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backing water and blowing smoke

By Diogenes (articles ) | Nov 30, 2005

A lot of bishops are twisting uneasily on their episcopal thrones today. The newly-released Vatican Instruction excludes from the priesthood men with deeply-rooted homosexual tendencies and, while it does not call for expulsion of homosexuals already ordained, the reasoning on which the document is based makes it clear that such men lack the affective maturity necessary to the spiritual paternity in which the priesthood is authentically lived out.

This deficiency does not affect the validity of the sacrament of Orders -- homosexual priests validly confect the Eucharist and so forth -- but they're not grown up in the way the Church would have them be. More pointedly still, the Instruction issues a ringing condemnation of tactical subterfuge -- i.e., lying about one's sexual disorder: "It would be gravely dishonest for a candidate to hide his homosexuality in order to proceed, despite everything, towards Ordination. Such a deceitful attitude does not correspond to the spirit of truth, loyalty, and openness that must characterize the man called to serve Christ and his Church as a priest." Granted, these words are formally directed at men who are only aspirants to the priesthood, but undeniably they cut much deeper. Those bishops who have "deeply-rooted homosexual tendencies" are not few in number, and they must be rattled by the Church's judgment that their own priesthood -- while canonically valid -- is spiritually flawed.

Bishops who are not themselves homosexual but who have welcomed homosexual priests are likewise in a bind: if they've advised homosexual priests not to speak about their libido they fall afoul of the demand for authenticity; if they've encouraged priests to acknowledge themselves as gay they must admit the Church regards the priest as unfit and the bishop as flat wrong. Both sets of bishops -- those gay and those gay-friendly -- have been caught out by the Instruction and will be struggling frantically to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Pay attention to their use of the phrase affective maturity, because this is the key term in the Instruction, and the Holy See and gay-positive clergy employ the phrase with radically contrary meanings. By affective maturity, the Holy See means the kind of psychological integration and adult equanimity that exclude homosexual tendencies; such propensities may have existed in a man's adolescence, but if he attains emotional maturity he has, by definition, put them behind him. Gay and gay-friendly clergy, by contrast, insist that affective maturity entails acceptance of whatever one's sexual orientation happens to be. For them, the homosexual who sees his libido as disordered and wants to free himself of it is less mature than the homosexual who has made the decision to live as a gay man, i.e., who accepts and affirms his homosexual tendencies as a given, as part of his identity. A self-proclaimed gay like Fr. Leonard Walker would be regarded by gay-positive bishops as a paradigm specimen of affective maturity, by the Holy See as a lamentable example of the opposite.

But it doesn't end there. Gay-positives insist that an indispensable condition of affective maturity is "comfort" with one's own sexuality (mature men are comfortable being themselves), and this in turn excludes opprobrium or aversion directed at a "sexuality other than one's own." In this view, a heterosexual at peace with his sexual identity does not object to gays as brother priests, any more than a white man at peace with his racial identity would object to blacks. That's why men like Fr. Timothy Radcliffe are keen to assert that those who oppose gays in the priesthood are affectively immature, and it is they who shouldn't be admitted to Holy Orders. Many bishops (and their fellow travelers) have been operating for years in opposition to long-standing Church discipline, anticipating that the discipline would change. It hasn't -- and what we see now is the flailing of the these men as they try to salvage their authority while looking for room to maneuver (the parallel with clergy who anticipated approval of contraception prior to Humanae vitae is obvious). The Washington Post reports that Bishops Skylstad, Clark, and McCarrick have (predictably) declared that the Instruction does not exclude homosexual priests, while Bishop D'Arcy has (predictably) affirmed the contrary. The situation in Canada is much the same:

Archbishop Weisgerber said he was pleased that the Vatican makes clear that the church is not questioning the priesthood of homosexual men who already have been ordained. He said he hopes it is clear that "the church is not saying you should not have been ordained. "So many members of the clergy, like men in the culture at large, are struggling with this," he said.

