THE VATICAN HAS A RIGHT TO BE WRONG
The Vatican has a right to accept or refuse acceptance to any Catholic Seminary for any reasons it sees fit. People may not like the stated restrictions, disagree with the conditions the Vatican sets, or even hold in disdain the Pope’s reasoning. But the pope has his rights.
Also a pope can be wrong in his decisions and reasoning. It is debatable whether or not his recent document about the rejection of gay men for seminary training and ordination is wise or right. It certainly raises a lot of questions. “Transitional homosexuality” is new vocabulary. What that seems to include are attractions and behavior determined largely by circumstance. Fair enough. Can there also be transitional heterosexuality?
Does the very homosocial clerical culture form circumstances that produce homosexual attraction and behavior in men who would other wise not transition?
The answer to that is yes.
The greatest sexual danger to the church and ministry is not men who are neither in seminaries nor yet ordained.
Bishops, rectors, and spiritual directors of seminaries—straight or gay—who are sexually active constitute the church that, in the words of Pope Benedict XI, needs to be “purified.” The recent Instruction sets these men up as the arbiters of admittance and training. Sexually active spiritual directors, novice masters, and confessors do exist (in significant numbers) in Catholic seminaries. Some even get affectively and sexually involved with their students. It is common. I repeat, those kinds of relationships are very common.
Priests and bishops who are sexually active—straight and gay—and yet resist sexual involvement with their seminarian confidants, nonetheless contribute to a climate of sexual permissiveness. The “sexual culture” that Pope John Paul II decried is not limited to the secular world, nor is it even most potent outside the clerical culture. The sexual abuse crisis of minors proves beyond any doubt that clerical culture maintains a reservoir of secretly sexually active clerics—straight and gay. The abuse of minors by bishops and priests is merely the fumes from that secret depository. The crisis is a symptom of the frank corruption of the system that professes celibacy but neither trains for it nor practices it in large enough numbers to absorb the inevitable lapses of some pursuing such a high ideal.
One basic problem of the priesthood is the failure of cardinals, bishops, religious superiors, and priests to practice the celibacy they profess. In no way is that failure restricted to gays—transitional, deep seated, or otherwise.
A more fundamental problem of the Catholic Church today is its perpetuation and repetition of its Galileo mentality. The church wants to impose an anathema on dissenters who point out that certain questions are basically scientific and not biblical.
Sexual human nature, or more precisely the nature of human sexuality, is essentially a series of scientific puzzles - surely only in the process of definition and discovery. Certainly the Bible and tradition have moral lessons to teach, but the Bible is no more a guide to the nature of sexuality than it is in the field of astronomy.
One thing is absolutely certain: there is not one shred of scientific evidence that substantiates a claim that gays are less capable of fulfilling the demands of celibacy than straights.
Beyond that, there is no evidence that gays are less honest, responsible, loyal, reasonable, charitable, or human than straights. Think about it.
The Vatican’s understanding of sexual nature—gay and straight—is in a pre-Copernican lock. Will the Vatican insist on Galileo-like excommunication trials, Giordano Bruno burnings at the stake, and several hundred years of embarrassing denial of nature to break the lock?
No matter what, the church’s stance on sex is plain wrong. And our hope for the Church is that it will find more reasonable means to deal with this crisis than in the past.
One thing is clear: the Church is off beam in targeting homosexuals for its current crisis in the priesthood.THE VATICAN STARTED THE DISCUSSION
When Rome speaks it intends that issues should be closed—finished. Thus there is an ancient saying: Roma locuta. Causa finita est. (Rome has spoken. The cause is finished.)
Rome has now spoken about sexual orientation and suitability for the ministry. Rather than ending any discussion about homosexual (or heterosexual) orientation and the ability of men to maintain celibacy as suitable candidates for the priesthood by indicating that gay orientation disqualifies a man for ordination, Rome has taken the lid off the proverbial Pandora’s box.
The Instruction issued by the Pontifical Commission on Education hedges its bets by confining the interrogations to candidates for training and listing qualifiers like transitional homosexuality, support of gay lifestyles, deep-seated homosexuality, and the ability to practice celibacy for three years prior to ordination as positive or negative indicators and guidelines for accepting men into seminaries and religious orders. The ambiguous stipulations of the document preserve some semblance of cover and rationale for gay priests and bishops already in the ministry.
But those stipulations and confinement of the directive to candidates for seminaries or religious life will not end discussion, speculation, and opinions (nor should it) about the sexual orientation and the practice of celibacy of men already ordained and, most certainly must not exclude from investigation bishops and cardinals each of whom has a sexual orientation.
Sexual orientation is not discovered at the same time that one discovers gender identity, which is at first a discovery of a difference between boys and girls and later as awareness that one is a boy or a girl.
Sexual orientation is a personal awareness of one’s preference for a sexual partner of the opposite or same sex. A person discovers his or her orientation over time through fantasies, feelings, dreams, attractions, impulses, experience, and experimentation. Only persons—him or herself—can know for certain their sexual orientation and their preference for the gender of a sex partner. The instruction gives proof of this by counseling candidates to be forthcoming and honest about their orientation (self-awareness) when they apply for entrance to a seminary.
Orientation can be firmly set during adolescence, but not always consolidated into a solid sense of identity even until much later in life. Orientation can remain ambiguous for long periods of one’s life. Psychologist and former priest Eugene C. Kennedy has written about the asexuality of churchmen whose sexuality seems to be submerged under and superceded by their experience and position of power.
Other elements in addition to clerical culture, for instance psychic development, stress, loneliness, a sense of a need to compromise one’s intended ideal with one’s sexual drive in order to survive—(doubling), or availability of a sexual partner can modify (or disturb) one’s sense of preference. Orientation is variable most of all because “man is a loving animal, and he will love what is close to him.”
Many men in the armed forces during the past 65 years under the stress of battle, isolation from families, deprivation, and overwhelming life-threatening fear and loss, can relate how thin and permeable the membrane separating heterosexual and homosexual orientation can be. Their feelings of friendship nowhere before experienced make them aware of a capacity for love and closeness with men they did not imagine.
