Catholic commentary on culture, media, and politics.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

It's out, so to speak

I refer, of course, to the much-awaited Vatican Instruction on the issue of screening for homosexuality/SSA.

Back in 2002, a trio of psychiatrists and therapists, solid Catholics all, wrote an open letter to the US Bishops. It is sensitively written, imbued with a simultaneously gentle and authoritative tone, and is geared toward hope for forgiveness and healing, striking just the right balance of moral orthodoxy and pastoral realism.

The Vatican Instruction (see English translation below, with my profoundly valuable comments in italics) reads like a vibrant response to that letter. Kneejerk conservatives who favor blanket bans, and kneejerk liberals who think any form of discrimination is worse than unprovoked nuclear war, will not be happy with the Instruction. What it is, though, is Catholic.


INTRODUCTION

“In continuity with the teaching of Vatican Council II and, in particular, with the Decree ‘Optatam Totius’ on priestly formation, the Congregation for Catholic Education has published various documents with the aim or promoting a suitable, integral formation of future priests, by offering guidelines and precise norms regarding its diverse aspects.

In the meantime, the 1990 Synod of Bishops also reflected on the formation of priests in the circumstances of the present day. … Following this Synod, John Paul II published the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation ‘Pastores Dabo Vobis’.” “The present Instruction does not intend to dwell on all questions in the area of affectivity and sexuality that require an attentive discernment during the entire period of formation. Rather, it contains norms concerning a specific question, made more urgent by the current situation, and that is: whether to admit to the seminary and to holy orders candidates who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies."

Notice the absence of the word "homosexual." This careful distinction between being and behavior -- between person and perversion -- is a hallmark of sound Catholic moral thinking. It presumes that there are persons who struggle with homosexuality/SSA, not merely "born that way" aggregations of gayness held together by a J. Crew wardrobe. Despite 30 years of pro-"gay" media propaganda, which has unfortunately affected the Church at many levels, there exists no scientific proof of genetic causation. A tendency is not necessarily a natural quality, but a proclivity, an affective habit.

Ah, the glory and majesty of drawing distinctions. Thank you, Holy See.

AFFECTIVE MATURITY AND SPIRITUAL FATHERHOOD

“According to the constant Tradition of the Church, only a baptized person of the male sex validly receives sacred ordination. By means of the Sacrament of Orders, … the priest, in fact, sacramentally represents Christ, the head, shepherd and spouse of the Church. Because of this configuration to Christ, the entire life of the sacred minister must be animated by the gift of his whole person to the Church and by an authentic pastoral charity. “The candidate to the ordained ministry, therefore, must reach affective maturity. Such maturity will allow him to relate correctly to both men and women, developing in him a true sense of spiritual fatherhood towards the Church community that will be entrusted to him.”

Here we see the vital connection between biological and spiritual fatherhood. So simple, so direct: Christ takes the Bridegroom role service to, and union with, His Bride, the Church; priests thus sacramentally take Christ's place, and therefore ought to reflect aspects of His fatherly, and brotherly presence, i.e., be an essentially masculine leader and minister. Men afflicted with same sex attraction, whether wanted or unwanted, are simply unable to adequately represent (render present) the masculine presence of Jesus Christ in that unique sacramental relationship. This is true in terms of the priest's relationship to Jesus but also applies to the priest's relationship to his congregation, the Bride of the One whom he is meant to image. (Does it not give you the willies to think of a priest struggling against homosexual "feelings" for Christ? It happens.)

HOMOSEXUALITY AND THE ORDAINED MINISTRY

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church distinguishes between homosexual acts and homosexual tendencies. Regarding acts, it teaches that Sacred Scripture presents them as grave sins. The Tradition has constantly considered them as intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law. Consequently, under no circumstances can they be approved. “Deep-seated homosexual tendencies, which are found in a number of men and women, are also objectively disordered and, for those same people, often constitute a trial. Such persons must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” “In the light of such teaching, this dicastery, in accord with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, believes it necessary to state clearly that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called ‘gay culture’.”

This is not a complaint, but an observation: The phrase "deep-seated" leaves room for plenty of wiggle room for gay-friendly rectors, bishops, and cardinals' spokesmen like Tod Tamberg of Los Angeles. There is no foolproof screening process, of course, but this Instruction at least makes the line in the sand considerably more prominent. Notice the emphasis on profound respect.

