My response to a Catholic fundamentalist

I first met Kevin Kukla online.  I came to appreciate him as having a solid intellect and a good heart.  He is a devoted family man and an accomplished philosophy professor at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. He has created his own website,, and has about three dozen posted blogs.  The first one I read was “3 BIG Reasons Why the Catholic Church Teaches Against Voluntary Sterilizations.”  It didn’t take long for me to notice that Kukla has all the traits of Cardinal Ratzinger, including his mission to promote Catholic Fundamentalism as the only “true” faith.  Let’s look at some details and then I will share with you my response to his blog.

Here is what one finds on a medical website when one searches for the phrase “sterilization for women”:

What is Tubal Ligation?

Tubal Ligation is also knows as Tubal Sterilization or Sterilization for women. It is a permanent procedure that women undergo to prevent pregnancy. During this procedure, a health care professional will close or block a woman’s fallopian tubes.

How Does Tubal Ligation Prevent Pregnancy?

This method prevents sperm from reaching the eggs. Your body releases one egg each month and it passes through the fallopian tubes towards the uterus. Serialization for women blocks each of these tubes so the eggs cannot reach the uterus.  Without fertilization of an egg, a woman cannot become pregnant.

What Are the Benefits of Tubal Sterilization?

This method is a permanent method of birth control. It allows you to enjoy sex without worrying about becoming pregnant. It is simple, convenient, and safe. Most women say that they have an increase in sexual pleasure as well. This is likey because they don’t have to think about unwanted pregnancy.

Tubal Sterilization does not affect or change your hormone levels. The hormones that affect breast size, sex drive, muscle tone, voice, hair are still made in the ovaries. These hormones will still flow through your body as normal. You will still have normal periods and menopause will not happen earlier.

Tubal Ligation might be right for you, if you:

  • Do not want anymore children ever (you and your partner agree)
  • Do not want to pass a hereditary disability or illness
  • Think a future pregnancy can threaten your life
  • Agree with your partner that a vasectomy is not for him
  • Believe other birth control methods are unacceptable

What Are the Disadvantages of Tubal Sterilization?

This method is not for you if you:

  • Want to become pregnant in the future
  • Are feeling pressure from friends, family, or your partner
  • Are trying to solve a short term/temporary problem (being out of work, financial worries, physical illness, short-term mental, sexual or marriage problems).

It is important to think about the future and any possible life changes. Examples can include death of a child, remarriage or divorce.  [full text =]

What I notice here is that a woman contemplating a tubal ligation is prompted to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of this medical procedure.  It is not meant for everyone.  Women must decide for themselves by taking into account her special circumstances.  No one is going to impose a solution upon her.  In coming to her decision, she is advised to talk this over with her husband because her decision here will impact his life most assuredly.  She is advised to seriously take into account how a tubal ligation will effect her own situation, both short term and long term.

When Kevin Kukla enters into a discussion with a woman contemplating a tubal ligation, he bypasses all discussion of advantages and disadvantages.  For him, such a discussion is unnecessary once one realizes that a tubal ligation is a grave sin that endangers one’s future with God in heaven.  In view of this, Kukla immediately gets to the heart of the matter (as he sees it):

When it comes to getting a voluntary sterilization, the same [moral] principles apply.  To purposely mutilate one’s flesh, so as to render one’s self sterile is a grave sin.[i]

I note immediately that Kukla equates a tubal ligation with self-mutilation.  His use of language appears directed to shock his reader.  After all, a tubal ligation is a “surgical procedure” performed by a doctor of medicine in a safe, sterile environment.  The moment that he equates “tubal ligation” with self-mutilation he commits the logical fallacy of presupposing his conclusion (namely, that a tubal ligation is a grave sin) in the very definition of his terms.  This would be like a prosecuting attorney addressing a defendant as “the rapist” throughout a trial.

Kukla’s use of exaggerated and circular arguments continues:

As I have discussed in the past, even earlier this week, sterile sex is not an act of love.  Obtaining a tubal ligation or a vasectomy is a form of permanent birth control, which is also gravely immoral.

Love includes doing what’s best for the other person—not using [manipulating?] that person.  Holding back one’s fertility, therefore, qualifies as using another person, in this case for sexual pleasure.[ii]

Kukla here wants us to believe that a tubal ligation or a vasectomy is “a form of birth control.” If the use of birth control is gravely immoral, then it follows that “permanent birth control” is all the more offensive.  Furthermore, Kukla is persuaded that the use of birth control is tantamount to manipulating one’s partner for one’s selfish sexual pleasure.  What strikes me as excessive here is his notion that every act of sex before the operation is judged to be “loving” while every act of sex after the operation is automatically reduced to being “loveless” and “manipulative.”  Kukla affirms these judgments without in any way making clear how he arrived at them.

It never enters Kukla’s mind that the sterilization might have been prescribed by a doctor as “medically necessary” because “another pregnancy will almost certainly be fatal.”  So, a couple that avoids the grievious sin of “self-mutilation” would have to use abstinence or NFP to prevent another pregnancy.  Abstinence might not be attractive because it means that one or both partners would be prone to experience sexual frustration that could lead to masturbation or infidelity–both grave sins.  NFP, meanwhile, is notoriously ineffective for many couples.  Hence, using NFP would be a source of grave endangerment for the couple described above.   I would expect that most of my readers would be able to imagine the severe anxiety that would plague their love making.

Maybe the medical website had a case like this in mind when it suggested that “Tubal Ligation might be right for you, if you think a future pregnancy can threaten your life.”  This is the promise and the benefit of this operation:

It allows you to enjoy sex without worrying about becoming pregnant. It is simple, convenient, and safe. Most women say that they have an increase in sexual pleasure as well. This is likely because they don’t have to think about unwanted pregnancy.

Kukla gives no signal that he would be open to special  circumstances that would more than justify allowing tubal ligation (“mutilation”).  This is not surprising.  Kukla’s blindness to circumstances is a clue that his analysis depends upon an essentialist position.  Acts are black or while, moral or immoral.  Self-mutilation is gravely evil and never permitted.  Birth control is gravely evil and never permitted.  Tubal ligation is a form of mutilation and a form of birth control.  As such, it is never permitted.

Kukla gives us no hint of his own experience in this realm, nor does he recount the experience of others by way of making his point.  The reader is kept guessing as to how a simple operation could change a loving, caring person into an ogre.  The following paragraphs help us to get a glimpse as to why he says what he says:

The purpose for sex is two-fold.  First and foremost, it is ordered toward the procreation of children.  Obviously, if one or both partners are sterilized, then the conjugal act no longer is ordered toward its primary purpose.

