Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Thoughts on Celibacy (Part V)

The Wild Reed’s exploration of celibacy continues with an excerpt from theologian, priest, and author James Alison's 2003 book, On Being Liked.

As you'll see, Allison (pictured at left) looks at celibacy within the broader context of both the meaning of homosexuality and the issue of gay men in the Roman Catholic priesthood.

To start at the beginning of The Wild Reed's series on celibacy, click here.

I should also say that this will be the final installment in this series. Why? Well, basically, my interest in celibacy, especially as it relates to the Roman Catholic Church, like my interest in every other institutional church-related topic, is pretty much none existent for me now. This blog may have started out as a "gay Catholic" one, but it's evolved beyond that, as the byline under its name now highlights. I dare say I'll write more about this in a later post. But for now, here are James Alison's erudite thoughts on celibacy, homosexuality and the priesthood.


The only question at stake for the [Roman Catholic] Church on the gay issue is the following: either there is or there isn't such a thing as being gay as a normal and unremarkable part of nature.

If there isn't, then of course church authority is right to try to get people not to act according to what they are not, and all of its culture of secrecy, tolerance, cover-up and ambiguity is simply what trying to be merciful looks like in the midst of a world gone mad, which is no doubt how some in authority see it. But if there is, then we are in for a time of pain as it becomes clear how vital mendacity has been to the structure of our Church.

And here I want to take issue with a couple of voices from the Church in the United States who have taken slightly different tacks in their analysis of the problems we face. Donald Cozzens sees the presence of a disproportionate number of gay men in the priesthood as off-putting to the possibility of straight men joining. He indicates that from the perspective of many straight priests, celibacy is optional for gay priests. And indeed, one of the stupidities of our Church in its current mess is that where a stable relationship of marriage, an undisputed good in itself, would probably cause a priest to lose his job, a least in Anglo-Saxon countries, a discreet but stable same-sex relationship, or indeed discreet multiple same-sex relationships, considered by church authority to be bad, can be, and frequently are, overlooked.

Where I challenge Cozzens is in his seeming assumption that this is something to do with being gay, rather than something to do with inhabiting a field of mendacity. No. The question of truth comes first. While church authority is denying reality by indicating that celibacy is the only option for a gay person, then of course you are going to have a world inhabited by people who are there, half as willing and half as emotionally blackmailed, with all the attendant problems which that raises, including the creation of bitchy, codified subcultures, always the sign of people living in enforced infantilism, not free adulthood.

But when church authority accepts the truth: that there are some people who are gay, and that their flourishing looks remarkably like that of straight people, then you will not get seminaries full of people whose relationship to celibacy is deeply, and understandably, ambiguous. Some honest gay men who find themselves called to celibacy will join up. Just as some honest straight men do. And neither will put the other off.

For the moment, the twin forces of the non-acceptance of the anthropological reality of gay people, and the obligation of celibacy, serve to create a deeply ambiguous place, a severely queazy mentality, and one which would, I hope, put off anyone who was honest. Bt the solution to the problem lies in the recognition that the virtue of chastity, which is arduously acquired singleness of heart, and which I take to be an indispensable part of what the reception of salvation looks like in any Christian life, means learning "my body given for you" rather than "your body taken for me" in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, over time. For gay people just as for straight people. That is all. In short, getting the official teaching made adequate to discovered reality is a necessary first step towards making of the priesthood an honest profession.

– James Alison
Excerpted from On Being Liked
pp. 96-98

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Thoughts on Celibacy (Part I)
Thoughts on Celibacy (Part II)
Thoughts on Celibacy (Part III)
Thoughts on Celibacy (Part IV)
Celibacy and the Roman Catholic Priesthood
John Allen on the Vatican's "Gay Lobby"
It Is Not Good to Be Alone
Diarmuid Ó Murchú on Celibacy and Androgyny
Gay Men In the Vatican Are Giving the Rest of Us a Bad Name
Officially Homophobic, Intensely Homoerotic
A Fact That Should Be Neither Surprising Nor Derogatory
Vatican Stance on Gay Priests Signals Urgent Need for Renewal and Reform
Report: Homosexuality No Factor in Abusive Priests
Weakland, the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal, and Homophobia
Keeping All the Queens Under One Roof
Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men - A Discussion Guide

No comments: