Visions of Daniel
Catholic Priesthood: Gays Need Not Apply
Note: This op-ed piece appeared in shorter form in Southen Voice (December 9, 2005, p. 23) and sister publications under the title "Vatican to gays: Grow up!"
On November 29, 2005, the Vatican finally issued its "Instruction" on gay seminarians. It has profound practical, political, and theological implications.
Practically, the Vatican has taken a definitive stand: no gay seminarians!
So, out gay men will stop entering the seminary. Only gay men who don't know themselves or who are lying will be ordained. Pious platitudes will cover over all sexuality. The Catholic priesthood will remain a hideaway for sexually immature men of every stripe. And the sexual abuse that this new policy is supposed to address will go on, business as usual.
Politically, the scrambling over this document is amusing. The Vatican was well aware that it was sticking out its neck. Trial balloons had the bishops of dioceses and the superiors of religious orders pleading with the Vatican not to publish this thing.
Immediately upon its release, Archbishop Quinn of San Francisco downplayed its importance. The pope only signed it; it was not his statement. (Ah, what was that?) It's only an Instruction, not an air-tight legal requirement. (Come on!) Theologians will have to explain exactly what it means. (You can say that again!) Have no fear; bishops will respond with prudence and discretion. (Episcopal connivance continues.)
Georges Cardinal Cottier, a Vatican insider, presented a different picture. The pope signed the Instruction; therefore, it carries his authority. (Yep.) This document says nothing new; it just pulls Catholic teaching together. (Oh, really?) The Vatican means no attack on homosexuals but is sincerely trying to understand them and their problems. (How sweet!)
On a positive political note, the Vatican at least named and recognizes the reality of "gay culture," even as it insists no would-be priest have association with it.
Most intriguing, the Vatican was forced to break new theological ground to deal with the issue of gay seminarians
The Vatican 's major premise is that sex must be procreative. So it was easy enough to conclude that, although being homosexual is guiltless, engaging in same-sex acts is wrong. Similarly, it was easy to conclude that gay marriage is out. But if gay seminarians abstain from sex, what disqualifies them? The Vatican had to make the case that to be homosexual is already to be intolerably flawed.
A 1986 document provided an opening. Because homosexual acts are an "intrinsic moral evil," the Vatican ruled back then, the inclination toward them "must be seen as an objective disorder." With philosophical subtleties, Quinn had tried to explain away these words, too, but it turns out that they mean what most took them to mean: the Vatican is saying that homosexuals are sick.
This new Vatican Instruction is specific: gay men lack "emotional maturity," so they cannot "relate correctly to both men and women." Thus, they cannot provide "spiritual fatherhood." Echoing the specious claims of the ex-gay movement, the Vatican is reinstating the discredited Freudian theory about developmental fixations.
How one relates correctly to both men and women remains a mystery of faith. But, surely, as the hetero stereotype suggests, "two-spirited" gay men naturally relate better all around than do straight men. Why else have shamans, teachers, and spiritual leaders throughout time so often been what we would call gay? But maybe for the Vatican, "correct" relating means precisely maintaining the stereotypes!
As for "emotional or affective maturity," it does have a paper trail. In a 1992 "Exhortation," John Paul II introduced the idea as a requirement for priests in general. It includes knowledge of the human heart, insight into people's problems, ability to elicit trust and cooperation, a sense of justice, love of the truth, respect for others, balanced judgment and behavior, loyalty, compassion, integrity, and awareness that love involves the whole person, not just the body.
According to the Instruction, gay men lack such maturity and personal characteristics— automatically! This outrageous allegation is a slap in the face to every gay or lesbian person who ever lived! Besides, if gays are so utterly incompetent, why have so many of them made effective priests?
Even worse, the document subverts the very notion of sexual orientation. The Vatican 's elusive distinction between "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" and "a transitory problem" suggests that sexual behavior defines homosexuality and true homosexuals are incapable of not having sex. The Vatican seems to think—and hope—that, if gay people only stop having sex, the whole issue will disappear.
