Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Disordered Objective

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

-- Galatians 3:28

Certain literalists might look at that verse and notice that Paul did not include homosexuals; but neither did he include Chinese people, the disabled, Vikings or Republicans. Parsing this verse to see who is excluded is antithetical to the verse itself: "you are all one in Christ Jesus," without regard to ethnic or national identity, religion, social status or gender.

Pope Benedict XVI seems to disagree, however. In 1992, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he wrote, "Sexual orientation does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc., in respect to non-discrimination." (Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who knows something about racial discrimination, responded, "To make someone suffer penalties because of their sexual orientation is on the same level as making people be penalized for their gender, or race.") On this basis, the Vatican has changed its policy regarding gays in the priesthood.

Make no mistake: it is a change in policy. Conservative defenders of the Pope argue that the Church has long taught that homosexuality is "objectively disordered," but as celibacy is a requirement for priesthood, one's sexual orientation has generally been considered irrelevant. Now, however, celibacy is not enough. In the new document, Instruction Concerning the Criteria of Vocational Discernment Regarding Persons With Homosexual Tendencies, Rome argues that homosexuals "find themselves...in a situation that gravely obstructs a right way of relating with men and women."

A gay priest, writing under a pseudonym for Beliefnet, calls this statement "one of the most offensive things I have ever read in any church document about homosexuals. It says to gay men -- and by extension, celibate gay priests who have long been in the ministry -- that they are simply unable to relate to their fellow human beings. After years of dedicated service--after hearing confessions, baptizing infants, preparing people for marriage, sitting by the beds of the sick and dying, and counseling people in trouble--the gay priest is told he doesn't understand people and cannot relate to them."

In purely practical terms, banning even celibate gays from the priesthood is a risky move for Catholics, particularly here in the United States, and it's not clear that congregations understand the math. "If it's part of church doctrine, we'd be better off with 5 percent less priests," Travis Corcoran recently told The New York Times.

But it won't be 5 percent. Indeed, the number of Catholic priests in the U.S. shrank from 59,000 in 1965 to 43,000 today, even as the number of Catholics in the U.S. grew. One analysis predicts a further 45% decline over the next ten years. And by some estimates, 50% of Catholic seminarians are gay. Others predict that banning gays will reverse the trend, as heterosexuals flood back into the seminaries they had shunned.

Catholics shouldn't hold their breath.

To defend this discriminatory purge in the name of addressing the Church's child abuse scandal is to propagate the same kinds of attitudes that brought about the abuse in the first place. Pedophiles abuse children; and, like the general population, the vast majority of people who sexually molest children are heterosexual. That most priest abuse cases involve boys has more to do with population access than sexual orientation.

The ban does not apply to priests who are already ordained and serving; if the Church perceives that homosexual priests, even celibate ones, pose such a threat to children, it does not make sense to grandfather them in. Indeed, Catholics who argue that there is such a thing as a moral absolute are at something of a loss to explain why an ordained gay priest already serving is not in violation of church doctrine but one who might be ordained tomorrow is.

"The only gay men who will enter will be either clueless, closeted, or lying," wrote the gay priest in Beliefnet. "This is a disastrous way to prepare men for healthy life as a priest, and gives rise to the very environment that everyone wanted to avoid: the repressed, fearful seminary where sexuality is a forbidden topic."

The Church's abuse scandal was not just the molestation, but the fact that complaints about priests were ignored and that they were often merely transferred to other parishes where they continued to abuse children. To stop this scandal, the Church should defrock pedophiles, not homosexuals.

Fortunately, there is dissent within the Catholic ranks. "I have no doubt that God does call homosexuals to the priesthood, and they are among the most dedicated and impressive priests I have met,'' Father Timothy Radcliffe, former master of the Dominican order, told the Times.

"I resent the missed opportunity to welcome young men who are gay, but are put off," said an 80-year old Catholic woman in Massachusetts. "We may never know the good priests we have lost from this."

The Vatican, in a bid to uphold destructive traditions of discrimination, is relying upon centuries of secular prejudice to justify a policy, rather than the Gospel. As one gay priest asked, "Where, in the end, is the message of Jesus in this document?"


Steve said...

AMEN! Folks wonder why gays are sometimes viewed as unreligious. It often appears that no one wants us. I have begun attending a United Church of Christ congregation. That is far from my Baptist roots and my affliation while I was in seminary. I have come to understand that my relationship with Christ is something NOT controlled by the church but is personal.

If a denomination decides to exclude a class of people that is okay but shouldn't their tax exempt status suffer?

Andy said...

No, I think religious organizations should be tax exempt (but they should also not qualify for federal funds), and they should be able to discriminate against whoever they want.

My specific problem in this case is that the Vatican is trying to pass this off as Christianity, and it's not. In fact, my personal belief is that Catholicism's rules about the priesthood are largely indefensible from a Scriptural standpoint.

Steve said...

The problem of course is that many church beliefs are not substainable in the light of Scripture. The Evangelical pronouncements that abortion is wrong but capital punishment is alright. It seems to be inconsistent with Scripture.

