The National Catholic Review
Variation

I write to disagree respectfully yet strongly with the position taken by the Rev. Andrew R. Baker in America’s issue of Sept. 30, opposing the ordination of men who happen to be homosexual in their orientation. Though all of the important points he has raised merit substantive discussion, I focus here on two of those points only.

First, I must take issue with Father Baker’s presentation of the way in which the phenomenon of homosexual orientation or same sex attraction might be most adequately understood. While not overlooking the insights contained in that presentation, I am dismayed by the fact that no mention at all is made of the great amount of scholarly work that has been done in the field of the empirical and human sciences regarding this phenomenon. Studies that I have undertaken in connection with my work in moral theology have brought to my attention the general consensus among scientists and psychologists that sexual orientation is a complex human reality, admitting of no single explanation. I have found a similar consensus that same sex orientation is not an abnormality nor an aberration, but rather a variation in human makeup that appears with statistical frequency and that, in many instances, does not in and of itself affect an individual in a deleterious way. Adding to my dismay is the fact that in mentioning some experts who believe that same sex attraction can be treated and even prevented with some degree of success, Father Baker does not acknowledge that this is an opinion held by few.

Second, I must object to what appears to be Father Baker’s assumption that men who happen to be same sex in their orientation will inevitably exhibit some or all of what he lists as significant negative aspects arguing against their suitability for holy orders. In general, I find those aspects alarmingly stereotypical and the discussion of them lacking in essential nuance. Moreover, while the church, in speaking to or of homosexual persons, has insisted repeatedly that human beings must never be reduced to their sexual orientation, this list could, even while greatly inaccurate, be read as doing just that.

My thanks to Father Baker for his thoughts and insights on this most important topic and to you, America, for the publication of both Father Baker’s and Bishop Gumbleton’s articles.

(Rev.) Robert J. Smith
Huntington, N.Y.

Sacrifice

In Ordination and Same Sex Attraction (9/30), the Rev. Andrew R. Baker argues against the ordination of homosexuals. Sadly, the author appears to define celibacy as nothing more than avoiding sexual intercourse with a spouse.

For him, a heterosexual seminarian is a worthy candidate for ordination because he sacrifices intercourse with a wife as a gift to the church. The homosexual seminarian, on the other hand, sacrifices nothing. Not oriented to sexual intercourse with a wife, he merely keeps the Sixth Commandmentno sacrifice here.

I think Father Baker takes far too narrowindeed, far too genitala view of celibacy.

Among other things, celibacy calls a priest to sacrifice the right to an exclusive, deeply intimate, romantic involvement with another. (I mean something more than a good friendship.) Such involvements do not have to be sexual.

Would a priest be truly celibate if he maintained an exclusive, romantic yet nonsexual relationship with another person? Of course not. In this situation, gay and straight seminarians are about equal in what they are called on to sacrifice.

The greatest struggle in being a celibate priest is not living without sexual intercourse. Many people live without itsingles, for example, and married people who forgo it because of health or age or other considerations. The real struggle arises from living daily without an exclusive, intimate, romantic relationship with another person (male or female). For me, a relationship would be a comfort, especially on days when I am tired from overwork and need someone close. Yet the church has asked men of the Latin Rite to forgo these kinds of relationships so they may relate in a profound way with all the people of God. The chief concern bishops and seminary rectors should have is whether a man, gay or straight, is able to live without romantic involvements.

(Rev.) Mark Woodruff
Odessa, Tex.

Active Imagination

The Rev. Andrew R. Baker’s argument (9/30) that an all-male seminary environment impedes gay seminarians from living celibately is based on a misguided notion of homosexuality.

Such a view assumes that gay men are willing to engage in sex with any man who is close by. There is no scientific or social scientific report that supports such a view. Father Baker’s view reveals more about his own ignorance of homosexuality and an overactive imagination about the sexual behavior of gay men, and it is regrettable that America would provide him with such a forum.

William E. Dilday
Washington, D.C.

Lived Journeys

I do not remember another article in America more surreal or more devoid of logic than the Rev. Andrew R. Baker’s Ordination and Same Sex Attraction (9/30). Until writers dialogue with actual gay people and have some understanding of the lived journeys of gays, they will continue to write nonsense like this.

