Sed Contra

 

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Thursday, July 31, 2003

HIV Found On The Rise Among Men Who Have Sex With Men
 
The Federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, has announced that the the incidence of HIV has begun to rise again among men who have sex with men, according to press reports.

HIV diagnoses increased by 7.1 percent between 2001 and 2002 for that group. Since 1999, reports of new HIV infections have increased by 17.7 percent for gay and bisexual men, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The increase in HIV diagnoses adds to our concern of a resurgence in the HIV population, said Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, deputy director of the CDCs National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention.


Reaction to this tragic, if predictable, piece of news has likewise been predictable.

The Boston Globe has editorialized that cutbacks in government funding have led to the increase: These disturbing statistics underscore the need to increase funding for prevention and treatment, not reduce it, as federal and state budget cutbacks have done.

"AIDS activists" have chanted a similar line. But I just don't buy it. I think the CDC's Harold Jaffe was a lot closer to the mark in his comments:

>"Our biggest concern is what appears to be a resurgent epidemic in gay men," said Harold Jaffe, director of the CDC's National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention.

"I don't think there is any one explanation," Jaffe said in a telephone interview. "Some of it may be related to treatment optimism: 'So what if you get infected? You can get treated.' Some of it may be related to the belief that if you are in treatment you may not transmit the virus. Some may be epidemic fatigue -- being tired of hearing about it."

"I think the most compelling reason is that people aren't scared any more. If you were a gay man in the 1980s you were scared. You had a lot of friends who were sick and dying. If you are a gay man today you don't have a lot of sick peers," Jaffe said.

No parallel increase in HIV infections has been detected in any other groups, Jaffe said. But according to the preliminary analysis of the incidence of new cases of actual AIDS, the number increased from 41,227 cases in 2001 to 42,136 cases in 2002 -- a 2.2 percent increase.


From the very beginning of my experience with this virus and its related diseases there has been this rather naive and somewhat dangerous belief among all sorts of people that if we just tell men having sex with men how to have that sex safely then they will do so and the rates of infection will decrease.

But that's never really worked. Yes, for a while rates dropped - but then you had people seeking out infection and reinfection, fetishizing and eroticizing the transmission of the virus. Study after study have shown that "unsafe" sex has never gone away completely. Barebacking, the practice of anal sex deliberately without a condom, now merits designation as a "community" in some self-described gay publications as in the "barebacking community." Heck, there are websites for men looking to meet men to have bareback sex in addition to websites devoted to helping men looking for sex with men find the places they can meet in public for "safe" and "unsafe" sex.

And yet the reason rates of HIV infection among men who have sex with men are on the rise is because of lack of funding? Please.

Knowledge alone has never been and can never be an adequate substitute for will. HIV in adults is transmitted along very specific and very well known avenues. A person who avoids those avenues will have a much better than average chance of avoiding infection. But no amount of money from government, no amount of pamphlets, posters, public service announcements, counseling, advice etc etc etc can make someone avoid the avenues which can lead to disease. Jaffe is right, there is likely no one reason HIV is on the rise among men who have sex with men, but I don't believe we can blame the rise on lack of money - or energy - trying to get men to change their behavior.
The Vatican's Statement On Homosexual Unions
 
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has come out with its Considerations Regarding Proposals To Give Legal Recognition To Unions Between Homosexual Persons.

I have read it and my immediate reaction to it is that it really doesn't say or do anything new in and of itself - and the document admits that. But by its existence this document draws a line in the sand, essentially asking us if we choose to be Catholic, or not.

There is a world of difference, as the document points out, between simply tolerating a moral evil which might be present in a free society and living in a society that takes a moral evil and elevates it to be a good.

In the first instance, a private moral evil, especially one considered more or less "victimless" might be, or even should be, considered the price of living in place where people are free to think differently and make mistakes. But in the second instance a moral evil becomes enshrined in the very law and institutions of the country, law which every citizen has a stake and a part in upholding or to which he or she must give some degree of allegiance.

After this document Catholics of all walks of life and profession will have to decide if they are with Christ and His Church or not. These considerations make it that much harder to utter the words "I'm Catholic...but."

I did think it was interesting, and perhaps new, the way the Congregation recognized that kids really do need a mother and a father and that relying on Two Mommies or Two Daddies is a form of abuse:

Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development. This is gravely immoral and in open contradiction to the principle, recognized also in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that the best interests of the child, as the weaker and more vulnerable party, are to be the paramount consideration in every case.

Finally, I found it interesting that even though the Congregation released it on July 31, the dated its signature to June 3, the Feast Day of St. Charles Lwanga and the other companion martyrs. Charles and the others were young men and boys who were martyered in Africa for, at least in part, refusing to participate in what had become legally (or at least regally) sanctioned homosexual activity (sodomy). It is also worth noting, given the Anglican's current fight at the Episcopal Church's current General Convention, that a number of young men killed in the wave of persecution were Anglicans.

Anyway, I am sure this will be an ongoing topic of discussion, but that is my first take on it.
Still Here - II
 
A while back someone wondered if I wasn't writing as much here because I was off having a life. Well, yes. There is a definite conflict between living an offline life and writing about things online. But I am still here, I will be writing more about various things that have come up lately, but just need a chance to catch my breath.


Monday, July 21, 2003

Same Sex Marriage Politics Pits Activist Group Against Self-Defined Lesbian
 
Okay, in a nutshell. Married couple in New Hampshire calls it quits after female part of the couple begins love affair with another woman. Husband sues for divorce on the grounds of his wife's adultery and names wife's female partner. Wife and female partner object on the grounds that New Hampshire law only recognizes heterosexual adultery and a lower court agrees with them. The New Hampshire Supreme Court now hears arguments in the case and a self-defined gay and lesbian activist group has filed a brief in support....of the husband.

While Mayer and Sian Blanchflower oppose applying adultery law to homosexuals, the advocacy group Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) filed a brief calling for equal treatment. GLAD is a Boston-based organization "dedicated to eradicating discrimination throughout the six New England state on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status," according to the brief submitted by Manchester lawyer Marlene Lein and Boston lawyer Jennifer Levi.

"Gay and lesbian relationships are as significant as non-gay ones and therefore pose the same threat to the marital union. . . . New Hampshire courts should treat gay adultery the same no matter the gender of the person with whom a spouse engages in an extramarital relationship," they wrote.





Consenting Adults File #14: More Nudity At Gay Pride
 
C'mon, admit it. More nudity at gay pride events was just what the public wanted, right?

Within the gay community, De Haan also said parade organisers had received a lot of support and that a large number of participants had promised to build an extra special boat for this year's event. He said the public will also be able to enjoy beautiful and sexy bodies and that participants were hard at work in the gym to get their bodies in tip-top shape.

What a relief! After the gay pride Toronto photos I feared another episode of Barry The Nude Walrus.

Previous Post On Hunting Women A Hoax
 
So says a site linked to on Catholic and Enjoying It.
Consenting Adults File #13: More On the Hampton-Sex
 
Remember the community in the Hamptons that has objected to the constitutionally protected, private, same sex activity that is taking place in their dunes? Well, the New York Times has reported on it as well and, not surprisingly, words like "homophobia" and "concentration camp" have been thrown around. Link provided through another site.

When people define themselves by what they do it is very hard to significantly object to that activity.

For some, it is a pickup spot, with a serious cruising scene on weekend evenings. For others, it is simply a vital place to congregate and converse. Many gay beachgoers go to the beach at any time of day to converse, sip coffee, and walk their dogs.

Andrew Friedman, 44, a real estate agent from Brooklyn walking his German shepherd, Beethoven, on Tuesday evening, called the crackdown another example of the historic persecution of gays.

''It's an insult and it's annoying and it's been going on through the centuries,'' he said. ''Until they put us on a train to Buchenwald, my lifestyle's not going to change.''

On the other hand, a man walking the beach at sunset sipping from a glass of red wine, who said he was 45, gay, and a personal trainer, agreed with the homeowners.

''This is a public beach,'' he said. ''If I spent $18 million on a home here, I certainly wouldn't want to watch people having sex on my dune. You should see this beach on a Friday night. There's like 100, 150 cars in this parking lot. It's out of control.''





End Of An Era: Penthouse On Its Way Out?
 
On the one hand, it couldn't happen to a more suitable publication. On the other hand, it is a good thing if one trashy publication goes down because the gutter is getting just too crowded? (Thanks to Zorac for the tip).

Last Tuesday, the magazine’s employees were called to a meeting and told Penthouse had missed its printing schedule—no new issues of the monthly magazine appeared from late April until early July—because the company had been unable to pay printing costs, according to several people who were present at the session and asked to remain anonymous. The break in publication resulted in significant lost revenue and could make it hard for Penthouse to sell future ads.

