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Confusion in Catholic Quebec

By Diogenes (bio - articles ) | Jan 14, 2004

Seminaries in Quebec may contravene the province's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms if they deny admission to HIV positive candidates, according to a story in the Montreal Gazette. Paradoxically, according to the article, the Church's liability was increased by an ill-judged (and doubtfully candid) intervention by Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte.

Fr. Marcels Demers, rector of the Grand Séminaire de Montreal, had been earlier quoted as saying

in the event of a positive test result, the applicant would be asked how he contracted HIV. If the person acknowledged being gay, the chances would be slim he'd be accepted, Demers said, saying the church's position is "this profile doesn't lend itself as well to what we require of a priest."

An eminently reasonable position. But it caused a predictable PR flap, to which the Cardinal hastily responded by saying the issue was health, not orientation or morals:

Turcotte rushed Monday to defend his new policy, saying one's sexual orientation is not an issue. He also said the church has a right to know the state of health of someone who is to receive a lifelong position.

A good specimen of the leadership that produces familiar sighs of exasperation in the faithful. Do we hope his Eminence is telling a fib (and conclude he really wants to screen out active gays from the priesthood)? Or do we hope he's truthful (and cast around for a consoling explanation of why he deems sexually history irrelevant)? Neither alternative is exactly uplifting. Besides, his explanation's not going down with the policy wonks:

"This is making it even worse," [Quebec Human Rights] commission spokesperson Ginette L'Heureux said. "They'd be better to say it was for religious reasons. ...

"In a pre-hiring interview, you could ask, 'Do you have sexual relationships?' That's all right, because the Catholic Church's precepts are that you can't have sexual relations (and be a priest)," she said. "But if now they're saying it's for reasons of health ... we say, no, you can't require of someone that he have perfect health."

And thereby is illustrated a law: when the Church focuses resolutely on her spiritual task, she often manages to accomplish good in the secular realm as a side-effect; but when she aims for success in this-wordly terms, she not only fails to achieve it but loses her spiritual mission as well. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.”

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