The National Catholic Review
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Truth and Feeling

I’d like to commend Gerard Quigley’s lovely, evocative illustration for Some Basics About Celibacy (10/28). It is a beautiful example of how symbols communicate both truth and feeling.

William J. O’Malley, S.J.
Bronx, N.Y.

Why Do You Ask?

The Rev. Andrew R. Baker’s piece of thinly rationalized homophobia (9/30) deserves to be responded to point by point. For example, his limiting true celibacy to heterosexual people reminds me of the woman who ordered a Shirley Temple highball without bourbon. The bartender replied that they were out of bourbon, but would she like one without scotch?

I do have a serious question. Since it is possible for people who are not sexually active to conceal their sexual orientation, how would bishops and seminary rectors know to whom to deny ordination? Given the bigotry that still exists in society and in the Catholic Church toward homosexuality, I would not blame a gay candidate for ordination for lying about his sexual orientation. Come to think about it, my response now, after decades of ordained ministry, to an official’s question about my sexual orientation would be, If you can’t tell, why are you asking?

I don’t know if word has reached the Congregation for Bishops that we have a priest shortage over here.

(Rev.) William McLaughlin
South Weymouth, Mass.

The Real Issue

Thank you for the recent exchange of views regarding gay priests. As witnessed in the numerous letters published in reply, a great majority of readers and reasonable Catholics see right through the Rev. Andrew R. Baker’s archaic, fear-based thinking. People often ask, How can a priest be gay if he is celibate? Surely your recent articles provide a great deal of clarification about the issue of identity versus activity of the homosexual person and should help people finally understand more fully that a gay identity is surely neither a detriment to a clerical calling nor an inclination toward sexual activity. (If anything, it may provide a special charism that enhances their effectiveness as ministers of the Gospel.)

The real issue with regard to sexual abuse by priests is more likely celibacy, not homosexuality. In my view, some are called to the virtue of celibacy, and some are called to clerical service. Sometimes, but not often, both callings occur in the same person. I know celibate persons who are not called to ordination and ordained persons who are not necessarily called to celibacy. They are simply two different callings.

The news story in your Oct. 21 issue (Signs of the Times) about the Vatican preparing a document against admitting gays to ordination fans the fires of this debate again. How hypocritical and un-Christian to state that independent of any judgment on the homosexual person they should not be admitted to the seminary. Removal of gay seminarians (without any examination of their psychosexual maturity) would, in any estimation, be an extremely harsh judgment on them as persons, since it would destroy their ability to follow the calling to the priesthood that God has given them. Again, some are trying to justify heterosexism by separating an intrinsic part of people’s nature from their identity as unique human persons and, in this case, also threatening to worsen the already grave shortage of priests. Claiming that gay people have particularly strong or uncontrollable sexual urges or that they cannot image God or contribute to the good of society is ludicrous. Michelangelo, as well as all the gay priests, bishops and prophetic spiritual leaders of the past, would beg to differ.

Continuing to label homosexuality as a tendency, an inclination, a problem or a question rather than an orientation, as this and other church documents do, subtly reinforces the spiritual abuse that has been and continues to be perpetrated against gay and lesbian persons. All of these terms seek to disconnect persons from their God-given nature, causing untold psychological and emotional damage (ironically, the very damage that may cause the kinds of true sexual aberrations at the heart of the current scandal). At a time in history when issues of justice and peace are so crucial, some in our hierarchy choose to put their energies into vindictive, fear-based declarations, instead of healing and hopeful dialogue respectful of the inherent (and coherent) dignity of each of God’s human creations (the first and most essential tenet of Catholic social teaching).

(Deacon) Thomas Smith
Plainfield, N.J.

Less Dither

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 issuesthese circumstances and happenings in our dayall 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 availcool down, take the bull by the horns or ride it out, get on with our livespriests 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 livesbuild 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 usthe 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?

Lucy Merker
Pittsfield, Mass.

Comments

Reginald S. Kelly | 11/14/2002 - 1:56pm
Sense at last

At last a letter that makes sense and is not wordy fluff. Lucey Merker's letter 'Less Dither' (America, Nov.11) was like a breath of fresh air amidst the oppresive academic atmosphere of the condemnation/justification rhetoric surrounding the call to service in the Chruch of those whose sexual orientation is different. It seems to me that it is the will of the Father that we are called to serve and yet we bend that will to find justification for all manner of human foibles. If a man or woman is graced with a specific call to service, it is for the Church, the people of God, and that persons's whole being must reflect in action what is God's will.

Nowhere is there provision for accomodations as Lucy Merker rightly pointed out in her letter. Human we may be (and did God not make us good and bless us!) but all of us, lay people, priests, brothers, sisters, monks, and nuns, need to stop finding ways to get around 'the Law of God' and start living it. Personal agendas (conforming or dissenting) need to be subjected to the will of God as the man with one talent learned (article on p.47 of the same edition). Democracy (human kind) has no place in the Kingdom where God alone rules! His will is law! We need to stop playing around and return to living in the freedom of the sons and daughters of God.

