Father Wehner’s Comment on Seminary Visitations

On Wednesday, I sent the following email to Father Ron Lengwin, spokesman for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Father Lengwin,

I have a question I'm hoping you can answer in your capacity as diocesan spokesman. In a recent Post-Gazette article about the current seminary visitations and related comments made by Archbishop Edward O'Brien, Father Jim Wehner is quoted as saying,

"He is being very general. I would not challenge what he said, but I think we need to be more specific. You can have an orientation and never engage in homosexual acts. And you can have some young man who has too much to drink and engages in perversions he never would otherwise. That doesn't mean he's gay."

Domenico Bettinelli, Jr., managing editor of Catholic World News and editor of Catholic World Report, reacted to that statement with the following comments on his blog.

"Never mind that someone with a propensity for drunkness that leads to illicit sexual acts would have a whole other reason to be seriously re-considered for the seminary, what can the rector possibly be thinking? What normal heterosexual male suddenly finds himself a homosexual after having a few drinks? I'm sorry, but drunkenness doesn't change your personality, it lowers barriers and impairs judgment so that you're more likely to do things that are already in your mind."

"This is the kind of thinking that looks for loopholes and excuses, not elevated standards of behavior."

I am inclined to agree with Mr. Betinelli that not only is drunkenness a poor – and highly suspect – excuse for perverse acts, but is troubling on its own. However, I try as often as possible to hear all relevant sides of a story, and thus am loathe to accuse Father Wehner of offering an apologia for licentious behavior in seminaries. Furthermore, I do not think unchecked criticism of clerics is appropriate and provides opportunities for scandal in the Church. If Father Wehner was in any way misrepresented, I would like to know so that I might reply to Mr. Betinelli and others who were scandalized by the perceived apologia pro licentia. Would it be possible for a clarification of his comment to be offered? Thank you in advance.

Father Lengwin forwarded my email to Father Wehner, who responded to me today. He says that he must consult with the diocesan communications officer before clearing me to publish his response. However, I can state that Father Wehner was misquoted and his remarks were taken out of context. In fact, the (mis)quoted comment was made during a related conversation after he had, at the request of the reporter, commented on Archbishop O'Brien's statement that gay men should not be in a seminary. I'll publish his full response as soon as I'm permitted. I suppose technically speaking I don't need permission, but I wouldn't want to needlessly land Father Wehner in trouble with his boss, Bishop Wuerl.

Update 09/28/05: Father Wehner got back to me about publishing his clarification of the Post-Gazette article.

Hello Eric:

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Busy days.

I did speak with our communication office and in agreeing with them I believe I have clarified my remarks in light of the Post Gazette taking them out of context.

Therefore, if anyone else needs this same clarification they can contact me. My remarks to you are not be published.

I again appreciate the opportunity to address the questions you raised.

Sincerely in the Lord,
Father Wehner

His address is jwehner@diopitt.org.

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About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

2 thoughts on “Father Wehner’s Comment on Seminary Visitations

  1. Tom Smith


    I really think the world of Fr. Jim Wehner, having known him for some time. Thanks for giving him the benefit of the doubt, at least until he can clear up his comments himself.

  2. dlw

    I think Wehner is right that homosexuality is both chosen and not chosen. But his treatment of how it is chosen falls short, I think. Apparently, we can learn or be open to engaging in homosexual acts, even if we have heterosexual orientations. As I recall, there is a lot of controversy over the notion of bisexuality, whether we are in fact all on a spectrum wrt our sexuality or whether we are able to choose to learn to engage in same-sex acts, such as those that prevailed in pagan culture during New Testament times. And as Christians, we have every right to participate in making the norms of our culture such as to discourage the development of these sorts of habits. I myself fear that gay-rights activists tend to encourage these sorts of habits with their biologically deterministic rhetoric and often libertarian viewpoints.

    One of the most popular recent presentations of this phenomena would be in “Kissing Jessica Stein”.

    But it seems to me that a lot of the heat over this issue is due to how homosexuality is a heterogenous phenomena and yet people tend to treat it as homogenous(as if it were all chosen or not chosen at all.). My own study of the scientific research suggests that the hormonal balance that forms in our brains while we are fetuses does impact who we are sexually attracted to later on in life. This goes beyond the usual appeal to genetics, and suggests that with time we may be able to prevent the onset of people having homosexual orientations.

    The real question is whether it would be desirable to prevent the onset of homosexual orientations.

    I had a long exchange on this issue with a gay-rights supporter friend of mine from when I was in grad-school. It was a good exchange where to make his point, he even gave me his understanding of Christianity. And, fortunately, we are still friends.


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