Category: Catholic Sexuality

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Abuse and Authority

The Church’s authority to restore sexually broken people with the power that raised Jesus from the dead hinges on her repenting from abusing the most vulnerable.

I just returned from what has become one of my favorite nations—Poland. Theologically, St. John Paul ll paved the way for my conversion and St. Faustina permeated his take on gendered humanity with Almighty Mercy. These two Polish patrons ushered me into relationship with perhaps the finest Christians I known in the Living Waters world. Our third training there clarified the import of the Catholic Church to Poland. Hammered on all sides by cruel foes, the nation has looked to the Church as a bulwark against indignities that span centuries.

She now faces new challenges. Outside Church walls, LGBT+ activists bang on her doors with accusations that she is unloving and irrelevant; inside her walls, adult children of abuse are now claiming that her ‘fathers’ corrupted them and must be stopped if the Church is to be faithful to Jesus. Both challenges were palpable at our gathering; I saw both ugly defensiveness and beautiful repentance.

The threat to Poland of a ‘gay’ agenda fired up a rigid traditionalism in some participants. A few expressed contempt for anyone ‘homosexual’, not knowing that they were surrounded by ‘them’ in their small group. Mercy melted machismo as these ‘super’-Catholics realized that their training peers had no political agenda other than repenting unto chastity. All found level ground at the Cross: one people under one Merciful Source. Hardened hearts softened, calloused hands dropped stones. Instead of adopting a Noah’s Ark attitude—close the door and let the wicked drown—repentant ex-abusers committed to becoming Jesus’ hands for all persons.

Add to the mix very recent clerical abuse allegations in Poland. Under this now familiar shadow, LW training participants were troubled, confused, and incredulous. Some coped by denying the charges, claiming anti-Church conspiracies of varying kinds. I would not have it. For every one brave soul who dares to break tradition by confessing how a cleric broke his or her body, there are a hundred more. In a flash I saw clearly how prideful denial of the Church’s capacity to violate the most vulnerable is the essential tool God gives His enemy to fetter the Church’s capacity to heal sexually fractured persons. No confession from the top, no splendor of the Kingdom for the broken below.

So we repented. I veered off my teaching and we as a group wept at the damage: real people, faithful sons and daughter of the Father, picked off by demonized fathers. This spirit of repentance longs to rest on us until every secret is exposed. I contend we must bear that spirit prayerfully until we see Him face-to-face.

Yes we repented, and yes we must seek a posture of repentance. After a while, I felt led to ask all persons sexually abused as children to come forward (if they so desired) in order to receive prayer. I discerned that God was pleased by our posture, as I could smell the fragrance of healing. A dozen came forward, including two priests. In an unprecedented way, the Holy Spirit permeated these brave souls with a dense mist of grace, flooring many. People could not get up for around 15 minutes. I did nothing but watch while others prayed. When the glory lifted, relief and joy and lightness overtook the receivers. The Kingdom came. God gave tomorrow’s blessing that day. He healed the broken-hearted.

‘Restore our authority to heal, O God. Let not prideful self-protection get in the way of Your-Kingdom-come for the abused, persons most in need of Your touch.’

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Restoring the Spire

Our gendered humanity—submitted to one another in reverence to Christ (Eph. 5:21)—points beyond itself. It reveals the One who made us to co-create in His image. I glimpsed something divine yesterday in a lovely young couple wheeling a newborn: he proud and protective of his bride, she doting over their new creation. The power and tenderness of ordered humanity cries out: ‘Holy is the Lord!’

On a recent visit to Paris, African Cardinal Robert Sarah likened the torched spire at Notre Dame Cathedral—created like a divine finger to point all upward to God–as a prophetic sign of how we as a Church have failed to direct the world heavenward. Have we forgotten that we in our gendered humanity are called to be that spire? It cuts both ways: we can dignify the other’s existence and magnify Him; we can demonize the other and deflect His glory.

Sarah cites ‘gender ideology’—a refusal to accept one’s nature from God—as a sign of this incendiary spire. He views LGBT+ reality as ‘trans-humanity’, an ‘avatar’ that results from refusing the God who made us. To cast off the call to reconcile with one’s male or female being is to cast off God, to burn with a strange fire that shrouds His witness on the earth.

