Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The value of priestly celibacy

Well, one value of it anyway. Domenico Bettinelli has a post about Father Donald Cozzens recycling the same old anti-celibacy arguments. It seems a good time as any to tell of an appointment I made with a prostitute a bit more than two years ago (as God is my witness, that did not happen recently ... so nobody worry). And as I recount it, it will be quite clean, despite the subject matter. It is not an argument for priestly celibacy exactly ... more of an account of one way that a celibate priesthood contributes to the culture at large, even in places where one wouldn't expect it to.

In a period of weakness and depression, I had made an appointment with a male prostitute for the next day. But as usual, my conscience began to get queasy the closer to the appointed hour. On my drive out to his hotel, the Lord kept tugging at me, and I told myself "you can't do this, [John]. This is not what you want." Rather than stand the guy up outright, morally defensible though that would have been, I resolved to face him, tell him man-to-man that I couldn't go through with our transaction, and reach an accommodation that won't make an enemy out of him (keep in mind that he has my phone number, so it'd also be prudent not to treat him badly). When I get inside his room, I say something like "I'm sorry to do this to you, but I can't go through with this. Here's half the amount we agreed on, as a cancellation fee.* But my conscience won't let me do this." The guy said that was a fair deal and thanked me for not just flaking out on him. As I started to leave, he said "hold on, I'm curious about something."

It is for God alone to know how much of his end of the rest of the conversation, which I'm reconstructing from memory, was purely disinterested interest in me and how much an attempt to get me to go through with the appointment, so he can get the other half of his fee. In order to dampen the possibility of lust getting the better of me once I was there, I deliberately had taken only the half fee I intended to give him, leaving the other half in my car.

HIM: You say your conscience wouldn't let you.
ME: Correct.
HIM: We weren't gonna be doing anything that harms anyone ... just [description].
ME: Yeah, but we both know we'd be doing something wrong anyway: prostitution.
HIM: Well, we're just gonna spend time ...

I give him a "please don't kid me" look.

Are you religious?
ME: Yeah, by most people's standards. Though you of all people know I'm obviously not the most.
HIM: Are you gay? [John stammers a bit] ... Look, I'm just interested.
ME: Well, yeah. Most people would call me that.
HIM: Do you have a partner or are you dating someone?
ME: No.
HIM: Well, how do you express your sexuality?
ME: I don't. Or try not to.
HIM: How can you do nothing?
ME: Well, I have a problem with wanking, as my confessor will tell you if he could.
HIM: You're a Catholic?
ME: Yes. Most people's idea of a traditional one.
HIM: I've never met anybody like you. You're gay and Catholic? How do you reconcile the two?
ME: [Words to the effect of "I try, not always successfully, offer up my sufferings, principally loneliness, depression and moral scrupulosity." I no doubt didn't say the really right thing because I was starting to get weirded out.]
HIM: Don't you have any sexual outlets?
ME: God has called me to celibacy. I'm like a priest in that respect.

And the instant I mentioned the priesthood to him, a light went on in his eyes, as if to say "now, I get it." Not that he necessarily *got* the virtue of chaste celibacy in the fullest sense. But rather that his mind now had something it could latch onto. He wasn't intellectually at sea. I had given him an image that he could associate with. That's what being an icon *IS* -- an image of something else, something earthly pointing to something divine.

HIM: Are you gonna be a priest?
ME: No, I'm just making the analogy that a priest's celibacy is something for me to follow. And it's not compatible with my having sex with men.
HIM: You sure about that? You leaving?

This was moment that made me doubt his motives. He never made a move on me or did anything that I consider an explicit sexual gesture. But the whole time, as he obviously had been expecting me, he was wearing only socks and cargo shorts. And I was struggling.

Yeah. I'm sorry I did this to you. I think what you're doing is wrong, but it takes two to tango.
HIM: When I called you (about 10 minutes before the meeting time, to confirm the appointment), did you know you were going to do this.
ME: Yeah. I didn't know exactly what I'd say. But God wasn't gonna let me go through with it. Or let me off the hook moneywise.
HIM: Well, good luck. I've never met anyone like you. And thanks for being upfront in dealing with me.
ME: God bless.
We shake hands. I leave. And start to cry, when I'm finally in my car alone.

