Catholic commentary on culture, media, and politics.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Back to (even more basic) basics

My good colleague A. Carlton Sallet almost wrapped up our discussion on the desirability of screening out gay seminarians. Almost. I can't speak for him but "on the rails" is precisely where I'm trying to stay. He quotes from the Catechism on the morality of homosexuality. As a Catholic, I agree. He then says:

Now, thus far I have heard two - and only two - arguments that could, should they be supported by facts, lend themselves towards supporting a ban on gay clergy...The arguments are as follows (my wording):
The proliferation of an increasing number of homosexual clergy has created a hostile climate in seminaries that dissuades heterosexual, masculine men from answering a call to vocations (the "lavenderization" argument); and
The presence of homosexual clergy (and the efforts of those who oppose a ban on same) play into the hands of those fifth column Catholics who seek to oppose and undo church teachings on a variety of issues, including same-sex marriage, abortion, the ordination of women, etc. (the "conspiracy" argument).

I would ask that we debate the above points in a manner that seeks an honest position, consistent with the magisterium.

Yes, and yes. I agree in full. But there is another reason, which you have now -- twice -- avoided mentioning: Homosexuality is a disorder -- even in people who try their best to remain chaste; and has been found to be strongly related both to pedophilia and the recruiting/seduction of teen boys.

So with no rancor, I ask, Why do you not want to address this, Carlton?

It would also be helpful if you could put yourself in the shoes of this neophyte, and try to understand how wonderful it is to be welcomed into an organization concerned only with the salvation of my soul and caring not a bit about this poor sinner's wretched past.

Obviously (I hope it should be obvious) every Catholic rejoices that you entered the Church. You bring gifts and self-evident talents we'd otherwise lack. Praise God. But we're not talking now merely of being welcomed into an organization, etc. The same Church is far more than a soul-saving device. It's a whole universe. We're talking specifically about her Christ-mandated right to ensure the moral and spiritual integrity of the training and formation of her priests. The salvation of your soul and mine (while supremely important to us) is a separate issue.

I don't go along with some conservatives who would single out homosexual behavior for special censure, as if there is no worse perversion on earth. But the fact is, the condition is objectively immoral, disordered (there is no sufficiently pastoral adjective for dissenters). And the road to healing for people who struggle with same-sex attractions is notoriously difficult to make manageable, and it's usually a very long, uphill one. Some people like to argue, "Hey, we're all sinners, so if we ordain a guy who slept with 10 women, we're being hypocritical homophobes if we ban the guy who slept with 10 men." The key distinction is that fornication is the immoral desire for a moral -- potentially sacramental -- act. Its immorality stems from desiring it apart from its God-designed context of marriage. But sodomy is always and everywhere an unnatural perversion. And desiring a perversion is itself intrinsically disordered.

Yes, the Holy Spirit, frequent Confession, the resolution to be chaste -- and even good psychotherapy - can do wonders, but do we really want priests who are distracted from their duties by a great internal struggle, especially during seminary studies when they're surrounded close-up for five years by objects of desire?

Perhaps, as a cradle Catholic, you lack this perspective and have difficulty understanding why I am reticent to advocate for the exclusion of others from active ministry in the church that saved even me.

You may be onto something, but I have to say I seriously doubt that being cradle Catholic has much to do with my assessment. (I'm actually a raised-rebelled-returned Catholic). And I know some very zealous converts from other communions who are more hardline than I on this issue. Besides, good sir, you're conflating two separate issues: while the Catholic Church is the earthly and sacramental presence of the mercy of Christ -- a hospital for poor sinners like myself -- the Church has at the same time not just the right but the DUTY to ensure that her priests are formed and trained properly in accordance with all the precepts of the gospel. We're also talking about priestly ministry, not personal commitment to living and spreading the gospel. In the marketplace, that's more our job than the priest's anyway.

Carlton, let me repeat what I wrote earlier, and this time I'm requesting your reaction: married Catholic men are excluded from active priestly ministry, as are all Catholic women (even holy, personable and gifted women); men who belong to other Christian faiths, men who are alcoholics, men who are divorced with no decree of nullity. Canon law expressly excludes them all from "active priestly ministry."

Is this unjust?

Last week, I spend a few hours with a former Vocations Director. This whole issue came up and his observation was that many seminary rectors and diocesan-hired psychologist now admit that, in the past, they have treated the homosexual condition in a far too clinical-neutral way, owing to a view of pastoral compassion that ended up backfiring. Big time.

One last time: I think the best way to "manage risk" is to do it at the source, at the seminary formation stage. Not downriver after momentum has gained. This approach, in my opinion, doesn't contradict the Church's general mission to be the mercy of Christ and to offer authentic compassion and welcome to sinners.

In this issue, as with most others facing the bishops, I believe we need to place clarity above agreement.

I look forward to your thoughts.


