Thursday, January 15, 2009

Staying classy

Upon the death of Father Richard John Neuhaus, the always charitable Andrew Sullivan wrote, now that the man cannot provide us with his version of this encounter:
I met Richard John Neuhaus only a couple of times, but he took the second occasion to tell me to my face, with his clerical collar on, that I was "objectively disordered." I remember this rather well because we were in an elevator at the time and I didn't quite know where to look.
I'll go out on a limb though and say, whatever Sullivan says now he remembers rather well, that this is not accurate. I posted Father Scalia's talk below and he goes to excruciating length to tease out what "intrinsically disordered" or "objectively disordered" do in fact mean, and what they refer to. They can never refer to a person. Ever. No Church document has ever said either of those things about persons, and I have read all of those that touch on this topic.

There are four explanations (just speaking the logical possibilities)
  1. Sullivan is flat-out lying and made the story up from whole cloth
  2. Sullivan misheard or misunderstood an actual conversation
  3. Father Neuhaus doesn't understand Church teaching as well as I and/or Father Scalia do
  4. Father Neuhaus spoke imprecisely in an impromptu oral conversation
Simple charity requires me to exclude (1) and simple humility requires me to exclude (3).

Now (4) is a possibility -- even the best of us slip into imprecision or speak casually or forget certain philosophical distinctions that we acknowledge. But it strikes me as unlikely in this case. I've heard Father Neuhaus speak and give interviews, and he's not orally inarticulate or imprecise. And generally, homosexuality has become in recent years such a hot-button issue for the Church and its teaching so often distorted, willfully or otherwise, that any decently-formed priest or Catholic with intellectual pretensions will have the philosophical p's and q's in the front of his head, not the back, when speaking with a homosexual person. (I know I do.)

And it's not as though there isn't a public record of Sullivan doing (2). Read practically anything he's ever written on homosexuality and the Church, and you'll see the same basic misunderstanding -- the identification of the person with the act and/or the feeling. And from the very beginning: I'll post an extensive discussion of his mistake in "Virtually Normal" when I can get done with it.

So, I would bet New York to a donut that Neuhaus said something like the following, all of which are perfectly congruent with Church teaching, and none of which mean what Sullivan hears:
  • "Your orientation or feelings are objectively disordered"
  • "Homosexuality is objectively disordered"
  • "It is unfortunate that you identify with an objective disorder"
Obviously, those choices aren't exhaustive of all the things that could have been said that use the term "objective disorder." But as I said ... it sure was classy for Sully to repeat this anecdote now that Father Neuhaus is in no position to dispute it to the world.

No comments: