The National Catholic Review

In the wake of the sexual abuse scandals and numerous reports of priests abusing boys and adolescent males, some Catholics have expressed grave concerns over the ordination to the priesthood of gay men. The question arises: should the church continue ordaining gay priests, that is, homosexual men committed to living chastely in holy orders?

 

Healthy and dedicated gay men serving in the priesthood make an important contribution to the life of the church. The burden of proof, therefore, lies with those who would seek to prevent such ordinations in the future. And the arguments advanced to support that conclusion are unconvincing.

Gay men cannot maintain chastity. This widespread stereotype is contradicted not only by the experience of many celibate gay men in orders, but also by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which recommends chastity for all homosexuals (No. 2359). As the bishops of Switzerland stated on Oct. 3: “A homosexual predisposition lived in continence does not exclude one from ecclesial ministry....”

Gay men have a higher propensity to pedophilia than do straight men. The overwhelming evidence shows that homosexuals are no more likely to be pedophiles than are heterosexuals. That a small percentage of gay priests are sexually abusive should not condemn those who are not: this is simple stereotyping. One reason the public sees little evidence of healthy gay priests is the implicit restriction on a gay priest publicly admitting his sexuality. Thus, the better-known “examples” of gay priests have been, by default, notorious pedophiles. The majority lead chaste lives.

Gay priests cannot truly live celibately because they do not “give up” anything but a moral evil. This argument represents an impoverished view of celibacy, viewing it simply as sacrifice, rather than as a positive way of loving others. Certainly celibacy involves sacrifice, but claiming that gay priests cannot make the required sacrifice ignores the sacrifices they make in other areas of their lives. Like all priests, they offer the church their time, their energy, their obedience—indeed, their lives. Moreover, because of the difficulty in speaking about their situations, gay priests make this sacrifice largely in silence.

Gays form cliques that exclude straight priests. Certainly any group of priests who form cliques that exclude others must be challenged. And certainly if straight men feel excluded in some seminaries and religious formation programs such situations must be quickly remedied. But, overall, gay priests work well and easily with straight priests in all manner of ministries.

Gay priests have difficulty living celibately in same-sex rectories and communities. This is one of the more challenging arguments against ordaining gay men. But the difficulty is not insurmountable, and when it poses a problem suggests the need for a healthier formation, a deeper understanding of chastity and, ultimately, the dismissal of those unable to live chastely. And again, the argument is contradicted by experience: the majority of gay brothers, priests and bishops are able to maintain their celibacy living in rectories and religious communities.

By contrast, the main argument in favor of the ordination of gay men is far more convincing than the arguments against it—namely, the real-life example of thousands of healthy and hard-working gay priests and bishops. These men lead lives centered on Christ and in service to the church—celebrating the sacraments, running parishes, schools and dioceses and carrying out every type of Christian ministry. They do this in the face of withering criticism, frequent scapegoating and widespread prejudice, sometimes at the hands of those they serve. Their witness overcomes any argument against their ordination.

One could also advert to the gifts that gay priests bring to the church. Their experience of suffering persecution, for example, can often make gay priests more compassionate toward others; and their sometimes hard-won battle for self-knowledge can serve others in confession, spiritual direction and counseling. Michael Ford, the author of biographies of both Henri Nouwen and Mychal Judge, O.F.M., told America that these men “became more authentic priests precisely because their struggles revealed to them an inner truth: that spirituality and homosexuality were not competing forces within them, but rather mutually dependent gifts from the same Divine Source.”

Ensuring that the church ordains only psychologically healthy priests is one answer to the sexual abuse crisis. Scapegoating healthy and celibate gay priests is not. Historically, the ministry of gay priests has represented a significant contribution to the Catholic Church. Preventing the ordination of gay men would deprive the church of many productive, hard-working and dedicated ministers and would, moreover, ignore the promptings of the Holy Spirit, who has called these men to holy orders.

Comments

Charles Orloski, Jr. | 11/2/2002 - 5:56pm
I am responding to the excellent point made by Mr. Jim Roth about the current myopia of America Magazine. I guess it is pointless to continue, but I realize this was not always the case. The America Magazine of yesteryear would be discussing unemployment, health care, war against evil, snipers, Social Security, oil, civil liberty, the plight of Palestinians, drugs, the "let's go shopping" economy," et al.

