Monday, July 17, 2006

Being “judgmental” about sin…

Jesus said that those without sin can ‘throw the first stone’. I am not without sin (that’s why I go to confession) and my attempts to amend my way of life have been singularly unsuccessful (which is why I keep going back to confession). In the confessional, I experience the love of God. God loves me by forgiving me—not by excusing me. The most loving thing God does for me is to expose my sin to my conscience and to drive me back to the confessional, where, through the ministry of the priest, he reconciles me to himself.

So what I am about to say isn’t about ‘stone throwing’. It is about forgiveness and welcoming through real love and real acceptance.

A reader of the Email News asked whether I might make the following article available to other Email News readers. In fact, as it didn’t really suit that forum (not being about ecumenism or interfaith relations), I thought it better to address it in this forum.

The article is in Online Opinion. I had noticed it on the website last week, but passed over it. It is called “Let's watch our judgmental language” by Richard Prendergast, a priest at the parish of St. Josephat on the north side of Chicago, USA.

In effect (for those who don’t want to read the whole article), Fr Prendergast says that the Church must learn to be more accepting of homosexuals and not to use language which is “hostile” or “judgmental” in relation to homosexuals.  In particular, he refers to the Vatican document “Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons”, and to the case of a lesbian couple who came to him to have their adopted daughter baptised.

When I was a protestant, I commonly came across a saying that went like this “Hate the sin but love the sinner”. As far as I can tell, the same attitude to sin and sinners prevails in the Catholic Church. It is sin which is condemned, not the sinner. The sinner is always welcomed, always loved, always accepted. But sin can never be loved, welcomed or accepted.

Again, as far as I can tell, Fr Prendergast is not only asking us to love, welcome and accept the sinner, but also to love, welcome and accept the sin.

As far as I can tell, Fr Prendergast is criticising the Church for being judgmental for something which the Church regards as sin but which Fr Prendergast himself does not.

And that is why the Vatican document “Considerations etc.” seems so horrific to Fr Prendergast. If homosexual acts are not intrinsically sinful, and if it indeed it is healthy and right for a child to be taken from her own culture (“half way around the world”) and brought up in another culture and in an homosexual environment, then it would indeed be wicked of the Church to condemn such sincere and loving actions.

But if it is a sin to do this, how could it be truly loving, welcoming or accepting for the Church to act as if it were not?

None of which makes Fr Prendergast’s situation an easy one. Certainly he must be loving toward the couple. Certainly he must be loving toward their adopted daughter. Absolutely certainly he should accept to baptise the girl. Absolutely he should welcome the couple into the community of the parish. The Church, after all, is the most healthy place for sinners to hang out. But it is (or at least should be) a very unhealthy environment for sin itself.

“Hate the sin and love the sinner”. Its very difficult to make the distinction but we have to learn to do it. And without throwing stones.

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