Thursday, March 08, 2007

"This is London" too

There's a round of letters in the Tablet on the gay masses in London, both from the a Westminster Diocese spokesman and the author of one of the two original pieces, John Haldane, rebutting the other, by James Alison. It's available online only to subscribers, but a subscriber sent them to me.

Monsignor O'Boyle insists on the orthodoxy and orthopraxy of the Mass practices (in which case, they are good). Professor Haldane notes that anthropology simply does not translate quickly and seamlessly into ethics and that the Church's moral tradition is what gives facts their meaning.


Pastoral provision for gays.

In the light of your two articles (3 March) concerning pastoral outreach to Catholic homosexuals, the Diocese of Westminster wishes to emphasise the following points.

The 5pm Mass celebrated at Our Lady of the Assumption, Warwick Street, Soho, is part of the normal provision for Sunday Mass in that parish and open to all. From now on it will at times have a particular sensitivity to homosexual people who congregate in that area and who have asked for pastoral provision from the Church. The announcement concerning these masses made clear the Church's teaching that sexual intercourse finds its proper place and meaning in marriage alone. The Church does not share the assumption that every adult person needs to be sexually active.

Every person, whether homosexual or heterosexual is called to chastity. They are helped to do this through friendship, prayer and sacramental grace. Homosexual people are rightly given pastoral care within their own parishes. It is the expectation of the Cardinal that all who attend these Masses in Soho wish to live in full communion with the Church and also strive to live by the Church's moral teaching. While the Church continues to uphold objective moral norms, it is also wise, compassionate and understanding of the difficult challenge that many experience in living the kind of chaste life to which the Lord calls us.

(Mgr) Seamus O'Boyle
Vicar General, Diocese of Westminster
London SW1

I read with interest James Alison's essay "On Helping the Faithful Negotiate Confusion" (3 March), which I presume he had been invited to prepare as a response to my own article ["Faith, gays and chastity"] submitted under the title "On Attending to the Faithful in Parts [should read "Matters"] of Chastity". That in turn was intended to echo "On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine". These connections are relevant to the matter at hand, namely how to understand the basis and status of Church teaching on sexual ethics. In the editorial introductions, I am described as a "leading philosopher and pontifical consultor", James Alison as "one of the younger generation of Catholic theologians". These terms may suggest a clash between staid Roman orthodoxy and fresh thinking. In fact, however, Fr. Alison and I are of the same generation, and if there is a relevant difference in stances it may be between contrasting modes of philosophical analysis and theological reflection.

Fr. Alison quotes from a 2006 address in which Pope Benedict spoke of "authentic breakthroughs of human knowledge" but also of how "scientific advances have sometimes been so rapid as to make it very difficult to discern whether they are compatible with the truths about man and the world that God has revealed". Preparing to apply this to what he describes as "an emerging anthropological truth" about homosexuality, Alison writes that there is nothing to indicate which advances or breakthroughs are referred to. In fact, however, context and references indicate that the Pope was speaking of the relation between religion and science in such fields as genetics and evolutionary biology.

These bear upon rival metaphysical claims about creation and human origins and they are silent on the matter of sexual ethics. The relation between anthropology and ethics is important but it is not of a form that allows easy derivations from what occurs to what ought to be. Indeed, to evaluate the moral significance of empirical data one needs an ethical theory. Catholicism fashions the latter out of scripture, tradition, and philosophical reasoning. In this connection it would be idle for Fr Alison or me to pit our wits against the settled teachings of the Apostles and the Fathers and Councils of the Church. They, as Newman recognised, are our teachers, not we theirs.

(Professor) John Haldane
University of St Andrews, Fife

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