Cardinal Josef Ratzinger was the author of some of the most vicious, anti-gay documents to come out of the Vatican in the 1980s, labeling even the status of being homosexual “an intrinsic disorder” and suggesting that gay victims of violence bring it upon themselves by claiming civil rights protections for behavior “to which no one has any conceivable right.”
Now, as Pope Benedict XVI, he has made an attack on gay people his first major act, ordering Catholic seminaries to expel men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies,” even going so far as to encourage their confessors to “dissuade” these men in the sacrament of Penance from “proceeding toward Ordination.”
The document is widely viewed as a response to the priest sex abuse scandals, though it makes no mention of men already ordained. It is being condemned by gay priests and their allies as scapegoating, an insult to their ministry, and unsound psychologically and theologically. Some seminary directors have preemptively rejected the document, others welcome it. At least one American priest has resigned over it.
The Catholic Church, which already excludes women and married men from seminaries, now explicitly bars homosexual men, unless that orientation is deemed “transitory” and has not been acted upon for three years.
The document from the Congregation for Catholic Education, officially released Tuesday but leaked weeks beforehand, calls gay sex “intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law,” saying that it “can never be approved under any circumstances.” It says that men with a homosexual orientation “find themselves in a in a situation that seriously obstructs them from properly relating to men and women” and from possessing the kind of “affective maturity” necessary to developing “a true sense of spiritual fatherhood.”
Father Bernard Lynch, a priest and psychotherapist, told Gay City News, “It is bad psychology, so it has to be bad theology” that will cause “psychological splitting.”
“Priests are living in relationships with women, especially in the Third World, and or living in a gay relationship, yet the public perception is that they are straight and celibate,” Lynch said. “This document contributes to the institutionalization of psychological illness.”
Lynch, now based in London, was once active with Dignity/New York where he was an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights in civil society and acceptance of gay sexuality within his Church. He has been a priest for 34 years.
“I’ve been told I had a transitory homosexuality since I went to confession at age 11,” Lynch said. “I was told it was a phase. I didn’t know I was gay until I was 29.”
He said his brother gay priests “have an obligation more than ever to say that their God-given sexuality is holy and good. The only rationale for going into the priesthood now would be for them to bear witness to this.”
Lynch, now 58, sees darker implications in the documents.
“Every human or civil right gained by gay people over the past 20 years has been vehemently fought against by my Church,” he said, adding, “To teach that as LGTB people we are ‘disordered in our nature and our love’ cannot be separated from the suicide of so many gay teenagers, the queer bashings and bullying in our school yards, and the assault and sometimes murder of gay people in our streets.”
Father John McNeill, a founder of Dignity/New York who was expelled from the Jesuits for refusing to stop preaching that homosexuality can be practiced in consonance with Christ’s teachings, challenged the notion that the abuse scandal was gay-related, calling abusers “self-hating, disturbed people” in a recent interview in the liberal National Catholic Reporter. He told the newspaper that the gay ban will usher in “an era of the Holy Spirit” wherein priests and lay people will look more directly to their God for guidance and ignore the oppressive hierarchy.
“Just another sign of God’s shrewdness,” McNeill said.
McNeill, who lives in Florida with his partner of 40 years, Charles Chiarelli, said that the Vatican’s anti-gay tirades could have a positive effect on gay Catholics.
“They’ve come to see Church teaching on homosexuality as destroying their self-image, so they’ve had direct access to God, based on prayer, spirituality and freedom on conscience.”
He added that the priest shortage itself will empower the laity, another sign of “God’s shrewdness.”
Father Joseph Fessio, provost of Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida and a former student of Ratzinger’s, drew the opposite conclusion, arguing on PBS’s “News Hour” on Tuesday that this new teaching will increase vocations over time. Currently, he said, “young men who accept this document or what is taught have been excluded from the seminaries for being too rigid or they’ve been excluded because they have a view of sexuality which corresponds to the Church’s teaching. And, as a result of that many seminaries and religious orders have had a preponderance of homosexual men there. And even when you have a solid heterosexual, orthodox Catholic young man joining the seminary, he finds himself in this homosexual subculture and leaves. Those seminaries who have been operating according to what this document teaches already for decades are the ones that have many priests and many seminarians in them.”
Father James Martin, SJ, a contributor to “America,” a Jesuit weekly who debated Fessio on the News Hour, cited the studies of Sister Katarina Schute on seminaries.
“She said that this hope that somehow straight men would rush in to fill this gap in vocations is really a misguided one,” he said.
Martin said the new policy would exclude men such as “Father Mychal Judge, the hero at the World Trade Center. There was a man who was known by many of his friends to be celibate and gay and was this kind of national hero.”
