoming something of a loose cannon, lapsing more and more into sectarian fanaticism. There is certainly a hint of Jansenism in the NOR's insistence that God hates unrepentant sinners. If you continue on this path, the only people reading the NOR will be the not-too-tightly-wrapped folks at the SSPX, and perhaps some Moslems.

George A. Kendall
Grand Marais, Michigan




THE EDITOR REPLIES:

You wanted "theological sophistication" from the NOR, and then you call us names, and accuse us of being arrogant and shoring up our "editorial ego." You also liken us to Protestant fundamentalists who practice proof-texting, Calvinists, Islamists, sectarian fanatics, and Jansenists, who will soon appeal only to the "not-so-tightly-wrapped folks at the SSPX." Hey, we can't be all those things at the same time.

You say we should "bloody well" love our foes. So where is your love for the "unhinged" folks at the SSPX, never mind the names you call the editors of the NOR?

You quote from St. Thomas, "Nothing prevents one and same thing being loved under one aspect, while it is hated under another." You just proved our point! As we said, "the opposite of love is not hatred, but indifference." You also quote St. Thomas as saying, "In so far as they are sinners.... they are hated by Him [God]" (italics added). That "God hates the sin but loves the sinner" is contradicted by St. Thomas's formulation. Sins are committed by sinners, which is true by definition. God does not send sins to Hell, He sends sinners (together with their unrepented sins) to Hell.

You say, "Regarding all the biblical passages that I am accused of contradicting, I must say that you seem to be falling into the Protestant fundamentalist practice known as proof-texting...." But as Vatican II's Dei Verbum says: "we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully and without error, teach the truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to sacred Scripture" (#11). Most of the verses we gave, that you contradicted, were "for the sake of our salvation," that is, they are "without error."

In your April letter, you quoted Romans 5:6-8, where you suggest that God shows His love to "unrepentant sinners." As we said in our reply, "You are wrong..." -- and you don't contest it! It's you who are doing the proof-texting; moreover, you fail to give the context (vv. 9-10), where it is made clear that God shows His love to repentant sinners.

As for Jeremiah 31:3 ("I have loved thee with an everlasting love"), you are again doing bogus proof-texting, for in Jeremiah 12:8, God says of Israel, "I hate her." As you yourself say, St. Thomas says, "Nothing prevents one and the same thing being loved under one aspect, while it is hated under another."

You say that Jesus, when He was crucified, "prayed for the people crucifying Him." You say that according to the NOR, Jesus should have been "loudly spewing out curses at them, as I imagine false messiahs, in similar circumstances, did." Again you fail to give the context. Jesus says, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do" (Lk. 23:34). To whom was Jesus referring? The most obvious would be His Roman executioners, for they clearly had no idea what they were doing. Yet to be forgiven for this particular sin does not mean that all of their sins are forgiven, and that they automatically go to Heaven.

Or it could refer to the Jews of Jesus' time (as well as the Roman executioners). Vatican II's Nostra Aetate says: "Neither all Jews indiscriminately at the time...can be charged with the crimes committed during his Passion" (#4). Note the word "indiscriminately." Presumably, there were Jews who did not know what they were doing (they were forgiven), and there were Jews who did know what they were doing.

In Acts 3:17-24, St. Peter is speaking to the men of Israel who disowned Jesus in the presence of Pilate: "Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did your rulers. But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out...." Even those Jews who were ignorant must still repent if they are to avoid Hell.

Be careful not to call Jesus a false messiah, for in lesser circumstances, Jesus "spewed out curses" to the Pharisees, calling them "hypocrites," "fools," a "brood of vipers," and "sons of Hell" (Mt. 23).

You say: "The NOR makes much of St. Paul's statement in Romans 1:18-20,24, that God has abandoned unrepentant sinners. You need to consider the possibility that the abandonment may itself be a work of divine love...." This is preposterous.

