Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

The Dangers Of ‘Dialogue’

When a call to talk is really an invitation to surrender

Exactly everybody saw this coming:

The Belgian Brothers of Charity have defied the Pope and announced they will continue offering euthanasia at their hospitals despite being ordered to stop.

The group said in a statement that it “continues to stand by its vision statement on euthanasia for mental suffering in a non-terminal situation” and that they “emphatically believe” the practice is compatible with Catholic teaching.

The group also claimed the decision had “come about starting from the Christian frame of thought” and that they “always take into account the shifts and evolutions within society”.

Last month, Pope Francis approved a Vatican demand that Brothers must stop offering euthanasia by the end of August.

The Brothers of Charity board, which is controlled by lay Catholics, administers a network of psychiatric care hospitals in Belgium. The board made the decision to permit euthanasia over the objections of the Brothers of Charity religious order.

Here’s the official statement by the Brothers Of Charity board (note well that it is run by lay Catholics; the religious order itself opposes the board’s decision). Scroll down to read it in English. Excerpt:

The Organization of the Brothers of Charity continues to stand by its vision statement on euthanasia for mental suffering in a non-terminal situation.

In recent weeks, paths have been explored to get both parties to the table. However, this has not yet produced any results. In the meantime, we will continue to request establishing a dialogue [emphasis mine — rd] so that we would have a chance to explain our vision statement and our argumentation.

One of the debates that has arisen over the past few months in response to our vision statement is whether this vision is still consistent with the doctrine of the Catholic Church. We emphatically believe so. The text has come about starting from the Christian frame of thought as we apply it within the organization. In this, we always take into account the shifts and evolutions within society. We have considered the following elements: recognition of the exceptional, proportional view of ethics, deontological view and ideologization, and choice of conscience. (see attached text)

We wish to emphasize that with the new vision statement we continue to put the inviolability of life first and not just regard it as equal to the value of autonomy. The vision originated with the aim of providing the best possible care.

So these lay Belgian Catholics know more about moral theology than the Vatican, in their humble opinion.

This is another example of why calls for “dialogue” from the left, especially the religious left, are almost always a camel’s-nose-under-the-tent tactical move to normalize heterodox teaching or behavior. At this point, you’d have to be a chump to assume otherwise. What, exactly, do parties like the Brothers of Charity want from a dialogue, if not to be recognized, explicitly or implicitly, as having an acceptable position? There can be no “we agree to disagree” compromise on the matter of euthanasia. To enter into a dialogue at all is to concede more than the Church can afford to concede on such a serious matter.

The National Catholic Register made this point in its recent interview with Jesuit Father James Martin, the affable and telegenic Catholic priest whose new book advocates dialogue between the institutional Church and LGBT Catholics. Excerpt:

In your book, you stress what the Catechism says about treating “LGBT” Catholics with “respect, compassion and sensitivity,” but not the teaching about living chastely. How long does one employ “respect, compassion and sensitivity” before calling “LGBT” Catholics to chastity?

The reason I didn’t talk about chastity in my book is because Church teaching is clear on that matter, and it’s well-known in the “LGBT” community. I don’t think there’s any “LGBT” Catholic alive who doesn’t understand that teaching. By the same token, there seem to be few “LGBT” Catholics who have accepted that teaching. Theologically speaking, you could say the teaching has not been “received” by the “LGBT” community, to whom it was directed. So rather than focusing on a topic where the two groups — the institutional church and the “LGBT” community — are miles and miles apart, I preferred to try to build a bridge over areas that could be places of common ground. And as for “respect, compassion and sensitivity,” one can always employ those virtues even when one is in disagreement with the other person. If you’re a bishop who is speaking to an “LGBT” person who disagrees with Church teaching, you can still treat him or her with respect, and the “LGBT” person can do the same with the bishop. As for calling them specifically to chastity, it’s important to remember we are all called to chastity, so that is part of everyone’s call as a Christian and as a Catholic. So that virtue is not something that applies only to the “LGBT” person.


Trying to build a bridge between the institutional Church and the “LGBT” community seems somewhat like trying to bring the pro-life and pro-choice movements together. What kind of bridge can be built if one side does not give on something significant, such as the Church’s long-held teaching on this issue?

