A recent New York Times article on homosexual candidates to the Catholic priesthood brought predictable, immediate and angry reactions. Reportedly, the Vatican is planning an unambiguous official paper for publication which definitely discourages homosexual men from applying for the Catholic priesthood. The reaction has been so strong that according to the New York Times of Sept. 29, 2005, several religious Communities (Jesuit, Franciscan, Dominican and others) are planning to send a delegation to Rome to protest the as un yet published Directive. Another article by John Allen Jr., in the NY Times suggests that Vatican stands are not always as clear as they might seem. He suggests that published decrees are more ideal than practical. Nonetheless, there are many reports of distress from clerical groups. Apparently, some priests are near panic and even rage over this possible publication. One priest speaks of leaving the priesthood after 15 years. Another was in tears. Many have been negatively impacted by these happenings
The official position that candidates with problems of same sex behavior would not be admitted to Catholic seminaries, while theoretically operational, is sometimes less than clear. One unclear (or obscure) aspect of the position is the imprecision of the meaning of homosexual tendencies.
There are many common sense reasons for the Church’s proposed strict policy. An obvious concern is that the enmeshment in an all male society would be exceedingly dangerous and difficult for the average same sex attracted male (SSA) with possible disastrous consequences for those whom he is called to shepherd. In the light of the findings of 2002 1 to believe otherwise is considered naïve. Nevertheless, in that population largely considered “gay”, there are considerable differences which ought to be understood before any fuming or screaming begins.
In the pain management field, a patient is asked to assess his pain on a scale (or spectrum) of 1 to 10 as a way of pinpointing the pain. Analogously, any candidate for the priesthood with the “difficulty”, could be asked where he would place himself on this SSA Difficulty Scale, i.e. how stressful is it for him in managing his same sex fantasies or his temptations to “act out”. What is his sexual history? What are his fantasies? Is he tempted to “haunt” gay bars, bath houses, porno shops, homosexual chat rooms, internet porno? Has he “acted out” in recent years? What is his prayer life like?
Regardless of discomfort on the part of the interviewer or the candidate, all candidates of any psychosexual orientation should be quizzed on details of his sexual maturity. Every candidate should be assessed as to his self perceived capability to live a chaste celibate life. Granting that no one has a crystal ball to predict the future, the Church does deserve some minimal assurance that this candidate can live the difficult life of the chaste celibate. Nevertheless, it is usually understood that because of the deeper narcissistic wound in the SSA person, managing his sexual urges is considerably more difficult than for his heterosexual brother.
Obvious obscurities should be clarified before any seminary possibility can be considered. When a naïve but well intentioned interviewer wishes to give a troubled applicant “a chance” believing totally in the power of God’s grace, he might balance his good intentions with the theological axiom that “Grace builds on nature.” The Church has seen and suffered sacerdotal shipwrecks over the centuries when balance has been ignored. Yet, I choose to disbelieve in the possibility of activistic bad faith as motivation for a modern recruiter.
Therefore should a candidate with a flagrant homosexual background, strong same sex urges, and frequent autoerotic behavior be assessed in the same manner as the devout and believing candidate who has little or no same sex experience and minimal Same Sex fantasy life? Factually, both types have applied to seminaries. Does tendency mean the former or the latter? One point does seem patently clear. A seminary and the priesthood should not be clinics for sexually obsessed (or repressed) individuals. However, the candidate with the occasional but managed “tendency” could be ordained (and has been) to become an effective and holy priest. Such men, ordained to Christ’s priesthood have largely remained faithful to the Lord, the Church and the priesthood itself. Ultimately, it is fidelity that matters, not psychosexual orientation. These are not gay priests. They are men of God with a managed SSA quality. The distinction is essential. Gay is a life criterion. It is a lens through which all things are measured and is a form of political activism.
To the Catholic Church any sexual behavior outside a valid marriage between a man and woman is inappropriate and sinful and in the case of SSA, unnatural. This is a universal application. This, the Church believes, is deep within the very nature of the human being and as such is unchangeable. No protest, no crusade, no committee, no civil law, can change this Truth. There is a clear implication in the Catholic stance of a belief in Absolute Truth. This is a Highlight of the thinking of Pope Benedict XVI as he points out the error of Moral Relativism. We ask why cannot the activist homosexual (gay) hear this? Is it some kind of psychological or spiritual deafness? Is it ignorance? Or evil? Or is there some kind of “infantile”2 reaction when facing a definite NO which frustrates what one wishes to do? Why is this so difficult to hear?
It would appear that some men who are now priests, have been led to believe that same sex behavior can be acceptable to the Lord and consequently to His Church. Tracing causes for this view might include seductive reading, ivory tower seminary professors and Rectors, short sighted recruiters and the like who have, in effect, told these Children of God what they wanted to hear--- “God understands and similar patronizing mantras. In time, they have, in their priesthood, gradually absorbed the fallacy and have affirmed the gay lifestyle, if even non-verbally. And unfortunately, to the ruin and unhappiness of many lives.
This Vatican statement will challenge and confront what these SSA priests have hidden from themselves for years. To “hear” this statement could well mean intense interior conflict and a possible colossal threat to a false identity they have cultivated for years. For “gays” to hear the proposed statement (or the orthodox Catholic teaching on sexuality) could mean facing the terrifying3 prospect of chaste celibacy. It could mean the explicit duty to proclaim the truth about sexuality as taught by the Church. It could mean the obligation to oppose publicly the destructiveness enmeshed in the same sex lifestyle. But, then, how could they deal with the raucous disapproval of the “gay” Community?
Why isn’t the message heard? Perhaps, it is because this is just too much to ask since it would force the gay priest either consciously to live a lie or resign from the priesthood (or leave the Church in the case of the non-ordained). Perhaps, it is because some have been seduced intellectually. One of my recent clients, in his consultation with me, on this subject, was simply astounded that his parents think that there something “bad” about the homosexual behavior. He could not understand how they be so unlettered about the modern way of life. He was astonished that the Church has been so slow in catching up with the “times.” This unfortunate lag will be corrected, he assured me, in the not too distant future.
This seduction is widespread particularly in the light of the highjacking of the American tradition of fair play and tolerance. Rarely do we hear thinking like that of Pastor James Kennedy of Florida who claims that this kind of tolerance is the last virtue of a degenerate society. What does it take to open “ears’? More than Drug store fluid to remove ear wax. It takes prayer, fasting, courage, leadership and Faith. It takes seriously the charge of Cardinal George of Chicago when he reminds SSA people that “to deny the possibility of Chastity is to deny the Resurrection of Jesus.” This was said in response to those SSA Catholics who held that chastity, for them, is impossible.
Ears must be opened. And hearts to the call of the Lord. The Catholic Church has a lonely task in voicing the teaching of Jesus in this desert. Were it not for the support of Evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews and other groups faithful to the Scripture and Biblical tradition, it would be indeed a most discouraging challenge. It is more than skill or knowledge which is needed. It is the help of Heaven. Under God, let us commend this call to the care of Mary, the Virgin, Queen of Chastity and to St. Michael, the Archangel since ultimately our ruthless foe is not of this world.
1 Most of the research indicate that more than 90% of the priest molesters were homosexually oriented or same sex ephebophiles. Cf. USA Today, John Jay Study, Catholic Defense League among others.
2 Freud notes the “arrested” development of homosexual persons indicating a psychosexual fixation on an earlier level.
3 It would mean discipline, self denial and a sexless life. Some see this prospect as one worse than death.