I’m going to have the comments off today, because I’m going to talk about a topic that always gets me an enormous amount of fury from every corner of the internet.
It might have come to your attention that this weekend, the New York Times ran an article wherein Catholic priests who are attracted to men spoke honestly about their struggles and the discrimination they face. Some of these priests spoke under their own names, and many under strict anonymity for fear of what would happen if they were revealed. Many of the priests interviewed were living lives of chastity and only talking about the desires they experienced, not about things that they’d done. Some were sexually active.
My colleague Jenn Fitz over at The Catholic Conspiracy wrote a scandalously tone-deaf and judgmental diatribe where she belittled the priests’ struggles and acted as if the whole problem was that the priests were tempted to sin against chastity, thus putting them on the same footing as every other person who struggles with chastity including married couples who practice NFP and have to fast from sex several days a month.
And on Twitter, the responses were much the same: they acted as if this is all about chastity. A priest by the name of Father John Hollowell got uncomfortably intimate with us and announced to the whole world that “I am attracted to the 3 billion women on the planet. The Church tells me I can’t act on those attractions. My married brothers are attracted to the 2.9999 billion women not their wives. The Church tells them they can’t act on those attractions. Christianity is tough. And freeing.” As a heterosexual woman, I would like to say that that is one of the skeeviest admissions I’ve ever heard a priest make. It’s not actually part of heterosexuality to feel a sexual attraction to every single adult member of the opposite sex including those you’ve never met or seen before. That’s a voracious appetite indeed. And no, I don’t believe that every married man actually wants to have sex with 2.9999 billion other women either.
Everyone responding to this article seems to think that this whole issue is about the struggle with chastity. To me, that issue is not the central one. Yes, that’s in there, and I don’t expect a secular publication like the New York Times to have an appreciative view of the Catholic teaching on chastity. But my takeaway from the article, is that it’s actually about the discrimination that a person with that type of sexual orientation– not necessarily committing those acts but just having those desires– faces in a Catholic setting.I understand that the Church has a policy of not allowing men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” to enter the seminary. If a person who doesn’t realize that about himself enters the seminary and gets ordained, or if a person who has those tendencies and doesn’t admit them gets ordained, that ordination is absolutely valid and he remains a priest forever, of course, but seminaries aren’t supposed to let them in. Ruling on whether or not this ban is a good idea is way, way above my pay grade. I would humbly suggest that whatever screening process the seminaries are using does not seem to be working. As for my part, in my state in life, I believe and try to practice both of the things the Catechism tells me about homosexuality: that it is a disordered tendency and that kind of intercourse should not be practiced– and also that people who are homosexual must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity and protected from any unjust discrimination. Both of those are right there in the Catechism.
I also want to state that I do not care whether the person standing in persona Christi hearing my confession and giving me the Holy Eucharist is attracted to the women in the congregation, the men, or nobody. It’s much more important to me how a person chooses to behave than what thoughts happen to cross his mind. Some of the kindest, most generous men I have ever known have been priests and some of the cruelest and most abusive have been priests as well– and what’s more, based on the shameless flirtation I witnessed, I’m pretty sure some of the most abusive priests I’ve met are heterosexual. It’s important to me to find a priest whom I’m certain isn’t a malignant narcissist and not at all important to find a priest whom I’m certain isn’t gay. People who are abusive sexually, physically, emotionally or in any other way, ought to be kept out of the priesthood. Unfortunately, Catholic culture in this country seems to encourage and defend narcissism in priests. That is a serious problem. As a Catholic and a mother who’s trying to raise her daughter in the Church, it’s my problem in a direct way. If the rules were changed to allow chaste but openly same-sex-attracted men to enter seminary that wouldn’t effect me in the least. The situation as it stands does.
Now, most importantly for this weekend’s news: I did not read the Times article as being chiefly about sad priests who want a date and can’t have one. To me, it was about priests who fear being shunned or abused if they admit the attraction that they have. Priests who are expected to be attracted to women and nobody cares, but if they were known to be attracted to men they would be hurt for that discovery. That is the problem the Times was highlighting in that article, and it seems to me to be a serious problem as well.