bombing the ban

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Sep 23, 2005

"I feel like a Jew in Berlin in the 1930's," said a 48-year-old gay priest who has spent 18 years in a religious order. He said he was considering donning a pink triangle -- the symbol used by the Nazis -- and getting heterosexual priests and members of the laity to wear the triangles as a protest.

You have to laugh at the palm-to-the-forehead dramatics of gay priests (and their, ahem, fellow travelers) pretending that the Vatican's prohibition of homosexual seminarians means doomsday is nigh. Whatever the document ultimately says, the U.S. bishops, being the men they are, will implement it with exactly the same alacrity and punctiliousness with which they implemented Ex Corde Ecclesiae and Redemptionis Sacramentum -- in short, the document will make not the slightest concrete difference in the conduct of a single bishop. Those disposed to enforce it have already been doing so unbidden. Those who are hostile, lazy, or weak will make the linguistic policy adjustments needed to feign compliance while continuing to turn a blind eye to the sordid realities.

Does that mean the new doc will be useless? Not entirely. Even unenforced regulations have a value in planting a flag where one believes the truth to be, and in unexpected ways they announce to a community the dimly-remembered nobility of its own ideals, as Hadley Arkes explained in discussing unenforced civil laws against sodomy:

The point was suggested, in a simple example, several years back. A Florida prostitute brought an action in a court of small claims complaining about a bad check she had received from one of her clients. The judge sympathized in a way with the person defrauded, but he had to remind her that prostitution was, after all, against the law. That law was not typically enforced in a rigorous way, or with any serious expectation of purging from the public the vice of prostitution. But the practice was made slightly more hazardous by the fact that judges could not be called upon to enforce a contract for a purpose regarded as immoral or wrong in the law.

I think the Instruction should be viewed in the same way: as an educative and hortatory measure. Of course it won't purge the clergy. Probably a third of the bishops are afflicted with the disorder that the CDW declared renders a man "not fit to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders," and however the ban is finally worded, were the strictures to be taken seriously, the legitimacy of their own ministry would be imperilled. For the USCCB, the easiest tack will be to welcome the document publicly, simultaneously declaring that it amounts to a Vatican confirmation of their own efforts, back when the U.S. bishops fixed the problem (of course you remember!) three, or five, or seven years ago. That way -- as with Ex Corde Ecclesiae and Redemptionis Sacramentum -- verbal loyalty is upheld and no one gets hurt but the faithful. The upshot: Rigidity will continue to be screened out, flexibility will continue to be screened in, hot tubs will continue to parboil the liturgists of tomorrow, and mitred heads will stay mitred.

They'll have to eat a few bad checks, though.

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