Prisoners (of war or not), men in specialized work circumstances, and Catholic priests and bishops among others can duplicate the same realization when faced with emotional or sexual isolation and deprivation.
At times this friendship and love are expressed by actions—direct mutual sexual gratification.
The capacity of heterosexual men to enjoy sex with a man and the same capacity of homosexual men to have straight sex is too well known to belabor here. But open discussion and scientific study about sexual orientation needs to be increased for the good of society, for the elimination of prejudice, and the development of rational moral standards. Consideration of the subject among Catholic clergy is right and just.
Over 45 years of studying celibacy and sex in the American priesthood has convinced me of several things:
Dropping the requirement of celibacy for the priesthood may come, but it will do far less for the church than if bishops and priests who promise celibacy practice it.
More fundamentally, the church is at Copernican moment. It must rethink its understanding of human sexuality. The challenge cannot be answered alone by the bible or tradition. We are in an epic moment when science and experience must prevail in defense of reason and religion. The credibility and integrity of the clergy is but one aspect of the sexual crisis of our time.
The clergy alone, however, cannot solve our present larger-than-life crisis. The intellectual and spiritual resources of the laity—single, married, heterosexual, and homosexual as equal partners—with their knowledge, experience, and efforts are necessary to meet the daunting task before us all—making sense out of sexuality.
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 question.
Here, Investigation and not accusation is the proper mode.
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.
1. Sexual orientation is a moderately stable predetermined preference for one gender or the other as a sexual partner. It is basically a fact of nature.
2. Orientation is distinct from behavior.
3. Sexual orientation carriers with it, in itself, no moral implication. There is no sin or virtue attached to having one or the other orientation.
4. 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 inclinations.
5. 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.
6. This is not a project of “outing.” It is an honest dialogue wittingly or not, initiated by the Vatican.
7. 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 minor boys.
· 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 ranks.
· 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. Vatican 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.
It is clear to me that all of us who care about the Catholic Church need to talk—directly, honestly, and openly.
In a play, The Prince of L A, author Dekin Matthews constructs a fictional drama in which Matthew Cardinal John of Los Angeles is called upon to deal with the sexual allegations by a priest (Kieran O’Reilly) in another diocese against his bishop (Aloysius Thornton). The cardinal, his secretary-canon lawyer, (Fr. Paul Munoz) and a nun-pastoral-minister (Sr. Dominic) examine the facts of the case. Penetratingly, profoundly, and poignantly they expose the actual sexual dynamics of the Catholic Church more incisively than any media coverage of child abuse by clergy has done so far. The accusing priest reveals that a priest-professor sexually abused him already while he was in the seminary. The bishop admits that he was sexually involved with Kieran and confesses that he is “in love” with him. In one exchange Fr. Paul tells Mathew John that half of the priests in his archdiocese think that the cardinal is gay. When the cardinal asks “Which half?” Paul says “the straight half.” (Cf. Denys Horgan, NCR 11-18-05)
Beyond dramatic presentations, the sexual abuse crisis in the United States has focused the media, the courts, lay people, the hierarchy, and the Vatican on a whole range of questions about the sexual activity of Catholic clergy and the need to protect, especially children, from harm. The Vatican in 2005 instituted a visitation of Catholic seminaries in the United States. The question of the relationship between sexual orientation and suitability for ministry in the Roman Catholic priesthood is one important topic in that inquiry. (Cf. INSTRUMENTUM LABORIS for the Apostolic Visitation of the Seminaries and Houses of Priestly Formation in the United States of America. Vatican 2005. also Roma Locuta: Causa Aperta Est. 01-10-06 www.richardsipe.com)
Discourse on the topic of sexual orientation and ministry cannot be limited to candidates for seminary training once the Vatican opened the door to that question by investigation. The broader question of orientation within the Catholic priesthood naturally comes up for consideration and discussion. (Cf. Sexual Orientation and the American Roman Catholic Bishops. 02-10-06 www.richardsipe.com)
Only a person can be certain of his own orientation and the particular mix of his drives. As explained in earlier discussions, the consciousness of one’s sexual orientation is a process of self-discovery. The dictum Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been used within the Catholic priesthood long before it was applied to the US armed forces. The legitimate theory supporting this stance for Catholic clergy was that any man ordained to the priesthood had to make a prior promise of perfect and perpetual chastity and non-marriage—that is, celibacy. Therefore sexual orientation really had no practical effect in considering a candidate for ministry. Progress in the psychological understanding of sex and celibacy forces all who care about the church to search for deeper consideration of both subjects.
· In considering the subject it must be remembered that sexual orientation and sexual behavior are distinct entities.
· Having an opinion about a person’s sexual orientation is in no way an accusation of any particular sexual activity or wrongdoing.
· There should be no moral judgment attached to a person’s sexual orientation. This is a sustained teaching of the Catholic Church. (In spite of some recent statements that imply such a judgment, i.e. inclination toward an intrinsic evil, which we reject)
· There is no medical or psychiatric diagnosis attached to a sexual orientation.
· If there is currently some stigma attached to one or the other sexual orientation this bias is part of the evolution of social understanding and justice. The Catholic Church preaches social justice and is dedicated to fight against religious, racial, economic, gender, and human discrimination, injustice, and intolerance wherever it is found. Discrimination against people of one orientation or another should be combated by all Catholics in accord with the church’s tradition of social justice.
· Men of either sexual orientation can be, and many are, celibate in practice. Long-term studies of priests assert this.
· Men of either orientation can involve themselves is a variety of sexual activities regardless of their basic orientation. Behavior is not always an infallible proof of orientation.
· Sexual orientation is neither a guard against abuse nor an assurance of celibate observance.
· The sample that follows is not intended to embarrass anyone, but to indicate opinions and the public record that suggest (or allege) a man’s orientation.
· This inquiry seeks to promote responsible dialogue about issues of human sexuality that are of vital practical importance to Catholics, clergy and lay.
