Tuesday, September 27, 2005

exceptions make the no-gays rule

THE forthcoming Vatican document on gays in seminaries will unleash a wrenching debate about Catholicism and homosexuality, but one thing it is certain not to mean is that in the future there will be no gays in the priesthood. The continued presence of gays in the priesthood will be the product not just of difficulties in enforcement, or the dishonesty of potential candidates, but also of design.

Although this is a difficult point for many Anglo-Saxons to grasp, when the Vatican makes statements like "no gays in the priesthood," it doesn't actually mean "no gays in the priesthood." It means, "As a general rule, this is not a good idea, but we all know there will be exceptions."


On background, some such officials have said that the point of the forthcoming document is to challenge the conventional wisdom in the church, which holds that as long as a prospective priest is capable of celibacy, it doesn't matter whether he's gay or straight. Vatican policymakers and some American bishops believe that's naïve. In an all-male environment, they contend, a candidate whose sexual orientation is toward men faces greater temptations and hence a greater cause for concern.

Read the whole thing here. I'm not sure how accurate this all is, but one hopes that it is accurate-ish. There certainly should be pastoral concern for gays living in close quarters in an all male environment. But I reiiterate my view that homosexuality is like any other sexual sin, and I doubt anyone out there is immune from sexual temptations of one sort or another. If its true that homosexuality should not be viewed as especially problematical, and that we are all tempted sexually in various ways, then that one is prone to temptaion (of any sort) ought not, of itself, bar one from the priesthood.


Thorpus said...

If we view the matter only as who's tempted and how often, I agree with you, WB. But I don't think that's all that's at stake in this decision. That's like saying the whole hubub in the Anglican communion right now is all about sex. It's not, of course, it's about a whole pack of theologies, anthropologies, hermeneutics, and cultural ideas that have long been at the root of ecclesiastical conflict, but have only now been exposed. Same with having gay men in the priesthood: there's a whole pack of theologies, anthropologies, and hermeneutics that go along with the proposition that 'God made me gay.' Whether that person is willing and able to be celibate or not, you still have the problem of that whole system of ideas, which, if taught and endorsed from behind a clerical collar, can be damaging to the faithful. It's the ideas that started all this in the first place, not the behaviors, not the temptations. The Vatican is right to strike at the ideas.

father wb said...

But I don't think accepting that "God makes some people gay" is entailed in allowing (celibate) homosexuals to be priests. All one would have to recognize is that some people are gay (for whatever reason). Its not the fact of being gay that is forbidden by Scripture, but rather homosexual sex.

Maybe some people can be healed from being gay. I don't know. The gays I have known would incline me to think that not all can in fact be healed. But who knows? The fact though, again, is that gay sex is forbidden by Scripture (and as far as I know, by tradition), and not being tempted gayly, as it were.

Thorpus said...

so it depends on what it means to 'be gay.' If that means that a person has learned a sinful sexuality including behavior and attraction, and that that learned sexuality, despite his repentence and embrace of Christian morals, touched him so deeply that he cannot now unlearn the thing he learned or be rid of the inner impulses he taught himself to desire, then I agree with you. But I would not say that such a person is gay. I would say they are a person, like anyone else (denying ontological status to homosexuality), who struggles against temptations, like anyone else. And such a person I would be happy to ordain, although I would hesitate to send him to a Roman Catholic seminary.

But if 'being gay' means either that 1. the person has not acknowledged the gay lifestyle as sinful and hence is not in a state of repentence for it; or 2. that the person has repented of the behavior but still believes the falsehood that such inclinations are God-given or genetic or of any source other than the invention of human sinfulness, I don't think he should be ordained. In the first case i think we agree, so I won't belabor it. The second case the person is in an unstable position: he's repented of a behavior that he isn't sure is wrong, or that he believe is wrong for reasons other than those God gives in the scripture. This instability is dangerous in anyone but is especially inappropriate in a Christian leader who is supposed to model not only Christian behavior but also Christian ideology.