Everyone, back into the closet!
Strikingly, the argument of this three-page text is circular. Its two pages of documentation refer only to Vatican documents. Not one social-science study or evidence-based opinion is cited.
As fundamentalist as any Bible-thumper and as dismissive of documented facts, the Vatican is meticulously constructing its own version of reality—passed off as "Christian faith." Now only the similarly deluded will qualify as church leaders.
The Instruction ends by reminding gay men not to lie to get into the priesthood. Wouldn't it be interesting if the already-ordained priests and hierarchy were also honest?
A Policy on Gay Seminarians
Note of October 23, 2005: This paper was written in 1985 and published in The CMI Journal, 1988, 2, pages 21-28. In light of discussion at the beginning of the reign of Pope Benedict XVI, I pulled out this paper and reread it. I was surprised to realize how relevant and almost entirely up-to-date the piece remains. Until dealt with realistically, the issue does not change and will not go away. I originally drafted the 23 points in the piece for a discussion among seminary staffs when I was Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Spirituality at Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio. My input was not well received by the seminary personnel, who, as I recall, had little more than a half-page paragraph to contribute to the discussion. Against the good wishes of the bishop of Austin, where I was then studying psychology and offering pastoral counseling, the paper was subsequently published in a sort of underground newsletter for gay priests and religious: The CMI Journal. The following draft includes some light editing and minor up-dating.
For the first time in history, in the mid-1940s, homosexuality became an object of systematic research. In the last two decades, homosexuality has increasingly become a topic of conversation. The "unmentionable" is now mentioned casually in many circles, named in the media, and narrated in song and film. Inevitably, despite the Church's stability and resistance as a millennia-old institution, this topic could not help but enter ecclesiastical discussion, as well. And there it shakes the foundations, for it unearths an issue critical to the unmarried, all male clerical caste on which Roman Catholicism rests.
Although homosexuality among the clergy has always been known and in the early middle ages even celebrated, since the thirteenth century and until recently, it was less salient and, repressed by society on all fronts, probably less overt. Now bishops and religious superiors discuss the topic and wonder what to do about it.
The present paper addresses this issue and presents a policy statement on homosexuality in seminaries. With a good dose of Catholic realism and with Catholic commitment to the reconciliation of human reality and divine calling—commitment, indeed, to the coincidence of these two in Christ—this paper reviews the issue of homosexuality and offers some practical suggestions.
The intent is to hold in unity two sets of concerns. On the one hand, this paper takes into account recent biblical and historical scholarship, psychological, anthropological, and sociological research, and clinical and pastoral experience, and so to some extent necessarily departs from a former understanding of sexuality and its relationship to spirituality. Yet, on the other hand, this paper takes the official Roman Catholic position as its starting point--although in most regards I do not personally agree with it--and so presumes Catholic sexual ethics, envisages an all-male clergy, and accepts the requirement of celibacy for priestly ordination.
Three preliminary qualifications are in order. First, this is a policy statement, not a treatise on sexual ethics. The concern here is not what is right or wrong, good or evil. Rather, accepting the Catholic understanding of those matters, the concern is to suggest how church leaders might best achieve what is realistically possible as good, better, and best. This statement engages in what has been called "the science of the possible"—politics. Said in theological terms, this statement suggests a realistic "pastoral application" of ethical norms and canon law to concrete situations.
Second, neither is this a treatise on spirituality. It is not an account of how celibacy and other dimensions of priesthood might enhance one's spiritual growth. Certainly, many priests have accepted celibacy in a spirit of holiness and through faithful commitment to it, in service to the Church, have become saints. Certainly, too, one would hope that all would embrace the priestly life with this same spirit and with the same results. Nonetheless, although the canons of the Church include such prescriptions, commitment and holiness cannot be legislated. What can be legislated—and, so, regulated and controlled— is behavior, and only behavior can be the concern of a policy statement. Accordingly, this paper speaks of celibacy as a church discipline, a requirement for priesthood, and not as a spiritual commitment.
