Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Getting it Right: Catholic Sexuality

I don't expect a major breakthrough from the upcoming Vatican summit on sexual abuse.  The issues are too serious and complex, the time too short, the expectations too high.

Clearly, major changes in the priesthood and its culture are needed to prevent the recurring scandals of priests raping women and boys, of fathering children, of hiding their gay lives, of covering up abuses under the convenient cloak of clerical secrecy. It's impossible to read about the private lives of clergy without feeling great sadness for the loneliness many experience.

If married priests were allowed to serve, if men were ordained with an option for the celibate life, if women were ordained as deacons and given more authority in decision making at every level, if more decisions were made by locally elected bishops, if gay people and couples in the church were welcomed openly, if seminaries were longer hothouses of emotionally immature and sexually inexperienced young men, then real change might happen.

But this is asking a whole lot. It assumes an openness to sexuality that often eludes people in many areas of life. It assumes tackling the rigid doctrines defended by the Vatican hierarchy. It assumes a strength and wisdom to reform the church at its core that few people, not even Francis for all his strengths, can muster. 

The late Gary Gutting, in a 2013 article on being a Catholic, while noting that Catholicism has been a great source of good and love in the world, writes: "I do not see how the hierarchy's rigid strictures on sex and marriage follow from the ethics of love."  As to how traditional doctrine can change, I am reminded of what Richard Rohr often says: Jesus did not teach doctrine but practice; love is not about belief but practice.

A total revolution is needed to reform what Pope Francis has often criticized: the clerical culture with its hypocrisies daily apparent in the media. I pray that, very soon, meaningful changes in keeping with the spirit of Vatican II will finally prevail.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Looking at little things

My reading, mostly online, recently turned up some revealing, often highly amusing examples of the dictum that truth is often found buried in details, that little things reveal a lot.

1.   In today's New York Times, the Opinion writer Gail Collins, who is gifted at finding an amusing perspective on the daily news, writes about guns and gun control.  At one point, she wonders why people "leave [guns] laying around the house."   The use of laying instead of lying here seems to reflect either the fact that the editor of the Times was careless, or, more likely, that the accepted standard for this often confused word has shifted:  "to lay" used to mean "to put something down" (it was followed by an object) whereas to lie meant to recline, to rest (oneself). Standards are set mainly by writers and editors of major publications like the Times, not by grammarians.

I often used to say to my doctor when he told me to "lay down" to be examined, that I will "lie down, thank you," and thereby lighten the mood with a distracting bit of English professorism.   I've now abandoned noting this distinction; even the most educated people seem to ignore the difference between lie and lay; I often find people laying down on the sofa in books and articles, especially when the tone is conversational, indicating a grammatical change akin to the shift from shall (still used in England) to will or to the rare use of whom, which now sounds very formal. All of this shows, of course, that language is constantly in flux, that there are no fixed rules, only conventional standards.

2.   Who knew that George Washington, father of our country, was an early cultivator of hemp (cannabis) who advised farmers in 1794 (long before it was outlawed), "make the most you can of the hemp and sow it everywhere."  This comes courtesy of Jeff Kacirk's "Forgotten English," a daily compilation of arcane historical lore.  His source is an 1844 Farmer's Encyclopedia, which recommends that the "fine oil" from hemp seeds is effective in expelling vermin from cabbage patches and discouraging caterpillars.   I'm glad that cannabis is now legal, more or less, and that its uses are so many and varied.