Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Homosexuality And The Priesthood

A number of bloggers, including Amy Welborn in this recent post, have been discussing whether homosexual men should be ordained priests. I agree with much of Amy's post (though not her ultimate conclusion on this issue). At the heart of it really is the question of whether the candidate is committed to live a celibate life (as is the Church's current, default rule) and to live and teach the authentic Catholic faith. If a man cannot do that -- whether he is heterosexual or homosexual --, he shouldn't be ordained a priest.

That said, I think the bishops could reasonably decide to adopt a policy against the ordination of homosexual men. This wouldn't be the Church saying that it is impossible for homosexual men to be ordained priests. Most would recognize and agree that there have been homosexual men who have lived chaste lives and have been excellent priests. Instead -- much like the celibacy rule itself -- it would be a statement that the Church believes, considering all the factors, that the Body would be better served by a heterosexual priesthood.

I see a couple of factors that might lead the Bishops to reach this conclusion. First, there is the current scandal. We would be like an ostrich with its head in the sand if we didn't admit that the reported cases do suggest that, among those priests who engage in sexual abuse of youth, homosexual priests may be disproportionally represented. I think a lot more homework needs to be done, but to ignore the possibility and not examine it further would be naive.

Unlike the trend among many Protestants, as Catholics we believe the Church confirms whether a man has a vocation to the priesthood. That a man might want to be a priest isn't enough. In carrying out its evaluation, it is proper for the bishops to look at not only what the man says he believes now and says is his commitment to celibacy and Church teachings, but also the likelihood that the man will live out such commitments. Our culture is shifting to one that vehemently opposes the idea that engaging in homosexual acts is wrong and that marriage can only take place between a man and a woman. I think the Bishops can rightly ask the question whether a homosexual man presently committed to a celibate life and the Church's teachings on marriage will be able to maintain that commitment despite the pressures of the culture. I have witnessed too many friends whose views and beliefs have radically changed after they publicly identified themselves as being gay. Too many reject the Church's nuanced position that regardless of whether one's homosexual attractions are chosen or innate, one does have the free will to choose not to engage in homosexual acts. I am sure openly gay priests face the societal pressure to reject this teaching even more so.

By the way, this isn't to say that the Church should only ordain proven saints. We would be in trouble if that were the case. But the Church should rightly consider whether a candidate is likely to successfully live out the vocation.

Then there is the question of scandal and perception of the public and laity. In our current culture, it may be of some concern that Catholics ignorant of the Church's position might assume the ordination of a homosexual man carries with it an endorsement and acceptance of everything society says about homosexuality. Certainly, a heterosexual priest would cause scandal and have sinned if he has sex with a woman, given his vow of celibacy and his unmarried state. But the act of having sex with a woman does have a context in which it can be properly expressed, namely, marriage. A homosexual priest would cause scandal and have sinned if he has sex with a man, given his vow of celibacy, his unmarried state, and the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. There is no context in which sex with another man can be properly expressed. This is the reason why the Church often refers to homosexual attractions as being "gravely disordered".

Whether the differences mentioned in the previous paragraph, along with the other reasons, is enough to justify a rule prohibiting the ordination of homosexual men is a question for which I don't have the definitive answer. Ultimately, it is a judgement call. But it is the bishop's call to make -- not mine -- as the priests he ordains are an extension of his ministry.

If the bishops adopt such a rule, it will be more important to discern why they did. As a quick fix to the current scandal? If that's the motivation, we can all be disappointed. As has been noted here and elsewhere, the current scandal is a symptom (albeit a serious one) of a deeper problem. If the policy is part of a bishop's true rededication to his vocation as shepherd of God's people, at least take heart that we might see real change and commitment to the Gospel (whether you think this particular rule is necessary or desired).


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