I'm... really confused by this one. OK, so, you remember I came out to my family back in January? Well, I got a number of positive responses back, and no negative responses. I also didn't get responses from a fair number of people; I'll let you draw your own conclusions. Well, there was one aberrant response, which was a long hand-written letter from my Aunt S. S is very, very, very Catholic, of the extremely Old School variety, and the letter wasn't too far out of what I expected. Very loving, very concerned with me (and my health, and my soul), and utterly backward (in my opinion) on matters of sexual orientation (not to mention harboring some very basic misunderstandings of the current research on nature/nurture and the particularities of certain medicoanatomical concepts [although she was spot-on that "sexual expression between men" does "frequently involve sodomy" -- I really haven't the words]).
But that's just background. As Kevin and I were walking out the front door this morning, we saw that the mail had come. Among a number of bills and other terribly exciting junk, I saw that there was a large envelope from Aunt S. I really didn't know what to expect, but I knew there was no way I was waiting four or five hours to open it, so I went back inside with it. What was inside? You would never guess. No, really. Inside was a cardboard plaque/print from the Confraternity of the Precious Blood, along with a prayer book from same and a letter from S. It turns out, she's enrolled me in the Confraternity, which "means that [I] and [my] intentions will always be included in the prayers of the cloistered sisters at the Monastery of the Precious Blood."¹ Now, you know, it's very sweet, sort of. Although upon close examination, we all decided that she probably sent off the enrollment form around the same time she wrote me the first letter, which makes this an implicit response to my coming out. It's like she's trying to guide me back to the right path. And, you know, whatever. It's a little insulting, as if I myself am not able to make my own religious decisions (oh, and I'm going to hell because I happen to have fallen in love with another man), but whatever. That's not the thing that's really bothering me here.
The thing that's really bothering is that I can't figure out how this whole enrollment business isn't simony. Let me lay this out.
- Definition: simony is the selling of religious things. Put a bit more formally, it is "a deliberate intention of buying or selling for a temporal price such things as are spiritual of annexed unto spirituals"²
- This enrollment is not free. "One year, Perpetual, and Family memberships are available to living members. Enrollment is $7.00,$15.00, and $30.00."³
- To make explicit: punishments (excommunication, to be exact), are to be rendered against, among others, "such as are guilty of simony by purchasing or selling admission into a religious order."²
- Now, the enrollment does not make me a member of the cloistered sisters of the Monastery, of course. But it does "[bestow] the Privilege [sic] of Sharing in the merits of the DAILY PRAYRERS [sic], PENANCES, and NIGHTHOUR of REPARATION of our CLOISTERED SISTERS and of the HOLY MASSES and NOVENAS offered up under the Auspices of our CONFRATERNITY at the MONASTERY of the PRECIOUS BLOOD."³
I don't know. I'm hardly a canon lawyer, and there are some weird provisos which may be at play here (i.e. "It is likewise simony to accept temporal compensation for admission into a religious order; but contributions made by candidates to defray the expenses of their novitiate as well as the dowry required by some female orders are not included in this prohibition."²). Nevertheless, my gut instinct is that this sounds a bit like a racket, and it makes me uncomfortable. The buying and selling of indulgences was one of the biggest factors in the upheaval we know as the Reformation -- hell, the Dominicans relied on practices we would now call simoniacal for pretty much all of their income during the Middle Ages. And given I spent a lot of time last quarter dealing with medieval Dominican texts, you'll forgive me if I'm a bit leery.
¹ B-----, S-----. Personal letter to the author. 11 April 2007.
² "Simony." The Catholic Encyclopedia (1912). <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14001a.htm
³ "Join Us." The Confraternity of the Precious Blood. <http://www.confraternitypb.org/joinus.html