Third, most of this paper applies equally to religious and diocesan seminarians, but it was written especially with the diocesan in mind. Important differences—which are not, of course, the whole picture—need to be acknowledged. Whereas candidates for religious orders enter a stable and life-long community, are systematically initiated into a usually well-formulated spirituality, and are not preoccupied about ecclesiastical politics, the same is not generally so for diocesan seminarians. Their seminary "community" is an ad hoc conglomerate of men from numerous dioceses. Their long-term commitment to ministry in their respective dioceses takes them away from the seminary community for holidays and vacations and definitively so, after ordination. They do not really belong, except temporarily, to the group with whom they are educated. In such a situation, ordination is the supreme goal; care not to cross authorities is a prime and realistic concern.
Again, there is no well formulated spirituality for diocesan clergy, and many of the more monastic practices inculcated during seminary years easily become peripheral after ordination. In contrast to communal spiritual exercises, private exercises—praying the Office, for example—represent significantly different experiences. But after ordination, a diocesan priest's commitment to the spiritual life is essentially a private affair. He can quite easily fulfill all public responsibilities while relating to other priests and to parishioners, even in liturgy, on a merely social, administrative, or functional level.
Finally, more than the religious, diocesan clergy are involved in competition for ascent in the ecclesiastical power-structure. Since diocesan ministry is generally limited to parish work and is usually circumscribed within narrow geographical boundaries, there is often nowhere for the bright, talented, and ambitious to go except to administrative offices and, in the ideal case, into the bishop's office. Whereas religious superiors are usually elected and usually return to the rank and file after serving their term of office, bishops are appointed for life, and institutional loyalty is an important prerequisite for such appointment. Awareness of this political reality pervades the diocesan priesthood. Moreover, within the present all-male system the man who enjoys male company and never misses the female contribution has a distinct advantage over others.
These observations suggest that the diocesan seminary may not be the ideal place for fostering a sense of honest and open fellowship, yet some such wholesome fellowship is required to meet the intimacy needs of men obligated in religion to celibacy. If diocesan seminary staffs find their task of formation difficult, they might be comforted to consider that the broader structure within which they work almost precludes the possibility of success. Obviously, the sociological structure of the Roman Catholic priesthood has important implications for priestly celibacy in general and clerical homosexuality in particular.
Those two, celibacy and homosexuality, are the respective topics of the two parts of this paper. Paragraphs are numbered for easy cross reference.
The Primary Issue: The Discipline of Celibacy in General
1. The primary issue is the requirement of celibacy for priests in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church. The requirement is the same for all. All policy follows from this one beginning point. Those who are unwilling or unable to live the discipline of celibacy cannot be ordained. From this point of view, whether a man is hetero- or homosexual is irrelevant.
2. Seminary formation must make it a specific concern to help candidates acknowledge, affirm, and integrate their sexuality. Catholic belief holds that one can be sexually alive without being genitally involved. Such a goal is attainable only through the active integration of sexuality in the maturation process after puberty. Sexual integration entails the acceptance of oneself as a sexual organism, comfort with one's sexual feelings on both the physical and emotional planes. Hence, the developing capacity to have sexual feelings supports and empowers, rather than opposes, one's striving for all that is wholesome, right, and good. Sexual integration means the unified functioning of the human being such that the bodily, psychic, and spiritual, in co-operation with divine grace, move harmoniously along the path dictated by the spiritual need for openness, honesty, and love. Sexuality is a part of everyone. It cannot be overlooked. Inevitably, it will surface. At some point in life, it must be faced.
