Friday, December 02, 2005
WHAT THE POPE SAYS: There has been some discussion in the blogosphere about the recent Vatican document and accompanying glosses about gays in the priesthood. Among the more lucid are those from Eve Tushnet and Ross Douthat. I think it would be helpful to point out a couple of things. The first is that this is demonstrably a ban on all gay priests and seminarians, regardless of their commitment to celibacy, and is expected to be rigorously enforced. The only exception is for those "with homosexual tendencies that might only be a manifestation of a transitory problem, as, for example, delayed adolescence." Translation: if you're straight and had some fleeting same-sex desires in adolescence, and have not felt them for at least three years before the diaconate, you're ok. Anyone with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" is not. If you are not clear what "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" means, this statement from L'Osservatore Romano should remove all doubt:
"Candidates who have 'deep-seated homosexual tendencies,' that is, an exclusive attraction to persons of the same sex - independently of whether or not they have had erotic experiences - cannot be admitted to the seminary or to holy orders."In other words, even celibate gay men - gay men who have adhered to the Church's teachings never to masturbate or have any sexual intimacy for their entire lives - are unfit for the priesthood. It no longer matters what gay priests - or gay men, for that matter - do. What matters is who they are. And who they are is a threat to the family and destabilizing to society.
THIS IS A CHANGE: There is also no doubt that this is a shift in the Church's teachings about homosexuality. What the Church is now categorically saying is that there is something inherently sick about homosexuality, regardless of how it is expressed, that renders gays unfit for serving God. Again, the Church backs this doctrine up. Where once homosexuality was a "condition" and the Church could speak of "homosexual persons," now there are merely "tendencies" and the phrase "homosexual person" is not used. It says that homosexuality itself is a "problem in the psychic organization," i.e. a psychological disorder - despite the fact that no respectable psychological organization concurs. The spokesperson for the Pontifical Council for the Family goes further:
"One must free oneself from the idea that leads one to believe that, insofar as a homosexual person respects his commitment to continence lived in chastity, there will not be problems and he can therefore be ordained a priest... [A] commitment in holy orders presupposes that the candidate has attained a sufficient affective and sexual maturity coherent with his masculine sexual identity."This is all lifted from pseudo-Freudian psychology last taken seriously in the 1960s. (Yes, Freud, the man who believed all religion was bunk, but, hey, you've got to find the arguments where you can.)
'REAL MEN' AND PRIESTS: The Church is arguing that heterosexual "masculine" "maturity" is a normative good and integral to the priesthood. Again, in the spokesman's words:
"[A priest] must, in principle, be suitable for marriage and able to exercise fatherhood over his children. And it is under those mature conditions that he renounces exercising them in order to give himself to God in the priesthood," the monsignor wrote. Msgr. Anatrella repeatedly affirmed the need for a priest to be heterosexual in order to see himself and for others to see him as the "bridegroom of the church" and as a "spiritual father" to those to whom he is ministering. "A homosexual person would have difficulty incarnating this symbolic reality of the spousal bond and spiritual paternity," he said.What this means is a real shift away from what Eve Tushnet rightly respects as a distinction between identity and acts, toward a conflation of the two and the designation of gay people as inherently defective as moral beings, because of their intrinsic violation of heterosexual normativity. Again, this is very far from the previous language of the Church on this matter. The Vatican once informed us in official documents in 1975 and 1986, that homosexual persons were "made in the image and likeness of God." The condition of homosexuality was, for many, "innate," and not in itself a sin. Gay people were "often generous and giving of themselves," and the notion that gays could not lead celibate lives was an "unfounded and demeaning assumption." Now, all the emphasis is on psychic disorder, social incapacity, and an inability to relate to men and women. Some want to argue that by saying that "homosexuality" has no "social value" and no "moral virtue," the hierarchy is not condemning all gay lives, in so far as they are gay, as worthless and without moral standing. But it is very hard in the context of this document to see how. There was once a small and narrow space within which gay Catholics could live lives of dignity and self-respect. Benedict has deliberately removed all oxygen from that space. Moreover, you might expect that the document, aware of the immense pain and injury it would inflict upon gay Catholics and gay people everywhere, would somehow address this, reach out, present a positive future for gay people, or, at least, pay deference to the great work that gay clergy have played in the past. But that is not the case, as even Ross concedes. This Pope is uninterested in reaching out; he is interested in casting out.