James Sapp | 11/8/2002 - 7:23pm
In response to Ms. Lucy Merker's letter,"Less Dither" I would simply like to say: Gag! The hallmark of communal dysfunction is to put up, shut up and pretend. Thank God that the church has finally begun to change what we've always accepted, to break the silence and to acknowledge the truth. While these may be painful times, they are also times of wonderful opportunity and growth. It is insulting and deameaning to write off people's suffering and simply tell them to rejoice. Should the starving pretend not to be hungry for the comfort of those at the banquet table? Sorry for spoiling the party, but Christ is still on the cross--and the only way to take Him down is to refuse to put up, shut up or pretend.

Rev Al Blonigen | 11/7/2002 - 10:32am
John O'Malley's article on "Some Basics About Celibacy" (10/28/02) was timely and appreciated. However, I think O'Malley missed the bottom line reason for the push toward required celibacy in the Roman rite of the West. And that was prejudice against sexuality itself. It was regarded as being sin by itself in the opinion of Oregin, Tertulian, Jerome, Augustine and many others. Many regarded even procreative sex as partially sinful. This mentality of sex being dirty was the main reason for at first forbidding married priests and bishops to engage in sexual activity, and finally forbidding marriage itself. That sex is something dirty seems to be still very much a part of the attitude of many in the church. This mentality seems to be also the seedbed for sexism and clericalism.

Since sex was also considered to be a basic human right, it took many centuries of persistent pushing to finally make it a policy. And even since then, there are consistent objection to this requirement of celibacy for priests and bishops. Maybe that is an indication that someone is not listening to the Spirit of God? Did not the church in the East listen better and reject the idea that marriage sex was forbidden to priests?

Finally the quote from Canon 277 is confusing for me. How can something be an obligation and a gift at the same time? Is not that an oxymoron? Many men have personally told me that they believed they were called to priesthood, but realized they did not have the gift of celibacy. It seems many found the fulfillment of this call in becoming permanent deacons. That includes my nephew as well as an eighth grade classmate. In the early 1970's many priests realized it as well and made a choice.

Reginald S. Kelly | 11/14/2002 - 1:56pm
Sense at last

At last a letter that makes sense and is not wordy fluff. Lucey Merker's letter 'Less Dither' (America, Nov.11) was like a breath of fresh air amidst the oppresive academic atmosphere of the condemnation/justification rhetoric surrounding the call to service in the Chruch of those whose sexual orientation is different. It seems to me that it is the will of the Father that we are called to serve and yet we bend that will to find justification for all manner of human foibles. If a man or woman is graced with a specific call to service, it is for the Church, the people of God, and that persons's whole being must reflect in action what is God's will.

Nowhere is there provision for accomodations as Lucy Merker rightly pointed out in her letter. Human we may be (and did God not make us good and bless us!) but all of us, lay people, priests, brothers, sisters, monks, and nuns, need to stop finding ways to get around 'the Law of God' and start living it. Personal agendas (conforming or dissenting) need to be subjected to the will of God as the man with one talent learned (article on p.47 of the same edition). Democracy (human kind) has no place in the Kingdom where God alone rules! His will is law! We need to stop playing around and return to living in the freedom of the sons and daughters of God.

James Sapp | 11/8/2002 - 7:23pm
In response to Ms. Lucy Merker's letter,"Less Dither" I would simply like to say: Gag! The hallmark of communal dysfunction is to put up, shut up and pretend. Thank God that the church has finally begun to change what we've always accepted, to break the silence and to acknowledge the truth. While these may be painful times, they are also times of wonderful opportunity and growth. It is insulting and deameaning to write off people's suffering and simply tell them to rejoice. Should the starving pretend not to be hungry for the comfort of those at the banquet table? Sorry for spoiling the party, but Christ is still on the cross--and the only way to take Him down is to refuse to put up, shut up or pretend.

Rev Al Blonigen | 11/7/2002 - 10:32am
John O'Malley's article on "Some Basics About Celibacy" (10/28/02) was timely and appreciated. However, I think O'Malley missed the bottom line reason for the push toward required celibacy in the Roman rite of the West. And that was prejudice against sexuality itself. It was regarded as being sin by itself in the opinion of Oregin, Tertulian, Jerome, Augustine and many others. Many regarded even procreative sex as partially sinful. This mentality of sex being dirty was the main reason for at first forbidding married priests and bishops to engage in sexual activity, and finally forbidding marriage itself. That sex is something dirty seems to be still very much a part of the attitude of many in the church. This mentality seems to be also the seedbed for sexism and clericalism.

Since sex was also considered to be a basic human right, it took many centuries of persistent pushing to finally make it a policy. And even since then, there are consistent objection to this requirement of celibacy for priests and bishops. Maybe that is an indication that someone is not listening to the Spirit of God? Did not the church in the East listen better and reject the idea that marriage sex was forbidden to priests?

Finally the quote from Canon 277 is confusing for me. How can something be an obligation and a gift at the same time? Is not that an oxymoron? Many men have personally told me that they believed they were called to priesthood, but realized they did not have the gift of celibacy. It seems many found the fulfillment of this call in becoming permanent deacons. That includes my nephew as well as an eighth grade classmate. In the early 1970's many priests realized it as well and made a choice.

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