Second, the conjugal act is supposed to be unitive for the spouses and a remedy for concupiscence.  To purposely hold back one’s fertility from one’s spouse means the second purpose becomes frustrated as well.  How can there be unity, when one or both spouses are not fully committed?[iii]

Here Kukla defines, as does Cardinal Ratzinger, what two factors are absolutely essential for marital love-making to be judged as “good.”  Then, he shows how a tubal ligation vitiates one or both of these requirements.  When this happens, “good sex” falls immediately into his category of “bad sex” or “loveless sex.”  There is here no middle ground of “grey sex”—every act is black or white.

Notice how easily Kukla arrives at the harsh judgment (made without any explanation) that “both spouses are not fully committed.” Notice also that Kukla never speaks about “mutual surrender” and “pleasure bonding.” Not once does Kukla allow that “good sex” must be playful, mutual, and non-coercive.  A husband could force himself upon his wife and seemingly fulfill Kukla’s notion of “good sex.” Does not the phrase “as a remedy for concupiscence” harken back to the time when a husband “took his pleasure” as he might with a slave or a prostitute?  And why does Kukla repeatedly use the clinical term “conjugal act” (just as does Cardinal Ratzinger) while studiously avoiding the modern notion of “love-making”?

This line of thinking and speaking is important to notice here because it helps to make transparent how Kukla along with Cardinal Ratzinger will later apply this same sort of analysis to lesbian lovers and come up with the hard and fast conclusion that a lesbian is only capable of  “bad sex” = “loveless sex” =  “grave sin every single time.”

No sooner does Kukla finish making his grand analysis when he has to back up and make a series of escape clauses to allow for exceptions.  Here is one such exception:

If a medical condition necessitates someone to lose the use of or to have removed their sexual organs, then this is not a sin.  There, the mutilization is a therapeutic means of improving one’s life physically.[iv]

Note here that the continued use of the term “mutilation” at this point forces us to believe that, in Kukla’s mind, there are now “good mutilations” and “bad mutilations.”  This makes Kukla’s judgments appear prejudicial and arbitrary.  If a woman has a life-threatening cancer growing in her follicles, then they might be surgically removed.  Why so?  Because here the organs themselves pose a physical threat.  Healthy follicles cannot be removed.

Kukla position may flounder here.  How about the case of removing tonsils in children?  If this a “mutilation” that is never permitted? Then, following the logic of Kukla above, are we to suppose that one must always wait until the tonsils are inflamed and the child has a high fever before removing them?  Does the same hold true for wisdom teeth?  Can they be removed only if and when they are sore and impacted?  A case then can be made for the legitimacy of “preventative surgery.”  Extending this further, would it be possible to see tubal ligation as a form of preventative surgery?

Does a wife who is chronically nervous and psychologically frigid because of her “fear of yet another pregnancy” have the right to get a “tubal ligation” as the therapeutic means to retain her sanity?  How about a wife with three children who is “chronically worn out” and knows that she will either stop having babies or she will walk out of her marriage and her children’s lives completely?  Kukla fails to consider such cases.  Is this because he has never encountered them? Or is it because he, as a man, fails to give much weight to women’s psychological health?  One cannot be sure. In any case, we know that he makes an allowance for tubal ligations (a therapeutic “mutilation”) in cases of “medical necessity,” but he makes no parallel case for “psychological necessity.”

Kukla then makes further exceptions so that he can protect his earlier definition of what constitutes “good sex”:

If a physical ailment prevents a couple from conceiving, then they are not sinning by having conjugal relations without the ability to get pregnant.

As for menopause, this is a natural function of women that their ovaries eventually stop producing ovums, and so they cannot become pregnant again.  This too is natural and any subsequent marital relations are not sinful.[v]

The exception clauses here demonstrate that some naturally occurring circumstances can allow one to have “good sex” even when the first essential, namely fertility, is not present.  If that is true, then it would seem to follow that a lesbian couple in a committed relationship might fall in this category. They are prevented from conceiving by the natural circumstance that they are both females.  However, both Kukla and Cardinal Ratzinger will throw in a new caveat to prevent us from allowing this exception.  They will introduce an essentialist definition of marriage as exclusively designed for “one man and one woman.”

Essentialists set up the rules of the game so that, at every turn, they are sure to win all the arguments.  And if you spot one weakness or one loophole, they already have another essentialist rule tucked up their sleeves that they can shake out and place on the table thereby blocking counter arguments.

The application of their rules routinely produces immense amounts of suffering and even threatens to breakdown solid marriages as well.[vi]  Their sense of compassion and mercy is severely limited by their assumptions.  To maintain their absolute certainties, they have to tell themselves that they have chosen the “narrow path” by upholding all of God’s sexual purity codes.

As they follow in Christ’s footsteps, the thistles and thorns on both sides of the path cut into their flesh.  They are content to not be happy in this world; their eyes are on the prize in the world to come.  Being disposed to relish pain more than joy, they naturally listen to the suffering of their victims with the same disposition that they give to their own suffering.  “I will offer my sufferings along with the infinite sufferings of my divine Savior nailed to the cross,” they whisper in their prayers.[vii]

My letter to Kevin Kukla


You are living in an unreal world. . . .  You’re very good at the tech talk, but I don’t hear you referring to any lived experience.  So this is where I intend to begin.

You say, “Love includes doing what’s best for the other person—not using that person.  Holding back one’s fertility, therefore, qualifies as using another person, in this case for sexual pleasure.”

But I say to you, “Love includes doing what’s best for the other person—not using that person.  Having sex with my wife that is mutual, joyous, and self-giving is never a sin.  Far from it.  It is a source of grace mixed with delicious ecstasy!  And this is the case when it might result in conception and when it might not or cannot–doesn’t matter.”

I must say that, when my wife and I together decided to go off contraceptives, we checked her vaginal mucus each night and, when it got slippery, we knew this was the beginning of the fertile segment of her menstrual cycle.  That night, we had a special rush of pleasure bonding because together we imagined that we were creating (with God’s help) our future daughter.

The next three nights were the same.  The great sex that was our gift to each other was there, but now it was infused with our joint love for our future daughter. . . .  We fucked like rabbits throughout the night.  We laughed and played and kissed for hours.  This was like the unrestrained sex that we had for the first two weeks after our wedding. . . .  It was glorious.

But we were mistaken.  No conception took place.  So the next month the sign of the slippery mucus came again, and again our marital orgy came over us with the naturalness of dew falling off the morning leaves.  Again, we felt our future daughter was palpably there with us and we loved her along with loving each other.  Nonstop.