I don’t know, but it’s certainly worth a try. So many “LGBT” Catholics are really hungering and longing for a place in the Church, and some of them already work in the Church — as music ministers, lay pastoral associates and lectors. They’ve been so wounded and they just want a place in the Church. A place they have a right to, by virtue of their baptisms.

By the same token, many bishops want to include them and, at least as I see it, sometimes seem to not know how to. “LGBT” Catholics just want a feeling of welcome, because I don’t think most expect Church teaching to change. I may be wrong, but I think it’s just a feeling of welcome and not being constantly castigated from the pulpit or personally excluded… And the thing that they experience at the hands of Church officials is something shocking. The other day someone contacted me and asked if I knew a priest in a particular part of the country who was “compassionate.” This person worked in a hospice and said that the local priest was refusing to anoint a man who was dying — because he was gay. That’s what they have to deal with.

After receiving public criticism from Cardinal Robert Sarah, who holds to Catholic teaching on sexuality, over the book, Fr. Martin responded by saying the cardinal does not understand that the book does not deny Catholic teaching, but only calls for “dialogue.”

Seems to me that Cardinal Sarah has Father Martin’s number. The Jesuit has addressed New Ways Ministry, a dissident Catholic group that advocates for same-sex marriage, among other things. In fact, the nun who co-founded the group endorsed Fr. Martin’s book, saying in a blurb printed on its jacket that the Jesuit “shows how the Rosary and the rainbow flag can peacefully meet each other.”

A reader points out that Fr. Martin is giving the symposium address at the annual Alumni Days celebration at the Theological College of the Catholic University of America. Cardinal Donald Wuerl is also speaking. The reader is deeply troubled by this, in part because prior to the priest abuse scandal, the Theological College had a reputation for being a haven for gay priests and seminarians. Back in 2002, the year the sex scandal broke nationally, Hanna Rosin wrote an amazing piece for The Washington Post about homosexuality and the Theological College. Excerpts:

TC, as Theological College is known, was one of the seminaries investigated in the ’80s, when the “gay subculture was a fairly significant element” and the faculty was not strict, said the Rev. Bill Parent, outgoing vocations director for the Archdiocese of Washington and a TC student at the time.

Many of the two dozen present and former TC students who were interviewed for this article described participating in, or witnessing, some sexual activity, sometimes in the dorms and sometimes off campus. But mostly what they described was the “weirdness,” as several called it, meaning the gay undercurrent that [former TC seminarian Andrew] Krzmarzick described — ubiquitous yet unacknowledged.


Krzmarzick had grown up in a Catholic family in a few Midwest towns of under 1,000, but he was no rube. In college, he attended a rally for a gay student who was beaten up, and even wrote a letter to the paper calling it a “travesty.” Still, he was not prepared for what he found at TC.

First, there was the stare at the library. Then Krzmarzick walked into a seminarian’s room and saw him kissing another student. No one mentioned it; Krzmarzick just asked his question and left.

“It was starting to hit me: This was a place where a lot of the guys are gay,” he recalled. “But I wasn’t sure what to make of it, who to talk to. There was no public forum where we could talk openly about it.”

In some ways, faculty members did address the issue, even tried to confront students about addressing it honestly. In the weekly Monday night talks about some thorny aspect of priesthood, faculty members referred separately to issues faced by the gay students and the straight students.

One seminarian recorded in his notes that the Rev. Tom Hurst, now the TC rector, advised the students once to “stand in front of the mirror and say, ‘Hello, my name is Bob and I’m straight, gay, bisexual, confused but working on it,’ ” and talked about sexual orientation existing on a continuum, with men falling on all points along the line.

But many students said they could not imagine asking a follow-up question in these sessions, discussing being gay with the group or mentioning their own personal struggles.

“We didn’t talk about it,” Krzmarzick said. “It was talked about to us.”

The effect was to deepen the mystery, like announcing someone was having an affair but not saying who. Some nights after dinner, Krzmarzick and a couple of friends would sit in their rooms and run through the list of men in the house and label them: “Gay. Gay. Gay, but doesn’t know it. Gay, knows it, but won’t admit it.”

