13 September 2005

Chastity and the Priesthood

Archbishop O’Brien, the Archbishop for all military ministries, and the head of a Vatican directed evaluation of all U.S. seminaries, stated to the Catholic Register, yesterday that most gay candidates for the priesthood struggle to remain celibate and that the church must "stay on the safe side" by restricting their enrollment.

For info on the Catholic Church’s previous teachings on this subject, and whether or not this conflicts with the Church’s ministry, click on “Read the Full Post!” below.

In Aug, the Archbishop O’Brien says:
The American prelate overseeing a sweeping Vatican evaluation of every seminary in the United States said yesterday that most gay candidates for the priesthood struggle to remain celibate and that the church must "stay on the safe side" by restricting their enrollment.

O'Brien, who leads the Archdiocese for the Military Services in Washington, said that "there are some priests ... with same-sex attractions and they've done very well" remaining celibate.
"But generally speaking, in my experience, the pressures are strong in an all-male atmosphere," he said. "And if there have been past failings, the church really must stay on the safe side. ... The same-sex attractions have gotten us into some legal problems."
O'Brien had told the National Catholic Register, an independent newsweekly, that "anyone who has engaged in homosexual activity, or has strong homosexual inclinations, would be best not to apply to a seminary and not to be accepted into a seminary," even if they had been celibate for a decade or more. O'Brien told The Associated Press that the church is not "hounding" gays out of the priesthood but wants to enroll seminarians who can maintain their vows of celibacy. The church considers gay relationships "intrinsically disordered."

The debate over gays in the priesthood reached a crisis point last year when a study that the U.S. bishops commissioned from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found that most of the alleged abuse victims since 1950 were adolescent boys.

The exact number of gay seminarians is not known. Estimates vary dramatically from one-quarter to more than half of all American priest candidates. However, several Catholic leaders say the gay presence is so large that heterosexual seminarians feel alienated and that many have dropped out over the years. Yet, even these leaders concede there is no easy way to enforce a ban on gay priest candidates, since many do not discover they are homosexual until after they enroll and others may hide their sexual orientation from seminary administrators.



So, what was Church doctrine regarding gays prior to this? You might be surprised, it has been largely misunderstood. However, the Church laid out its position on pastoral care to homosexuals in a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the Bishops of the Catholic Church, in 1986. Such letters are considered to be an explanation of Church doctrine, and are considered the Church’s formal stance on the subject of the letter. This particular letter was written by Cardinal Ratzinger, then the prefect of the Congregation, now known as Pope Benedict XVI.
This letter, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Epistula de pastorali personarum homosexualium cura), October 1st, 1986), states in part:

Christians who are homosexual are called, as all of us are, to a chaste life. As they dedicate their lives to understanding the nature of God's personal call to them, they will be able to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance more faithfully and receive the Lord's grace so freely offered there in order to convert their lives more fully to his Way.

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.

It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.


So, the Church does not consider a person “hetero” or “homo”. It merely regards the acts, and calls on all persons to be chaste. To help explain this wording, I referenced the Catholic apostolate called COURAGE. It “ministers to those with same-sex attractions and their loved ones” and has “been endorsed by the Pontifical Council for the Family,” and its website is published with Ecclesiastical permission. So, we can consider it to be a reliable and truthful explanation of Church doctrine.

First, people with homosexual attractions (even though the Church will not call anyone homosexual or heterosexual, I will, with no disrespect intended, call them “gay” from here on out for ease of reading) are called to lead a chaste life. So, what does the Church –mean- by Chastity?

Chastity is "the use of the sexual function has its true meaning and moral rightness only in true marriage"

So, Chastity is having sex only in the context of a marriage. And since the Church does not recognize marriage between any but a man and a woman, in order to be Chaste, gays must abstain. To expand on this, I turn back to the website:

First of all, no one is condemned or excluded by Catholic teaching or policy for homosexuality. And secondly, the Church is not singling out any one type of sexual sin. The Church says adultery, polygamy, and any other form of sexual activity outside the marriage of a man and a woman are all harmful and wrong.

So, all forms of “illicit” sex are right out, not just gay sex. And it is gay sex that is the sin, not being gay itself. Again, to the website:

The Church says it's not a sin to have such feelings, but it is an objective disorder, a problem.

The Church says it is a disorder because:
The same-sex feelings do not lead to strengthening the union between a man and woman nor to the procreation of a child therefore they are considered objectively disordered but not sinful in and of themselves.

So, it is basically down to the old adage of hate the sin, love the sinner. As the Congregation letter stated:
"It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs."

The website expands on this:
Some people despise those who struggle with homosexual attractions. The Church condemns any expressions of that attitude, for instance: anti-gay or anti-lesbian jokes, verbal and physical attack, social exclusion, rejection of friends or family members, avoidance of the topic of homosexuality, and so on. That behavior is all very wrong. It's what the Church calls "a sin against charity." People with homosexual struggles face many challenges. They need love and encouragement, not mistreatment.

Since gays, in order to remain in communion with the Church, are required to be chaste, many see the priesthood as a natural avenue for pursuing their faith. After all, one of the biggest challenges of the priesthood is Chastity and Celibacy, which a gay person would have to practice anyway. Hence the perception is, many of our priests might be gay.

So, my questions are these:
First: Chastity is required of all who would enter the priesthood. This means no sex outside of marriage, be it fornication, adultery, or homosexual sex. Or masturbation, for that matter. All means of breaking this Chastity mentioned above are considered a grave problem, and makes one unsuitable for the priesthood. So why is the Archbishop focusing only on one? Why is he not suggesting we forbid those who had sex outside of marriage, period, from entering the seminary? Or those who simply had a struggle to remain chaste? To do otherwise would seem to violate notion that the Church condemns the exclusion of those who experience homosexual attraction, as indicated in the Pope’s own writings and stated explicitly by a Church-endorsed group.

Second: Why is the investigation into the child molestation problem focusing on possible gay priests? Is there some evidence that the majority of the offenders were gay? Because that does not jibe with evidence from other sources – most child molesters are, other than sickos, not gay. The research referenced through the link above has “failed to find a connection between homosexuality and child molestation.” Studies indicate that a “molester was a gay or lesbian adult in … fewer than 1%” of cases.

This seems to me to be simply a way to blame the Church’s problems on a sector of society it already marginalizes. It instead needs to focus on the real roots of the problem – how pedophiles do not get identified prior to beginning to minister to the Church, and how to remove them promptly once they are identified. Do not use this tragedy to push a separate agenda – it is disingenuous, and not befitting an institution of God.
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