"Anonymous" has provided the following transcript of a talk at Cardinal Mahony's 2006 Religious Education Congress by Father James Martin, S.J., an associate editor of America magazine, about the recent Vatican instruction prohibiting admission of men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" to seminaries. Father Martin was part of a panel with Dr. Thomas Beaudoin and Dr. Greer Gordon on "Homosexuality, Celibacy and the Priesthood: Continuing the Conversation" on Saturday, April 1.
"Anonymous" remarks, "It's a masterpiece of twisting, nuancing, and 'picking apart' the Catechism. Martin portrays gay priests as innocent, undeserving victims of some people's 'wrong' idea that homosexuals are somehow the same as pedophiles, and compares them to the 'new lepers' of today."
Father Martin wrongly claims that the instruction contradicts the Catechism. Incidentally, it is telling that he admits that "many bishops and religious superiors are interpreting the [Vatican] document...more liberally..."
Actually, if Father Martin wants to know who the REAL lepers in the Church are, all he has to do is look around him and see the priests gulagged for being orthodox and for objecting to the lavender mafia; the seminary applicants turned away for being orthodox; the laity reprimanded for kneeling for Communion and the thanksgiving; the laity ostracized for petitioning for widespread Tridentine Latin Masses; and the pro-life activists slandered and undercut for trying to save babies and help moms.
The Lord be with you. It’s a joy to be here today with you and an honor to share the stage with Dr. Gordon and Dr. Beaudoin, both of whom have done important work on behalf of the gay and lesbian Catholic community.
As a way of continuing our conversation, I’d like to take a look at what is on many people’s minds, which Dr. Beaudoin mentioned: the recent Instruction from the Vatican on gay priests, which I like to call ‘Ecce Homo’ (audience laughs and applauds).
Released in November, the document raises many issues of concern for the Catholic Church and its relationship with gays and lesbians. That’s why I think it’s an important thing to look at initially.
First, what does the Instruction say? And I won’t repeat too much of what Tom just said. It says . . . that those with deep-seated homosexual tendencies cannot be admitted to seminaries or be ordained priests.
Now, as with most things in life and in the Church, there is an ‘on the one hand’ and ‘on the other hand,’ or there is good news and bad news. The good news and bad news will depend on what you think about the topic. The good news for one person might be bad news for another.
So I’ll just say, on the one hand, the Vatican means what it says. ‘Deep-seated tendencies,’ I would like to point out to you, is the exact term that the Catechism uses for homosexual orientation, because the Catechism does not want to say that homosexuality is an orientation, since that would place it on par with heterosexuality. Comments, as Tom was saying, from Monsignor Anatrella and Archbishop Grocholewski, from the Vatican officials who wrote this document, are very clear about this: ‘Deep-seated’ means a person who understands his sexual attraction as permanently directed toward others of the same sex. As the English theologian James Allison wrote, this is what you and I would call ‘gay people.’ It does, in my mind, little good to pretend otherwise.
On the other hand—and this is either bad news or good news for you—under Canon law, every Vatican document must be interpreted, something like laws being interpreted by the courts in this country. What the document means, therefore, depends on its interpretation. And if you have your big fat Code of Canon Law, that’s number 17. I’m sure someone sells it downstairs, so . . . (laughter).
And though the writers may have intended one thing, the Instruction, as Tom was saying, is being interpreted very differently from some influential Catholics and bishops and religious superiors—for example, Timothy Radcliffe, the Congregation of Major Superiors for Men, Bishop Skylstad, as Tom was saying, the Swiss Bishops’ Conference, and so on. Many bishops and religious superiors are interpreting the document in this way—more liberally, I would say, or more broadly—primarily because they know many healthy, gay, celibate priests.
Now, what will all this mean? At least from my vantage point, I see five groups of people who will be affected—some immediately, some further in the future.
First: gay men in the priesthood. Despite the more liberal interpretation—excuse me, gay men interested in the priesthood. Despite the more liberal interpretation, this document, on balance, will make some gay men less likely to enter because some—not all—but some self-aware gay men will simply feel turned away. These men won’t need any bishops or superiors or rectors or vocation directors who will interpret it liberally, because they simply won’t be interested in even inquiring about a group that they see as excluding them.
The second group is celibate gay men already in diocesan seminaries and religious formation programs. They face a dilemma: set aside the Instruction and rely on years of discernment that have confirmed their vocations, or set aside their vocations and leave their seminaries or religious orders. What seems to be happening among the people I’m speaking with is that most are choosing the first option, trusting in their original call and staying. But they are still upset.
The third group: celibate gay priests. Many feel demoralized, hurt, offended, and angry because not only is [it] official Vatican policy that their kind is no longer welcome, but there was in the Instruction not one word of gratitude, or even acknowledgement of, the ministry of celibate gay priests.
