NY Times interview.] NYT photo by Ruth Fremson.
Dear Archbishop Timothy,
About this subject, you in The New York Times:
"You get the impression that the Holy See or the pope is like Congress and every once in a while says, ‘Oh, let’s change this law,’ ” he said. “We can’t.”
(Did they quote you correctly?)
You will have a tough time selling American Catholics the idea that some key elements of sexual morality such as condom use are beyond change and are not just policies that can be adjusted. Consider our experience:
a) Many of us remember the days when eating meat on Friday could quite literally send you to hell should that dooming hamburger be followed by death without an intervening good confession. And then, one fine morning, we are all told that it's OK to eat meat on most fridays and that not only would it not send you to hell, but that it is not even a sin. The lesson we learned between the lines was that men in miters can make and change some pretty darn serious laws - laws crucial enough to forfeit our souls for eternity.
b) American Catholic women despaired over the prohibition against artificial birth control in the form of "the pill". They brought their anguish into the privacy of the confessional where the overwhelming majority of American priests counseled them to pray over it and then make their own decision once they have done the personal and private work to form and inform their consciences. The lesson those women learned - and shared with their children and spouses - was that absolute proclamation from bishops and popes are really only guidelines and encouragements in a Godly direction.
c) The pedophile priest scandal had a similar effect in the hearts of many who were shocked and surprised by it (myself included). It lifted a veil of secrecy that allowed a harsh light on the huge gulf between what priests and bishops preached and what they really did.
d) The Pope's recent "modification" of the absolute prohibition of condoms will be received by most American Catholics as confirmation of what they learned between the lines in a), b), and c) above.
Please know that I am not simply saying that American Catholics are cynical. I am saying that they are well trained by the clergy to make personal moral decisions that are not slavish to absolutes that are not really absolutes. Ask your parishioners about this. I recently gave a talk at a church in Florida and delivered this list to a crowd that indicated their strong agreement with how the mind of the American Catholic has evolved by dint of the hierarchy's own leadership. The bishops' dismay about American Catholic moral attitudes is really a grimace at the taste of the wine made from grapes they have grown.