More on ordaining faithful, obedient Catholics with SSA

A reader writes:

Once again, I want to thank you for posting thought provoking and edifying blogs each and every day. I have to say, that I’m a bit disappointed and sad at the contents of some of the discussion found in the comments box regarding SSA and ordination–although I am happy to say that despite disagreements, folks on your site tend to keep their cool and respond in polite ways.

Anyway, as I mentioned in my own comment, I don’t believe that everything the Church says and does (Her Teaching and Living out of the Gospel) is rife with Patriarchy and other “disciplinary discourses,” as many post-modern critics would. But that does not mean that post-modern criticism is entirely invalid. Some elements of cultural bias, struggle for power, and the like do exist within the Church, thankfully not in Her Teaching, but perhaps in the way this teaching can sometimes be expressed and lived out by laypeople and clergy–one just has to look at the way many of the Bishops dealt with (and are dealing with) the current crisis to see that in action.

What I see in our discussions is a good deal of cultural reaction and, I will say it, “prejudice” toward homosexuality, ascribing to it greater negative moral effect than is found in Church teaching, kind of an “overdetermining” of its “power” (if I can use a loaded word). It may very well be that in catholic moral philosophy an intrinsic disorder is somehow more disordered (since it’s object is contrary to natural law), but in the Catechism and other Church documents with which I am familiar, I cannot find a theological viewpoint or Teaching that calls out intrinsic disorders as having a more morally damning effect than other disorders when sinfully acted out. I am not an expert (or even someone that familiar with) formal moral theology and philosophy, but it seems to me that disorders and intrinsic disorders are separated by type and not degree. I recognize that Church Teaching is often like an onion, you can peel back the outer layer and reveal the multiple layers of solid theological and philosophical reason and tradition behind each teaching, but I just don’t know enough about the layers beneath the teaching on intrinsic disorders to definitively say one way or the other.

Regardless, I believe that the Church Teaching on concupiscence is clear, and that is that “since concupiscence is left for us to wrestle with, IT CANNOT HARM those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ” (CCC 1264, emphasis mine). It seems that the Church does not ascribe negative power to concupiscence that is successfully resisted; such a resisted “weakness” has no negative effect on the person who triumphs in the grace of Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, regarding the salvific power of Baptism, the Church teaches that:

Baptism not only purifies ALL sins, but also makes the neophyte a “new creature,” an adopted son of God who has become a “partaker of the divine nature,” member of Christ and co-heir with him, and temple of the Holy Spirit. (CCC 1265, Caps Mine)

Nowhere does this proclamation of the power of Baptism (or any other that I’ve read) contain a caveat or exception for those suffering from an intrinsic disorder. All of the Baptized are fully joined to the Body of Christ and called to Christian Perfection. The power of Baptism is so great, in fact, that it “seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. NO SIN can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing its fruits” (CCC1272, emphasis mine). Later on in the Catechism, the Church draws a connection between the indelible mark left by Baptism and Confirmation, and the mark left by Ordination: “The Sacrament of Holy Orders, like the other two [Baptism and Confirmation] confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily” (CCC 1582). Theologically, if an intrinsic disorder is not an impediment to the receipt of the indelible mark of Baptism, why does it become an impediment to the mark of ordination?

And here is where I think the source of much of the disagreement stems from: a clerical double standard. Deeply imbedded in the language and “psyche” of us catholics, we still hold the nature and reality of the priestly office as somehow superior to our own–spiritually more desirable, ontologically better. Therefore, we believe (or at least act and talk as if) the call to holiness for a priest is greater and deeper than the call to holiness of those who participate in the Office of the Laity (you and me). Our standards are higher for a priest than they are for a layperson; a candidate for the priesthood, then, must be “more perfect” than someone engaged in the Lay Apostolate. I was once told that because I am missing my right arm, I could not be considered as a candidate for the priesthood because the priest must image Christ. It’s a good thing that most lay people don’t know that as a member of the Lay Apostolate we’re also supposed to be the presence of Christ in the world, or else I might have been asked to leave the Church. :)

It’s easy to see, therefore, why those who “overdetermine” homosexuality have a problem with priest candidates who struggle against this disorder. It’s okay for a priest to struggle against fornication, that’s not an impediment, but homosexuality is an extra-virulent moral problem, we can’t have the best of us dealing with that. Homosexuals are fine as laypeople, their struggle with concupiscence won’t sully the ordinary Lay Apostolate, but the shiny, golden Priestly office, by gum, we can’t have that.

