Friday, October 07, 2005

News on Gay Seminarians

St. Francis, one groovy saint, painted by Giotto, one groovy painter.

There's fresh news on the status of gay men in the priesthood. Of course, as usual, the actual document has not been released, and we have to rely on "a Vatican source." Still, the information is very detailed and looks like something that has been intentionally leaked to head off rumors. There is good news, bad news, and good news.

The good news is that there will be no absolute ban on gay men in seminaries. This will be a great relief to gay men who feel they have a vocation to the priesthood, and seminary faculty and administrators whose ministry is to prepare and not exclude those men. It is also good news to the rest of us Catholics, since we do not have to feel that our Church has denied us ministers for bigoted and reactionary reasons.

The bad news is that there are still conditions under which gay men are not to be admitted to seminaries:
  • If candidates have not demonstrated a capacity to live celibate lives for at least three years;
  • If they are part of a "gay culture," for example, attending gay pride rallies (a point, the official said, which applies both to professors at seminaries as well as students);
  • If their homosexual orientation is sufficiently "strong, permanent and univocal" as to make an all-male environment a risk.
Although this is presented more as a guide than a rule, it is still terribly insulting to gay Catholics. It implies that homosexuals are somehow less capable of celibacy then straight men (despite certain scandals). In fact, according to this document, if their orientation is "strong, permanent and univocal" (whatever that means), they can put "an all-male environment" at risk. Has anyone ever suggested that straight priests whose heterosexual orientation is "strong, permanent and univocal" avoid working in all-female environments, such as convents or certain parish offices?

The prohibition of priests participating in "gay culture" is also problematic. While recognizing that certain priests may be gay, they deny they right of these priests to negotiate their identity as gay men in our society and they imply that their identity is something to be hidden away and closeted. It also restricts the ability of priests to participate in their community in areas with a large gay population and thus minister effectively to gay Catholics.

The news on the whole, however, is as good as we can expect from a hierarchy which is this defensive about its power. If the document follows the line described by the Vatican source, it means the most intransigent, homophobic and exclusionary voices in the hierarchy have lost their battle. Although the document may be insulting in the conditions discussed above, it does not take the fatal step of declaring being homosexual as intrinsically sinful, and thus it is a building block upon which to slowly eradicate homophobia from the Church. Also, the document allows a certain about of maneuvering room for seminary officials, saying of the three conditions:
Whether or not these criteria exclude a particular candidate is a judgment that must be made in the context of individual spiritual direction, rather than by applying a rigid litmus test...
As long as there is the space for applying criteria on a case-by-case basis, there is still autonomy for different seminaries and different orders to approach this question in a more sensitive manner, allowing officials to follow their consciences and preventing an exodus of the best seminary officials from the field. If the Vatican document comes out as described by the source, it will be very far from a step forward. It will, however, not be such a step backwards as to cause irreparable damage to the Church.


lullaby said...

" the context of individual spiritual direction..."

What is interesting about this is how much power this seems to cede to the seminaries themselves.

There is so much room for interpretation.

Liam said...

There is a real tension in the Church between excessive centraliztion and autonomy on the level of individual dioceses and religious orders. I think the Vatican might have realized that they were pushing a bit too hard on this issue.

Fayrouz said...

It's still a step forward.

The Catholic church isn't known for making quick changes. But, I have a feeling Benedict's Papacy will be full of surprises. More good ones than bad ones.

D.C. said...

Thanks Liam for such a cool approach on this issue.

The Vatican should scratch celibacy all together. My understanding is that celibacy was required long time ago, for economical reasons, this has nothing to do with God. You would know more about this than I do, however. In any case, the problems forced celibacy creates will continue to haunt us all until changes occur.

Dear Fay, you have much more faith than I do, when it comes to the church. Bless You, Mon Amie, and thanks for the great tip!

Liam said...

Fay, I agree with Diane when it comes to your optimism, at least about this papacy. But I pray you are right.

Diane, I do believe celibacy has its place. It makes no sense to be a non-celibate monk, for example, and that goes for many orders that have community life (Jesuits, Franciscans, etc.). But using celibacy to create a unbridgable divide between a priestly class and a sumissive laity has reached a point at which it is destructive for the Church.

Fr. B said...

Thanks for you interesting blog and balanced perspective on the most recent rumor on the "seems-to-be-impending Vatican document. I hope the rumor is true, that the eventual document will be less homophobic than originally reported. I too tend to look at these things from a positive view. The current rumored rendition is a step in the right direction and sends a somewhat backhanded measure of acceptance to the church's gay sons and daughters. That we Catholic queer folk can hear a statement like this and think it's progress is probably a sign of how hungry we've become for any affirming word no matter how twisted.

Thanks for taking the time to blog on this issue.

Liam said...

Thanks for the kind comment. This rumor seems to have quite a bit of weight, let's hope it's substantiated.

D.C. said...

Perhaps for those who are embracing community life with males only, I agree.

A French Catholic priest in Quebec, recently declared in an interview, that according to his experience; 50% of men in the priesthood would be gays. It makes sense. As for Jesuites, my father received his education with them and was to become one. Some members of my family followed this path. Not so long ago, there was pressure from the Church on French Canadian families to produce lots of children (10 and more) and at least a priest in each family. It kept everyone very poor of course.

Celibacy should not be imposed inorder to belong to a group.
Does someone really need to deny completely his/her sexuality to be closer to God?
I doubt it. I tend to believe that the Church became a men's club only long ago, sadly.
I question deeper motives and fears.

Thank You, Liam.