Ordaining gay men?

One postive thing about your publication's absenteeism on big issues is that silence is superior to stupidity. For example, those claiming the Prophet is a terrorist.

Hopefully, Mr. Roth's letter was at minimum a catalyzer for objective and synoptic thought.

Mark & Teri D'Agostino | 11/17/2002 - 5:16pm
The Root of the Problem

For months we have followed the debate in America regarding church policy on the issue of child sexual abuse by the clergy. However, we feel compelled to comment on the direction that this debate has taken. America has focused on the suspected or abusive priest, his rights, and his continued role in the church. The recent editorial of November 11 addresses the role of gay priests in this crisis. Such discussion leads us even further from the real problem.

While these topics are of some relevance, the focus fails to address one reason that Catholic laity are so distraught over the current crisis. This crisis exists because of the intentional unwillingness of our bishops to protect innocent children from these predators. Why does America continue to ignore the real root of this problem?

We now know that many of our bishops were aware that priests within their diocese were guilty of child sexual abuse. For decades many of our current Catholic leaders turned their backs on the victimized children. They ignored their legal and moral responsibility to deal with sexual predator priests when they were identified. Many states have laws that require any individual to report physical and sexual child abuse to authorities as soon as they are made aware of the abuse. Clearly our bishops believed these laws did not apply to them. We all understand that there are times a moral code must supercede the laws of the land, but what higher moral ground were these men striving to reach? Was it pride or the need to protect the reputation of the church that allowed these men to so willingly sacrifice the innocence of children?

Do these church leaders expect us to accept the untenable excuse that their failure to act was the result of inadequate church policy regarding abusive priests? Adults who sexually abuse children occupy every socio-economic group, age group, race, and occupation. Many priests lament that now they are unfairly viewed with suspicion and distrust due to the attention given to sexual predators within the priesthood. Priests will continue to be treated differently because the laity realize that nothing has changed nor will it change until every bishop who chose to ignore his moral responsibility is replaced.

The final insult to our intelligence is the absurdity of allowing the offending bishops to participate in effecting a solution to this problem. How can Catholic laity possibly trust the church hierarchy to do the right thing in this situation when they already proved themselves to be untrustworthy?

The church has all the authoritarians it can use, what it needs is leaders. Moral leaders who fail to act morally cease to be leaders. Since the authority in the church is already in place for decades to come, it will be a long time before we can expect substantial change in our moral leadership.

We are left wondering how we can follow the authority of the Roman Catholic Church when its actions contradict the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Rev. Charles J. Norman, OSFS | 11/7/2002 - 9:17pm
Thank you for a well written article. The only issue for which you express some concern seems, from my lived experience, a non-issue. These opinions are my own, and not necessarilly those of my relgious institute.

Fr. Roland Calvert, OSFS | 11/7/2002 - 12:55pm
Thank you for a cogently argued and eloquent editorial. I regret you've received some negative letters. All of the respondents to Fr. Andrew Baker's article were unanimous in condemning his lack of logic. The fact that Rome seems to be considering a document that would encapsulate Baker's arguments makes your editorial very relevant indeed. Mr. Orloski claims you do not cover the "big issues." He must not be reading AMERICA regularly. You've had articles at some time on all of the topics he mentioned. You are not myopic in any way. Bishop Gumbleton and your editorial writer have some of the compassion of Jesus for those who are marginated. Thanks for the article and the editorial.

Charles Orloski, Jr. | 11/1/2002 - 8:11pm
At a time when world peace hangs in the balance and US leaders predict horrific domestic terrorism, America Magazine chooses to write about ordaining gay men? Ordaining gay men is not on too many people's minds that I am aware. Where is Father John Kavanaugh when we need him ?