Only one editorial employee, associate editor Deidre Goldbeck, was reachable in Penthouse’s offices on Thursday. When asked about Tuesday’s meeting and this week’s paychecks, she said, “I’m not allowed to talk about that.” In response to queries, editor Peter Bloch left a message that said, “I can’t talk about the situation at the magazine.” Stephen Gross, Penthouse’s president, did not return several messages asking whether Penthouse was ceasing publication. Late on Thursday, a Penthouse employee reached at home said the magazine’s staff was given the option of working from home until further notice.




Was He Or Wasn't He?
 
The extremely long-winded ongoing discussion, and speculation, about who might or might not live, or lived, with a degree of Same Sex Attraction continues over at Catholic and Enjoying It. In many ways it is a continuation of the debate over whether or not there should be a ban on any man with SSA being ordained as a priest (I am against any such wholesale ban), but this one addresses the suggestion that John Henry Cardinal Newman lived with SSA.

The spark for this debate took off after some gay activists made an attempt, which they often do, to go back into history and posthumously declare this person or that historical figure "gay." The latest attempt at a Catholic figure has been aimed at Cardinal Newman, but has included St. Aelred, as well as David and Jonathan from scripture.

I think we desperately need some clarifications. First of all, I don't know, and no one can knowwhether or not Cardinal Newman, St. Aelred or David and Jonathan lived with SSA. But what we can say, for certain, is that none of these folks were "gay" in the meaning of the word the activists put forth, which is someone who defines themselves by their SSA and who practices or promotes homosexual acting out. There is no evidence that any of these folks ever did any such thing - and there is plenty of evidence from St. Aelred's writing on friendship, that the Saint took a very dim view of lust masquerading as friendship (see here and here).

Yet, the conservation goes on, even though I think it is entirely beside the point of the saints or Blessed's or scriptural figures life and example. Suppose, for example, that Cardinal Newman did experience a degree of SSA? If that is just one among the many things in his own life and background that he overcame on the way to heaven, then so what?

It's funny, and the subject of some irony, that the whole question is somewhat dated now. I mean it is the folks who are alleging that, if Newman had some SSA, he had no business being ordained a priest, who are effectively keeping the topic alive.

Yes, the Church has declared that same sex attraction is an objective disorder. But she has also declared that SSA is not, in and of itself, a block to Christian discipleship or sainthood. One of these days the Church is going to canonize a man, maybe even a priest, who lived with a degree of SSA. At that point the proponents of banning from the priesthood anyone who lives with any SSA are going to have confront the reality that, once again, God has acted in His grace with complete disregard for how men and women think He should do things.
Ten Percent of HIV Infected Europeans Found With Drug Resistantant Strain
 
As the situation grows steadily darker:

An international collaboration which aims to monitor the transmission of drug resistant HIV has found that a significant number of HIV-positive Europeans carry resistant virus, even before they have taken HIV treatment. Researchers involved in the CATCH study, which reported data at last week’s International AIDS Society Conference in Paris, say the results support the gathering of resistance data in everyone who is newly-infected with HIV.

Resistance mutations were more common in people infected with subtype B than with a non B subtype (11.3% versus 3.3%). This is to be expected given the longer history of exposure to HIV treatments in the industrialised West than in those regions where non B subtypes are predominant.


Petition in Support of Cardinal Arinze
 
There is a petition available online in support of Cardinal Arinze's recent comments at Georgetown University. I missed the speech that sparked the petition, but according to one column:

Francis Cardinal Arinze said, during his commencement address at Georgetown University, "Happiness is found not in the pursuit of material wealth, but by fervently adhering to religious beliefs."

He then told graduates and guests of the importance of family in Christian faith and life.

"In many parts of the world the family is under siege by an anti-life mentality that can be seen in abortion, infanticide and euthanasia," he said. "Instead of being honored, the family is scorned and banalized by pornography, desecrated by fornication and adultery, mocked by homosexuality, sabotaged by irregular unions and cut in two by divorce."


according to the columnist, one theology professor left the stage during Arinze's remarks. Seventy other faculty members signed a letter to the dean protesting what they called Arinze's wildly inappropriate remarks.

Now, I don't mean to mock, but what did these folks except a Roman Catholic Cardinal to say? There is no one holding a gun to anyone's head and making them be Catholic. If you don't want to be Catholic, to believe what the Church believes, then don't be Catholic. But please don't demean yourselves and insult everyone else by pretending to be be with the Church when you are not. This is an age that demands authenticity and a refusal to stand on what you believe doesn't help anybody. What good is a salt that has lost its flavor, Christ asks us, is not fit merely for the dungheap?

Be bold, Be Brave, Be Catholic!
Iraq
 
Ambassador Paul Bremer, the special envoy from the White House to head Iraq (I suppose that sounds more palatable than "administrative governor" was on the Sunday talk shows this weekend about Iraq. Among other things he said (transcript here) was:

We certainly are seeing now organized resistance at small-level, squad-level organized resistance, by professional killers. These are guys who are trained soldiers. It's not a massive uprising by disgruntled factory workers. These are professional killers, members of the Fedayeen Saddam, Baathists, former members of the Republican Guard.

But it's important to remember that these attacks are in a very small area of the country, a country which was traditionally Saddam's area of support, and they pose no strategic threat to us. We will overpower them.


Which is fine and reassuring, except we are not. It seems that every morning these days I turn on my radio and hear that another one or two American servicemen have been ambushed and shot, and that sometimes Iraqi interpreters, workers, officials etc. are killed as well.

What bugs me (and I am not looking for vengence here) is that apparently these folks comepletely get away with their attacks. I haven't heard any report that American forces are able to counterattack the ambushers, that we are tracking them down, that we are catching them. American troops, and crucially the Iraqis who might help them, could rightly conclude they are sitting ducks at the moment.

And this is not a recipe for "overpowering" anybody.

Friday, July 18, 2003

KIll Your Television File Post #2: Hunting Women On TV
 
Honest to God I had not seen this before I started posting on the topic of killing the television
Consenting Adults File #12: "Steady" Same Sex Relationships In Holland Transmit HIV, Study Says
 
There is a little dust up on a couple of blogs about a new study, published in the May 2 edition of the Journal AIDS, which found that 86% of new HIV infections among self-defined gay men during the study period took place in committed relationships.

A couple of media outlets, such as the Washington Times, have also suggested that the study documented that these committed relationships lasted an average of 1.5 years. I cannot verify this report since the folks who manage online access to the journal AIDS won't let me see it without paying them $25.00. If anyone has the PDF and would like to slip it to me in my email, I would like to see it.

A couple of thoughts about this do come to mind, however.

First, why is this news? Ok, I understand that timing post Lawrence makes it newsier, but the only reason man bites dog is a headline is because people generally believe men don't bite dogs. I wish I could be less jaded, but I am not shocked at all to hear that a study has found that partners in sexually active same sex friendships have an average of 8 sexual partners outside of the relationship and that some of those folks, actually most of those men in the study, are bringing HIV home to the men they allegedly love.

Second, I am not sure how much bearing this fact can have on the on same sex marriage debate since I am not sure whether the study explicitly reported the same sex couples as self-identifying as "married." I am naive enough about human nature (still! - I know its amazing and maybe a little pitiful) enough to believe more that men who are going to take the time and energy to get their families and friends to get dressed up, buy gifts, and take pictures of them in their nice Morning Coats or Tuxedos would be able to keep it in their pants a bit more - but that's probably too naive.

Third, the Human Rights Campaign Fund (a noted lobby for self-described gays and lesbians) tried to make a similar point, directing the reporter to a researcher who has experience with the census data:

Anecdotally, there's quite a bit of evidence that as gays and lesbians are becoming more accepted, you're finding greater levels of stability," said Gary Gates, a researcher for the Urban Institute who compiled the data for HRC, which supports same-sex "marriage

Ah, yes. But the problem comes in the details underpinning the word stability. If stability is meant to mean a long standing emotional relationship with someone and a regular place to hang your hat, that is probably true. It gets stickier since most folks see a word like stability and think it means something, gulp, difficult like sexual fidelity.

But, no worries, because gay men are different, don't you know?

But such open relationships — in which homosexual men accept that their partners will have sex with others — are not harmful, said Anne Peplau, a psychology professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.

"There is clear evidence that gay men are less likely to have sexually exclusive relationships than other people — but this is not typically harmful to their relationships because partners agree that it's acceptable," said Miss Peplau.


