The news from Rome infuriated the most quotable Catholic, gay, HIV-positive, political conservative in cyberspace.
But Andrew Sullivan knew where to find comfort after the Vatican's recent reminder that gay unions are in no way "similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family." He poured out his frustration at www.andrewsullivan.com and his online community responded.
"Times are terrible," wrote a Catholic priest. "The church says gay people are not permitted to get married, ordained or adopt children. All prohibitions. Not one statement of moral guidance or recognition. Negation only. I don't know what to say or think myself. ...
"I take refuge in conscience (which the tradition treats with utmost respect) and in my belief that the church is larger and older and wiser than one segment, no matter how powerful and officially sanctioned its self-defined role. The church cannot be contained or proscribed as the narrow experience of what the magisterium teaches. It is all of us."
Sullivan shared that anonymous epistle with the 400,000 or so readers who visit his "weblog" each month. There are between 1.5 and 3 million "blogs" and the former New Republic editor is known as a trailblazer in this ever-expanding "blogosphere."
Blogs are helping shape mainstream news, as the ousted editors of the New York Times now know. But blogs are also touching untold numbers of private lives. This is especially true in the realm of religion, where public policy and private piety are mixing in new ways.
Headlines seem distant in the daily press. They are personal in the blogs. One day it's Catholic doctrine and its impact on legislators and judges. The next day it's the Episcopal Church and the consecration of its first openly gay bishop.
Sullivan is used to slinging ink in this marketplace. But this week he used his blog to say that events are pushing him toward a "pretty major life-decision."
"It tears me apart to see no prospect of the Catholic Church ending its war on gay people and their dignity in my lifetime," he wrote. "I think it's getting worse; and the next pope from the developing world could make the current one seem humane. Leaving the sacraments would be a huge blow to the soul; but the pope just called the love I have for my boyfriend 'evil.' "
Sullivan posted painful letters from gay Catholics who said the Vatican had pushed them over the line. One pondered cutting off "my membership and support of the Roman Catholic Church" and moving on to "what in my upbringing would be called 'the next best thing': the Episcopal Church."
But the "blogosphere" has other sanctuaries. Father Paul Mankowski of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome called Sullivan and his acolytes "conditional" Catholics who yearn for a different church.
"They persist in their membership, but with the understanding that the Church will be a different Church in the future," he said, in the blog at Catholic World News (www.cwnews.com). "And if the Church will reverse her teaching in future, the Church must be wrong now. And if a man believes the Church is wrong now, he can't possibly mean the same thing I mean when he professes her to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic."
And Catholic blogger Amy Welborn (www.amywelborn.com) wondered whether Sullivan fears surrendering the familiar rituals of daily Catholic life, even though his beliefs have changed. Yet reason suggests that there "comes a point when an individual who doesn't believe that faith rests on objective truth comes up hard against the institution that maintains that it does, and at that point, something's got to give."
Then again, she said, he may stay. What's the "marquee value" of being a gay Episcopalian?
Reached by email, Sullivan said he feels tied to Catholicism by baptism, family, the sacraments and a "lifetime of prayer and reflection." He still goes to Mass. He asked his readers to pray for him and was stunned at the consolation that flowed through these digital ties that bind.
"I don't think I could belong to any other Church but the one I believe to be the true one," he said. "I respect completely other faiths and denominations; but this one is in my bones and in my soul."