I'm not gonna overstate matters. I would probably have had the same pangs if there were a married priesthood. And I have no way of knowing whether the man just laughed himself silly once I was out of the room, and went on to his next client without a second thought. (I would have to bet he at least went through with his existing clients for that trip.) What I know for certain is that this very attractive and not-stupid man** sold his body for money, degrading himself and taking all manner of risks and dangers. But even this man still knew of the practice of celibacy from the Catholic priesthood. And thus celibacy "fit" into a prostitute's world, in whatever place he may have assigned it, because the Catholic Church insists on this "sign of contradiction" from its priests. A sign never more needed than now in this degraded era, where chastity and celibacy have virtually no other cultural cachet. For the Church to now end mandatory celibacy, even though it'd obviously be in-principle legitimate, could only be taken one way in the current environment. As tapping-out to the Sexual Revolution. As raising the white flag to those who say "living without sex is impossible or stupid." And as undercutting those of us who have borne this cross, however imperfectly, for decades.
* I'm told that Father Benedict Groeschel will impose penances of twice or three times the fee for the sin of prostitution. So I got off easy in that regard. But partly in order that I might gain nothing financially from my pang of conscience, I gave the other half of the fee voluntarily to my confessor and told him to put it in the parish's poor box or petty cash fund or wherever it might do some good.
** Knowing nothing else about him but his physical attributes, he could make a decent [in both senses] living as a legitimate model, as a workout/gym instructor or owner, or (maybe) coaching some sport.


Anonymous said...

This is more an apostolate than a blog, and I hope it helps you as much as your readers. I spent years thinking that spiritual direction was for people who had got rid of the addictions first, but I know it starts where you are at. For me what is helping is not weekly confession but weekly + after any event. I an figuring that may keep away the "I need a treat" pride thing that happens after a few days of "being good." It also lifts the number of days in a month of living in a SoG. I am reading the Fr Tadeusz Dajczer that AW recommended. It is good.

Anonymous said...

This may well be an apostolate – but it’s not one that’s applicable or appropriate for the vast majority of gay men.

From my reading of this blogsite it’s fairly clear that Courageman struggles with issues of sexual addiction. It makes perfect sense, therefore, that he should seek to refrain from sexual activity – much like an alcoholic seeks to refrain from drinking – and that he should encourage others who similarly struggle with sexual addiction to do likewise.

I can also see why he clings to the Catholic Church as it (erroneously) understands homosexuality as a disease similar to alcoholism, and therefore expects total celibacy from its gay members.

Yet from my understanding of the Catholic religion, celibacy is a gift, and if people are not blessed with it then it seems (in most cases) unreasonable to expect them to struggle throughout their lives to achieve it, especially since the vast majority of gay people can and do build healthy and loving relationships with another of the same gender.

Having said that, and given your particular circumstances, I think what you’re attempting to do, Courageman, is appropriate and right for you. And my prayers are with you. Yet as I’ve recently discovered elsewhere, courage takes many forms. I don’t think it’s wise or compassionate for you (or the leadership of the Catholic Church) to expect all gay people to struggle with what you struggle with, and to live as you live.

CourageMan said...

the Catholic Church as it (erroneously) understands homosexuality as a disease similar to alcoholism

Where does the Church, or any respectable and meaningful current voice therein, call homosexuality a "disease"? Plenty make analogies toward alcoholism, it is true, but this presupposes an understanding that alcoholism itself is not a disease, but a bad habit stemming from and fueled by bad behavior (and perhaps in some cases with roots in some psychological or genetic condition).

But I'm curious ... what else is the Church "erroneous" about?

from my understanding of the Catholic religion, celibacy is a gift, and if people are not blessed with it...

Hard to argue with that, as stated.

But no, this is simply wrong ... celibacy is a state of life. Chastity on the other hand, whether in the married state or the celibate state, is a gift (the NT Greek word translated as "grace" also means "gift" in the sense we would use that word in English today). A grace from God. But graces and gifts must be accepted and cannot be enjoyed if rejected. If one is committed to the view that he cannot live without fucking, then it is the obviously the case that he will be no good at living chastely. But this simply isn't evidence that he doesn't have such a gift. Phenomenologically, it is just as much evidence that means he has rejected the gifts and graces offered.

It is true that often a priest or religious will speak loosely of "having the gift of celibacy." But what he really means in more-precise lingo is "having the gift to live chastely or contentedly in a celibate state."

I mean ... what kind of wussy God would be as niggardly with His gifts as you seem to think God is.

since the vast majority of gay people can and do build healthy and loving relationships with another of the same gender.

That is only true if "open marriages" (i.e., approved adultery) and serial shacking-up count as "healthy and loving." Vast majority? Let's see the figures on that one.

While it is quite possible for Adam and Steve to love each other in every way as two opposite-sex persons can outside the bedroom, that doesn't change the nature of what Adam and Steve may do in the bedroom. One can even say that Steve only having sex with Adam is "preferable"* to Steve having sex with Adam, Alan, Abraham, Andrew, Alex, Albert, Al, Alfred, Aaron, Anthony, and Al, etc. (those just being the As).

But the Church has always taught absolutely that gay sex acts themselves, always and by their very nature, are unloving. (Or is that erroneous too?)
* This strictly being a relative statement. Any wrong can be compounded (in this example by promiscuity, by degrading more people, by risking one's health and that of others). And thus, if not compounded, relatively less grave a matter than the compounded wrong.