Of course, ordination is not a right, as many people have said in defense of banning homosexual or SSA persons from the Priesthood. It’s clear that “Church authority alone has the responsibility and right to call someone to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders” (CCC 1598). And yet, the Church also has the responsibility and right to act justly–not as the world sees it, in accordance with political principles and notions of democracy and equality, but as one who “in obedience to the command of her founder and because it is demanded by her own essential universality, strives to preach the gospel to all men” (CCC 849); this includes her own members. I am emphatically not suggesting that in the interest of notions of social justice the Church excuse or accept sinful activity. What I am suggesting is that Church law, norms, and guidelines should flow distinctly from its theological teaching. And it is in this arena that the “earthliness” of the Church often gets caught up with its divine aspect–where the rubber hits the road, so to speak.

For example, one commentor referenced a document from one of the Congregations which deals with Ordination (you’ll have to forgive me, the comment boxes on your site are down, and I can’t get the exact reference). This document characterizes homosexuality as a form of sexual immaturity, presumably something that a person can grow out of or eventually choose not to “have” by reason of mature growth and choices. Yet, on its teaching about homosexuality, the Church acknowledges that homosexuals “do not choose their condition” (CCC 2358). It seems like a disconnect to categorize homosexuality as “sexual immaturity” at the same time that Church Teaching acknowledges that it is not a choice. One can, presumably, overcome such concupiscence, but one cannot, it seems, make a choice or suddenly “grow up sexually” and be freed from it.

This is why I am trying to view the norms, rules, and guidelines of the Church regarding this issue in light of its teaching, and I am seeing a disconnect between the culture of the Church, and the teaching of the Church.

Finally, I think that bereft of solid theological footing, proponents of the “SSA ban” fall down to “practical” objections. For example, not placing the SSA seminarian in an occasion of sin. However, I believe that this is, at best, a “straw man.” No one seems concerned for the poor heterosexual priest and his occasions of sin, as he deals closely with women who privately come to him for help, with whom he probably spends a good deal of time with behind closed doors as they bare their sinfulness to him either in the confessional or in pastoral counseling. These practical objections are, I believe, simply ways–perhaps even good intentioned–that attempt to express and “institutionalize” a prejudice.

I’m not really sure why I’ve spent all this time and effort combing through my thoughts (and I apologize to you, if you’ve even read through this far, for wasting so much of your time). I just really felt saddened by the viewpoints of many of the commentators and the fact that they are using the language of Church teaching to support what I feel are hurtful and simply incorrect viewpoints. What makes me even more sad is the fact that these are probably loving, devoted catholics with wonderful familes and spiritual lives.

Sometimes I wonder to myself if the original 12 disciples applied for admission to the seminary, how many people like the folks I’ve encountered in your comment box would actually admit any of these rough, crude, imperfect men to the study of the priesthood…..

Anyway, thanks for reading and for putting together such a great site.

I think you’re pretty much on the mark here. The objections to SSA as *necessarily* constituting a complete bar to the priesthood appear to me to revolve around an implicit denial that baptism *really* makes us a new creation and an assumption that *this* form of concupiscence is not merely “tinder for sin” but sin itself. Here’s a little taste of the Catholic Exchange Catholic Scripture Study. This is from Lesson 11 of our study of Romans. We’re discussing Chapter 7, which is one of the foundations for the Church’s teaching on concupiscence:

Concupiscence and the Christian Struggle

As we discussed in our last lesson, Romans 7:7-25 is an extended meditation on the Christian struggle and constitutes one of the most hotly disputed chapters in the entire Bible. In Romans 7:9, Paul makes the mysterious remark, “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.” A little further on, he tells us in Romans 7:14, “I am carnal, sold under sin.” Given that Paul has just written an extended treatise on the sacrament of baptism in Romans 6 which declares that we are not slaves to sin any longer, this is quite jarring. What can he mean? Who is he talking about? Is he referring to himself (and, by extension, all the non-baptized) before baptism? Is he, by a similar extension, making himself a sort of figure of all Old Testament Israel before Christ? Is he, as some Protestant interpreters say, referring to the “carnal” or backsliding Christian? Is he talking about the typical Christian? At various times and places, Christians from both Catholic and Protestant perspectives have proposed all of these approaches.

Noting that the Church has not offered any dogmatic interpretation of this chapter, we hold that each of these interpretations can be fruitful but that, given what Paul has already said in the previous chapters of Romans, one particular interpretation probably comes closest to Paul’s meaning: namely, that Paul is discussing the typical Christian’s struggle against concupiscence and using his own struggle as the typical model of what all Christians go through.

Recall, first of all, that Paul has begun this discussion of the Christian struggle with an argument aiming to show that sin, not law, is the source of our troubles. As we saw in our last study, Paul is again arguing with his imaginary Jewish interlocutor and showing that the law, which is itself “holy and just and good” was the instrument whereby sin put him to death. His point, restated in verse 13, is that “sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.” In other words, the law, though it is the occasion of sin, does not make us sin. Our own corrupt and fallen Adamic nature naturally does so before baptism, when we are under the law.

