Gay priest purge? Next trial balloon

crystal colors balloonsLike I said, we are still in the trial balloons stage on the whole issue of the rumored Vatican statement that was supposed to “purge” the priesthood of gay men. This is why I believe that it is much more important, at this point, to talk about the sure thing, which is “Instrumentum Laboris” [PDF] and the wave of examiners who will be visiting Catholic seminaries across the United States in the near future looking for doctrinal train wrecks.

This is why, in my Scripps Howard column this week, I focused on the fact that a renewed emphasis on mandatory celibacy runs throughout the questions in the 12-page Vatican document that will guide these confidential seminary investigations.

While the document — as posted on the World Wide Web — contains one or two clear references to homosexuality, there are a dozen or more direct or indirect references to mandatory celibacy and its role in the training, or “formation,” of priests.

To cite only one sequence, investigators will ask: “How does the formation integrate harmoniously the spiritual dimension with the human one, above all in the area of celibate chastity? How are the seminarians formed to celibate chastity in the areas of friendships, human relationships, human freedom and the formation of the moral conscience? In the judgment of the Visitors, does the seminary provide adequate formation that will enable the seminarians to live celibate chastity? (This question must be answered.)”

Why talk so much about celibacy? That’s simple. If you cannot (a) afford, for statistical reasons, to seriously cut the number of gay priests serving at altars and you (b) also know that it is next to impossible to strictly define what it means for someone to be gay, once actively gay, possibly gay, militantly gay or even formerly tempted to be gay, then you (c) focus harder on getting all of your priests (you too, straight guys in overwhelmingly female parishes) to do a better job of keeping their vows.

And, besides, as the always candid progressive Father Donald Cozzens wrote in the New York Daily News:

Finally, there is a dimension of hypocrisy. If and when the Vatican instruction is released and enforced, in many cases the seminary official, religious superior or diocesan bishop who informs a gay candidate for seminary admission that he is not acceptable will be gay himself.

Thus, I am not surprised to see that the omnipresent Rome insider John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter is now saying that the still forthcoming document on homosexuals in seminaries “will not demand an absolute ban” and will simply ask seminary leaders to make decisions on a case by case basis and be extra careful.

Allen reports that gays would be kept out of seminaries:

* If candidates have not demonstrated a capacity to live celibate lives for at least three years;

* If they are part of a “gay culture,” for example, attending gay pride rallies (a point, the official said, which applies both to professors at seminaries as well as students);

* If their homosexual orientation is sufficiently “strong, permanent and univocal” as to make an all-male environment a risk.

There’s more to the Allen report, of course, and now the Associated Press has a report out on the same topic (and with very similar sourcing). So there is another ripple of news on this hot story, but I would urge readers to, once again, treat all of this as yet another trial balloon. And what is the larger story? Perhaps this is more wood under the fire that could lead to conservative Catholics — not liberals, conservatives — starting to talk about Anglican Rites and larger Eastern Rites and other forms of Catholicism that would allow men to marry and then be ordained.

P.S. Check out this Religion News Service report by Godbeat veteran David Briggs on how the theological left views the current tensions about Catholic seminaries, gay priests, etc. Are the sources quoted arguing, essentially, that Catholicism in the American context is now another liberal oldine body?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Avram

    Hm. “Gay culture”? I know heterosexuals who attend gay pride marches. It’s a sign of support for the civil rights of homosexuals (and bisexuals, and trans-gendered people, and everyone else who finds that they just don’t fit comfortably into the two-sizes-fits-all heterosexual model).

  • Paul Fry

    I know men who would have probably stayed in seminaries and become ordained priests if they didn’t have to put up with homosexuals. The new policy will eventually turn out a greater number of priests.

  • tmatt


    I doubt that there would be many priests — gay or straight — who marched in the gay-pride events as a way of SHOWING SUPPORT for the ancient doctrines of the Catholic Church.

    That would be my hunch.

    This is about the doctrine and that is part of the Vatican dilemma. There are gay celibate conservatives and swinging straight liberals and everybody in between.