Blogger A. Carlton Sallet said...

Pat asked me:

"Yes, and yes. I agree in full. But there is another reason, which you have now -- twice -- avoided mentioning: Homosexuality is a disorder -- even in people who try their best to remain chaste; and has been found to be strongly related both to pedophilia and the recruiting/seduction of teen boys.

"So with no rancor, I ask, Why do you not want to address this, Carlton?"

But I DO want to address it! You see, I think you (and others) who separate homosexual acts from other sins against chasity (masturbation, fornication, adultery) as a worse evil are in error, and do so in opposition to the teachings of the Church. And, I think, I can prove it:

First, let us start with CCC 2396:

"Among the sins gravely contrary to chastity are masturbation, fornication, pornography, and homosexual practices"

This excerpt would seem to impute an equality of sinfulness to each these sins, a view I share.

But if you would like further proof, I can offer this snip from CCC 2352 as well:

"Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action."

Are those not the same, exact words the Catechism uses to describe homosexual sins?

My point - which I will now state clearly - is that I reject this singling out of homosexual acts for special condemnation and discrimination - a position which I believe not to be supported by the teachings of the church, as evidenced by the Catechism.

Sinful? Disordered? Yes - but no more nor less than other sins against chasity.

I cannot be clearer, and apologize if the limits of my articulation do not suffice to make known my position.

I will deal with your other points after some further consideration, but I wanted to share these initial points on which I am thus far misunderstood. Thanks.

6:14 PM

Blogger Patrick said...


You say (emphatically) that you DO want to address the issue I keep raising, and you alomst get around to it. I do not, for the record, "separate" homosexual acts from other sins. I make distinctions. I have no interest in starting a "which sin is worse" debate because it's off topic and holds little appeal for me. You keep citing the Catechism, which is a good thing, but unfortunately you enlist it beyond its purpose and limits.

The Catechism offers no devleoped moral comparisons. It is a simple summary of Catholic belief and practice, written for a wide reading audience. The section on sexual sins is crammed into a few short paragraphs. Not exactly a treatise on moral theology. For that you'll have to visit Adolph Tanqueray, Germain Grisez, Ronald Lawlor, OFM, or John Hardon, SJ, the Summa, et al.
The mere fact that the CCC lists several sexual sins alongside each other doesn't mean that the Church hasn't traditionally ranked them according to gravity -- a whole other topic.

I've argued *against* the very thing you say I advocate: namely, I OBJECT to singling out homosexuals as though it was the most severe of conditions. Please read what I write -- that sounds more harsh than I intend, but I don't know how else to say. And you're the one who feels misunderstood!

For the record, I also support heavy screening in the seminary for inveterate fornicators, masturbation and/or porn addicts along with seminarians who accept contraception. Gays don't deserve narrow witch hunts. If I was any clearer, I'd be a crystal vase.

You support gay seminarians, or at least object to any form of "unjust discrimination" such as screening them out prior to receiving Holy Orders. I think a balanced form of screening is at least theoretically possible -- for all the reason I've mentioned.

You equate the gravity of homosexual acts with other sexual sins on the (flimsy, I believe) basis that the Catechism happens to list them together.

What more is to be said? We may have arrived at the end of our debate cycle.

7:59 PM

Blogger A. Carlton Sallet said...

Didn't take two days after all. My reply is in.

8:13 PM

Blogger tim said...

I'm reading through much (though not all) on your topic of Homosexuality, especially when it comes to seminarians.

I am a former seminarian who attended a minor seminary in California. I graduated in the late 70's and my spiritual director was none other than Bishop Patrick Ziemman (then, Fr. Ziemman).

While I admit to not being on an intellectual level as you guys, I do believe I do possess some unique insights.

First off, I'd like to state my stance on the subject: I do not believe homosexuals have a place in the priesthood, period!

While I didn't attend the major seminary in Camarillo (St. John's)I did have classmates who did attend and one of my close friends did graduate and was ordained a priest for the diocese of Los Angeles.

Later, accusations against my friend and now former priest were to surface and I have not been able to contact him at all.

I can remember being called into late night counseling sessions in Fr. Pat's (Ziemman) bedroom office located in our dormitory.

He would start out the session rather innocuously by asking "How are things going?"

"Are there any problems?"

The line of questioning would progress into deeper personal questions like "Do you masturbate?"

"Do you like girls?, Boys?"

"Do you fantasize about homosexual acts"

The session would end with a very uncomfortable hug. Personally I could hardly wait to get out of there.

For the longest time I thought that these session were innocent and that He was just trying to be the good spiritual director and was just probing for any character inconsistencies and weaknesses.

It wasn't until many years later when the Church Scandal broke that I reflected on these and other episodes that I began to see that Fr. Pat was actually trying to exploit unsuspecting seminarians. Indeed, certain classmates would later make such accusations.

