CSotD: The Dedalus Dilemma


Paul Fell offers what I consider the most thoughtful take on the Pope’s declaration that the Church cannot bless same-sex marriages.

I capitalize “the Church” because there used to only be one and that’s at the heart of our discussion today.

I don’t know that there are a lot of RC churches in America where you would actually hear preaching against homosexuality.

But, while I’m sure there are some, and likely some more in the wake of this proclamation, I’ll rack that up as Necessary Exaggeration in Cartooning.

The facts are more problematic, and I speak as someone who tried being a divorced Catholic for a year or two.

I was welcomed and forgiven, but I didn’t want to be “forgiven” any more than I would want to be forgiven for having lost a leg in an automobile accident.

Similarly, I assume homosexuals have no interest in being “tolerated.”

It became more problematic when I started dating again, because now I was officially an adulterer in the eyes of the Church.

But everyone said it was okay and I could still take communion.

The polite term for these folks is “Cafeteria Catholics,” accepting the things they like and ignoring the things they don’t.

The less polite analysis is that they are bullshitting themselves.

Which, on this Feast of St. Patrick, brings us to the ultimate authority, and I don’t mean the Pope but, rather, James Joyce, the Irish Catholic who left behind both his church and his country but, of course, neither.

The professor with whom I read “Ulysses” contended that you could no more be an ex-Catholic than you could be ex-Irish, and Joyce exemplified the truth of that: He left the Church and he moved to the Continent and then spent the rest of his life obsessing over Ireland and the Church.

He did this brilliantly in the character of Stephen Dedalus, who did not believe in God but would not pray at his dying mother’s request because it would be sacrilegious.

Which ties in with the classic Irish statement about the Little People: “I don’t believe in them, but they’re there.”


The Pope’s declaration has led to a lot of furious whataboutism, as seen in this Marc Murphy cartoon.

It’s true but it’s not true and he’s right but he’s wrong.

The cover-up of priestly pederasty is deeply wrong and deeply troubling, but it’s an issue more of heartless, defensive bureaucracy than of doctrine.

The Pope has come out against both the act and the cover-ups, though it hasn’t led to a flood of confessions, reconciliation and open-handed payment of damages.

Still, the number of pederast priests is (comparatively) small and it’s not permitted by doctrine, so the whataboutism is false.

It’s relevant to note, however, that the cover-ups proceed from the same disconnect between how sex is viewed as doctrine and how it exists in the real world.

Here’s a long ministerial discussion of that, but the Reader’s Digest version is that sex is officially viewed as intended for procreation, which is why the Church forbids birth control as well as sex acts which cannot result in pregnancy and birth.

Hence the official, doctrinal Vatican stance that same-sex sex is “intrinsically disordered.”

Which ignores the fact that real priests in real parishes are charged with ministering to real people who have real instincts, needs and emotions.

And who masturbate, and who use birth control, and who sometimes fall in love with the “wrong” people.

Which poses a lot more pragmatic issues than it did when the Church bickered over whether the Sun went around the Earth or vice-versa.


So I like Michael de Adder‘s take, because the Pope is blunting a joyous celebration, and looking over his shoulder as he does it.

He knows it goes against his public persona as a generous, loving father, but it is central to religious doctrine that flies in the face of his personal instincts.

Which puts him in the same position as Stephen Dedalus, trapped between knowledge and belief.


Eight years ago, Pat Oliphant offered this commentary on the search to replace a retiring Benedict, and I discussed the issue, though be warned that I had not yet imposed a 1,000 word limit on myself.

Here’s the most relevant paragraph:

(T)he people who are hoping that the new pope will suddenly end clerical celibacy, order the wealthy to give all they have to the poor and begin anointing women as priests are operating on a level of hope and fantasy more aligned with the ruby slippers of Dorothy than the shoes of the fisherman.

And here’s the punchline: When I began dating again, I was only going to Catholic services when my kids had some event going on there.

I’d learned that obedience to the Pope was the primary distinction between Catholics and Protestants and, in fact, the woman I was dating was someone I had met at my newly adopted Episcopal church.

She was divorced, I was divorced and our priest was on his third marriage, but the liturgy and core beliefs were nearly identical to what I’d grown up with as a Catholic.

Except that the teachings of the Archbishop of Canterbury were interesting and sometimes challenging, but hardly all that compulsory.

At which point my biggest religious conflict became the fact that I kept saying “Ay-men” when everyone around me was saying “Ah-men.”


Juxtaposition of the Day

(Matt Wuerker – Politico)


(Steve Brodner)

Speaking of leadership issues, I got a charge out of what is more a difference of opinion than a conflict.

Though, BTW, being more cynical than Brodner is quite an achievement.

I heard an analysis on NPR yesterday where the fellow suggested that the New Deal completely changed the role of government, and that you can’t expect Biden to strike so deeply at the heart of the system.

Still, where do pleasant words become constructive action?


It reminded me of Richard Thompson’s 2008 illustration of Obama for the New Yorker, but that was election week and Mitch McConnell made sure it remained an empty promise.

Which ties into our discussion of Pope Francis and speaking the words of angels without exhibiting concrete, in-this-world, active agape.


5 thoughts on “CSotD: The Dedalus Dilemma

  1. I live on the Manhattan’s West Side, and most of the Catholic Churches welcome gay people. The website of the church near my house has this (which is also said from the pulpit during the announcements every Sunday):

    “No matter your age, your race, your gender, or your sexual orientation, there is a place for you at Ascension Church.”

    And St. Paul the Apostle near Lincoln Center has a GLBT group called “Out At St. Paul.”

    And on Catholic social media, I’ve seen a lot of anger aimed at the announcement.

  2. @Ignatz-

    Small world. My daughter lived across from and still regularly attends (at least virtually these days) the Church of the Ascension. She is very much attuned to the Jesuit approach to social issues espoused there, even if the rest of the Diocese of Manhattan feels otherwise.

    She is upset at the Pope’s latest position regarding blessing of marriage (she has gay friends who are getting married this year and wanted their old college pastor to bless the union). Being an old, straight geezer, I can’t share her outrage but I attribute that as much to generational experiences as to varying opinion of the role of the Church in one’s salvation.

  3. The Pope accepts what many do not. We live in a secular world where gay marriage is legal. It is not disingenuous for the Pope to recognize that and even encourage gays to take full advantage of their secular rights while at the same time acknowledging that the Church takes a less tolerant approach. Kennedy indicated back in the day that it was his intention to be president of all Americans, not just the Catholics. Biden appears to have a similar view much to the dismay of conservative bishops who do not accept the difference between the secular and religious world. Most of us acknowledge a place in the secular world for birth control, civil marriages, divorce and even abortion. The religious world is entitled to its own doctrine. Let’s just hope that the First Amendment offers us freedom from religion, as well as freedom of religion. Sounds to me like the Pope is on board.

  4. Why does Brodner’s Biden look more “Hunter S. Thompson” than “Franklin Delano Roosevelt?”

  5. My ex wife’s church did not accept divorce, so I had to divorce her instead, which was okay by them. I figured at the time that one of the best places to meet single women is in divorce court and I certainly felt a lot of eyes on me then. I didn’t wait to find out, though.

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