Monday, December 19, 2005

The Vatican's New Stereotype

It's been a while since I've posted on this blog. It's not been because I haven't had anything to say, but more because of sheer task and information overload, I think.

For a while, I was really struggling with the Catholic church document on seminarians - primarily because it is a 20-year step backwards in understanding gay and lesbian people. I guess I was more irate for my gay Catholic friends who have been so welcoming to me, and who have been pretty wounded by that particularly toxic document.

From everything I've read, I believe the Catholic seminary document is simply an institutional insistence that gay Catholics who are called to the priesthood go back in the closet. For myself, I am terribly sorry for the loving, caring, committed members of the priesthood who are eventually going to have to make a choice. But if there's one thing I've heard time and time again from the men who helped shepherd me out of the closet, it's simply that going back in there is no longer an option.

That's why I found such strong identification with Andrew Sullivan's essay in the December 12th issue of Time magazine. I'm including the text here (and footnoting it, so you know it's not mine!). This article can be found here at the site, and Sullivan's other writings can be found here.

The Vatican's New Stereotype -
Why its new rules barring gay priests turn Jesus' teaching on its head
(Dec. 12, 2005 issue of Time magazine, page 92)
by Andrew Sullivan

The one consolation that gay Catholics have long had is that the church hates only sin, not sinners. Yes, many of us are far from perfect, and like most married, heterosexual Catholics, we have been known to have sex without making a baby. But we were, as the Vatican assured us in official documents in 1975 and '86, "made in the image and likeness of God." The condition of homosexuality was, for many, "innate" and not in itself a sin. Gay people were "often generous and giving of themselves," said the Vatican, and the notion that gays could not lead celibate lives was an "unfounded and demeaning assumption." The bar on any gay sexual intimacy was still firm--but it was the same bar that prohibited heterosexual couples from using contraception, or single people from masturbating, or any other nonprocreative sexual act. It was a coherent, if difficult, doctrine--and not bigotry.

In this confined and often suffocating place, it was still possible, though never easy, to breathe the love of God as a gay Catholic. Our love of the church helped us overlook its institutional rejection of the relationships we built and the families who embraced us as equals. For many of us, the presence of gay priests also gave immense comfort. Of my three confessors in adult life, all turned out to be gay, although I had no idea in advance. I have known many gay priests, and I'm in awe of their service--to the poor and needy, to the lonely and uneducated, to prisoners and parishioners who have all found grace through their ministry and sacrifice. Often, their outsider experience helped them relate better to the marginalized or the lonely or those taken for granted.

Recall the image of Mychal Judge, the chaplain for New York City's firefighters, carried away from the World Trade Center in the arms of the brave men he ministered to. Judge, a proudly gay man, gave his life for those he served. Under new rules from Pope Benedict XVI issued last week, Father Judge would never have been ordained. Nor would thousands of other gay priests and bishops and monks and nuns who have served God's people throughout the ages.

In the past, all that mattered for a priest, as far as sexual orientation was concerned, was celibacy. If a priest kept his vows, it didn't really matter if he were refusing to have sex with a man or with a woman. All that mattered was that he kept his vows and had sex with no one.

But that has just changed. Even if a gay priest remains completely celibate, his sexual orientation is now regarded, according to a Vatican expert, as a threat to "priestly life." A gay celibate priest, according to the new rules, is incapable of "sexual maturity coherent with his masculine sexual identity." He has "a problem in the psychic organization" of his sexuality, barring him from priestly responsibility. Gay seminarians can be spotted and rooted out because they allegedly have "trouble relating to their fathers; are uncomfortable with their own identity; tend to isolate themselves; have difficulty in discussing sexual questions; view pornography on the Internet; demonstrate a deep sense of guilt; or often see themselves as victims." No serious psychological data are provided to verify those assertions (and many would surely apply to countless heterosexuals as well). What the new Pope has done is conflate a sin with an identity. He has created a class of human beings who, regardless of what they do, are too psychologically and thereby morally "disordered" to become priests.

There is a simple principle here. The message of Jesus was always to ignore the stereotype, the label, the identity--in order to observe the soul beneath, how a person actually behaves. One of his most famous parables was that of the Good Samaritan, a man who belonged to a group despised by mainstream society. But it was the despised man who did good, while all the superficially respected people walked on by. Jesus consorted with all of society's undesirables--with tax collectors, collaborators with an occupying power, former prostitutes, lepers. His message was that God's grace knows no boundaries of stigma, that with God's help, we can all live by the same standards and receive the grace that comes from his love.

The new Pope has now turned that teaching on its head. He has identified a group of people and said, regardless of how they behave or what they do, they are beneath serving God. It isn't what they do that he is concerned with. It's who they are. They are the new Samaritans. And all of them are bad.

Andrew Sullivan's blog, the Daily Dish, can be found at

Sunday, December 04, 2005

My last words on the topic...

Damien's post on Friday angered me beyond my ability to describe, for a while. Don't get me wrong - his writing was great. But reading the blathering and blithering of the representatives of the Catholic Church simply infuriated me.