The stance by the Catholic church should come as no surprise. It will become darker and darker on the religous landscape until the light of Christ shines through and the modern-day Pharisees are removed.

DJRainDog said...

Here again (and not surprisingly, given that it's an Advent collect), my mind lights on the prayer, "Hasten O Father, the coming of thy kingdom; and grant that we thy servants, who now live by faith, may with joy behold thy Son at his coming in glorious majesty; even Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate." Though it ALMOST makes me indict myself for using my faith as a tool of escapism, I live in the real world on a daily basis and view it as rather a text of hope, and I take some comfort in the sayings from the Thomas Gospel (Saying 77), "Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift a stone, and you will find me."

Andy said...

The Gospel of Thomas? We'll have no heresy on this blog, young man! : )

Jess said...

Will the church ever stop trying to use gays as scapegoats? It's not a gay problem--it's a pedophile problem, and there's a world of difference. Trying to say otherwise just spreads ignorance, homophobia and hate-fueled violence!

Jere said...

The one positive aspect of this decision handed down by the Roman Catholic Church is that as the church separates itself further and further from the everyday reality of its members (and I mean on many issues, including homosexuality, science, the equality of women, et al.), those members will be able to either walk away with a clear conscience from an institution that no longer has any relevance in their lives or they will find the courage to stand up to their own church's leadership and call for the massive reform that this body needs.

Either way, the Roman Catholic Church as it exists today is heading for a major crossroads and I wouldn't be surprised to find that, over the next 50-100 years, this church dwindles to a fraction of its present size and loses any and all authority that it presently has in the affairs of the world's people.

Stephanie said...

Happily, I just read an article in the paper headlined, "U.S. Catholic leaders praise contributions of homosexual priests" (Lansing State Journal). At least there's SOME progress for the sake of tolerance. :)

little-cicero said...

I know I will be insulting someone, and apologize in advance, but as a Catholic, I want to purvey my unabridged perspective.

Where in the world do you get the statistic that most pedophiles are heterosexual? They almost never molest girls for goodness sake!

I understand that you have a bias toward gay people, but the problem here is that almost all pedophile priests are homosexual, therefore homosexuals in the priesthood are likely to be pedophiles. The Church most obviously opposes homosexuality, so that you would find it surprising that gay priests are not allowed is perplexing. You obviously have not felt the pain that we Catholics have from the crisis at hand, after which we are compelled by all means to solve the problem, even if it means insulting a gay priest or two. The crisis of pedophile priests involves the ordination of those who are unfit to be priests, namely homosexuals, since one cannot be considered celebit if one's identity is that of homosexuality. I don't understand why you are opposing another Church's doctrine, but the church's is a solid doctrine.

Leviticus most obviously clarifies that homosexuality is immoral. For you to convict that the church has no basis for its ruling is ridiculous. As for your Galatians verse, it does not take a literalist perspective to note the flaw in your argument. The verse discusses differences between individuals. Homosexuality is not an individual, it is a behavior. The verse does not discuss behavior, therefore your argument is moot. We are discussing priesthood, not public employment- discrimination is on the basis of whether one is holy or not. If a church finds someone to be immoral in his behavior, it has every right to discriminate againt that person.

Andy said...

LC, if homosexuality is a behavior, not an identity, then why ban celibate gay priests? As Stephen Cobert said on his show recently, "Why does God care who you're not having sex with?"

Pedophilia is unrelated to homosexuality. Homosexuals are interested in each other, not in children. I get that idea from academic studies, such as this one, which says, "There is an 11:1 ratio of heterosexual pedophiles to homosexual ones." And as I said, the reason priests almost exclusively abuse boys is that Catholicism is a sex-segregated religion. There are no altar-girls. It's about access, not preference.

And I'm sorry, I don't accept the Leviticus argument from anyone who doesn't maintain a kosher lifestyle. Tell me you don't eat pork, tell me you don't come in physical contact with a woman when she's menstruating, tell me you contact a priest when you have mildew and observe the directions in the Bible, and I'll let you tell me that Leviticus is relevant.

Andy said...

I might also add this comment from a Letter to the Editor in the Times this morning:

"As much as the Vatican tries to paint pedophilia and homosexuality as one and the same, it simply isn't so. A 1998 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that 90 percent of pedophiles were men and that 98 percent of these individuals were heterosexual."

little-cicero said...

Leviticus does not say that those things which you point out are grounds for capital punishment. I know that you, as a homosexual, have reason to deny Leviticus, but, whatever the implied severity of the punishment, Leviticus is saying, as do other sections of the Bible, that homosexuality is immoral.

We have to ban priests who are homosexuals for the reason that their sexual preference is immoral. Priests should not have a sexual preference...when one becomes a priest, one no longer has sexual urges as we do, because the priest is fullfilled in God.

Your statistics refer to the likeliness of a pedophile being heterosexual, but most priests who are pedophiles molest boys rather than girls. If that isn't grounds for generalizing pedophile priests as homosexual, I don't know what is!