· This study is intended to help the Church reach reasonable and honorable decisions about its clergy and their formation, education, and supervision. The commissions the American Catholic Bishops established to help them deal with the sexual abuse crisis have highlighted deficiency in these areas. (Cf. The John Jay Report and The Report of National Review Board. 02-27-04)
· If there is a public record of allegations or admission of non-celibate activity, it should be presumed that a bishop can return to the practice of celibacy and even attain a refined spirituality in spite of, or even because of, any misadventures. Saint Augustine and Thomas Merton are but two examples of conversion and re-conversion to celibacy.
· Opinion is simply that—a point of view people take on an issue that can be based solely on personal judgment. Any person has a right to form an opinion of a public person and that opinion may or may not have well developed reasoning or multiple data behind it. Of course, the more data available for consideration the more useful are the opinions for discourse.
· Opinions about some member of the hierarchy are strongly colored when he has been identified by allegation or public knowledge of his behavior. Even that may or may not be a valid indicator of orientation.
· By asserting that one or the other member of the hierarchy seems to posses one or the other sexual orientation is in no way an allegation in the legal sense of the term that implies some wrongdoing or misbehavior. Every man posses a sexuality in spite of the fact that we are not use to discussing its nature. That oversight is harmful to the health of the church.
· The purpose of this opinion survey will be to garner some idea about the status of the sexual orientation of church leaders to aid in the education of candidates for the priesthood and promote reasonable dialogue among clergy and laity alike.
· Below is merely a sample of well-established opinions about some members of the hierarchy. The final survey report hopes to list a significant number of the current members of the hierarchy by State and Diocese.HIDING THE REALITY
Note: ON FEBRUARY 26, 2006 Cardinal-designate William Levada gave an address during the installation of the new rector of the American College in Rome. An article reporting the talk ran under the headline Levada urges gay priests to remain in closet. Reports from Rome say that he made a direct connection between homosexuality in the clergy and the pedophilia scandal.
These are grave errors for someone in his position to make. He also referred to the harm done by priests who announce their homosexual orientation as if the faithful are too ignorant to make the distinction between orientation and behavior.
The Vatican is quite confused about sex, as is demonstrated in its Instruction on the Visitation of Seminaries where it talks about “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” and “transitional homosexuality” and suggests that three years of sexual abstinence (presumably homosexual) qualifies one to practice celibacy for life. The confusion that leads church leaders to ask homosexually oriented priests to remain closeted only increases the opportunity and danger for good priests—heterosexual and homosexual—to carry on secret, non celibate lives.
Celibacy, not secrecy is the guide to sexual integrity.
The Roman Catholic Church cannot re-establish its integrity or its credibility until it is clear about the distinction between sexual orientation and behavior; between homosexuality and pedophilia; and the real meaning of celibate practice. To neglect open and honest dialogue leaves the church and clergy open to ridicule, and worse, hypocrisy.
In posting the following names it must be clear that there is no accusation of sexual activity on the part of anyone named. This is distinct from the Anglican Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire who professed not only his orientation but revealed his male partner. Certainly, listed here are opinions—some would say “allegations”—of orientation. Each name has been closely vetted based on some—usually public—facts that can lead to a reasonable opinion. (This section was written March 1)
We publish at this time some preliminary results of our study of the sexual orientation of American bishops.
I can already say with reasonable psychological certainty that 34% of the American Hierarchy have a homosexual orientation or have been involved in homosexual activity.
As of March 5, I had submitted a list of 55 names of the American hierarchy to 12 well-informed Catholics, clergy and lay, in the United States, Europe, (and Rome). Of the total names on the list, 10 are alleged to be heterosexual in orientation.
None of the consultants had an argument with the names on the list; no one had any reservation about the designation of orientation or the substantiating data. But all except one (a person from Rome) discouraged the publication of the names at this time.
The strongest argument for delay is that the object of the study—to foster discussion on basic issues of celibate function in the priesthood and to establish clear distinctions between sexual orientation and behavior—would be lost behind a surge of sensationalism. A European scholar who understands my reasoning and the study pointed out that even a pope’s sexual orientation must eventually come up for consideration if the inquiry is followed to its logical conclusion.
I faced the same kind of caution and opposition before the publication of my study, A Secret World, in 1990. And of course, its publication led to a good deal of personal aspersions and “black-balling” from a number of the Catholic hierarchy; and I lost some friends. However, what I wrote then is now considered routine knowledge and raises little debate. At this age I hold little fear of personal repercussions or rejection because of my life work. Any teacher must be willing to risk misunderstanding.
But in my 1990 publication no names were used. This does change my current dilemma about publication. The problem in publishing this study—even in its preliminary but well-substantiated form—is that it does name names. This could be construed as an attack. That is not, and has never been the object of the research.
So, I am, on the advice of people who, like me, are concerned with the welfare of the church, going to postpone the publication of the first part of my study on the sexual orientation of the American hierarchy.
My contention, based on all my years of the study of religious celibacy, is that many men ordained to the priesthood do not know their sexual orientation. They are taught to avoid thinking about sex as a danger and temptation. This not only leaves them immature, but also vulnerable to the realities of their own sexual drives and the process of developing healthy affective relationships as they assume priestly duties. Pastoral ministry and contact becomes for them a sexual trap. Ignorance, fear, guilt, and shame are very poor guides for making solid moral decisions. Lack of knowledge of one’s orientation leads many well-intentioned and talented clerics—including bishops—into harmful sexual activity. The facts make it obvious. The problems will continue. The validity and usefulness of my observations will not go away because of a delay.
Suffice it to point out that Cardinal-designate Levada’s advice to 170 seminarians at the American College is counter-productive to the development of celibacy; it fosters hypocrisy and is destructive to the process of healthy personality integration.
Personal deception and dishonesty shatter credibility whenever they exist under the cloak of ignorance and secrecy. It is not necessary for anyone to announce his sexual orientation to be honest. Privacy and confidentiality are different than secrecy. What is essential to develop celibacy is for a person to know, accept, and live his life with sexual integrity. Celibacy will not flourish in any dark and secret heterosexual or homosexual clerical closet.
I am convinced that a person cannot enter into a reliable pursuit of religious celibacy unless he has an informed, clear, firm, and, accepting sense of his own sexual orientation. What ever it is. This is the context in which solid moral decisions can be made and emotional maturity can flourish.