You say: "I find quite disturbing the NOR's idea that, while we are commanded to love our enemies, God may not be bound to do so." We again refer to your quote from St. Thomas: "Nothing prevents one and the same thing being loved under one aspect, while it is hated under another.... In so far as they are sinners.... they are hated by Him [God]."

You say: "You are on very shaky ground when you assert that if God truly loved the souls in Hell, He would annihilate them." We never said that God would or will annihilate the souls in Hell. You say: "Ontologically, it is always better to be than not to be...." This is mere philosophy.

You say, "your arguments... conflate wrath and hatred. The fact that God is angry with sinners doesn't mean that He hates them." If anything, wrath is stronger than hatred. In Webster's Third New International Dictionary: hatred is "to feel extreme enmity toward; regard with active hostility"; wrath is "a strong enraged feeling expressed vehemently and accompanied by bitterness, malignancy, or condemnation." As we said in our April reply: "Hell is simply the eternal place of God's wrath" -- that is, His condemnation.

You say: "If I were sure that...all the NOR meant by its assertion [was] that God hates unrepentant sinners, I would drop the matter...." But then you say: "There is certainly a hint of Jansenism in the NOR's insistence that God hates unrepentant sinners." So, what are you saying? You contradict yourself over and over again.

Your argument has no merit.





Nowhere Else to Go

Thank you for your Editorial, "Another Dud," (March), on President Bush's choice of Samuel Alito for the U.S. Supreme Court. Yours are words long overdue in describing the hypocrisy of our "prolife" Republican politicians.

For some 30 years, as a prolife Catholic Republican voter, I had "gone along" with the strategy of voting for the lesser of two evils. The Republican National Committee (RNC) figured there was nowhere else for me to go, and stupidly, so did I. Well, I finally woke up and decided that the lesser of two evils was no longer entitled to my vote, as that would still definitely be a vote for some degree of evil.

What, you didn't vote? people asked. Of course I did, as it is essential such votes be registered so that the message sent to the RNC is loud and clear. My votes went to a true prolife candidate (not Bush) in 2000 and again in 2004.

Sad to say, there will never be an outspoken, prolife president until we have a strong, prolife first lady.

Mrs. Catherine B. Gros
Somerset, New Jersey




The Faint-of-Heart

I must say that your letters section and the New Oxford Notes are my favorite parts of the NOR. I love it when you respond to letters and hammer your point home to those whining, touchie-feelie types. Enclosed are two gift subscriptions to help make up for the faint-of-heart who cancel, accusing you of "lack of charity."

Laura Smiley
Jacksonville, Florida




Good News From Providence College

Fr. Brian Shanley, O.P., now in his second year as President of Providence College, after careful reading, listening, and consultation with those concerned about it, decided that sponsoring The Vagina Monologues was "inappropriate for a school with our mission."

He sent a memo to everyone on campus, explaining his reasons. He argued that the play presents a distorted view of female sexuality -- one that is untrue to its complexity and mystery and capacity to sacramentalize the love of God in marriage. Its portrayal of women fails to respect the dignity of women and their capacity for intellectual, artistic, moral, and spiritual activity. Furthermore, its view of female sexuality is clearly intended to displace the Bible. He was particularly disturbed by its portrayal of an alcohol-fueled lesbian seduction of a 16-year-old girl by a 24-year-old woman as a kind of "salvation," "a kind of heaven," when the reality is "abusive, demeaning, exploitative, and morally wrong."

Academic freedom, he said, is always governed by truth. He made clear that professors were free to assign it in their classes, but said, "a Catholic college cannot sanction the performance of works of art that are inimical to the teaching of the Church in an area as important as female sexuality and the dignity of women."

His decision received widespread support, and even those who disagreed with it respected him for his willingness to give reasons and take a stand. A large number of students came out in support of Fr. Shanley against those protesting his decision. (Many of the protesters were from outside the College and older than student age.)

Prof. Celia Wolf-Devine
Stonehill College
Easton, Massachusetts



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