Agreed. But what comes first? The fallout from male-female hostility or a host of exotic gender fractures? I say the former. We cannot with any integrity or authority call obvious sinners to repentance when we tolerate a host of traditional sins, namely misogyny—the dishonor of women in all of its diverse forms. Simply put, cruel and unusual treatment of the more vulnerable gender is the fuel that drives gender-bending.

I too recently visited France where we held a conference on gender reconciliation in Orleans. It was wonderful, starting with an early morning run where I inadvertently followed the path taken by St. Jean D’Arc who as a teenager obeyed the voice of God and led French troops to rout the English in the 15th century. What a girl.

Her courage reminded me of the women at our conference. One had been sexually abused by her father, another abandoned as a bride by a religiously-unhinged husband. Another woman, an exquisite artist who shared her gifts with us, realized that she had been poisoned by her father’s ongoing adultery and expressed contempt for women. She saw her self-contempt for the first time as a quiet agreement with his sin.

Jesus gave me His heart for these women and reminded me of my subtle misogyny—my wound of corruption–pornography, self-justifying arrogance, my flimsy efforts to put women’s needs ahead of my own, starting with Annette. I was seized with my sin and could repent to the women honestly, as did a young French pastor. Jesus loosed a healing flood for these remarkable women. The mercy levels rose quickly as we men repented, granting Jesus freedom to dissolve strongholds of misogyny in the women.

Jean D’Arc blazed a trail for victory in Orleans. As ‘her weakness was turned to strength and she became powerful in battle, routing foreign armies’ (Heb. 11:34), so we followed Jesus who led us to do our part to restore the spire of holy relating. We rejoiced together in the good gifts Jesus is reclaiming in our gendered humanity.

As we are faithful to repent for any way we have stoked that torched spire, we help restore that spire. May Notre Dame provoke us to become glorious signposts of the One who made us to honor Him in how we love each other.

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Fruit of Scandal

‘For you became sorrowful as God intended…Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done’ (2 Cor. 7: 9-11).

Like you, I strain to see good come from Church-mishandling of abuse. And I’m not sure if mandates from the top down—even decisive, far-reaching ones—will satisfy. We must pray, bearing with her exposure; we who wait expectantly will be doubly blessed when we behold beauty emerging from the broken ground. I am doubly blessed as I write this. During a trip to a state where the Church has been rocked by criminal investigations, I began to see life signs.

First, the abuse scandal has prompted a renewed commitment to healthy communion among priests. I was privileged to attend a chastity group run by a priest for priests. A handful of men have forged deep bonds through their differing vulnerabilities—same-sex attraction, porn temptations, inclinations to unchaste relations. These brave men are equally diverse in their stations in life. Some are young and newly-ordained, others at midpoint, still others retired. All led out humbly with their frailties and have forged a fraternity of mercy and accountability that is glorious, free of competition and drab shoptalk (aka grumbling). Authentic, attuned care prevailed.

I witnessed the fruit of their communion, as I had met most of them a couple years earlier. This round they were more focused, more earnest to ensure that their weaknesses become holy strengths; instead of isolating in fear, these men are learning to connect with humble courage.

Second, I had the honor of meeting Paul, the Dean of Students at a large seminary in that state. He is extraordinary—open, humble, holy. And grateful that the seminary is flourishing, with this year’s class being the largest one in twenty years. Amid the scandal, solid young men are being summoned by God to become a new standard of integrity.

Paul and his team have a lot to do with that. Among the main priorities of the seminary is cultivating a culture of transparency. Mentors are activating the students themselves to set up a variety of small groups in which peers provoke one another to holy self-giving. I asked Paul if a ‘gay-identified’ student could make it in the seminary. ‘His brothers would never let him get away with it. He would have to lose the ‘gay’ rap and get on track towards integration like everyone else.’ Awesome.

Paul continued: ‘We work especially hard to discern the emotional maturity of students, to ascertain that they are growing in their capacity to form healthy relationships with both men and women. They need to wrestle with what it means to make a fruitful commitment to celibacy. That may mean taking a break from the seminary in order to figure out what they really want. Seminary should be a place where people come and go. We pray that some will return, better able to say ‘yes’ to God in a healthy, fruitful way that will endure.’