The Vatican study of seminaries bets its reputation and money on the proposition that doctrinal orthodoxy will insure personality maturity and celibate conformity.
I do not know how to say it any more clearly: the stakes of history are against the equation that orthodoxy equates with virtue; scientific evidence rejects that proposition; reality defies that claim. Intellectual orthodoxy and conformity do not translate into or equate with moral behavior or virtuous choices. In fact, rigidity of mind and unquestioning adherence to someone else’s reasoning is a dangerous basis for intellectual, personality, and moral development.
I have tried for decades to convince bishops and rectors of seminaries—any of the few who would listen—to institute adequate training into the seminary curriculum that would match the life demand that celibacy requires. I have failed. In 1984, when I was still on the staff of a Pontifical Seminary I asked the rector to allow me to teach a semester course on How to Be Celibate. He said that it was unnecessary since the professor of moral theology spent two weeks on that subject in his course.
In the intervening years I have become less modest about my suggestion and more adamant about the demand that seminarians be educated about celibacy. I now am convinced that no less than a 3-year, 6-semester sequence should be required before a man is allowed to make a promise of life-long celibacy. That is not the only requirement. It is a minimum. In the process of dealing with hundreds of cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy—bishops and priests—I was asked to develop a syllabus for the 3-year sequence I proposed. Lawyers, not the church tendered that request. It was used as part of the non-monetary demands for the settlement of some sexual abuse cases. Neglect by superiors in selection, education, and supervision of the offending priests have been prominent in the large financial judgments imposed against the church.
In spite of all the words to the contrary I see zero to little progress in the church in coming to real terms with sexual failures and abuse by its ministers. The structural elements that have tolerated abuse are still firmly in place. Church authority simply does not take celibate practice seriously.
Instruction in the historical, physical, psychological and, pastoral dimensions of celibacy have to accompany the spiritual, ascetic, and sacramental aspects of this important commitment. If a priest has first a celibate vocation and then a vocation to priesthood (Cf. Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, 1990), as the Catholic Church teaches and requires he must be trained for that primary vocation.
The patch-dab occasional seminars on sexuality are not adequate to produce experts in celibacy—as every priest should be. Sexual/celibate training as it now exists in seminaries is window dressing at best, and harmful when it perpetuates the illusion that it fulfils the requirement for sex and celibacy instruction. Every priest should be as much of an expert on celibacy as he is in scripture. No seminary currently educates students to meet that obligation.
The seminary system instituted after the Council of Trent depended on IT to train men for celibate living. And most bishops still hold that belief. That training in regard to celibacy has failed miserably in many cases. Louis Tronson, the third Superior General of the Sulpicians (1676-1700), a society of priests dedicated to the education of priests, wrote: There are few priests who fulfill all [their] obligations; whence I infer a most dreadful consequence; There are few priests who will be saved. Sts. Bernard and Alphonsus Ligouri had even harsher judgments.
Lack of attention to teaching celibacy honestly and openly is not the only reason for the crisis of sexual activity and abuse by Catholic priests.
One among the reasons that seminary formation for celibacy fails is exactly what Archbishop Levada recommended—concealing, denying, and in effect not dealing with the issue of one’s sexual orientation.
Another major reason that training for celibacy fails in seminaries is that a significant number of the faculties are themselves sexually active. And beyond that, some of the faculty are sexually active with the seminarians they are teaching, counseling, or have in spiritual direction. Even priests on the faculty who are not sexually active are sometimes uneducated and over indulgent with students whose actions are evidently judged as “transitional”—in the words of the Vatican.
The church not only neglects adequate instruction on celibacy, it fails to examine what the system does to influence—encourage and produce—sexual activity. Secrecy and denial of reality continue to have their effects.
The claims that current criticism of the church, hierarchy, and the priesthood are signs of anti-Catholicism are false and the product of misguided public relations efforts. One has only to listen to the words of saints and reformers on the priesthood—Francis, Ignatius, Catherine of Sienna, Etc. among them—to know that those who care most about the church can be its most incisive critics. back to TopFACING THE QUESTION
The question of sexual orientation is not just an American question or merely a Catholic concern let alone the sole focus of Roman Catholic clergy. But it is an important human question in which religion, and Catholicism in particular, ought to take a lead in addressing—because justice and human rights are at stake every bit as much in this area as in issues of racial, religious, and ethnic justice.
One incident that brings the issue to mind is an Associated Press release on March 3, 2006 that notes that the publisher of a weekly newspaper in Cameroon (where homosexuality is illegal) was sentenced to four months in jail for publishing the names of people alleged to be gay or lesbian. (A Catholic Bishop was among those named.) The publication and subsequent trial led to a spike of anti-gay riots.
So much for understanding and tolerance—and rationality for that matter!
If a journalist publishes the names of people and identifies them as heterosexual is he also subject to the threat of incarceration?
Sex Not A Private-Personal Matter For a Priest
The declaration of sexuality for a priest is not a private matter. His promise of celibacy makes the promise of his sexual life an open book.
Religious celibacy is a freely chosen, dynamic state, usually vowed (promised) that involves an honest and sustained attempt to live without direct sexual gratification, in order to serve others productively, for a spiritual motive. [Oxford Companion to Christian Thought]
Catholic priests and religious are among an extremely small group of human beings who make their sexual practice—lack of it—public. The Church and the priest actually guarantee that clergy are sexually safe because a priest cannot be ordained or maintain his ministry if he is not celibate.
Some theologians who do not know the essence and the constant church teaching about celibacy try to rationalize that celibacy means only to remain unmarried. That is not what canon law says:
Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are obliged to observe celibacy, which is a special gift of God, by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and can more freely dedicate themselves to the service of God and humankind. (Canon 277)
Recently a priest-canon lawyer-from Catholic University of America argued, “In as much as celibacy refers to the obligation of remaining unmarried, no priest violates this obligation by sexual misconduct with minors or vulnerable adults. He does violate, however, his obligation of continence when he engages in any kind of sexual relationship.”