  • Avram

    Well, Terry, which ancient doctrines are you talking about? Did Jesus say anything about equal housing and employment rights for gays? Does the RC Church oppose letting a man visit his gay lover in the hospital? Where does the Church stand on letting gays serve in the military?

    How about marching in the parade as a form of outreach? Is that OK?

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  • Augustine


    I am fairly certain that your idea of civil rights for those with homosexual inclinations assumes (among other things) that the moral nature of homosexual acts is either neutral or positive. Most assuredly this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, which opposes such actions, and yes, this teaching is in fact ancient. I’m sure you don’t agree with this teaching, and bully for you, but to use either real or feigned ignorance of its existence as a launching pad from which to fire off ACLU talking points demonstrates a lack of seriousness in engaging the opposing view. If you don’t try to understand the perspective of the other side, why should they try to understand yours?

    But your last sentence did raise an interesting question. First, I–and the Catholic Church–agree that *persons* (whatever their sexual proclivities) should not be harassed, abused, or otherwise discriminated against. But you and I both know that that the mindset pervading a standard Gay Pride march–one which sees homosexual acts as normal, healthy, and, well, something to be “proud” of–goes much further than this, labeling, for example, an opposition to same-sex marriage as de facto discrimination. This would seem to rule out the participation in such a march by, say, those men and women struggling with same-sex attraction who reject the whole “gay pride” mindset and strive to live chastely. Notwithstanding, if you can give a plausible scenario in which a faithful Catholic could march in a Gay Pride parade as a form of “outreach” or support without being menaced by the other marchers or generally being seen as giving tacit approval to the (short, self-destructive) lifestyles of the drag queens, leather freaks, and other, ahem, colorful characters that attend such events, I would be happy to hear it.

  • Michael

    Liberal Catholics (including priests) were among the first to begin providing assistance to gay men with AIDS. Priests interested in performing outreach for programs related to AIDS, homelessness, youth issues and poverty (all issue which gays often involve themselves) would likely show up at a Gay pride event and have for many years.

    There are Catholic churches who do reach out to the surrounding Gay community in their urban parishes and would likely set up a booth to encourage gays and lesbians (and their chidlren) to attend services and participate in social justice issues.

  • ECJ

    Actually this all seems pretty simply to me. You don’t need to go rutting around in hypothetical categories like “homosexual orientation.” You need to know two things:

    1. Is the candidate sexually attracted to men?
    2. Does he believe and will he teach that homosexuality is a sin that must be repented?

    If the answer to (1) is no, and the answer to (2) is yes, then the candidate is fit. How do you find out? You ask him. If, at some future point, he is found in violation by word or deed, then he should be de-frocked. I guarantee you that is what would happen in my church. In fact, I have seen it happen. The pastor who baptised my younger daughter declared one day that he was gay and then moved to Minneapolis with his lover – leaving a wife and three kids. No more a pastor was he.

    So why make this complicated? Homosexuality is a sin – like adultery (ala Jim Bakker) or prostitution (ala Jimmy Swaggert). Treat it as such.

  • Michael

    ECJ, you skipped over the whole “Gay but celibtate” part. Bakker acted on his adultery and Swaggert spent time with a hooker. A celibate gay priest is merely gay, but not acting on it (assuming, of course, that homosexuality is a seen greater than greed, arrogance, or selfishness).

    Does the greedy priest get screened out, even if he will take a vow of poverty? If he lusts for the Mercedes, is he sinning?

  • http://SAND ECJ

    “[Y]ou skipped over the whole ‘Gay but celibate’ part”

    I didn’t skip it. I tied an anchor around its neck and threw it overboard in hopes that it would die a wretched, miserable death, and lie forever after in an unmarked unlamented grave. Getting rid of that concept was the precise means of simplification.

    Homosexuality is properly a reference to behavior – not ontology. But the man who says “I am gay, but celibate” is not describing his behavior. He is in fact defining his ontology. He is saying that he would in the absense of a celibate life have sex with other men, and that doing so would be consistent with his created nature. He is stating that his sexual desire is immutable like gender, and sourced in the created order of God.