Fessio responded that “over 400 priests have died of AIDS. I don’t think they got that from water fountains. One bishop and one Jesuit president of a university have died from AIDS. So I doubt they were chaste and celibate.”
Fessio then added, “But someone who promotes the gay lifestyle, who is claiming that homosexuality is a gift, is ipso facto dissenting from Church teaching. And we may call him a good priest; he may be compassionate; he may be helping the poor, whatever. He may go in to take people out of the World Trade Center when they’re burning. But that does not mean he’s teaching what the Church expects him to teach.”
Rev. Gene Robinson, the out gay Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire whose consecration may precipitate a schism in the worldwide Anglican Communion, told Reuters that the language of the document was “offensive” and comes “from people who profoundly do no understand gay and lesbian people and who know next to nothing about being gay or lesbian.”
In Phoenix, Father Leonard Walker, 58, pastor of Queen of Peace Church, resigned over the document, telling the Arizona Republic he was no longer comfortable “wearing the uniform” of the priesthood.
“It’s like a Jew wearing a Nazi uniform,” Walker said. “I could no longer stay in that institution with any amount of integrity.” He also cited his bishop, Thomas Olmstead, and the Vatican for “aggressive anti-gay positions.” He “declined to disclose his sexual orientation,” according to the newspaper.
Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called the Vatican document “appalling,” saying it “defames gay people” and blames “gay men for the Church’s own criminal conduct in fostering and covering up decades of sex abuse of children and young people.” He also said that it says to “the thousands of gay priests who have given their lives to serving their Church that they should never have been ordained in the first place.”
Foreman said that the “silence of gay and bisexual priests and the thousands of Roman Catholics who know and love them” must now end. He urged them to come out and denounce “this affront to their faith, vocation, and dignity.”
In anticipation of the release of the document, Catholic gay activist Brendan Fay sent an e-mail around calling for a picket at St. Patrick’s Cathedral this past Sunday. Only Fay showed up, carrying a sign with an image of Judge being carried dead from the World Trade Center on 9/11.
“We cannot be silent in the face of such statements,” Fay said, adding he knows people who have left the Church over this declaration. For his own part, “I think about those in the Church who were there for me as I went through the painful struggle of being gay and Catholic.”
When Gay City News forwarded Fay’s e-mail call for a picket to a list of LGBT activists, the only responses returned were hostile. “There is only one way to change the church—LEAVE THE CHURCH. Money talks. The rest is bullshit,” one said.
Veteran gay activist Chris Cooper wrote, “Good luck to the protesters, but I think this is misguided. Let the Catholic Church do what it wants about its internal staffing; with a shortage of priests, they’re only slitting their own throats. It’s none of our business.
“When they intrude on politics to try to force us by law to live by the rules of their religion (i.e., fighting gay marriage), THAT’s when they make their religion our business, and we should be out protesting in droves Gays who join that priesthood are collaborators. I have little sympathy for their plight.”
Outside St. Patrick’s this past Sunday, Nathan and Maura Montague of Nashville were leaving Mass.
“I haven’t studied it enough,” Nathan, who described himself as a non-practicing Catholic, said of the document. “My gut feeling is that it is unfortunate.”
“The Church is slow to change,” he added.
“It’s a shame to exclude anyone,” said Maura, who said she was raised “Catholic and traditionalist.” She said that she has been “frustrated with the Church lately—it seems to be missing the point.”
“We are all made in God’s image,” she said.
Stephen and Brenda, a couple from Australia there with their baby son, also sounded notes of dissent.
“I’d rather have a homosexual priest than someone who abuses children,” Brenda said. “The church is crying out for priests.”
“There are so many contradictions in the Church,” Stephen said.
The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, William Skylstad, called the document “timely” in light of social turmoil over homosexuality and same-sex marriage, and said in a statement that it was “valid” to accept priests only if they can “faithfully represent the teaching of the Church about sexuality, including the immorality of homosexual genital activity.”
Father Tony Anatrella, SJ, a psychologist who expanded on the document in the Vatican newspaper, wrote that homosexuality “was a sexual tendency and not an identity.”
In Michigan this week, Father Thomas J. O’Brien of Bloomfield declared himself “faithful, hardworking, celibate, and gay,” according to the Detroit Free Press. “It just hurts too much not to say something” after the document’s release, he told the newspaper.
Back in September, Father Gerald Chojnacki, SJ, New York’s Jesuit Provincial, mindful of the pending Vatican pronouncement, told his priests that “he was asking bishops to tell Vatican officials who are drafting the policy ‘of the great harm this will cause many good priests and the Catholic faithful,’” Fox News reported.