But it didn’t happen.  Six months later, we consulted a specialist in fertility studies.  The experts told us we both were “marginally fertile.”  So we continued our monthly sex orgies[viii] for two full years.  Near the end of the second year, the vision of our daughter, I must admit, had grown dim.  In its place, our love making now was often drenched in tears of pain and regret.  Good sex, believe it or not, can heal these memories and mend the wounds that life imposes on those who love God.

Then it happened!  No, we did not get pregnant.  But the love that we had so faithfully generated for our future daughter had mysteriously spread out into the world and moved Zoila, a complete stranger, to ask my long-time social worker friend Margaret a favor: “I’m pregnant.  I need to find a couple in the USA who would take and love my baby.”  Now Zoila had illegally crossed the Rio Grande and was being detained by the INS awaiting imminent deportation.  And so we gave her the residency rights that she wanted and needed, and she gave us the beloved daughter that we wanted and needed.

Now some theological reflections:

#1 Would our sex have been more committed or more holy if we had not used contraceptives for the first four years of our marriage?  NO WAY!

#2 Would we have been happier, fuller, more ecstatic in our love-making if we had used NFP?  NO WAY!

In fact, the peak of my wife’s friskiness was exactly when her mucus was slippery.  It’s the same for most other women as well.  NFP enforces “abstinence” just at the time when the sex drive of the woman is highest.

Wonder if you know this?

#3 Does it become “unnatural” for my wife to want sex, to love sex, to enjoy sex during this fertile period [when the NFP people are abstaining]?  NO WAY!  God’s gift is not to be spurned.

Those who rely upon NFP (a) miss out on the natural high period in their fertility cycle and (b) risk an untimely or socially disruptive pregnancy because NFP is one of the LEAST reliable ways of exercising RESPONSIBILE sexuality.[ix]

The 5% of Catholics still practicing NFP, needless to say, will never tell you this.

They foolishly limit themselves to NFP because they buy into the indoctrination that came after Humanae Vitae in 1968.  Pope Paul rigged the membership of the Birth Control Commission,[x] and then when they didn’t give him the answer he expected, he secretly shelved their report and wrote Humanae Vitae for the purpose of shoving his solution down the throats of 95% of those on the Commission.  And notice carefully he didn’t say that NFP was a good way, a better way, a superior way.  No he had the gall to say IT’S THE ONLY WAY.  So now the zealots (the Catholic Taliban) go about telling everyone that God wants married couples to stick with God and stick with NFP.  What is wrong with the picture?  The whole thing smells of a terrible dishonesty.

And they talk so easy and calmly about “grave sins” for not going God’s way as do you, Kevin, in your article.  I don’t buy it!  Over 90% of Catholics don’t buy it.  It is a phony bill of goods, decided by a dishonest pope who never did his homework and never had the least understanding of the blessed sex that I have with my wife.

Am I angry with Catholic teaching on these issues?  You can be sure I am.  And why?  Because the Catholic Taliban has set out to ramrod the purity codes that they have manufactured for themselves down the throats of every Catholic on the face of the earth OR BE DAMNED!  Think of the priests, nuns, and theologians that the bishops have mercilessly tormented because they refused to toe the line of the Taliban who have taken over the Vatican.

This is not the way of Jesus, buddy!

Bless him!   Bless him!  Bless him!  He kept it simple and he kept it straight!  “What must I do to gain eternal life?” is the question set before him.  The Response: Love God . . . and love your Neighbor as yourself.  Nothing about complicated purity codes here.  Did I miss something?

Yeah, I did miss something:

Where is the love of God and love of Neighbor in the way that Cardinal Ratzinger tormented some of our best priests, nuns, and theologians. . . ?

And Jesus said and I say with him, “Woe to you who tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders” (Matt 23:4).  So, I stand with Jesus against the Catholic Taliban.

Want to hear more, go to


Reflections on my strategy

I decided to move in quickly and to take the field by highlighting my own moral standards.  I state where I stand and clearly distinguish myself from the fundamentalists.  I practically boast that my standards have a solidity that NFP cannot match.  In fact, I try to make the NFP advocates jealous.

I let my personal story speak for itself.  My hope is that Kukla will feel some small admiration for the road he never allowed himself to travel.

I also make it a point to single out the three points where my moral standards refuse to bow down to his Vatican rigidity.  Then I make a clear appeal to the freedom of Jesus: “He kept it simple and he kept it straight.”  Finally, I show how “Love your Neighbor” was brutally missing in the Ratzinger mistreatment of his enemies.  I let him know that I think of him and Cardinal Ratzinger as the “Catholic Taliban.”[xi]   Following in the footsteps of Pope Francis, I give him no place to hide.  This is “tough love”—nothing less will be able to reach him.

In the end, I acknowledge that Kukla is my Brother whether he accepts my position or not.  I never grovel or beg, since this would be interpreted as though I somehow need his recognition.  This would be interpreted as uncertainty on my part.  So I profess my faith in just the way that Pope Francis advised: “It is necessary to say everything that is felt with parrhesia [Greek: rhetoric boldness or frankness of speech].”

Those who want to interact with this blog are warmly invited to “Leave a Reply” below.  A solid way to begin doing this is to offer “readback lines.”  To do this, quickly glace back over the entire blog and pick out the one or two lines that have made a deep impression upon you.  Copy them [CTRL-C] and then paste them [CTRL-V] into an empty comment box below.  If you wish, signal the emotion that you feel when reading your readback lines.  The primary emotions are anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise.   No need to further explain yourself.  It is enough to identify the text important to you and to name the emotion(s) that it evokes.  All of this normally takes less than a few minutes.

I and others will “thank you” for your contribution.  If you are tempted to say more, I urge you to hold back.  Your sense of safety and the safety of others is best protected by not getting overly wordy in the beginning.  This will come after a few days or weeks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Endnotes and Leave a Reply~~~~~~~~

[i] Kevin Kukla, “3 BIG Reasons Why the Catholic Church Teaches Against Voluntary Sterilizations,” ProLife365, 30 Nov 2015  (

[ii] Kukla, “3 BIG Reasons.”

[iii] Kukla, “3 BIG Reasons.”

[iv] Kukla, “3 BIG Reasons.”

[v] Kukla, “3 BIG Reasons.”

[vi] Let me supply an instance of this suffering:

I know of a devout Catholic woman married to a Protestant gentleman.  The first two children born to them during the first three years of their marriage were a mutual joy that bound them together in lifelong bliss.  But in their early 40s, this bliss was rudely shattered by two unplanned pregnancies due to the failure of NFP.  The wife had to interrupt her career as an artist in order to become a full-time mother and part-time grandmother.

