Monday, November 24, 2008
Homosexuality and the Priesthood
In what’s now rather old news the Vatican has released a set of “new guidelines” for the “psychological” testing of seminarians – all in an effort to prevent gay men from becoming priests.
The new Vatican document seems to build upon a 2005 one that said men with “deep seated homosexual tendencies” shouldn’t be ordained, but those with a “transitory problem” could become priests if they had overcome their homosexual “tendencies” for three years. The new guidelines stress that if a future priest shows “deep seated homosexual tendencies,” his seminary training “would have to be interrupted.”
I must admit I’ve been putting off writing about this latest Vatican document because I find it so offensive.
Let me explain further by drawing your attention to the image that opens this post, Doug Blanchard’s painting “Jesus Before the Priests.” In commenting on this particular artwork, Kittredge Cherry writes: “The priests look like so many I have known. They stand by, wringing their hands while they let injustice and violence happen. . . . Blanchard has got that churchly smug indifference down cold.”
Hmm, Cherry must not have known many Catholic priests! After all, within Roman Catholicism the majority of bishops and priests don’t just “stand by, wringing their hands.” No, as this latest document from the Vatican demonstrates, high ranking clerics within the Church are actively involved in the spiritual abuse of gay people. It’s way beyond “smug indifference.”
Of course, this shouldn’t be in the least bit surprising given the “blood-soaked thread” that runs through the history of Roman Catholicism’s “official” understanding and treatment of gays. It’s still disheartening though.
And, as a gay man, I find it difficult to fathom how any religious organization that claims to follow the path of consciousness and compassion embodied by Jesus could be so ignorant and abusive. Put another way: How can they not see that by coldly and systematically beating up on their gay brothers they’re also abusing Christ present within us all?
That’s all I really want to say.
I will, however, take this opportunity to share excerpts from some powerful and insightful commentaries written by two Catholic priests – priests who courageously challenge the Church’s dysfunction and cruelty on this issue.
First, here’s what Geoff Farrow, the Roman Catholic priest who bravely spoke out against Proposition 8, has to say:
What [the new guidelines] reveal is the strategy of the hierarchy, at least those in the Vatican, to play a sort of “shell game” with the pedophilia sex scandal. They begin by announcing new psychological screening guidelines for seminarians. Sounds good, so far. Then they speak about “psychopathic disturbances.” OK, most everyone would agree that pedophilia falls in this category, it is listed as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. But then, the guidelines suddenly switch gears and introduce the issue of homosexuality.
Pedophilia is a mental disorder. It has ZERO to do with the gender or the sexual orientation of the pedophile. What it has to do with is that an adult suffers from an impulsive mental disorder in which he/she engages in sexual relationships with minors. There are both male and female pedophiles, there are both heterosexual and homosexual pedophiles. The issue is pedophilia not gender or orientation. So, why mix the two subjects in these new guidelines?
Certainly, the Vatican officials who created these new guidelines are aware of these psychological distinctions. . . . The church sex scandal was not about the fact that some pedophiles made it into the ranks of the priesthood and abused children. It was about the fact that bishops who became aware of these pedophiles covered up their crimes and moved them around in an attempt to protect the institution from scandal and lawsuits.
. . . A pedophile is . . . an adult who seeks out and has sexual liaisons with minors. When you look at the educational system used by the church to train priests, a disturbing specter begins to emerge from the mist: Minor seminaries. Young adolescents were enrolled into minor seminaries starting their studies for the priesthood at 13 and 14 years of age. They were inserted into an all male environment, not permitted to date and effectively stunted in their psycho-sexual development. [These seminaries] became, though never intended as such, pedophile factories. The irony is, that most of these high school seminaries had closed by the time that the sex scandal exploded.
Needless to say, this is a huge embarrassment to the hierarchy and also constitutes a question of legal liability [that], as they state, [has] “trigger[ed] lawsuits that have cost hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements.” So, introducing the question of homosexuality into [these new] guidelines [for seminarians] seems very suspect indeed. There is no psychological basis for doing so, and it seems to be but a diversion of responsibility from the hierarchy to a scapegoat minority group.