So, marriage is marriage and means a certain set of values and beliefs except when it is a same sex marriage, in which case another set of rules applies? How does this not weaken the marriage franchise again?
Kill Your Television File Post #1
 
Welcome to the Kill Your Television File, a collection of links and suggestions I am inaugurating to try to help people pull away from the pervasive influence of television in our lives. I don't claim to be an expert in this, or a true believer in the anti-television movement. I watch PBS programs, particularly the ones which the import from the British Broadcasting Service, and I sometimes watch mainstream television as well.

But I find mainstream television bores me way too easily and I that the feeling of ennui it prompts slops over into my ability to watch movies, even good movies, on television. It's just something about that stupid little screen that just gets me and I can't make myself sit still long enough to watch anything longer than 20 or 30 minutes at a time.

If you aren't convinced of the need to eradicate television from your life, I am not going to try to convince you. If you can't see how watching television kills your motivation to get up and move, thus actually detracting from your remaining fit and healthy; if you cannot see how being spoon fed images and dialogue destroys your imagination and fills your mind with images that are frequently exploitive; if you can't see what television viewing does to your kids....nope I said I wasn't going to try to convince you, so I will not.

But what I will do is post up links in these files to resources for what folks who aren't going to watch the television can do instead of the junk box. I will post up links that people let me know about. I will share folks' stories of escaping television and celebrate success.

Probably the most obvious thing to do if we aren't watching television is read. Anybody who hasn't done it should probably go down and see what their local libraries are like. But folks who want to buy books online can get a pretty good selection of better than average books from A Common Reader, which is a firm I have used and use a good deal. A good collection of Catholic books, written more or less for the man or woman in the pew, can be found at Our Sunday Visitor. The latter is my publisher so of course I am biased but I have generally found most of their titles a worthwhile read

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Queer Eye For The Straight Guy
 
Right off the top I have to admit that I am at a disadvantage writing about this show, the new reality based make-over show appearing on Bravo in which a group of five self-defining gay men descend to deliver their advice to presumably heterosexual men in need of change in their personal styles of clothes, appearance and interior design. I don't have cable.

The scattering of reviews I have read about the program appear favorable, or at least as favorable as reviews of a reality based television program can be in this all-reality-all-the-time era in which we find ourselves.

But several of the reviews have brushed up against some questions I have about the program and none of the program principals, at least in the pieces I have seen, have addressed them.

First, I am fairly surprised by the willingness of the producers of the program, and I suppose the viewers of it as well, to engage in some of the most blatant stereotypes about both same sex attraction and heterosexuality. Unless I am much mistaken, it was not but a few years ago that portraying self-identified gay men as catty, queeny, and deeply concerned about questions of interior design and fashion would have been seen as grievously insulting, if not a cheap shot taken in poor taste. Yet, in the trailers and advertisements for the show these stereotypes appeared to be taken for granted.

This plays into the second stereotype, that the men on this program who are being made over must be heterosexual. It does not appear to have occurred to anyone in the show's creation or promotion that the men being made over might, in fact, live with a degree of SSA themselves. Or that there are men without any meaningful degree of SSA who, wonder of wonders, can make a room look good, can dress themselves in a reasonably attractive way and use words of more than one syllable.

I mean, I guess, that the sexual identity part of the concept just seem so unnecessary. I mean we all have people in our lives, both men and women, who could use some advice on getting a better haircut, on what colors look best on them, on why this piece of furniture doesn't work in that space. Heck, a reality show about making over men might be great hit and fill a great need, but does the sexual perspective of the people doing the make over or getting the make over matter?

It doesn't. Unless you are going to make the assertion that, somehow, living with same sex attraction must predestine you at being better at that than other people. But I have known enough self-identified gay men who were not great dressers and enough self-identified lesbians who dressed very fashionably to know that the everyone does not, cannot, fit the type.

And curiously I don't think the reality make over show would be nearly as acceptable in the other direction Suppose, for example, a show in which a group of five self-identified straight men traveled about helping men assumed to live with SSA to do stereotypically masculine things like fix their cars or throw baseballs or bait fishing hooks? Do you think the use of stereotypes so freely in that show would get anything like a positive review?

I didn't either.


Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Haven't Forsakes Blogging
 
Just had three days of being very swamped at work. I look forward to being able to blog more tommorrow.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Cheap Grace
 
"Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack's wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian "conception" of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. The Church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. "All for sin could not atone." The world goes on in the same old way, and we are still sinners "even in the best life" as Luther said. Well, then let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world's standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin. That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows Him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it costs God the life of His Son: "ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon His Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but deliver Him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God."

- From the Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer - Martyred at Flossenberg concentration camp on the express order of Adolf Hitler, April 9, 1945.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

The Whole SSA/Priesthood Discussion At Catholic and Enjoying It
 
Mark Shea, over at Catholic and Enjoying It, has been hosting what feels like an interminable discussion of whether men who live with a degree of same sex attraction should be ordained or not.

I won't link to any one post because there have been a few in the last ten days or so and because I am feeling cranky and impatient with many of them, even as I commend Mark for raising the topic.

One source of my impatience has been the almost otherworldly nature of these conversations. Some people commenting in these comment boxes seem not to understand that the question of whether men with some degree of SSA should, or should not, be in seminary or be ordained is not just a discussion in philosophy, canon law or catechesis for some men.

Folks, there are seminarians living chastely with a degree of SSA now. Right now. I know four of them. They have not announced it to their classmates or the people for whom they have served in various functions, but they have used the support offered by Courage groups of which I have been a member from time to time, and they have used the online support list I moderate, Courage Online. Their rectors know, their confessors know, their families know and their bishops know, but they have not felt the need to press any sort of agenda - other than the Gospel's.

Three of these four men had to show that they had lived chastely for five years before they even applied to the seminary. In two of the seminaries, this was two years more than men who had not lived with same sex attraction. And please understand, I am not complaining (nor did they) about that. The phrase 'prudential judgement' in evaluating potential seminarians means just that, prudential judgement. But I throw that out here to make the point that these men are not moving easily into seminaries.

Folks, the beauty of the Church's teaching on this issue is that it recognizes that men and women living with some degree of SSA can be as firmly on the highway behind Christ, carrying their crosses, as anyone else can be. Yes, SSA can add a particular weight to my cross as a Catholic who lives with some - but then everybody's sins and situations add weight to their crosses as well. Their situations may be weight that I don't share as a man with a degree of SSA, but that doesn't mean mine is any heavier or lighter, or fundamentally all that different, than someone else's.

Men and women, Catholics, living with a degree of SSA come in all walks of life and in all sorts of situations. Some of them carry their crosses tremendously well, just like other Catholics. Some of them stumble and need help, just like other Catholics. Some of them throw their crosses on the ground and say 'to hell with it,' only to come back later and pick them up again, just like other Catholics.

We are people, not icons for whatever cause or complaint or bitterness or frustration that other folks, on both the 'right' and 'left' might feel. Can men with a degree of SSA make good fathers and clerics? Absolutely. All of them won't and many probably shouldn't. But some will. Just like other men.



Thursday, July 10, 2003

An Old Story Comes to Light
 
The Peruvian Human Rights Commission of the Peruvian Congress has approved a report that details former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori no-holds-barred sterilization campaign aimed at minority women during the late 1990's.

This document is called the Anticoncepcion Quirurgica Voluntaria Report, or simply the AQV Report. The AQV Commission was formally established by the Peruvian Congress on October 25, 2001. The AQV report is an official report of the Peruvian government.

Notably, the AQV Report charges that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) supported the sterilization campaign. According to the Report, “The population policy followed by the Peruvian government was induced and financed by international organizations, namely USAID and UNFPA. These restrictive policies from outside the country carried with them not only financing but demographic objectives which translated into targeted reductions in the fertility of Peruvian women, emphasizing those in poor
areas.”(2)

In 1998 and 1999, investigators interviewed Peruvian minorities living in impoverished regions who had been sterilized, and sometimes aborted, by force in USAID-funded programs in Peru. Women were routinely called “beasts,” “pigs,” “dogs,” and “cats” while being pressured to undergo sterilization. Documented cases include deaths from infection following coercive sterilization. Over 300,000 women were sterilized in this coercive campaign between 1995-2000
.

In what feels like a lifetime ago, I was one of the investigators that brought big parts of this story to light. I met and interviewed and collected depositions from women who had been pressured into surgeries they had not wanted or understood; with women who had been sterilized after giving birth and then only found out about it when they couldn't have another child; with women who have been fitted immediately post-partum with IUDs, and then wondered why they kept bleeding. I met and interviewed and took depositions from families whose daughters, wives and mothers went for surgeries from which they never returned or, if they did return, it was only to die shortly afterward.

It was completely appalling to me, as an U.S. citizen that my nation would be involved in such things, even if only at the level of funding. I am glad the wheels of truth have ground slowly here, but they have ground very fine and authentically indeed.


First Mosque in Granada since 1492
 
Muslims in the southern Spanish city of Granada have dedicated a new mosque, their first house of prayer in the more than 500 years since Christian Spanish kings expelled Moors from the region.

The $4.5 million mosque complex has a hill-top view of the Sierra Nevada mountains and the symbolic Alhambra palace of the last Muslim sultan, Boabdil. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled the Moorish sultan in 1492, ending nearly 800 years of Muslim rule in southern Spain
.

Any guess which population in Spain, Muslim or Christian, is having the more kids? Hint: Spain's birth rate, unless it has climbed, used to be below replacement, one of the lowest, if not the lowest, in the world.


Employment Post Lawrence?
 
Father Rob Johansen over a Thrown Back has offered some thoughts on a situation that, he fears, might one day force the Church to begin hiring sexually active self-defining gay men.

Essentially a Church, after finding out that it choir director has been sexually active in a same sex relationship for a decade, has fired him, upsetting a portion of the parishioners.

Now, my immediate response to this is to feel empathetic with the choir director. Yes, no doubt that to act out sexually with another man is a sin and there that is. But, losing one's job is very rarely to never a good experience and I am not sure that the way the Church handled it was pastoral. Whatever happened to giving someone a chance to resign?

But no doubt that a parish, which is charged with preaching the Gospel, has a responsibility to offer a clear witness to that gospel. At a minimum I think that means that the leaders of the parish, whether clerical or lay, have a responsibility to live what the Church preaches. If this fellow had been involved in an sexually active relationship with a woman that he would not or could not marry licitly, I also expect that the parish would ask his resignation.

Now, onto Father's concerns. I am not sure I am as dire as he appears to be. It seems to me that for the Court to rule that a Church had no choice but to hire people who explicitly disagree with its teaching brings to the fore enormous issue of free speech and association. Several of the commentators have discussed the precedent set in the previous scout leader who self-defined as gay - and that would have a bearing.

Unfortunately it would have had more bearing had the Boy Scouts argued their case not on the basis of the leader self-defining as gay but on the grounds that the leader, as evidenced by his sex life and public statements (he had been a gay activist at Rutgers, for example) had exhibited a contempt for some of the very principles that differentiated the Boy Scouts as a youth organization.

Again folks, its not what tempts us, its how we live. Self-defined gay activists have done the best to conflate the person and the acts, but they are not the same and must always be differentiated. I think that difference is what will keep a Court, at least in this country that I currently recognize, from demanding that a Church hire people who are explicitly acting in opposition to its teachings.


Spiritual Warfare
 
Dear Sed Contra Reader,

Lately in my area some of the men and women who fought for the U.S. in Iraq have been coming home. Over the coming weeks, God willing, this trickle will become a river until everyone is back.

As I thought about this at the gym this morning I also thought about how we as Christians, need to be aware of our lives as soldiers as well. Although we have not faced a deadly enemy shooting at us, sabatoging us, ambushing us or otherwise laying snares for us, we face an enemy dedicated to doing this spiritually every day!

He is the Father of Lies, the lion that prowls about seeking souls to devour. He is worse than any human enemy because he does not attack to take our things, our wealth, or to better himself. He attacks us because we are US, and because God loves us and he hates God. He will trash us just to do it. He doesn't even take pleasure in trashing us, just as the truly envious don't necessarily want something someone else has, they just the other person NOT to have it.

And when we fight Him we do so not by standing up and saying, "you aint so bad, I can fight you!" We fight him by taking refuge in the One who wins all battles with him. When I was a little kid I was sometimes getting attacked on the playground, mostly by bigger kids shaking me down for my lunch money or my lunch (my mom packed good lunches). This continued until I made friends with a lot bigger kid who pounded one of the extortionists and then it wasn't a problem any more. Folks, Jesus is our bigger kid in the spiritual life. When temptation starts its little, oily, lying whisper in our ears, go ahead, you can look at that, you can do this, you can, you can..we can turn to Christ and say "Lord, he's back, help me!" and He will come.

The other thing to remember is that the devil cannot MAKE anything, he cannot CREATE anything. The only power he has in our lives is the power WE give him! So, today, lets all cut the cables and stop empowering the devil. Everyone today can seek to identify one thing we do that empowers the devil - and resolve, with Christ's help, to stop doing that.

Have a good day everyone, and lets be careful and pray for one another.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Consenting Adults File #11: Update On Scout Leader And Overseas News
 
Remember the story about the former same sex porn vender who was also a Boy Scout leader and was bagged with alleged child pornography? Well, the police found plenty more on his computer.

Conklin, who did not reveal the number of new images found, said it was "well above the 20" originally listed in an affidavit that led to the man's arrest last month on suspicion of possession and trafficking in child pornography.

In court documents filed Tuesday, Conklin said the man has admitted he had a "morbid interest" in child pornography. The prosecutor added that there is no evidence that he abused any Boy Scouts, but "the investigation into his activities continues."


The British are also wrestling with how to handle the question of what constitutes private and consensual as they rewrite some laws"

A specific offence should be created banning sex in public toilets, an influential MPs' committee has said.

Such activity - commonly known as "cottaging" and practised by some gay men - is currently covered by laws on buggery and gross indecency, but these are being repealed in the Sexual Offences Bill currently going through Parliament.... The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee said the confusion should be cleared up by spelling out explicitly that all sexual activity in public toilets is an offence.

And even in "most anything goes" Holland, folks are looking for the line in the sand, as it were.

AMSTERDAM — A motorcycle police officer arrested two men on Monday for having sex in public at the Zilverstrand recreation area in Almere.

Almere police have been conducting regular checks of the freshwater beach since June following a string of complaints about gay men having sex in public. The two arrested men will be called before a judge.



Coalition Forms To Offer Alternative to 'Gay'
 
Courage has joined a coalition of 10 other national and international organizations dedicated to helping people with different degrees of Same Sex Attraction either live chastely or actually diminish the SSA they experience.

Collectively, our organizations have worked with thousands of men, women and youth who are finding peace and fulfillment by resolving their SSA feelings in ways that are emotionally healing, gender-affirming, congruent with their deeply held values and beliefs, and supportive of their individual life goals.

The organization, Positive Alternatives to Homosexuality, includes groups from secular, therapeutic and research organizations in the U.S. and Germany as well as African-American, Catholic, Jewish, Latter-day Saint and Protestant ministries.

PATH was formed to promote greater public understanding and acceptance of men, women and youth who experience same-sex attractions but prefer to pursue “non-gay” alternatives that are congruent with their values, beliefs and life goals. The coalition will also support greater access to information and resources for those who seek change.

PATH’s 11 initial member organizations have collectively worked with thousands of men, women and youth who have either transitioned out of a homosexual lifestyle and identity or resolved their same-sex attractions without ever fully embracing homosexuality.

“It’s an utterly false stereotype to assume that anyone with homosexual feelings just wants to be accepted and affirmed as gay,” said Arthur Goldberg, president of PATH (and co-founder of Jonah, an educational, support and referral organization for Jews). “Many do not. They don’t object to others choosing to live a homosexual life, but it’s not what they want for their own lives. Those who voluntarily choose an alternative path deserve equal respect and support.

“And the fact is,” Goldberg said, “people can and do change. The personal life experience of innumerable men and women demonstrates that conclusively. Sexual desires are not immutable.”

Richard Cohen, a member of the PATH organizing committee who is a therapist and himself a former homosexual, said, “I know from my own personal experience, and the experience of literally hundreds of men and women I have worked with, that change is real. Many of them have developed heterosexual desires, married and had children of their own. Many have saved their existing marriages and families. Some have embraced a ‘sexually sober’ lifestyle as a single man or woman. Whatever their personal circumstances and goals, they have learned from personal experience that change is possible.”


The new coalition identified five basic beliefs for which it stands:

Personal Choice: Many people who experience same-sex attractions (SSA) choose not to act on those feelings and not to embrace a homosexual identity. In many cases, they also choose to affirm and develop their heterosexual desires and pursue their dream of raising a family. We respect and affirm their choice.

The Individuals Right To Know: We do not seek to force our viewpoint on anyone, to tell others what they "should" do, or to shut down others' voices. We do work to raise awareness of alternatives to living a homosexual life -- alternatives that many have found to be positive, life-affirming and congruent with their values, morals and beliefs. We support freedom of information.

Client Self Determination: Individuals conflicted over their same-sex attractions have the right to decide whether to seek counseling or therapy; what kind of counseling to seek; to be made aware of all alternatives; and to determine the desired direction of their own therapy program. Professional organizations should enhance rather than inhibit the client's right of self-determination.

