National Catholic Reporter Article: "Milestones in Campaign to Hold the Doctrinal Line"

By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
NCR Staff

The lifetime ban on pastoral work imposed upon Salvatorian Fr. Robert Nugent and School Sister of Notre Dame Jeannine Gramick by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is the latest step in an effort by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to prevent evolution in church teaching toward acceptance of homosexual conduct. A review of key moments:

May 1984: Ratzinger orders the imprimatur lifted from Sexual Morality by Fr. Philip S. Keane, published in 1977 by Paulist Press. Keane argues that homosexual conduct cannot be understood as "absolutely immoral."

September 1986: Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen in Seattle announces that he has transferred final authority in five areas, including the pastoral care of homosexuals, to Auxiliary Bishop Donald Wuerl in accord with Vatican instructions. The action follows a written critique by Ratzinger, citing, among other flaws, Hunthausen’s decision in 1983 to permit a Mass for Dignity, a Catholic homosexual group, in his cathedral.

October 1986: Ratzinger publishes a document titled "On The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons." The letter warns of "deceitful propaganda" from pro-homosexual groups. It instructs bishops not to accept groups that "seek to undermine the teaching of the church, which are ambiguous about it, or which neglect it entirely." The letter refers to homosexual orientation as an "intrinsic moral evil." In the wake of the letter, many Catholic bishops bar Dignity from using church facilities.

October 1986: Acting on instructions from Ratzinger, the head of the Jesuit order informs Jesuit Fr. John McNeill that he must either abandon pastoral ministry with homosexuals or be expelled from the order. McNeill chooses not to give up his work. McNeill had been silenced by the Vatican in 1977 for his book The Church and The Homosexual, which argued that stable homosexual relationships should be judged by the same moral criteria as heterosexual relationships. The book was originally published with the permission of McNeill’s Jesuit superiors.

November 1986: Ratzinger directs Bishop Matthew Clark of the Rochester, N.Y., diocese to remove the imprimatur from Parents Talk Love: The Catholic Family Handbook About Sexuality, written by a priest and a high school teacher. According to the priest, Ratzinger objects to the lack of a clear condemnation of homosexual conduct.

January 1987: After prolonged debate, The Catholic University of America fires Fr. Charles Curran, a moral theologian known for his dissent from official church teaching on sexual ethics. On homosexuality, Curran has written: "Homosexual acts in the context of a loving relationship that strives for permanency can in a certain sense be objectively morally acceptable."

December 1988: Dominican Fr. Matthew Fox is silenced by Ratzinger, citing his failure to condemn homosexuality, among a host of other issues. Fox is expelled from the Dominican order in 1992.

February 1992: Canadian theologian Fr. Andrew Guindon is notified that he is under investigation by the doctrinal congregation for his book The Sexual Creators. Ratzinger demands that he clarify his views on homosexuality, birth control and premarital sex. Ratzinger’s 13-page critique is published in L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper.

July 1992: Ratzinger sends a letter to the U.S. bishops supporting legal discrimination against homosexuals in certain areas: adoption rights, the hiring of gays as teachers or coaches, and the prohibition of gays in the military. In such situations, Ratzinger writes, "it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account."

November 1992: The new Catechism of the Catholic Church is published. Though the text acknowledges that homosexual persons "do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial," and forbids any disrespect or failure of compassion for homosexuals, the Catechism repeats the position that the homosexual orientation is "intrinsically disordered."

December 1996: Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of the doctrinal congregation, publishes an article in L’Osservatore Romano asserting that certain church teachings must be considered infallible even in the absence of a formal declaration to that effect. The bans on homosexuality and contraception are among the teachings mentioned by Bertone.

February 1997: Following a warning to the Society of St. Paul from Ratzinger, the Vatican imposes a new leader on the order. The Paulines’ flagship publication, Famiglia Cristiana, published an article in 1996 suggesting that parents should not force their moral views on a gay child. Bishop Antonio Buoncristiani is appointed the society’s temporary leader and charged with ensuring that Pauline publications better reflect church teaching.

July 1998: The Committee on Marriage and Family of the U.S. bishops’ conference re-issues its letter to parents of homosexuals, "Always Our Children," after making several changes demanded by Ratzinger. They include referring to homosexuality as a "deep-seated" rather than "fundamental" dimension of personality; suggesting that homosexual acts by adolescents may not indicate a homosexual orientation; adding a footnote describing homosexuality as "objectively disordered"; and deleting a passage that encourages use of terms such as homosexual, gay and lesbian from the pulpit in order to "give people permission" to discuss homosexuality.