The husband never entirely trusted NFP.  Nor did his wife, truth to say, but she was traumatized by the thought that every contraceptive use would be a mortal sin that risks eternal hellfire.  She consulted two priests on this matter.  One invited her to “look at her distress and trials as an opportunity to be united with the sufferings of Christ on the cross.”  The second assured her that “praying unceasingly would give her the strength to follow Christ and to gain for herself (and for her husband) treasures in the world to come.”

The husband was frustrated that “these priests sugarcoated her sufferings rather than relieved them.”  The more he tried to gently persuade his wife to try the pill, the more she moved physically and emotionally away from him.

Initially her husband attended Mass with her and was even considering converting to Catholicism.  Later, he resented the way that “her priests” fed into her religious trauma.  He blamed “these priests for undercutting their marital bliss.”  So, in the summers, he played golf frequently, and, in the winters, he went out drinking while his wife and his two infant daughters went to Mass without him.  He was both angry and depressed.  She, meanwhile, was stuck in a dark place where her love for her husband is constrained by her love for her Church.   So, they ended up sleeping fitfully at night in separate beds.  They started out as ardent lovers and ended up as “working partners in a sexless marriage.”

[vii]  “What a beautiful opportunity it is to combine my sufferings with the sufferings of Christ,” they say.  Accordingly, fundamentalists sugar-coat their sufferings and sugar-coat the suffering of their victims as well.  This is why I produced, just prior to this book, the following: Aaron Milavec, “The Forgiveness of Sins without the Crucifixion of Jesus,” Kindle eBooks, 01 Nov 2015 (

[viii] I am deliberately using the term “sex orgies” to register the fervent and loving passion that erupted each month when we were consciously and deliberately enjoying the sex that God created for producing offspring.  The long Christian tradition, by contrast, has been more prone to exalt suffering rather sexual enjoyment.  St. Augustine, for example, imagined that the impulsiveness of hot sex was essentially sinful because any act wherein a man loses his rational control is necessarily dehumanizing (following the Stoic philosophers).  For Augustine, even marital sex undertaken to fulfill the command “to be fruitful and to multiply” was still a venial sin.  Had he known better, he would have said that this sex is doubly blessed and doubly satisfying.

The twelfth-century Italian theologian Peter Lombard even went so far as to maintain in his De excusatione coitus that for a husband to love his wife too ardently is a sin worse than adultery.  Such opinions are theological nonsense. Yet, even Blessed Pope John Paul II made the mistake of teaching that it is “a [minor] sin” for a man to love his wife too ardently.  For a biblical and historical study of this issue, see “Jesus on Sex and Marriage and Finding the Heart of God(

[ix] For full details, see

[x] For more details about the Pontifical Birth Control Commission, see

[xi] Christian Taliban?  I discovered that I am not alone in this assessment.  See Michael Carino, “Have We Become Christian Taliban?” 09 Sept 2011 (http://www
).  See, also, Fr. Rosica who says, “There is a certain form of Taliban Catholicism out there now that would like to dictate everything, and really it doesn’t speak to the future“  (

Two biblical condemnations of same-sex unions

Cardinal Ratzinger uses arguments largely drawn from reason.  Other opponents of gays and lesbians, however, give much greater attention to those critical texts in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures that explicitly condemn men having sex with other men.  In fact, the terms “sodomy” and “sodomize” came into the English language due to the biblical narrative (Gen 19:1-15) that describes how God’s wrath fell on the city of Sodom precisely because its male citizenry took delight in humiliating outsiders by raping them anally.

This biblical text and others as well never speak of men having sex with other men as a sign and symbol of the love bond that binds them together.[i] God’s wrath fell on the city of Sodom because of detestable “acts of hate” being inflicted upon strangers.  There is no biblical text that either approves or disapproves of “acts of love” between committed same-sex partners.   

The condemnation of Paul in Rom 1:24-26

St. Paul in his letter to the Romans condemns idolatry for it leads to homosexuality.  Idolatry, in Paul’s mind, leaves aside worship of the Creator and, in its place, “exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals.” In parallel fashion, idolatry leads a man to exchange the sexual use of his wife and to seek sexual satisfaction[ii] with another man: “men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another.”

Paul, in his letters, condemns shameful acts of sex.  He condemns the man sleeping with his step-mother (1 Cor 5:1).  He condemns “male prostitutes”[iii] and “sodomites” (1 Cor 6:9).  Most scholars[iv] remind us that Corinth was famously dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite (Venus) and that temple prostitution was the standard way for religious devotees, both men and women, to worship the goddess and to maintain the temple staff at the same time.   The fact that Paul condemns “idolaters” first and then goes on to immediately name “adulterers, male prostitutes, and sodomites” (1 Cor 6:9 NRSV) may signal that, here also, Paul names the immoral offshoots of temple worship.

Paul is quite possibly aware that cultic prostitution was commonly practiced by the ancient Near Eastern fertility religions and that, from the moment the Israelites entered into the Promised Land, they struggled to avoid such practices (Num 25:1-9, Jdg 2:17-19). This became especially prevalent beginning with the monarchy of Rehoboam (1 Kgs 14:24) and extending to the monarchy of Josiah (2 Kgs 23:7).  According to Exod 34:11-16 the practice of exterminating conquered tribes was necessitated in order to wipe out cultic prostitution.  During the Deteronomic reform, the Law of Moses was expanded specifically to forbid cultic prostitution for Israelites (Deut 23:16-17, Amos 2:7).  Thus, to the degree that Paul was aware of these aspects of his Jewish historical background, he would have had a predisposition to seeing a causal link between idolatry and cultic prostitution.

In the Letter to the Romans, Paul expressly condemns “homosexuality.”  Why so?  Here is the progression in his argument.

First, men exchanged “the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature [idols] rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25).  Next, as a result, “God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (1:24).   “Their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another” (1:26).

The link that Paul draws between idolatry and homosexuality[v] may appear obscure to modern thinkers.  This link, however, is very clear and dear to Paul.  The implied logic is this: Make the mistake of exchanging worship of the true God for idol worship and, in the next moment, you will make the mistake of exchanging natural sex for unnatural sex.

Think now with me about Martha and Mary, two lesbian lay-ministers in my parish who asked me to join with a dozen others to witness their “vows of perpetual fidelity.”  Is this anything like what Paul was encountering?  Let’s explore this:

  1. Martha and Mary worship exclusively with me at Annunciation Catholic Church.  Paul is condemning devotees of the goddess Aphrodite (Venus) in Corinth.
  2. Martha and Mary have been living in an exclusive relationship, sharing their daily lives, for over a dozen years.  Paul is condemning female devotees who exchange sex with female prostitutes (probably slaves).  This is decidedly not an exclusive relationship and does not imply an abiding emotional bond together.
  3. Martha and Mary have chosen a same-sex union because their Creator designed them to have an innate sexual attraction to their own kind.  Union with a man would be “unnatural” for them and contrary to God design for them.  Paul, on the other hand, condemns temple prostitution because (a) it is a form of idolatry and (b) it requires an “unnatural” act of sex.

