The Elephant in the Living Room

Wednesday, September 10, 2003



Yesterday, the Roman Catholic Church in America made it's largest settlment with suvivors of sexual abuse by priests to date. See the Washington Post article at Boston Archdiocese Agrees to Settle Clergy Abuse cases for $85 Million

A group of conservative lay Catholic thinkers met with the bishops to suggest that celibacy has nothing to do with the crisis, and the answer lies in a return to "orthodoxy" in matters of sexual morality. Participants included Russel Shaw and Deal Hudson among others. See the Washington Post article at Bishops, Group Discuss Scandal

I believe it is blindness to an elephant sitting in the living room of the Catholic Church that leads people to the conclusion that the answer to the abuse crisis lies in weeding out gays and dissidents and returning to "orthodoxy" (whatever that means).

If people were to follow all of my posts chronologically, they would see that three issues actually emerged earliest, and those same three issues continually creep into other essays in one way or another. The three issues are:

1) Women's ordination
2) Married priesthood
3) Blessing gay unions

What is the larger context that drives these three issues? Why do I care personally? Why do I keep waging the progressive battle on these fronts?

If we looked at all the arguments, homosexuality is the issue that provides the most insight into why I care. It is the elephant sitting in the living room of the Catholic Church.

If the conservatives are correct that blessing gay unions is immoral, and if they are correct in their position that all sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage is objectively disordered to a grave offense, and marriage must have an essential fecundity to be a marriage, consider the following:

This means effectively the following people are called celibacy:

1) Those who are "essentially" impotent.
2) Those who experience themselves as exclusively homosexual.
3) Those who experience themselves as exclusively pedophile or ephebophile.
4) Those who are hermaphrodite.
5) Those who are eunuchs (which isn't common in the modern world, but remains a possibility).
6) Those who experience themselves as some form of exclusive "perversion" such as bestiality.
7) Those who experience themselves as aesexual (in everyday language - the neurotically "frigid" or "repressed" ).
8) Priests and religious.

Given what has been said, should we be surprised if it were proven true that those who chose option 8 are comprised mostly of people who fall in the other 7 categories?

If a heterosexual man went to the seminary in the contemporary world, should he be surprised to find that many of his classmates - perhaps the majority of his classmates - fall in these other 7 categories?

Put yourself in this heterosexual person's place (put yourself in my place).

You elect to join a life that you know will be difficult, and you're not even sure you will be able to do it, but you are expecting to find support in the institutions.

Then, within the institution, you are confronted with the reality that there are a very few men like yourself who are struggling to do the same thing for the same reason.

The majority of men have embraced the life-style for other, wholly natural reasons - and grace builds on nature.

Furthermore, you cannot argue against these men being in the institution, because many of them are good men doing the best they can to live according to the Church's teaching - in the way that makes the most sense given what the Church teaches about their condition.

Charity demands that you do not make any attempt to drive them out, but instead see yourself in them. Mercy and pastoral sensitivity demand that you allow for the possibility that they are no more or less likely to "fall into sin" in this life-style than you. Justice demands that since this is the only moral option they have, you help them achieve the goals of the life-style.

But who helps you?

Then you are studying theology where it is made clear that marriage is a sacrament equal in dignity to the ministerial priesthood, so much so that there exists married priests in the Eastern Rites and celibacy was not the rule for priests until the 1100's.

So you start questioning things....How did the celibacy discipline come to be the rule of the Latin Church? What exactly are the origins of celibacy anyway?

Could it be that most men and women in history who embraced celibacy were what conservatives called "sexual deviants" trying to live a moral life as best they could all along?

You start asking yourself - with no intent to be homophobic, "How can we attract more straight guys like myself to this life?"....and it begins to dawn on you that maybe that's not the answer......

As you sit to pray and meditate or study each day, the questions keep coming....maybe the answer to attracting more heterosexuals is to permit priests once again to be married....this will attract more normal heterosexuals to priesthood....and maybe if gays had another outlet, the only gays who would join religious life were those with a true "religious" calling,... so you start thinking there must be a way to allow a sort of gay marriage.....and you start wondering, "Gee, if I believe in married priests now, isn't that what I would have chosen for myself if it were an option?"....and that thought starts to lead you to thinking that maybe one of your vocations (marriage or priesthood) are being denied by an institutional rule designed by what others would call "deviants"....and that starts you thinking that these men who don't like women too much might be doing the same to women who say they feel called to priesthood....etc.....

Get the picture?

So, as a straight guy, you seek some help working through these questions. You seek spiritual director after spiritual director - trying to find one who is straight like you - who has asked the same questions. When you find one, there's about a fifty-fifty chance he was on his way out the door. The questions were in his mind already and he was falling in love with a woman and preparing to leave to get married.

So a candidate like myself is left with a whole lot of questions and very few answers....

The issue I have with the conservative solutions to this problem is the assumption that some sort of "return to orthodoxy" and more stringent screening of candidates will solve the problem.

Yet, what evidence is there of any such thing?

The evidence is only that this would drastically reduce the number of priests.