It would be impossible to express fully in a short letter how disordered Father Baker’s reasoning is. The most risible argument is about the inability of gay priests to have a relationship to the church that resembles Christ’s, since the church is a bride. This one ranks with the brilliant argument that women lack the proper genitals, cannot image Christ and therefore should not be ordained. Many in the Curia apparently need some education about figurative language and how metaphors work.

Why did America publish Father Baker’s article? The only good reason I can think of is that you wanted to expose the intellectual and pastoral bankruptcy of those who are trying to scapegoat gay priests in the current crisis. If that was your intention, you succeeded admirably. And, of course, Father Baker made Bishop Gumbleton seem even more sensitive and perspicacious than he already is.

Roland Calvert, O.S.F.S.
Adrian, Mich.

Words

It would be understandable for a gay person to fall prey to serious problems such as substance abuse, sexual addiction and depression after reading Ordination and Same Sex Attraction (9/30).

Besides the use of inflammatory words such as aberration, corrupt and duplicitous, the article is less than convincing because of its sloppy interchanging of the philosophical, moral and psychological meanings of the word disorder. The main point of the article, that gay people can be chaste but not celibate, betrays a warped sense of sexuality that is beyond belief. Ultimately it is insulting and hurtful to gay religious and clergy and to those who aspire to serve the Lord and our church.

Thank God for the compassionate, humble and insightful approach of most of our bishops.

Richard Riccioli, O.F.M.Conv.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Celibate Life

The Rev. Andrew R. Baker and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton both offer valid and pious insights from their varied perspectives concerning homosexuality and the priesthood (9/30).

Father Baker emphasizes the sacrificial aspect of celibacy as foregoing heterosexual intercourse and family life in marriage in order to become a spiritual husband and father to Christ’s bride, the church. Bishop Gumbleton chooses to describe celibacy not so much in sacrificial terms but as a valid way of loving chastely. One’s orientation or spousal character matters little without the ability to live and love chastely.

In grinding their axes, however, both men seem to sidestep the most critical aspect of the current crisis facing the churchthe ability, desire and moral fortitude necessary for being faithful to the promise or vow of celibacy. Questions that have not been answered squarely have to be raised and answered. What percentage of Catholic priests (heterosexual or homosexual) are actually celibate? Is it more likely that a homosexual will fail in celibacy compared with a heterosexual? Does celibacy contribute to arrested emotional, psychological and sexual development, whether one is homosexual or heterosexual? Does openness about one’s homosexuality in the seminary or priesthood prevent heterosexual young men from considering priesthood, thereby causing heterosexuals to become a minority in the priesthood? What psychological, spiritual, moral and ascetic qualities are necessary to live a successful chaste, celibate life regardless of orientation?

I would like to see well-written and documented articles on these questions rather than reactionary pious dribble that pits two extremes against each another.

(Rev.) Allan J. McDonald
Augusta, Ga.

Confusion Grows

The articles on sexual scandals in the church in the Sept. 16 issue point up the fact that as the discussion continues, the confusion grows.

At least part of the problem arises from the fact that for centuries the sacramental and theological nature of the priesthood has been bound up with its professional identity, both in the so-called clerical culture and in canon law. There is nothing strange or sinister about this, but from time to time, the desire to protect the profession has occurred at the expense of and to the injury of the sacral character of the priesthood. Again, we should not condemn this outright. Every professional group seeks to protect its position from nonprofessional interference. But the possibility for abuse exists. Malpractice goes unpunished or is covered over.

We Catholics need to make an important distinction between the legitimate need to protect the priesthood as central to the theology of the church and the professional failure to prosecute abuses out of a confusion of professional status with the sacred character of the priesthood, even to the point where some abuses, even in canon law, impede or prevent the implementation of penalties for malpractice of all kinds, including the terrible crimes that have been exposed.

Penalties for malpractice have nothing to do with sacramental penance. No doubt these individuals confessed their sins, though they may not have been given proper guidance on the subject of reparation. We cannot judge the state of their souls. We can ask that the priestly profession exercise due care to ensure that its professional actions do not lead to malpractice.

James M. Powell
Syracuse, N.Y.

