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 Time.com 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 andrewsullivan.com

3 comments:

  1. I have been moved by the gay priests who have chosen to out themselves and leave their ministry. It takes a great deal of courage, and it places them at risk for finding reasonable new employment. I know this well from my personal experience and that of friends. When one door closes, God does open another -- but it can hurt like hell in the hallway for a while. When I see a news report and am able to find a way to contact the individual, I send a note of support and add him to my prayers.

    At the same time, I am moved by some gay priests I know who have chosen to remain at their posts and work for their people, not crawling back into the closet but making no huge public protest, relying on the love of those they serve despite the hatefulness of the Vatican's statements. I have to avoid the temptation of telling them they need to fling down the gauntlet and walk away. How do I know what God is saying to them in the secret of their hearts? I also keep these in my prayers.

    I am saddened for the gay priests -- and I suspect the majority -- who will let this push them further back into the closet, doing immeasureable harm perhaps to themselves and preventing them from being free to give all of themselves to the church and the people they serve. These may need my prayers most of all.

    God bless them all, and keep them!

    I realize now that the church (not just my own Roman communion, but others as well in different ways) has treated people like this before, including people who wanted to do nothing so much as serve with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. I have witnessed it being done to a world-wide community of heroic women. I have seen faithful straight men emotionally and verbally abused by people at the near-highest levels of the Vatican for supporting the powerless. It is not just gay clergy like me. Many have suffered at thge hands of the church before; many will suffer again. As the bumper sticker says, "Jesus, save me from your friends!"

    A gay priest friend told me that once when he was bitching about the church, a wise old priest told him that it was necessary that the church be this way. "That way, we hit our bottom more quickly, and then we can start the process of becoming free." So I guess thank God for the weakness of the church, too, that forces me to give up relying on human power -- even religious or spiritual human power -- and throw myself trustingly into the arms of God.

    May we all -- including the pope, his cardinals, the bishops, the homophobes, the misogynists, the reactionaries and the radicals -- experience a bit more freedom from the burdens we carry and that we put onto others.

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  2. Haven't heard from you lately. I hope the flag is still waving somewhere.

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  3. Hey! We're waiting for more. How bout Brokeback Mountain?

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