Saturday, September 24, 2005

A Little Priest

For many years, before it became socially acceptable to be openly gay, the best way for gay Catholic boys (and men) to escape bothersome questions from grandmothers and other family members like "Are you seeing any nice girls?" and "When are you going to get married?" was to join the priesthood. Nice Catholic boys who became priests never had the reasons for their celibate lifestyle questioned by nosy relatives.

Being a priest meant never having to explain why you're not married. And there's no one prouder than a Catholic grandmother who can pull out a snapshot and beam to her bridge club "This is my grandson, the priest!" (Well, that was the case while I was growing up; things have changed a bit in recent years.)

The existence of gay men in the Catholic clergy is not exactly news. Writing more than 20 years ago in the anthology Homosexuality and the Catholic Church, Robert Nugent said in a chapter entitled "Homosexuality, Celibacy, Religious Life, and Ordination":

I suspect that it comes as no surprise to read that the Roman Catholic Church has historically always numbered among its ordained clergy and vowed religious women and men individuals of a homosexual orientation. . .

If we accept Carl Jung's description of the homosexual personality, we could argue rather convincingly that there are many valid and honorable reasons to account for what many people suspect is a higher percentage of homosexual people in religious and church vocations than in the general population. According to Jung, homosexual people possess a particular receptivity to spiritual realities, a richness in religious feelings, a sensitivity to past values, and a conservative temperament in the best sense of that term (Jung, 1959). Other commentators have noted that lesbian and gay people seem drawn to nurturing professions such as teaching, nursing, and ministry and that many show a real concern for future generations in ways other than biological reproduction.
That "higher percentage" was addressed in a report from the Commission on Social Justice of the Archdiocese of San Francisco in July 1982, called "Homosexuality and Social Justice." Chapter 6, "Lesbian Women and Gay Men in Religious Congregations/Orders, and Priesthood" notes two then-recent studies:
Edward Molloy, C.S.C., raises the question as to whether there are, in fact, more homosexuals in the Roman Catholic priesthood than statistical probabilities would lead us to expect. He quotes Richard Wood, O.P., as saying that a rather conservative estimate of the number of homosexual men and women in the Catholic priesthood and religious life falls around 30%, with a proportionate number in the Protestant ministry, and the Rabbinate. On the other side of the issue, Molloy quotes John Harvey as saying that homosexuality is not greater among priests and religious than among the general population, although the same data suggests [sic] that the incidence of latent homosexual conflicts is greater among seminarians and male religious.
(The citations are from Edward Molloy, Homosexuality and the Christian Way of Life, published in 1981. So the statistics are old, but that is my point -- this is not a new issue by any stretch of the imagination.)

Now the Washington Post and other media outlets are reporting that the Vatican is about to publish a document that will lead to the purging of seminaries the world over, in an attempt to cut down on the number of current and future homosexual priests.

Nicole Winfield, writing for the Associated Press, reported on Thursday:
A Vatican document will be released in the coming weeks that reaffirms the Catholic Church's belief that homosexuals shouldn't be ordained priests, a Vatican official said Thursday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the document has not been released, said the "instruction" from the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education would contain "some new things and some old things" and would be released well before the end of the year.

That timeframe means the document will be released just as a Vatican-mandated evaluation of all U.S. seminaries, ordered in the wake of the U.S. clergy sex abuse scandal, gets under way.
On Friday, the Post's Alan Cooperman expanded on this report, adding:
Experts in Rome and the United States cautioned yesterday that its practical impact on candidates for the priesthood would depend on its precise wording and implementation, both of which remain to be seen.

But the document's symbolic impact is already rippling through the Roman Catholic Church and beyond, hailed by some as a much-needed antidote to a gay clerical subculture and derided by others as a misguided attempt to blame homosexuals for the church's pedophilia scandals.
Cooperman quoted a gay priest who, for obvious reasons, preferred to remain anonymous:
A U.S. priest who says he is gay but celibate, and who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his job, predicted that the document would push homosexual seminarians and priests further underground and ultimately be self-defeating.

"If you're not going to allow people to speak openly with their rectors and spiritual advisers and friends, if you drive it underground, you'll have less psychologically healthy men, not more healthy ones," he said. "In their effort to address the sexual abuse crisis, they're re-creating the precise kind of environment that gave rise to it."

The gay priest also said he deeply resented "this attempt to blame the whole pedophilia scandal on gay priests rather than on the bishops" who moved sexual abusers from parish to parish instead of reporting them to police.

"People like myself -- if we're not allowed to be public, and the bishops aren't able to acknowledge that there are gay but celibate priests who, frankly, are doing a lot of the work of the church -- then all they're going to see is pedophiles," he said.
There may be another effect, which may be getting discussed in church circles, though I have not yet seen it in the news media.