In conclusion, Paul’s condemnation of homosexuality in Rom 1:24-26 can have no application to the same-sex union of Martha and Mary as it exists today.  Paul was condemning homosexuality as he knew it in his day, namely, as an offshoot of temple prostitution.

In Ohio, most Catholic churches have a summer festival in order to raise a major portion of their operating expenses.  At these festivals, Catholics get an opportunity “to have some good, clean fun together” and “to meet their neighbors” as well.  From time to time, some unsavory practices do creep into these fairs.  Some would be shocked to find black-jack-poker tables and belly dancing at a few of these fairs.  I myself was especially disappointed to find cruelty to animals–baby ducks being forced to take part in betting races and baby fish slowly suffocating in plastic bags being offered as prizes.   At some Protestant churches in the remote hills of Kentucky, worshipers routinely reach into cages and pick up rattle snakes with their bare hands.  They do this in order to testify to the power of God to overcome serpents.  In none of these cases, however, I have yet to find a Christian congregation sponsoring “sacred prostitution” by way of funding the work of the Christian ministry.  Should any church ever encourage such a practice, Paul’s condemnation would surely apply.  That is for sure.

But it is equally certain that the case of Martha and Mary has nothing to do with prostitution and idolatry.[vi]

Anyone who says that it does has never properly done their homework.  Thus, I challenge Cardinal Ratzinger and his supporters to cease and desist from calling upon Rom 1:24-26 by way of passing judgment as to whether God loves same-sex marriages.

Listen to the words of a prominent supporter of Cardinal Ratzinger: Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, Archbishop Emeritus of Guadalajara, Mexico:

“There are many people who have the misfortune of being homosexual but who live chastely,” said Sandoval. “Those, yes, [who live chastely] are going to enter into the kingdom of God. But those who practice it [homosexually] will not enter the kingdom of God. St. Paul says that. And homosexuality is condemned, totally condemned, in the Old Testament, in Genesis, and by St. Paul in the New Testament.”

“So just as those who have normal tendencies, and aren’t married, have to abstain [from sex], so those who have abnormal tendencies must also abstain,” said Sandoval, adding, “Even more so, knowing that homosexuality is a psychological illness which can be cured. Let them seek a cure, because homosexuality is never permitted.”

Cardinal Sandoval finds support from Cardinal Ratzinger’s when it comes time to using Rom 1:24-26 to condemn contemporary same-sex marriages.  But not even Ratzinger maintains the dubious notion that “homosexuality is a psychological illness” that might someday find a “cure.”  Thus, Cardinal Sandoval has not only failed to do his homework on Rom 1:24-26, he has also failed to keep up with advances in the field of psychology.  Being a cardinal in the Catholic Church, truth to say, offers him no protection from making errors in either the field of psychology or in the field of biblical studies.

When it comes to biblical studies, make no mistake about it.  This is not Cardinal Ratzinger’s specialization.  He has neither the training nor the interest in keeping abreast with contemporary biblical studies.  This being the case, then I must ask the Cardinal:

“Why did you not get the outside help you needed in biblical studies?”

“How could you have possibly imagined that homosexual couples today were doing the same sort of things described in Gen 19:1-15 and Rom 1:24-26?”

Those who want to interact with this blog are invited to “Leave a Reply” below.  A solid way to begin doing this is to offer “readback lines.”  To do this, quickly glace back over the entire blog and pick out the one or two lines that have made a deep impression upon you.  Copy them [CTRL-C] and then paste them [CTRL-V] into an empty comment box below.  If you wish, signal the emotion that you feel when reading your readback lines.  The primary emotions are anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise.   No need to further explain yourself.  It is enough to identify the text important to you and to name the emotion(s) that it evokes.  All of this normally takes less than a few minutes.

I and others will “thank you” for your contribution.  If you are tempted to say more, I urge you to hold back.  Your sense of safety and the safety of others is best protected by not getting overly wordy in the beginning.  This will come after a few days or weeks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Endnotes and Leave a Reply~~~~~~~~


[i] Matthew Vines discovery that the biblical texts commonly used to condemn homosexuality do not address the morality of committed homosexual unions has been noted by Roman Catholic biblical scholars:

The 1986 Letter set to the bishops by Cardinal Ratzinger cites six scriptural passages that demonstrate that “homosexual behavior” is immoral (Gen. 19:1-11; Lev. 18:22, 20:13; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim 1:9-10; Rom. 1:26-27). The Catechism of the Catholic Church enforces this position as well: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved” (§2378).  But this is disputed by a number of biblical scholars and theologians.

Key points made by biblical scholars such as Derrick Bailey, Victor Paul Furnish, James P. Hanigan, Daniel Helminiak, H. Darrell Lance, and Robin Scroggs include:

  1. There are translation difficulties. For example, it was 1946 before the term “homosexual” first appeared in an English translation (1946 Revised Standard Version). Homosexuality is not a prominent biblical concern. The prophets, the gospels, and Jesus say nothing about homosexuality as a “same-sex attraction.”
  2. These six scriptural texts are not in passages dealing with moral principles but appear in contexts where the focus is something else. For example, most biblical scholars believe the primary sin of Sodom is inhospitality. Jesus implies that in Luke 10:8-12 (If not welcomed in town, wipe dust of feet in protest. “I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.”). None of the 21 later Hebrew Scripture references to Sodom even mention homosexual acts.
  3. The biblical writers had no concept of homosexual orientation. Scientists first began to understand homosexuality as an orientation in the mid-to-late 1800s.

The Bible takes no direct stand on the morality of homogenital acts as such nor on the morality of gay and lesbian relationships as we conceive them today. . . . That is all that can be said about biblical teaching on homosexuality. If people would still seek to know if gay and lesbian sex in itself is good or evil, if homogenital acts per se are right or wrong, they will have to look elsewhere for an answer. For the fact of the matter is simple enough. The Bible never addresses that question. More than that, the Bible seems deliberately unconcerned about it.  (Theologian Daniel Helminiak, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, April 2000, p.132-133)

[ii] Notice that in this text Paul expresses a patriarchal point of view.  The issue is “the sexual satisfaction of men.”  Men decide.  Love has nothing to do with it.  Exclusive commitment has nothing to do with it.  Men get their sexual needs met as best pleases them.

