The new Pope faces his first controversy over the direction of the Catholic church after it was revealed that the Vatican has drawn up a religious instruction preventing gay men from being priests.
The controversial document, produced by the Congregation for Catholic Education and Seminaries, the body overseeing the church's training of the priesthood, is being scrutinised by Benedict XVI.
Now obviously, anything written by secular reporters about Church teaching requires a few grains of salt. For example, this article itself is fairly incomplete merely as journalism -- i.e., it has no sourced material to back up its principal point in the form of direct quotes (not unexpected) or even indirect ones (quite strange) from sources either named or unnamed. Further, same-sex attraction is not exactly the topic on which they're most attuned to the subtleties (note the reference to "gay men" in the first paragraph). And the Guardian-Observer is something less than the journalistic outlet with the greatest sympathy for religious orthodoxy.
But nevertheless, and with all these appropriate caveats noted, I'm still starting to fear the worst. This is not the first such report I've read in the past few months. It's made The Word from Rome last month. The night of Benedict's election, I had dinner with my Courage group and, as ecclesial nerds are wont, we kicked around ideas about what the new Holy Father's first encyclical would be about. And when I suggested homosexuality and the priesthood, our pastor, who is very orthodox, nodded sagely at me. I don't know whether he had inside info, but he didn't laugh at my suggestion.
Many US bishops are faced with seminaries with a reputation now or in the recent past as a hotbed of “Pink Palace” dissent, and the Lavendar Mafia there might make it difficult for a homosexually-inclined man even with the best of intentions. And so as part of a general cleaning out of the Augean Stables there, including equal efforts against heterodox teachings, poor formation and indiscipline, I think it a reasonable exercise of a bishop's governing prerogative to, as a temporary measure, refuse men with homosexual inclinations until things can get straightened out (uh … so to speak) and a better environment provided for everybody. Indeed, I live in one of only three or so dioceses in the US which has such a rule.
But what I don't see is how any blanket ban on ordaining any homosexual person could be compatible with the Church teachings on sexual morality and homosexuality, as stated in CDF letters and the Catechism for the last 30 years. It's not simply that Father John Harvey and Father Benedict Groeschel, who've been done heroic work for decades with Courage, have both come out against an absolute ban on seminarians with some SSA and said such a blanket ban would not address the problem of clerical sexual abuse. But it's also that one of the most important documents, On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons was even written by then-Cardinal Ratzinger himself. Here are some samples:
What is at all costs to be avoided is the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behaviour of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and therefore inculpable. What is essential is that the fundamental liberty which characterizes the human person and gives him his dignity be recognized as belonging to the homosexual person as well. As in every conversion from evil, the abandonment of homosexual activity will require a profound collaboration of the individual with God's liberating grace.
The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a "heterosexual" or a "homosexual" and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.
What I don’t believe the Church does or can teach is the kind of blanket rules that leave no room for discretion and particular cases, and so no room for the liberating grace, which Cardinal Ratzinger describes, to work in a particular man’s life. What I also object to is the (Ratzinger's words again) "demeaning" and "reductionist" assumption, on which the Church's Ultramontanes and its Andrew Sullivans are at one, that orientation always implies behavior. And a per se ban would cement that degrading belief. To have a blanket ban is essentially to treat men with SSA as an "essential" class, the most important characteristic of which is his SSA, rather than his being a human person made in the image and likeness of God. A per se ban would, to use some high-falutin' language, turn homosexuality into ontology, define a man by his temptations and/or sins. And so reverse the Church's entire response to the modern homosexual moment. I'd like to believe that is not possible.