This is disingenuous, as Weisgerber is trading on the ambiguity of the deliberately equivocal phrase "questioning the priesthood." Validity is not at issue, but the Instruction makes it clear that homosexual priests -- and a fortiori gay priests -- are deficient in what the Church means by spiritual paternity. The Church has blocked one of the commonest exits, the "don't ask don't tell" ploy, by her insistence on "truth, loyalty, and openness" in these matters. Bishops, rectors, and spiritual directors can no longer give the homosexual candidate a wink and say, "you can proceed, just be discreet" -- or if they do, there's no doubt but that they're complicit in the attitude of deceit that the Church has specifically reprobated. As USCCB president and a gay-positive bishop, William Skystad will serve as a bellwether on the Instruction's implementation. He has opined that the document is "timely," that it urges a "realism," and that it "expresses a valid concern" -- all of which are positive, but all of which can be said of a document the speaker wholly rejects. When it comes to the question of the Instruction's truth, Skylstad punts:

Bishop Skylstad said that the discussion in the media about this document raised the question "whether a homosexually-inclined man can be a good priest."

No, the media discussion didn't raise the question, the Instruction raised the question. And answered it. Does Skylstad find the answer in the Instruction? He does not.

Bishop Skylstad said that "the answer lies in the lives of those men who, with God's grace, have truly been dedicated priests... &c."

That, boys and girls, is called blowing smoke. Expect more of the same.

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Show 9 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Eagle - Dec. 01, 2005 8:03 AM ET USA

    I also hope that Leo is right. The Instruction is clear. If it is not enforced, though, it is effectively "pie in the sky". For example, Michigan Law provides that adultery is a felony, BUT, there has been no adultery prosecution in over 50 years, and, on divorce day, the fact of adultery is readily admitted. The sodomy law was rarely enforced; that lack of enforcement became a basis for the recent Supreme Court's rendering the sodomy statute nugatory. I fear that the same will happen here.

  • Posted by: Ross Dee - Dec. 01, 2005 12:45 AM ET USA

    Rev Leonard Walker is a perfect example of one with a deceitful attitude. When he entered the priesthood he knew the rules. This directive from the Vatican is not a new rule, so what is his excuse? He is now trying to blame the Vatican for his own deceitfulness and betrayal. His remark ," I am no longer comfortable wearing this uniform", shows that it is "all about him". He is full of self-pity. The two women that worked with him and praised him so highly are not too bright either.

  • Posted by: benedictusoblatus - Nov. 30, 2005 7:53 PM ET USA

    I hope Leo is correct. For a long time the Vatican has been long on talk and short on action. And everyone knows that actions speak louder than words.

  • Posted by: Fr. William - Nov. 30, 2005 7:24 PM ET USA

    Also, when such bishops as Skylstad, McCarrick, Clark, Weisgerber, Mahony et al, are blowing smoke (sowing seeds of confusion), loving the darkness (John 3:16-21), one might wonder WHY they are confusing the people & deliberately muddying the clarity of the Church's instructions; WHY are they NOT speaking with the mind & heart of the Church? Can they not say: If you identify yourself as homosexual or "gay," you are not fit for priesthood. If you're already ordained, join Courage or retire.

  • Posted by: Fr. William - Nov. 30, 2005 7:16 PM ET USA

    Excuse me, Archbishop Weisgerber & Bishop William "Mahony-wanna-be" Skylstad, with all due respect to your office as Successors to the Apostles, the Church has raised the question (as Diogenes deftly points out) & the Church has answered the question. Men with deeply-rooted homosexual tendencies are unfit for priesthood. Successors to the Apostles are to give the people the Teachings of the Church, NOT their personally disordered interpretation of the Teachings. St. Andrew, pray for us!

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Nov. 30, 2005 5:23 PM ET USA

    You know, the document itself is not entirely blameless. "These people must be received with respect and delicacy..." it says, and we all nod agreement. And: "the Congregation... while profoundly respecting the persons in question...." St. Paul did not insert any such language as, say, Romans 1, 25a. We must "profoundly respect". He didn't seem to. Check Rom. 1, 26-32. Maybe if we had less on-the-one-hand, on-the-other hand, things might be clearer. Just a thought.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Nov. 30, 2005 4:36 PM ET USA

    I believe that it is even more than that, Diogenes. A sociological "tipping-point" must be overcome... and that tipping-point is the widely accepted perception that somehow it is "alright" to be homosexual, so much so that the behavior constitutes a valid basis for a "group identity," a group that has special rights and positive "characteristics" which can be associated with that behavior. A reasonable revulsion concerning homosexual behavior must return.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 30, 2005 2:58 PM ET USA

    The Vatican will not this issue slide. There may be more departures. Perhaps some bishops, too.

  • Posted by: Pseudodionysius - Nov. 30, 2005 1:19 PM ET USA

    "the church is not saying you should not have been ordained. " I'm more curious about what is left unsaid about the fitness for service of the Apostolic Shepherd who ordained him, Your Grace.

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