BENEDICT VERSUS GAYS

Readers of this blog will not be surprised to read the news on the front page of the New York Times today. The day after Benedict’s election as Pope, I wrote:

I expect an imminent ban on all gay seminarians, celibate or otherwise.

Those who under-estimate the extremism of the new order in Rome doubted it. Those who have followed the career of Joseph Ratzinger will merely wonder why it took him so long. You can read my recent posts on this decision to ban all gay men from seminaries, regardless of their conduct, here and here. If you want to understand why this is not, pace the credulous reporters of the NYT, in any way consistent with the policies of the recent past, or with orthodox Catholic theology, take a look at this essay I wrote over a decade ago on the 1975 and 1986 Vatican letters on homosexual orientation – the last one written by Ratzinger himself.

BIGOTRY REDUX: The fundamental point is fairness. It is fair to place restrictions on the conduct of priests and seminarians; it is even fair to take special note of gay seminarians and their unique struggles and insist on the removal of any who violate their vows; it is fair to ensure that seminaries don’t become some kind of gay club, and that chastity is enforced and supported. It is not fair to discriminate against a whole group of people, regardless of their conduct. The latter is bigotry. Period. This new doctrine also stigmatizes the thousands of faithful, celibate gay priests now serving the Church: in effect, it says that they should never have been ordained, and that their “serious personality disorders” render them incapable of being priests. How are they supposed to continue? You will notice in the statements coming out of Rome that there is no attempt to address this, no pastoral effort to reach out to current gay priests, no acknowledgment of the pain this new policy will impose, no compassion whatever. One obvious conclusion is that the Vatican wants them out. Wouldn’t this devastate the Church, which is already reeling from a collapse in vocations? Or is that the point – to make way for a smaller, “purer” church of fundamentalists? To add to the incoherence, the Church is now saying that gay priests are constitutively incapable of chastity. Which begs a question: If gay priests are incapable of it, what hope is there for the gay laity? The old rule – being gay is not a sin, acting on it is – has now changed. The new rule is: all gays are psychologically sick and uniquely prone to mortal sin: Untermenschen. This was once described by Ratzinger himself as “an unfounded and demeaning” assumption. But Benedict’s church is now in the practice of demeaning gays and promoting utterly unfounded slurs against their souls and psyches. Why? To save its own skin. Rather than address the real issue – the stunted sexual development of priests who came into service in the 1970s and the criminal complicity in their crimes by Vatican and church officials – the Pope has decided to conflate pedophilia/minor-abuse with homosexuality, and to scapegoat all gay priests, regardless of their conduct or talents.

IT WILL FOSTER PEDOPHILIA: More important, this new policy may well worsen the issue it is trying to address – the screwed-up sexuality of emotionally stunted and self-hating gay or pedophilic priests. The bulk of the cases of child abuse came from the older generations who entered the church in part because they were conflicted about their sexual orientation and never dealt with it. Precisely because they never had a healthy sexual development or any chance to be open about it, discuss it or even receive counseling, they often “acted out” and committed unspeakably immoral acts. Subsequent generations of gay priests have been far better adjusted – in part because of social change and in part because they weren’t so in denial about their own psyches and issues. So the prevalence of child abuse has fallen dramatically in the last decade or so. What the new policy may well do is exclude the psychologically-balanced gay man seeking to serve God celibately, while allowing those who lie, or are ashamed, or too screwed up to discuss their own sexuality. In other words, it could lead to an exodus of good priests and make another wave of child abuse more likely. None of this is discussed because Benedict rules in a climate of fear. Since no one can talk honestly about the problem, we get a non-solution. Look at the NYT today. We have quotes from “three other church officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared they would lose their jobs if they revealed dissension within church ranks,” and one from “a gay American priest and professor at a Catholic college who did not want to be identified because he fears he could lose his church position if his sexual orientation was known.” Do we really expect sane policy to come from this kind of climate? What we need is openness, dialogue and compassion. What we have is fear, diktat and bigotry. Welcome to the era of Benedict XVI.

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