Weighty Matters

I’m cross-posting, here, an exchange I had with a correspondent on my sex advice site this morning. I believe it will be both relevant and insightful to my audience on this site. — Richard

Name: Seattle Guy
Gender: Male
Age: 27
Location: Seattle
Dr. Dick – Were you really a Roman Catholic priest? I’m Catholic – and trying to figure out where I stand sexually. I’d be gay in a second if I had confidence that was my authentic self. I’m definitely bi – somewhere in the middle. Anyway, have you discovered any insights in your experience how God fits into our sexuality? But I guess I should ask, do you still believe in God? How did you find your way to producing porn? How does God figure in everything, in your opinion? Do you think a soul has a sexuality? Are these too many questions? Any response you have would be very appreciated!

Yes, Seattle Guy, you have way too many questions! But because you asked so nicely, I’ll do my best to answer each and every one. Because I’m such a friggin sweet guy.

“Were you really a Roman Catholic priest?” I were, I really were! I was a Catholic priest for 19 years. Technically I still am a priest, but I no longer practice in that capacity. Here’s a little known fact, I am the only Catholic priest in the whole wide world with a doctorate in Clinical Sexology. How about them apples? That and a $1.50 gets me a ride on the bus.

I completed my doctorate with the publication of my thesis concerning the sexual attitudes and behaviors of gay Catholic priests in the active ministry in 1981. This was unprecedented research back then. Hell, it’s groundbreaking even now. Needless to say, there was a firestorm of international publicity upon publication. I was soon to be known as “The Gay Priest.” Like if I was the only one. This notoriety (some would say infamy) effectively ended my public priesthood. I fought the Vatican for the next 13 years, from 1981-1994, in an attempt to salvage my priesthood and ministry, but they would have none of it. I published a book about my ordeal, Secrecy, Sophistry And Gay Sex In The Catholic Church; The Systematic Destruction Of An Oblate Priest. It came out last summer. (Click on the title for more information about the book.)

I was kicked out of the religious community I belonged to, but I was never defrocked. So, like I said, technically I’m still a man of the cloth. Scary huh? And what a difference 30+ years makes. The political climate in the church is even more repressive than it was in the early 80’s, but now openly gay men serve as priests all over the world. I can’t explain it either.

So you’re a Catholic too, OK. But you’re still (at 38) trying to figure out where you stand sexually. I’m not sure I know what that means. You say you’d be gay in a minute if you thought that was your authentic self. You’re bi for sure…somewhere in the middle. In the middle of what, may I ask? You’ll pardon me, darlin’, but you sound suspiciously like a mugwump. Do you know what that is? A mugwump is a fence-sitter, someone with his mug on one side and his wump on the other. The reason I say that is if your were authentically bi, you’d leave it at that, as do all authentically bi men.

“Have you discovered any insights in your experience how God fits into our sexuality?” You betcha I have! But I have a completely different take on this then you apparently do. Ya see I would have phrased the question in the reverse. How does our sexuality fit into god? The way you have it, suggests that the infinite can fit into the finite. And this is precisely where most religious people go very, very wrong. We do god a disservice by trying to stuff the divine into the mundane.

My sexuality fits into god when I am honest and authentic with myself about who I am and acknowledge my insignificance in the greatness of creation, I fit into god when I honor my sexuality, when I celebrate it, when I give it as a gift. I do not fit into god when I am dishonest with myself, or others, when I falsely claim my own significance in the mind of god and when I belittle god with my pettiness and insecurity.

You’ll notice that I was careful not to mention anything about sexual orientation, even though I think that’s what you were ultimately asking me about. Mugwumps are so predictable. Ya see sexual orientation, as we currently understand it, is a relatively new phenomenon in human history. And all of human history barely registers in cosmic history. Why do you suppose we’re so consumed about something so irrelevant to the big picture? And god is the ultimate “BIG PICTURE.” What concerns me is that you’ve come this far in your life and still haven’t been honest to god…or yourself.

Do you still believe in God? Yes, in a manner of speaking! I tend not to use the word “god” as much as I used to, because it comes with too much cultural baggage. I prefer the term, “divine. But whatever I call it, I’m positive my god is nothing like your god. Your god is made in your image. My god is not made in my image. In fact, my god so unlike me — a mere fallible, insignificant mortal — as to make my god incomprehensible to the likes of me. But that doesn’t mean there’s no appreciation. There is!