This is an argument cut from the same cloth posed by a religious superior that made the claim that “two or three failures in a year do not constitute a violation of celibacy.” I responded at the time that his reasoning means that a priest may abuse three minors a year and still claim celibacy; or even more audaciously, a priest could impregnate two or three women in a year and still claim celibacy.
A priest who was being investigated by the police protested that he was “celibate”—he had had sex with only 4 women and 10 men in the dozen years since his ordination. Another priest who was admitted to a hospital and diagnosed with AIDS claimed that such a conclusion was impossible since he was a “celibate.” The medical conclusion stood. This kind of reasoning is fallacious and insidious. Catholic lay people do not buy it; and bishops shouldn’t either.
But even educated and sophisticated priests like Andrew Greeley fail to make the distinction between the nominal identification “celibate”—a person who takes the vow—and a person who is practicing sexual abstinence. Scientific surveys conducted in connection with the Los Angeles Times render a conclusion by Greeley that priests are the “happiest” men in America. Greeley calls this group “celibates,” but no real effort is expended to determine the actual pattern and practice of celibacy.
Failures In Practice
Certainly failures in the practice of celibacy are possible. Masturbation is the most common sexual “sin” that bishops and priests commit. Most lay people would grant clergy a dispensation for that failure even when they hold themselves to a higher standard. They will not go along with sexual relationships with minors. No excuses. That behavior does not fall under the rubric of celibacy, neither does an on-going relationship with a woman or man, nor does the use of pornography. A failure can be understood; a pattern of behavior is different. Forgiveness of a failure is not denied, but hypocrisy is intolerable.
Tolerance for a human weakness in a priest or bishop does not demand that he expose each incidental sexual failing to public scrutiny, but that understanding does not extend to tolerance of a double life. Bishops or priests who have mistresses or male companions no longer qualify as “celibates,” no matter how understandable their behavior.
The first step toward making celibacy more teachable and more practicable is to clarify the distinction between orientation and behavior. By demonizing orientation and confusing it with a “tendency toward evil” we obscure the importance of behavior. Reality is blurred just as it is when we fail to make the distinction between “celibacy” as a designation and celibacy as an actual practice.
So at the heart of the matter are fairness in regard to sexual orientation and its clear operational distinction from sexual behavior. The Vatican is proceeding with its examination of Catholic seminaries in the United States. If representatives of an organization are going to demand a revelation of one’s orientation as a condition of employment, the ones demanding that condition should disclose theirs. The bishops and priests who are examining the seminaries with a mandate to eliminate homosexually oriented candidates from seminaries have a responsibility: In fairness the examiners must reveal their orientation to those examined. To do less makes a charade of the process and becomes a testament to hypocrisy. What is more the inquiry takes on the specter of a witch-hunt.
Sexual orientation is not to be equated with behavior. Orientation is a given of nature. Behavior involves choice. Character and behavior count in determining one’s fitness for ministry. Orientation does not.
The Unnecessary Hero
A few heroic and honest priests are emerging who have declared their sexual orientation. That is heroic because it is not necessary, and at this time may open them up for ridicule. But that act of honest defiance is a step toward a normalization of the reality of sexuality that will not be eliminated from bias and hate until orientations are recognized as differences like the color of skin or eyes.
No place is better suited to leading the way to clarity about sexual orientation than the Catholic Church. The reason? Catholic saints have demonstrated for centuries that homosexual orientation is not an impediment to service, holiness, or love. Neither is heterosexual orientation a guarantee of the same. The tradition of celibacy has been a service to humanity. Celibacy puts sexual orientations in their place—of no account as far as celibacy is concerned. Every sexual orientation is equally open to grace and redemption. Every orientation is capable of perversion.
Members of the foreign press corps in Rome talk freely among themselves about the orientation of Popes: Pius XII (divided opinion), John XXIII, heterosexual, Paul VI, homosexual, John Paul II, heterosexual, and Benedict XVI, homosexual. They are not talking about behavior, and certainly not about any deviancy, vice or virtue. They are making informed observations about orientation—not about denigration or praise, or qualitative evaluations, strength or weakness. They are recognizing one of the inevitable facts of human existence—everyone has a predominant sexual orientation.
The New Ways Ministry is a gay-positive ministry of advocacy, justice and reconciliation for lesbian and gay Catholics, families and friends. Since 1977 they have worked for justice and on behalf of lesbian and gay Catholics and reconciliation within the larger Christian and civil communities. I have known a number of straight priests who have aided and support the work of the ministry. Even they are overly careful not to identify orientation out side their own circle as if it were an insult or “crime”—not unlike Cameroon.
Likewise, DignityUSA is the United States' largest and most progressive organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Catholics. They make great efforts to counter the dishonest, hate-filled, anti-gay rhetoric so prevalent inside and outside the Catholic Church. The organization and its members have a wide spectrum of Catholics who support them and the ideals they stand for. The group is sensitive to the dishonesty among many bishops, priests and lay Catholics about sex, celibacy and sexual orientation. They too, are violently, or at least cautiously resistant, to dealing openly with the issues of orientation in the clergy. They still think of such talk as “outing”—forced exposure of ones orientation—rather than open honest consideration of facts rather than accusations or insults.
Until the Catholic Church leads the way to reason, justice, and honesty in all matters sexual the crisis in the Church and among the clergy will continue and prevail. Making clear the distinction between orientation and behavior is one necessary step in that process. This will promote the knowledge of the equality of sexual orientations and eliminate myths and misconceptions that hide evils and hypocrisies.
I wish to reemphasize and reiterate what I have written previously in this series. (Sexual Orientation #1, #2, and #3) Vatican statements about sex are confused. This is clear in its Instruction on the Visitation of Seminaries where it talks about “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” and “transitional homosexuality” and its equation of sexual orientation with behavior. Cardinal Levada, now head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the Office of the Inquisition) on February 26, 2006 asked homosexually oriented priests to remain closeted. This suggestion is a travesty and only increases the opportunity and danger for good priests—heterosexual and homosexual—to carry on secret, non-celibate lives. Celibacy, not secrecy is the guide to sexual integrity.
