The National Catholic Review
James Martin, SJ
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A few weeks ago the editors of America discussed their support of the ordination of celibate gay priests (11/11). Our editorial responded to the arguments against ordaining gay men and restated the central argument in favor of their ordination: the historical witness of healthy and celibate gay priests.

The Vatican’s press office has now confirmed that a document on the ordination of gay men is being circulated among church officials. Though its contents are unknown, some hope that it will ban their ordination.

While persons of good will may disagree on how best to respond to the sexual abuse crisis, banning gay men from the priesthood would not address the real problems underlying the crisis. That a small percentage of gay priests have committed sexual abuse does not mean that all should be barred from ordination: a ban would represent little more than codified scapegoating.

Consider, too, some unforeseen effects of such a document.

First, for gay men already studying in seminaries and religious formation programs, a ban would be disastrous. Some bishops and seminary rectors would almost certainly be forced to expel gay men from seminaries. Think, for a moment, of a gay man at the final stage of his formation. After having carefully discerned his call with superiors, he would now hear this message: your vocation is no longer wanted. Though you have studied hard, lived celibately and have diligently prepared for the priesthood, suddenly you are not fit. Goodbye, good men, indeed.

Many good and celibate gay men would voluntarily choose to leave their seminaries and religious formation programs. Some would decide to keep their sexuality secret—hardly a recipe for healthy chastity. Others would opt to live in a kind of twilight zone—feeling called to celibate priesthood in a church that bars them from such ministry. What secrecy and self-loathing this could breed.

Some have suggested that superiors might permit these men to remain in formation, while rejecting only newer applicants. But what would superiors say to those men currently preparing for ordination? Would one counsel setting aside what the church has said? Or that Vatican statements need to be read in a more “Roman” way, that is, with great nuance and an understanding that these documents represent only “the ideal”? But an outright ban would be difficult to accept in this light, particularly as one draws closer to the sacrament of ordination, which needs to be accepted wholeheartedly—and without private reservations or “nuance.”

A ban would also scotch the vocations of many good young men considering a call to the priesthood. What gay man would desire priesthood in a church that explicitly declares it does not want him? Nor would some heterosexual young men, many of whom are more tolerant than earlier generations, find an organization that excludes gays all that attractive. In a time of a serious decline in vocations, barring gay men from orders would have the worst possible effect.

A ban might also seem confusing to many Catholics, for whom the sexual abuse crisis is not to be blamed on all gay priests, but on some psychologically unhealthy priests and, moreover, on some irresponsible bishops. A document forbidding the ordination of gay men would confound many American Catholics who have been counseled by their bishops (in the 1997 document Always Our Children) to treat gay persons with “respect, compassion and sensitivity,” and by the Catechism of the Catholic Church to avoid “every sign of unjust discrimination” toward homosexuals (No. 2358). And in a church that proclaims its solidarity with the voiceless, a ban would target exactly such a group. For in the current climate few are more voiceless than gay priests.

Finally, such a document would say, in effect, to thousands of celibate gay priests serving the church: you should never have been ordained.

A ban, in short, would be ineffective in combating the sexual abuse crisis, disastrous for vocations, confusing for many Catholics, harmful for celibate gay priests and unjust. One can only pray that it is not adopted.

James Martin, S.J., an associate editor of America, is author of In Good Company: The Fast Track from the Corporate World to Poverty, Chastity and Obedience.

Comments

Susan Foley | 12/12/2002 - 3:48pm
To the editor: Discussions advocating the idea that the "solution" to the present sexual abuse crisis in the priesthood is to ban gay men ignore the enormous number of young girls and grown women who have been subjected to such abuse. I have several women friends who were sexually approached by their priest spiritual directors, behavior which would be a crime in my state if the perpetrator were a therapist. (One such friend said, wryly, "I wish they were ALL gay!") This proposed "solution" reveals a concern, however belated, for male victims together with a total lack of concern for female victims. There are no easy answers here. This proposal is neither easy nor an answer.