“How did you find your way to producing porn?” God led me! Just kidding. Actually, I’m not kidding. It all started back in 1981, believe it or not. My career as a therapist in San Francisco coincided with the advent of HIV/AIDS . Not surprisingly, my practice evolved into working primarily with sick and dying people. In the mid-90’s I founded a nonprofit organization called, PARADIGM, Enhancing Life Near Death. It was an outreach and resource for terminally ill, chronically ill, elder and dying people. Despite the fact that this was brilliant cutting-edge work, I couldn’t find the funding I needed to keep the nonprofit alive. This precipitated a massive mid-life crisis and a rather sudden move to Seattle in 1999.

I continued to work with sick and dying people here. I developed programming for women newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer and men with prostate cancer. This lead me to develop concepts for videos for people experiencing life threatening and/or disfiguring illnesses; to help them deal with reintegrating sex and intimacy into their life post diagnosis. But I needed to find funding for this ambitious project. I soon realized that no mainline foundation would fund an overtly sexual project like this. I would have to fund this on my own. But how? Friends prevailed on me to start by making porn. I’d make a load of money and then I could turn my attention back to the original project — death and dying work. Thus Daddy Oohhh! Productions was born. Unfortunately, the load of money has yet to materialize. But while I was shooting porn, my focus is to create projects that are different in style and tone from what currently rules the marketplace.

“How does God figure in everything, in your opinion?” Once again, I think you’ve got that backwards. The better question, to my mind, is: How does everything figure into god? And here my answer echos my previous answer. If there is a god, then everything figures into god with ease and grace.

“Do you think a soul has a sexuality?” Nope, I don’t. Sexuality is part of the finite material world. It’s a bodily function that apparently goes away when our body dies. A soul, as it is popularly understood, is something other. What precisely? I can’t really say. Hey, maybe something else takes the place of sexuality in the spiritual world, if there is a spiritual world. I guess you and I will just have to wait to find out.

In the meantime, wouldn’t it be great if you freed yourself up to be exactly who you are? And not wait on someone, especially someone of a religious bent, to give you permission to do so, or tell you what you can and cannot be.

Good luck

For If The People Will Lead, Eventually The Leaders Will Follow

The following is the speech given to the 2012 graduates of Stanford University by Sr Joan Chittister.

Sister Joan Chittister’s Stanford Baccalaureate Address
Bertolt Brecht, German dramatist and poet wrote: “There are many elements to a campaign. Leadership is number one. Everything else is number two.”

And Walter Lippmann said: “The final test of a leader is someone who leaves behind themselves – in others – the conviction and the will to carry on.”

But how do we know what it means to really be a leader and how do we know who should do it?

There are some clues to those answers in folk literature, I think. The first story is about two boats that meet head on in a shipping channel at night.

As boats are wont to do in the dark, boat number 1 flashed boat number 2: “We are on a collision course. Turn your boat 10 degrees north.”

Boat 2 signaled back: “Yes, we are on a collision course. Turn your boat 10 degrees south.”

Boat 1 signaled again: “I am an admiral in her majesty’s navy; I am telling you to turn your boat 10 degrees north.”

Boat 2 flashed back immediately: “And I am a seaman 2nd class. And I am telling you to turn your boat 10 degrees south.”

By this time, the admiral was furious. He flashed back: “I repeat! I am an admiral in her majesty’s navy and I am commanding you to turn your boat 10 degrees north. I am in a battleship!”

And the second boat returned a signal that said: “And I am commanding you to turn your boat 10 degrees south. I am in a lighthouse.”

Point: Rank, titles and positions are no substitute for leadership.

You are all graduating from this great university this weekend because someone has seen leadership potential in you at a time of grinding poverty and gross inequality. At a time when we have never needed leadership more, someone saw in you the possibility to be a powerful presence in the public arenas of our own time. The question is, then, what will you inspire in this world now?

The motto under which you have been educated here – the “the wind of freedom blows” – is exactly what a world struggling between the challenges of the present and the ideals of the past requires.

