Skip to comments.Gays in the seminary: Interpreting and applying a tough-sounding document
Posted on 12/03/2005 6:59:59 PM PST by tuesday afternoon
On Dec. 13, 2002, some three years ago, I offered an update in "The Word from Rome" about a Vatican document then in preparation on the ordination of homosexuals. Here's what I wrote:
"Bishops with a blanket policy against the ordination of gays will be confirmed by the new document, but others favoring a case-by-case approach may be able to read it in a way that permits that stance In that sense, the new document will certainly cause an explosion in the press, but it may not change a great deal in terms of existing practice."
My gift for prognostication, it should be said, is notoriously spotty - I once predicted that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger would not be elected pope. In this case, however, at least judging by early reaction to the new instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education, I seem to have been a bit closer to the mark.
In the wake of the document's official Nov. 29 release, some commentators have indeed taken it as a prohibition of anybody with a same-sex attraction, regardless of their psychological maturity or capacity for celibacy.
This was the unambiguous thrust, for example, of the official commentary published in the Nov. 30 L'Osservatore Romano by French Monsignor Tony Anatrella, a consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for the Health Care Pastoral.
"Candidates who present 'deep-seated homosexual tendencies,' that is, an exclusive attraction with regard to persons of the same sex (a structural orientation) - independently of whether or not they've had erotic experiences - may not be admitted to seminaries and to sacred orders," Anatrella wrote.
Anatrella criticizes the "permissive attitude" that says as long as a candidate is capable of celibacy, he may be ordained. In fact, Anatrella asserts that gay priests experience a whole host of other difficulties.
He offered these examples: "Closing oneself off in a clan of persons of the same type; exaggerated affective choices; [becoming] a narcissistic position in front of a community that [the gay priest] disturbs even to the point of dividing it; a mode of vocational discernment that seeks candidates in his own image; relations with authority based on seduction and rejection; an often limited vision of truth and a selective way of presenting the gospel message; particularly in the areas of sexual and conjugal morality, these are habitually zones of relational and intellectual confusion and ideological combat, disapproved by a correct search for truth and the wisdom of God."
On a more theological level, Anatrella argues that gay priests cannot effectively incarnate a "spousal tie" between God and the church, nor the "spiritual paternity" a priest is supposed to exhibit.
While Anatrella's essay does not carry the weight of the original instruction, observers say it represents a quasi-official explication of its contents.
Yet among many bishops, religious superiors and seminary rectors, the document is being read in very different ways. Some believe they can make a distinction between a same-sex orientation in itself, which would not necessarily disqualify a candidate, and "deep-seated homosexual tendencies," meaning a fixation on sexuality that raises questions about a candidate's maturity, his commitment to church teaching, and his capacity for chaste celibacy.
"The instruction is not saying that men of homosexual orientation are not welcome in the priesthood," said Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster, England, in a prepared statement. "But it is making clear that they must be capable of affective maturity, have a capacity for celibacy and not share the values of eroticized gay culture."
Auxiliary Bishop Herve Giraud, president of the Commission of the French Bishops' Conference for Ordained Ministry, said his reading is that "the question is not so much to know if a candidate is homosexual, but to distinguish his capacity for pastoral relations."
A Nov. 23 statement from the Swiss Bishops Conference also read the document in this fashion. "When, for a particular man, homosexual tendencies make impossible a life of sexual abstinence, then admission to ordination is not possible," it said. Yet, the Swiss statement clearly asserted that "a homosexual tendency lived out in sexual abstinence does not exclude one from pastoral ministry."
The Belgian bishops issued a statement along the same lines.
"The Vatican instruction makes a point of recalling that if the homosexual orientation of a candidate proves to be an obstacle with regard to freely chosen celibacy, or in terms of right relations with men and women, this candidate may not be admitted to the seminary," their Nov. 29 communiqué stated.
The Dutch bishops, in a similar Nov. 29 statement, said that the point of the instruction is to ensure that "every priest is able to establish pastoral and affective relations with others which are compatible with his celibate state of life."
Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, likewise seemed to endorse a more permissive reading in a Nov. 29 Vatican statement.
The instruction, Skylstad said, would rule out a candidate "so concerned with homosexual issues that he cannot sincerely represent the church's teaching on sexuality." The question of whether "homosexually inclined men" can be good priests, Skylstad said, therefore depends on how they live and what they teach.
The Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the largest umbrella group of men's religious orders in the United States, said that the aim of the document is "men who are well integrated and psychologically mature, faithful to church teachings, and who posses a clear understanding of the meaning of, as well as the spiritual and emotional capacity to commit to chaste celibacy for life."
In summary, the presidents of the English and the American bishops' conferences, the French bishop in charge of priestly life, the bishops' conferences of Switzerland, Belgium and Holland, and the chief representative of men's communities in the States, all have said in various ways that even under this document, a same-sex orientation by itself will not exclude candidates from the priesthood.
By no means, however, is this a universal consensus among bishops.
Bishop John D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., in the United States, for example, told The Washington Post that Skylstad's interpretation is "simply wrong."
"I would say yes, absolutely, it does bar anyone whose sexual orientation is towards one's own sex and it's permanent," D'Arcy said. "I don't think there's any doubt about it. ... I don't think we can fuss around with this."
