Saturday, February 23, 2013

In other words, "Yes" part 2

There have been various debunkings of the story that inspired my post of yesterday and I tend to agree with them in substance but not in tone. As I said in my original post, the one element of the story I doubt is that this report inspired Benedict to resign. But it is more important to note what isn't being debunked, what is, in fact, being taken for granted. Note, for example, David Gibson of Religion News Service:
The other thing is that Benedict would receive the Captain Louis Renault Award (see below) if he were to declare himself “shocked” that gay men inhabit the priesthood and hierarchy, and of course the Vatican itself.
The link Gibson provides above takes you to a video of Claude Rains delivering the much over-loved line about being shocked there is gambling going on. As seems to always be the case with people who quote the line, he doesn't think it all the way through.

Here is the problem: there is gambling going on and gambling is illegal. Yes, Renaud is implicated but so is Rick and that means that Rick can't say anything about it. Those of us watching Casablanca  at home can afford to sneer at Captain Renaud precisely because we aren't involved. In effect, Gibson thinks he is defending the pope but he is, in fact, putting him in the worse position of implying that he has tolerated worse behaviour from cardinals that what the Catechism condemns for ordinary people in the pews.

It is one thing for a pope to believe that all are sinners, as indeed all are, and so to be pretty certain that some cardinals slip from time to time.  It would be another thing altogether if Benedict knew that a group of cardinals in the Vatican itself were sexually active with the same certainty that Captain Renaud knows that there is gambling going on at Rick's; particularly if we remember that Captain Renaud knows there is gambling because he has been gambling himself. No, I am not implying anything about Benedict; David Gibson is the one doing that.

To get back to the Vatican. If this report really only shows what Benedict has always known, that is a problem. I'm sure the Pope has always known that lots of Catholics, including a few clergy, not only disobey Catholic sexual teaching but choose to simply disregard it. "Disregard" literally means to not look at. That is to say, they are doing exactly what Captain Renaud and Rick did. But he does not and can not do so in a way that makes him a party to the deception as both Captain Renaud and Rick do in Casablanca and as David Gibson implies. If he does, as some of his defenders seem to think, then the rest of us can start treating Catholic interpretation of the sixth commandment as no longer binding just as the Index of prohibited books is no longer binding. (For those who don't know, the Catholic Church interprets any sex with any person who is not your spouse at any time of your life, including before you met your spouse, as adultery.)

I doubt Benedict resigned because of this report but it would be nonsense to pretend that the report is anodyne. There has to be something in it that is disturbing and that suggests that some action needs to be taken. (That is why it has been leaked in time for all the members of the conclave that will meet to choose the next pope to know of its existence.)

By the way, before leaving the subject, it is important to realize just how easily the sort of conspiracy that the report is reputed to identify could spring up. Imagine that a closeted gay man walks into some place where gays cruise for sex—a public park, a bathhouse, a public washroom—and he sees another closeted gay man he knows from his work. They are instantly in a conspiracy. Both have implicitly agreed not to expose the other so as to avoid being exposed themselves.

Conspiracy doesn't need a rich diet. It can live on that alone. Now, both men could meet and agree that they will stop doing what they have been doing. More likely, though, they continue to do what they have been doing only now they depend on one another to keep the secret. And that ups the ante—for now they are not merely conspiring to keep a secret but also conspiring to help one another continue to live their secret sex lives. And so it goes ...

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