Sex and seminarians

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

8 thoughts on “Sex and seminarians”

  1. Little Country
    Dear Mr. Kalb and Fellow Readers,

    I am somewhat offended by the statement, “That’s why you have a pope and he gets his own little country.” There can be no less patronization of His Holiness. A little country is a far better place than the Coliseum. That said, make no mistake the expression is carefully placed to make a point that in no way intends to demean His Holiness. The place, though, needs explanation.


  2. Priests
    I am no expert on priests and/or the priesthood. I did have a couple of thoughts as I read your piece, however, just remembrances of what other people have said.

    I recall that, as demands for the ordination of women percolated throughout the Church, either John Paul II or his spokesman made the point that the priesthood was established by Christ, that the commission was limited to men, and therefore the Church’s authority to ordain (which comes from Christ) is limited to men. Therefore, even if the Church wanted to ordain women, it had no authority to do so.

    With respect to homosexuality and the priesthood, Fr Nuehaus has repeatedly made the point that the solution is simply orthodoxy, and that if orthodoxy had been followed and enforced in the first instance none of the Church scandals would have happened in the first place. Why must orthodoxy be defended? If a person or group proposes to change the orthodox understanding of things, then the burden should be on them, not upon the orthodox.

    In his “Book on Adler,” a small book on orthodoxy and authority, Kierkegaard drops the following footnote during a discussion of “reformers:”

    “Caesar tells that it was a custom among the Gauls that everyone who made a new proposal had to stand with a rope around his neck—so that they could promptly get rid of him if it did not amount to anything. If this commendable custom were to be introduced in our day, God knows whether the country would have enough rope, since the whole population has become project planners, and yet perhaps in the first place rope would not even be needed—possibly there would be no one who would volunteer.”

    • I thought the reasoning was
      I thought the reasoning was interesting because it didn’t say the solution is orthodoxy but rather developed the implications of the rule that women can’t be priests instead of just letting it sit there as a rule that says whatever it happens to say. If orthodoxy, or holiness, or any other praiseworthy quality of mind and spirit were the qualification then women could be priests. The point of the instruction though is that something more than biological maleness is needed, although that kind of maleness is enough for validity. The instruction says that the position is fundamentally masculine so if you have an anti-masculine orientation then you’re not a good choice. I think it’s extremely important that it says that.

      [I don’t understand Mr. Henri’s “own little country” point.The Pope gets 108 acres, which is a very little country, to establish his independence. It’s not patronizing to say so.]

      Rem tene, verba sequentur.

      • Orthodoxy
        1. “If orthodoxy, or holiness, or any other praiseworthy quality of mind and spirit were the qualification then women could be priests.”

        I didn’t intend to use the term “orthodoxy” as meaning the beliefs of a specific candidate for the priesthood. I meant to use it in the sense of “orthodox practice is that priests are male.” With respect to Fr Neuhaus, I take his use of the term to mean: “Priests are celibate, period.”

        I apologize if my use of the term was ambiguous.

        2. “The instruction says that the position is fundamentally masculine so if you have an anti-masculine orientation then you’re not a good choice. I think it’s extremely important that it says that.”

        I have no quarrel with this, and in fact your emphasis upon the symbolic character of the liturgy and priesthood is important. I am not pleased with the exerpt you quote from the Vatican, which I view as a sociological justification for a male priesthood; this justification rejects the liberal conclusion by use of liberal categories and analysis.

        However, whatever explanation or justification is given for a male priesthood, is my memory correct in recalling the Vatican saying something to the effect that: “Even if we wanted to ordain women, we can’t, because Christ has authorized us only to ordain men”? Or is my memory just wrong?

        • But in order to have a
          But in order to have a concrete moral doctrine the Church must have some notion of what man and society are like. She must therefore have an anthropology and sociology. Those things don’t have to be liberal.

          The Vatican had indeed said “we are not authorized to ordain women.” The point of my comment was that it’s unsatisfactory to leave the matter like that since Catholicism is a system of coherent meaning. Say-sos are not simply say-sos but have a basis in the overall system that it is part of the task of theology to investigate.

          Rem tene, verba sequentur.

          • This is going a bit to the
            This is going a bit to the side, but the thing that has been troubling me is precisely the fact that the public doesn’t seem to understand that there is a ‘why’ when it comes to so-called ‘women priests.’ Whenever you hear about it on the news or such, they always speak in terms of a ‘ban’ or ‘prohibition,’ as if the Church just sort of made some ‘rule’ of its own accord, rather then as a declaration of the immutable will of God. The actual reasoning used to support these declarations are ignored or blown off as nonsense.

            And so, they conlclude, if it’s just a ‘rule,’ then it can be ‘changed’ through political pressure or in accordance with ‘changing times.’ The same ‘ban,’ ‘rule,’ language is used in regard to birth control, abortion, sexual perversion, etc…thus you have the rise of pressure groups like CTA, Dignity, CFC, WOC, and the like. Then again, I’d be a maniac to expect the press or that vaunted icon of degraded modernity, John Q. Public, to properly understand these matters.

      • Understanding His Holiness
        Dear Mr. Kalb and Fellow Readers,

        I can only complain at the edges considering my limited education. His Holiness does not need any territory to establish His independence. So any throwaway clause that He is landed in a paltry way is useless and not exemplary. The perception of His “little” country by the world, that is, by cynical, tyrannical governments is evidence of nothing. Simply put, He is extremely powerful.


        • Mea Culpa
          Dear Mr. Kalb and Fellow Readers,

          Please ignore my so-called arguments directed at anyone about the Vatican’s smallness. I have been under a great deal of stress related to my job, and I have been irritable. Instead of kicking my tactless superior over something, I am badgering my friends over nothing. Sorry.



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