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Too Much Read into Too Little
in the Cardinal Arinze Remark

Marian T. Horvat - June 2003

Part of the problem of the crisis in the Catholic Church is created by the optimism of Catholics who always try to find the positive side of the situation or paint the best possible picture of events. Let me give an example of how this “good will” of many Catholics rushes to paint a rosy picture even on the bleakest horizon.

Cardinal Francis Arinze made a remark on May 17 at Georgetown University’s commencement service that is being interpreted in some circles as a courageous blow against the pro-homosexual current in the Church and, even more, a first possible step to a great action of reprisal from the Vatican, more specifically, from John Paul II. What is the reality behind the incident? I don’t think a definitive answer is possible for anyone who is not an insider, and I am not. But let me raise some hypotheses.

Cardinal Arinze greets Hindu religious leaders

Cardinal Arinze greets Hindu religious leaders in New York, August 2000
What startling thing did Cardinal Arinze say that prompted a progressivist professor of theology and some students to walk out on his speech? Not only that, but later 70 faculty members signed a letter of protest over his remark. He said, quite simply, this:
“In many parts of the world, the family is under siege. It is opposed by an anti-life mentality as is seen in contraception, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. It is scorned and banalized by pornography, desecrated by fornication and adultery, mocked by homosexuality, sabotaged by irregular unions and cut in two by divorce.” (1)
This supposedly intolerant and “supremely conservative” little phrase, that I highlighted, is what caused the great commotion. Would this reaction to the words of the President of the Pontifical Council on Inter-religious dialogue be reasonable? In a recent column, National Catholic Reporter Rome correspondent, John Allen, reported a conversation he had with Cardinal Arinze after he returned to Rome from the United States. Allen asked him if he would “ever be brave to show up at another Georgetown event?”

Arinze responded with a smile and nonchalance: “Had I known what effect it was going to have, I would have used another word.” (2)
1. “The Word From Rome,” May 30, 2003, Vol. 2, No. 40, online edition.
2. Ibid.
So, according to the Cardinal, his remark was far from being a signal of a planned traditionalist offensive coming from the up-to-now quite subdued Vatican Curia on the homosexual crisis. In fact, the Cardinal would reword his sentence given the chance, in order to avoid the unfavorable publicity and the appearance, God forbid, of a strong attack against homosexuality.

Then, many “good” American Catholics enter the scene, brimming with benevolence to interpret this as a “heroic act,” taken as a first signal of the “strong stance” against homosexuality in the priesthood and confirmation of zero-tolerance policies on pedophilia that the Vatican supposedly would make in a document that supposedly would be released this Spring.

What can actually be said about Arinze’s statement?

First, if Cardinal Arinze had wanted to make a strong stand against homosexuality, there is much he could have said. He could have stated unequivocally the Church teaching that any sexual disorderly tendency, above all a vice contrary to nature, should be rejected by the family. He could have called to mind that sodomy is one of the sins that cry out to Heaven and clamor to God for vengeance. He did not, however. He made a slight skirmish against the so-called homosexual marriage, and then left the field, later admitting his regret that he had even entered the fray.

Second, it is June 2003, and there is no appearance of the Vatican document promised for Spring that will deal with the still-hot-on-the-burner subject of homosexuality in the priesthood. Here are some facts reported from the same NCR correspondent, John Allen. As far as they are objective, they allow us a realistic view about the Vatican’s position on homosexuality, more realistic than the imagined “strong statement” by Arinze. According to Allen:
    • At a closed door symposium for Vatican officials on sexual abuse in March, scientific experts came forth to argue that zero tolerance policies do not work and even increase the risk of repeat offenses by creating “stress” in the offending priests - who have nowhere to turn to find refuge and the hope of rehabilitation.
    • The experts also testified that the concrete behavior of an individual is more important that the question of homosexual orientation. That is to say, men who call themselves homosexuals or who have those perverse tendencies can be priests – so long as they are committed to celibacy.
In short, reports Allen, any Vatican document “is unlikely to take the absolute line against the admission of homosexuals that had originally been anticipated.” (3)
3. “Word from Rome,” May 23, 2003, Vol. 2, No. 39, Internet edition.
If what Allen is reporting is accurate (and there is more reason to believe it is than it is not), what this means is that the complaisance toward homosexuality in the priesthood is not just an attitude taken up by the liberal American Bishops, it has deeper roots in the Vatican itself.

One can’t make the excuse that the Vatican is not capable of issuing strong statements anymore, that the Pope is too tired out and sick with Parkinson’s to respond to US affairs. He proved quite the contrary recently with his numerous and tough statements against the Iraqi war. John Paul II and numerous high Prelates roundly condemned the US action in no uncertain terms, and over and over again, every chance that arose. One can’t help but wonder why there have been no such insistent and persistent condemnations of the homosexual crisis in the priesthood, the unending string of sex abuses by priests, the overwhelming indifference, and in some cases the shocking complicity, of the Bishops?

These are the questions we should be asking, instead of reading too much into a casual remark of Cardinal Arinze and optimistically hoping for the best from the promised Vatican document that has not appeared …

Posted June 18, 2003

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