Tolerance: Individuals who have transitioned out of a former homosexual identity and lifestyle, or who choose to pursue alternatives to homosexuality, deserve tolerance and acceptance. Their choices should not subject them to discrimination, ridicule, marginalization, or make them the target of hate speech or accusations of homophobia. Demands for tolerance by one group can never justify intolerance or ridicule of another.

Policy Neutrality: All branches of government should avoid actions or decisions that would inhibit free speech about, or the practice of, freely chosen alternatives to homosexuality. Of particular concern are laws regarding hate crimes and sexual orientation that may be construed to make it illegal to promote or even speak about alternatives to homosexuality.

Equal Access To The Public Forum: We claim equal access to public forums to state our viewpoint, share our experience, and to raise awareness of alternative responses to a homosexual identity and lifestyle. This is particularly vital in cases where public schools address the issue of sexual orientation.


On the whole I think this is a good thing. The coalition is a pretty disparate group of organizations which have in common men and women who live with different degrees of SSA and are unwilling to simply accept the prevailing cultural model of how to do so.

For some that approach will be to reduce the degree of SSA they experience through therapy. For others it will be to learn better how to live with their SSA in the context of their already established responsibilities as wives and husbands, mothers and fathers. For some it will be to live as chaste single people. But now, through this organization, the different approaches can steadily become ever more known.
Diminishing Same Sex Attraction
 
There are a couple of items coming up that touch on the somewhat controversial topic of diminishing same sex attraction and, before I write about them, I thought it might be a good idea to lay out my position on the subject.

First, contrary to the accusations in some of the comment boxes of blogdom, I do not self-identify as ex-gay. I find the term ex-gay to be every bit as reductionist as the term gay and I don't believe a human person can or should be reduced or labeled by one aspect of their personality.

Also, I don't claim to live completely free of any degree of SSA. Despite having experienced a marked diminishing of same sex attraction over the past few years, along with an increase in heterosexuality, I have not particularly sought that result and have not entered into therapy to achieve it. I have, however, consulted a therapist to help confront other issues in my life that were not sexuality related.

Second, I don't think this topic is particularly well served by the extremes at either end of the spectrum. I don't agree with folks who believe that every person who seeks to diminish the degree of SSA they experience will be able to do so. But neither do I believe the folks who maintain every attempt to diminish SSA must be doomed to failure.

Papers published in peer-reviewed literature and casually cited in this editorial in Psychology Today reported that people seeking to diminish the degree of SSA they experience to neglibility, to the point where it no longer has an impact on their day to day life, to be about a third. A further third in the literature report experiencing some change, even if it is not to neglibility. As Robert Epstein wrote noted in Psychology Today, those numbers can appear discouraging, but similar results can be found with similar phenomenon.

The bottom line is that the decision of whether or not to seek to reduce the degree of SSA that one might experience is a deeply personal and complex one. It does not translate well to bumper stickers, slogans, news stories or even blogsites. But whether a person chooses to seek that change or not is up to them. They should not be called names, labeled, stigmatized or vilified for their attempts.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

What He Actually Said
 
There are media reports out today that have President Bush saying something silly like American Christians throughout history called slavery a sin. That got my attention because, of course, some Christians in America did condemn slavery and some, sadly, did not. Well, upon more research, the texts of the President's remarks don't have him saying that. The closest paragraph I could find to his alleged remarks reads as follows:

Yet the spirit of their captors was corrupted. Small men took on the powers and airs of tyrants and masters. Years of unpunished brutality and bullying and rape produced a dullness and hardness of conscience. Christian men and women became blind to the clearest commands of their faith and added hypocrisy to injustice. A republic founded on equality for all became a prison for millions.

Anyone who is interested in reading the rest of what he said can find it here.





Consenting Adults File #10: Are parks "private" or not
 
A Greenwich man who was arrested on charges that he videotaped couples having sex in a Stamford park says he has a right to videotape because he was in a public place.

A couple of thoughts about this item. First, the videotaper,while he might be rude, would appear to have a point. If a park is a public place it is reasonable for people having sex there to conclude that they are least possibly going to be seen, and perhaps videotaped, doing so. Second, this item suggests that two women had brought the complaint about the man. If the women were having sex this will be the first time I have heard of female same sex couples having sex in public parks.
But Virginity is just so uncool!
 
Britney Spears has finally admitted she is not a virgin but is adamant that ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake is the only man she's ever had sex with.

Her personal life has long been the subject of public scrutiny after she famously denounced the idea of sex before marriage.

However, America's pop princess is not terribly impressed that he has told everyone about their most intimate moments.

According to reports, 21-year-old Britney told a US magazine: "I've only slept with one person my whole life. It was two years into my relationship with Justin and I thought he was the one.

"But I was wrong! I didn't think he was gonna go on Barbara Walters and sell me out," she said, referring to the famous US television interviewer.


Ah, the perennial lament of mistake sex for love.


Amy Welborn's Questions
 
Amy Welborn, over at In Between Naps, has asked a number of thought provoking questions[ Scroll down if the linkback doesn't take you to the actual post.]

I haven't written about these because I have been letting them percolate for a while. But here is my $.02.

Amy asked about how we could Reclaim "Catholic" without qualifiers and there have been some posts on this topic. The problem is that all the folks who use the qualifiers to describe themselves or others really believes that they are on the right path in their mode of Catholicism and that the other guys and gals are wrong.

I think the problem at the root of this is self-righteousness and that the cure is a good dose of humility. Can someone who claims the label of "traditionalist" or "conservative" or "progressive" know for absolute, blue-sky certain that God really doesn't care about the things we do as His body to fight injustice based on race or class or origin or that He doesn't really care about personal holiness as much? Yes, we can quibble about how things are done, but is it such an impossible thing to believe that the "other side" (however we define that) might have some truth behind their points? And would the charity and humility it would take to admit that really cost us so much?

Greg Popcak has written about the reality that the Church is not merely metaphorical family, it is a family. His analysis is a good deal more informed and in depth than mine, but I agree that we are a family in reality, not merely in metaphor, and families put up with one another - even when they don't agree. Every family has members with whom we might not get along or see eye to eye - but they are still family an we are still called to love them.

Now, this gets rough when it can seem that one part of the family preaches a message that we believe will make the road to heaven more difficult, if not impossible for the hearers. But our best response to that will not be to label or call names, it will be to pray and to make our presentation of truth as we understand it as creative and honest and loving as we can. In the end, the only relationship with Christ for which we are directly responsible is our own. All we can do for other people, whether members of the family or not, is to present the Gospel as best we can, pray for them, and leave them to the Holy Spirit. He will look after them far better than we ever could - including the possibility that our offering the Gospel in as sincere, loving and honest a way as we can is part of the Mystery of that soul.

Which lets me transition into Amy' next question;Respecting modern doubtor what to do about contemporary friends, family, acquaintances who say they "can't" believe.

I can only write from my own experience here, but this is what I think falls into the Mystery of conversion, the Mystery of how each soul finds its way through the fog of doubt and fear and anger to see Light.

In my own case, I don't know why or how I became a Christian. I have a chain of events; increasing dissatisfaction with the way I was leading my life in the gay world, the failures of different approaches to remedy that, the suggestion of an unchurched friend that I might "pray about it" and then the request of Christ, made in complete skepticism, that Christ answered.

But that chain of events are the words on the page, not the reality that those events and words signify. Trying to pin it down is like trying to pick up a drop of mercury. But I do know certain things.

First, that prior to conversion I consistently thought of Christians as completely "other," and unlike me entirely. In my own mind I had a little box labeled Christians into which I neatly stereotyped everybody who so identified. Second, prior to conversion I believed Christians "hated" me. All of them. By command. These two things made it quite unlikely that I would hear the Gospel message because the bearers had no credibility with me. Looking back I suppose it was quite necessary for the words "pray about it" come from an unchurched person, because I would have disregarded them from a Christian.

I think what this boils down to is that we acknowledge that conversion, the actual wooing of the soul, is the business of God. We can't really do that. What we can and should do is keep praying for people who say they can't believe, and keep striving to be saints, to live lives that reflect the power of Christ in our own lives. Our age may be one of the most deeply steeped in lies in history. What is the majority of marketing, spin, advertising, and public relations if not varying degrees of deception? Our response cannot be more of the same. Our response must be simple, transparent and as completely authentic as we can make it. And then we must pray the Holy Spirit does His thing.