[iii] The NRSV translates the Greek as “male prostitutes and sodomites.” The KJV has “nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind”—quite a different translation.   The NIV translates: “nor men who have sex with men” and the footnotes says, “The words men who have sex with men translate two Greek words that refer to the passive and active participants in homosexual acts.”

What one discovers here is that the Greek text is very difficult to translate and that none of the English translations can be seen as definitive.  Consider, for example, the first Greek word=malakoi:

This common Greek word had different connotations depending on the context in which it was used. In terms of morality, it generally referred to something like laziness, degeneracy, decadence, or lack of courage. The connotation was of being “soft like a woman” or like the delicate expensive fabrics worn by rich men.

In the patriarchal culture of the time, women were thought to be weaker than men, more fearful, more vulnerable, and more vain. Thus, men who ate too much, liked expensive things, were lazy, or liked to dress well were considered “soft like a woman.” Although this type of misogynistic thinking is intolerable in our modern society, it was common in ancient times and explains why the King James Version translated malakoi as “effeminate.”

But it is important to understand the difference between ancient and modern notions of what makes one effeminate. Paul wasn’t condemning men who swish and carry purses; he was condemning a type of moral weakness. The ancient Roman and Greek understanding of what it meant to be manly or womanly was quite different from today. First-century Romans didn’t think of effeminacy as merely a homosexual trait. In that culture, any man who was more interested in pleasure than in duty was considered to be woman-like [i.e.“soft”].

To examine the remainder of this article, go to Jeff Minor, The Children are Free, pp. 16-18.  (

[iv] Most biblical scholars are persuaded that Paul was a witness to the temple prostitution in Corinth.  More recently, however, scholars have questioned this assumption.  Why so?  (a) Only a few ancient sources speak of how sacred prostitution functioned in the cult of Aphrodite.  (b) Corinth as a Greek city-state was completely destroyed by the Romans, and it was restored in 44 BCE by Julius Caesar as a Roman colony.  (c) Paul never once mentions the Temple of Aphrodite (compare with Acts 19).  Thus Paul’s tirade against idolatry as inevitably leading to shameful “unnatural” sex may have been a standard line of argumentation learned during his Pharisaical training and have nothing to do with the decadence he observed among the worshippers of Aphrodite in Corinth.  See Tony Perrottet, “Ancient Greek Temples of Sex” ( & “Holy Hookers and Historical Myths” (

One must also remember that cultic prostitution was commonly practiced by the ancient Near Eastern fertility religions and that, from the moment they entered into the Promised Land, the Israelites struggled to avoid such practices (Num 25:1-9, Jdg 2:17-19). This became especially prevalent beginning with the monarchy of Rehoboam (1 Kgs 14:24) and extending to the monarchy of Josiah (2 Kgs 23:7).  According to Exod 34:11-16 the practice of exterminating conquered tribes was necessitated in order to wipe out cultic prostitution.  During the Deteronomic reform, the Law of Moses was expanded specifically to forbid cultic prostitution for Israelites (Deut 23:16-17, Amos 2:7).

Jeffrey H. Tigay, Emeritus A.M. Ellis Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages and Literatures in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania, disagrees: “It is questionable whether cultic prostitution existed at all in the ancient Near East” (

[v] In today’s society, Christians have the nasty habit of linking atheism with the absence of moral norms.  This is a stereotype, to be sure.  I am currently living in Shanghai, China.  The Chinese are 98% atheists, yet, in day to day contacts, they practice an exemplary morality.  We never lock our doors here.  In the marketplace, I often pay for groceries by extending my hand filled with a bunch of coins and allow the merchant to select the correct amount.  I feel secure when travelling in dark alleys in the middle of the night.  When I tripped and fell on my face, complete strangers immediately came to my assistance.

Paul, in his day, was operating out of Jewish stereotypes that linked idolatry with homosexuality.  For a study of these Jewish stereotypes and for an understanding of how name-calling was used in rhetorical arguments, see Jeremy Punt, “Religion, sex and politics: Scripting connections in Romans 1:18-32 and Wisdom 14:12-14,” HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies, 73 (2017) n.4 (

[vi] Dale B. Martin, “Heterosexism and the Interpretation of Romans 1:18-32,”  Biblical Interpretation, 3/3 (1995)  332 – 355.

Modern interpreters, influenced more by particularly modern forms of heterosexism and its construction of homosexuality, desire, and “nature” than by a straightforward historical-critical reading of Paul’s letter, portray Paul as referring to the “Fall” of Genesis 1-3 in Romans 1. Paul, it is assumed, takes homosexuality to be a sign of “humanity’s fallen state.” These interpreters, therefore, inscribe homosexual desire into universal fallen humanity in a way that Paul does not do. For one thing, Paul is referring not to the Fall in Romans 1 but to the invention of idolatry and polytheism by the Gentiles; homosexual intercourse is therefore not a symptom of “the Fall” but of Gentile polytheism.

“When seeking a biblical justification for opposing homosexual behavior, many people turn to Romans 1:26-27, but John Piper argues that one cannot separate these verses from Paul’s argument about idolatry in verses 18-25” ( “Idolatry and shrine prostitution, not homosexuality and lesbianism, are primarily what Paul addressed in Romans 1” (  See also n. 36.

New Ways Ministry

In 1977, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Fr. Robert Nugent, SDS, founded New Way Ministries, “a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics and reconciliation within the larger Christian and civil communities.”  They took this bold step because their experience with LGBTQ Catholics had demonstrated to them that the gay-negative approach was miserably failing.  Gays were being daily threatened and abused by civil forms of discrimination (“gay-bashing”).  It was criminal that the Church added to and reinforced this abusive situation by preaching that homosexual activity was always seriously sinful and, if not repented and confessed to a priest, automatically doomed them to eternal hellfire.

Gays, more often than not, were socialized into either pitying or despising their own homosexual urges.  Most instinctively were repulsed by the fact that they were the rejects of society and, apparently, God’s rejects just as well.  They urgently wanted public approval and divine approval, even if it meant denying their psycho-sexual orientation.  Many spent years to convince themselves that their “homosexual attractions” were only a “passing phase.”  Thus they entered into heterosexual dating scene and, with a little good luck, many of them gained social and divine approval by entering into lawful marriages.  Not a day or night passed, however, when they did not have “doubts” and “disturbing nightmares.”  They were getting the approval they hungered for, to  be sure; yet, in their heart of hearts, they feared that “they were living a lie.”