But Paul has just said that the baptized are “not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). What then does Paul mean by saying, “I am carnal, sold under sin” (verse 14)? Does the “I” refer to the non-Christian before baptism who is still under the law? Does it refer to the so-called “Carnal Christian”, the baptized believer who is indulging a life of wilful sin? Or does it refer to the average Christian?

Reading further, we see Paul expressing a struggle with which all Christians can, at any rate, relate: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (verse 15). Likewise, Paul accurately captures our struggle with the good demands of the law when he says (verse 16) “If I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good”. For, of course, if we did not know in our heart of hearts that the law is good we would not feel inner torment when we break it.

Finally comes the crucial clue as to what Paul is talking about: “So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me” (vv. 17-20).

It is as vital to understand what Paul does not mean here as much as what he does mean. Paul does not mean to take back everything he has just said in Romans 6 concerning the regenerative power of baptism or the freedom from sin and our Adamic nature conferred thereby. When he declares to the baptized that “our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6), he means it. So he cannot mean, in Romans 7 that, on second thought, the baptized are still slaves to sin. Similarly, he cannot and does not mean that “the devil makes us do it”. Rather, in Paul’s crucially important words “it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me” (verse 17). In other words, Paul’s “inmost self”, the “I” renewed by Christ in baptism really has been freed from original and actual sin. However, even after original sin has been destroyed and the grace of the Trinitarian life has been poured into his heart of the Holy Spirit, Paul finds that, in some sense, sin still “dwells within me” and discovers “another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members.” (Verse 20, 23).

This mysterious phenomenon of an inclination to sin which remains even after baptism has taken away original sin is known in Catholic theology as “Concupiscence.” Concupiscence is the lingering weakness of will, darkness of intellect, disorder of appetites, and affliction of body which results from original sin, but is not itself a sin. So, for instance, the heroin addict who receives baptism will have all his sins forgiven and original sin wiped away in the sacrament but he will also, barring a miracle, finds that his addiction to heroin remains and must be fought against after baptism. Likewise, very frequently the weaknesses, temptations, angers, fears, and other failings which beset us before baptism continue to do so after baptism. None of these weaknesses are themselves a sin. Rather, they are what Catholic tradition refers to as the “tinder for sin.” We find that even in the state of grace there is an inclination to sin against which we must struggle our life long. It afflicts not just the body and not just the sex drive but all the aspects of our being. Snoopiness, gossip, toying with the occult, reluctance to do what is good, forgetfulness of God’s will, factionalism, and many other failings are as much manifestations of concupiscence as disordered sexual impulses.

Because it is not sin itself but a mere weakness or inclination toward sin, concupiscence, though it can be lead to actual sin, need not. Indeed, in God’s Providence, concupiscence becomes, by the grace of God, the battlefield whereon the moral struggle is fought and we become participants with God in our own perfection and sanctification in Christ. Resistance to concupiscence becomes the occasion of virtue and a means whereby we shall hear from God on Judgement Day, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” This moral struggle is precisely what the book of Revelation refers to when it declares a blessing on “him who conquers” (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26, 3:5, 12, 21, 21:7) and it is exactly what Paul has in mind when he declares that we are “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

It is notable to me that Paul tells Timothy that a disqualifying mark of a pastor is that he must not be greedy for gain. Yet Paul’s besetting sin is apparently covetousness. Why does he not disqualify himself? Because he doesn’t commit the sin, he struggles with the concupiscent desire, the “tinder for sin”. And his struggle is proof, not of his wickedness, but of his Christian heroism. I see no particular reason why someone who has a proven track record of fidelity, poverty, chastity, obedience etc., but who has to deal this particular form of concupiscence is *automatically* barred from the priesthood. It seems to me that here, particularly, we are bidden by the Holy Father to pay attention to his theology of the human person and treat candidates for the priesthood as “unique and unrepeatable manifestation of the human mystery” that they are and not as ingredients in demographic bloc or a statistical probability formula. Yes, odds are, in our morally deranged culture, most candidates who self-identify as same sex attracted will not be interested in fidelity or obedience, or will conversely be trying to use the priesthood as a magic bullet for suppressing their desires by sheer dint of will apart from grace (leading to nasty explosion later). But there *are* SSA people who have learned to be comfortable in their own skin, who are at peace with the commands of God, and who seek to serve the Lord in the priesthood. Trying to measure them with a one size fits all template runs the risk of deafening ourselves to the Voice of the Spirit who listeth where he will.