Should priests defend Catholic doctine?

01 Ordination Blessing 0710Our friends over at have posted an online poll that, to my way of thinking, precisely captures the MSM understanding of the current controversy over the Vatican and gay seminarians.

It poses this question: “Should gay men be Catholic priests?” Readers can answer by clicking on one of these these three options: “Yes, if they can live celibately,” “no” and “not sure.”

I do not think that this is the question that the Vatican is trying to answer, at the moment. So far, it appears that the traditional side of the Vatican (there are divisions in Rome, as well as elsewhere) is trying to ask this question: “Should the Roman Catholic Church strive to ordain only men who believe its doctrines, including its teachings on homosexuality?”

Thus, I opened my lengthy trial-balloon post the other day by stating:

We seem to be nearing the end of the Vatican trial-balloon marathon about its document on the future of seminarians who disagree with the Catholic Church’s teachings on homosexuality. Please notice that I did not say that this story is about the future of gay seminarians.

To which one of our loyal readers on the left responded:

P.S.: I held my thoughts about your inaccurate lead, tmatt, but didn’t see where you came back to the subject. Surely if the Vatican had wanted to issue a ruling on doctrine, it would have done so.

Posted by Joe Perez at 1:41 pm on November 25, 2005

This is precisely the point. The Vatican does not believe that it needs to release a ruling on its doctrines in the area of moral theology. It believes that it’s doctrines are just fine the way they are, thank you very much. The Vatican is having trouble enforcing its doctrine, especially when it comes to ordaining priests who believe it and will actually defend it.

There are, of course, very real divisions inside Catholicism on this issue.

Everyone knows that and those divisions are at the heart of the story, because they extend high, high, high into the ranks of bishops, religious orders and seminary professors that are in charge of the ordination process. And before someone raises the question, let me stress that there are gays and straights who embrace the church’s teachings on sexuality and there are gays and straights who do not. This is part of what makes covering this story so complex.61220101

One other point: I once had the chance to ask Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, after a heated debate among the U.S. Catholic Bishops on a topic related to this, if he believed that the Roman Catholic Church now teaches that homosexuality is caused by a “gay gene” and, thus, human beings are born gay. He said “yes.” Other Catholics disagree and see sexuality, in general, as a continuum in which few people are locked into one sexual orientation. This side tends to take bisexuality very seriously.

Thus, some Catholics believe that some change is possible, either in sexual orientation or in behavior. Others fiercely disagree.

Thus, reporters often hear statements such as the following, from the anonymous gay priest — “Fr. Gerald Thomas” — who writes for from time to time. He writes, concerning the leaked Vatican text:

Where, in the end, is the message of Jesus in this document? Where is his message of inclusion and encouragement and love? It is nowhere.

For me, this document is an occasion of deep sadness — for those men who will never enter the seminary, for those men who will feel forced to leave after years of discernment and prayer, and for those celibate gay priests who will feel great anguish over their treatment by the Vatican. And I feel sadness for the people in the pews, too, who will be deprived of something simple: good men.

This leads to an obvious question: Does this priest believe that Roman Catholic leaders (or some of them) are sinning when they strive to teach, defend and enforce the church’s teachings on homosexuality?

In other words, who is sinning? The Catholics who enforce the church’s teachings or those who oppose them?

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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.

  • ccv

    Yes, well, that about sums it up.

    As Fr. Richard John Neuhaus said (about the clergy abuse scandal, but it applies to this issue also), it’s all about “fidelity, fidelity, fidelity.”

    I have come to the conclusion that the very use of the word “gay” is confusing in discussions about whom to ordain to the priesthood. It seems to me if a person self-identifies as gay, then they’re “announcing” to some extent that they approve of and embrace the gay lifestyle (and presumably the sexual behavior that goes along with it). Whereas a person may experience, or struggle with, same-sex attraction but not self-identify as gay.

    Assuming both profess chastity, I’d feel better about ordaining the second.