The Roman Catholic Church cannot re-establish its integrity or its credibility until it is clear about the distinction between sexual orientation and behavior; between homosexuality and pedophilia; and the real meaning of celibate practice. To neglect open and honest dialogue leaves the church and clergy open to ridicule, and worse, hypocrisy.
I do not believe—in fact I emphatically reject—the Vatican statements that declare that homosexual orientation is an “objective disorder.” The Vatican’s reasoning is that the orientation itself “is a more or less strong tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil.” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 10-1-86)
This opinion has no scientific merit; it is not a position of “human reason illuminated by faith.” It is simply false. It is wrong-headed. Homosexual orientation is NOT an objective disorder.
Likewise, this concept is theologically meaningless; it is insincere, untruthful, and perverted. The doctrine of Original Sin is sufficient to take care of all humans whatever their sexual orientation.
I am not dealing here with homosexual acts. That is a different discussion—an important and essential dialogue, but it necessarily involves separate issues of the nature of human sexuality (scientific) free choice, the meanings of love and human relationships, the evolution of biology and morality. And more.
Every student of the priesthood recognizes that a larger proportion of Catholic priests have a homosexual orientation than do men in the general population. This is a multifaceted phenomenon—part personal disposition, part cultural attraction, part circumstantial environmental forces, and part systemic constraints and pressures. Whatever the mix, it is a fact that many homosexually inclined men inhabit the ranks of the clergy including superiors, bishops, and cardinals.
The argument is not whether on not some bishops are homosexuals, the question is their number. That discussion will rage long and furiously. The exact number will never be known, but it is safe to say that in the United States at the beginning of the 21st Century at least 30 percent of the American hierarchy has a predominantly homosexual orientation. That estimate is not causally presented.
Their list has been assembled by the following observations. Some have acted out in a homosexual way. (That list is partially public and validated by sexual victims or partners.) A few bishops have admitted to their orientation at the same time they dedicate themselves to a celibate life-style. Some bishops are known by reliable personal observers of their lives to be sexually active with men. Some priests and former students previously sexually involved with the now bishop have spoken about their experience. Household workers also have opinions (Housekeepers, chauffeurs, and other household help have given testimony to their observations.)
Even chancery staffs, loyal to the bishop, have opinions and share them. Not about sexual activity, but about the “gayness” of the bishop and often his associates.
A detailed list of the evidence of the sexual activity and orientation of bishops is always being refined, but in this day and age that record becomes irrelevant to the awareness of the reality that many gay bishops exist and the implications of that fact for church teaching on homosexuality and sex generally. back to Top
THE CONSEQUENCE OF DENIAL
Pope Benedict XVI issued his first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, on January 25, 2006. It is a beautiful statement about love. He points out the beauty of sex within a committed love relationship. Among other things he suggests that sex within that love relationship fosters closeness, generosity and service.
There is little that the pope says in the encyclical to which anyone can take exception. It gives the Christian world hope that he has chosen the core of Gospel teaching to set the tone of his reign. God is love.
The pope, bishops, and priests should preach love and be examples of what loving Christian service looks like in action. They should be trained and qualified to do just that.
But there is a great deal about human love and human sexual love that the pope did not address: What of the relationships of young people who are experimenting with love and sexuality? Imperfect love, if you will, but love nonetheless, oftentimes with profound, lifelong ramifications.
What of the love between men, the love between women? What about sex within those dedicated love relationships? What about the sexual love between couples that for legitimate reasons cannot marry? What about the sexual love between a wife and husband who choose not to have children?
There are Catholic moral responses that pope, bishops, and priests can and do make about those and other sexual questions that face many Catholics.
Every church and its ministers have a right to state their moral convictions and teach the basis of their moral teaching. There is no question about that. back to Top
But questions remain:
1.) The Roman Catholic Church has a long tradition about the morality/immorality of sex. The core of that tradition is clear, and like the moral teaching of many other Christian churches, is based on the Bible. The Catholic Church teaches that:
2.) Roman Catholic bishops and priests are commissioned to teach (and live) the moral system they profess. This is a right and obligation they hold just as intently as Mormon teachers, Muslim Imams, and Methodist Ministers. The moral strictures, theological bases, and the liturgical requirements and customs related to sex and marriage may differ greatly, but each confession has a right to teach and require its members to abide by certain standards of sexual behavior.
The Roman Catholic Church’s teaching about sex and marriage is reasoned, but is it reasonable?
The reasoning of the church claims that its moral teaching is not only based on the foundation of Scripture but also on the natural law.
The natural law interpreted by many Catholic moral theologians applied to sex is reasoned thus:
There are some interesting, even puzzling consequences to the church’s basic interpretation of the nature of sex. For instance according to this reasoning masturbation (which has been called “the greatest sin”) is further from natural than incest, since sex between a brother and sister or father and daughter is more in accord with the nature of the ACT than masturbation that has none of the elements of married man-woman intercourse.
Few Catholic moralists still insist that masturbation is always mortally sinful. Of course this puts a strain on the logic and pronouncement that the act is intrinsically evil. How does logic shift what is intrinsically evil to an act that is morally neutral?
In fact, that moral determination about the whole range of sexual behaviors from contraception and masturbation to homosexuality poses a tremendous roadblock to intelligent dialogue about human sexuality with the scientific community that fails to measure sexual nature and behaviors in terms of intrinsic disorders. Catholic moral theology throws a whole group of women and men into that moral dustbin if by nature they are homosexually oriented. The church pronounces people disordered on their inclination to intrinsically evil acts.
That is a moral judgment. It is not based on science or natural law. It is based on biblically reasoning and tradition that is similarly deficient to judgments in the past about science and reason.
The Natural Law is that inherent quality in every human being capable of determining right and wrong. It is not dependent on the bible, nor restricted to the “nature” of an act. The truth of natural law is eloquently articulated by Pope John Paul’s statement. That reality is distinct from the term “natural law” as it is applied to current moral sexual teaching.
Where do bishops and priests get their education about human sexuality?