This is the situation experienced by light-skinned African-Americans who decide to pass themselves off as White in an attempt to escape racial prejudice that circulates in American society.   This is the situation of some Jews known to me who, in an attempt to escape the unsettling stigma of “being preferred by God but, at the same time, being hated by all men,” decide to conceal their blood line in order to pass as goy (a Gentile, a non-Jew).  They end up getting the approval they hungered for, to  be sure; yet, in their heart of hearts, not a day passes when they don’t fear being exposed as “an imposter.”

In a nutshell, the “gay-positive” Gospel begins in these terms:

In all cultures and in every period of history, a certain percentage of men and women develop as gays and lesbians.  These individuals should be considered as part of God’s creative plan.  Their sexual orientation has no necessary connection with sin, sickness, or failure [neither their own or their parents]; rather, it is a gift from God to be accepted and lived out with gratitude. God does not despise anything God has created.[i]

Notice that the “gay-positive” approach enables homosexuals and heterosexuals to equally lay claim to being created by God and being loved by God.  Moreover, everyone is called to serve God through the unique gifts and callings that God has written on their hearts.  What this means for gays is that, instead of hating their condition and denying it vigorously at every turn, gays and lesbians were invited to accept their sexual orientation “with gratitude” and to work out their vocation within their God-given and God-sanctioned sexual orientation.

The immediate result of this was two-fold.  First, lesbians and gays could no longer escape their sexual orientation and conceal it to themselves and to everyone else as well.  “Living a lie” was no longer a viable option because this would thwart “God’s creative plan.”  Second, lesbians and gays were not required to shut down their sexuality and live the whole of heir lives as celibates in order to be approved by God on the day of judgment.  Quite to the contrary, they were being called to work out their patterns of sexual bonding in such a way as to discover “God creative plan” for them.  Instead of burying their treasure, they were required by God to invest it for the betterment of themselves and for the betterment of society.

Here is a further expression of a “gay-positive” approach:

The church’s traditional position has been that since every homosexual act is sinful and contrary to God’s plan, the love that exists between gay and lesbian people is [inherently] sinful and alienates the lover from God.  [If God gives each of us a unique face, a unique calling, a unique sexual orientation; then it must be] argued that the love [in all its aspects] between two lesbians or gay men, assuming that it is a constructive human love, is not sinful. . . .  On the contrary, it can be a holy love, mediating God’s presence in the human community as effectively as heterosexual love.[ii]

Year after year, New Way Ministries gradually gained increasing enthusiastic support by LGBTQ Catholics.  The “gay-positive” approach brought faith acceptance and holistic healing into the lives of hundreds of gay Catholics.  This made “coming out of the closet” much easier since each member was in contact with a network of faith-filled supporters that demonstrated the grace of being authentic with oneself and with one’s Creator.  Being relieved of the “fear of eternal hellfire” is no small matter in the life of a Catholic.  Moreover, once one became authentic with oneself, with one’s Creator, and with a group of supportive Catholics, then it became possible to be bold and to stand up for oneself in the face of both civil and ecclesiastical “gay bashing.”

In 1988, Cardinal Ratzinger, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, launched an official investigation into the theololgy of Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Robert Nugent because of concerns that the pair had “allowed ‘errors and ambiguities’ into their discussions of Catholic teaching on homosexuality.”  Cardinal Ratzinger said the two had not sufficiently emphasized the official church teaching to the effect that homosexual acts were “intrinsically disordered.”  The inquiry closed some ten years later with a directive ordering the pair to stop their pastoral ministry to gays and lesbians and their families.   In 1999 Fr. Nugent was further required to remain silent on issues of homosexuality—no more speaking or writing.  After submitting, he distanced himself from New Way Ministries and returned to full-time work in parish ministry.

Sr. Gramick took a different tack with her response.  As with Fr. Nugent, the CDF prohibited her from further ministry to homosexuals.  And while she had long performed this ministry with the blessing of her order, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, it—under pressure from the CDF and the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL)—ordered her in 2000 to remain totally silent about the Vatican investigation and on matters of homosexuality more generally.  This meant that she could not “encourage the faithful to publicly express their dissent from the official Magisterium, nor protest decisions of the Holy See, nor criticize the Magisterium in any public forum whatsoever concerning homosexuality or related issues.”

After much deliberation, Sr. Gramick decided that her conscience and commitments carried more weight than the Vatican pressure to force her hand by have her submit by virtue of the fact that she had made a vow of obedience to the School Sisters of Notre Dame.  Under threat of dismissal from her religious order, she insisted on speaking out and honoring her commitments actively,[i] eventually transferring to the Sisters of Loreto in 2001.[ii]


In a healthy organization, someone in management might create a position paper and then give it to the people down the line who have lots of experience with which to critique and to improve it.  As a result, the original position paper gets revised and improved by working experts in the field.  In a dysfunctional organization, someone in management creates a position paper and then mandates that it must be implemented on all levels.  Those disagreeing or dragging their feet when it comes time for implementation are “written up” for insubordination and, the next time around, if they persist, they are shown the door.

The latter case describes Cardinal Ratzinger in his 26-year tenure heading up the CDF.  He produced the official position papers on homosexuality.  No one knows whom he may have invited to write the first draft.  Once he had the document prepared, no one knows whether he consulted anyone and asked them to make improvements.  What we do know, however, is that Cardinal Ratzinger did not solicit feedback from Fr. John J. McNeill, S.J., Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SSND, or Fr. Robert Nugent, SDS, well-known persons who had years of experience with Catholic gays and lesbians, their troubles, their hopes, their fears, their victories.

???We have already observed that Cardinal Ratzinger formulated his analysis of homosexuality and of same-sex marriage without any intention of consulting the world-wide bishops for their input or for their approval.[i]  Furthermore, we observed that he never organized theological or pastoral commissions that were charged to investigate the contemporary homosexual phenomena and to offer theological, psychological, and sociological guidelines for responding charitably and justly in the name of the Gospel.  Rather, he took the course of publishing his own views, getting John Paul II to sign on, and then distributing a fait accompli to the bishops scattered throughout the world.

How do we judge this?  Cardinal Ratzinger is a very intelligent and dedicated man, but no matter how intelligent, his gut reactions to homosexuality were formed in his personal experiences (which, following the Germanic scholarly tradition, he hides from his readers).  Moreover, he wrote in complete isolation from the very priests and religious who had dedicated their lives to bring healing and holiness to gays and lesbians.  Surely these persons would have to be consulted and their views taken into account if the Church was to have a safe and sure guide to assess the challenge of correctly understanding and ministering to gays and lesbians within the modern Church.  But, for reasons unknown to us, Cardinal Ratzinger decided that he could not trust these people.  Their compassion must have led them astray.  He could not even trust the input of bishops who were dealing with this issue in widely diverse cultural and sociological contexts.  Hence, taking the burden upon himself and trusting his Germanic training, he moved ahead with the dogged determination to bring gays and lesbians and their allies back on track.  But this is exactly the arrogance that comes with fundamentalism that the Pope warns us against.

