follow the rules

By Diogenes (articles - email) | Mar 05, 2006

The Boston Globe smells blood in the water. Again. Each day brings a new headline story about the Massachusetts bishops' unwillingness to allow Catholic Charities to continue arranging adoptions by same-sex couples. (See the item immediately below.)

Today the news stories-- themselves heavily laced with opinion-- are complemented by two op-eds by regular Globe columnists. The contrast between the two columns is instructive.

One of the columnists, Jeff Jacoby, the paper's in-house conservative, is an observant Jew. The other, Joan Vennochi, is... well, let her explain for herself:

We think we can be prochoice, pro-gay marriage , pro-gay adoption, and in favor of married and female priests and still call ourselves Catholic. The people who make the rules say we don't meet the criteria.

But give Vennochi credit. Her column honestly raises the question of whether liberals should continue to profess membership in a Church whose doctrines they regard as-- her word-- "neanderthal."

Jacoby's column is in many ways more interesting. Since he's not a Catholic, you certainly can't expect him to act as a Catholic apologist. Yet he is sympathetic with the bishops, to a degree. Here's how it comes out:

But the fact is, those 'within the church" who oppose placing children with gay and lesbian couples include the pope, and bishops are not free to disregard church policy. If the Vatican says, 'Thou shalt not," Catholic Charities -- which is subject to church authority -- cannot say, 'Yes, we shall."

Give Jacoby credit, too. He's putting forward the best argument that's being made, around Boston, for the beliefs of the Catholic Church. That argument is: These are the rules.

Look through the umpteen recent stories in the Globe and the rival Boston Herald, or on the wire services. Look for any explanation of the Church's stance on this issue that goes beyond a sentence-fragment quote from a Vatican document. Or spare yourself the effort, and take my word for it: You won't find anything.

This is what the DREs call "a teachable moment." The Church has taken a stand. The dominant liberal culture is howling with outrage. Pundits thunder about how the insensitivity of the Vatican is harming needy orphans and loving couples. But in response, all the defenders of Catholicism can muster is an explanation that "we've got to go by the rules."

If the rules are unpopular, and no one explains the principles behind the rules, the only question is how far the rules can be stretched. That's precisely the debate going on around Boston today: How far can the rules-- imposed by distant figures at the Vatican-- be bent by the local office of Catholic Charities?

The dueling columnists on today's Globe op-ed page illustrate the way the battle-lines are drawn in Boston today. On the one hand is the liberal who thinks the Church's stance is "neanderthal." On the other is the conservative who encourages stalwart obedience. Nowhere-- not even from the hierarchy-- do we hear the notion that the Church's stand should be accepted not merely as a matter of obedience, but because it is true, and the truth will set us free. Nowhere do we hear that the prohibition against gay adoptions is motivated by love, for the children and for the homosexual couples. Nowhere do we hear that the teachings of the Church are the guide to a truly happy life: the easy yoke crafted by a loving God.

It's just a matter of rules. And-- ask St. Paul-- nobody loves rules.

Phil, get that book written!

Richard Cross holds a doctorate in psychology, who has taught at the university level, including at Franciscan University. He is currently an educational researcher and consultant in the field of psychology and related disciplines.
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