Comments

Larry N. Lorenzoni, SDB | 10/10/2002 - 4:12pm
I find it hard to believe that Cardinal Re, president of the Congregation for Bishops, let Msgr. Baker's letter come out of his office: if Baker's mindset is shared by his co-workers in Rome, his Congregation is in trouble. We have S.S.A. priests and bishops (I know personally a number of them) who are currently serving the church as "ordinarii loci" and parish priests without arrogance, with total dedication, with deep compassion, loved and admired by parishioners and friends for their years of humble and unblemished service. I was sadly surprised that no Vatican voice was raised objecting to Dr. Navarro-Valls' expressed opinion that the ordination of an S.S.A. priest may not be valid. Try to explain that to all the faithful S.S.A. priests and bishops I know.

I would strongly advise Msgr. Baker and his friends to read Fr. Maurice Shinnick's book "This Remarkable Gift: Being Gay and Catholic" (Allen & Unwin, 1997, frontdesk@allen-unwin.com.au). The book is dedicated to Fr. Shinnick's brother Frank (1931-1996), "a brother of generosity, courage and integrity" who died of AIDS. I met Fr. Shinnick in Adelaide, South Australia, earlier this year when I was marking with my family my Golden Jubilee as a priest. He was for years rector of the Cathedral there. Lynne Lavner's quote next to the title page reads: "The Bible contains six admonitions to homosexuals and three hundred and sixty-two admonitions to heterosexuals. That does not mean that God doesn't love heterosexuals. It's just that they need more supervision."

No, Fr. Shinnick is not gay.

Larry N. Lorenzoni, SDB | 10/10/2002 - 4:12pm
I find it hard to believe that Cardinal Re, president of the Congregation for Bishops, let Msgr. Baker's letter come out of his office: if Baker's mindset is shared by his co-workers in Rome, his Congregation is in trouble. We have S.S.A. priests and bishops (I know personally a number of them) who are currently serving the church as "ordinarii loci" and parish priests without arrogance, with total dedication, with deep compassion, loved and admired by parishioners and friends for their years of humble and unblemished service. I was sadly surprised that no Vatican voice was raised objecting to Dr. Navarro-Valls' expressed opinion that the ordination of an S.S.A. priest may not be valid. Try to explain that to all the faithful S.S.A. priests and bishops I know.

I would strongly advise Msgr. Baker and his friends to read Fr. Maurice Shinnick's book "This Remarkable Gift: Being Gay and Catholic" (Allen & Unwin, 1997, frontdesk@allen-unwin.com.au). The book is dedicated to Fr. Shinnick's brother Frank (1931-1996), "a brother of generosity, courage and integrity" who died of AIDS. I met Fr. Shinnick in Adelaide, South Australia, earlier this year when I was marking with my family my Golden Jubilee as a priest. He was for years rector of the Cathedral there. Lynne Lavner's quote next to the title page reads: "The Bible contains six admonitions to homosexuals and three hundred and sixty-two admonitions to heterosexuals. That does not mean that God doesn't love heterosexuals. It's just that they need more supervision."

No, Fr. Shinnick is not gay.

Lucy Merker | 1/29/2007 - 1:11pm
There were many letters to the editor in the Oct. 14 issue of America reprimanding the Rev. Andrew R. Baker for his comments. Why is it that so many people seem to be strung out and hung up on issues—these circumstances and happenings in our day—all of which will be resolved prayerfully; hence less dither or bother on our parts maybe?

I’ve been reading all the material in the marketplace on these recent “upsets,” and it grieves me when I run across articles that our priests are drinking too much because of boredom; that they labor much over their “no one cares about me” thoughts; and lastly, that they pine woefully for someone with whom they can share intimate thoughts. It is most disheartening to discover such a distraught clergy so at odds with one another. And laypeople seem as intense on forming their own squadron of “discontents.”

It would be nice if we could throw a blanket on all these fires that burn to no avail—cool down, take the bull by the horns or ride it out, get on with our lives—priests and laity both.

And would that we had stalwart men and women who act and feel that they know where the way is to the truth, the light. We all need to form a better construction to our lives—build a firmer foundation perhaps. You can’t build a thing on queasiness. Truth, not fear; joy, not hysteria; and smile, for God is love; he is always with us—the best friend any one of us could have. Rejoice, for goodness sakes! All of this happened to a greater extent in the past anyway, and it is good we are once again aware of our past. We never learn from it, do we?

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