Skip to comments.Cardinal's words on gay priests surprise scholars
Posted on 05/03/2002 6:38:30 PM PDT by history_matters
Cardinal Anthony M. Bevilacqua's sweeping rejection of gay men becoming priests diverges from mainstream thinking by U.S. Catholic theologians and policymakers, a range of church scholars said in interviews this week.
But his remarks echoed a little-known Vatican decree issued four decades ago that may come into play as church leaders labor toward a national response to the sex-abuse scandal in the church.
Upon his return last week from the cardinals' summit conference in Rome, Cardinal Bevilacqua weighed in on the debate about gays in the priesthood - a hot issue in the scandal - with a categorical pronouncement.
No "homosexually oriented" men, not even chaste ones, are "suitable candidates" for the priesthood, he told a news conference, because heterosexual celibates "are giving up" the good of family and children, while gay celibates give up what the church considers "a moral evil."
With his remarks, and the hard line taken against homosexuals at the archdiocese's St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Cardinal Bevilacqua has put himself in the front rank of church conservatives who staunchly oppose the ordination of gays.
The cardinal's views reflect an antipathy toward homosexuality that is found in the Catholic catechism, but his statements about banning even celibate gay priests surprised most of the 14 Catholic theologians and other experts contacted for comment. Two of the 14 voiced support.
Most said the dominant view among theologians, bishops, seminary officials and other policymakers is that the decisive factor should not be a candidate's sexual orientation but whether he is "acting out" sexually.
"He's the first one I've heard make this particular argument" distinguishing between gay and straight celibacies, said the Rev. John Baldovin, professor of historical and liturgical theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered" and "contrary to the natural law," while urging tolerance toward gays and saying they are "called to chastity."
But to say homosexual orientation alone disqualifies a person for diocesan priesthood takes church teaching into an area where doctrine is unsettled, several of the theologians said.
Church leaders "weren't willing to admit for the longest time that they had gay people in the priesthood," said Father Baldovin, so "nobody was trying to construct the difference between straight celibacy and gay celibacy."
Cardinal Bevilacqua is a canon lawyer, not a degreed theologian, but he has the last word on this matter in the archdiocese, as any reigning bishop has over a diocese. Unless rules bearing papal authority are imposed - which has not occurred regarding gays in diocesan seminaries - a bishop can interpret scripture and doctrine as he sees fit.
Cardinal Bevilacqua will have no further comment on his statements, archdiocese spokeswoman Catherine Rossi said.
The Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, a theologian at the Catholic University of America in Washington and a consultant to the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference's committee on doctrine, was among the theologians who questioned the cardinal's views.
A gay person "can't give up his orientation," Father Komonchak said. "... That particular application of theology I've never heard before. If it's anywhere in church teaching, I've never seen it."
A Catholic University colleague, theology professor John Grabowski, said he had seen the cardinal's position "argued by a few others, but I must say it's not a common position... . It's an isolated view."
Grabowski said the argument "doesn't work. The church does teach that homosexuality is an objective disorder, but every person has disordered inclinations. That's the human condition. I don't know how you can bar a person from ordination because of that."
The opposite view was voiced by the Rev. Ray Ryland, who teaches theology at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
"I have not come across this distinction [on gay celibacy] that the cardinal makes, but I think he's quite right in saying it," Father Ryland said. "As a prudential judgment, I agree that persons of that orientation should not be admitted to the priesthood because of the very grave temptations they face" in seminary and parish life.
The Vatican has taken a similar stance. In 1961, Pope John XXIII issued a decree concerning people entering convents, monasteries and other religious orders. The directive, which remains valid, instructs that "those affected by the perverse inclination to homosexuality or pederasty [man-boy love] should be excluded from religious vows and ordination."
Scholars said the decree, developed by the Sacred Congregation for Religious, does not apply to diocesan seminarians. According to Catholic News Service, Vatican officials are considering updating and reissuing the document as part of their internal discussion about whether to impose standards for selection and training of priests.