Jim Roth | 11/2/2002 - 12:22pm
The teaching of the Church is that homosexuality is an "objectively disordered" condition. How can the Church continue to permit homosexuals to enter the priesthood and maintain the integrity of her teaching? Your comments about Henri Nouwen are revealing. You say that homosexuality is a gift from God. This only proves my point about the incompatibility of the "gay" propaganda machine and the teaching of the Church. The presence of significant numbers, anywhere between 30%-50% depending on who you talk to, of homosexual priests will result in the teaching of the Church being ignored and eventually it will wither and die. Which I think is what many people today really want. Most of the cases of sexual abuse currently sufacing in the Church involve homosexual men and adolescent boys, not acts of classic "pedophilia". There are two possibile explanations for this: 1. homosexuals are particulary inclined to the kind of behavior, or 2.the percentage of priests that are homosexual is much higher than is commonly thought. If this is not true, then show us the numbers. How many of the cases of abuse were committed by hetrosexuals and how many by homosexuals? Furthermore, the evidence that you allude to as supporting the celibacy of homosexual priests is contradicted by the studies of many in the field today, Dr. Judith Reisman, etc. The main thesis of your argument are flatly contradicted by the facts. Homosexuals are responsible for most of the cases of sexual abuse that are causing so much pain in the Church today. Homosexual priests do have a harder time maintaining chaste lifestyle than do their hetrosexual counterparts, and there is a "gay" subculture in significant parts of the Church today. Finally, your publication presents itself as a defender of the truth,unfortunatley that is not always the case. There are times when the myopia of your publication is just as bad as that of any "right wing" group, this is definitley one of them.

anthony di russo | 11/2/2002 - 8:55am
You make some good points about ordaining gays to the priesthood. But there is a point to those who distinguish between gay and homosexual, gay meaning an activist position advocating homosexuality as 'normal.'

In addition, we need to consider proportion. I think it was Freud or Jung who noted homosexuals seem attracted to art and religion in greater numbers than heterosexual men. If there is any truth to that, we need to ordain married men with families to ensure balance in the clergy. Every parish I have been in has had one or more married men I would propose for ordination. My criterion is simply dedication to Christ and the Church. That, sadly, doesn't seem enough to satisfy our bishops. Granted, parish life would stress a marriage even more than usual. That could be alleviated by ordaining older men whose children were already in the late teens or older. incidentally, the Economist noted a while back that white American middle class males don't seem to reach majority till they are 35 years old. To raise the ordination age to 45 would not be too far out of line.

Fr. Matt Eyerman | 11/1/2002 - 6:31pm
Congratulations on a brillant editorial.

Charles Orloski, Jr. | 11/2/2002 - 5:56pm
I am responding to the excellent point made by Mr. Jim Roth about the current myopia of America Magazine. I guess it is pointless to continue, but I realize this was not always the case. The America Magazine of yesteryear would be discussing unemployment, health care, war against evil, snipers, Social Security, oil, civil liberty, the plight of Palestinians, drugs, the "let's go shopping" economy," et al.

Ordaining gay men?

One postive thing about your publication's absenteeism on big issues is that silence is superior to stupidity. For example, those claiming the Prophet is a terrorist.

Hopefully, Mr. Roth's letter was at minimum a catalyzer for objective and synoptic thought.

Mark & Teri D'Agostino | 11/17/2002 - 5:16pm
The Root of the Problem

For months we have followed the debate in America regarding church policy on the issue of child sexual abuse by the clergy. However, we feel compelled to comment on the direction that this debate has taken. America has focused on the suspected or abusive priest, his rights, and his continued role in the church. The recent editorial of November 11 addresses the role of gay priests in this crisis. Such discussion leads us even further from the real problem.

While these topics are of some relevance, the focus fails to address one reason that Catholic laity are so distraught over the current crisis. This crisis exists because of the intentional unwillingness of our bishops to protect innocent children from these predators. Why does America continue to ignore the real root of this problem?

We now know that many of our bishops were aware that priests within their diocese were guilty of child sexual abuse. For decades many of our current Catholic leaders turned their backs on the victimized children. They ignored their legal and moral responsibility to deal with sexual predator priests when they were identified. Many states have laws that require any individual to report physical and sexual child abuse to authorities as soon as they are made aware of the abuse. Clearly our bishops believed these laws did not apply to them. We all understand that there are times a moral code must supercede the laws of the land, but what higher moral ground were these men striving to reach? Was it pride or the need to protect the reputation of the church that allowed these men to so willingly sacrifice the innocence of children?