Stephen Court | 12/12/2002 - 12:34pm
Gentle people, I am a subscriber of twenty years (±) to America and have always respected, if not totally agreeing with, the articles you print and many of the positions you take. I find the "Of Many Things" column (December 16, 2002) regarding a ban on ordaining gay men egregiously hypocritical. Please change the wording of that article replacing ‘gay men’ with ‘women’ and reprint it. Adjacent to that article change the wording to ‘married men’ and reprint it again. Virtually every statement you make concerning gay men and ordination is equally true of those other two groups, if not more so. You say, "… for gay men already studying in seminars and religious formation programs, a ban would be disastrous…" because they "would now hear this message: your vocation is no longer wanted." Is hearing this over and over less of a disaster for women and married men? You say, "Many good and celibate gay men would … feel called to (a celibate) priesthood in a church that bars them from such ministry. What secrecy and self-loathing this could breed." Have not too many good women, married and celibate, and good married men experienced diminished Christian self-image for far too long? You say, "Many good and celibate gay men would voluntarily choose to leave their seminaries and religious formation programs…" and "A ban would also scotch the vocations of many good young men … What gay man would desire priesthood in a church that explicitly declares it does not want him? Nor would some heterosexual young men, … find an organization that excludes gays all that attractive… barring gay men would have the worst possible effect." I ask you to think of the great numbers of women and married men who have studied and are studying in seminaries. They too discerned a vocation for the love of God, his people and the church. They also knew full well that acceptance into the Catholic priesthood was ‘something of a long shot’ in the foreseeable future. I fail to see some worse possible effect than that created by the Catholic Church telling women and married men by its ordination policy that they are not wanted. Tell me something worse than our Catholic hierarchy judging them "not fit." They knew all along that this religion bars them from ordained ministry and they haven’t yet taken it as ‘disastrous’ to them. These women and men knew that this church ‘explicitly declares it does not want’ them. Yet they do preserver. Today and tomorrow they are working and will work in parishes, chanceries, at bishops’ conferences, and yes, teaching in seminaries regardless (some of them with a far better education and well-grounded understanding of Christ in this world than many of their pastors and bishops demonstrate). You say, "Many good and celibate gay men would decide to keep their sexuality a secret—hardly a recipe for healthy chastity." I submit the presence of ordained women and married men would give celibate priests, straight and gay, much better insight into family life and help them integrate their sexuality in healthy ways. I think this would represent Christ to the world in a far superior and more appropriate and applicable way. You say "A ban might also seem confusing to" and "confound many Catholics who have been counseled by their bishops … and by the Catechism of the Catholic Church to avoid ‘every sign of discrimination’ toward homosexuals." I must say I have always — even before graduating from Our Lady of Grace School in 1959 Chicago — been confused and especially confounded by the church inexplicably being unwilling (we didn’t know it as discrimination back then) to ordain women and married men. I become more disconcerted every day. There are no other groups in the church today more grossly discriminated against than women. You say, "in a church that proclaims its solidarity with the voiceless, a ban would target exactly such a group… For … few are more voiceless than gay prie
Susan Foley | 12/12/2002 - 3:48pm
To the editor: Discussions advocating the idea that the "solution" to the present sexual abuse crisis in the priesthood is to ban gay men ignore the enormous number of young girls and grown women who have been subjected to such abuse. I have several women friends who were sexually approached by their priest spiritual directors, behavior which would be a crime in my state if the perpetrator were a therapist. (One such friend said, wryly, "I wish they were ALL gay!") This proposed "solution" reveals a concern, however belated, for male victims together with a total lack of concern for female victims. There are no easy answers here. This proposal is neither easy nor an answer.

Stephen Court | 12/12/2002 - 12:34pm
Gentle people, I am a subscriber of twenty years (±) to America and have always respected, if not totally agreeing with, the articles you print and many of the positions you take. I find the "Of Many Things" column (December 16, 2002) regarding a ban on ordaining gay men egregiously hypocritical. Please change the wording of that article replacing ‘gay men’ with ‘women’ and reprint it. Adjacent to that article change the wording to ‘married men’ and reprint it again. Virtually every statement you make concerning gay men and ordination is equally true of those other two groups, if not more so. You say, "… for gay men already studying in seminars and religious formation programs, a ban would be disastrous…" because they "would now hear this message: your vocation is no longer wanted." Is hearing this over and over less of a disaster for women and married men? You say, "Many good and celibate gay men would … feel called to (a celibate) priesthood in a church that bars them from such ministry. What secrecy and self-loathing this could breed." Have not too many good women, married and celibate, and good married men experienced diminished Christian self-image for far too long? You say, "Many good and celibate gay men would voluntarily choose to leave their seminaries and religious formation programs…" and "A ban would also scotch the vocations of many good young men … What gay man would desire priesthood in a church that explicitly declares it does not want him? Nor would some heterosexual young men, … find an organization that excludes gays all that attractive… barring gay men would have the worst possible effect." I ask you to think of the great numbers of women and married men who have studied and are studying in seminaries. They too discerned a vocation for the love of God, his people and the church. They also knew full well that acceptance into the Catholic priesthood was ‘something of a long shot’ in the foreseeable future. I fail to see some worse possible effect than that created by the Catholic Church telling women and married men by its ordination policy that they are not wanted. Tell me something worse than our Catholic hierarchy judging them "not fit." They knew all along that this religion bars them from ordained ministry and they haven’t yet taken it as ‘disastrous’ to them. These women and men knew that this church ‘explicitly declares it does not want’ them. Yet they do preserver. Today and tomorrow they are working and will work in parishes, chanceries, at bishops’ conferences, and yes, teaching in seminaries regardless (some of them with a far better education and well-grounded understanding of Christ in this world than many of their pastors and bishops demonstrate). You say, "Many good and celibate gay men would decide to keep their sexuality a secret—hardly a recipe for healthy chastity." I submit the presence of ordained women and married men would give celibate priests, straight and gay, much better insight into family life and help them integrate their sexuality in healthy ways. I think this would represent Christ to the world in a far superior and more appropriate and applicable way. You say "A ban might also seem confusing to" and "confound many Catholics who have been counseled by their bishops … and by the Catechism of the Catholic Church to avoid ‘every sign of discrimination’ toward homosexuals." I must say I have always — even before graduating from Our Lady of Grace School in 1959 Chicago — been confused and especially confounded by the church inexplicably being unwilling (we didn’t know it as discrimination back then) to ordain women and married men. I become more disconcerted every day. There are no other groups in the church today more grossly discriminated against than women. You say, "in a church that proclaims its solidarity with the voiceless, a ban would target exactly such a group… For … few are more voiceless than gay prie

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