Something is very wrong when priests join forces with gay activists in any cause whatsoever. The presumption must be that the priests in question are sympathetic to gay activism, and this constitutes scandal. That’s why I was glad to see Cardinal Sean O’Malley stand by the editor of his diocesan newspaper when some priests joined gay activists in demanding his dismissal.
You may recall the incident that occasioned the outcry. The editor, Antonio Enrique, failed to catch problems with a column by Daniel Avila which attributed same-sex attraction to Satan. Avila repudiated his column and, unfortunately, ultimately lost his job with the USCCB. I already explained the relevant theological issue in the fourth part of a recent In Depth Analysis, Parsing Beleaguered Words: The Perils of Getting Things Wrong. I also expressed the hope, unfulfilled in the event, that nothing more would be required of Avila than the retraction. Although he did not get things quite right, he was really making a needed effort to refute the common claim that same-sex attraction is given to some by God and so God must intend that they act upon it.
But now, apparently, it is not enough to crucify Daniel Avila for a theological error in treating a difficult question in a hostile culture. Now those who will brook no criticism of the gay lifestyle at all think that Antonio Enrique must go for having failed to prevent the column from being published in the first place. Now it so happens that Enrique has eleven children. One inevitably wonders if this alone is not sufficient to incur the wrath of the sterility lobby.
Look, I tried to be fair-minded. I pointed out that Avila had made a theological mistake in attributing same-sex attraction directly to the Devil when it is more properly discussed as one of a great many disordered inclinations characterizing the state of Original Sin. I pointed out that the issue is so sensitive nowadays that it is difficult to survive this sort of mistake, and that Avila should have had the good sense to realize he was in over his head in the first place.
But please note: It is not as if Satan is not involved at all. Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the events that led up to Original Sin; he tempts all of us—including those of us with same-sex attraction—to act on our disordered inclinations instead of seeing them for what they are and resisting them; and he certainly tempts contemporary apologists for the gay lifestyle to confuse God’s active will with his permissive will so that they can assert something that is always false and damaging to assert—namely, that because God permits us to suffer both disorder and temptation, it must be true that disorder and temptation are really not disorder and temptation at all.
That argument, you see, has all the marks of a Clever Mind. I grant that it is not so clever that we absolutely must designate its author with capital letters. But then I’m not writing in a diocesan newspaper, am I? I answer to my readers, who are smart enough to make distinctions and charitable enough to make allowances.
This is precisely the error which Daniel Avila was attempting to refute. In doing so, he sought to show that the author of same-sex attraction was not God but Satan, an over-simplification with unfortunate theological consequences, and one which needed to be corrected. But to call for the editor to be fired because he permitted a poor theological argument to run in his newspaper is outrageous, especially when it comes from a party of activists who more or less deliberately distort Catholic doctrine and theology at every turn, not in an effort to defend the truth but in an effort to make white black and black white.
Moreover, if anyone suddenly thinks that editors in the Catholic press must be summarily removed for permitting any sort of theological misstatement, I can only say that such a person is very late to the party indeed. Such a one must surely have slept through the Modernist revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s which put actual heretics in charge of much of the Catholic press throughout the Western world. We might welcome, within due limits of course, such admirable zeal. But I wonder what we have seen in the last fifty years that would lead us to think that these particular zealots are truly solicitous for the truth, or that they would make any effort to be even-handed in their punishment for editorial errors across the board.
Happily and rightly, Cardinal O’Malley has indicated that he intends to stand firm. This is a blessing. One can imagine—no, one can remember—a time when this would not have been the case. So let us all permit Antonio Enrique to do his job in peace. The man seems, at the very least, to understand rather thoroughly how God in fact actually did design sexual expression, and for what purpose. Can his critics say as much?