Earlier the closing of the minor seminaries in my local California area would leave me confused as to why the diocese was not calling the youth to attend these minor seminaries for vocation discernment.

It's now apparent to me there was no formation guidance, and audits if any were only superficial.

It wasn't that the ship had no rudder, the ship had been hijacked!

I welcome the review of the seminaries and I stand by my stance: "There is no place for homosexuals in the priesthood!"

I haven't talked about this much to anyone except a former classmate, however I felt I have to state my stance having lived through what I now recognize a very pivotal point in our seminary system.

God Bless
tim +<><

10:00 AM

Blogger A. Carlton Sallet said...

Tim - anecdotal accounts add flavour and ground debates - yours are most welcome! May I suggest though that I fail to see the nexus between "no homosexuals in seminaries!" and "there is a homosexual problem in seminaries."

Perhaps Archbishop O'Brien's inspections will vet out unseemly behaviours and tighten up management and accountability at those seminaries lacking in either.

12:16 PM

Blogger Patrick said...

Tim's experience is not just quaint, flavour-adding fluff, ACS. It may be anecdotal, but you'll find the strikingly similar anecdotes in most US seminaries. I've heard different versions of his experience from friends in different seminaries. For a fuller account of the near-universal occurance of what Tim describes, I recommend Michael Rose's book "Good Bye Good Men."

Oddly, you say you support Archbishop O'Brien's trouble-shooting visitations to seminaries. What -- unseemly behaviors have got to go, but those with the INCLINATION toward the unseemly behaviors have got to stay? Logic, thy name is pretzel.

1:08 PM

Blogger Patrick said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:09 PM

Blogger Therese Z said...

Side note:


That is PERFECT. I needed that term!

6:55 PM

Anonymous tz said...

I'm still wondering where there is room for the Holy Spirit and repentance in all this.

So, we erred by having psychologists define candidates in the 1970s, and now we still want psychologists, and perhaps polygraphists, and background checks that would make the FBI seem tame to determine who and who does not have a vocation? To the Priesthood, not the KGB.

I'm quite sure there won't be any problem priests if we filter right, but there won't be any John Viannys or probably a large number of other saints who also were priests or even bishops.

I'm not sure if we consistently applied the "disordered" category, that John Corapi would be a priest today, and that would be a huge loss.

I don't understand why Catholics complain about the secularization of the church, then use secular methods to determine who would or would not be a good priest.

I'll allow for a prudential judgment that after the scandals they can't allow homosexuals, but if the problem was with drugs, would we select out based on drug usage? Or if it were financial, those who gambled? Anger? Those who were in the military or police?

And maybe I am wrong, but as I understand it, although fornication is wrong, someone who was a playboy and had a harem of a dozen girls and a porn empire who alleges a damascus road conversion a year before entering the seminary would be more qualified to be a priest than someone with homosexual tendencies or temptations who has lived a perfectly celibate life for a decade before applying.

Or to do a weak imitation of CS Lewis:

My dear Wormwood - the easiest way to now destroy the vocation to the priesthood is to simply give the patient easily dismissed but strong homosexual temptations, as the best candidates will be honest and admit to them and be rejected before they can figureit out, while we can direct those with acceptable disorders right through the seminary door to meet the shortage and let these timebombs work their way through and set them off when they get to the parish or chancery. You see how our father below's plan is so perfect - we create a crisis by putting really disordered candidates through, and when so much fear is created when it comes out of the closet, we can get them to bring back the inquisition with the backlash, all the time forgetting that the vocation is mainly from god and that one good spiritual director will do better at finding out who is on our team than a gaggle of psychologists - most of whom play for our team already. Your affectionate Uncle, Screwtape.

I don't know what the working definition would be - anyone who was confused sometime in puberty, or someone who marched in the last gay pride parade?

8:35 PM

Blogger Patrick said...


I commend you for a thoughtful, nuanced statement of the issue. I, too, have doubts about how the screening will be administered, and wonder how much healing and repentance (not to mention how far back in the past is yet too near) is sufficient. Your point about the Holy Spirit and how we do an about-face when it comes to "secular" psychology vis a vis seminary evaluations, is well-taken.

Thank you, whoever you are.

9:09 PM

Blogger Dad29 said...

So--according to some, evaluating and screening individuals in the Seminaries will prevent such folks as St John Vianney...

There are far better methods of detecting homosexual inclination than "psycobabble" testing. First off, there's pure observation.

Further, while no plan is yet carved in stone, the reasonable man will allow that discerning the presence of Grave Disorder may take more than 30 days; it was not unusual to have 2nd- or 3rd-year Sem students be expelled for homosexual activity about 25-30 years ago, and that may be the case as we go forward.

The objective is not to produce "100% homosexual-free priesthood," as that will likely never happen. The objective is to produce well-formed men who are virtuous--sometimes heroically so.

6:56 AM


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