It requires the freedom to question and the freedom to rethink absolutes.

It requires the freedom to confront what does not work and to rebel against rigidities that mask as unassailable traditions.

It requires you to re-energize the kind of courageous initiative that opened the frontier in one century and reached the moon in the next.

It requires the vision that freed slaves and empowered women, that preserved the spiritual but honored the secular, as well.

What the world needs now are those who will commit themselves to free that kind of energy everywhere and lead others to do the same.

First, though, you must realize that the world did not send you here simply to get itself another engineer or business manager or computer science programmer. No, your world sent you here to be its leaders.

But note well: The world you have been given to lead is both glorious and grim. One right step and the whole world can become new again. One more wrong step and the globe itself is in irreversible danger.

Indeed, we need a new direction; we need another point of view. We need a more complete human agenda. And it is yours now to lead.

No, the world does not really need the skills you learned here. Today’s skills will all change in the next five years and change your life with them.

The world does not need answers either. Answers are easy to come by: You Google them.

No, what the world really needs from you now is the courage to ask the right questions without apology, without fear, and without end.

It needs those who will lead from the vantage point of new questions, not old answers. From the point of view of enduring values, not denominational politics; from the perspective of global needs, not parochial interests.

Two-thirds of the hungry of the world are women. Two-thirds of the illiterate of the world are women. Two-thirds of the poor of the world are women.

That can’t be an accident; that has to be a policy.

Where are the leaders who will change these things?

The ozone layer, the placenta of the earth, has been ruptured. The polar ice cap is melting and raising the water levels of the world. And, at the same time, the lands of the poor are turning to dust and stone while the industrialized world goes on choosing short-term profits over long-term global warming treaties.

Nuclear weaponry threatens the very existence of the planet and they have the effrontery to call it “defense.”

The question is, then, how shall you lead this next generation, so that the errors of this present generation do not simply become even more death dealing in the future than they are now?

If you really want to be a leader who leads your city, your country, your world down a different path, there are three stories you should know, I think. They may say more about the kind of leadership needed for our time than anything any MBA leadership manual can begin to explain to you:

The first is from the western fabulist Hans Christian Andersen, which you may have learned as a child but which is, in fact, about a very adult problem.

In the first story, a village is preparing for a visit from its king. He will come regally dressed, his courtiers tell them. Never, they say, has a king been so finely outfitted as ours.

So, on the day of the king’s arrival people cheer and cheer as the king strides by. “You, O King, are the finest king of all.” Except for one small child. “No,” the child shouts. “No! He is not splendid. He is not honest,” he says. “In fact, the king has no clothes on at all.” Then the crowd went silent. Then the farce was over. Then everyone snuck away ashamed of what they had allowed to go unchallenged. Only then did the dishonest emperor resign the throne.

Point: If you want to really be a leader, you must be a truth-teller.

If you want to save the age, the Irish poet Brendan Kennelly writes, “Betray it. Expose its conceits, its foibles, its phony moral certitudes.”

Remember, there will be those among the powerful who try to make you say what you know is clearly not true because if everyone agrees to believe the lie, the lie can go on forever.

The lie that there is nothing we can do about discrimination, nothing we can do about world poverty, nothing we can do about fair trade, nothing we can do to end war, nothing we can do to provide education and health care, housing and food, maternity care and just wages for everyone in the world. Nothing we can do about women raped, beaten, trafficked, silenced yet, still, now, everywhere.

If you want to be a leader, you, too, must refuse to tell the old lies.

You must learn to say that those emperors have no clothes. You must see what you are looking at and say what you see.

The second story is about the Buddhist monk Tetsugen, who determined to translate the Buddhist scriptures into Japanese.

He spent years begging for the money it would take to have them printed. But just as he was about to begin the first printing, a great flood came and left thousands homeless. So Tetsugen took the money he’d raised to publish the scriptures and built houses for the homeless.

Then he began again to beg the money he needed to publish the scriptures. This time, years later, just as he finished collecting the funds he needed for the task, a great famine came. This time, Tetsugen took the money for the translation work and fed the starving thousands instead.

Then, when the hungry had been fed, he began another decade’s work of collecting the money for the third time.