    But the Scripture says that the Redeemed man is a new creation in Christ Jesus. The old is gone. The new is come. And homosexuality is most definitely part of the ‘old’ that the Christian is to put off. So how can a redeemed man claim that his nature is fixed in sexual sin, and that Jesus is insufficient to free him from it? Such a man is not ready to lead a church.

    Greed, arrogance, selfishness – these things if manifested would also be disqualifying. (Benny Hinn comes to mind … for lots of reasons and not just greed.) The standards for being an elder are high. But to demonstrate greed you will have to do better than offering the purchase a Mercedes. Unlike homosexual activity, it is not intrinsically sinful to purchase a Mercedes.


    btw, I have to say this. Can you imagine anyone having this argument if the candidate said “I am a bestiophile but I am celibate.” I can write the response for you, but they differ only in degree, not kind. Man was created for woman. Not man for beast, and not man for man. God has the right to set the limits of behavior in His creation. Once you grasp that parallel, you will understand why it is incomprehensible for a gay man to be a minister.

  • Amy Welborn

    ECJ’s point is worth a lot of attention. I was talking to someone recently, and tried to get this across by using a related example. Say that I was a nun, and I had conversations about my life and so on by making a big deal about being straight. “Yes, I’m a straight nun!” “I want to talk about my life and ministry as a straight nun.”

    You’d go..wha?

    Because what that communicates is wrong thinking on where my identity lies. It’s not about denying that we are sexual beings, blah, blah, blah, it’s about our spiritual orientation. By needing to define myself as straight, I’m putting something else at the center of my identity, something other than Christ. It would sound odd and askew, which is exactly the way it sounds when the everpresent anonymous gay priests do it, too.

  • Michael

    But Amy, just as the nun isn’t going to talk about being straight, how often are priests talking about being gay??? How many conversations are they having with parishoners about being gay??

    Sure, there are anonymous gay priests who talk about their unhappiness with threatened purges, but are these gay priests defining themselves as gay as part of their ministries or in regards to their spiritual orientation.

    Yes, it would seem odd for a nun to say that . . . althought that’s already what you are assuming when you talk to her.

  • Joe Perez

    Hey what’s the deal with all this crapola where people are attacking gays on the GetReligion site? This is supposed to be a forum for talking about media. I will not read this site if it gets too far afield from its mission.

    As for all the Augustinian, ECJ-like, and Welbornesque thought-turds deposited on this comment board, well I don’t see the point of engaging the conservative religionists at that level of discourse. Life is too short. That drama is fine once in a while, but it gets boring. Suffice to say in my humblest and most compassionate possible tone of voice that the low, mythic-membership level of psychological and spiritual maturity required to voice such opinions is, thankfully, going away with each passing incarnation of greater Love in the emerging Spirit of the world. I seem to come back to the often overlooked demographic reality of our time: the wicked homophobes are dying, the twisted old ideas are being purged, and a new Spirit is emerging in our midst.

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  • http://SAND ECJ

    Mr Perez,

    1) The original post by Mr Mattingly spends far more time discussing the content of the reports then it does the reporting. His title after all is “Gay Priest Purge?”
    2) Did you got to school to learn to write that elegantly, or does it just come naturally to you?



  • tmatt

    The subject of my original post is simple: I think the MSM is focusing on the wrong story and falling for trial balloons. The story right NOW is the seminary examination document. The gay priest doc is still at the multiple trial balloon stage.

    But, as always, people are free to argue the doctrine — if they can find some way to stay within shouting range of the original topic. And everybody keep in clean.

    Of course, different readers are offended by radically different things.

  • Liz B.

    The “straight people don’t talk about being straight, therefore the gay people are obsessed with their sexual identity and aren’t sufficiently centered on Christ” argument is so weak. That’s even leaving aside the fact that the situations are completely non-parallel due to the assumption that, unless told otherwise, most people will assume most people are straight. (Alternatively, to be facile, imagine Jesse Jackson talking about the experience of being a black politician. Then imagine George Bush going on and on about being white. Non-parallel.)