Fourth: gay and lesbian Catholics, gay and lesbian lay Catholics. Many were offended, especially when they read the document comment that Tom mentioned, that homosexuals cannot properly relate to men and women. That statement, which is unsupported by any empirical evidence in the document, was deeply offensive to many gays and lesbians. And, I should point out, it goes beyond what former documents have said.
Fifth: straight Catholics. They may feel embarrassed or angry over the Instruction if they know any gay priests. Or, if they wrongly believe that pedophilia and homosexuality are the same thing or that gays can somehow not be celibate, they may be delighted. But either way, straight Catholics, along with every other Catholic, will discover over time somewhat fewer priests in their parishes, retreat centers, schools, hospitals and universities—and chanceries (audience laughs).
Overall, even if the document is interpreted broadly, fewer gay men will enter seminaries and religious orders, which will most likely mean fewer priests. And the idea that straight men will somehow rush in to fill the gap seems wishful thinking (audience laughs). Sister Katerina Schuth, one of this country’s leading experts in seminary training, has said to the New York Times that anyone who believes this has obviously spent little time around seminaries.
But even if this document is somehow set aside or is interpreted broadly, there is another effect that has gone unremarked upon. It may contribute to a feeling of hypocrisy among the Catholic community; that is, a document observed more in the breach than in the observance.
But let’s look at some other issues raised by this document. First, the document implies, in essence, that homosexuals are not fully human. They are not fully human not simply because they are objectively disordered, which is the theological argument, but also—and this is very new—because they cannot reach affective maturity and cannot properly relate to others.
Those last two statements are arguments not from theology but from psychology. Yet, if the theological arguments are accepted by some in the theological community, that psychological argument is accepted by almost no one in the psychological community. In fact, those arguments can be disproven. Whether or not one believes theologically that homosexuality is an objective disorder, there are in fact gays and lesbians who are affectively mature and do relate well to others.
Now, how do we know this? Because others attest to this, and not simply gays and lesbians. Other straight men and women attest to this—family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. To use some traditional scholastic language, the community sees that they are, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, ‘flourishing’: holding down jobs, loving their families and friends, and contributing to the Catholic Church through a variety of mainstream ministries, as well as to the larger community.
In setting aside the experience of gays and lesbians and those who know them, the Instruction may also promote the stereotype of the subhuman gay person. Therefore, I would submit, it may actually contradict the Catechism, which says that when it comes to gays and lesbians, “every form of unjust discrimination” is to be avoided.
It may be inconsistent with Catholic teaching in other ways as well. The Catechism—if you haven’t read it, you should read this part—teaches that if they are celibate, gays and lesbians can and should—can and should—approach Christian perfection, which surely includes affective maturity. The Instruction, however, says that gay men, even celibate ones, should not be priests because they cannot approach affective maturity. Once again, this may be both confusing and inconsistent with the rest of the Church’s teaching on this matter.
Also advanced is the premise that gay priests are responsible for the sexual abuse crisis. The Instruction states that it comes in response to “certain urgent questions,” which means either the sexual abuse crisis or the visitation of seminaries, which is in turn a response to the sexual abuse crisis. Either way, it may conflate homosexuality with pedophilia in some people’s minds, which again may promote stereotypes and confuse Catholics regarding the Catechism’s caution against unjust discrimination.
Also, unstated but implied in the document, is the premise that gay priests are unable to live celibately, which also contradicts the Catechism, which says not only that gay men should live this way but that they can. So the Instruction may be inconsistent with some traditional Church teaching. And if in time it is understood as such, this could vitiate its intent—for a house divided, as Jesus said, cannot stand.
In the end, I believe, this document will most likely do two things: Finally—a first—even if applied liberally, it will, on balance, decrease vocations, demoralize many gay seminarians and priests, disturb some gay and lesbian Catholics, and depress many lay Catholics who may see fewer priests in the future.
Second, it might be seen as a source of scandal, in the original sense of the Greek word skandalon, a stumbling block, something that is an obstacle to people’s faith. The Church may find itself wanting to apologize for this document in the future, much as the Church has for other activities that have contributed to the dehumanization of other groups. For the Instruction as written, at least, and as intended, at least, seeks to cast out—and keep out—from seminaries and religious orders celibate gay men. They are to be considered—at least officially—unwelcome, or are to remain unseen.
And the document also seeks to set aside the historic contribution of celibate gay priests, who often labor in silence in the vineyard of the Lord. These men—these seminarians and priests who have responded generously to the voice of God in their lives, who have lived celibate lives as the Church asks of gay men and asks of its priests, and who have dedicated their adult lives to the service of the Church and to the people of God—these men and those like them are to be officially cast out of the community and blamed for its sins, much as another group of persons were cast out in the time of Jesus of Nazareth. These seminarians and gay priests are the Church’s new lepers. Thank you.