Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

self-indulgence and spiritual harm

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Mar 06, 2007

Salt Lake City's Monsignor Robert Bussen has made it a project to address the particular affective needs of Monsignor Robert Bussen the marginalized:

Father Bob, as everyone calls him, knew the Catholic Church had little credibility with gays, given its opposition to same-sex marriage and the tendency of some to blame the priest sex-abuse scandals on homosexuality.

Sure, Bob. And by the same reasoning, I'm sure you'll agree, the Church has little "credibility" with kleptomaniacs and necrophiles, given her opposition to their indulgences. So you'll be restoring trust by offering an Unsold-or-Colder Liturgy, am I right?

He designed a special monthly Mass for gays, lesbians and their families at St. Mary of the Assumption in hopes of making them feel welcome. ... "It was a tremendously affirming experience," Bussen said this week. "The Mass was more symbolic than anything, reaching out to families who love their church and their children and don't want to have to choose. But [the church] has to earn their respect. They will not tolerate any more rhetoric that attacks their children."

Great. Bussen might have used his theological training and pastoral enthusiasm to help fragile persons grasp the Church's hard sayings. Instead, he joins the mob that insists it's the teaching that's to blame, whence he becomes just one more in the long clerical line of damaged pansies, who hide behind the Church yet at the same time are out to do her down. Like my little lord in the velvet collar who clings to nanny's hand when the playground bullies are around -- knowing her frown will keep them at bay -- they find this same sternness of hers oppressive once the danger is past and they have in mind mischief of their own.

Among the tactics of the wounded wounders, especially repellent is the cat-and-mouse game they play with the faithful, trading on their piety, compassion, and good will in order to dispose them to tolerance toward "the marginalized," while keeping them too confused to reprove their pastors for their failure (in the language of Canon 285) "to shun completely everything that is unbecoming to their state." The innocent and ingenuous laity -- hearing their natural revulsion at unnatural appetites condemned as bigotry -- are made to feel guilty of a defect of charity. The same article coyly identifies Bussen with a gay priest blogger who waged a propaganda campaign by foregrounding selective self-pity:

"My bishop gave me the supportive counsel," he writes. "I was right in claiming, embracing and cherishing this dimension of my life. ... This holy fire is sacred, not secret. It must not be trashed by anyone."

Wrong. The bishop should have taught (from Zechariah 13:9) that God's refining fire burns away impurity. He did his priest a double disservice by failing to urge repentance and by inviting him to regard his disordered appetites as flames of holiness. Bumptious gay priests richly deserve to get hammered. But hammering isn't the real point. Other goods are at stake.

Readers of C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce will remember the myth in which the dreamer encounters various souls at the point of choosing heaven or hell: choosing, that is, to abide with their besetting sin -- and so be damned -- or to throw it off by accepting the offer of salvation. One of the figures is an oily, dark man "parasitized" by a lizard-like creature perched on his shoulder and continually whispering into his ear. After much pathetic reluctance, the man permits his parasite to be ripped away from him and killed, whereupon the man -- almost killed himself by the pain -- stands erect and whole; and the slain lizard (in one of Lewis's better imaginative thrusts) comes back from death to life, no longer as a reptile but as a great stallion, which the man mounts and controls with perfect mastery.

Lewis's lizard is an allegory of any high-energy habitual sin -- i.e., any besetting lust, whether the lust be lust for power, or acclaim, or the satisfactions of the flesh. It's not a question of dividing "good" lizards from bad; any sin that a man ultimately refuses to do without will damn him. And any man, when he is in the grip of his pet obsession, convinces himself that he can't survive apart from it: his parasitism tries to be accepted as symbiosis, or even to claim identity with the host organism ("I am who I am"). Yet, in this scheme, every parasite is a perversion of a desire originally wholesome. When the perversion is put to death -- mortified, in traditional language -- the underlying wholesome desire becomes free to take on its proper life, sub-ordinated to the rationally governed human will. The bloodsucking reptile becomes an obedient warhorse.

It stands to reason that the history of the saints includes many who had been tormented by the "pet lizard" of homoerotic attractions. Instead of welcoming and coddling the parasite, however, the saints put it to death, and devoted the reborn energy for the good of souls -- theirs and others. We can't know how many cantatas, orphanages, cathedrals, theological masterpieces (as well as humbler spiritual and corporal works of mercy) owe their origin to fierce, but mortified, appetites. And there are many Catholics today vexed by the same obsession who have chosen to struggle against it -- and who succeed in their struggle. They face all the hardships their predecessors faced, in addition to one hardship no predecessor encountered: the huge contrary current of gay propaganda that not only urges but praises surrender to one's sexual demons.

For chaste homosexuals fighting against these odds, the damage done by those Catholic clergy who publicly embrace their pet reptiles -- who throw open the gates to the enemy from inside the fortress -- must be not only disheartening but cruel. Sybarites are hardened in their sins. The rest of the Church is deprived of the spiritual bounty that attends regenerate life. Everyone loses.

It's dismaying, if not surprising, that Bussen's present superior offers his support exactly where it doesn't belong. "He's not doing anything unorthodox," interim diocesan administrator Msgr. Terrence Fitzgerald is quoted as saying. "Our bottom line is to care for the people, and that's what he's doing." Bussen's not caring for the people, Monsignor, he's taking care of himself. Indulgence is the enemy of charity.

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