The Way Forward ... into the abyss

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jul 10, 2003

Ex-priest William Cleary reviews Dean Hoge's The First Five Years of the Priesthood:

Early in his first chapter, Hoge asks how many recently ordained priests are homosexual (perhaps up to 50 percent) or if gay priests persevere in greater numbers (yes). ... The heart of Hoge's research discoveries was summarized in an article published in NCR some months ago: "Hoge found that between 20 percent and 30 percent of priests left because they fell in love with a woman. Another 20 percent to 30 percent left because they felt lonely and unappreciated and could not abide by mandatory celibacy. And between 6 and 15 percent left because they wanted an 'open, long-term relationship' with another man. Between 30 and 40 percent left because they were disillusioned with their fellow priests or the hierarchy."

Think about the implications of having 50% homosexual priests. A very high percentage of the newly ordained -- hetero and homo -- will have mortally sinful sexual experience in their past; this is 2003, remember, when men typically begin studying for the priesthood in their late 20s. Most men will have episodes in their past that they would like to put behind them: sacramentally, by means of penance, but also concretely, so that they are free to teach hard teachings and to call others to lives of sacrifice. Can anyone fail to see how much harder it is for once-active gays to get this freedom than once-active straights? Consider, at minimum, the difference in the effect on the parish caused by the young woman at a picnic or wedding reception who announces "Fr. Ron and I dated for six years before he entered the seminary," and the young man who says the same thing. Cleary again:

Everything in the book suggests celibacy is the issue. Of course. Never again should we make sex or sexuality the enemy: It is instead the path of knowledge and even of wisdom. Giving it all up leads nowhere, and may lead to illness, in fact, in my humble opinion. Reverencing the revelation in sexual experience takes us in the only direction we have left. As precarious as is that path, it is the only one forward. Celibacy is natural and valuable in many contexts, not in the religious one, even less for economic purposes. Plant such genetically engineered seed and it will yield bitter fruit indeed.

I know several married people who are obliged to abstinence because of the serious illness of a spouse. I have to say (to use Cleary's cant) that I am more impressed by the wisdom they gain through continence than by "the revelation in sexual experience." It must be an extremely difficult path to walk, though most seem to walk it with integrity. Does sex necessarily become "the enemy" for them? Of course not. It's one more of life's unchosen hardships. For priests it is a chosen hardship. One could hardly devise a better method of compounding the hardship than by dangling in front of celibate priests the prospect of relaxed discipline: that's the surest way to a crop of embittered, conflicted, and pathologically hostile subversives.

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