When I looked into the flap surrounding an article in The Fenwick Review by Holy Cross senior Elinor Reilly - New Ways in Theology at Holy Cross-, I reached out to David O'Brien who retired as Loyola Professor of Roman Catholic Studies at the College of the Holy Cross. Professor O'Brien is an authority on the history of American Catholicism. It seemed like I was not the first person to ask as he had a two page response. I am delighted that he agreed to let me publish it here.
Professr O'Brien had some brief comments on my post on the topic which I will resist calling QueerJesusgate, tempting as that might be. I will share some of them at the end. Here is Professor O'Brien:
Might Jesus have been gay? And how might gays, lesbians and transgendered people encounter Jesus in the Scriptures? At Worcester’s College of the Holy Cross controversy has exploded around such questions. A student journalist discovered a ten year old academic publication that offered some speculative ideas about Jesus and sexuality. The scholar who wrote that paper was then in California and is now at Holy Cross. The College President and Provost have praised the professor’s teaching, scholarship and character, and they have properly reminded everyone of the importance of academic freedom. Some Catholics, including Worcester’s bishop and some devoted alumni of the College, are not persuaded. They claim to be “outraged” at the very idea that a professor at a Jesuit and Catholic college would speculate in public about Jesus’ sexual orientation. They are particularly offended by the scholar’s admittedly provocative use of language, language made familiar in recent years by newly assertive gays and lesbians. Upset critics probably have heard these words before but they apparently worry that these ideas might endanger the faith of Holy Cross students and even “blaspheme” against Christian faith itself.
Of course these same church leaders and well educated Holy Cross graduates would surely agree that Jesus was fully man and well as fully God, and, as a man, he was probably subject, like all human beings, to emotions, even desires, including the desire to love and be loved. Some Christians might quickly respond that, “well, Jesus was like us in all things but sin”, suggesting it seems that sex and the emotions associated with sex are in themselves sinful, and therefore not part of the humanity of Jesus. All of us, and especially Catholics, might think about that for a while.
As for deliberately provocative language, we might recall what Catholic leaders at the very highest level of the Church said just a few years ago in instructing the faithful about homosexuality.
“Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder”. Of course violence against homosexual persons should be condemned, but “the proper response to such attacks should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.”
One does not have to look far, probably not far from one’s own parish or family, to find good people who have been deeply hurt by the contempt communicated by this presentation of church teaching. At a key moment of public discussion in our country that language about gay love gave legitimacy to extreme anger leveled by some at “out-of-the closet” gay men and lesbians. More broadly it raised questions about whether or not such men and women could be fully members of the Christian (or any other) community if they acknowledged their “disordered” orientation, much less acted on it. In my own work with the contemporary American Catholic church I encountered priests, even a bishop or two, who were disciplined because they offered Mass for gays and lesbians and their families or, even worse, allowed out-of-the closet gay and lesbian Catholics to meet on church property.
As a retired Holy Cross Professor I can assure friends of the College that the faculty and administrators who hired this professor did so with due deliberation, weighing the problems that would unfortunately arise if this earlier essay became widely known against the quality of his overall body of work. They must have determined that he would make an important contribution to the “conversation about basic human questions” that is central to the Holy Cross mission. I know and love Holy Cross graduates and the College’s many friends, and I believe deeply that Christian intelligence and imagination are invaluable to people of all sorts and to our diverse and often contentious human family. But I also know that our faith communities have long histories of opposition to homosexuals, often expressed in languages of contempt that would make this professor’s flip phrases look benign. Even now Catholic and wider Christian discussion of gay sex and gay marriage centers almost exclusively on sex, not love, even though we Christians all believe that love alone gives deep meaning to sex, and to life for that matter. Our church most of the time teaches that genuine love more than anything else makes God present in our world. I am confident that the Holy Cross community, which has welcomed and now supports this professor, is deeply committed to teaching and research that leads to truth, and to love for the world and all people. In this and much else it is as Catholic as it ever was.
Professor O'Brien's comment on my piece - How Obscure Article By Holy Cross Prof Made It Into The Right Wing Outrage Factory -was "a good job as far as it goes"/ Considering the source I take that as high praise. He also told me that when he was at Holy Cross he found The Fenwick Review deplorable, but never missed reading it.
Commenting on how The Fenwick Review piece ended up on Breitbart he wrote that in the seventies and for a while after the left and center were organized and networked, while now the right has the organization and networking while left and center are fragmented.
More background- according to its website, The Fenwick Review was founded in 1989 by Father Paul Scalia son of the late Supreme Court Justice, who I can never resist pointing out was a graduate of Xavier High School.
Peter J Reilly CPA writes about taxes on forbes.com.
Here is Professor O'Brien giving a lecture on Catholic social teaching.