So far as I can tell, the Catholic Church has always said officially that if you’re what’s called “gay” you shouldn’t become a priest. Also, at the highest levels the Church has always been independent enough to say, perhaps after hemming and hawing and various delays, what they think is so on important issues. That’s why you have a pope and he gets his own little country. So the bottom-line position in the recent Doomsday Document on same-sex inclined seminarians isn’t particularly surprising. For me, an aspect that’s more interesting, at least from the standpoint of theory, is the justification offered, that
The candidate to the ordained ministry … must reach affective maturity. Such maturity will allow him to relate correctly to both men and women, developing in him a true sense of spiritual fatherhood towards the Church community that will be entrusted to him … those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called “gay culture” … find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women.
So the basic point is that homosexuality undermines the sex-role and familial stereotypes that are part of what constitute the Church and good human relations within it, as demonstrated by the rule that only men can be ordained to the priesthood. For my own part, I favor those stereotypes, I think they’re part of what constitute every normal human being and every possible society. Still, all respectable people and mainstream authorities insist that the opposite position is part of basic rationality and human decency. I wonder how this aspect of the Instruction will play out?
So far as I can tell, people aren’t paying attention to it. The Left is mostly abusing the Church and Pope for being homophobic, while (neo)conservative Catholics are mostly paying attention to prudential aspects, what to do about gay mafias, rejection of Catholic teachings on sex and the incidence of predatory homosexuality, while perhaps worrying a bit about the plight of seminarians who are sexually attracted to other men but love Jesus and the Church and accept Catholic teachings.
The latter things are important, but they’re not the whole point. If gay mafias and predatory pederasts are the problem, and loyalty, piety and devotion are what’s needed to make a good priest, then an all-female priesthood would likely be a step forward. To sharpen the point a bit, to me it seems that:
- Priesthood is fundamentally a liturgical and symbolic role. The most important thing a priest does is celebrate the sacraments, especially the Mass. That means that what he is matters much more than what he does in any pragmatic sense. He’s not basically a bureaucrat, social worker or performer. Those things are important but other people can do them just as well.
- A Catholic priest must be a man. That shouldn’t be understood as an arbitrary rule that happens to be so just because it’s so. A priest’s most important actions are his ritual and therefore symbolic actions, and a man doesn’t function the same way symbolically as a woman does. If you interchange the male and female characters in a story it’s not the same story. That’s a basic fact about how people understand things, one that I think corresponds to reality, and it always struck me as a basic reason you can’t have female priests.
- A man sexually attracted to other men is of course a man, so he can be a priest. “Homosexuality” is not an essence or identity, it’s a pattern of inclinations. Nonetheless, he lacks a fundamental disposition that enables him to respond to others and others to respond to him as a man. That detracts from his ability to make present to the people what the Mass is, in the same way it would detract from that ability if the celebrant were dressed and made up like a Edwardian duchess and the chalice and so on looked like a tea set. The reality would be there, but the details would not point the people toward that reality, one essential feature of which is the maleness of the celebrant.
- So Church says, “why go for that?” To me that seems a perfectly good question.
I suppose my basic objection to the way the issue is discussed is the apparent assumption that rationality is a matter of finding the resources and organizational structures needed to achieve some state of affairs defined as good, so that roles should be understood in the way rationally organized bureaucracies understand them, as a matter of finding motivated and technically qualified operatives to carry out defined functions in a campaign. In fact, life and human society can’t be understood that way, and in particular the Church can’t be understood that way.