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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Forgive Me, Father

posted by on January 31 at 14:28 PM

An Italian newspaper, L’Espresso, has done something wonderful, something other magazines and newspapers should do in their own countries. L’Espresso sent reporters into confessionals all over Italy to ask the priest-in-a-box for advice about “sins” like taking an hopelessly ill person off a respirator, being gay, using condoms to prevent the spread of disease, and aborting a fetus with Down’s Syndrome. The Guardian explains it all for us

A yawning gulf between the stern doctrines preached by Pope Benedict and the advice offered by ordinary Roman Catholic priests has been exposed by an Italian magazine…

One reporter for L’Espresso claimed to have let a doctor switch off the respirator that kept her father alive. “Don’t think any more about it,” she was told by a friar in Naples. “I myself, if I had a father, a wife or a child who had lived for years only because of artificial means, would pull out [the plug].”

Another journalist posed as a researcher who had received a lucrative offer to work abroad on embryonic stem cells. With the extra cash, he said, he and his wife could think about starting a family. So should he take up the post?

“Yes. Yes. Of course,” came the reply.

The church’s official teaching is that homosexuality is “disordered” and that homosexual behaviour is wrong. Yet a practising gay man in Rome was told: “Generally, the best attitude is to be yourself—what in English is called ‘coming out’.”

On one issue alone—abortion—the priests all stuck firmly to official doctrine….

But on other issues, the “moral relativism” so detested by Pope Benedict was the order of the day. A journalist who said he was HIV-positive and used condoms to protect his partner was told it was “more of a personal problem, one of conscience”.

American Catholics are familiar with the “yawning gulf” between official church doctrine and the advice Catholic priests typically offer up—in and out of the confessional. Birth control, end-of-life decisions, questions of morality: what your local priest will tell you often stands in stark contrast to what Rome has to say.

Because it’s one thing to be rigid when you never have to face the people whose lives you’re attempting to micromanage. It’s much harder for front-line, communion-distributing, confession-taking priests to be so breezily doctrinaire, as they have to deal with dilemmas faced by actual human beings—male and female, old and young, gay and straight—and not “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” debates favored by Pope Ratzi and the old men in dresses he runs with in Rome.

When I came out at 16 my mother was somewhat distraught despite having long suspected that I was gay. (I never had a serious girlfriend; I asked to be taken to the national tour of A Chorus Line on my 13th birthday.) She spoke with an old family friend, a priest, who not only urged her to accept me but took the opportunity to come out to her himself. Father Ron had a history of troubles with booze and he told my mother that it was better this way. He knew that I had thought—for five minutes—about being a priest myself. But Father Ron was better for me to “come out,” as they say in our English speaking countries, and that with her love and support I would be a much happier and healthier gay person than he had been.

Years later, after my boyfriend and I adopted, we took our son to Chicago to have him baptized. (You can read about why we did this—or why I insisted on doing it—in my book The Kid.) The pastor of the church where my parents married and had all four of their children baptized—the same church where my grandparents married and had all six of their children baptized—refused to allow D.J. to be baptized in “his” church. So we baptized DJ one parish over. An old friend of the family baptized D.J., a priest I had known since I was a kid. (He was the last priest to hear my confession—but it was long before I had anything really good to confess.) When he was done with the baptism service, Father X turned to me and Terry, held up his hand, and blessed our relationship.

I’m not using Father X’s real name because I don’t want to get him in trouble—the kind of trouble those priests in Italy are no doubt in now for doing the right thing (well, on most of the issues raised), and telling their undercover confessors to use condoms, do stem cell research, allow the ill to die natural deaths, and come out.

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really Dan, it is secular Seattle, who cares

it has been years since I have had any conversation with anyone, friend or family, or co-worker about churches, aside a scathing comment about their ignorance --- just not my bag

please stick with sex fun/advice and music and books and electoral politics

Posted by andrea | January 31, 2007 2:36 PM

fuck off, andrea. i think this was a great entry. and great work by L'Espresso.

Posted by konstantConsumer | January 31, 2007 2:39 PM

I second konstantconsumer's sentiment. I always enjoy hearing about Dan's life. I'm not alone: that is why he is successful.