WHERE GAY PRIESTS NOW ARE: Of course, if all this is to be taken seriously (and I cannot go along with the cynicism of those who pretend it doesn't matter), it forces us to a very important question. Why is the Church permitting currently gay priests to continue in their ministry? If they cannot relate to men and women, as the Church claims, if their celibacy does not mitigate their psychological sickness, if they have -
trouble relating to their fathers; are uncomfortable with their own identity; tend to isolate themselves; have difficulty in discussing sexual questions; view pornography on the Internet; demonstrate a deep sense of guilt; or often see themselves as victims- then why are they allowed to continue in the priesthood at all? Why ban seminarians but not priests? Already, we have signs that a gradual purge along these lines will begin. And so, by the logic of the demonization of homosexuals, it should. If gay men should never have been ordained in the first place, why should they be allowed to remain? My own heart goes out to those men who have lived up to their vows, been wonderful priests, and are now told that, in so far as they are gay, they have no social value, no moral virtue and that if they had not already been ordained, they would no longer be. What are they supposed to do? I'd say they have a moral obligation to tell their parishioners who they are, to debunk the prejudices and smears foisted upon them by the (often closeted) hierarchy, and let the chips fall where they may. Bigotry is wrong; condemning a whole group of society is wrong; demeaning their service is wrong; perpetuating unsubstantiated libels and pseudo-pop-psychology is wrong. It is incumbent on straight Catholics as well as gay ones to say this out loud. The principles here are fairness and compassion. Defending them is defending the Church itself.
- 11:19:00 AM
EMAIL OF THE DAY: A gay Catholic grad student at Notre Dame writes the following:
I apologize if my own anger and pain about the document detract from the larger points I attempt to make, but this instruction feels like a truly personal attack.I think that is what is so immensely painful about this latest attack on some of God's children. It is an attempt to conflate a sin with an identity. That is a profound attack on the Body of Christ. From the Vatican itself.
Always bear in mind that when God surveyed his creation he deemed it good. Not perfect, good. As creatures we must recognize the value of other despite any deficiencies. Let us not lose sight of the dire consequences this document will likely have. None of its effects have only theoretical ramifications. It harms the flesh and bones of Christ's Mystical Body, gay and straight, lay and ordained.
This document fundamentally renders the Catholic Church less catholic, less compassionate, and less Christian. Furthermore, it will exacerbate the priest shortage at a time when so many Catholics lack the nourishment provided by a communal celebration of the Eucharist. It alienates not only gay and lesbian Catholics but their loved ones as well - who have perhaps struggled but succeeded in accepting their homosexual loved one as a good person in whom the Spirit is active.
As a gay Catholic I find it difficult to conceive a place for myself that maintains any semblance of intellectual, spiritual or emotional integrity; I see a dismissal of my ability to achieve a humane communion with my fellow persons and with Christ. The Vatican has now further marginalized an already marginalized group by pandering to people's worst fears and stereotypes. This document amounts to a predation upon those men with whom I share a unique emotional commiseration and who thus speak more effectively to my particular spiritual struggle. It attempts to amputate part of the Mystical Body.
We cannot pass this position off as a 'hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner' exhortation otherwise a commitment to celibacy would suffice. The equation of predilection to actual act has dangerous implications for all Catholics. The inclination to sin, common to all humans and part of our imperfection, should never be squared with sin itself lest we abandon the hope for living in a Christ-like way by overcoming the inclination to sin to instead act with love and justice.
What those who condemn homosexuality fail to realize is that it is not only or even primarily about sex, just as heterosexual attraction is not primarily about the act. A non-normative attraction does not constitute an 'affective immaturity' that precludes normal relational interactions. In fact, in my experience and the experience of every other gay person I know, the stifling of our sexuality through denial, self-loathing, an attempt to enter straight relationships, or a spiritually unsatisfying celibacy causes much more dysfunction in relationships of all types than does admitted homosexuality. The 'trial' of homosexuality comes from the fear of reprobation or the actual rejection of others, to which the Church now contributes under the pretext of stabilizing the priesthood. Once we come to terms with our own sexuality and remember that we are still children of God, we can begin to see ourselves as God does: good, imperfect but unquestionably good.
- 11:17:00 AM
QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "President Bush has articulated his policy vision more consistently and more eloquently than any President since Lincoln," - John Hinderaker, Powerline.
- 11:16:00 AM
Thursday, December 01, 2005
DERB'S INCONSISTENCIES? An emailer makes a challenging point:
When I read the Derbyshire bit on your blog today, I was thinking about his negative view on homosexuality: if he thinks that who one desires is not a matter of choice (as he implies by saying it is an 'unfair' truth that men really only want 15-20 year olds), then how can he possibly justify marginalization of gay relationships?Good question, I'd say.
I did a Google search to see if he thought homosexuality was inborn, and it turns out he does. That does not, however, mean that gays shouldn't be marginalized, according to him. Homosexuality is a 'social negative,' he says. In fact, it would be better for everyone, he thinks, if they marginalized themselves. He says,"Tolerance is not approval; and while I do not agree with the pope that homosexuals are called to chastity, I do think that they are called to restraint, discretion, reticence, and a decent respect for the opinions of the majority. I certainly do not think that they ought to be allowed to transform long-established institutions like marriage on grounds of 'fairness.' Nor do I think they should be allowed to advertise their preference to high-school students, as they do in some parts of this country. Nor should they be strutting about boasting of 'pride.' (How can you feel pride in something you believe you can't help?)"Seems to me that freely and publicly admitting pedophilic tendencies (and lusting after 15-year-olds still counts - at least, adults sleeping with 15-year-olds is illegal, and most people are agreed that it's illegal for good reason) is advertising a preference of a far greater social negative. I'm sure many, or some, high school students read NRO. And if he's not strutting about boasting, he's certainly saying it with a 'wink-wink, come on guys, you know I'm the only one who's brave enough to say what we're all thinking' kind of bravado. If he thinks gays should exhibit restraint, discretion, etc., my goodness, by his own reasoning, why shouldn't he?