When the scriptures were finally printed in Japanese, they were enshrined for all to see. But they tell you to this day in Japan that when parents take their children to view the books, they tell them that the first two editions of those scriptures – the new houses and healthy people – were even more beautiful than the printed edition of the third.

The second lesson of leadership, then, is that no personal passion, no private agenda, no religious ritual must ever be allowed to come between you and the people you serve.

The third lesson of leadership comes from the Sufi master who taught disciples one thing only: “If you want to smell sweet, stay close to the seller of perfumes.”

The heroes you make for yourselves, the people you idolize, will be the measure of your own character, your own ideals, your own legacy.

If you want to lead the world to compassion, you must surround yourself with the compassionate, rather than the uncaring.

If you want to lead the world to wholeness, you must follow the peacemakers, not the warmongers.

If you want to lead the world to the freedom you learned here, equality for everyone must mean more to you than domination by anyone.

Justice must mean more to you than money. People must mean more to you than fame. Ideals must mean more to you than power or politics or public approval.

If you really want to inspire those you leave behind with the conviction and the will to go on doing good, doing justice, doing right, like the child in the village, like the wise old monk Tetsugen, like the Sufi saint of perfume sellers, choose reality over image, choose people over personal profits and projects, choose your heroes wisely.

Speak up loud and clear to the powers of this world that use their power for themselves alone.

The great leaders of history are always those who refuse to bend to naked kings: Mahatma Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nelson Mandela, Rigoberta Menchu, Aung San Suu Kyi, Dorothy Day, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman.

The great leaders of history have always been those who refused to barter their ideal for the sake of their personal interests and who rebelled against the lies of their times.

If you want to be a real leader, if you want to give a new kind of leadership, you cannot live to get the approval of a system, you must live to save the soul of it.

“As long as the world shall last, there will be wrongs,” Clarence Darrow warned us. “And if no leaders object, and no leaders rebel, those wrongs will last forever.”

If you really want to lead, you must rebel against forces of death that obstruct us from being fully human together.

“The purpose of life,” the essayist Rosten writes, “is not to be happy. The purpose of life is to matter, to have it make a difference that you lived at all.”

To save this age, use your education, use your freedom, to make a difference.

Inspire in those who follow you the conviction and the will to denounce the lies, to reject the greed, to resist the heretics of inhumanity who peddle inequality, injustice and the torturers’ instruments of oppression and social violence.

To be a real leader, by all means make a difference!

Rebel, rebel, rebel – for all our sakes, rebel!

For if the people will lead, eventually the leaders will follow.

Priest Argues Catholics Can (And Should) Vote ‘No’ on Minnesota Marriage Inequality Amendment

FATHER BOB PIERSON: As Catholics we must follow our own conscience in making decisions such as how to vote. My conscience tells me to vote no on the amendment because I have yet to hear a convincing reason why we need such an amendment to our state constitution. In fact, I believe the church does not have the right to force its moral teaching on others outside the fold.


Do you know where you were…

Do you know where you were on this date, 11/22, 36 years ago?  That would be 1975, for those who can’t do the math.  I was being ordained a Catholic priest in Oakland, CA.

Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are!

Imagine what our Church would look like if all us LGBT clergy, religious and parishoners decided to come out.

Just in time for National Coming Out Day, which just so happens to be today, October 11th, we have this from Craig:

Doc,
I’m 19, and I’ve decided that I’m gay. But I don’t know how to tell anyone. I’m afraid that I’ll lose my friends and family. I come from a very religious family, and they’ll never understand. I don’t want to hurt them, but I want to be honest about who I am. Just wondering if you could help me.

Coming out is never easy—or almost never—but having to do so to bigoted people makes things worse. There are many different aspects to the coming out process. It means both owning and valuing who you are, and sharing that information with others. You’ve apparently laid the groundwork by self-identifying as gay. Unfortunately, coming out also means learning to deal with the hostility many people have toward us sexual minorities.

Owning your sexual identity and integrating it into your overall sense of self is the first step in what I believe is a lifelong process. Your sexual preferences are just a small part of who you are. It is indeed an important part, but it’s not necessarily the defining element that some would make it out to be. In this instance, LGBT folks are not all that different from everyone else who is awakening to his/her sexuality. We can take some comfort from the fact that we are not alone. So many other segments of the population are marginalized and discounted because of their race, gender, age, religion, ethnic origin, you name it. Let’s face it, pup, our culture doesn’t do real well with diversity.

