Urgent need for chaplains
Kudos to Our Sunday Visitor for Scott Alessi’s excellent “Chaplains play crucial role in lives of the incarcerated” (April 22), which called attention to the Religion in Prisons survey. As per Alessi:
“While the Pew survey finds that conversions from one faith to another are fairly common in state prisons, Dominican Sister Susan Van Baalen told OSV that inmates are more likely to drift away from Catholicism simply because there are so few Catholic chaplains. In the Federal Bureau of Prisons, she said, there are only 20 Catholic chaplains but more than 50,000 Catholic prisoners.
“Most often, she said, inmates will gravitate toward other Christian faiths that offer multiple activities, such as frequent Bible studies. The Pew survey indicates that Protestant faiths experience the largest growth in prison due to religious conversion, and they are also most likely to have an overabundance of volunteers.
“According to Sister Susan, the best way to reverse this trend is to increase the Catholic presence in prison ministry.”
“Deacon José Treviño agrees that there is a need for more Catholic ministers, particularly those who can speak both English and Spanish.”
I trust that you will continue to inform us on this topic, perhaps highlighting the work of Catholic apostolates (for example, the Inmate Rehabilitation & Re-Entry Program of Joseph Montone’s My Father’s Vineyard in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia).
Christ himself has given us an incredible “heads-up,” as to the absolutely vital nature of prison ministry:
“Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was ... in prison, and you did not care for me. ... What you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.”
— Joseph Tevington, Morrisville, Pa.
It is dismaying to read four misleading things in Melinda Selmys’ article about “the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality.”
These four misleading things are her allegations that: (1) the Catechism declares (that) individuals “do not choose their homosexual condition”; (2) there exist “genuine spiritual and political needs of homosexual people”; (3) there exist “legitimate rights” that homosexual persons have; and (4) ‘orientation change’ is “not endorsed by the Vatican.”
These allegations of hers are dismaying because she thinks they represent Catholic belief/teaching. They do not. Here’s a quick response to each allegation of hers, a response meant to respect (if not wholly elaborate) Catholic belief/teaching:
(1) She is using an outdated excerpt from the first draft of the Catechism, an excerpt that never was accorded official Catholic status. What she alleges is NOT FOUND in the Catechism’s official statement on homosexuality;
(2) It is disingenuous to suggest as she does here. The existence of genuine “spiritual and political needs” has nothing whatsoever to do with homosexuality. Whatever is genuine by way of ‘needs’ has to do with persons as such;
(3) There are no rights that inhere in anyone by virtue of homosexuality (whether homosexual activity or homosexual inclination). Rights inhere in persons as such;
(4) When it comes to sexuality, ‘orientation’ in everyone is first a naturally existing orientation to the other gender. Homosexuality represents the interruption of this natural sexual orientation. Given this kind of understanding of “orientation,” changing homosexual inclination is really all about re-establishing what was once naturally occurring (of course, without failing to respect the person) — and this kind of change is something that the Vatican endorses!
— John Collins, Coordinator of the COURAGE Chapter, Diocese of Santa Rosa, Calif.
Melinda Selmys responds: Homosexuals do have genuine spiritual needs which are intimately related to the homosexual condition and to the demands of homosexual chastity. If this were not true, there would be no need for the existence of a group like Courage.
The legitimate political rights and needs of all people inhere in them as persons as such. Some groups, however, are vulnerable. When we speak of prisoner’s rights, this does not imply that we approve of crime, but rather that we recognize the inherent human dignity of those who, whether through their own fault or through unjust processes, have been imprisoned. We also recognize that standing up for the legitimate human rights of marginalized people is often a precondition of effective Christian witness.
The position which Courage and the Vatican do not endorse is the belief that the resumption of opposite-sex attraction and heterosexual activity is necessary or possible for all homosexual persons. This is why the Vatican distinguishes between transitory same-sex attraction and “homosexuals who are definitively such because of some kind of innate instinct or a pathological constitution judged to be incurable” (Vatican document “Persona humana,” 1975).
Finally, the use of the 1992 Catechism was an honest mistake. The 1992 wording is, however, consistent with the teaching of the Church as expressed in other documents, and is perfectly compatible with the version released in 1997.