Wednesday, November 30, 2005

No gay priests, part 5: Let the spin begin

From the "it's not as bad as it sounds" camp:

Timothy Radcliffe, former head of the Dominican Order in the British Catholic weekly The Tablet: "What is it that is meant by a 'deep-seated homosexual tendency'? The counter-example given by the document is of someone who goes through a temporary phase of homosexual attraction, and asserts that the seminarian should have overcome this at least three years before ordination to the diaconate. That would not cover all the cases of seminarians who are reflecting on their vocation in the light of this document.

"It could also be interpreted as having a permanent homosexual orientation. But this cannot be correct since, as I have said, there are many excellent priests who are gay and who clearly have a vocation from God. Perhaps it is best understood as meaning that someone whose sexual orientation is so central to his self-perception as to be obsessive, dominating his imagination. This would indeed pose questions as to whether he would be able to live happily as a celibate priest. But any heterosexual who was so focused on his sexuality would have problems too. What matters is sexual maturity rather than orientation."

I have great respect for Radcliffe, but this is pretty tortured and more than a little circular. He's right to say that sexual maturity is what matters, at least to reasonable people, but I think this document's writers don't think that is possible in those with "deeply-rooted homosexual tendencies."

Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Washington, in the Washington Post: "I think one of the telling sentences in the document is the phrase that the candidate's entire life of sacred ministry must be 'animated by a gift of his whole person to the church and by an authentic pastoral charity.' . . . If that becomes paramount in his ministry, even though he might have a homosexual orientation, then he can minister and he can minister celibately and chastely."

Of course, then he goes on to talk about people that are "consumed" by being gay (the whole interview can be found here). I admit I have no idea what that means. Besides, if people make their sexual orientation the center of their lives, both church and society can take a hefty portion of blame for building up so many taboos about it.

Of course, on the other side you have Bishop John D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, in the same Post article: "I would say yes, absolutely, [the document] does bar anyone whose sexual orientation is towards one's own sex and it's permanent. . . . I don't think there's any doubt about it. . . . I don't think we can fuss around with this."

Though I think he's kind of nutty about this--there are evidently no gay priests in his diocese--I think he's right to cut through the sophistry.

Though it's legitimate to parse the document as Radcliffe and Skylstad have, I think the ramifications of a "plain" or straigthforward reading are clear (and, let's be honest, you need a graduate degree in theology and fluency in Vatican-speak to attempt the non-plain reading): This document says that if you are a healthy, well-integrated gay man (self-accepting, mature, open), the hierarchy doesn't want you, no matter how celibate you are. (In fact, I think they don't believe that the person I'm describing can even be celibate.)

I think the people of God might have a different opinion, of course.


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