Priests and bishops do not get educated about the nature of sex or celibacy during their seminary years—not withstanding protests from seminary staffs and bishops. There is no seminary in this country that could pass any academic examining board to qualify its teaching on human sexuality.
The traditional social status of priests—just the fact that they are priests not based on personal qualifications—makes many people turn to priests as experts on sex and other moral questions.
The assumption of expertise is insufficient ground for making solid life decisions or to trust another person’s judgment. back to Top
Priests get their sexual education from the people who come to them for advice, counseling, and especially confession. This is a gift and service that lay people give to the priesthood—sharing personal concerns especially about sex. But that educational process has many sides. Not all of them positive.
The church has not been blind or unaware of the sexual dangers to penitents and priests who enter into this sacred and secret (for the priest) alliance. Any person who is concerned about his or her sexuality is vulnerable, especially if she or he casts concerns in the context of sin. Confession is frequently used as a site for sexual seduction. That is a long-standing problem and is cited many times in current accounts of sexual abuse of minors and adults.
Church documents especially from 1050 C.E. onward get more and more explicit about the dangers of confession. There is a specific canonical term for clergy misbehavior in association with confession: it is Solicitation. That term is articulated in one papal document after the other up to the present time; it refers to a priest who either before, during, after, in the place of, or under the pretext of confession gets sexually involved with the penitent or uses it for his sexual gratification. (Cf. Sex, Priests & Secret Codes, Pp. 295-300)
More times than I can count I have seen priests’ behavior around confession involved in the stories of abuse victims. It is very common to hear about the priest who is over curious about the sex life, concerns, or sins of a person coming for a sacrament. Some priests even have a person “confess” to them after they have violated the person. Some people mistakenly think that this puts them under a seal of silence that in fact only applies to the priest. (By the way, such behavior by a priest is illicit and makes him automatically excommunicated “reserved to the Holy See.”) This behavior is common—very frequent. Also very common is the priest who gets a bead of a vulnerable minor of adult who has confessed to him; the priest then pursues that person for sex. This is also solicitation.
This problem is not unusual or arcane. I have seen it in newspaper headlines this month.
It would help the church if clergy recognized that married people are the experts on sex and marriage, in as much as there can be experts. Bishops and priests are not experts on the nature of human sexuality. They have gotten themselves into a lot of trouble and inflicted a tremendous amount of harm on countless people by keeping the pose of qualified teachers of human sexuality.
Bishops can hold themselves to be experts on the morality of sexual acts. Their moral judgments are valid only in as far as they reflect an accurate understanding of nature. This is why science and religion, lay people and clergy need each other.
Catholic bishops and priests no longer hold a solid place of credibility about any sexual matter. The church is not in touch with the nature of human sexuality. Fr. Chris Mooney, S.J. said it well, “In so far as theologians fail to take account of physics and biology, their interpretations of their own data as well as their models of God must inevitably lose credibility.“
There is no solution to the questions about human sexuality without cooperation and mutual dialogue. Mutual means on an equal level of openness and respect. As Pope John Paul II said, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.”
So in answer to the question “are Catholic bishops and priests qualified to teach human sexuality?” the response is “No.” But there is hope for dialogue.
Both clergy and lay people have to ask if priests and bishops can be trusted sexually. The answer to that is not a simple “yes” or “no.”
In light of the sexual activity of bishops and priests this second question is only fair. “Can priests and bishops be trusted to act celibately?” The response to this is a qualified “yes.” With most people at most times bishops and priests can be trusted to refrain from sex.
But the practice of celibacy is not very well kept. (Cf. Celibacy in Crisis) That means that at any one time only half of the priest population is practicing celibacy. This is not the time to go into detail about the variety of sexual activity of priests. But it is always appropriate to discuss: “how safe are our children and the vulnerable with priests?”
If you consult the church documents, the experience and knowledge of caring Christians (those whose judgment is not distorted by what Fr. Tom Doyle identifies as religious duress: an unrealistic reverence for clergy and religion) and your own good sense you will probably come to the conclusion: I have to watch out for priests. I have to be realistically cautious.
St. Charles Borromeo introduced the confessional stall into Catholic churches at the time of the 16th century reformation as a precaution against priest’s sexual advances. Today glass doors and other devices have been recommended for the same reasons. Many priests cannot be trusted in these intimate circumstances. The church in these round about ways says, “Priests cannot be trusted.” Some may want to put the spin on these maneuvers that priests must be protected from false accusations. History—even recent history—clearly shows that children and others have much more to fear priests than the other way round. Be Cautious.
This will remain the reality until the church takes seriously the sexual/celibate education of clergy and an active dialogue of its moral foundations regarding human sexuality.
Many Catholics do not accept the church’s teaching on sex. They do not agree with the ideas about the universal sinfulness of activities the church insists on defining as Intrinsically Evil. Many priests and some bishops also disagree with church teaching when they have to apply the theory to real living people. We have to give credit to priests of justice and compassion, sensible and reasonable men when it comes to Praxis: that refers to the process of putting theoretical knowledge into practice.
When it comes to sexuality reason (especially reason) and compassion cause problems. The defenders of the Catholic system of sexual morality rightfully fear a complete collapse of their theory if it is examined (there is no theology of sexuality) or else the whole system will be even more exposed as hypocritical. And church authority fear any change or discussion about human sexuality will tumble the house of cards to one, the other or both dangers. (This was the logic behind the 1968 decision about birth control.)
Theologians who taught about the contextual reality of theology ran into a lot of trouble with Pope John Paul II. He understood Liberation Theology as a contextual theology—theology proceeding from practice rather than doctrine.
And certainly, like in every other serious endeavor, there are pitfalls and benefits, in balancing theory and practice. But there is no theology without praxis. Theology is doctrine for living or it is an empty exercise.
Theologians the likes of Bernard Haring warned decades ago that the church has lost the young because of their lack of trust in the church’s teaching on sex. The sex abuse crisis has only compounded the problem exponentially when the clergy are perceived as failing to practice what they preach.
Priests need lay people to teach them about sex. Lay people need priests to teach them about the Spirit. This is a joint venture. We cannot get along without each other and expect to integrate sexuality into our Christian practice or our sexuality into our Christian understanding.