Posted by Callie | January 31, 2007 2:54 PM

I'm reaching for a comparison to Dick Cheney's refusal to answer Wolf Blitzer's question about his daughter. It seems like a lot of conservative institutions from the Catholic church to the Republican party understand that their dogmatic positions on these issues are flimsily justified and/or cruel, and they acknowledge this, but still refuse to modify their position. It's as if it's now acceptable to say, "Yeah, I'm a complete hypocrite. So what?"

Also, I am ZZZZZZZZZZ with the blogism "ZZZZZZZZZZ". It, like "whatevs!" it should only be used rarely and somewhat ironically.

Posted by skweetis | January 31, 2007 2:58 PM

I don't know that many people will be surprised to learn that parish priests are less dogmatic and more sympathetic to the problems of real people than their church's leaders--in Italy or anywhere in the world.

Posted by J.R. | January 31, 2007 3:26 PM

How many minutes will it take before this story prompts the Vatican to start sending their own "mystery shoppers" around to confessionals to catch these renegades in the act and put a stop to this sort of unchecked good sense and compassion on the part of the rank-and-file clergymen once and for all? One...two...three...

Posted by flamingbanjo | January 31, 2007 3:31 PM

i just finished "The Kid" last night and it was a really really great read. i know "The Commitment" just came out, but i can't wait for your next book!

Posted by jamier | January 31, 2007 3:55 PM

Yeah, I'm not sure how I feel about the priests' good work being publicised (sp? you know what I mean). The Pope will surely crack down on all the smart compassionate priets who actually serve the people and G-d. (Rather than the Nazi Gremlin Elf).

Posted by Papayas | January 31, 2007 6:02 PM

I don't know that many people will be surprised to learn that parish priests are less dogmatic and more sympathetic to the problems of real people than their church's leaders--in Italy or anywhere in the world.

Perhaps they were bribed.

Posted by rodrigo | January 31, 2007 7:26 PM

Grip of the Mother Church is showing here at Slog.

All you still, ex, and former Catholics are yes, very boring.

Guilt, guilt, and more guilt.

As the old saying goes, need to heal thy selves.

It seems my entire life someone Catholic has been trying to engage me their myrid versions of hocus pocus.

Priests do not get paid enough to enforece the hocus pocus, just common sense employment logic.

Posted by skater homo | January 31, 2007 7:33 PM

What have you got against articles and pronouns, skater homo?

Posted by Megan | January 31, 2007 7:58 PM

My brother is a priest--well, a Jesuit--and his ambition is to be one of the good ones. He would bless your child, and your union, any day.

Thanks for the great post.

Posted by Boomer | January 31, 2007 8:11 PM

What a brilliant idea on the part of L'Espresso. It's like secret shoppers for the Catholic Church!

Posted by nick | January 31, 2007 8:43 PM

I can't support this if the locations where these responses to confessions were obtained are published, or worse the names of the priests - because it will, as someone mentioned, cut off the good advice priests are giving. Even if the priests and churches aren't identified, this is a risk, but it must be weighed against the benefit of shining light on the church's hypocrisy, and hopefully damaging its credibility, so I think it would be great if, um, some local newspaper or magazine were to do this - some independent media outlet or something.

Posted by Noink | January 31, 2007 9:40 PM

Megan -

Guilt, guilt, guilt.

Live in your skin, will live in mine.

It is the fucking slog - not English 222 at Lakeside School.

Get relavant to the topic, please.

Posted by skater homo | February 1, 2007 4:29 AM

I am not Catholic, but I have never know an American Catholic that followed much of what one poster has quite aptly called, "myrid hocus pocus."

So, what is the news? That priests don't much toe the mark on silly stuff either?

Dan needs to update his theory that Italy is very devout - not true any more. The Vatican is a Great Tourist trap, luxe living for the elite and little more. Oh, the bank, I forgot.

Glad to hear that. Now American Catholics need to bolt from so out of touch Rome and take all the real estate with them.

Posted by steve | February 1, 2007 4:39 AM

Dan should have had his son baptized by a
spititually empowered nun.

There are many.

Will send list by email with no heading.

Posted by Mary | February 1, 2007 4:42 AM

Father Mychal Judge, "the Saint of 9/11" whose life has been compared to Mother Teresa, often asked, "Is there so much love in the world that we can afford to discriminate against any kind of love?!" It's these kinds of Christ-centered clergy and laity who keep much of the Church spiritually alive despite the sins of the hierarchy/ pharisees.


Posted by redtown | February 10, 2007 6:30 PM

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