“One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies. “Different, however, would be the case in which one were dealing with homosexual tendencies that were only the expression of a transitory problem - for example, that of an adolescence not yet superseded. Nevertheless, such tendencies must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate.”

Again, the three-year guideline is as subject to flexibility, shall we say, as is the term "deep-seated" subject to deliberate ambiguity. Inexhaustible is the cunning and the ambitions of dissenters. But I think it's a solid nudge in the right direction, a fact to be verified by the reactions of those who bemoan its publication.

DISCERNMENT OF THE CHURCH CONCERNING THE SUITABILITY OF CANDIDATES

“The desire alone to become a priest is not sufficient, and there does not exist a right to receive sacred ordination.

Thank you.

It belongs to the Church - in her responsibility to define the necessary requirements for receiving the Sacraments instituted by Christ - to discern the suitability of him who desires to enter the seminary, to accompany him during his years of formation, and to call him to holy orders if he is judged to possess the necessary qualities. “The formation of the future priest must distinctly articulate, in an essentially complementary manner, the four dimensions of formation: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral. In this context, it is necessary to highlight the particular importance of human formation, as the necessary foundation of all formation.” “Bearing in mind the opinion of those to whom he has entrusted the responsibility of formation, the bishop or major superior, before admitting the candidate to ordination, must arrive at a morally certain judgement on his qualities. In the case of a serious doubt in this regard, he must not admit him to ordination. “The discernment of a vocation and the maturity of the candidate is also a serious duty of the rector and of the other persons entrusted with the work of formation in the seminary. Before every ordination, the rector must express his own judgment on whether the qualities required by the Church are present in the candidate.” The spiritual director, though bound to secrecy, “represents the Church in the internal forum. In his discussions with the candidate, the spiritual director must especially point out the demands of the Church concerning priestly chastity and the affective maturity that is characteristic of the priest, as well as help him to discern whether he has the necessary qualities. The spiritual director has the obligation to evaluate all the qualities of the candidate’s personality and to make sure that he does not present disturbances of a sexual nature, which are incompatible with the priesthood. If a candidate practices homosexuality or presents deep-seated homosexual tendencies, his spiritual director, as well as his confessor, have the duty to dissuade him in conscience from proceeding towards ordination.

“It goes without saying that the candidate himself has the primary responsibility for his own formation. … It would be gravely dishonest for a candidate to hide his own 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 personality of him who believes he is called to serve Christ and His Church in the ministerial priesthood.”

No wall-to-wall "ban" (an impossibility anyway), no skating away from difficult discernment questions and problems, and a focus on multi-dimensional screening considerations -- human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral.

CONCLUSION

“This Congregation reaffirms the need for bishops, major superiors, and all relevant authorities to carry out an attentive discernment concerning the suitability of candidates for holy orders, from the time of admission to the seminary until ordination. This discernment must be done in light of a conception of the ministerial priesthood that is in accordance with the teaching of the Church. “Let bishops, episcopal conferences and major superiors look to see that the constant norms of this Instruction be faithfully observed for the good of the candidates themselves, and to guarantee that the Church always has suitable priests who are true shepherds according to the heart of Christ."

It is written. Let it be done.

4 Comments:

Blogger Patrick said...

Must you?

aggregations of gayness held together by a J. Crew wardrobe

Patrick Prescott

7:52 PM

 
Blogger Patrick said...

Uh oh. I was only thinking of the models typically used on their catalogue. The Gap wasn't quite the image I was looking for, nor was Abercrombie and Fitch. No offense. I confess to liking some J. Crew stuff (when I'm flush with cash, that is.)

BTW, did you read the Open Letter?

9:54 PM

 
Blogger Patrick said...

Yes. Why?

8:17 AM

 
Blogger Patrick said...

What I was driving at was, "What were your thoughts?" You can email them privately.

I've heard Dr. Fitzgibbon speak before. Seemed very wise and compassionate.

I personally thought the Letter deftly steered clear of the two extremes "Gay = God" and "Gay = the Devil," and focused on the PERSON, not some reductionist emphasis on disorder.

9:54 AM

 

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