Formation programs must help seminarians accept themselves as sexual. The requirement of celibacy does not excuse one from integrating one's sexuality. On the contrary, only those who have a maturely integrated sexuality will be able to live the celibate ideal. Yet oftentimes formation programs have not honestly faced this issue—because many remain uneasy about dealing with sexuality in any case and because some fear that forthright treatment of sex will lead to sexual activity. Noted sex educator and professor emeritus Sol Gordon disputes the latter claim as does a body of research on effective sexual education.
3. Formation for celibacy requires that the issue of sexuality be a legitimate one for consideration; that people be able to openly discuss their questions, experiences, and difficulties; and that a community of trust sufficiently deep be developed to allow such openness.
4. Seminary life should encourage the development of deep friendships among seminarians and with non-seminarians, men and women. It must be acknowledged that the American culture's fear of male-to-male expression of affection is psychologically unhealthy, fosters repressed sexuality on all fronts, and so contributes to the lack of sexual integration and to compulsive sexual activity. Studies suggest that even in heterosexual relationships the American male's pursuit of genital intimacy is often only a means for achieving otherwise forbidden physical contact and embrace. When the human need for affection is met, the urgency of genital experience decreases. So, seminaries should accept as normal and healthy certain physical expressions of affection such as the culture allows: hand-shakes, pats on the back, embraces. Greater attention must be given to the ideal of incarnate love, as expressed by St. Aelred of Rievaulx and others: deep, feeling-filled, human affection is the support and doorway to Christian love of God and neighbor.
5. Formation is a process. It would be expected that people may not live the ideal perfectly while the process is still incomplete and certainly not while the process is just beginning. To take the issue of sexual integration seriously is to allow that some sexual activity may occur. In the first place, it is to be hoped that seminarians will already have moved beyond sexual activity before entering the seminary. However, if a man has not yet achieved that intermediary goal, some reasonable criteria must be set for him. If the criteria are not met, dismissal would be appropriate. If a man is dismissed because of difficulty with celibacy, the seminary system should not completely cut him off from all support. Regular contact with a counselor and spiritual director will help him to integrate his sexuality outside of the seminary in the hope that he can later return, more mature and sexually more responsible, to continue preparation for ordination. Of course, one lapse should not constitute grounds for dismissal. Traditional seminary policies, realistic and prudent, have governed these situations in the past, focusing attention, however, primarily on masturbation. More tolerance is needed today—precisely because now sexual integration is the issue whereas in the past denial and/or control of sexuality was the norm. But as always, if a man proves incapable of maintaining the requisite discipline, ordination would be inappropriate.
6. Not all priests are perfect in celibacy all the time. This fact is well known in clerical and episcopal circles. It needs to be faced, and formation should candidly prepare men to deal with it. With all due respect to religious ideals, seminarians need to hear these things: If a priest finds he is incapable of avoiding sexual activity, it is to be hoped that he will at least be judicious in his choice of partners; involvement with children, parish youth, parishioners, penitents, counselees, or students cannot be tolerated. Open acknowledgement of this aspect of the question and realistic formation in light of it would eliminate much of the scandal surrounding lapses in celibacy.
Catholics never suggest that the presence of a confessional in every church encourages people to sin. Similarly, being realistic about lapses from celibacy should not be seen as undermining an ideal. Ignorance is not bliss, and naïveté is often a greater danger to virtue than is perversity. Catholic realism need not break down when questions of priestly formation arise.
7. Although priestly celibacy is an issue in the external forum, it is also an issue in the internal forum. Seminarians must be taught to make these distinctions and be left free to deal with their own sexuality as conscience and their confessor or spiritual director require. This is to say, discussion about seminary policy concerns itself with public behavior as it affects the life of the church. Other aspects of the question are dealt with otherwise—namely, in the confessional, in the counselor's office, or with a spiritual director. Catholic teaching about the ultimate priority of informed conscience, and so the distinction between doing wrong and sinning, needs to be remembered, and conscience needs to be respected—and especially in questions of sexuality wherein people exhibit so wide a range of individual differences and wherein personal and situational factors exercise such urgent influences.