Fr. Joseph S. O’Leary has also recently offered his usual erudite reflections on the Vatican’s new “guidelines”:
[In discussing the guidelines, Cardinal Grocholewski] says that deep-seated heterosexual tendencies are OK, which contradicts the idea that deep-seated tendencies mean something other than basic sexual orientation. [He also] distinguishes the deep-seated homosexual tendencies, which he sees as a variety of psychological immaturity, from transitory ones, which are not a bar to priesthood if one has outgrown them. In the 2005 interview he said: “As an example of transitory tendency our document lists the case of incomplete adolescence. But there can also be other cases. For example the case of those who have performed homosexual acts in a state of drunkenness, or of those who did so as a result of determined circumstances, such as having spent many years in prison. Or of those who have done so out of obedience to a superior or to earn money. In these cases, however, for the sake of prudence, to check that it is a matter of a truly transitory tendency, it is well that a fitting period of time be allowed to pass, which the document establishes as three years, before proceeding to ordination as deacon.”
This excludes the idea that a gay person who has not been sexually active for three years would be welcome in a seminary – a very wilful misconstrual of the document, which nonetheless has circulated widely!
The situation is something like that of the Motu Proprio restoring the Tridentine Mass and Cardinal Grocholewski is placed in the position that Cardinal Castrillon Hojos or the hapless Archbishop Ranjith hold on the liturgical front. It seems to me that Cardinal Grocholewski is desperately trying to suppress the interpretation that disables his 2005 document. It is ironic to see [individuals such as John Heard] embrace Grocholewski as his ally, and we may expect the superiors of religious orders and the bishops to follow suit as in 2005. The acrobatics to which the novel Catholic hermeneutics of reception, first practiced in the episcopal responses to Humanae Vitae (1968), has had recourse are now so well-developed that they can take in their stride the most acute contradictions. This is a measure of the distance between Vatican edicts and what is credible and practicable at ground level. But it is a curious way of dealing with truth. (See here.)
It seems to me that the Cardinal’s attitude is abusive and that, if implemented, it would be very damaging to the young men subjected to the psychological testing he advocates. In addition there is the wider abuse of a teaching that confirms ancient homophobic attitudes of the Catholic Church. Unless we have the clarity to name an abuse for what it is, we become ourselves perpetrators of abuse.
Another abusive aspect of the situation is the top-down style of communication adopted by the Vatican. In the USA this style of communication has met its Waterloo, as millions of Catholics simply ignored the shrill, authoritarian utterances of their bishops. President-elect Obama, in contrast, created grass roots understanding and consensus, something the Vatican and its bishops no longer even attempt.
There seems to be a new tightening of the rather sinister logic about sexuality and priesthood in these latest utterances. It was discerned in the 1990s that women could not be priests, for ontological reasons. Now it seems that gay men similarly are ontologically incapable of priesthood – a point stressed to the degree that some are wondering if homosexually oriented priests are validly ordained at all! Well, bad logic often leads to weird results.
Commentary from gay and non-gay Catholics has been for the most part in the vein of angry reaction, which is quite justified. Yet it is vital that we shift Catholic gay discourse from the register of reacting to Vatican provocations to that of building a solid corpus of wisdom. (See here.) Note that the behaviors listed by the Cardinal as reflective of “transitory” tendencies are indeed immature behavior, whereas he makes a serious category mistake when he equates sexual orientation with immaturity.
It is also a mistake to refer to orientation, both heterosexual and homosexual, as a deep-seated tendency. The word “tendency” is a weird denial of the reality of sexual orientation. John Heard [and others, notably those associated with the Courage apostolate] similarly reduces homosexual orientation to sporadic same-sex attraction, in another tactic of denial.
The phrase “same-sex attracted” is supposed to be a neutral term, but the motive for its invention is to avoid giving any positive identity or valorization to homosexual orientation, as the word “gay” does. It is an ideologically motivated term, directed against gay identity politics. On the phenomenological plane “same-sex attracted” is as gauche and clunky and wooden a phrase as “other-sex attracted” would be to describe heterosexuals. The vilification of the phrase “sexual orientation” feeds into the lies of “Christianists” who want to characterize sexual orientation either as a sinful “choice” or as an “affliction” from which grace and the sect’s love-bombing can magically redeem the afflicted one or again as an “objective disorder” (since “orientation” is a word that does not suggest a disorder but rather a natural variant of sexuality). These little linguistic battles are an effort to see the phenomena plain after two millennia of mystification.
Such psychological mistakes are in fact ideologically motivated. One might even find a resemblance to the Stalinist use of psychology as a tool of ideological conformity. The Catholic Church can do without such methods.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Vatican Stance on Gay Priests Signals Urgent Need for Renewal & Reform
It’s a Great Time to Be Catholic . . .
What Is It That Ails You?
Image: “Jesus Before the Priests” (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision)
by Douglas Blanchard.