And ya know what else? There are a whole lot of us who are marginalized and who are discriminated against, who then turn right around and discriminate against and marginalize others. This just breaks my heart! Hopefully you’ll avoid the temptation to do this yourself.

Being different in our society is a double-edged sword. Obviously, it’s a challenge to the status quo, but it also frees us up to tread a less traveled path. To compensate for the difficulties of being a minority, we get to define ourselves in ways that are unavailable to the dominant culture.

I don’t suppose any of us is ever entirely really free of our own internalized homophobia, any more than other marginalized minorities can rid themselves of their internalized self-doubt. No one can completely escape the prejudices and biases that surround them, but most of us make our way, regardless. That’s why coming out is so important. It empowers us. It increases our self-esteem. Honesty increases personal integrity. And when we stop hiding or denying this important aspect of ourselves, we have greater freedom of self-expression, and we become more available for happy, healthy and honest relationships.

So, how much do you know about LGBT history? Knowing that you belong to a big and vibrant community with a long and illustrious history will enhance your queer identity. You’ll find positive role models in every era of human history, and in every human endeavor—and affirmative role models will help you achieve a positive sense of self. (However, you’re gonna have to do some digging. The dominant culture suppresses queer history, which often leaves those who are just coming out feeling isolated, alone and unsure. Fear of rejection from the dominant culture is greatest for those who don’t know they belong to something bigger and stronger than themselves.)

Knowing your gay history will also give you ammunition to refute those around you who will try to label you as sick or sinful. Loads of LGBT folk have enriched civilization through science, religion, music, politics, art, theater, sports and literature, to name just a few. Long before you and I showed up on the scene they were paving the way for the freedoms and tolerance we currently enjoy in this country.

If you’re not already involved in your local gay community, it’s high time you got hooked up. Practice your coming out skills with other LGBT people. Coming out to those who are most likely to be supportive will make this phase easier. And in doing so, you’ll be creating a natural support system of friends who will be your gay “family.” You will also find helpful resources, including support groups, crisis lines, gay-friendly churches and synagogues, social outlets and political and cultural activities and organizations.

Once you’ve honed your coming out skills with the queer community, you’ll be ready to move on to straight folks. This will probably be a mixed bag. Some won’t give a hoot. Others may have a lot of hoot to give. The best advice I can give you is the same advice I received from my gay elders when I was coming out at about your age: Make your coming out a celebration.

Listen, if you carry your hat in your hand, shuffle your feet and look all dejected when you make your announcement, your audience will have little choice but to receive the information as bad or troubling news. However, if you stand up, look the person in the eye, and tell her or him that you have some wonderful news to share with them, you will be giving them a running start on receiving the information as good news. Besides, a positive presentation will help short-circuit some of the initial shock or confusion they may experience.

Expect that most straight folks—particularly those of a religious bent—will need some time to get used to the idea of you being queer. And as you suggest, it is quite possible that some family members or friends may reject you initially. But it’s not the end of the world, and lots of people, even some religious folks, come around in their own sweet time.

Coming out to others will be a more positive experience if you’re comfortable in your own skin. Hopefully you’re not overly dependent on others for your sense of self—a tall order for someone of your tender age and background. But remember, thousands of people, young and old from every corner of the world, are making their first tentative steps out of the closet right this minute. You are not alone.

How well you do fare may ultimately hinge on controlling, as much as possible, the time and place you come out. If you “out” yourself as opposed to being “outted” by someone else, you’re more likely to succeed. Being able to judge the receptiveness of your audience is also important. The best time for you might not necessarily be the best time for the person you’re about to tell. (F’rinstance, grandpa’s funeral may not be the ideal time to announce to your family that you’re a big fat flamer.)

While some friends and family may have figured you’re queer long before you have, give everyone the time and space he or she needs to work through the news. Be prepared for some negative reactions. (Having some supportive friends available to talk things through afterward, or retreat to, will help.) If you do your best to bring the news in a life affirming way and your audience still rejects you, that’s not your fault; nor does that make them right. You have the right to be who you are. You have the right to be out, proud and open about all the aspects of your life, including your sexuality. Never let people unable to accept that, even if they are family, diminish your self-worth.