  • Michael

    Of course, the second is probably more likely to be a child molester than the first. The risk to children and teenagers is not the openly gay priest who is celibate, but the closeted priest whose sexual identity is suppressed until it results in molestation or even the non-gay priest who is a sexual predator of convenience, like a man in prison who attacks men even though he is heterosexual.

    That’s the great fallacy of the homosexuality purge. Preventing openly gay, celibate men from the priesthood will do little to prevent another priest scandal. So who will the Vatican go after next once it discovers that weeding out celibate gay men did nothing to prevent its next scandal.

  • Huw Raphael

    tmatt, I agree with your point that the issue of who supports what teaching is more important – although I think the best story would be the one that covers teachers (ordained or not) inside the church who, regardless of how they self-identify their sexuality, support or don’t the Church’s teaching. I would be very interested to read that.

    But the anonymous priest quoted about Jesus “message of inclusion and encouragement and love” needs to be questioned closely. Since when is that Jesus’ message – or, to be charitable, since when is that *all* of Jesus’ message?

  • Ryan Richard Overbey

    This all reminds me of that time I watched Mother Angelica Live on the Eternal Word Network. A distraught parent called in and asked Mother Angelica what to do: my son might be gay. Her immediate, unqualified response was: “Tell him to join the priesthood.”
    The new document on gay priests strikes me as not a simple matter of enforcing the Church’s view on sexuality: it may upset the norms and traditions one normally associates with “traditional” Catholicism. Sending gay men into the priesthood doesn’t strike me as a particularly leftist response: it seems convenient a way to not have to explain why your son isn’t married yet.

  • Joe Perez

    “Does this priest believe that Roman Catholic leaders (or some of them) are sinning when they strive to teach, defend and enforce the church’s teachings on homosexuality?”

    I don’t know about that priest, but it’s a good question. When the RC church routinely tortured and executed “sodomites,” if only more people had asked such questions! My view is that when RC leaders promote anti-gay policies, policies of hatred and exclusion, yes, they are sinning. Many do so out of fear, ignorance and lack of spiritual development–they’re the blind leading the blind, really–rather than simple animus or bigotry. But the consequence of their deeds is nevertheless an evil.

    P.S.: I’m not one of your loyal readers on the left, I’m on the second-tier.

  • Torquemada

    Joe Perez:

    Have pity on us right-wing neo-fundamentalist Opus Dei-style Catholics, the ones fully supportive of (to use a Mark Shea descriptor) Pope Monstro the Medieval One and the rush back to the Dark Ages. You see, Joe, many of us, whether we act out of fear or ignorance, animus or bigotry, would like to temper our aversion to “Gay Spirituality” (is it like Ignatian spirituality? Franciscan? Carmelite?), but we have had to face the fact that, alas, we have been born this way—born homophobes—and at any rate to ask us to be other than who we are and to suppress what gives our lives the most profound joy (i.e. promoting anti-gay policies, policies of hatred and exclusion) would be to limit our self-fulfillment in an intolerably intolerant manner. You seem to have attained a high degree of enlightenment, so I hope your spiritual universe is wide enough for more than one dogmatic position on the issue of homosexuality (i.e. that it’s swell, and all who disagree are WRONG!). All we ask is that you tolerate our diversity.

  • Joe Perez

    Torquemada: Cute. In your parody, you seem to have mastered the art of speaking the way gay activists used to talk about 10 years ago.

  • Victor Morton

    Mr. Perez:

    Remember when you said on your site that you wouldn’t “waste my time blogging about this story or explaining why it’s not worth my energy.” And that you would try “practicing detachment from the drama and boundary setting (i.e., indifference) towards a hopelessly bigoted and corrupt religious institution.” Remember? That was awesome.

    (This was of course 5 days before you wrote more than 900 words “laughing at” a conservative Catholic in La-La-Land. But maybe there’s some second-level integral principle floating around that we bigoted religionists are too stupid to get. That always seems to be the case, for some odd reason.)

  • Torquemada



  • Victor Morton



  • Astralis

    Practicing heterosexuals aren’t allowed in the priesthood either. Why isn’t anyone asking, “Should heterosexuals be allowed to be priests?”