8. It follows that seminary officials have no responsibility whatsoever—and, thus, no right—to search out offenders against celibacy. Such tactics violate sacred personal privacy. They destroy the atmosphere of trust that is essential for progress in personal growth, as noted in paragraph three above. By the same token, voyeuristic seminarians who take to investigating others' sexual lives and broadcast their findings do more to sabotage the overall formation program than do lapses from celibacy themselves.
For common human reasons, seminarians need a private dimension to their lives. And for reasons of formation, while still seminarians, they need the experience of privacy and freedom. Once ordained, they will be on their own, beyond all surveillance. If, while still in the seminary, they are not given the occasion to develop private lives in harmony with their priestly vocation, they will approach this life task later as fumbling adolescents. Mistakes and scandals will follow. In a former generation the pervasive sexual inhibition of the culture usually prevented these disastrous consequences. But the times have changed. External constraints are gone. In the present generation only internalized commitment, profound self-knowledge, and tried experience will support priestly celibacy. Seminarians need privacy to develop these.
The Secondary Issue: Homosexuality in Particular
9. Many Catholic priests and seminarians are homosexual. Of course, no reliable statistics on clerical homosexuality will be available until formal surveys are taken. Estimates among people ministering in the gay community and among informed clergy suggest that the incidence of homosexuality among clergy is three, four, five, or more times higher than that among the population at large—which is commonly agreed to be about ten per cent but ranges higher or lower depending on how one defines homosexual. Undoubtedly, the concentration of homosexual people in clerical life is high, for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. So the issue of homosexuality in the priesthood and seminary is real.
10. Carl Jung has suggested that a common concomitant of homosexuality is increased religious sensitivity. In some societies homosexual men are reverenced as spiritually gifted—for example, the "two-spirited" men and women among some North American Indians and the shamans among many indigenous peoples. So, something inherent to homosexual orientation may account for the high correlation of clerical status and homosexuality in our society. That is to say, homosexuality seems to incline one toward religion or spirituality. From this point of view, the sensitivities that many gay men possess may be an asset to ministerial life rather than a counter-indicator of a priestly vocation.
11. There is no reason to question the validity of ordination in the case of gay men. Furthermore, it would be unwise to make homosexuality an impediment to Holy Orders, officially or unofficially. As a mere practical consideration, to do so would significantly diminish the number of priests serving the church; it would exclude a large percentage of men who, like other homosexual men before them, want to be priests. Indeed, in view of paragraph ten, such legislative or administrative action might exclude many who are especially gifted for priestly ministry. More cogently, however, it would be impossible in many cases to determine whether a man is homosexual or not. Apart from mistaken stereotypes, effeminacy and homosexuality are not the same thing. Successful specification of a succinct category, homosexuality, continues to elude social scientists. It appears that there is no simple dividing line between hetero- and homosexuality. Overt sexual behavior, as in Alfred Kinsey's approach, might provide an easy criterion for making the distinction. Yet interior qualities, emotional and affectional experience, are the more substantive stuff of human sexuality, and these are sometimes vague and fluid. Widespread personal experience and the consensus of sexologists suggest that incidental same-sex encounters do not constitute homosexuality. "Situational homosexuality," such as is likely to occur in sex-segretated institutions—boarding schools, prisons, the military, and, of course, seminaries—is not constitutional homosexuality. In comparison with sex in other animal species, human sexuality is complex and subtle. Undoubtedly this fact is so because in humans sex is part of an enspirited organism. Simple biology is no longer the determining factor. Indeed, since the spiritual, the interpersonal, is the specific determinate of human nature, in the human case the biological and the psychological support, sustain, and subserve this human ultimate. Thus, studies suggest that sexual orientation is not an either-or reality but frequently falls on a continuum. How much homosexuality would make one unfit for the priesthood? Even what is considered heterosexuality, if it is not pathological, contains some degree of affectional attraction for members of the same sex. Both practically and theoretically, then, using sexual orientation as a criterion for ordination is problematic.