Coming out may be difficult, but it’s also very rewarding. Coming out affirms your dignity, as well as underscores the dignity of other queer folk. Finally, never take for granted the freedom and tolerance the dominant culture begrudgingly gives us. It’s only through vigilance and political action that we secure our rightful place in society.

Good luck.

Make Up Your Mind!

Part 5 of a 5-Part Series — Understanding Catholic Moral Theology

This column concludes my series on Roman Catholic moral (sexual) theology. But before I move on to other topics I’d like to leave you with some tips on how you might make up your own mind when grappling with difficult moral issues.

In Part 1 of this series, A Key To Understanding Catholic Moral Theology, I talked about the cornerstone of all Catholic, and indeed all Christian, teaching — the principle of the primacy of one’s conscience. That is, you must follow the sure judgment of your conscience even when, through no fault of your own, it might be mistaken.

Tip 1 — When faced with a moral dilemma, start with some soul-searching. Your conscience is, in fact, your primary connection with your God. No law, dictum or dogma can take precedence over your conscience. I contend that we don’t need theologians to tell us what is right and wrong or what is just and unjust. We simply need to tap into that simple formula called the golden rule. Deal with others, as you would like others to deal with you. That pretty much covers everything.

As we’ve seen in this series, much of Catholic moral theology is shame based. Shaming is a very effective means of regulating an individual’s behavior so that it conforms to the mores of the group. But capitulating to shame is never the same thing as acting morally. In fact, in many situations the moral thing to do is to stand against the prevailing opinions of the group.

Tip 2 — Try to unravel the system that instills the shame. If you go back to the source of the shaming you will, most likely, discover the reason why the shaming continues. I gave you a good example of this in Part 1 of this series. “To get a handle on Catholic moral theology one must first grasp the depth and breath of it’s institutionalized misogyny.“ Once you uncover the root of the shame you can demythologize it. This will free you up to form your moral decisions less encumbered with dubious communal mores.

Guilt-based theology is dependent on demonizing people or behaviors. When people blindly accept what they are told, they perpetuate the communal mores even if they are unjust or intolerant. Sometimes this becomes so extreme that whole groups of people are vilified often using only stereotypes as evidence of their wrongdoing.

As I pointed out in Part 2 of this series, Sins Of The Flesh, it all begins with language. That’s “wrong”, “dirty”, “bad”, “disordered”, “unnatural” or “intrinsically evil”. In short order this incendiary language becomes a rallying cry that inevitably sets in motion active persecution. Moral maturity, on the other hand, demands that each of us take responsibility for our judgments and prejudices. If nothing more, this process of owning our biases slows down our rush to judgment.

Tip 3 — When faced with a shaming statement, like “that’s wrong”, it’s incumbent upon us ask why it’s wrong and who is making that judgment call. Because if something is “wrong” that means there must be a “right” way. But who gets to determine that, and what are the criteria for making that judgment?

“That’s dirty, disordered, unnatural or intrinsically evil!” Are some body parts or some sexual behaviors more wholesome, more in keeping with the natural order, than others? Again, whose prejudices are at work here?

I suggest that theologians aren’t competent to offer the definitive interpretation of the natural world, but even if they were, we still should ask. How much of your “natural/unnatural” worldview is culturally induced and dependent? Remember, it was once anathema to suggest that the world is round and not the center of the universe.

Finally, Catholicism is not a club. Despite what the hardliners say, lock-step adherence to every facet of church dogma is not what determines ecclesial fellowship. Baptism is! Catholic Christianity is a faith community. That means it’s a living, breathing, malleable thing. Just as I pointed out in Part 4 of this series, Seismic Shift, even the Pope must, from time to time, bow to the currents of culture, history and science.

Tip 4 — Questioning systemic injustice or intolerance in the Church is the right, nay the responsibility, of every believer. And if you find yourself at odds with Church authorities on moral issues, know you are not alone. Catholic women and men of conscience have always been a voice of dissent within the church. Their loyal opposition is precisely what helps keep the hierarchy honest.