To someone, like me, with eight years of Jesuit education who attends Sunday Mass at a Dominican parish, it's natural to wonder if one of the unintended consequences of the "new" Vatican policy will be to drive more gay priests into religious orders and away from diocesan seminaries.

Groups like the Jesuits and the Dominicans run themselves fairly autonomously -- though in theory they are under the authority of their local bishops wherever they operate. They have their own novitiates (as opposed to "seminaries") and set their own criteria for admissions as well as create and implement their own curricula.

In coming years, these orders may become refuges for gay priests and gay seminarians who want to escape the reach of diocesan discipline. And not just the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) and the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans): let's not forget the Paulists and Maryknollers, who have liberal reputations; I know of at least one prominent Paulist priest who used to be a minister in the Metropolitan Community Church, a largely gay evangelical denomination. (See Edward Allwood's 1998 book, Straight News; look closely in the photo sections and those who know to whom I refer will find him there.)

For good or ill, the controversy that will be sure to result from the new Vatican document, and from any actions that follow it, will be the mark that defines the new papacy of Benedict XVI.

Now, why is it that I keep finding stories that underscore the theme, "everything old is new again"?


Shaun Kenney said...

Regarding the diocesan vs. religious order requirements, I wouldn't make the argument that the Dominicans or Jesuits (or any other order for that matter) would become a "haven" for homosexual priests or religious.

At the snap of his fingers, the pope can (and has done so in the past) disband an order.

Harder to disband a diocese, eh?

As for the document, it's still in draft form. I won't challenge the specifics about a "gay subculture" in the American priesthood as a preferable dynamic or refuge for gay Catholic men to hide - frankly I simply don't have that experience. But I will say that there are a few factors that are going to taint the entire discussion: (1) Catholic teaching on the matter, (2) choice vs. nature vs. environment arguments for the cause of homosexuality, (3) the pederasty crisis in the Church in America, and (4) the way the North American bishops have handled this issue thus far.

It's worthy to note that the "homosexual priest" issue is something particular to North America. No where else in Catholicism is the issue such a concern, which tells the Vatican that the issue really is one of culture and faith and not so much one of chaste homosexual men being persecuted.

Rambling thoughts here, but I will add that nothing should be concretely formed any perspective until we see the document from CCE.

iamonetruth said...

To Whom It May Concern;
Here is a quote from "Scandal To Hope", Fr. Benedict Groeschel
"Christianity when it is properly taught, condemns all sinful behavior, but not the sinner. Its founder, Jesus Christ, said, “I did not come to judge the world but to save the world” (John 12:47).

There are many forms of sexual activity that are forbidden by Christian tradition as well as by
Judaism, from which our faith comes. This particular problem has become a scene, a lifestyle,
and a subculture. As Professor Jenkins — who is not a Catholic — and any number of others have
pointed out, the present scandal involving clergy [in the Catholic Church] is not about pedophilia.
It is about active homosexuality with minors.

In his book, Jenkins reviews a study of more than twenty-two hundred priests of the Archdiocese of Chicago during a forty-year period. Of those twenty-two hundred priests, only one had
been convicted of pedophilia. Pedophilia is sexual activity with a prepubescent youngster, a child.
After puberty, sexual activity with a young person is just as illegal and immoral, but it’s either homosexual or heterosexual fornication.
[...] The media are calling it “pedophilia,” but that’s a phony name."
Page 26 "FROM SCANDAL TO HOPE", Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel. C.F.R.

This might give some insight into why the Church is taking the stand that it is. But, there are many sideline "quarterbacks" that will not be happy no matter what course of action The Church decides to take! As Jesus said a very long time ago;
Luke 7:32 They are like children sitting in the market place and calling to one another, 'We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.'

Espartaco Romero said...

In response to iamonetruth's comment, it's actually called ephebophilia. Rick, I hope you're right about the religious orders, but I'm not certain. Benedict may well try to tighten his grip over them. I doubt that he'd go as far as disband any of them, but he could still make matters pretty ugly. Gay priests are not only a convenient scapegoat for the pedophilia/ephebophilia crisis; they're easy targets for others, for those blame all the Church's problems in the modern (postmodern?) world on non-normative sexuality. The bald fact is that many right-wing Catholics simply despise homosexuals, no matter how they chaste or devout they may be. This is not be taken of legitimate concern for either children who are vulnerable to predatory priests or for following Church teaching (the Catechism, after all, states that sexual orientation is, in and of itself, morally neutral); it's about pure and simple bigotry. Obviously, this hatred will decimate the seminaries, and more lay Catholics' sacramental lives will suffer.