Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Vatican and gay priests

Word is filtering out that the Vatican plans to bar gay men from ordination as priests. This news grieves me, but that is not all. Vatican officials say they are doing this as a way to prevent sexual abuse of young boys. Thus Rome has joined what would normally be two potent issues on the minds of young and future Catholics. If there was any doubt that homosexuality will be a touchstone issue for the future of the Church, it has now been joined to a controversy that must count as the single greatest wound to the Church in recent decades. People who care in the deepest fashion about the Church, or are considering entering into a relationship with her, now have been asked to think at the same time about homosexuality, with all of its attendant controversies and potent emotions. It would be enough to note that combining any two potent issues can cause emotional arguments to reach the boiling point, among other dangers; but in this case we've joined two issues that should properly be kept separate. They have nothing to do with one another. Homosexuals have no more proclivity than heterosexuals to abuse children, and are actually underepresented slightly among pedophiles. Gays are being scapegoated for a terrible crime. And as I say, discrimination for any reason would grieve me, as it has up to now; but here we have discrimination that obscures reason and inflames emotions when a deep wound is crying out for true solutions. A genuine tragedy has been compounded.

I hope and pray that people will reject this link. I believe they will. In fact, to my sadness I expect that the Church will lose credibility with people because of this link, and because of the concrete act, the ban on gays. This is a position that my Church cannot hold successfully. Indeed I wonder what forces are driving the enactment of this ban. What is it? A frustration with the great problem of pedophilia in the Church? A fear of homosexuality? A despair with being rounded about by a culture that worships sexuality and rejects celibacy? Deep fear that the shortage of priests cannot be made up? What is it?

I have posted before on gays and the Church. I do not view homosexuality as disordered; but I have always noted the difference between the outright condemnation of gays in Protestant fundamentalism and the teaching of the Roman Catholic church, which distinguishes between inner orientation and external behavior. The former, per the catechism, is not a sin; engagement in homosexual sex is a sin -- a distancing from God.

Now my Church is proposing the abolition of this distinction. I believe that it was wrong to condemn homosexual behavior, and that people were thus driven into secrecy, which debases everyone involved; but it borders on Orwellian to ferret out or ban thoughts. What could possibly be driving the Vatican to such extremes?

Seminarians and candidates for the seminary will be judged not, as they formerly were, according to how well they can be celibate, but according to what desires they feel. Surely they will either stay away or lie -- and neither result is good for the Church, to put it mildly. Why can't a successfully celibate gay man be accepted into the Church? The Church seems to have lost confidence that its priests will be celibate -- and perhaps this is understandable considering how vows have been repeatedly and disgustingly thrown aside by pedophiles, but I wonder if Rome understands how this ban seems to telegraph to the world a lack of confidence in her own priests to meet even their basic vows. Or perhaps the Church simply lacks confidence that gay men can be celibate -- even though such men have grown up in intimate situations with other men (such as locker rooms and the like) and have adapted to their desires; I do not look forward to seeing my Church try to defend the position that gay men cannot be celibate, if that is the position.

This road cannot be healthy, and can only be damaging, for the Church and everyone else. I pray especially for those priests, servants of the Church, who are ailing and sick at heart over this latest proposal. But I worry and pray for everybody.

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