The declining numbers of American men studying for the priesthood is no secret. The bishops originally funded a sociological study of vocations, but pulled the money plug when the preliminary report projected exactly what has happened—a continuing loss of vocations. Sociologist, Richard Schoenherr, was not guessing when he and his staff made their projections in 1993 that US vocations would drop 40% between 1966 and 2005. The fact that it was a scientific study made no difference. (Cf. Full Pews and Empty Altars, 1993 and Goodbye Father, 2002) Cardinal Roger Mahony called the study “a great disservice” and attacked Schoenherr of having a “personal agenda.” Andrew Greeley with Schoenherr spoke out about the problem already in 1969.
The bishops treated the Doyle, Mouton, Peterson 1985 Report on the problem of clergy sexual abuse the same way—the same disdain, the same vocabulary. The same arrogance clothed in the spiritual palaver that the Holy Spirit, not sociology determines vocations. That is exactly the reception my work has merited. I am content that I am in good company. The bishops do not know who their friends are. The hierarchy mostly ignores even Father Greeley, the most populist priest of the last decades, who unquestionably has the welfare of the Catholic Church foremost in his work.
The American Bishops have proceeded in resistance to dialogue about the vital issues of sex and celibacy at peril to people and priests—to say nothing of their own complete loss of credibility. The pattern is clear: Denial, Delay, Defiance, and Deception.
The lack of American vocations to the priesthood—that must have some as yet undiagnosed meaning about the church in this country at least—is being avoided by two movements: the importation of foreign seminarians and priests, Polish, Indian, South American, Vietnamese, African, and others (the Irish no longer have priests to export).
The second “bright spot” that is being touted as the solution to fewer priests is the number of “older vocations,” that is men in their 30s to 60s entering the seminary and being ordained.
Just from the point of view of celibate/sexual observance both developments present challenges. Priests coming from other cultures sometimes bring with them companions or establish relationships with compatriots in their assignments here. It may be of some consolation to the Vatican and the homosexually pressed American hierarchy that many of the African, Indian, and South American priests choose heterosexual partners. (Although sex with minors is not eliminated in the immigrant clergy corps.)
Older vocations bring their own challenges to seminaries and celibate priesthood. Men of age (certainly 25 and older) who begin their seminary studies come with sexual baggage just as younger candidates do. Only the older person is more established in his inclinations and experience. A&E television (2006) aired a reality series, God Or The Girl, which followed four men who were deciding whether or not to enter seminary training. The program was sensitively done and accurate in pointing out that a choice to study for the priesthood is a choice for celibacy. (A parallel series God Or The Guy would also be appropriate,) Will this cadre of older men bring the vitality of conversion similar to what Saint Augustine and the early Jesuits brought to their centuries? Are they the vanguard to reform the existing sexual corruption in the hierarchy and priesthood?
It may be best at this time not to consider the alternative.
The Church from the Vatican has written several directives on sex education in the past decades: Pope John Paul II wrote an Exhortation, THE ROLE OF THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY IN THE MODERN WORLD (11/22/81); The Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education wrote EDUCATIONAL GUIDANCE IN HUMAN LOVE: Outlines for Sex Education (10/22/83); The Pontifical Council for the Family released a statement on The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality (12/20/95).
All of these documents have many positive things to say about human love and sexuality. Main and central is the point that parents have the right and duty to educate their children to love and human sexuality. Right. No argument.
Pope John Paul expressed one of his basic theological hypotheses in his 1981 exhortation: that “education for chastity is absolutely essential… which means respecting and fostering the Nuptial Meaning of the body. Indeed Christian parents, discerning the signs of God’s call, will devote special attention and care to education in virginity or celibacy as the supreme form of that self-giving that constitutes the very meaning of human sexuality.”
This is a religious speculation and certainly not based on the nature of human sexuality or natural law. This kind of stance leads scientists like Huxley to say, “Celibacy is the greatest sexual perversion.” That too is an exaggeration, but no more than that of the Pope.
The 1983 statement gives the responsibility and charge of sex education and oversight to the Bishop.
The 1995 statement again takes the positive stance of the parents’ right and responsibility to educate their children for love, sexuality, and chastity. But woven into the essence is the distortion of nature following morals rather than morality following nature.
The first of their Four Working Principles listed is that human sexuality is a sacred mystery and must be taught always bearing in mind the effects of original sin. In popular parlance it amounts to: “sex is dirty, save it for someone you love.” Original or any other sin ought not to be the first association with sex education. That is not a secular stance so often condemned in Church documents on love and sex.
“The lasting effects of original sin” that the document reemphasizes along with “human weakness” are again false and premature moral intrusion on the nature of sex and human development in spite of the lip service the documents pay to respecting developmental stages.
Masturbation should not be talked about in terms of sin or selfishness. It is a normal human function; it of course has moral implications like eating and drinking.
Respect for life and love does not, in the scheme of human nature, exclude contraception. Contraception should involve a rational and responsible decision about love, life, and commitment. It is not intrinsically evil, neither is masturbation and that applies to the nature of homosexual orientation, too. Those natural dispositions, choices, and behaviors are not primarily expressions of selfishness.
When this directive recommends “books and other resources approved by ecclesiastical authorities” the double message is extended—parents are teachers, but bishops and priests are the authoritative sources of the truth about human sexuality. It is not true. Grace builds on nature. In sex the church tries to turn that verity on its head. The Bible is no more a guide to the nature of human sexuality than it is to the nature of the stars or geology even if it has many good lessons about the right and loving use of natural gifts.
I repeat: every religion has its right to pronounce its views and teaching about morality and its worldview. These beliefs, however noble, cannot be honestly promulgated as science or natural in the fundamental sense.
Bishops and priests are not reliable sources of knowledge about the nature of human sexuality.
A great deal of damage is done when any religion confuses scientific teaching with their moral dogma. First, faith cannot substitute for science; and second, the great wealth of religious image, ideation, and inspiration is lost for the moral guidance of people when they are confused with non-credible assertions of faith as science.