Monday, March 05, 2007

Utah Mass update

According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, the anonymous tipster was correct -- the gay Masses in Park City are no more. The article even quotes Father Orthometer. As I've said, I hope and am confident that this is not the end of diocesean ministry to homosexuals. But a couple of points.

(1) Monsignor Robert Bussen says he did not do the gay Masses as a cause celebre -- "If it's to be about me, it can't continue." Now ... I don't mean any of what follows to be construed as implying anything about particular priests being bad or good. But this furor was about him. Or to be precise, it was about his idea of gay ministry.

It seems to me pretty elementary stuff that, apart from all else, you don't want people in ministry to homosexuals, or any definable group, to be men who struggle with that sin themselves (if our Courage chaplain said he did, I'd swear he was lying). Much less doing so semi-publicly as "Father B" was.

There's also the matter of doctrine, which should not dissemble or water-down what the Church teaches or play down the radicalness of Christ's call to die to self. But the SLC Tribune said the monsignor also "attended a meeting of Dignity, a organization of Catholics whose stated mission is to change the church's doctrine on gay marriage. And he joined other religious leaders at an interfaith service during the Winterpride Festival in February." If those aren't alarm bells, nothing is.

And apparently the alarm bells went off. A parishioner recorded the gay Mass and said that while priests are "not supposed to be ambiguous as far as church teachings are concerned" (I cited the Church document below), the sermon left the impression that "it's OK to be a practicing homosexual." "This is not about Father Bob. He's a wonderful, caring man. We just want to be sure that he's representing the views of the church," the man said.

To re-cite then-Cardinal Ratzinger (Section 15 here):
But we wish to make it clear that departure from the Church's teaching, or silence about it, (emphasis mine) in an effort to provide pastoral care is neither caring nor pastoral.
(2) I'm really not sure how public priests who struggle with homosexuality should be. Or rather, I'm certain they should be private and discreet, but don't want to say it should be an absolute secret that should never be broached. I'm pretty open with people who already know me, especially if religious or conservative, but I would never make a public speech.

But those are situational judgments. Monsignor Bossen seems to be trying to have it all ways. On the one hand he says:
"In the Catholic Church, the emphasis should not be on the personality of the priest. It asks us not to make public declarations. There should not be the gay priest and the straight priest. I have never told my parishioners that I am straight or gay. I simply try to be their pastor."
Fair enough. But then there's the following:
He points to a recent survey in which a small percentage of priests said they were straight and an equally small number said they were gay, but the vast majority said they didn't know. They all take vows of celibacy, after all.
Eliminating healthy talk of sexuality is dangerous, even for celibate priests, he says.
"Celibacy does not mean you're not a sexual being. If you suppress your sexuality, it's going to come out somewhere else. It will do violence to you or the people you serve - alcoholism, power-seeking, pornography, workaholism and abuse."
Well ... which is it? Should priests not "suppress [their] sexuality" in the interests of not having it "come out somewhere else"? Or should they have no sexual identity, lest parishioners think of them as the straight priest or the gay priest?

Still ... I wrote the following on Amy Welborn's site a couple of years ago:
In fact, particularly for a young boy struggling with latent homosexuality, a chaste gay priest might be the best friend he could have. If nothing else, such a priest would personify the Church teaching that these inclinations are not the end of the world even if they never go away, and that the boy is still called to serve God somehow and be part of the Church family somehow.
So am I trying to have it both ways, too?


Anonymous said...

What does it mean for a celibate to identify as "gay"? If it means simply, to use Courage-speak, "same-sex attracted," then I suppose a priest could identify as gay and be faithful to his vows. Yet, "gayness" carries a lot of baggage with it, and, I think, includes the rejection of church teaching regarding the disorder of homosexuality. Maybe not in all cases, but I wouldn't trust a priest who identified as celibate and gay. I think of Fr. Mychal Judge, who, despite the fact that he lived chastely, the Dignity crowd has developed a cult promoting his cause as the "gay" priest martyr. I can only imagine the scandal that has caused among those who knew him just as a priest, not a gay priest. Any individual priest - or layman for that matter - should have confessors and close friends in whom he can confide and be honest about his struggles, whatever they may be. But I can't see any good coming from having self-identified gay-but-chaste clergy. I would rather not know that Fr. Chuck, as my pastor, is struggling with SSA, just as I don't really want to know that he struggles with eating disorders, alcoholism, or any other disorder. Does an alcoholic priest make a better pastor to the alcoholic?

Anonymous said...

Interested in your comments on this.

CourageMan said...

I agree that "gay" carries a lot of baggage, which is why I try to avoid it to the extent current linguistic convention and natural readability permits (it's simply impossible to always avoid). So I wouldn't put too much weight on the fact I said "chaste gay priest" in my old note at Amy's.

But a lot turns on what you mean about "struggles." I don't think any man, anywhere on the Kinsey scale, should be a priest if he is discontented about, unhappy with, or cannot live continently in, the celibate state. Nor should a man who identifies himself as "gay" in his moments of reflection. And maybe Father Chuck shouldn't make a general public announcement for the world to see.

But yet ... my own experience with other Christians, where it's never been an issue with anybody who knew me as me (admittedly I'm not a priest), tells me that there might be some situations where a priest shouldn't fear the confidence of others. It can become gossip sure ("did you HEAR about Father Chuck," etc.), but at least in the paradigm case I see as being helpful (a parishioner struggling with "that" and thinking of leaving the Church over it), a few personal words from "Father Chuck" can be a powerful witness and the eprson benefiting has an overwhelming incentive to keep them quiet.

I also think though that, however analogous the disorders of alcoholism and homosexuality may be considered in themselves, the objective social situation does make a pastoral difference. Alcoholics Anonymous is not trying to subvert the Church or change teaching; nobody argues about or even doubts that you can be an alcoholic and a Catholic; alcoholic-rights is not one of the nation's most contentious political and social issues. Counterwitness to the current culture is much more needed in re homosexuality than alcoholism. (I argued below for celibacy on that very point.)

Park City parish member said...

Thank you for your insight. I agree. Please keep Fr Bob in your prayers.