With such a defective process, is it any wonder that it produced such a misguided and misleading doctrine?  Is it any wonder that such a one-sided and misinformed policy would rip into the soul of Catholic communities and tear them apart?  And we judge this as the evil that comes in the wake of the Ratzinger Doctrine.

[i] This closed-door mode of operating was not always Cardinal Ratzinger approach.  When it came to the preparation of the universal catechism, for example, the bishops throughout the world were brought in on the project.  Theological and catechetical institutes were invited to make suggestions to improve the preliminary drafts.  Throughout, Ratzinger worked in collaboration with other experts.  For details, see Cardinal James Hickey, “Launching the Catechism for Australia,” address presented at the National Press Club in Canberra, 22 June 1994 (

Nor did he consult the world-wide Catholic bishops on this important issue.  This would have given him an international and intercultural perspective on homosexuality and open up an exchange on the varieties of pastoral practice currently being used.  Nor was the Pontifical Biblical Commission or the Vatican’s International Theological Commission brought into the picture.  These groups were already formed and they would have been an excellent sounding board to explore how the bible treats homosexuality and how the history of the church offers diverse instances when disciplinary decrees and moral theology addressed various aspects of homosexual activity.

Once published, Cardinal Ratzinger used his office to harass and punish anyone who disagreed with him.  He was their judge and jury.  He had no intention to give anyone disagreeing with him a fair hearing.  If they couldn’t learn to obey, then they deserved to be silenced, humiliated, and eventually thrown out of their orders and, if necessary, thrown out of their Church.

Was the CDF functioning as an unjust and dysfunctional system in this period?  You bet it was.

I offer three reflections:

#1 As for the repressive conduct of Cardinal Ratzinger and a large segment of the hierarchy in this matter, one would do well to remember the cautionary words of President Harry S. Truman:

Once a government [or a Church] is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens [believers] and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.

Some might think that a tyranny cloaked in the garb of Jesus can hardly be a tyranny. The truth, however, is just the opposite. The insistence of Cardinal Ratzinger and his allies that they were merely implementing the sovereign will of our Savior in these matters fundamentally distorts the person, the teaching, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.[iii]

#2 Recently, John J. McCoy wrote a very thoughtful biography of Archbishop Hunthausen, a pastor who was powerfully transformed during his participation in Vatican II.  In his biography he laments how Hunthausen was hounded out of office and was replaced by a series of “autocratic monarchs who had little concern for transparency or accountability.”  Then he writes this:

Under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, we became a church that censured, excluded, and punished to protect what was defined as universal Catholic Church.  I abhorred Benedict’s notion that for the sake of the truth, if would be better if the church dwindled to a small, faithful, and orthodox remnant.  Such an idea presumes that doctrine is unchanging.  Yet Vatican II recognized that doctrine evolves and develops in its encounter with the world.  How could a church that once justified slavery and called Jews “Christ-killers” hold that its teaching on marriage, sexuality, ordination, or any issue—save Christ’s divinity, love, and promise of eternal life—are immutable and unchangeable?

#3 When Pope Benedict XVI was elected in 2005, the Jesuit magazine, America, published an editorial wherein the editors presented “Challenges for the New Pope” as they saw them:

During the last couple of decades, there have been too many issues taken off the discussion table.  This has been very unhealthy for the church.  By some estimates, over 100 theologians have been silenced or reprimanded by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

A church that cannot openly discuss issues is a church retreating into an intellectual ghetto.  And the issues are many: birth control, divorce, women priests, married priests, homosexuality, the selection of bishops, the over centralization of decision making in the Vatican, inclusive language, enculturation of the liturgy, catechetics, intercommunion and the role of the laity in church governance.  There are no simple answers to these issues, and reformers must recognize that every change has both positive and negative effects.  But without open discussion, church life will become more and more dysfunctional.[iv]

As we now know, Benedict XVI was incapable of allowing, much less encouraging, open discussion and collective decision-making.  In fact, once Cardinal Ratzinger was elected as the pope, he showed his true authoritarian colors.  He wasted no time in using his new position to his advantage.  With an unquenchable will to power, he pushed forward a retrenchment on a whole series of Vatican II reforms.  The hope of the Jesuits, however, was not entirely spoken in vain.  Benedict resigned on 11 Feb 2013[v] and Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit, was elected to fulfill, in steady measured steps, the shattered hopes of his Jesuit brothers.

A church that cannot openly discuss issues is a church retreating into an intellectual ghetto.

~~ “[Jesuit] Challenges for the New Pope”

Those who want to interact with this blog are invited to “Leave a Reply” below.  A solid way to begin doing this is to offer “readback lines.”  To do this, quickly glace back over the entire blog and pick out the one or two lines that have made a deep impression upon you.  Copy them [CTRL-C] and then paste them [CTRL-V] into an empty comment box below.  If you wish, signal the emotion that you feel when reading your readback lines.  The primary emotions are anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise.   No need to further explain yourself.  It is enough to identify the text important to you and to name the emotion(s) that it evokes.  All of this normally takes less than a few minutes.

I and others will “thank you” for your contribution.  If you are tempted to say more, I urge you to hold back.  Your sense of safety and the safety of others is best protected by not getting overly wordy in the beginning.  This will come after a few days or weeks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Endnotes and Leave a Reply~~~~~~~~

[i] I discovered an extended statement presented by Sr. Jeannine Gramick following a public debate with Bishop Thomas Paprocki in 2013.  Her statement is very balanced, very compassionate, and very persuasive.  See “Sister Jeannine’s Debate with Bishop Thomas Paprocki on Marriage Equality,” Bondings (

[ii] The two short biographies here are reprinted from Catholics for a Free Choice, “Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s Preparation for the Papacy: How ‘the Vatican’s Enforcer’ ran the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1979 – 2005),” April 2006, pp. 10-11.  (

[iii] For a balanced analysis of when and how the bishops overstep their authority and overestimate their competence, see Richard R. Gaillardetz, ed., When the Magisterium Intervenes: The Magisterium and Theologians in Today’s Church (Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 2012).

[iv] Editors, “Challenges for the New Pope,” America, 25 April 2005

[v] The significance of this date and the personal impact of Pope Benedict’s resignation just after it happened can be seen here: Archbishop Leo Cushley, “A monsignor sobbed, then silence fell: an eyewitness account of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation,” Catholic Herald 11 Feb 2015 [two years after the event] (