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Vatican stance on homosexuality destructive

Letter to the Editor | Thursday, December 1, 2005

I am writing to comment on the Instruction released yesterday by the Congregation for Catholic Education in Rome Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with Regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in View of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders. This document is, and I say this with no small amount of shame as a Catholic and a theologian-in-training, a complete ban on homosexual men to the priesthood of the Catholic Church, regardless of their commitment to celibacy. I have done my utmost to read this document as positively as possible, but this is the only conclusion that seems intellectually viable.

The Instruction is clear that it is trying to establish one question: “whether to admit to the seminary and to holy orders candidates who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies,” (4) (all page numbers refer to the English translation available at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). The document goes on to state that these are “found in a number of men and women, are also objectively disordered and, for those same people, often constitute a trial,” (5). The Catechism of the Catholic Church uses the same language, and it has always been interpreted that those with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” is synonymous to those the Catechism later calls “homosexual persons” (2358-59). This is, in fact, what most in this country would call those with a “homosexual orientation,” though the Vatican refuses to acknowledge this as, in fact, an orientation, despite the psychological, sociological and, perhaps primarily, experiential evidence to that effect. Most people who identify themselves as homosexuals do not choose their orientation, as the Catechism implies when it says that for most this condition is “a trial” (2359). It is, though there is no clear understanding as to why.

It is who they are.

This Instruction bans homosexuals from the priesthood, not because of what they do – defined as those who “practice homosexuality” in the document (5) – but because of who they are and only for this reason. Why? The document is, sadly, clear on this as well: “Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women,” (6). This is a statement that I find completely and totally shocking, not to mention stupid. The Vatican claims it is not discriminating – that it condemns discrimination – against homosexuals: it is simply that they cannot really have true human relationships. The fact that there are many self-professed homosexuals who relate as well as, if not better than, heterosexuals to people of both genders is beyond obvious to those who actually know such people. To assert otherwise, simply by virtue of sexual orientation, or tendency, or whatever, is nothing short of the foulest kind of stereotype and discrimination. Are there homosexuals who cannot relate well to women, men or both? No doubt. Are there heterosexuals in the same position? Absolutely. Sexual orientation is one of a host of factors that contributes both to affective maturity or immaturity, and to single it out as defining is simply wrong – morally and factually.

How is it possible that the Vatican does not realize this? How can it make such absurd statements, especially in light of the many homosexual priests – including Father Mychal Judge, the first recorded fatality at the World Trade Center where he was ministering to the dying – who clearly live a celibate, chaste and emotionally full life. It seems so terribly obvious, so how can they make such claims? The only answer to these questions that I have been able to come up with is one that shames me to no end and can cause nothing but deep hurt to those many homosexual Catholics, both women and men, affected by this rationale:

The people in charge, including and up to Pope Benedict XVI who did approve this document, regardless of whatever direct roll he may have had in it – do not care.

They do not care to listen to the voices of their homosexual brothers and sisters and their experience. They do not care to actually examine the evidence. They do not care what pain and harm this kind of thinking does. Were they Protestants denying the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, they would be engaged, talked to, and the Church would try to understand why they thought as they did, even without abandoning its stance. And well they should. But for homosexual Catholics, no such discourse takes place.

They do not care. Homosexual people are either sinners at worst, or, at best, screwed up. They must listen to the “normal” in the Church in order to understand themselves. Their lived experience, in effect, has no meaning.

And, mind, I do not believe for a moment that these people – Pope Benedict, the Prefect of the Congregation, etc. – are men of ill-will. That makes it all the worse. Though they are not trying to cause harm, they are doing it on a very large scale because they refuse to listen – because they refuse to countenance that the nice, neat categories they have sexuality crammed into may be insufficient. They refuse to look at the reality around them.

I feel that my expression of disgust, anger and betrayal here is far from complete, and I apologize for the lack of nuance evident in some portions. There is much more to say, but space dictates, so I will end by asserting that homosexuals have enough to deal with in trying to accept themselves for who they are – a process that is painful, takes much time and risks alienation from loved ones. Many do not ever successfully integrate this large facet of themselves healthily into their life as a whole. They need help and guidance to do so, not labels of being “objectively disordered,” abnormal, somehow broken or even dangerous. The pontifical magisterium of the Catholic Church has failed to do this. Instead, it will cause only heart-break and pain to some of those who are truly most vulnerable in our society already, and for what purpose? May God – and those they so deeply wound – forgive them.

Andy Buechelgraduate studentOff-campusNov. 30