12. It follows from paragraph eleven, and is already presupposed in paragraph one, that vocations directors and seminary staffs have no need—and, so, no right—to ask a man if he considers himself heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. Insistent pursuit of this issue appears to be prurient, for all pertinent discussion about the celibacy commitment can be made without reference to someone's sexual orientation. On the other hand, it is to be hoped that seminarians would feel free to share this more personal information with individuals and in situations as is appropriate and helpful to their sexual integration and general personal and spiritual development. In fact, the degree to which men would be judicious, comfortable, and really safe in doing so is a positive indication of their own sexual maturity and of the quality of their formation program.
13. The most important issue in any discussion of homosexuality is the need to address ignorance and prejudice. Fear and myth still govern most people's understanding of homosexuality. The issue is highly emotionally charged. Contrary to what many people think, the following are true:
One's parental or sibling relationships or early experiences cannot account for homosexuality.
Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, cannot be "picked up" or acquired.
One does not choose homosexuality any more than one chooses heterosexuality; rather, one finds oneself to be homosexual and then accepts or rejects oneself.
Cross-culturally and virtually universally, about ten percent of the population is predominantly or exclusively homosexual in their sexual behavior.
Homosexuality entails no psychological pathology .
Apart from their homosexual orientation, there is no detectable difference between homo- and heterosexual people.
There are homosexual people in every profession and state of life.
To be homosexual is not the same thing as to engage in homogenital activity.
Many homosexual people are not sexually active.
Many homosexual people live in long-term, even life-long, relationships.
Many homosexual people are married and have children, though their marriages often break down.
In brief, homosexual people are ordinary people. If only some elements of the homosexual population make the news—and until recently, usually the more colorful elements—the same is true of the heterosexual population.
14. Contemporary historical-critical scholarship shows that the Bible does not condemn male-male sex-acts per se. Indeed, the Bible never conceives sex in terms of sexual orientations. Rather, concerned about preserving the distinctiveness of Jewish identity by means of purity requirements and impurity taboos, the biblical authors were simply not addressing today's questions. Moreover, the church has not held a consistent position on homosexuality. Except for a brief period of hostility toward gay people during the dissolution of the Roman Empire, Christian Europe was generally tolerant of, or indifferent to, homosexuality until the latter half of the twelfth century. At that time hostility toward a thriving gay community arose in conjunction with similar hostility toward Jews, Muslims, the poor, heretics, and any social "deviants." The attempt to stir up hostility toward the Muslims by associating them with homosexual atrocities and, thus, to further the cause of the Crusades was a major cause of anti-gay sentiment in European society. Even so, ecclesiastical penalties against taking interest on money were more severe than those against homosexuality. Most reasoned arguments against homosexuality appealed to faulty information about animal behavior in the attempt to specify a theory of "nature." In Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, John Boswell summarized the matter as follows: "The most influential Christian literature was moot on the issue; no prominent writers seem to have considered homosexual attraction 'unnatural,' and those who objected to physical expression of homosexual feelings generally did so on the basis of considerations unrelated to the teachings of Jesus or his early followers" (p. 333). Church attitude on this subject seemed to follow the prevailing secular attitude. In the least, then, as with most historical questions, the matter is more ambiguous than is generally allowed. Within the authentic Christian tradition there is plenty of room for a more positive attitude toward homosexuality.
