A week ago, the Pilot — the newspaper of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston — carried a piece by one of their regular contributors, Daniel Avila. Avila is a lawyer, not a priest, and he works for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on the staff of the bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
No, wait. That’s not quite right. Avila used to work for the USCCB.
Yesterday Avila resigned.
The piece was entitled “Some fundamental questions on same-sex attraction,” and in it Avila, channeling his inner Church Lady, wrote this:
Catholics do not have the luxury of being materialists. We look for ultimate explanations that transcend the strictly physical world and that stretch beyond our limited ability to mold and reshape reality as we know it. Disruptive imbalances in nature that thwart encoded processes point to supernatural actors who, unlike God, do not have the good of persons at heart.
In other words, the scientific evidence of how same-sex attraction most likely may be created provides a credible basis for a spiritual explanation that indicts the devil.
As you can imagine, this did not go down well for a number of reasons. The column was soon retracted by The Pilot, apologies were issued by Avila and The Pilot in its place, and Avila resigned his position with the USCCB. (The full original piece can still be seen here.)
Much of the religious commentary on this has focused on what Avila said about same-sex attraction and relationships, and how it does or does not fit with official RC teachings. All that is well and good, but it’s rare to have a USCCB staffer lose his position over misstating RC teachings. What is more enlightening is to look at the political background in which this mess erupted.
Just over a month ago, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan (President of the USCCB) wrote a letter to his brother bishops [pdf] about “threats to religious liberty” facing the USCCB. These threats are what the bishops view as obstacles to them enshrining their views into secular law, or getting exemptions from federal regulations such as those that prohibit discrimination against LGBTs by social service agencies that receive federal funds, or the requirement that Catholic health care plans and facilities must provide the standard basket of services required under the health care laws (i.e., contraception and other reproductive services), unless the plan/facility is only providing coverage/care for Catholics. As if that weren’t enough, add in the looming battles over the Defense of Marriage Act (and the past fight over DADT) and Prop 8.
Dolan called these things to the attention of the other bishops, and informed them that he and the Executive Committee of the USCCB have set up an Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty to take the fight to the administration, Congress, and the courts.
With this as background, it’s easy to envision Dolan and his new Ad Hoc Committee looking at their staffer’s column as less-than-helpful to their efforts. The more the USCCB sounds like Fred Phelps (or Dana Carvey), the less likely it is that their attempts to sound like reasonable defenders of religious liberty will be accepted.
Avila’s apology is rather enlightening in that respect:
Statements made in my column, ‘Some fundamental questions on same-sex attraction’ of October 28, do not represent the position of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the column was not authorized for publication as is required policy for staff of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The teaching of Sacred Scripture and of the Catechism of the Catholic Church make it clear that all persons are created in the image and likeness of God and have inviolable dignity. Likewise, the Church proclaims the sanctity of marriage as the permanent, faithful, fruitful union of one man and one woman. The Church opposes, as I do too, all unjust discrimination and the violence against persons that unjust discrimination inspires. I deeply apologize for the hurt and confusion that this column has caused.
He makes clear that this isn’t the USCCB’s fault, and only then turns to scripture and the catechism. He trumpets one man, one woman marriage, and then claims to oppose “unjust” discrimination and violence.
Reading this, it strikes me that Avila is apologizing not to LGBTs, but to the USCCB and especially the Ad Hoc Committee for stepping on their work of trying to legitimize what they view as “just” (as opposed to “unjust”) discrimination.
To borrow from Dana Carvey, “Isn’t that special?”
(Interesting how writing a bad column in the Boston Archdiocese’ newspaper can cost you your job, but being the Cardinal of Boston and failing to turn priests who abuse children over to the police gets you a promotion to Rome. But that’s a topic for another post . . .)
photo of Jean-Jacques Feuchere’s “Satan” h/t to Marshall Astor – Food Pornographer.