The National Catholic Review

The Holy Father’s "Ecology of Man" speech has garnered a great deal of attention because one sentence, in a very long speech, made reference to the ways in which human sexuality falls short of the Gospel ideals. "What’s often expressed and understood with the term ‘gender’ is summed up definitively in the self-emancipation of man from the created and the Creator," Pope Benedict XVI said. "But in this way, he lives in opposition to truth, he lives in opposition to the Creator." This fine and important point has been lost in the media coverage because anytime a cleric mentions the word sexuality, everything but a narrow focus on the human pelvis gets lost in the dust.

American cultural – and political – history is a kind of dialogue between Enlightenment liberalism and mainstream Christianity. Our public institutions are designed to promote freedom, specifically a negative conception of freedom, a "freedom from" coercion in various spheres of life, most especially in the realm of conscience. The First Amendment is the most obvious example of this liberal creed. Yet that amendment was written by men who largely believed in some kind of providential guidance, more or less remote, of the universe: Even the least orthodox of the founders understood man to be a creature. Since the founding, our nation’s public life has mostly been lived within the cultural boundaries of mainstream Protestantism, at least until the last half of the twentieth century. Whatever my difficulties with the churches of the Reformation, and they are many, they nonetheless held that truth and value were things to be discovered not invented. With the advent of a consumer-driven culture in the past few decades, Americans have adopted a more Promethean ethic in which we create our own sense of meaning and value. "Life takes VISA," the television ad assures us.

Liberalism awaits its Aquinas. So far as I know, no one great thinker has provided a synthesis between liberalism and Christianity as Aquinas did between Aristotelianism and Christianity, or as Augustine did between neo-Platonism and Christianity. Perhaps it can’t be done. I don’t know, but I recall hearing Cardinal John O’Connor refer to "the seraglio of the Enlightenment" and feared he was correct. I do know that crafting any such synthesis will require a greater mind than mine and that the attempts of the Catholic neo-cons like George Weigel and Michael Novak to wed our faith to democratic capitalism have fallen short precisely because the capitalistic ethic requires exactly the same kind of Promethean ethic in the economic realm that the Holy Father was denouncing in the realm of human sexuality.

Of course, this grand, important and timely discussion did not get the attention of those who write headlines. "Pope: No To Sex Change" read some Italian dailies. And, as my friend and colleague Father Jim Martin, S.J. pointed out, the Reuters’ headline "Pope likens ’saving’ gays to saving the rainforest" was misleading in the extreme.

The most unintentionally funny commentary came from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. As reported by Rocco Palmo, they issued a statement that read: "In a season in which the immorality of genocide, lawless governments, lust for money and power and the destabilization of the world’s economy are destroying the lives of hundreds of millions around the world, the Pope’s obsessive focus on gay, lesbian and trans people who simply seek the right to live and love is out of touch with what humanity needs right now from its religious leaders."

Who is obsessed about sexuality? One sentence in a long speech constitutes obsession? When was the last time the Holy Father spoke about anything to do with gays? When was the last time you heard a sermon that focused narrowly on sexual ethics? Somebody is obsessed with sex, but it isn’t the Holy Father or the Church he serves.

A report in Zenit shows what truly obsesses the Church: "Some 27% of health care centers that attend AIDS patients around the world are administered by the Church; 44% are run by governments, 18% by nongovernmental organizations, 11% by other religious institutions, and 8% by other groups." I commend all groups that help care for those who suffer, but before you write a check to the Clinton Global Initiative, you might want to think about how much the Catholic Church accomplishes for the poorest of the poor with much less money. But, we have something the NGOs do not have, the precious awareness that the poor are created in the image and likeness of God.

In the story of Prometheus, you will recall, the protagonist met with an unenviable fate. The story of the protagonist of our faith, the child in the manger at Bethlehem, is not over. This Christmas, like last Christmas and next Christmas, the grace and love of Christ move the hands of His Church to care for all God’s creation and to revel in the beautiful, inestimable title of "creature" that is ours. For if we be creatures, there must be a Creator and His face was revealed to us two thousand years ago. Venite Adoremus, Dominum.

Michael Sean Winters

Comments

Anonymous | 12/27/2008 - 6:38am
Great article. Good writing and fresh perspective.The writers in America are for the most part met with great comments upon what they have written.John Allen would probably kill to have such a good readership.Of course you also have your share of self-justifying idealogues(see above).People who are so lost in their own smugness and self-righteousness they are incapable of understanding the thoughts of others.Sloppy thought abounds, egged on by buckets of Pride.But the article by Mr Winters is a breath of fresh air.I am constantly surprised by how good this liberal rag is.Keep up the good work
Anonymous | 12/25/2008 - 11:56pm
It's not that gays and lesbians are obsessed with sexuality, but rather that a lifetime of exposure to the attitudes the pope expressed has made them touchy on the subject. The pope implies that this interest in gay marriage is the equivalent of a fad. What gays and lesbians are asserting, however, is that God created not only males who are attracted to females, but males who are attracted to males, and not only females who are attracted to males, but also females who are attracted to females. For those who are attracted to members of the same sex, it would be entirely unnatural to form a lifetime partnership with someone of the other sex. Apparently, the pope does not grasp what it is that any of us experience when we find the person to whom we make a lifetime commitment. His comments make it seem as though each of us could be paired up with just anyone so long as that person was of the other sex.
Anonymous | 12/23/2008 - 8:48am
If you really want to read a synthesis between liberal thought and Christianity, click on the web link for my name. The book is entitled Musings from the Christian Left. The nature of freedom is an interesting question. Morality as a form of self-mastery does bring freedom. Anyone in recovery can tell you that. They will also tell you that this self-mastery can only be achieved by contact with a higher power. Where the Holy Father seems to get it wrong is in identifying the objective of human morality. Many pius people have through the years claimed some divine objective as the foundation stone in dealing with morality, particularly human sexuality. This is logically inconsistent with the belief in a perfect God. A perfect God does not require our obedience in sexual matters. Perfection requires nothing. Morality is a gift to us from God so that we can live as fully human. Human nature must be the standard by which we judge human sexual morality. At the most basic level, this enterprise must be humanistic. Certain sins are to be avoided, not because they displease God, but because they diminish freedom and bring misery. Promiscuity is such a sin. Murder, adultery, theft, lying (which the Curia should note) all make a happy life impossible, both because they harm others and diminish the sinner. It is by this standard that we must judge what we tell people about sin. This is also where Benedict XVI gets it wrong on homosexuality. For one who is homosexual, sex within a committed marriage is the most natural thing. It is God given and sacramental. To call it disordered is to misunderstand how the universe is ordered. God has not interest in gay celibacy beyond whether gays are happy. Promiscuity cannot make them happy. Monogamy can and does.
Anonymous | 12/23/2008 - 12:22pm
"[T]he grace and love of Christ move the hands of His Church to care for all God’s creation . . . ." Beautifully stated. I certainly agree. But I wonder why it is that so many of my co-religionists don't seem to understand that it's anything but care that many of us who are gay experience at the hands of the church. When, in his Christmas message to the Curia, the pope feels it necessary to insert a statement gratuitously hurtful to millions of us who are believers, I find it amazing that we are told we are obsessed with sexuality--we obsessed!--and are not entitled to our reaction. In what way does Benedict's statement represent pastoral care of lesbian, gay, and transgendered Christians? And does the response of our fellow Catholics to these statements and to our reaction to the statements really represent pastoral care? I don't think so.
Anonymous | 12/24/2008 - 12:11am
The Promethean critique is always valid, but c'mon... This is the Holy Father -- the scholar -- he can do better than throwing out these kind of remarks even if they are one-liners. Sure there are going to be groups that are looking to critique any statement he may make on sex, but he doesn't have to wave the red flag in a message like that at this time of year. How 'bout some common sense?
Anonymous | 12/23/2008 - 8:33pm
How much I agree with your article regarding the obsession and sexual deviation. I also thoroughly support the Holy Father in his views. We all deal with this issue all the time and although descibed as 'gay', The suffering that happens is quite immense. May the Good Lord through the Holy Father guide us all in this matter.