This lets me transition into the last question: Does Catholic life and practice give the impression that the Living, True Christ is what we're about? I don't know. I think that's up to each of us as individuals first, and then as small groups and parishes building on that. We are all limited in our abilities, our time, our resources. We cannot be everything to everyone. But we must not forget the power of simple, authentic and holy Christian lives, whether Catholic in tradition or not. I didn't really internalize what the Church teaches about love until I saw it lived out in front of me in a Catholic family.

I cannot help but recall the experience of an evangelical Christian author who met a young woman at a conference at which he spoke. The young woman looked deeply into the man' face. "You don't remember me, do you? - It's me, Beth." The man looked and saw that it was Beth, the young women who, as a teenager, had babysat for his daughters. Beth had come to Christ, she wanted to tell him, and she wanted to thank him for the role he played in her path there. It seems that during the entire time she babysat for his family, her own family had been falling apart, with her parents going through an ugly separation and divorce. The grace and peace of this man's household, which she had experienced even in her few short babysitting hours each week, had been in such a contrast to what she experienced at home, that she wanted to explore where it came from - and that exploration led to Christ.

So how to show the truth of Christ in our lives? Become saints. Every day try to do one thing that can show forth Christ in our lives more completely and authentically. And you know, coming back to the first question, it is in those actions that are most likely to regain a more unified faith. After all, look at Mother Teresa and her life of progressive actions rooted in tradition.

My $.02.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Controversial Anglican Cleric Backs Away From Consecration
 
An Anglican cleric who was in line to be the first self-identified gay bishop in the Anglican communion, has resigned rather than move forward with a consecration that might have split the communion asunder. [Thanks to Amy Welborn for the link.]

I don't know anything about this case since I have not been following Anglican news as much as I used to. However if, as this story points out, the cleric in question had been living chastely and committed to that, and if he was committed to supporting the traditional understanding the homosexual acts are sinful, I am not sure where there would be reasons to oppose him.

Even though he abides by Church policy and is in a sexually abstinent relationship with his partner of 27 years, evangelicals were concerned that he had not expressed public "repentance" for the fact that his relationship had previously been active.

Of course, I don't know the whole story and its no longer my communion, but I am not sure what the phrase "public repentence" means. If that means that the certain people expected a breast beating renunciation of the relationship, I think that is too much to ask. If that means simply stating that one believes and is committed to living by the Church Universal's historic understanding of homosexual acts - well, what else would one want?

It's interesting to note that the Christian audiences before which I have spoken and which have been disturbed by my living arrangement (chastely with a former partner) have been evangelical. Of course I would not, and don't, group all evangelicals alike, but the experiences did echo with me when I read this story.

Patrick Rothwell over at the Contrarian offers a much more in depth discussion of these events.

Mother of God: A pretty good Sheila?
 
There is a new collection of parts of the bible coming out, translated into what is being called "Australian slang." Is this a good evangelical tool, or a joke? Lending toward the joke side of the ledger is the fact that the new bible doesn't claim to even be the whole of the New Testament of each of the Gospels. In fact, one group is sponsoring a competition for translations of Old Testament stories into Australian slang. (No more than 100 words per entry.)

For example, the parable of the Good Samaritan becomes: "This is the story of a bunch of bushrangers who attacked a bloke, stole his dough, and left him as good as dead. A big-wig from the Temple happened to pass by, took one look at the bloke, crossed the road and… "

The feeding of the five thousand becomes ‘a gigantic picnic’ and at one point Jesus tells his ‘team’ to “come on out to the desert for a bit, so you can have some kip”. Archbishop Peter Jensen and Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson have both written introductions to the book.


The clerical introductions were presumbably written by Anglicans, though these days one can't be sure....


Sunday, July 06, 2003

Relationships Beyond and Other Than Marriage
 
Robert Klein Engler, a Chicago teacher and author, has an interesting piece in which he muses that gays will need to reign in the libertine wing of their movement if they are going to want the U.S. public to get behind Same Sex Marriage.

There is something in a furtive glance of eyes on the subway, or from the passing crowd that does not tend to permanence. These casual relationships happen usually in the land of the young. Yet, we are not young forever. A companion is a good thing as we get older. This is one reason why marriage is a conservative institution. It stands as a bulwark against alienation in a society that encourages all that is fast and disposable. A social policy that encourages intimacy and responsible relationships is good for all of us in the long one. If gays want same-sex marriage, then maybe they will become conservative in other ways as well. A media campaign by gays to make this point will return more goodwill than any Gay Pride Parade. If gays want to convince average Americans about same-sex marriage, then they have their public relations work cut out for them.

I don't want to get involved in a detailed discussion of Klein's "marriage as road to conservatism" point, although I find that interesting and might blog on it later. Instead, Klein's piece leaves me a point at which to bring out some reflections that have been bouncing around in my head for a while.

First, there is a widespread and lamentable supposition that a friendship, whether it same sex or heterosexual, must be entirely bad or wrong if it contains illicit sex. I understand why the supposition exists, but cannot help but believe it to be shortsighted and...unfamiliar with the reality so often found in friendship. Please understand, I am not holding any sort of brief for the notion that homosexual acts can be made acceptable if they take part in the context of an otherwise strong and enduring friendship. But I am saying that merely the presence of illicit sex does not, necessarily, mean that the other goods of friendship cannot be fostered or found in sexually active friendships.

My best friend and former lover and I met 17 years ago this past Friday, July 4, and for seven years we lived in what was a very conventional lover relationship, as more or less understood by the gay community at the time. During that time the sex was great and the friendship grew. Significantly, however, the sex part grew to be less important as time passed until, finally, when I approached him with the idea that we might stop having sex, it was strong enough (with a couple of bumpy years just starting out) that it could survive and thrive even though we were no longer sharing a bed - and it has grown ever since.

Second, is Klein's point that having a companion, a long term friend, in our lives as we age is important. In the past few months our friendship has had to face to its first real medical situations, nothing serious, thank God, but situations in which each of us has faced surgeries, hospital stays and recuperation at home. I cannot imagine either one of us doing as well in these trials as we have done without the care and attention, love really, from the other.

All this is important because it makes the discussion of same sex marriage so complicated. What it really comes down to, for me, is the sex. If the proponents of same sex marriage were interested in celebrating long-term friendships, friendships that have the sort of enduring nature that some (admittedly a minority but still some) same sex friendships have, that were chaste, then I would probably join them.

Where I fault same sex marriage proponents is in their trying to smuggle in blessing of same sex acts in with the blessing of the goods of long term friendships. While the deeper elements of friendship can grow despite an illicit sexual relationship (think of the ability of trees to grow around and over different types of fencing, even barbed wire) they cannot make the illicit sex be other than it is.

I also fault them for the subtext, implied but rarely stated, that deep friendships cannot grow without sex. How often has my former lover faced the question well, if you aren't sleeping with him, why stay? Why, indeed. Maybe because in this friendship we both have found the ability to see and value the whole of each other as we really are; as Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote, nothing is more mistaken than the adage that love is blind. Love is that which gives us sight...

Because the bottom line is that while conjugal love (the bedrock of marriage) and friendship share a lot of ground, (the best marriages are usually the strongest friendships) marriage and friendship remain different - and that difference is in the sex. Sex matters because human beings, as men and women, are different. Because we are created differently, with bodies that are not merely things we can regard or disregard at will but are parts of our whole beings, and because those differences give sex a dimension that no other type of human communion can have.
Consenting Adults File #9: Privacy Marches On
 
The police in Charlotte, North Carolina, have had the temerity to say that they plan to keep enforcing the community's laws against sex in public - and this has drawn an outcry.

Gay rights advocates and defense lawyers say they don't condone people soliciting sex in public, but they argue that police act unfairly when they arrest people on suspicion of soliciting only certain types of sex in public. It is legal, for instance, for a man and woman to meet in public and plan to have intercourse, no matter where it is to happen. But it is illegal for people to solicit anal or oral sex, unless it is to happen in a private place.

Hey, if a man and woman meet in a park and say, "lets do it in the bushes over there" and a cop sees that, I am sure they will be arrested too. But hey, how often does that happen, really? I mean, how likely is it that there are as many male-female couples out there getting down in the bracken as there are male-male couples?

Police say many of their crime-against-nature arrests happen in public areas such as parks, after citizens call to complain about seeing people trolling for sex partners or seeing actual sexual activities under way.

"We are certainly not in the business of peeking in folks' windows, even if we have enough people and time" said vice Capt. Tim Jayne. "These sex acts often are engaged in in wide open, wooded areas around parks and in restrooms. ... And it's not specific to gays."

The relationship between police and some members of the gay community has been stormy over the issue of the state's crime against nature laws. Warren and some others claim officers entrap gay men by coming on to them in parks and other places and coercing them to agree to commit sodomy so they can arrest them.

