One day, when I was a senior in high school, I went into the lavatory and was followed by a junior whose name I knew, though I didn’t know anything else about him. He was a quiet sort. As I was washing my hands, he approached me and asked me if I would like—something the reader may guess.
I told him no, I wouldn’t. But it shook me up a bit. I’d never heard of anybody being asked such a thing. So, I talked to my father about it that night. Then he told me a story of how, when he was away from home as a young man, working in a factory in New Jersey, the foreman seemed to take a liking to him and invited him to his house one day for dinner. My father went, suspecting nothing, and the man propositioned him—and got an earful of angry words in response. I don’t remember whether my father quit or the foreman fired him, but that was the end of that job. “So you see,” said my father to me, “it can happen to anybody, so you shouldn’t take it personally.”
I didn’t. But things at school soon exploded because the same kid approached two other boys and got the same response, and they spread the word, and that caused the principal and the dean of students to move into action to defuse the situation. I believe they thought he needed to be taken out of the school for his own welfare, and certainly they wanted the propositioning to stop.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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I know nothing about his family life, and I won’t speculate. The poor fellow passed away many years ago.
Meanwhile—though no one among us at the time suspected—the same kind of thing was going on at many an American seminary, as has been amply documented; but not with the same results. Certain seminaries became pink palaces, where seminarians and priests commonly shrugged away their vows of chastity, treating such sins with a thoroughly modern wink and a nudge, figuring that everybody was doing it or something like it, and that the old restrictions were not to be held as binding, and that a focus on sins of the flesh was not only unhealthy but hypocritical and pharisaical and not in the spirit of Jesus, and that the Church she was a-moving, and so on.
What would they have studied in seminary to guard them against such nonsense? Not neo-Thomism. Too stuffy, intellectually stifling, far from the spirit of Scripture, and not acquainted with the most current secular research regarding human sexuality, such as had been conducted by the evangelist Kinsey.
You can get a whiff of the classroom air from Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought (1977), commissioned by the Catholic Theological Society of America. It is not only a rejection of Humanae Vitae. It is a rejection of the view that types of sexual action can fall under moral judgment at all; we must instead see sexual action as licit if it contributes to building up an integral human personality. To criticize Human Sexuality is like dropping a bomb on a house of cards—too easy to do, if criticism is meant as clear intellectual engagement with bad ideas and with their consequences, such as Pope Paul predicted and such as the editor Fr. Anthony Kosnik and the contributors to Human Sexuality treated as absurd.
Why, nobody would say of a loan shark that lending ten grand at ten percent a week to a fast-and-loose shop owner was not a big deal, and might even be a virtue if we see it in light of his general attitude toward money and his giving to the United Way. Nobody would say of a brawler that his having beaten a bartender to a bloody pulp last night must be seen in the light of his general boisterousness, which might, so far from being a vice, contribute to the common good and to his personal integration as a fighter in the cause of righteousness. Only sex is held to have the pixie dust that exalts it above the specifics of flesh and blood, of this deed here and now.
So, it is no surprise that those who approve of the conclusions of Human Sexuality never bother to defend them by appeals to revelation or by deductions from first principles; nor do they ask what their approval of the one moral offense they like implies for many less serious moral offenses they don’t like. Instead, they appeal to feelings, nothing more than feelings. We are to listen to people expressing their feelings.
Well, I listen—but what I hear is not what the speakers intend. For we human beings are never so false, never so much the tragedy queen or the melancholy Dane, as when we weep tenderly or grow red in the face or stamp our feet in defense of something wrong that we want to keep on doing. Besides, pornographers have feelings too, as do liars, traitors, thieves, warmongers, adulterers, and blasphemers.
Meanwhile, in practice, what is called the liberal position is wholly incoherent. Not even the silkiest bishop in the land will dare to say, to a girl who has been propositioned by a boy, that she should go to bed with him and see what it’s like. He will not even dare to say it to people in their thirties. The advice to try a little fornication for your health would strike him as too flagrant a violation of clear scriptural teaching. Jesus Himself has hard things to say about the matter, as does Paul.
But the boy and girl, the man and woman, do not have the advantage that the denizens of Sodom have. They cannot get themselves up in the garb of a put-upon minority. That is the Archimedean point for moving the whole world of moral teaching as regards sex. Thus, the bishop may, verbally, decline to approve the deeds, while, far more than verbally, he champions the supposed rights of the doers. Without expressly saying, “Go ye and fornicate, giving glory to God by your sex,” he uses the unnatural sin to run interference for the natural sin, and the natural sin to lay a foundation for the unnatural sin. It is to raise a banner over the gates of Sodom, reading, “Satisfaction for All.”
But why do so? Why give sanction to the sexual revolution and its attendant confusion, bitterness, and alienation? Return to the scene in the seminary—in a bedroom, a gym, a shower, a lavatory. We are dealing with many men who said yes, sure, why not, or with men who looked the other way while their classmates were having their fling with, well, Human Sexuality: Old Paganisms Garbed as New Directions in American Catholic Thought, the seminary edition. Why give sanction to the sexual revolution and its attendant confusion, bitterness, and alienation?Tweet This
Now, as we all know by experience, there is repentance and “repentance.” To repent of a grave sin is to be ashamed even to think of it, and, but for the grace of God, to wish you had died rather than commit it. To “repent” is what we commonly do with sins in general, and that is to repent of them, formally, and even to try not to practice them again, but to look upon them with an indulgent smile, to reminisce, to give subtle encouragement to people who practice them, as we derive a vicarious pleasure from what we no longer do, but what we might do all over again if we were in the old situation.
And that, I fear, explains episcopal and priestly dalliance with Sodom.
Of course, there is a worse alternative, which is that the old sinners are quite unrepentant—and that they are pushing with all their might for the thoroughgoing overthrow of all Catholic teaching regarding sex and marriage and the created nature of male and female. I am assuming that that is not the case.
Yet, what would the recent Synod have been without these issues? An afternoon’s chat about the economy, with a little seasoning of environmentalism; but all the force lay finally in what that troubled young man in my high school wanted back in 1977. The faith is under assault on all fronts, and in the West it is fading fast; culture is withering under the heat of mass phenomena; the machines of antihumanism roll on; and all that some of our leaders attend to is scrawled on a bathroom wall.
[Photo Credit: Vatican Media]