Logically enough, some observers wonder if, in light of this conflicting welter of interpretations, the Vatican will issue further official clarification. I put the question on Dec. 1 to a church official who advises several Vatican congregations.
The official said he does not expect new pronouncements.
Despite the language of Anatrella's commentary, he said, the point of the document was not principally to ban each and every candidate with a same-sex orientation, but to "raise the bar" to ensure that the church is not putting potential abusers into the priesthood. (This despite the fact that work on the document began well before the most intense period of the sexual abuse crisis).
"Everybody knows there are gay men who are fine priests, and everybody knows that being gay doesn't mean somebody is a pedophile," he said. "This is not about scapegoating homosexuals."
"However, everybody also knows there are gay priests out there who should never have been ordained, who are fixated on sexuality and who have caused all kinds of problems. The church has a responsibility to be sure that adolescent males in its care are not at risk from homosexual priests who are not chaste. That's the obvious truth, but nobody wants to say it."
This official said the same point applies to heterosexual candidates, but that gay priests face a different set of pressures, since a priest is much more likely to have unsupervised contact with adolescent males than with females.
Time will tell, but for now it seems the church may be left with the same dynamic that often follows Vatican pronouncements -- a tough-sounding document, applied and interpreted in varying ways.
1) I'm amazed that the commentary by Monsignor Tony Anatrella did not get more press than it did. It spoke in very harsh terms about homosexuality, as indicated here. (Read more excerpts from it here and here).
2) Given the tone of Monsignor Anatrella's commentary, I'm amazed so many bishops seem to be willfully misreading the Vatican document.
Isn't the point that there should be no gays in the seminary? Only ex-gays with a proven record? You haven't really repented of your sin if you still identify yourself with the sin's title.
"My gift for prognostication, it should be said, is notoriously spotty"
Builds credibility. This is true of almost everyone.
Personally I find gays in the seminary to be a really queer idea.
People who use the corrupt form of a good English word have already given in to the homosexuals.
I'm actually surprised at how cautious this article by John Allen is. He and the NCR are known for their support of dissent. What this suggests is that even though Skylstadt has spoken out on this issue, NCR is afraid to go out too far on the limb.
I think Skylstadt is asking for a fall. He never should have been elected to his present position, and ought to be deposed at the next opportunity.
Removal of the editor of America evidently has made NCR a bit more cautious. It still is trying to make trouble, of course, by suggesting that favorite proposition of the liberals, that the issue is too complex to be easily sorted out. But at least it doesn't come down flat on the side of heresy, as it certainly would have done a year ago.
Nothing will change.
Quoting a portion, as follows...
A SEX-ABUSE LINK?
But why single out homosexuals, as the document does? The answer can be found, at least in part, in two studies of the clergy sex-abuse scandal in the United States released Feb. 27, 2004.
One is a survey of the problem's extent carried out by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York at the direction of the National Review Board. The U.S. bishops established the all-lay review board to monitor their implementation of the sex-abuse policy they adopted in 2002. Its members include specialists in psychiatry, psychology, law and other fields.
The survey found that 4,392 U.S. priests were accused of sexually abusing approximately 10,667 minors between 1950 and 2002, that 81 percent of the victims were male and that more than three-fourths were pubescent or adolescent. Between the 1950s and 1970s, reported acts of abuse of males between the ages of 11 and 17 increased sixfold.
In a report accompanying the survey, the National Review Board said: "We do not seek to place the blame for the sexual crisis on the presence of homosexual individuals in the priesthood as there are many chaste and holy homosexual priests who are faithful to their vows of celibacy.
"However, we must call attention to the homosexual behavior that characterized the vast majority of the cases of abuse observed in recent decades. That 81 percent of the reported victims of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy were boys shows that the crisis was characterized by homosexual behavior."
The John Jay survey and the review board report both focused on the abuse of minors -- criminal behavior. Neither dealt with sexual activity involving priests and other consenting adults -- sinful but not a crime -- although that, too, is something the church must be concerned about.
The review board said it had received reports that the large number of homosexual priests or seminarians in some places discouraged heterosexual men from seeking to become priests. "In the 1970s and 1980s, in particular," it said, "there developed at certain seminaries a 'gay subculture'.... Such subcultures existed or exist in certain dioceses or [religious] orders as well."
That echoed a comment by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta during a news conference at the Vatican on April 23, 2002, at the height of the uproar over the clergy sex-abuse scandal.
Archbishop Gregory, at the time bishop of Belleville, Ill., and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke of the ongoing struggle to ensure that "the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men" and said heterosexuals "think twice" about entering a seminary with a "homosexual atmosphere or dynamic." The new document presumably is meant to address problems like that.
This article, along with a few other interviews I've also just read, indicates that there is to be an overt discouragement and counselling away from the Seminary, any person who represents themselves within "the gay community/culture" as identity and reference.
The difficulty in "interpreting" by some seems to suggest, to my view, that a lot of hair-splitting is being attempted, that people are making concerted effort to disqualify the instruction from the Pope in lieu of a cultural adaptation. Which returns the Church to where it was before the instruction and, in effect, disregards the instruction itself.
I'm not the Pope (!!) (by a long-shot, not so), but the struggling and arguments and complaints that I've been reading are all coming from people who want to maintain a pro-homosexual culture in the Priesthood and Seminaries and appear to be trying very hard to find a way around the instruction from Pope Benedict by way of semantics and manipulation of terms.