Do these church leaders expect us to accept the untenable excuse that their failure to act was the result of inadequate church policy regarding abusive priests? Adults who sexually abuse children occupy every socio-economic group, age group, race, and occupation. Many priests lament that now they are unfairly viewed with suspicion and distrust due to the attention given to sexual predators within the priesthood. Priests will continue to be treated differently because the laity realize that nothing has changed nor will it change until every bishop who chose to ignore his moral responsibility is replaced.

The final insult to our intelligence is the absurdity of allowing the offending bishops to participate in effecting a solution to this problem. How can Catholic laity possibly trust the church hierarchy to do the right thing in this situation when they already proved themselves to be untrustworthy?

The church has all the authoritarians it can use, what it needs is leaders. Moral leaders who fail to act morally cease to be leaders. Since the authority in the church is already in place for decades to come, it will be a long time before we can expect substantial change in our moral leadership.

We are left wondering how we can follow the authority of the Roman Catholic Church when its actions contradict the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Rev. Charles J. Norman, OSFS | 11/7/2002 - 9:17pm
Thank you for a well written article. The only issue for which you express some concern seems, from my lived experience, a non-issue. These opinions are my own, and not necessarilly those of my relgious institute.

Fr. Roland Calvert, OSFS | 11/7/2002 - 12:55pm
Thank you for a cogently argued and eloquent editorial. I regret you've received some negative letters. All of the respondents to Fr. Andrew Baker's article were unanimous in condemning his lack of logic. The fact that Rome seems to be considering a document that would encapsulate Baker's arguments makes your editorial very relevant indeed. Mr. Orloski claims you do not cover the "big issues." He must not be reading AMERICA regularly. You've had articles at some time on all of the topics he mentioned. You are not myopic in any way. Bishop Gumbleton and your editorial writer have some of the compassion of Jesus for those who are marginated. Thanks for the article and the editorial.

Charles Orloski, Jr. | 11/1/2002 - 8:11pm
At a time when world peace hangs in the balance and US leaders predict horrific domestic terrorism, America Magazine chooses to write about ordaining gay men? Ordaining gay men is not on too many people's minds that I am aware. Where is Father John Kavanaugh when we need him ?

Jim Roth | 11/2/2002 - 12:22pm
The teaching of the Church is that homosexuality is an "objectively disordered" condition. How can the Church continue to permit homosexuals to enter the priesthood and maintain the integrity of her teaching? Your comments about Henri Nouwen are revealing. You say that homosexuality is a gift from God. This only proves my point about the incompatibility of the "gay" propaganda machine and the teaching of the Church. The presence of significant numbers, anywhere between 30%-50% depending on who you talk to, of homosexual priests will result in the teaching of the Church being ignored and eventually it will wither and die. Which I think is what many people today really want. Most of the cases of sexual abuse currently sufacing in the Church involve homosexual men and adolescent boys, not acts of classic "pedophilia". There are two possibile explanations for this: 1. homosexuals are particulary inclined to the kind of behavior, or 2.the percentage of priests that are homosexual is much higher than is commonly thought. If this is not true, then show us the numbers. How many of the cases of abuse were committed by hetrosexuals and how many by homosexuals? Furthermore, the evidence that you allude to as supporting the celibacy of homosexual priests is contradicted by the studies of many in the field today, Dr. Judith Reisman, etc. The main thesis of your argument are flatly contradicted by the facts. Homosexuals are responsible for most of the cases of sexual abuse that are causing so much pain in the Church today. Homosexual priests do have a harder time maintaining chaste lifestyle than do their hetrosexual counterparts, and there is a "gay" subculture in significant parts of the Church today. Finally, your publication presents itself as a defender of the truth,unfortunatley that is not always the case. There are times when the myopia of your publication is just as bad as that of any "right wing" group, this is definitley one of them.

anthony di russo | 11/2/2002 - 8:55am
You make some good points about ordaining gays to the priesthood. But there is a point to those who distinguish between gay and homosexual, gay meaning an activist position advocating homosexuality as 'normal.'

