10 January 2006
Recently a priest from New Jersey alleged in a
legal complaint that three members of the American hierarchy have been
homosexually active—Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, and Archbishop John
Myers of Newark, New Jersey. Another similar allegation was raised
previously against Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, New York. (Cf.
Kristen Lombardi, The Village Voice, 2-7-06)
I have nothing to say about any legal allegations.
They will play out in their own time and way.
Certainly, anyone who feels that they have a
legitimate claim of harm against someone else has the right to appeal to
the US courts for judgment and redress. That is the American way. As
everyone knows, claims of harm done by the sexual activity Catholic clergy
are nothing new. And the record stands on civil judgments against a number
of bishops who have abused minors.
This lawsuit—no matter its resolution in the
courts—raises questions far beyond the provability of sexual activity.
That is a daunting challenge.
The major consideration here is the question raised
by the Vatican in initiating the question: Are men of homosexual
orientation suitable candidates for ordination to the priesthood?
The Instruction the Vatican issued as a guide to
the investigation of American seminaries implies that men who have a (deep
seated) homosexual orientation are not acceptable candidates for seminary
education. Candidates who have a “transitory homosexual orientation”
—whatever that is— and others who apparently can make a heterosexual
appearance or pose for a certain length of time can pass muster.
Now what is new and raises the level of discourse
in the public arena is the question about the sexual orientation of all
clergy including cardinals and bishops. They can hardly be left out of
consideration and discourse. In fact, the hierarchy of the church is
exactly the place to begin to decipher the conundrum about orientation.
If questions about the sexual abuse of minors had
been discussed in the public arena of serious consideration rather than
kept secret in the back halls of chancery offices, in rumor, and wounded
hearts we all would be better off.
Now, Orientation, not behavior is the salient
Here, Investigation and not accusation is the
Asking the question about a churchman’s orientation
some years ago would have been audacious if not downright improper.
To enter into productive
dialogue about sexual orientation some clear distinctions have to be made.
Sexual orientation is a moderately stable predetermined preference
for one gender or the other as a sexual partner. It is basically a fact of
Orientation is distinct from behavior.
Sexual orientation carriers with it, in itself, no moral
implication. There is no sin or virtue attached to having one or the other
This fact is complicated by two factors: social stigma and the
Catholic Church’s convoluted pronouncement that men and women who have a
homosexual orientation are inclined toward an “intrinsic evil,” and are
“intrinsically disordered.” This opinion cannot stand the test of reason
or scientific investigation. The doctrine of Original Sin that all
humanity shares is sufficient moral ground for anyone’s sinful
The stigma about homosexual orientation is a social problem equal
to the stigmas about race and religion that have been, and are still being
fought in the arena of social justice. The Catholic Church is essentially
dedicated to the pursuit of justice; even if its history has been spotty
and its response slow, it ultimately comes out on the side of justice.
This is not a project of “outing.” It is an honest dialogue
wittingly or not, initiated by the Vatican.
The object of this project is not finger pointing, shame or guilt.
I have long deliberated
on how to advance the discourse about the sexual/celibate tradition of the
Catholic Church. Since human sexuality affects us all, lay people and
clergy alike, the task is multi-faceted and impossibly daunting. In trying
to promote dialogue I disclose my assumptions.
I hold that in the constant tradition of the Catholic
Church, homosexually oriented clergy have been held in equal regard as
heterosexually oriented clerics. The history of saints and popes, founders
and reformers of religious orders are clear evidence that sexual
orientation was not a factor in their sanctity or religious productivity.
The concept of sexual orientation is a recently
defined way of understanding human nature and behavior. Previously, both
moralists and scientists measured and made their judgments on “acts.”
There is no scientific proof that one sexual orientation is
superior or inferior to the other. There is no scientific proof that one
orientation is more capable of practicing religious celibacy than another.
Church documents from the earliest recorded writings and
councils deal with the sexual misbehavior (sins) of clergy. These records
are consistent and voluminous. They condemn concubinage and counsel sexual
abstinence even by priests within legitimate marriages. Documents also
condemn sexual acts of clergy, between themselves and especially with
The Catholic Church has every right to include only one
gender in its priesthood despite the growing number of laypeople and
clergy who question the wisdom of excluding married men and women from its
The Church has every right to require a promise or vow of
celibacy—non-marriage and perfect and perpetual chastity (canon 277)—as a
condition for ordination and the practice of priestly functions.
There is no proof that heterosexually oriented men practice
celibacy in any greater numbers than homosexually oriented men. In fact
the history of celibate violation seems to record just the opposite. A
priest sociologist from South Africa (Victor Kotze, 1991) found that 45
percent of priests were sexually active in a 2-year period prior to his
study. Even currently responsible records (2002) show that 50 percent of
Swiss priests have relationships with women. In Germany 30 percent of
priests appear to have more or less continuous sexual relationships with a
woman. A study of Spanish priests (Pepe Rodriguez, 1995) claims that 53
percent of priests are sexually active with adult women, while 21 percent
are sexually active with adult men. This examiner states that 26 percent
of priests have been sexually active with minors (14 percent with minor
boys, and 12 percent with minor girls.) In all, 65 percent of sexually
active priests chose partners of the opposite sex. (Cf.
Fights the Numbers )
The Vatican, in effect, if not in intention is in the
process of making scapegoats of homosexually oriented priests (and men)
under the mistaken illusion that there is a relationship between
homosexuality (an orientation) and pedophilia-ephebophilia (a particular
object of sexual desire). There is not one shred of scientific evidence to
support that assumption.
The Catholic Church does have major problems and faces epic
challenges in the area of its sexual moral teaching and practice.
In the light of the history of the Catholic Church, it is
highly unlikely that it will be successful in excluding homosexually
oriented men from its ranks. It is even more unlikely that the effort will
solve its problems about celibate practice.
Serious questions also arise about the church’s right to
eliminate from priesthood a segment of the gender it qualifies for
ordination on the basis of an orientation that has been erroneously and
arbitrarily labeled “intrinsically disordered.” There is no more
scientific evidence for that judgment than exists for supporting the idea
that the sun revolves around the earth. With its current sexual/celibate
moral perspective the Church is reenacting the same quality and order of
scientific error that it made at the time of Galileo.