UNFIT FOR THE PRIESTHOOD: This is a picture of Father Mychal Judge, the pastor for New York City's fire-fighters, an openly gay priest who died with those he served in the ashes of the World Trade Center. According to the new Pope, he should never have been ordained.
BENEDICT VERSUS GAYS: Readers of this blog will not be surprised to read the news on the front page of the New York Times today. The day after Benedict's election as Pope, I wrote:
"I expect an imminent ban on all gay seminarians, celibate or otherwise."
Those who under-estimate the extremism of the new order in Rome doubted it. Those who have followed the career of Joseph Ratzinger will merely wonder why it took him so long. You can read my recent posts on this decision to ban all gay men from seminaries, regardless of their conduct, here and here. If you want to understand why this is not, pace the credulous reporters of the NYT, in any way consistent with the policies of the recent past, or with orthodox Catholic theology, take a look at this essay I wrote over a decade ago on the 1975 and 1986 Vatican letters on homosexual orientation--the last one written by Ratzinger himself.
BIGOTRY REDUX: The fundamental point is fairness. It is fair to place restrictions on the conduct of priests and seminarians; it is even fair to take special note of gay seminarians and their unique struggles and insist on the removal of any who violate their vows; it is fair to ensure that seminaries don't become some kind of gay club, and that chastity is enforced and supported. It is not fair to discriminate against a whole group of people, regardless of their conduct. The latter is bigotry. Period.
This new doctrine also stigmatizes the thousands of faithful, celibate gay priests now serving the Church: in effect, it says that they should never have been ordained, and that their "serious personality disorders" render them incapable of being priests. How are they supposed to continue? You will notice in the statements coming out of Rome that there is no attempt to address this, no pastoral effort to reach out to current gay priests, no acknowledgment of the pain this new policy will impose, no compassion whatever. One obvious conclusion is that the Vatican wants them out. Wouldn't this devastate the Church, which is already reeling from a collapse in vocations? Or is that the point--to make way for a smaller, "purer" church of fundamentalists?
To add to the incoherence, the Church is now saying that gay priests are constitutively incapable of chastity. Which begs a question: If gay priests are incapable of it, what hope is there for the gay laity? The old rule--being gay is not a sin, acting on it is--has now changed. The new rule is: all gays are psychologically sick and uniquely prone to mortal sin: Untermenschen. This was once described by Ratzinger himself as "an unfounded and demeaning" assumption. But Benedict's church is now in the practice of demeaning gays and promoting utterly unfounded slurs against their souls and psyches. Why? To save its own skin. Rather than address the real issue--the stunted sexual development of priests who came into service in the 1970s and the criminal complicity in their crimes by Vatican and church officials--the Pope has decided to conflate pedophilia/minor-abuse with homosexuality, and to scapegoat all gay priests, regardless of their conduct or talents.
IT WILL FOSTER PEDOPHILIA: More important, this new policy may well worsen the issue it is trying to address--the screwed-up sexuality of emotionally stunted and self-hating gay or pedophilic priests. The bulk of the cases of child abuse came from the older generations who entered the church in part because they were conflicted about their sexual orientation and never dealt with it. Precisely because they never had a healthy sexual development or any chance to be open about it, discuss it or even receive counseling, they often "acted out" and committed unspeakably immoral acts. Subsequent generations of gay priests have been far better adjusted--in part because of social change and in part because they weren't so in denial about their own psyches and issues. So the prevalence of child abuse has fallen dramatically in the last decade or so. What the new policy may well do is exclude the psychologically-balanced gay man seeking to serve God celibately, while allowing those who lie, or are ashamed, or too screwed up to discuss their own sexuality.
In other words, it could lead to an exodus of good priests and make another wave of child abuse more likely. None of this is discussed because Benedict rules in a climate of fear. Since no one can talk honestly about the problem, we get a non-solution. Look at the NYT today. We have quotes from "three other church officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared they would lose their jobs if they revealed dissension within church ranks," and one from "a gay American priest and professor at a Catholic college who did not want to be identified because he fears he could lose his church position if his sexual orientation was known." Do we really expect sane policy to come from this kind of climate? What we need is openness, dialogue and compassion. What we have is fear, diktat and bigotry. Welcome to the era of Benedict XVI.
- 10:53:00 AM