against homosexuals in the seminaries isn't on the order of Catholics
will not eat meat on Fridays. The ruling isn't limited to disciplinary
matters that are indeed only for Catholics to concern themselves
with. When one observer pointed out that seminarians also have
rights, he invoked a cultural reality, which is that the practices
of Catholic clerics cannot be ignored by pleading the isolation
of the Catholic vocation. The question primarily addressed has
to do with the predisposition to homosexuality, a subject in which
everyone is interested.
letter says that the church respects homosexuals, but that it
"cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who
practice homosexuality, present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies,
or support the so-called gay culture."
document (it is less than 10 pages) attempts some sensible refinements.
Distinctions are to be made between "deeply rooted homosexuality"
and "homosexual tendencies that are only the expression of
a transitory problem such as, for example, an unfinished adolescence."
Homosexual leanings "must however have been clearly overcome
for at least three years before ordination to the diaconate."
difficulty presents itself: How is the seminarian expected to
pass muster here? The easiest way is simply to profess that his
gay leanings were a weakness of the past. But this is a form of
malingering, if not true. One of the planted axioms of sexual
equality is that homosexual inclinations are congenital. One can
be skeptical about this assertion while still granting the point
that someone who engages in homosexual acts at age 14 may, at
age 24, still harbor gay proclivities. If this is the case for
the aspirant priest, the practical question becomes simply: Is
he willing to tell the truth?
If so, under
the new ruling he will be denied the practice of his vocation.
If, on the other hand, he is willing to deceive, he will perhaps
proceed to ordination, but he will have shipwrecked the integrity
of his calling, which denies the right of any priest to conceal
the truth and ignore sinfulness.
are free to dwell on paradoxes. The seminarian in the confessional
is comprehensively protected as to privacy. He is at liberty to
lie to the confessor, but if he is willing to do so, what happens
to the whole architecture of his life? The foreign spy can sing
full-throatedly "The Star-Spangled Banner" even as he
awaits the explosion of the bomb he has planted in the Pentagon.
But the spy's vocation is not founded on truthfulness. For the
seminarian who lies, the integrity of his sovereignty over his
own affairs is at risk, even as it can be held that any man or
woman who, while married, consorts sexually with a third party
is betraying his or her own freedom to make oaths.
and their secular equivalents, adjudicate the conflict between
belief and behavior. A libertine can vow to reform, and it is
only asked of the homosexual that he shall have "overcome"
for at least three years any inclination to gay activity. But
it tantalizes the mind and stretches the imagination to project
a spiritual examining room in which the confessor is bound not
to act on private communications from the sinner; and the sinner
is technically free to continue in sin.
trained on the Vatican letter are looking at its effect in the
United States, for the piquant reason that sexual activity here
is almost studiously unregulated, yet the Protestant ethic is
a cloud that never quite dematerializes, from sea to shining sea.
There is, besides, a quite desperate shortage of priests, a decimation
of whose numbers would surely result from a hard enforcement of
the new document. And there is the continuing plea for change
in the matter of the all-male priesthood.
is unlikely to consider as still open a question that his predecessor
so decisively declared closed. Which leaves open the possibility
of miraculous changes in extra-theological practices, which is
the work of the Lord.