Leaping into the Procrustean Bed

If it weren’t for the occasional leaps in logic, I swear, some of us wouldn’t get any exercise at all. OK, nobody knows my name at the nearby health club, either; but I do try to give my brain a workout several times a day. In fact, right now it’s running wild with speculation over how the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will react this week to the “proposed guidelines for ministering to homosexuals.”

According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, when America’s Roman Catholic bishops convene in Baltimore for their annual fall meeting, they will review new guidelines that absolve gay Catholics of any obligation to try to alter their sexual orientation. That’s a big step. But, while the bishops who drafted this proposal appear to acknowledge that homosexuality is an orientation, rather than a choice or a lifestyle, they’re simultaneously recommending that the Church continues to stress that same-sex relationships are immoral.

I really should rest my brain after that impressive workout. Leaping is one thing; bungee jumping is quite another. With the little strength that I have left, I absolutely positively must ask:

1. If same sex orientation is something that
one cannot change,
2. The Church will not obligate anyone to even try
to change,
3. Then, why is same sex orientation considered

Is it because Leviticus said so? Are these upstanding Christians saying that Leviticus’ hate-filled laws trump Jesus’ good news? Judge not, lest ye be judged.

The answer cometh with rapid speed:

“We are trying to find a language that does not betray the teaching of the Church, but will perhaps express it in ways that are not so offensive,” the Tribune article quotes Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as saying.

Further muddying the waters, he reportedly added, “The conclusions are the same. The language will be less painful than sometimes the language has been in the past.”

Have mercy! I shouldn’t have scrimped on those stretches before I began this ecclesiastical workout. And for rest, they offer me the comfort of a Procrustean bed. In fact, Procrustes is probably gleefully flattered that they’ve imitated him so well.

Don’t remember Procrustes? He was a rather sinister fellow in Greek mythology, a proverbial nightmare to weary travelers whose route took him near his place. Appearing to be a hospitable gent, Procrustes would invite them to lodge at his place. In exchange, they had to do nothing—except fit in his iron bed. I mean, literally fit in his iron bed: If they were shorter than the bed, he’d stretch them to its length. If they were taller, he’d chop off their head or legs. Of course, no one ever truly fit it, because once this diabolical charmer spotted them from a distance, he’d simply adjust the length of the bed. That gave birth to the term “procrustean bed”: an arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is forced [emphasis added].

When a church body believes that God is forceful, punitive and judgmental, rather than powerful, forgiving and the grantor of free will, it promotes policies that reflect their belief, as evidenced by two other proposals the bishops will consider this week: One forces gay couples to agree to raise their adopted children Catholic, otherwise their parish might not allow the children to be baptized. The second lays a foundation that would make it easier for clergy to deny holy sacraments to Catholics at odds with the church (baptism, confirmation, communion, confession, holy orders, marriage, and last rites), thus forcing parishioners to be in lock-step or be locked out. Among those targeted: politicians who call themselves Catholic.

The procrustean bed. A most fitting foundation on which the good bishops should begin this week’s meeting in Baltimore, and as painful on the 21st century stage as it was in ancient myth.