I'm condensing this down to the simplest points - the quotes from the ZENIT article that Damien referred to are in italics.

The new Vatican document on homosexuality and admission to seminaries and holy orders is not an "attack on homosexuals," says Cardinal Georges Cottier. Rather, the document is an effort "to understand their situation" and sufferings, explained Cardinal Cottier, who until today was the theologian of the Pontifical Household.

You're both absolutely right and absolutely wrong, your Eminence. If I were to I tell you, "Don't go away mad; just go away," it would not be an attack on you. It would be a statement of preference - that I don't want you around. Period. So your statement, while disingenuous, is absolutely true. The Church has not attacked homosexuals; it is simply clarifying their erroneous beliefs and practices surrounding homosexuality and homosexual activity. Nothing personal, of course...

But the second statement is absolutely wrong - because the Church has failed completely to understand the situation of gay men. The Vatican document does nothing more than cauterize the wounds caused by priestly abuse and the failure of the Church administration to deal with that abuse in a proper and timely manner. The Church doesn't understand the situation of gay men; never has, never will. This document just rationalizes the Church's decision to simply excise them, like infected tissue, so that they don't infect the rest of the Church and hurt it any more.

Cardinal Cottier claims that the text is very thought out and says that he would underline its sensitivity.

But, as Damien points out in his post, this document abandons the position of the church which separated "homosexual activity" and the sexual orientation of homosexuality. The Cardinal talks about those who have "deep-seated homosexual tendencies," and those who have slight, "transitory" tendencies, linked to episodes in their lives, of which I would say they can free themselves. Therefore, there are degrees. The "degrees," then, are in whether one can free oneself of homosexual tendencies. If you can't free yourself - if you are homosexual in your being - then it doesn't matter what you do - it only matters what you are. And what the document says, in essence, is if that's how you are, you're out. Period.

All in all, a well-thought out and sensitive position, I'd say...

And I'd sure like to read the studies that support the Church's conclusion that homosexuality impedes, in a certain sense, "emotional maturity". That is so wrong as to be almost immoral.

How the hell have gay priests provided pastoral care, counsel, leadership of congregations and liturgy, and spiritual direction for years on end without "emotional maturity?" How have the overwheming majority of the gay Catholic priesthood lived and served with this so-called immaturity?

The Cardinal's interviewer said, In general, homosexuality is accompanied by this emotional immaturity. It is an affirmation that is going to be criticized, but that is based on experience. Whose experience, I wonder? Just the abusers?

You'd better bet that statements like that are going to be criticized...

Here's another one that just infuriated me: Inasmuch as representative of Christ, bridegroom of the Church, the priest is called to exercise a spiritual paternity among men and women. For this reason, emotional maturity is necessary, which implies a spirit of sacrifice and self-forgetfulness out of love for the other.

Excuse me, Cardinal...There are a whole lot of gay men who are priests. And these men have given up material possessions; taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. And the vast majority of them have lived up to those vows. Are you going to tell me that somehow their spirit of sacrifice and self-forgetfulness is somehow defective?

And you say this is not an attack against gay men in the Catholic orders?

Damien makes an interesting point:

He [the Cardinal] does not distinguish those who are sexually active from those who are not sexually active. One can argue that his silence about that distinction is only silence, not a signal one way or the other. Perhaps. Perhaps. One does wonder, though, why no one from Rome wants to issue a statement saying that chaste gay men are acceptable. It would seem so easy a way to stop the conflicting interpretations, assuming they want to do that.
I believe the only reason no one wants to issue that statement is that the Church has concluded that if they don't have any homosexuals around, then there won't be any homosexual abuse, and the Church can stop hemmhoraging money and members. Just do a "clean sweep," cut out the infected tissue, cauterize the wound, and carry on.

And wait until the heterosexual abuse cases start to show up. So you can start throwing out the hetero priests...

To me, the Church has said that people with a given ontology - my ontology, my essential being and orientation - are to be excluded from ministry. Homosexuality has gone from being a sin of action to a sin of being (or not-being, perhaps). Catholicism has always declared that the primary mission of humanity, apart from worship of God, is to procreate - and that anything that stands in the way of that procreation is "intrinsically disordered."


Just don't wonder why men of great faith, with servant hearts brimming with love and care, flee your churches, your cathedrals, and your seminaries, your Eminence.

And then stop and reflect on how sterile - and how crippled - your Church will be when they are gone.

The Vatican's document has rung the bell - and there is no way to unring it now. The Church's institutional pride has always prevented admission of error. That's why it took 500 years for them to apologize to Galileo...

This is the last time I'm writing on this, by the way. As Damien pointed out in this linked article, the pogrom has already started. The arrows are pointing toward the door, the door has been opened. The Roman Catholic Church has become an unwelcoming, irrelevant institution to the gay world. The only question remaining is how long it will take for gay Catholics to secede and form the "Rainbow Catholic Church," to preserve the beauties of the Catholic tradition for the GLBT community.

May it come quickly. It's a Reformation that is long overdue.