    The question is about celibacy, discipline, and being true to Christ and His Church.

  • ccv


    I love it! Yes indeed, practicing heterosexuals aren’t allowed into the priesthood either, but no one seems to get that.

    It’s not too much to expect that the men who take vows to uphold Church teachings actually do so. Walk the walk along with talking the talk, to resurrect a now dated business cliche.

    Fidelity, fidelity, fidelity, Joe and Michael!

    Get it?

    I didn’t think so.

  • Joe Perez

    Victor: You’re right. Sometimes with the barrage of news stories and with the writing that I do, I fall short in my own ideal of detachment from the pain caused by the Roman Catholic Church’s bigotry and corruption. There are better things for me to write about, and I shall.

  • Susan

    I see no mention of the difference between celibate homosexuals and celibate heterosexuals. The homosexual is giving up acts that are always a sin, according to the church, while the heterosexual is making a holy sacrifice of a great good – sexuality, children – for the greater good of the church, as a loving gift. Not the same AT ALL.

  • Jimmy Huck

    My dear Susan – Is not the celibate homosexual priest, in addition to “giving up acts that are always a sin,” ALSO “making a holy sacrifice of a great good – sexuality, children – for the greater good of the church, a loving gift.” Or are you suggesting that his sacrifice of sexuality and children in order to serve the church doesn’t really count because he is gay?

    Also, aren’t all priests called to give up acts that are always a sin — i.e. gluttony, pride, envy, etc., etc.? And surely all priests are sinners, even after ordination, including the heterosexual ones?

    Truly, I see no difference in the calling and in the sacrifices made for it. I think it is your prejudice that leads you to shout defiantly that they are not the same AT ALL.

  • Tom Breen

    Not to distract from all the fun name-calling, but does anyone know what the Orthodox discipline on gay men in the priesthood is? Or, for that matter, the discipline in Eastern Catholic churches, which do ordain married men? It seems to me that might be an interesting point of comparison.

  • tmatt

    The older tradition is three-fold.

    (1) Married priests as the overwhelming norm.

    (2) Single, celibate monks.

    (3) Bishops drawn from monastic life, to serve as confessor-shepherds for the priests.

    All churches struggle with scandals linked to sexuality. It is part of the human condition. What you very rarely see in the East is open opposition to the church’s teachings.

    There was, for example, a certain clarity to this scenario:

    Few would fault the clarity of the Orthodox response to the September marriage of Denis Gogolyev and Mikhail Morozev in the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God Chapel in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.

    The bishops defrocked the priest, bulldozed the church and burned the wreckage.

    “Father Vladimir Enert, who married the gay couple, committed a sin in doing so,” a church spokesman told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. “He desecrated the place. We therefore needed to destroy the chapel.”

  • Avram

    What happens to priests who openly question the Church’s stance on priestly celibacy, arguing that priests should be allowed to marry? (Yes, I’m aware that there are some special circumstances under which RC priests may be married, but it’s not an option for most.)

  • Eileen R

    Avram, it really depends how they state their opinion. Going around campaigning and blackening other priests’ names and calling for petitions is sinful even though supporting the idea of a married clergy isn’t. But if they aren’t waging a war on charity and obedience, it’s a legitimate position to hold. It was discussed by the bishops recently, with many different positions held.

  • http://getreligion rev. phil m. floersh, c.m.

    what do you think?


  • Novus

    Oh, yes. It’s all about the “lessons” that Christ taught us about “inclusion”. BS!!

    As the Church teaches, Christ is God. If I remember correctly, it was God Himself who destroyed a number of cities whole in the Old Testament, not to mention the instances when the EARTH opened and swallowed people whole!!

    God only forgives those who are sorry, people. You can’t be sorry if you don’t think what you did was wrong.

  • Patty Sarver

    “Should priests defend Catholic doctine?”
    That’s what they’re SUPPOSED to do.What a question.Is this blogger Catholic or anti Catholic or just doesn’t get it?