Jayne, the police captain, says that doesn't happen. "Our folks do not go out and solicit conversations," he said.


"Coercing them?" Commit sodomy, or I will break your arm! Sorry, but I just find that claim rather incredible. Alleged entrapment, maybe. There have always been complaints that the cops send in a good looking officer to seek if he gets gets solicited, but using force?

And, of course, I suppose, that were there parks and other spaces listed on websites where men and women knew they could go to arrange for sex in the park, the cops could send in attractive male and female officers to see if they get solicited, but how many of those places exist versus the numbers of places listed on same sex oriented websites?

In North Carolina and 12 other states across the country with sodomy laws, the courts will end up deciding how to interpret the Supreme Court's ruling, said Duke University law professor Chris Schroeder.

While the Supreme Court ruling was clear that states cannot enforce crimes-against-nature laws for activity in the privacy of citizens' homes, "What is open to debate is how much ... beyond the privacy of one's own home the case extends," Schroeder said.


Yep, and we all know where that debate is going, don't we readers?
Try this phrase on for size: Union Busting Bishop!
 
Dorothy Day, pray for us! If this story is accurate, the bishop in the diocese of Brownsville, Texas, Raymundo J. Pena, [sorry, don't know how to make my keyboard give me the tilde over the n] has undertaken to break the efforts of lay Catholic workers in five parishes to organize.

The family fight burst into public view June 18 when the Rev. Ruben Delgado, newly assigned to Holy Spirit by the bishop, arrived at the church for his first day on the job and fired four of the unionized workers.

The fired workers received little explanation. One, Ann Cass, had been a key member of Holy Spirit's administrative staff for 22 years and played a central role in building the church's new building in the 1980s. Another, Edna Cantu, a young secretary who is several months pregnant, had been dismissed last fall from yet another parish church shortly after she and her co-workers unionized there.

The United Farm Workers (UFW), which represents the employees, received a court order temporarily halting the dismissals; the church then placed them on paid administrative leave. In the ensuing uproar, Delgado resigned as pastor of Holy Spirit after a week. Aside from a written statement defending the firings as an administrative reshuffle designed to replace some paid staff with volunteers, he did not communicate with his parishioners and never celebrated Mass there.


While courtesy and respect cannotforestalll all labor conflict, I think a lot of disputes arise from how things are handled. To arrive and fire four of the workers, with no notice, and apparently without having had the time to look at how they do there jobs etc., strikes me as suspicious. At the least heavy-handed and short-sighted, at the worst as the new pastor being sent in to break up the union.

Peña said he had no hand in the firings, noting he was out of town when they took place. He has reaffirmed his opposition to unionizing parish lay workers, whose minimum wage of $7, he said, is well above the average in the Rio Grande Valley.

"I honestly do not believe that it is necessary or beneficial for church employees in the Valley to join a labor union," he said in an e-mailed response to questions from The Washington Post.

Hundreds of parishioners at Holy Spirit have accused Peña of engineering the firings to break union contracts that he publicly denounced as "invalid in church law" because he, as bishop, was not consulted and did not approve them.


Perhaps it is in the reporting or the writing, or even my own bias, but man, this smacks of the old patron "what, we treat all our workers well! How could they complain!"

The genesis of the current crisis can be traced to 2000, when the bishop abolished a 20-year-old pension plan for the diocese's approximately 1,100 paid lay workers, including administrators, religious education workers, secretaries and others. Rather than receiving monthly checks upon retirement, as many were expecting, they received one-time checks in early 2002 according to a formula that favored older employees over some younger ones who had worked longer.

The diocese did offer an alternative -- a defined contribution retirement plan, similar to a 401(k) -- which diocesan officials characterized as an improvement. But some church employees were indignant, insisting that the abolition of the pension plan would do particular harm to lower-paid workers....


Diocesan officials denounced the union contracts, saying they corrupted what was akin to a marital bond between paid lay workers and the church -- even though parishioners point out lay workers at the Vatican itself are unionized. In a communique sent to all parishes, Peña warned them against further inroads by the union.

Unions "do not make sense in covenantal relationships of trust and love," Robert E. Maher, vicar general of the diocese, wrote last July in an e-mail to a lawyer who protested the diocese's policy. "There is no place in the Christian community for divisions along the lines of self-interest, and that means, among other things, no unions."


Sorry, I have worked for Catholic apostolates in the past and their labor practices have been scandalous, really. Exploitive and pretty willing to ignore the precept that the laborers in the Lord's vinyard deserve their wages.







Saturday, July 05, 2003

The dawn in the dark
 
Athanasius, over at Summa Contra Mundum, has written a nice short reflection on the realities of what consitutes progress versus regress. He writes in part:

The arc of history is not from restrictive to permissive, but from permissive to restrictive. In other words, the Greeks and Romans had a society where all these things were common, and it wasn't until Christ came along that they changed. We aren't progressing to a brave new future, but are instead regressing to a dead and well-abandoned past.

Did you ever wonder why Christianity spread so quickly? It wasn't because liberal Greeks and Romans were well-adjusted and happy. It was because they lived at "the end of the age." They could see that no wisdom lies at the end of the path of excess. Unfettered liberty is an express lane to suicide, and they could see that. Christianity spread because it offered hope in the face of this abyss of despair.

Why would we want to climb back down into that abyss? We've been there, and done that. Some of us even have T-shirts.


I loved this reflection, not just the last line because I share the climb from the abyss (and have the t-shirts and the pin-buttons, and sadly, some of the memories), but because I think if there is any light at all to be found in the gathering darkness it comes from St. Paul's observation in his letter to the Church in Rome that where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.

Is it to further sin that this so? Far from it! Rather it is St. Paul recognizing the reality that God honors our choices. When in the parable of the prodigal son, the young son says to his father, essentially, I wish you were dead, give me my part of the inheritance so I can leave, his Father gave it to him. And when the son took the money to a far country, dissipated it and himself on partying and alcohol and illicit sex and all of it, and fetched up as a swineherd who had to eat what the pigs ate, his Father let that happen too. But when the young man gets himself together enough to want to come home, at least for a chance a better life (he did not tease himself with the notion that his Father might even forgive him), the Father welcomes him home with open arms.

So, yes, the U.S. Supreme Court has taken yet one more brake off our carriage as we hurdle not into a rosy future but back into the past we flattered ourselves that we had outgrown. The twilight has gotten a little darker, the shadows longer, and it has become more likely that more people will collect not just the tee-shirts but the losses, too, from their trips into the deeper darkness. But in the gathering gloom the light of Christ, where it can be found, shines more brightly still, more strongly and with greater light with every step into the dark we take.

Marriage Prep From Father's Point of View
 
Father Jim Tucker, a priest in my diocese, has been writing back and forth with other bloggers (including Eve Tushnet) about marriage and marriage preparation. Some of his correspondence has prompted a good thumbnail to the topic from the priest's point of view.

One of the main points I try to get across is that these sessions are marriage preparations, not wedding preparations. All we have to do is follow the rubrics in the ceremonial books, and the wedding will be lovely: that's no sweat. But to have a good and solid life of marriage is much harder work, and that will take up almost all our preparation time. We'll talk about ceremonies in the last meeting. After mentioning the daunting statistics on marriage success in the United States, I try to explain the Church's interest in helping our people to beat those odds and their own ability to do so.


Consenting Adults File #8 Bawdy Canadians and other events
 
Ever since the Canadian government essentially abandoned any objections to same sex marriage, there have been a number of observations, on both sides of the border, that the decision turned the normal order of cultural "hipness" on its head. Before approving of gay sex Canada was seen as something of the staid stepsister to her swinging Southern neighbor, but after giving the nod to sodomy she was way out in front in the ever downward basket race. The U.S. Supreme Court's recent Lawrence decision brought the hip balance more into line, but liberal Canadians could smirk that it was little more than trying to play catch up, sort of Americans desperately saying "us too!"

But perhaps no longer. A Canadian court in Montreal has ruled that what happens in private really does need to be private - a sex club, for example, which is out of the site of the man, woman and child on the street but where folks are still going at it in front of each other, is not sufficiently private enough. The father/daughter proprietors of the sex club (ok, pause for a second to let that sink in) were not operating a club for swingers under Canadian law, but a common bawdy house.

Since there are U.S. lawyers which have recently begun pressing claims in U.S. courts that sex club activities are in fact private and covered under Lawrence, and since I see little to nothing that will prevent them from prevailing, it would seem that the United States is about to edge Canada out for the lead once again in the race to the bottom.