Anyone who was slightly strange or overly sociable or even too conservative was gay. The “parafaculty,” or students who planned alumni days, bishops’ visits, cocktail hours — gay. The DOTS, the guys on the fourth floor named after a very rigid order, the Daughters of Trent, who wore cassocks to class or did the 5 a.m. devotions in chapel — gay, but “praying to the Virgin to take it away.”

No one was exempt. “At one point I started wondering about myself,” Krzmarzick said.

Read the whole thing. The gist of the story is that TC was a very gay place, but nobody could talk about it. (In that regard, the seminary was a microcosm of the situation within the Catholic Church at the time.)

The reader, who is in a position to know, tells me that post-scandal, the place changed its ways, but that there is a lot of concern now that with Cardinal Wuerl having apparently agreed to the college welcoming as its speaker a prominent Jesuit priest widely perceived by orthodox Catholics as being a pro-gay activist within the Church signals a return to the bad old days at TC, when Church teaching was effectively denied within the seminary’s culture.

On the other hand, this might be the new normal in the Catholic Church. Two cardinals — including one named by Pope Francis to oversee the Vatican’s office of family policy — endorsed Fr. Martin’s book and its call for dialogue. Read this short piece about the “James Martin Effect,” and understand that Fr. Martin is not a neutral broker who simply wants to bring both sides together for a nice conversation.

To be sure, not all dialogue is a bad idea. There’s nothing wrong with church leaders and ministers meeting with LGBT Christians to learn more about their lives, and how the church can help them live out its teachings more effectively, and can help non-gay Christians be more compassionate to them. But the teaching of the church in these matters, and the responsibility of all Christians to live it out, must be clearly non-negotiable. Before we sit down at the table, we had better be very clear about what’s at stake, both explicitly and implicitly. It has too often happened the liberals within various church circles have called for dialogue, but after they gained power within the church, declared that dialogue with the orthodox must end, because it would be wrong to have a dialogue with people who believe such immoral things.

UPDATE: Erin Manning comments:

Imagine the following exchange between a parent and a school child:

“Jimmy, the teacher said you were cheating on your test. You know that cheating is wrong, don’t you?”

“I know that the school says it’s wrong, and you agree with the school.”

“Well, don’t you agree too?”

“Actually, I’d like to dialog about it.”

“What do you mean?”

“It occurs to me that this thing we call ‘cheating’ is actually sort of complicated. Some cultures and societies praised people who cheated in various ways, so long as they got away with it. Other cultures were fine with cheating in general, so long as you didn’t cheat your relatives or people you owed honesty to. It’s way too easy to label all cheating as wrong.”

“But, Jimmy, it is wrong to steal another person’s answers and use them as your own. That’s what cheating is.”

“Well, sure, if you want to take a narrow look and emphasize the ‘ick’ factor. But, really, aren’t you just trying to shame people who seek knowledge and good grades in alternative ways? Perhaps those of us who cheat on tests can’t really change. Those of you for whom honesty on tests is easy can’t really relate to those of us who are drawn to cheating by our love of getting all A grades on our report card. Who are you to say that our love of academic excellence is wrong?”

“Academic excellence means you have studied and mastered some difficult subject, Jimmy. It’s about more than getting good grades.”

“Well, that’s your definition. It isn’t mine. I think academic excellence means getting good grades, even if you have to employ enhanced surveillance testing methods to achieve them. It’s sort of rude to dismiss all the effort I put into seeing what my classmates are writing as mere ‘cheating’, and it’s outdated to think that those of us who use enhanced surveillance testing methods can be dismissed with the label ‘cheaters’ and marginalized and excluded and oppressed.”

“So what is it you want, then?”

“Thanks for asking! Now we’re getting somewhere. What I, and the enhanced surveillance testing community wants, is the right to take tests the way we want to–open book, looking over the shoulders of one of the good students, having the answers pre-printed on our copies of the tests, and so on. We are tired of the hurtful and exclusionary policies of the school that try to make us feel guilty and ashamed because of our alternative testing lifestyles. We need to feel welcomed and included in the school community.”

“I see. Well, Jimmy, I hate to break it to you, but the school isn’t going to change. You’ve got an F on your test for cheating, and you have to serve detention for a week, too. Next time there’s a test you will study properly.”

“I thought you agreed to dialog! Don’t you understand that ‘dialog’ means you listen to me until you agree with me, at which point you apologize for putting me through this emotional trauma in the first place?”



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now