15. A major re-education program is needed if the concern about homosexuality in seminaries and elsewhere is to be resolved. If a speedy resolution is desired, the program must begin from the top. Bishops must begin to speak about homosexuality and make it a legitimate topic for discussion. They must sponsor workshops on the subject for their priests and other leaders in the Church. Priests must begin to discuss the topic from the pulpit and in other arenas. A whole new climate must be developed where understanding, knowledge, and charity replace the bigotry, ignorance, and injustice that now rule the field. It must be remembered that homosexuality is no minority concern. If one in ten members of the population is homosexual, then, on average, one in four nuclear families has a homosexual child. Add consideration of extended family, neighbors, classmates, work associates, and friends and the issue, so rich with psychological, moral, and spiritual implications, obviously touches the vast majority of the population. For the good of the many, Church leaders have a responsibility to address this issue.
16. Whether or not Church and seminary leaders address this issue, it will not go away. If Church leadership abdicates responsibility for this moral and spiritual issue, others with no concern for the soul will continue to set the pace.
17. A major concern about homosexuality in seminaries seems to be fear of increased opportunity for sexual activity in the all-male seminary and clerical circles. For all practical purposes, the above discussion on celibacy in general has already addressed this issue. Indeed, if only sexually mature men are admitted to the seminary, then belabored concern about homosexual activity in the seminary is likely the result of homophobia. People generally assume that to be homosexual is to be sexually active, so heterosexual seminarians are presumed to be celibate whereas homosexual seminarians are presumed to be sexually active. These presuppositions are simply untrue. In contemporary seminary life straight seminarians can have as much occasion for sexual activity as gay seminarians, if they want it. Again, the issue is celibacy, not homosexuality.
18. Nonetheless, there is room for deeper understanding of the particular experience of homosexual men at the present time in history in our society. Because of widespread homophobia—anti-homosexual bias—homosexual men often do not begin dealing with their adult sexual capacity until well into their college years, when they are away from home and somewhat more independent. This scenario would be likely especially for men who are inclined to enter the seminary, men with an intense religious upbringing; for these most often also have an intensely anti-sexual upbringing. To the shame of all organized religions, in our society increased religiosity correlates with increased negativity toward sex. Repeatedly, studies have confirmed this sad fact—although it must also be noted that Catholics in the pew are the least homophobic and the most sexually comfortable among Christians of all denominations. Thus, in comparison with heterosexual men, homosexual men are likely to be maturationally behind-schedule in integrating their sexuality. In addition, because from their earliest years they have had to hide their true affections from everyone, often including themselves, they are also likely to be behind-schedule in leaning how to foster meaningful interpersonal relationships: These are not a real possibility until one is comfortable with oneself. Homosexual men may just be discovering their sexuality along with their own personal worth when they enter the seminary in their early twenties. If so, only at that time will they have the typically adolescent experiences that heterosexual men usually have in high school and college. Then infatuations, jealousies, intense emotional attachments, and sexual affairs—exact parallels to the heterosexual phenomena—will abound. In one way or another, these men must go through this phase of development, and they should be given all the help they need. But the seminary is not the appropriate place for this stage of the process. Admission to the seminary presupposes that a man has already integrated his sexuality to a considerable degree. Here paragraph five is particularly relevant.
19. Very different is the case of the man who has already dealt with these "coming out" issues outside the seminary, perhaps even in the promiscuous gay subculture, who has "come to his senses" (Luke 15:17), and who decides to embrace celibacy and priesthood as a more genuine, a more fulfilling, way of life. Far from being treated with suspicion, such a man should be welcomed to the seminary and supported in his vocation. To reject in principle such a gay candidate would be to act out of homophobic prejudice—unless a similar policy would be applied also in the case of straight men who have had a series of sexual liaisons or frequented the singles scene. Yet, in either case the policy would be misguided, for it underestimates the possibility of people's finding themselves. Said theologically, it underestimates the power of grace. Converted sinners such as Mary Magdalene, Augustine, Francis of Assisi, and Ignatius of Loyola often make the greatest saints—and the best priests.
