If We Become Like Them, Will They Like Us?

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Deal W. Hudson
September 27, 2010

Hardly a day goes by when I fail to see some news report or op-ed on the advisability of the Catholic Church to end the male-only priesthood, the mandatory celibacy requirement, the ban on contraception and abortion, or its view of homosexuality.

Usually, the story is set against the backdrop, imagined or otherwise, of declining Mass attendance, diminishing vocations, widespread use among Catholics of contraception, growing alienation among women and young people, or stories about priests who have abused children.

Recently, however, several stories have contained quotes from Catholic bishops who are asking some of the same questions. For example, two Belgian prelates, Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt and Bishop Jozef De Kesel of Bruges, raised questions about mandatory celibacy for priests.

It’s one thing when your local Voice of the Faithful chapter gets in the news; it’s quite another when bishops are the mouthpiece.

Bishop Hoogmartens told Belgian VRT radio, “I can imagine two sorts of a priesthood. Those who live celibately and those who have a relationship – are married.”

Bishop De Kesel is newly installed in Bruges following the previous bishop’s revelation that he had sexually abused a nephew of his for years. The new bishop of Bruges was quoted in the same story saying, “People for whom celibacy is humanly impossible should also have a chance to become a priest.”

The disconnect between the problem of male priests who sexually abuse boys and a male priest wanting to marry a woman is so obvious, one must wonder why the bishops brought it up. In the same interview, Bishop Hoogmartens admitted ending the celibacy requirement wouldn’t solve the problem.

In both the United States and Europe, Catholic bishops and the media have not been on the best of terms for many years. The recent series of attacks by the New York Times on Pope Benedict XVI is the latest case in point. Bishops must be wary of constantly dealing with a hostile press and a laity stirred by the barrage of stories constantly raising the thornier points of doctrine and tradition.

I wonder if some bishops have gotten to the point of wondering how they can win back some sort of credibility in the eyes of the media.

Perhaps that was the motive behind the comments last week by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, the leader of the Church in England and Wales, made to a BBC interviewer while sitting on a panel next to two academics. The first was an Anglican homosexual professor of Church history at Oxford and a professor of “Catholic Studies”; the other, a specialist on gender issues and a well-known dissenter on abortion and marriage.

Archbishop Nichols denied that the Church was opposed to the political objectives of homosexual activists. “That’s not true,” he said. “In this country, we were very nuanced. We did not oppose gay civil partnerships. We recognized that in English law there might be a case for those. What we persistently said is that these are not the same as marriage.”

If this wasn’t jaw-dropping on its own, Hilary White of LifeSiteNews reports that Archbishop Nichols implied that Benedict himself holds the issue of marriage as a low priority. Here is how Nichols explained that remark:

I think it’s very interesting, and I don’t think for one minute it’s accidental, that when the pope wanted to raise this question [in his address at Westminster Hall], where are the moral standards on which we base our activity, he chose as his example the financial crisis. I think that’s very important and not to be overlooked.

No one mentioned that supporting civil partnerships for homosexuals implies support for the sexual acts within those relationships. (Or is the position of the archbishop to support only those civil partnerships that remain chaste?) John Smeaton, longtime director of the Society for the Preservation of Unborn Children in London, responded to Archbishop Nichols, noting that this is not the first time the archbishop has left the door open to homosexual unions. He called the archbishop’s remarks “clearly at odds with Catholic teaching,” citing the Catechismat 2357.

If Archbishop Nichols or the Belgian bishops are trying to win back some favor with the media by intimating a compromise on controversial issues, they are mistaken. This will only increase the scorn of those who pummel the Church by adding the odor of weakness to the offense of their “outdated beliefs.”

Or, perhaps, these bishops actually believe the future of the Church lies in the direction of pursuing such changes. This is the kind of moment when we can hope the bishops’ commitment to collegiality will keep such speculations from gaining any traction.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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