Of course the flip side of taking a conscientious stand against the institution can often result in ostracism, shunning and persecution as I pointed out in Part 3 of this series, Sacred Cows. But then again, no one ever said embracing gospel values was gonna be easy.

Seismic Shift

Part 4 of a 5-Part Series — Understanding Catholic Moral Theology

Something earthshaking happened the weekend before Thanksgiving last year. It was so dramatic it was felt right round the globe, don’t cha know.

Pope Benedict made a most extraordinary comment in an interview with the German journalist, Peter Seewald, in July 2010. He said that condom use could be justified in some cases to help stop the spread of AIDS. This startling statement came to light as part of a promotional push for Seewald’s latest book on Cardinal Ratzinger, (now Benedict XVI): Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times.

In order to see just how astonishing this is one need only look back to the spring of the previous year. In March, 2009, during his trip to Cameroon, the pope not only reaffirmed Church teaching on the unacceptability of condom use under any circumstance, including the effort to diminish the spread of AIDS. He went on to say that he thought condom use might actually make HIV infection worse. This reiteration of the Vatican’s hard line, especially on African soil, coupled with his casual dismissal of established scientific evidence, drew immediate criticism from around the world. It was yet another public relations nightmare this pontiff didn’t need, or apparently want.

But now Benedict says condoms are not “a real or moral solution” to the AIDS epidemic, adding, “that can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.” But he also says that “there may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility.”

To the avid Vatican watcher this is nothing short of revolutionary. I tell you the Catholic world has shifted on its axis, Benedict’s tortured logic aside.

The week that followed the initial revelation of the pope’s condom statement was a maelstrom. The Vatican curia, bishops from around the world as well as Catholic activists all tried to spin his words. Church conservatives insisted the pontiff had been misquoted or misunderstood. — “The pope’s statement on condoms was extremely limited: he did not approve their use or suggest that the Roman Catholic Church was beginning to back away from its prohibition of birth control” said Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, one of Benedict’s former student and editor in chief of the very conservative Ignatius Press. The liberal wing of the Church was hopeful. — “It’s a marvelous victory for common sense,” said Jon O’Brien, the head of the Catholic group — Catholics for Choice.

Then, only a couple of days after the original news broke, more startling information came to light. At a news conference in Rome, papal spokesman, the Fr. Frederico Lombardi, said Benedict knew his comments would provoke intense debate, and that the pope meant for his remarks to apply not just to male prostitutes, but also “if you’re a man, a woman, or a transsexual.”

The pope seemed to be clarifying and expanding his comments, instead of walking them back.  At this point, my head began to reel. Had he undergone some kind of metanoya? Did he develop a sense of compassion for male (female and transsexual) prostitutes and their johns? Was he finally having second thoughts about all us sexual reprobates and the damnation that awaits us for our unnatural acts? It was utterly astonishing! And who knew the word transsexual was even in the pope’s vocabulary?

Astonishing, because in October 2010 Belgian Archbishop, André-Joseph Léonard, asserted aloud what most hardliners say in private. He said the worldwide AIDS epidemic is a matter of “immanent justice”, i.e. God’s retribution for sodommite depravity.

By week’s end all hell had broken loose. Many prominent conservative Catholics were publicly rejecting the Vatican’s own explanation of what the pope said. They declared that they would only accept a more formal papal pronouncement, like an encyclical. Liberal Catholics, on the other hand, were taking the pontiff at his word. For them the pope had spoken; exceptions to the Vatican’s previously uncompromising ban on the use of artificial contraception CAN be made in the worldwide effort to combat AIDS.

But what is the average pew Catholic supposed to make of all of this?

The pope is appealing to the principle of double effect, a standard of Catholic moral theology since Thomas Aquinas. This doctrine claims that sometimes it is permissible to bring about, a harmful side effect (contraception) in an effort to promote some greater good (the fight against the spread of AIDS). In other words, accepting the lesser of two evils.

No matter how you look at it, this seemingly innocuous papal statement has created a fissure in the bedrock of Catholic moral theology. It is a total game-changer and nothing will ever be quite the same.

Part 1 of this series HERE!
Part 2 of this series HERE!
Part 3 of this series HERE!