In addition, we need to consider proportion. I think it was Freud or Jung who noted homosexuals seem attracted to art and religion in greater numbers than heterosexual men. If there is any truth to that, we need to ordain married men with families to ensure balance in the clergy. Every parish I have been in has had one or more married men I would propose for ordination. My criterion is simply dedication to Christ and the Church. That, sadly, doesn't seem enough to satisfy our bishops. Granted, parish life would stress a marriage even more than usual. That could be alleviated by ordaining older men whose children were already in the late teens or older. incidentally, the Economist noted a while back that white American middle class males don't seem to reach majority till they are 35 years old. To raise the ordination age to 45 would not be too far out of line.

Fr. Matt Eyerman | 11/1/2002 - 6:31pm
Congratulations on a brillant editorial.

William A. Donohue | 1/29/2007 - 1:53pm
The editorial on “Ordaining Gay Men” (11/11) does not want to come to grips with the fact that the overwhelming number of priestly sexual abuse cases that have come to light have been committed by gays. It does no one any good to pretend there isn’t a problem here. This does not, however, mean that the church hasn’t been blessed by many priests who are gay. No doubt it has.

The editorial struggles to say that it would be ill-advised to ban gays from the priesthood. Of course it would be, and for one very good reason: no sooner would the ban go into effect when we would learn that a great gay priest, who is celibate, got past the radar. What then? The scandal that would erupt by bouncing this priest would be nothing compared to what we’ve been going through all year.

The answer, then, is to screen more carefully so that immature men are not allowed to become priests.

John M. McDermott, S.J. | 1/29/2007 - 1:41pm
Your recent editorial in favor of ordaining gay men suffers from some inconsistencies (11/11). Though you cite the Catechism of the Catholic Church in your support, you neglect its characterization of homosexual acts as “intrinsically disordered” and “of grave depravity” (No. 2357). Tendencies to such acts can hardly be called “gifts.” Moreover, if pedophilia is divided equally among heterosexuals and homosexuals, pure pedophiles are rare in proportion to ephebophiles, and the vast majority of cases involving priests consists in the abuse of teenage males. That points to homosexuality. Finally, gay groups among priests and seminarians do exist and recruit; they do not dissolve under finger-wagging. One can only pray that the universal church, in whose name the pope speaks, has a wider view than America. In a time of “crisis,” you propose business as usual with the same ideology and practices that have produced the crisis.

Francis J. Murray | 1/29/2007 - 1:40pm
Thank you for your editorial “Ordaining Gay Men” (11/11), which at long last puts this issue into a proper context. It is surprising that outspoken decision-makers within the hierarchy, who ought to know better, have failed to understand that there are right now in their midst many effective priests who happen not to be heterosexual and that they would deny ordination to such men in the future.

Perhaps these prelates have been misled because in recent years some priests have adopted some traits that are associated with the gay lifestyle or have espoused particular causes that are unique to the gay agenda. Maybe it is time for these few priests to eschew certain of these traits and causes, particularly those that lead to exclusivity or confrontation with the hierarchy. This could be interpreted as a part of their commitment to celibacy.

We also have to come up with a better term than “gay priests.” “Gay” is a value-laden predicate that is fraught with lifestyle and political connotations. Most priests who are not heterosexual are not gay in this sense. When we apply the term “gay” to these men, we wrongly attribute to them an entire sub-culture in which they do not participate. This has surely contributed to negative attitudes within the hierarchy and elsewhere.

Andrew P. Haffey | 1/31/2007 - 9:10am
Acceptance into the seminary and ordination of gay men is now shaping up to be one of the most divisive and painful issues to face the church. As a clinical psychologist who provides my diocese with psychological evaluations of seminary applicants, I am most distressed with the announcement that the Vatican is set to bar gay men from entering seminary training and ordination. Your editorial on Nov. 11 articulates very well the argument against this development, and I wish to add that the church is alone in its stance that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered.” Both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association have long held that homosexuality is not a disorder.

We psychologists know that seemingly to bar gays from the priesthood will only have the opposite effect to what it intends—that is, gay men will be forced to repress their sexuality, which will only lead to eventual catastrophe. We must call upon the American bishops to resist this impossible demand. I would hope that they would have the courage to resist this seemingly easy scapegoating response, which is doomed only to cause more scandal in the future.

