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Commentary on the new Vatican Instruction
concerning homosexuals in the priesthood
November 26, 2005
New instructions from the Holy See concerning homosexuals in the priesthood have been dismissed by some people as irrelevant (“they change nothing”) and criticized by others as repressive. I think that, if implemented, they will have a greatly beneficial affect.
The obvious starting point, which many of the critics do not acknowledge, is the simple fact that the Church has always taught that homosexual activity is a sinful disorder and that no one can legitimately engage in it. Many homosexuals openly reject that teaching and live in defiance of it, and the only thing they want from the Church is a stamp of approval, a kind of official apology. The dominant homosexual ideology rejects all attempts to distinguish homosexual orientation from homosexual activity, on the grounds that to suppress such activity would be unnatural, perhaps even impossible.
Homosexuals point out that all priests, indeed all unmarried persons, must be celibate, but there is a difference. Heterosexual priests give up something that the Church holds to be a tremendous good -- marriage -- in order to live entirely for the Kingdom of Heaven, whereas homosexuals give up something intrinsically disordered. Priests can be granted permission to marry, but no one can be granted permission to live an active homosexual life.
Homosexuals do have gifts to bring to the priesthood, but their sexual orientation is not one of them and is in fact an obstacle to overcome, as all of us have to fight against our temptations. It would be quite bizarre if an avaricious priest boasted that his greed was a “gift” that he brought to his ministry. Homosexuality is perhaps the only sin whose practitioners are organized and boast publicly of their activity. Imagine, for example, a group demanding moral acceptance for adulterers or embezzlers.
The new document identifies certain signs that warn against admitting a homosexual to the priesthood, one of which is participation in the homosexual subculture. But some homosexual priests do exactly that joining in “gay pride” events, signing petitions, openly “affirming” their sexuality, all activities that are designed to undercut the Church’s teaching. Some priests make no secret of the fact that they frequent homosexual gatherings of various kinds.
Heterosexual behavior is again an enlightening contrast. We would, I think, be dubious about a priest who made much of the fact that he is attracted to women, that sex is important to him, even if he insisted that he was celibate. His attitude would indicate a kind of obsession that showed maladjustment. Anyone whose identity is mainly defined by his sexuality is not suited for the priesthood.
One priest has severely criticized the new document because of a clause that says that spiritual directors in seminaries should urge seminarians to leave if they are not prepared for the celibate life. The mode in which the priest made his criticism -- on the front page of the New York Times -- seems to me to show that he is precisely the kind of priest the new document finds unsuitable.
But the substance of his criticism goes even farther. He is outraged that spiritual directors might prevent some men from being ordained, when he thinks their job ought to be to encourage them. This is nothing less than a denial that the Church should make judgments of any kind about the character of future priests. The idea that seminarians should always be “affirmed” and never discouraged goes a long way towards explaining many of the scandals that now afflict us.
The sexual orientation of a priest or future priest has to be of concern to his superiors, whose task it is to discern whether he is leading a celibate life. If he is, it is no one else’s business. But if orientation leads to action, it becomes everyone’s business.
Homosexuals have done their cause a great disservice in ignoring the question of celibacy. But one good result of the new document is that Catholic defenders of homosexuality will now have to state publicly that “Of course we are talking about chaste homosexuals” and will have to affirm celibacy, about which until now they have been studiously ambiguous.
James Hitchcock, professor of history at St. Louis University, writes and lectures on contemporary Church matters. His column appears in the diocesan press. Dr. Hitchcock's The Supreme Court and Religion in American Life, Vol. 1 The Odyssey of the Religion Clauses and Vol. II From 'Higher Law' to 'Sectarian Scruples', were released by Princeton University Press September 2, 2004.
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