Homo Forgive Me, Father
posted by January 31 at 14:28 PMon
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.