Click & Learn
The consideration of sexual orientation and priesthood

October 15, 2005

Since 1961 the Vatican has put special emphasis on the question of homosexually oriented men and their suitability or not for the priesthood. 

Sexual orientation in itself carries with it no moral implication. I do not know of anyone who would disagree that many saints, popes, bishops, founders, and reformers of religious orders can be reasonably assumed to have had a homosexual orientation. 

But over the years the Vatican’s emphasis has shifted its understanding of gay orientation and burdened it (unreasonably many think) with an unnecessary moral judgment beyond the boundaries of original sin. Not only has same sex behavior been named inherently evil but those with a homosexual orientation have been branded as humans inclined toward an intrinsic evil. 

Navarro Vaals, Pope John Paul’s spokesman, one time publicly went so far as suggesting that homosexual priests had been invalidly ordained because of their inherent inclination to an intrinsic evil. 

Intrinsic and Inherent are big words.  They carry heavy consequences.  They “brand” in the real sense of the word. Applied to people this brand makes an indelible mark that classes someone (here arbitrarily) as bad or undesirable. The tragic consequences of branding homosexually oriented priests (and gay men generally) have only begun to take its toll on the priesthood and the church. 

The Vatican’s judgment is untenable. It is indefensible, not only because of the history of gay saints, but also because of the multitude of gay priests now serving the church with honor and distinction. 

The Vatican is now compounding its awkward and foundering attempts at trying to purify itself (and to cover up) the extent and variety of the sexual activity of its priests who are not behaving celibately by scapegoating one segment of its population. Their target population aims at men who are in no way attached to the ministry—aspirant seminarians. Their target objective to predict the unpredictable—future sexual behavior—is evanescent. 

Not only are the bishops off the mark from any genuine and scientific understanding of human sexuality, they are setting up straw men—men applying for entrance to seminaries—in the pretense that if gay men are eliminated from seminaries celibacy will flourish in the church. Sex and celibacy just do not work that way. 

The assumption that the Vatican’s fight against intrinsic evil will be won by men who are rigidly orthodox and doctrinally pure is fallacious. It is doomed because it confuses intellectual conviction with practical responses to basic drives. Belief that something is undesirable or even evil does not protect a person from himself. 

I have said before that the Vatican is approaching its valid concerns about the practice of celibacy in the wrong way and in the wrong place. 

The valid question is: how are homosexually oriented leaders—cardinals and bishops who are now among the ranks of the clergy—practicing the celibacy they have promised? 

The answer to that question will tell us something valid and useable.