September 1998: Clark removes Fr. James Callan from his position as pastor of Rochester’s Corpus Christi Parish. Callan asserts that Clark is acting under pressure from Ratzinger. Among other things, Callan is criticized for blessing same-sex unions.

December 1998: Ratzinger, other curial officials and a group of Australian bishops put out a document citing problems in the Australian church resulting from a "worldwide crisis of faith." Among other deviations, the document cites a moral view in which "heterosexuality and homosexuality come to be seen as simply two morally equivalent variations."

Dr. Mel White Resigns UFMCC Justice Ministry

Will Focus on Applying Soulforce to Primary Voices of Intolerance

July 19, 1999

(Bonaventure Hotel, Los Angeles, CA) Mel White has resigned as the volunteer Justice Minister for the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. "I’m almost sixty," he said. "In another sixty years they’re going to bury me. Until then, I want to spend my time helping people of faith to discover and apply the principles of relentless nonviolent resistance to the liberation of sexual minorities."

White and his partner, Gary Nixon, are launching Soulforce, Inc. to help mobilize and train people of faith to do justice guided exclusively by the principles of nonviolent resistance as taught by Jesus, Gandhi, and King.

Dr. White fears that the activist community is nearly exhausted from having to fight two wars at the same time: the personal war against HIV/AIDS and the political war being waged against sexual minorities. "Soulforce offers us a new way to renew our own tired spirits," White explains. "And at the same time, it offers us a powerful old way to bring truth to our adversaries."

"We spend most of our time healing our wounded and defending ourselves against the avalanche of antigay actions at the ballot box, in the legislatures and the courts," White said sadly. "We must continue fighting the antigay political actions. We must continue helping those who suffer. But we must also work to cut off that suffering at its source. That’s why we are launching Soulforce, Inc. The toxic rhetoric flows unabated, primarily from misinformed religious leaders. It is poisoning the national discourse, dividing homes and churches, ruining families and wasting lives. We must do our best to stop that flow of poison at its source and the "soul force" rules of nonviolent resistance show us how."

Already Soulforce, Inc. has two "direct actions" in process. White is currently training five thousand people of faith in nonviolent resistance through an eight-week, seventeen-email Journey into Soulforce. The focus of this first email journey is to bring truth to Jerry Falwell. Mel and Gary are inviting people of faith to sign up for the complimentary email Journey and to consider joining them in Lynchburg, October 22-24, 1999. In preparation for that visit, Mel is writing a series of Open Letters to Jerry Falwell. Those letters and Mr. Falwell’s replies are posted at www.soulforce.org.

In Los Angeles, Soulforce, Inc. is working to bring truth to Pat Robertson and the Fox Family Channel. This powerful Soulforce direct action is led by an executive committee of nearly a hundred clergy, co-chaired by Mel and the Rev. Dr. James Lawson, the distinguished African-American civil rights leader who trained the young people who integrated lunch counters, rode Freedom Rides, and faced police dogs and fire hoses. Clergy and lay people of faith across the nation are encouraged to contact Mel for more information about confronting the 700 Club rhetoric heard twice daily on Fox.

White, and his partner, Gary Nixon, describe themselves as "accidental activists" who found themselves "in the front lines" after the publication of White’s autobiography Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay And Christian In America. Once a ghostwriter and filmmaker for leaders on the "religious right," White has become a primary spokesman against their antigay rhetoric and antigay political activism.

On Friday night, Dr. White and his partner received the "Distinguished Service Award" at the Nineteenth General Conference of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in Los Angeles. "We are celebrating Mel and Gary’s six years of service," said the Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson who presented the award. "Together, they have traveled to forty states on our behalf, speaking, organizing, and demonstrating for justice. We thank them for helping to change minds and hearts across the nation and we promise them our love and support in their new Soulforce ministry."

"We aren’t ending the relationship with our UFMCC friends," White explained in an interview after the ceremony, "We’re just taking our message of relentless nonviolent resistance to the larger ecumenical and interfaith communities. Ending the flow of antigay rhetoric and reconciling with its primary sources will take all of us working together."

White’s new Soulforce web page offers a "Four Step Journey into Soulforce" and a wide variety of other resources, including three "almost free, OK to copy" Soulforce videos. To sign up for the more extensive but still complimentary email Journey into Soulforce, contact Mel and Gary at melwhite@soulforce.org. Dr. White is also available to teach Soulforce workshops and seminars, to speak in churches and synagogues, on college and university campuses, and at pride and justice events.