20. Another major concern seems to be fear of adverse public opinion. This concern is valid in view of prevalent ignorance and prejudice in our society. Certainly, were it not for the emotionally charged hostility toward gay and lesbian people in our society, Catholics could acknowledge with equanimity homosexual priests and seminarians. Paragraphs six and fifteen above address this issue.
21. Because of our society's predominantly negative attitudes toward gay people and because of negative attitudes toward sex in general in religious circles, homosexual men oftentimes enter the celibate priesthood in an attempt to find a hallowed way to avoid their sexuality altogether. They choose celibacy, then, not with the freedom of an integrated personality but out of the compulsion of repression. It follows that honest and open acknowledgement of sexuality during seminary formation, as described above, would meet the concern about homosexuality in seminaries. Overall, it would help both homosexual and heterosexual men who enter the seminary with maturity to continue to grow and to embrace fully the celibate requirement. Moreover and to the point, encouragement to accept the reality of human embodiment and sexuality would help some others to face themselves honestly, namely, those whose partial motivation for entering the seminary is avoidance of a homosexual orientation. In fact, without realistic formation for celibacy, those seeking to avoid sexuality, whether hetero-, homo-, or bisexual, would be the very ones most likely to remain adolescent in their sexuality and, thus, later to act-out sexually with immaturity and with devastating social consequences. From this point of view, it is undeniable that to some extend the sexual-abuse scandal that has tarred the Catholic priesthood is, indeed, related to the requirement of celibacy—at least insofar as it has, in fact, precluded the frank acceptance of sexuality and its mature treatment in seminaries. Here is another angle from which the church leaders, more than the individual criminal priests, are culpable: With a medieval mindset they continue to require priestly celibacy, but they do not provide the realistic formation that our day requires and allows.
22. Because of widespread ignorance and hostility, homosexual seminarians need a special degree of understanding and support from the seminary staff and community. This requirement only makes more specific that of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and of the American bishops in their pastoral letter To Live in Christ Jesus: "The Christian community should provide them with a special degree of pastoral understanding and care." With overwhelming success, many religious-order houses encourage such openness and support.
23. Until policy such as suggested here is implemented, church and seminary authorities have an obligation to make gay seminarians aware of the almost insurmountable obstacles facing them in today's homophobic church and society. In the least, before making a final commitment for ordination, gay seminarians should have worked with priests and others doing ministry in the gay community. There they can find broad, first-hand experience of the situation of homosexual people in the church and be given knowing advice about the possible implications of their intended ordination. On the one hand, it is psychologically and, therefore, spiritually destructive for people to live in constant repression and silence about their affections. On the other hand, gay people are met with hostility on all sides if they dare to be themselves. Naively idealistic in their desire to be priests, many young men today underestimate the price to be paid for being gay and a priest. Success at such an endeavor in today's society requires heroic faith, extraordinary virtue. Not many have them. Over the years the burden will take its toll. One wonders, for example, whether the high incidence of alcoholism among clergy is related to the high incidence of homosexuality, since there is a similar high incidence of alcoholism in the gay community at large. Unless something is done to change the present situation and gay men can be assured of, or find for themselves, support for their vocation, they should probably be advised not to enter the seminary—not because they are homosexual but, unfortunately, because the church will persecute them ruthlessly. More optimistically, they should be directed toward a diocese or religious community—there are some few—that would be appreciative of them. These are matters of justice.
S. Chavez-Garcia & D. A. Helminiak, "Sexuality and Spirituality: Friends, Not Foes," Journal of Pastoral Care 39 (1985): 151- 163.
"Putting Sex Education Back in the Home," Community Sex Education Programs for Parents, Training Manual for Organizers, Institute for Family Research and Education, 1977.
The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1959), 86-87.
Walter Williams , Spirit and Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture (Boston: Beacon Press, 1986). [Editors' note]
Donald Goergen , The Sexual Celibate (New York, Seabury, 1974), chapter two.
John Boswell, Christianity. Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).
Daniel A. Helminiak. Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth. Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Press, 2006.