What Paul emphasized was that seminary is not just about individuals discerning a lifetime commitment to the Church but also the Church discerning a lifetime commitment to them.

For the first time, I witnessed the fruit of scandal. From the fire of abuse, a repentant Church is emerging. She is at once sorrowful for her sin and zealous to glorify Jesus, each member doing its part to become one chaste bride.

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Fire. Burning. Notre Dame

Fire. Burning. Notre Dame.

Fire. Burning. Notre Dame.

Judgment at our house, right here, us.

More than a sign of French resilience: a church, our Church.

‘Bearing’ becomes ‘burning’. Bones on fire, lit by McCarrick and Vigano and Martel—strange prophets all—arsonists igniting icons—a house consumed.

And us, in the fire, uncertain, what will remain? Unconvinced by words. Now we burn, living icons; what will remain of us? No time for squabbles: we are burning, plucked from the flames and filthy, in His hands.

Holy fear: no other gods. Face down, blushing. Searing shame. Speechless.

Holy tears: little ones gone. Good grief. New kids bathed in rainbow light, shameless. Church sputtering, spineless. Fierce tears from flames, living water.

Holy ears: listening, at last, the Word rising from the ashes, burning in our bones, consuming us. If we say nothing, we perish.

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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bearing the cross

Bearing

Though I love the benefits of Jesus’ cross, I am tempted to hate sharing in that cross with Him. It hurts to bear up under the burden He invites us to shoulder, namely grief over His Church.

During prayer for the healing of our corporate compromises, I realized: what I most value as a Christian—killing sin through swift confession before it kills me, my marriage, or another; living out loud in community in order to grow beyond same-sex attraction into real fruitfulness—is not enough believed or practiced in my Church. For this I suffer, a grief Jesus has invited me to bear. I am not alone but alongside other members who share these values and love the bride enough to grieve too.

This Lent He invited us into a little share of His cross; would we bear this for an hour or so each week in prayer? We discovered we couldn’t shake that burden after the meetings ended. It stayed with us, and seems now like a heart condition. Indeed, we carry it for her cleansing. Perhaps St. Paul’s mysterious reference in Col. 1:24 to bear in one’s body a share in Jesus’ suffering for His body applies here. Who knows? We pray on.

My friend Dana recalled her experience of a 14-mile procession she and friends made one Good Friday with a large wooden cross—each took turns shouldering it: ‘As I carried the cross, it sunk into me and its weight increased. It became a part of me; I realized that it was Jesus inviting me to walk with Him to help carry His cross. What seemed too heavy became doable with Him.’ Christ in us: to suffer, and to hope for glory (Col. 1: 27). That reminds me of Bonhoeffer’s words: ‘We know too little in the church today about the peculiar blessing of bearing. Bearing, not shaking off; bearing, but not collapsing either; bearing as Christ bore the cross, remaining underneath, and there beneath it, to find Christ.’

Having looked hard together at a scandalized Church, we have done more than meet to pray; rather, we have received a spirit of prayer with which to pray unceasingly for her. Over the long haul. Change takes time and occurs as prayer like underground wells spring up on the earth and accomplish the impossible.

We pray for witnesses of transformation in the sexual arena to arise and take their places alongside leaders who welcome, guide, and amplify their experience of an empowered Gospel.

We pray for the eloquent truth of Pope Emeritus Benedict—‘Sexuality has an intrinsic meaning and direction which is not homosexual…its meaning is to bring about the union of man and woman which gives humanity posterity, children, future. This…is the essence of sexuality’—to fuse with the fatherly compassion of Pope Francis. May that fullness of mercy and truth compel Christians to turn from sexual sin (beginning with clergy) toward the arduous, splendid process of becoming chaste.

We pray for courageous leaders who eschew politics for the transformation of souls. Might orthodox leaders refuse clericalism by equipping lay men and women to serve the broken; might the unorthodox be routed lest the Church’s mercy be diluted further by the call to ‘accompaniment’ without repentance or discipline.

Might we, horrified by our own sin, find beneath the cross that no sin can ever be alien to us (Bonhoeffer) and in mercy cry out for all sinners–bishops and busboys, popes and plumbers. Might God grace us to bear holy grief and the hope of glory long after Lent.

‘We do not want you to grieve like those who have no hope…’ (1 Thess. 4:13).

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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