    Anyway, I can think of many more parallel examples. For instance, someone might strongly identify themselves as, say, an alcoholic, or an abuse survivor, or a single person, or (obviously) a member of a certain gender, race or culture. I’m sure we’ve all met people whose various levels of identity come out strongly in conversation and are a part of what they are passionate about. Does that mean those people are “putting something else at the center of [their] identity”? It might. (And it also might sometimes be annoying. :) ) But I hardly think that’s a necessary conclusion.

    At any rate, I’m with the rest of you (I think) in wishing for better coverage on the actual questions at hand here. Every article seems to end up talking instead about whether the sex abuse scandal was a result of homosexual priests, and there’s nothing new to be said there.

    ECJ– I do think that the analogy to bestiality is the homosexuality debate’s own personal Godwin’s law. You must know how offensive that is; please find a better way to make your point.

  • http://SAND ECJ

    “You must know how offensive that is; please find a better way to make your point.”

    To make an argument by analogy for unnatural use, you don’t have a lot of options. Would an analogy with pedophilia have been any less offensive? Even so, this is not my house. So if the keepers of this blog find the argument out of bounds, I will not raise it again.


  • molly

    ECJ – foul.

    You cannot foist your responsibility for civil discourse off onto the blogmeisters. That is YOUR responsibility.

  • Liz B.

    It’s simply a request. Honor it or not. Arguing about whether the actual analogy is valid will take us even further off topic, I think.

  • ECJ

    “You cannot foist your responsibility for civil discourse off onto the blogmeisters. That is YOUR responsibility.”

    What I said was true and I do not withdraw it. But this is not my blog, and I do not make the rules. If the blog masters think it violates their rules of civility, I will respect that decision.

    If I gave offense that is unfortunate. I seek to avoid giving offense when making arguments, but I will not compromise my position in the process. Truth can be offensive no matter how it’s couched. I suspect though that the only way I could avoid giving offense is to abandon the field. For it is not the analogy which gives offense. It is the underlying assertion that homosexuality is a perversion.

    But that actually wasn’t the topic of the thread. The topic was rather “How should the RCC deal with homosexuals in the ministry?” And (silly me) I thought that decision should be made in the context of presuming that Christian teaching on homosexuality is true. All of my comments proceeded from that basis. Homosexuals may not like those teachings. But they can hardly demand that the RCC make decisions inconsistent with its own doctrine.


  • Joe Perez

    And of course it’s perfectly self-evident that the Roman Catholic Church is a perversion of the teachings of christ, the objective moral order, and all human decency. That’s why it’s okay to compare all Catholics to people who screw barnyard animals. If Roman Catholics don’t like it, well truth is offensive. Silly me for reading your posts and wishing people would actually stay on the topic.

  • bls

    ECJ: Perhaps the reason you can’t find an inoffensive “argument by analogy for unnatural use” is because the premise itself is wrong? Just an idle thought.

    But don’t worry. Anybody who’s gay and over 30 is very used to the extreme vulgarity of religionists by now, and it’s water off a duck’s back at this point. Not that I’m into ducks or anything….

  • ECJ

    “Perhaps the reason you can’t find an inoffensive ‘argument by analogy for unnatural use’ is because the premise itself is wrong? Just an idle thought.”

    No, bls, the premise is not wrong. It is in fact the same argunment that Paul uses in Romans 1.

    Just as a man was never intended to have sex with an animal, so he was never intended to have sex with another man. It is an act for which God never intended the body to be used. That is why it is a perversion. To have a perversion, you must have a norm. It is God who sets the norm, and reveals it to men. To violate the norm is to declare that God is wrong in His purpose and intention for creation. It is idolatry and rebellion.

    If you find this Truth vulgar, that is your tragedy. Even so it stands unmovable. Against its light all men will be judged. And I do no favor to any man by covering up the awful reality of that judgment.


  • Joe Perez

    ECJ is a heterosexualist, and this ideology is heterosexual supremacism. It’s a vulgar “truth” at a low level of human development in consciousness, just as with other ideologies of supremacy. Letting it go… :)