Last week the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy issued a document on seminary formation which re-affirmed the ban on the admission of homosexuals to seminary.
The Gift of the Priestly Vocation states, “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.”
This clarification, echoing a teaching of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, suggests that men who experience same sex attraction at a profound level are unsuitable for ordination.
As with so many clarifications, the answer provokes more questions. Why should a man with “deep seated homosexual tendencies” be barred from admission to seminary?
The document goes on to explain, “Such persons find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women.” Put simply, the homosexual condition inhibits fully natural relationships with people.
Once again, the answer produces more questions. What does such a statement mean? Is this a blanket condemnation of all homosexual men—implying that they are social pariahs— incapable of mature, reasonable and natural relationships with other people?
It is a bit more nuanced than that.
The first thing to understand is that God has created us as relational creatures and also as sexual beings. We therefore cannot help but relate to everything and everyone through the filter of our sexuality. Love must include a sexual dimension. We cannot love an “it”.
By “sexuality” I do not mean genital activity. I mean our masculinity or femininity. So, for example, as a man, I relate to my mother as a son—i.e. as a male to a female. I relate to my father as male to male. I relate to brothers, team mates, male colleagues and friends as male to male. I relate to sisters, aunts, female colleagues and friends as male to female. My masculinity relates to their femininity or their masculinity as the case may be.
These relationships are set within the natural context of what it means to be a man or a woman. The natural givenness of masculinity is intrinsically linked with the potential of being a biological father. The natural givenness of femininity is linked with the potential of being a mother.
Natural relationships within the family offer a wider definition of masculinity and femininity—women are sisters, grandmothers and aunts. Men are brothers, grandfathers and uncles. The family therefore naturally teaches us the simplicity of masculine and feminine relatedness.
In the spiritual dimension, it is therefore crucial that God is “masculine.” While God transcends human sexuality, Jesus Christ reveals him as “Father in Heaven.” We therefore relate to him as sons and daughters. This is important because we can love a Father, but we cannot love an amorphous being like “The Energy Force of All Creation.”
All relationships are therefore integrated with our human sexuality.
Homosexuality stands these relationships on their head. A homosexual man finds himself attracted sexually to men not women. His relationship with all men and all women must therefore be distorted.
This is not to say that all homosexual men are sex-crazed perverts. Neither is it to assert that every homosexual is sexually attracted to every man, nor is he repulsed by all women.
It is simply to observe that a homosexual’s masculinity is incorrect and therefore his masculine-feminine relationships must also therefore, by definition, be distorted.
Does this mean that all homosexual men are freaks and must be barred from priesthood? I don’t think so. The question is whether this attraction is “deep-seated.” Without doubt there are many seminarians and priests who experience same sex attraction.
For some it is a phase they pass through. Others, by God’s grace, have learned to integrate their feelings, and have grown into a mature love for God and others which transcends erotic attachment.
Indeed many have spoken of their homosexuality as being a paradoxical gift which has enabled them to look beyond conventional sexual expressions to a love for God and others that transcends mere physical instincts.
Furthermore, they witness that it was their call to priesthood and the gift of celibacy which enabled them to make this journey.
The key to the successful integration is for the Catholic homosexual to accept his tendencies as “intrinsically disordered.” Only as he understands his attractions as inconsistent with the natural order of human sexuality will he be able to integrate them successfully and move beyond them.
The document on priestly formation does not exclude this kind of mature integration, and only excludes those who, because of the deep seated nature of their condition will not or cannot accept the self discipline, formation and conversion of life that is necessary for such integration to take place.
Despite the kind pastoral language, the Catholic take on homosexuality will continue to clash with popular culture which is now virtually unanimous in accepting homosexuality as “natural.”
Despite the lack of evidence, the secular orthodoxy is that homosexuality is inborn. Furthermore, any suggestion to the contrary is met with charges of “homophobia” which the secular ideologues now put in the same category as racism.
The practical fact of the matter is that human sexuality is complex, and with the sexual revolution, it has become extremely confusing. Young men and women are increasingly bewildered by the sexual free for all and the turmoil of gender ideology.
In the midst of this, the Catholic Church is attempting to point out a clear path to a natural human sexuality which does not vilify or cast blame, while at the same time calls all people to a sexuality which is positive, natural, beautiful and life giving.
As with her usual high standards, she expects her priests to lead by example.