Yet another festival of Roman balloons

hot air balloons in sandiego DI am still on the road in the Los Angeles area and struggling to catch up, while also enjoying reading — for better and for worse — the Los Angeles Times each morning on dead tree pulp. I have many stories backed up to mention and will do what I can to keep posting this week.

Meanwhile, let me once again spotlight one of the — to me — most fascinating stories out there, especially if you are interested in watching the press try to handle on organization that has mastered the art of, yes, the trial balloon.

Check out these phrases, drawn from yet another MSM attempt to figure out what the Vatican is up to with its still mysterious document on the ordination of homosexual men to the priesthood. This report by Tracy Wilkinson had another one of those dry yet yearning headlines: “Vatican to Define Its Policy on Gay Seminarians.” Yes, we know. Someday the Vatican will do that, but as for now we are left with:

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is preparing to release a document, years in the making, that will bolster the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine against admitting gay men into the priesthood.

“Is preparing to…” Yes, we know that.

Despite an acute shortage of Catholic priests in many parts of the world, church leaders under Pope Benedict XVI are advocating a more careful screening of aspiring clerics to keep out homosexuals. However, rather than an absolute ban feared in some circles, the pope is expected to adopt a somewhat more nuanced approach in the final document.

“A more careful screening … the pope is expected to … a somewhat more nuanced … in the final document.” What can you say? How many balloons can one put in a single sentence? But wait! It’s time for a full-scape riot of balloons (to mangle a metaphor), an almost “we don’t have the story, but lots of people are telling us lots of things” festival of second- and third-tier attributions. This is long and I will mark (with italics) most of the fun parts:

The new instructions, expected to be issued with Benedict’s approval this month, will update a 1961 prohibition on gays entering seminaries. That ban declared that men of “homosexual tendency” were “not fit” to be ordained.

But indications are that the new document, which will set out more specific guidelines intended to enforce a rule that everyone agrees has often been ignored, also will leave a small degree of flexibility or discretion.

The final document has not been made public, and the clerics who drafted it have not spoken publicly on its contents, following the Vatican practice of avoiding comment until the pope has formally published any new instructions. Consequently, the precise language remains unknown, and in Vatican documents even the most minor inflections of language can make a world of difference.

Still, the most reliable reports suggest the following strictures will be included: Men who have been celibate for at least three years, regardless of their sexual orientation, would be eligible to be admitted to seminaries. In addition to celibacy, they should not participate in a “gay lifestyle,” including the use of books, movies and Internet sites with gay content or themes. Nor should they join related political activities, such as pride marches.

Bravo! I think we get the picture. There are still major problems with the document. Bishops in the chilly West are almost certainly divided and some simply plan to ignore the document anyway. Rome is getting pounded on by the leaders of major religious orders and seminaries. You get the picture, kind of.

Yes, I still think there are more balloons ahead. We’re getting closer to the vague document that is ahead. Maybe.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.


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