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Issue Date:  December 9, 2005

For what it's worth, our condolences

To all those in positions of leadership in the Roman Catholic church who also happen to be homosexual, we offer our commiseration and sorrow that once again you have been forced to hear your sexuality, an element intrinsic to your humanity, described as an objective disorder.

This time the phrase appears in the document with the ridiculously unwieldy title: “Instruction concerning the criteria of vocational discernment regarding persons with homosexual tendencies, considering their admission to seminary and to Holy Orders.” In other words, the document on gays and seminaries.

The description is repugnant, of course, to all those in the church, gay and straight, who understand that homosexuality is, in the overwhelming number of cases, not a chosen orientation but as essential a part of one’s nature as heterosexuality is for others.

As this document is aimed particularly at the ordained clergy, our thoughts go especially, then, to all the deacons and priests, religious superiors, bishops and cardinals, who might have a homosexual orientation while dedicating lives of integrity to the service of the Gospel and the church. Such an ugly characterization from the church you serve is unnecessary.

Already the document is being parsed to shreds, but to little avail. Without being too dismissive of the efforts of canon lawyers and other church authorities, the document will remain a puzzling and unclear instruction because it is, itself, fundamentally disordered. It uses words that have no precise meanings and definitions that are rooted in air. It posits absolutes where there aren’t any, and it asks spiritual counselors to do the kind of searching of another’s soul that only God can do.

The language, of course, is more the product of ignorance and fear than of enlightenment. To some it will provide easy answers to complex problems. But such language -- standing smugly in defiance of the insights of scientific, biblical and social science research -- is, in the end, no answer at all.

The document correctly points out the need to screen for emotional maturity of candidates for the priesthood. Unfortunately, the only disqualifying element spoken about at length is sexual orientation.

Emotional maturity takes in a wide spectrum of issues. Our experience in the pews suggests that homosexuality is low on the list of indicators of immaturity. We in the pews see the greatest signs of immaturity, for instance, among priests who seem to dislike dealing with their own parishioners; who have an undue fascination with wearing peculiar garb as a symbol of office; who are unable to engage in collegial efforts; who believe that leadership and authority comprise issuing dictates; who hold the conviction that Christianity is a religion of rules and rubrics, not a community of right relationships.

We are told that the document grew out of concern over the sexual abuse crisis. But the suggestion that homosexuality was somehow responsible for the abuse of vulnerable boys and girls or for the complicity in criminal activity of some occupying the most significant positions of authority is not only insulting to homosexuals, but way off the mark.

This document merely affirms old prejudices and misconceptions but solves nothing. There are reasons, and we’ve reported on them, to be concerned about homosexuals acting out inappropriately in seminaries and as priests. There is at least as much reason to worry about the persistent reports of heterosexual activity and about priests who have affairs with women and sire children, yet remain unaccountable to those relationships. Honoring vows and promises is one thing (and something about which the married people in the pews have a working understanding). Homosexual orientation is quite another.

We know that homosexuals have had powerful and faithful ministries in the church, have contributed in major ways as writers and musicians, artists and liturgists, preachers and activists.

Homosexuals in the church understand, in the deepest wells of their humanity, that this is a document issued out of confusion and fear, one that thrashes about for a rationale and a discipline where none exist.

We are grateful for those homosexual Catholics who have found the courage to stay -- from those in the back of the church trying to hang on in a hostile environment to the ordained who inhabit seats of power and enforce the rules, from those holding their orientation in secret to those who openly declare it.

National Catholic Reporter, December 9, 2005

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