The matter of gays in the priesthood has emerged as a thorny aspect of the abuse scandal. Some Catholic conservatives, noting that many of the reported molestations have involved priests and older boys, have renewed their complaints about the relatively high number of gay priests.
Gay priests and rights activists have said the cardinal and other conservatives are scapegoating gay priests. Homosexuals, they argue, are no more likely to be pedophiles than anyone else, and no more likely to break their promise of priestly celibacy than heterosexuals.
In his news conference last Friday, Cardinal Bevilacqua said without elaborating that he believed gay priests were at a "much higher" risk of becoming sexually active. "When a heterosexual celibate chooses to become a celibate in the priesthood," the cardinal said, "he's taking on a good - that is, his own desire to become a priest - and he's giving up a very good thing, and that is, a family and children that could follow. That would not be true of a homosexually oriented candidate. He may be choosing the good, but... he's giving up what the church considers an aberration, a moral evil."
The Rev. Donald Cozzens, a onetime Cleveland seminary rector and the author of The Changing Face of the Priesthood: A Reflection on the Priest's Crisis of Soul, said the cardinal's priesthood theology harked back to the tradition of asceticism. But the church, he said, primarily teaches that a person chooses priestly celibacy "because it feels like the path God has ordained for me for spiritual maturity, not as an ascetical practice like giving something up for Lent... . His framing of the issue is creative. It is fairly new to my ears."
The Rev. Richard McBrien, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame and a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, said Cardinal Bevilacqua's outlook seemed to be based on "a fundamentalistic interpretation of Scripture" that "no one with any serious scholarly credentials in the field of biblical studies" shared.
The cardinal's point of view is "rather fundamentalist," said the Rev. Don Clifford of St. Joseph's University, a longtime professor of dogmatic theology.
Further, the 72-year-old priest said, "many people who had the most positive influence on me, on reflection, were very likely gay... . They presumably were living chaste lives and had tremendous influence on their ministries."
The debate about gays is part of a "long-term discussion" within the church, Father Clifford said, and "I always bet on the Holy Spirit to see how it comes out."
Yes, and I've seen some ambiguous comments by the Mundelein rector, Fr. Canary. Do you know whether the McBrien-type book reviewers have yet commented on Goodbye! Good Men? (I'm dying to hear their take on it.)
Let's not compare the priesthood to the military; the two are entirely different with different functions.
What "rights" does a priest have that a lay brother doesn't? They have different functions and roles, but one is not "higher" in the Church than another.
It's ironic that one would argue about priests being "higher" and having a more "exalted" vocation when the priest is supposed to be a servant to his fellow man.
No wonder we have a problem.
You could say this about Pope John Paul II as well.
He is obviously a very learned at comitted Catholic. I am always concerned though when someone says that we shouldn't be too simplistic. That usually indicates that there is a plausible 'simplistic' answer but we do not want to go there because it somehow makes us seem intolerant. The theologians curse, I expect, is trying to be true to God's law whilst showing grace and mercey.
Hard job! I'm noy sure I would want it.
Clink on the link for COURAGE
Peace be with you.
The Catholic Church's discipline of celibacy is NOT a doctrine - as you called it.
It is a rule prudentially imposed whereby in the Latin Rite no married man may normally be ordained a preist and no priest who has freely vowed himself to perpetual celibacy (as all unmarried men wishing to be ordained must do) may get married.
Any man who wants to get married is free to serve the Church in some fashion other than ordained priesthood. No man is forced to be a preist - and no man can demand that he be ordained.
The truth ain't always pretty.
Oh, for heaven's sake! Because no other cardinal or bishop is voicing the same thing Bevilacqua is, they are "whitened sepulchres"?
Bevilacqua's the only man in the band making up his own moves, so this means everybody ELSE is out of step?
Wanna lay a bet that his formulation is not part of the statement from the June meeting?
As time passes on, my disapproval of this man continues to grow. Why he remains a Catholic is beyond me.