"The court concludes that modern Canadian society tolerates swinging and swingers clubs if the sexual exchanges take place in private," he wrote. "However, if the sexual exchanges take place in public, even among informed and consenting adults, they are not swinging but orgies. And Canadians do not tolerate orgies." [Emphasis mine: Mean old Canadians. They are obviously hateful and sex-phobic; they'll soon change their tune! Progress will not be blocked. - DCM]

And in his mind, what the police observed inside the two clubs was not classic swapping, where couples who know each other decide to spice up their sex lives.

"The 'social contract' joining these people was very weak, even non-existent. In effect, nothing in the evidence shows that the participants knew one another. In fact, the only common link between them was that they found themselves in these places to watch or to participate in public sexual activities."


But the advocates of Privacy Uber Alles in Canada have not given up:

Terry Gould, author of The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers, is concerned Canadian police are targeting swingers clubs. He maintains the clubs are private, and police should not be coming through the door at all.

"We've had an ethic in Canada since [former prime minister Pierre] Trudeau that the government has to stay out of the bedrooms of the nation," he said. "That should apply to very big bedrooms that are private, too."


But others saw good in the court's even limited admission:

Jean Hamel, president of the 8,000-member Quebec Swingers Association, predicted Boisvert's ruling released Friday will have national ramifications.

"This judgment will affect all of Canada," Hamel said in an interview. "I don't think more clubs will open in Quebec but I think it will open doors for other places in Canada like Toronto, where they didn't have any clubs with sexual activities on premises.

"So that will be a big change for Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver, because the only province in Canada that you could find sexual relations on premises was Quebec. Quebec has always been a pioneer with sexual practices."


Oh yah, equal protection and all that:

Denis Chesnel said he wasn't too disappointed with Boisvert's judgment, although he called it a double standard. "The gays, they do what they want," said Chesnel. "Us hetero people, we can't do what we want. It's a joke."

Slippery slope? Nahhhhhh.

Item 2:

A Roman Catholic priest and another man who admitted to engaging in a sex act in a public park have been sentenced to a year of probation.

Don't worry, as the definition of private steadily expands, these sorts of cases will never reach the courtroom.


Friday, July 04, 2003

The Pursuit of Happiness
 
Today is the Fourth of July, a time when U.S. citizens around the world will relax, spend time with family and friends, eat good food (home fried chicken - No KFC Here), watch a fireworks display and, I hope, spend a little time in reflection of the great good they have in being U.S. citizens.

In recent years my buddy and I have gone to friends or hosted friends, lounged by swimming pools or played in ponds, generally had a great and relaxing day. And we have done one thing that has made the younger members of our families and our friends' families role their eyes. We have read the Declaration of Independence. It's not very long and in our tradition everyone, from the oldest reader to the youngest, reads at least part of it. I urge everybody who passes through this site today to do themselves a favor and read it.

This year I have been thinking a lot about the phrase Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. It's an interesting phrase, with some interesting permutations.

First, some history. Thomas Jefferson lifted the phrase almost word for word from John Locke, a previous European philosopher. Only in Locke's formulation the words were life, liberty and property. And by property Locke and many of his fellows had in mind the notion of being able to define your own livelihood. Europe at the time was very structured when it came to economics and vocation. If your family had long been carpenters, or if you were one, you could not just up and say one day, "I am going to get some training and be bricklayer." Someone, somewhere, had to give you permission for that. So the roots of the pursuit of happiness had a lot to do with the pursuit of a livelihood.

In general, and there is always room for improvement, we have attained that here. Every year Americans from all sorts of backgrounds and ages, drop (or are dropped) from one career and start another. Some are courageous enough to start their own businesses, which is perhaps the purest form of the economic pursuit of happiness.

The other thing to note is that for Jefferson and his contemporaries, happiness in economic activity was not an individual thing. It contained the germ of the idea that economic activity had a role in building up the greater community too, not as a sidelight or as an afterthought, but as one of the reasons someone would undertake economic activity. It's interesting to go to the corporation and licensing papers from the early days of the Republic and see what people wrote when they explained what they wanted to do in business and why. Usually it's not just to make a living, but also to contribute to the overall welfare with some job, good or service that people needed. We haven't done quite as well keeping up with that notion. In the tension between the common good and making money, making money has been increasingly getting the far stronger hand.

I have to confess I am uneasy with the pursuit of happiness. Not because I think I or anyone else should be miserable, but because of the thing itself. Happiness has always had the connotation of being something that relies on external factors.

The root of the word happinesscontains the old Anglo-Saxon word hap, which means chance or luck. Happiness is in the same family of words as happening, happenstance and even the word hapless - which is usually understood as being a condition quite opposed to happiness. In short, its possible to do everything correctly, however we might define that to be, and still wind up profoundly unhappy - because we cannot control all the events and people who impact us. And if we root the value of our lives in whether or not we are happy - well, we are in for a rough ride I think.

I also dislike the pursuit of happiness because I think it can foster what I call the "if only" syndrome. I have known, and know, a lot of folks whose reaction to events that bring unhappiness have fallen into thinking "if only;" if only I hadn't lost my job, if only I was thinner, taller, shorter, if only I had a girlfriend or boyfriend, husband or wife, if only I didn't have to carry whatever cross it is that I have to carry.

Peter Kreeft, a philosophy professor at Boston College, a long time ago, put me onto the idea not of rooting life in a pursuit of happiness, but instead in cultivating joy. Joy is different from happiness because joy is a gift from God and comes from seeking a relationship with Him. Joy is hardier than happiness as well. Like the springs that the Children of Israel found as they walked through Sinai, joy can well up in a life when the external factors point to unhappiness.

So, in the midst of the fried chicken, swimming pools, family, friends and fireworks, I am going to a moment to thank God for what I have and cultivate a little joy as well. I hope you can too.
Consenting Adults File #7
 
This one is a brief notice, more of reminder really, that whatever happens sexually is not really, ever completely private, no matter what Nine Robes in Washington might contend. As one of my correspondents wrote recently: There is a lot of wisdom in the observation that when we have sex, no matter what sort of sex it is, we are have sex with that person and all the other people with whom that person has had sex.

DETROIT (AP) — Black and Hispanic women are being infected with HIV at a higher rate than the rest of the population in part because many of them don’t know their sex partners have sex with men, a new study shows.


Thursday, July 03, 2003

Consenting Adults File #5:
 
This is an item with its roots in Canada, so it doesn't have quite the privacy angle that a similar parade in the United States would have in our current zeitgeist. But I thought it worth linking to the post provided by Richard C. over at Catholic Light (not Catholic Lite). Hey Richard, in the U.S. Catholic Lite often goes by the name of Episcopalian :) ) Just teasing all you Anglicans, I am a former Anglican myself.

There really is not much worth saying about the images, as pictures are worth thousands, or sometimes tens of thousands, of words. It is worth noting, however, that the likelihood is that these folks were but a minority of the crowd and that many folks with same-sex attraction, even those who have taken the step of self-defining as gay, are often fairly appalled and frightened by the sexually libertine wing of the movement.

But its also worth remembering that, at its core, despite the current disinclination to admit it, the gay rights movement has always been about sex. The men who had gathered at the Stonewall Bar and who fought the police in what many activist consider the birthday of the gay rights movement in the U.S. were not there just to drink tea, after all, and they were followed by the well documented same sex culture in San Francisco and New York.

Also, it's worth asking, as both my former lover and I have asked in the past, why is it so often that the people who feel called to strip off all their clothes in a crowd are the very people you would least like to see strip off their clothes? I think its probably some corollary to Murphy's Law that dictates things like if you drop a piece of toast it will always land with the butter and jam side down on the white carpet.

It's also worth saying that I am not totally down on the so called gay rights movement. Yes, if I had to do it all over again, and I got to keep my memory as insurance against making the same mistakes, I would do some things differently, but not all. I think, all things considered, that keeping same sex attraction that you might experience secret from everyone is unhealthy and costly and I advise anyone in that boat to find at least one, two or three people whom they trust that they can tell. I also think its wrong for many people to make assumptions about all folks who live with some same sex attraction must not be committed to living a faithful life, to following Christ, to seeking the good. In the end its not what tempts us that matters most, its how we live.

Further, the libertine wing does have its defenders, at least as a part of the "pride parades."

One million people don't descend on Pride to get a glimpse of reality. Pride is not a celebration of the normal. No one would fly in from Vancouver -- or even drive up from Buffalo -- to applaud support groups and politicians courting the gay vote....So bring on the sweat-soaked speedos and dykes on bikes and throw them on the cover of every paper there is. Not even poor, dear Kate Hepburn -- queerer than the whole NLGJA board put together by the looks of it -- should be allowed to keep a scantily clad twink below the front-page fold the day after Pride.