Cambridge, MA. Like many of you, I am sure, I was surprised that the Senate actually voted to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell before ending its lame-duck session. In retrospect, it seems as if the long discussions and testimonies seem to have made a difference, and a few skilled political leaders in the Senate did good work in persuading senators to vote in favor of the repeal. Democracy at work.
In this context, I cannot help but think about where we are regarding gay men and women in roles of leadership in the Church. The Church is not a democracy, we know, yet it is a highly political and politicized organization. Some of its politicians are more able than our senators, others more inept. The Church’s teaching on sexuality (on which I am admittedly not an expert, well-read, etc., and so I will not directly address the substantive ethical and human issues involved here) has been firm on homosexuality, and in recent years, in concern about the very idea of gay seminarians. Purity looms. And yet, as a very large and very global Church with fluid borders, we also know that it is impossible for authorities as it were to close the borders and achieve their ideal of an entirely heterosexual clergy. The historians and social scientists among us confirm that there never was, never will be, a Roman Catholic clergy that is entirely unambiguously heterosexual. Rome knows this very well too. Those of us who are alert and notice the life of the Church can also see that obviously, and to good effect, gay men and women have served the Church in innumerable ways, and most often to very good effect.
And so my question at this moment is more about what is happening — really — in the Church, when we are a wide and varied community of human beings, all sinners and all graced, a community that reflects the sexual diversity of the human race at all levels of Church society – and yet have no vehicle for the kind of imperfect, political and politicized, yet ultimately significant decision-making such as occurred this past week in the Senate. We neither have a clear policy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, nor an apparatus for debate, affirmation, or repeal. (Or course we have bishops who meet and decide things, but they seem never to feel the pressure that senators do. Elections do clear the mind.)
In the current situation, some of us will just keep trying very hard to purify the Church, aiming at an entirely heterosexual clergy. Others among us will try very hard to resist that move, and to honor the sexual diversity that exists in the Church, making sure that our youngest members are welcomed and honored and advanced, whatever their sexual identities may be. Many or most of us will want to insist that the real issues are service to the community, a humane yet strict observance of celibacy (married clergy is another issue for another day), and doing our best to make sure that God’s call to religious and priestly vocations is heard and honored, neither silenced nor distorted nor denied by human schemes.
And all Catholics — gay or straight — will have to continue to seeing the Church from multiple angles, in multiple voices, at once: tradition matters as does Tradition; authority is essential to the Church’s well-being, even for liberals; the rules are not likely to change soon, and indeed the exclusion of gays from the priesthood seems to be a dominant goal at the moment, from what our leaders say; and men and women who are gay will still continue to serve in leadership roles in the Church, and still find themselves called to priesthood. Some Catholics have found all this intolerable, and have left, visibly or in spirit; most of us stay, and live with the ambiguities of how we actually are.
At a rather dreary level, it might seem that our situation as Catholics is some version of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, without the legislation actually in place or a rational plan for open discussion of what ails us. But ever the optimist - or better, ever hopeful - it seems to me that we are also forming an incredibly sophisticated membership, true believers – gay or straight, conservative or liberal – who have learned, continue learning, to read the Church always from multiple angles, never settling for anyone’s pure viewpoint. I suspect most of us wish for some kind of changes in the Church, but this unity-in-ambiguity, authority-with-sophisticated-responses-to-authority, might be a kind of adult Catholicism that is not so bad, after all, given how we are at the very end of 2010.
What do you think?