Does Benedict Oppose Gay Priests?

Andrew Brown thinks so, based on the relevant passage in Seewald’s book. I hesitate to comment with any conviction until I have read the full passage myself, but the published extracts are disturbing and important. Up to now, there have been some signs of a more rational approach to homosexuality under this papacy, but some of these views strike me as just wackadoodle. Benedict is widely acclaimed as a great and subtle theologian, but he could do with some lessons in basic facts of gender and sexuality.

For example:

We could say, if we wanted to put it like this, that evolution has brought forth sexuality for the purpose of reproducing the species.

If he wishes to reason from evolutionary biology, he should read some evolutionary biologists. Joan Roughgarden, for instance. Both she and Bruce Bagemihl have shown that evolution is not purpose-driven for anything at all, least of all that of reproduction. Evolution is an arbitrary process, not a strategy, that works by creating diversity. Out of this diversity, heterosexual coupling and reproduction is one common by-product – but same sex coupling, same sex reproduction, and even adoption by same sex couples are also outcomes of that diversity. Furthermore, simple observation in the animal world also shows that in complete contradiction to Catholic doctrine, sexual diversity, even among opposite sex pairs, is by no means restricted to procreation. There is a great deal of non-reproductive sex too, for purposes ranging from group conflict reduction, through social bonding, to simple sexual pleasure. The animals, it is clear, pay scant regard to the Catholic Catechism.

This is the it that really winds me up:

“….  homosexual candidates cannot become priests because their sexual orientation estranges them from the proper sense of paternity, from the intrinsic nature of priestly being.”

The clear implication here is that gay men are “estranged” from a proper sense of paternity.  Hoo boy! This betrays some really nasty ideas about the nature of priesthood, with its glorification of “paternity” over “maternity”. As any number of people have observed over the abuse crisis, the priesthood would be a great deal more caring if we allowed some more maternal qualities into it – but I leave the ladies to take up that theme. I am more concerned by the cock-eyed idea that gay men lack “a proper sense of paternity”. There are millions of gay daddies out there – just you try repeating this crap to their children (mine, for instance).  The presence of a strong sense of paternity is also amply demonstrated by the strong demand by gay male couples to be approved as adoptive parents, a demand which is confirmed by the strenuous and wrong-headed efforts by some Catholic bishops to prevent legislative approval for gay adoption. If there were no sense of paternity, there would be no demand, and no need to oppose the legislation.

The evidence from the real world is that gay men can indeed be fathers, some of them are so, others want to be so  – and the evidence from empirical research, not theological ivory towers, is that collectively they are at least as good as any others (even in some animal species). Some individuals are exceptional parents. The suggestion that their lack of a “proper sense of paternity” excludes them from the priesthood is just plain hooey.

Then there’s this:

If someone has deep-seated homosexual inclinations–and it is still an open question whether these inclinations are really innate or whether they arise in early childhood–if, in any case, they have power over him, this is a great trial for him.

If he had made any attempt to investigate the real experience of these people with “deep-seated tendencies” he would surely known that the “trials” they experience are not based the orientation itself (which many impartial experts and many societies see as a source of spiritual strength), but the prejudice and homophobia they encounter – such as the profound ignorance displayed by Benedict himself.

The three statements I have commented on share an important characteristic: they are used to support major decisions of church discipline and sexual ethics, but are based on absolutely no actual evidence, none whatever. This is what gives theology a bad name.

“The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion.”

— Thomas Paine, in The Age of Reason

Paine overstates his case, but the examples above show he has a point.

Benedict has often emphasized that theology needs to be based on both faith and reason. He is right – but I wish, oh how I wish, that he could apply his widely acknowledged powers of reason to something based on, you know, evidence, from science or anthropology. Ground it, in fact, in reality.

 

(Here are the full extracts quoted by Andrew Brown in the Guardian. Read the full article, with his useful commentary, at the Guardian “Comment is Free“)

“The Congregation for Education issued a decision a few years ago to the effect that homosexual candidates cannot become priests because their sexual orientation estranges them from the proper sense of paternity, from the intrinsic nature of priestly being. The selection of candidates to the priesthood must therefore be very careful.

The greatest attention is needed here in order to prevent the intrusion of this kind of ambiguity and to head off a situation where the celibacy of priests would practically end up being identified with the tendency to homosexuality.”

“Sexuality has an intrinsic meaning and direction, which is not homosexual. We could say, if we wanted to put it like this, that evolution has brought forth sexuality for the purpose of reproducing the species. The same thing is true from a theological point of view as well. The meaning and direction of sexuality is to bring about the union of man and woman

And, in this way, to give humanity posterity, children, a future. This is the determination internal to the essence of sexuality. Everything else is against sexuality’s intrinsic meaning and direction. This is a point we need to hold firm, even if it is not pleasing to our age …
Homosexuality is incompatible with the priestly vocation.

Otherwise, celibacy itself would lose its meaning as a renunciation. It would be extremely dangerous if celibacy became a sort of pretext for bringing people into the priesthood who don’t want to get married anyway.”

“The issue at stake here is the intrinsic truth of sexuality’s significance in the constitution of man’s being. If someone has deep-seated homosexual inclinations–and it is still an open question whether these inclinations are really innate or whether they arise in early childhood–if, in any case, they have power over him, this is a great trial for him, just as other trials can afflict other people as well. But this does not mean that homosexuality thereby becomes morally right. Rather, it remains contrary to the essence of what God originally willed … For, in the end, their attitude toward man and woman is somehow distorted, off centre, and, in any case, is not within the direction of creation of which we have spoken.”

“are human beings with their problems and their joys, that as human beings they deserve respect, even though they have this inclination, and must not be discriminated against because of it. Respect for man is absolutely fundamental and decisive.”

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3 Responses to “Does Benedict Oppose Gay Priests?”

  1. william Says:

    I am going to take a stab at this and please understand I am not trying to offend anyone who regards themselves as Catholic. It is my understanding that the Catholic Church regards Peter as the first Pope. Then please tell me why Jesus would make a married man Pope if He was opposed to men, in the service of the Lord, being married? As I recall were not the majority of the priests in the Old Testament married? How is it that the ruling body of this church consist entirely of men who say they are celibate and have remained so their entire “official” life, How can someone without any sexual experience advise anyone on a sexual matter much less make regulations regarding a subject they know nothing of? Of course this could also be asked of anyone who regards themselves as heterosexual and claiming that being homosexual is a choice. The fact that they are heterosexual eliminates them from any discussion on any sexual matter not related to heterosexual matters.
    The bottom line as far as I am concerned is that if Jesus did not oppose marriage for His followers including Peter and future Popes and if He also did not have anything to say about same sex matters then we who are His creation should remain silent as well.

    • Terence@queerchurch Says:

      William, this question of yours has fascinated me all day, especially when considered in conjunction with Benedict’s stated reasons for opposing the ordination of women. In that respect, he has said that ordination of women is beyond the power of the Church, because Christ himself did not include women among His chosen 12. Applying identical reasoning, the conclusion must be that it is beyond the power of the church to exclude married men, as Christ did not exclude married persons from the 12 (indeed, my have excluded all unmarried men, but I’m not sure of that).

      I will be returning to this when I take up the questions of celibacy and women’s ordination, later.

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