At the end of the second act of Verdi's masterful thriller Don Carlo, King Philip warns the Marquis of Posa -- the most heroic, noble gay character in opera, if not all of drama -- "Beware the Grand Inquisitor."
A Vatican official with "authoritative knowledge" recently granted a confidential interview to The New York Times, informing them that the Catholic Church is about to announce stricter rules regarding the ordination of priests: homosexuals, even those who are celibate, will be barred. Vatican investigators are on their way to inspect all 229 American seminaries to look for, among other things, "evidence of homosexuality."
I hope that sounds as ominous to you as it does to me.
In an Op-Ed in today's Times, Amy Welborn lauded the developments. She tried to downplay the homosexual witch-hunt aspect by pointing out that only two sentences out of eleven pages of the Instrumentum Laboris, the "set of questions to be asked of all seminary administrators, faculty and students,” relate to homosexuality, and then recounted some lurid tales of a handful of other seminarians whose crimes were unrelated to their sexuality.
“But incidents like these,” she continued, “reflect deeper weaknesses,” such as “the presence in seminaries of gay subcultures that draw their identity from secular values rather than the Catholic moral vision.”
“Why is it considered unfair to expect priests and seminarians to live by the values of the institution they serve?” she demands.
I am not Catholic, nor do I aspire to any pretense of knowledge of Catholic doctrine. But my response is loud and insistent: if priests are called upon to serve the institution, and not God, you have a problem. The Catholic Church, as an institution, has been responsible for such sacrilegious outrages as the selling of indulgences, sponsorship of the genocidal crusades, silence during the Holocaust, and the brutal slaughter and torture of countless innocents accused of heresy and witchcraft.
Allow me to state clearly that I do not mean that as an indictment of the Catholic faith; modern-day individual Catholics are no more responsible for centuries-old crimes than I am for the witch-burnings in Salem. There is Catholic blood on Protestant hands, and the Lord’s day of vengeance awaits us all. But at times, individual conscience must be allowed to trump institutional doctrine.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding,” teaches Proverbs 3:5. For me, that is one of the hardest challenges in Scripture. How else to act or function in this world if we do not follow what we understand to be right? All we can do is submit ourselves in prayer, humble ourselves before God, pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and, God save us, do as we believe is right. I have no standing upon which to accuse Vatican officials of behaving otherwise.
In writing about the new enforcement of older rules, the Times recalled that last spring Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, expressed a need to “purify” the church after the horrific tales of molestation and abuse that have roiled the priesthood in recent years.
In a letter to the Times today, the assistant dean at the School of Social Work at Columbia University wrote to remind us that “reliable studies show that pedophiles are overwhelmingly heterosexual. Pedophilia is about sexual attraction to children (most often, regardless of their sex) and about access. If priests are abusing boys, it is not about their being homosexual but about that being the population to which they have access.”
The shortsightedness of the new plan is staggering. The anonymous church official referred to above also told the Times that “the ban would pertain only to candidates for the priesthood, not to those already ordained.” If homosexuals are the threat they are apparently perceived to be, why the grandfather clause?
The official defended the expulsion of even celibate seminarians by citing “what he contended were the specific temptations of seminaries.” “In the seminary, you are surrounded by males, not females,” a position echoed by Mike Sullivan of Catholics United for the Faith: “putting a homosexual in an all-male seminary environment subjects that person to too much temptation, and increases his likelihood for failure. It’s not appropriate to put an alcoholic in a bar, either,” he added.
In 1986, a prominent Catholic labeled the insinuation that homosexuals could not control their behavior an “unfounded and demeaning assumption.” His name was Cardinal Ratzinger.
In August of this year, the rector at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York resigned after the press exposed the affair he was having with his female secretary.
I want you to take a good look at this picture. In case you haven’t seen it before, what you are looking at is the corpse of a priest being carried away by emergency workers from the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001. Father Mychal Judge was killed by falling debris as he was giving the last rights to a dying firefighter.
Father Judge was gay.
Mayor Giuliani has called Judge a saint, and so have others; in fact, there’s a website (saintmychal.com) devoted to support for his canonization. In researching an article on the late priest, the Times contacted “several of Father Judge’s admirers from conservative backgrounds [who] declined…to discuss his sexuality because they said it had no relevance.”
That would be the most astute comment any Catholic could offer.
Welborn, for her part, complained “a seminary owes us, the people in the pews, psychologically mature priests who aren’t engaged in an eternal and ego-driven struggle with their own problems.” For me, the very definition of Christian faith is the eternal struggle with our own problems; I condemn the suggestion that homosexuality is a “psychologically [im]mature” condition. Ms. Welborn would have tossed seminarian Mychal Judge out on his ear.
For readers who thought the opening of this post was unnecessarily dramatic and would like to reassure me that there is no longer such thing as the Inquisition, I have but one question: if the church official is telling the truth, why did he request anonymity?
Guardiamo dal Grande Inquisitor.