Lee P. Kaspari | 1/31/2007 - 9:08am
Thanks for your forthright editorial regarding “Ordaining Gay Men” (11/11). In the broader context of today’s church, I would add married men to your conclusion. Preventing the ordination of gay and married men would deprive the church of many productive, hard-working and dedicated ministers and would, moreover, ignore the promptings of the Holy Spirit, who has called these men to holy orders.

W. E. LaMothe | 1/29/2007 - 1:55pm
The Jesuits continue to amaze me. Your “Ordaining Gay Men” (11/11) points out the fine contribution the celibate gay priests make to the life of the church. For those of us who oppose the ordination of homosexuals, you say the “burden of proof” for such a policy lies with us.

Today the proof is almost daily in newspapers and on television screens. Hundreds of men have come forward to say priests abused them while they were in their charge. Bishops have even been accused, and some have now admitted their guilt.

In the great majority of cases, we are talking about homosexual priests going after adolescent boys. The actual cases of pedophilia (abuse of a young child) are small. The problem is homosexual priests recruiting young boys and young men.

The reality is that homosexuality is a lot more than a “different lifestyle.” It is a mind-set that permeates thoughts and actions. No doubt there are some homosexuals who can live a celebate life. But I believe they are the exceptions and need to guard day and night against the desire to sin again. Yes, by the way, the Catholic Church still believes the practice of homosexuality is a sin. I wonder if the Jesuits agree?

The bottom line is, if you put the wolf in the hen house you are bound to have a lot of casualties.

Francis DeBernardo<BR>Executive Director, New Ways Ministry | 1/29/2007 - 1:54pm
Kudos to America for a well-reasoned editorial against the proposal to ban gay men from the priesthood (11/11). Such a policy has no valid theological or scientific basis and is not consistent with the church’s view of ministry, priesthood or homosexuality.

Whether they have been public about their orientation or not, gay men and lesbian women have served the church faithfully for generations. They have served as priests, teachers, members of religious communities, bishops, cardinals, artists, scholars, musicians, contemplatives, missionaries, hospital staff, spiritual directors, liturgists, catechists and in every ministry imaginable. The draft document not only unjustly disparages gay priests and seminarians, but also dishonors the service that thousands of gay and lesbian Catholics continue to provide our church.

Moreover, if the ban is enacted, it will cause grave pastoral harm, with many people—homosexual as well as heterosexual—losing faith in church leadership and potentially leaving the Catholic fold. Such a policy will force gay priests and gay/lesbian church personnel to live in further secrecy, shame and fear—certainly not an opportune context for Christian ministry. It will alienate many lesbian/gay Catholics, their parents, family members and friends—all who know from personal experience the reality of holy and wholesome lesbian/gay lives. At a time when reconciliation and healing are needed, such a policy will only further harm and divide our church.

Let’s hope that our U.S. bishops will be as courageous as America and that they will exercise their collegial responsibility by warning that such a policy is not only unjust, but will potentially wreak disaster on a church already so badly fractured.

Kevin L. Flannery, S.J. | 1/29/2007 - 1:22pm
I find the argumentation of your editorial “Ordaining Gay Men” (11/11) weak and the position set out erroneous. For instance, the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that homosexuals are obliged to remain chaste does not, as you claim, contradict those who hold that gay men are less likely to maintain chastity. Second, your argument that “evidence shows that homosexuals are no more likely to be pedophiles than are heterosexuals” ignores the fact that most of the clergy sexual abuse cases recently brought to light involved homosexual activity. Third, against the argument that “gays form cliques that exclude straight priests,” you offer the statement that “gay priests work well and easily with straight priests in all manner of ministries.” This is called begging the question. Ditto for your argument that gay priests do not have difficulty living in same-sex rectories and communities, since “the majority of gay brothers, priests and bishops are able to maintain their celibacy living in rectories and religious communities.” Fourth, your argument that the ordination of gay priests is to be embraced because many gay clergy dedicate themselves to “service in the church” ignores the fact that gays—by which I mean homosexuals committed to a significant portion of the gay political agenda—are unlikely to accept church teaching regarding the objectively disordered nature of the homosexual propensity and are more likely, therefore, also to dissent from church teaching on other matters.

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