Fans of people like Michael Rose or George Wiegel seem to think that the reason so many gays are in seminaries because, somehow, one gay got through formation many years ago and began recruiting vigorously....or some sort of gay conspiracy managed to form and go out and convince heterosexual seminarians that they should "become" gay, or "dissident theology" somehow created an environment where only gays and other non-heterosexuals would pursue the priesthood.

These are absurd theories.

Indeed, the evidence points to the contrary of what all the Michael Rose and George Weigel fans believe - orthodoxy breeds the attraction of non-heterosexual men to seminaries!

Orthodoxy drives all homosexuals, pedophiles, and other so-called "deviants" into the priesthood and religious life, because it offers no other viable option for them, and it holds no personally compelling attraction to the average heterosexual Catholic.

The Michael Rose and George Weigel fans will try to counter that the conservative seminaries have more students and they condemn homosexuality, how can they be attracting homosexuals?

If you know as many homosexuals as I do, it becomes pretty clear that many Catholic homosexuals believe the Church's teaching about homosexual acts - that's exactly why they chose to go to orthodox seminaries.

It's a very attractive option for them where the only other option in their mind is eternal hell-fire. They can form close emotional bonds with other men without the confusion of sexual activity they might find conflicting with their faith. They hope that through the prayer and ministry, their condition may be dignified and made holy. It is a life-style where they do not have defend the decision not to enter into heterosexual marriage with family and Catholic friends.

Once in the environment, it is true that a very small minority of homosexuals will then begin to fall into the temptations that surround them from living with other men like themselves. It is also true that in this environment, this minority might start thinking, "This is all a big joke. Why don't we all just 'come out' and admit we are gay and stop torturing ourselves trying to live celibately. Leave celibacy to the handful of straight guys around here."

These are the "third way" people - and they are a minority.

Yet, this minority is not "recruited" as ready forms from the realization of what the Church's own orthodoxy has produced.

What about the increase in vocations in conservative seminaries in the developing nations? Doesn't this suggest that the problem is with a materialist and over-sexed culture in America and the developed world?

I've been to Africa and Central America. Priesthood is a definite step up the socio-economic ladder for many poor Catholics. It is an opportunity for education, power, prestige, and status. There is no evidence that priests in developing nations are any more faithful to thier priestly vows than the developed nations. Indeed, in Africa, the abuse scandals seem to more commonly take the form of heterosexual priests literally raping nuns!

Furthermore, these nations are not free from the issues of homosexuality or pedopilia in the priesthood either, and "drop out" rates for priests are as high or higher in these nations. Moreover, while the raw number of candidates in seminaries in these nations has increased over recent years, the ratio of priests to laity continues to decline in these nations as rapidly as in the more developed world.

Keep in mind, as well, that most of the abuse scnadals we read about today were committed by people who went through Pre-Vatican II formation, when dissident theology was hardly tolerated. This also provides evidence that "orthodoxy" may be an underlying cause of oru problems.

Are gay marriages an answer?

Well, I'm not positive that we can call a same sex union a theological marriage.....but maybe my pastoral solution of restoring the rite of adelphopoiesis would help weed out those gays who are not called to priesthood or religious life (the ones who support "third way" thinking). See Thoughts on Homosexuality for more detail.

Is married priesthood an answer?

While I do not think this would reduce homosexuality, pedophilia, the priesthood, it would be more attractive to heterosexual candidates. We would have more priests - and more straight priests. I do not say this to disparage the homosexual priests who lives his vows well - but I think the people of God want more straight priests and I believe what passes for orthodoxy on this issue within the hierarchy often covers for those who are hiding their sexuality in the institution.

And the connection to women's ordination is tied to the married priesthood in the sense that if there exist married men who have had a valid calling to priesthood frustrated by "orthodoxy", it becomes easy to imagine that maybe women have as well - and as one reflects on the contradictions inherent to the opposition, it becomes the bigger issue from the standpoint of the justice.

In writing all of this, I do not mean to come across in any way as homophobic. There are fine and upstanding homosexual men living the priestly life in chastity and doing great ministry. And if pressed, I will refuse to provide specific examples or exact numbers to verify all I am saying - because people have a right to their privacy. I will also affirm that despite all I have written, there are normal heterosexual priests. However, I will also state that I have reason to believe they are the minority, and I cannot know how many of them are faithful to chastity at any given time.

And all that I have written is what drives me to keep pushing the issues I push hardest. It is the elephant in the Catholic living room that nobody wants to discuss. "Orthodoxy" breeds an environment where heterosexual priesthood cannot breathe. To solve the abuse crisis, we must think outside the box of "orthodoxy".

Peace and Blessings!

Those who wish to read more on these topics may wish to look at the following articles:

Is Ordinatio Sacerdotalis Infallible?
Petition to the Holy Father for Women Priests
Critique of Manfred Hauke's Opposition to Women Priests
Our Mother Who Art in Heaven...God as Mother
Why We Need Married Priests
Thoughts on Homosexuality
Can a Gay Man Be a Saint?
Supreme Court's recent ruling on Gays
The Abuse Crisis

Readers may contact me at


posted by Jcecil3 12:22 PM

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