Andrew Sullivan–whom I have a lot of respect for–hopes I correct myself on a post or two I had in The Corner yesterday on the Catholic Church’s new document on seminary candidates and homosexuality. But I read the same Reuters story he did and, well, read it differently than he does.
Go ahead and read it for yourself. Is the priest writing in L’Osservatore Romano saying that men and women with homosexual tendencies have no moral value? No. There’s more to one’s identity that sexuality. It’s an important facet, but not the whole of one’s identity. My reading of the document the Vatican released this week is that it definitely says that a man who is not overtaken by homosexuality may be a candidate for the priesthood. That seems to gel with what Fr. Fessio gets from it, too.
That said, I’ve only read excerpts of the Vatican newspaper story. This rendition of it, anyway, seems to say something different from what the Vatican document, “On Priesthood and Those With Homosexual Tendencies,” says. The document itself says, “When dealing . . . with homosexual tendencies that might only be a manifestation of a transitory problem, as, for example, delayed adolescence, these must be clearly overcome at least three years before diaconal ordination.”
(That Catholic News Service piece, by the way, in my humble opinion, could afford to be a little more . . . pastoral, coming as it does from an organ of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.)
Now I totally get how that “delayed adolescence” example can be taken as insulting, but, that said, the “transitory problem” statement from “On Priesthood and Those With Homosexual Tendencies” seems clearly not to be banning every man who has ever had a same-sex attraction from the priesthood. But if you are living as if same-sex relationships were morally acceptable for yourself or others, no, you shouldn’t be a Catholic priest. And, getting back to those Reuters excerpts of the Vatican-newspaper article: Who/what has no social value? According to Reuters, that monsignor, again, seems to be saying not that any man is any kind of malignant force because of his tendencies or activities, but that practicing homosexuality or advocating such a lifestyle could be detrimental in an individual’s life and in society. Again, I’m not sure it’s shocking a Vatican priest would say such a thing.
For what it is worth, Father John Harvey, who runs Courage, a ministry for Catholics with same-sex attractions, talks about the Vatican document in an interview. Among his various points, one is particularly important: “I think [the document] is very good because it does not try to answer every question–it tells you from the beginning that it will not.” That seems important to bear in mind. Additionally, he also notes that “it is also important [that] the document stresses that a person with same-sex attractions is not automatically excluded from the seminary.” And, for a pastoral letter, there is Boston Archbishop Sean O’Malley to look to, who wrote recently: “Many homosexual persons in our Church lead holy lives and make an outstanding contribution to the life of the Church by their service, generosity and the sharing of their spiritual gifts.” That Vatican document doesn’t say differently, so far as I, lay Catholic gal, can tell.
As I said yesterday in The Corner (here and here), my hope is that this becomes a good, healthy thing for the Catholic Church and her seminaries, which (obviously) need to be doing things differently than they have. As Vatican expert George Weigel said in his honest look at the scandals that put the Catholic Church in the headlines back in 2002, “Crisis means trauma; crisis also means opportunity.” This “On Priesthood and Those With Homosexual Tendencies” document strikes me as but one step in that right direction. As priests, scholars, sinners (guilty!), pundits, and Joe and Jane Catholic (obviously, categories there overlap) have a continuing conversation about the document and the oftentimes painful personal and cultural issues involved, I’m sure I’m not the only one praying it’s taken by all as a healthy opportunity for teaching and understanding. This is, after all, Christianity we’re talking about.