As October approaches, the anticipated seminary investigations are to begin. The anticipation of the seminary visitations has created quite a stir. Some say that the visitations are nothing more than an exercise of the Churchs responsibility to supervise the formation of its priests. Others claim that it is simply a way of getting at the issue of homosexuality in seminaries and whether homosexuality should be a hindrance to candidacy for Orders.
It is reasonable to think that the latter is true because of the remarks of Archbishop Edwin OBrien, Anyone who has engaged in homosexual activity, or has strong homosexual inclinations, would be best not to apply to a seminary and not to be accepted into a seminary. In fairness to the Archbishop, his comments are meant to apply for priestly candidacy only.
Let me begin my few comments by saying that once again, our brothers and sisters who are homosexual are subjected to a somewhat demeaning discussion of their very selves. According to many of those who have called or written, the public discussions that have taken place so far have indicated a kind of discrimination, not against behavior, but against identity. One can imagine how hurtful this must be.
The question arises: How are gay men and women who are ordained or serving as ministers in the Church to respond to discussions that indicate that they are incapable of remaining free from compulsive sexual behavior? Are they to assume that they are not fit for official ministerial service? If so, are they to withdraw from their positions in ministry? Surely this kind of deliberation is terribly emotionally wounding of an individual. Even then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger held this position to be unfounded and demeaning. (On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986)
To be sure, the Church must confront issues of sexuality that surface in any house of formation. Heterosexuals and homosexuals all must be about the life-task of integrating their lives, sexual and otherwise. It is not unreasonable for the church to review its formation policies and practices in this regard. But, to exclude a homosexual man as a candidate on the basis that it is harder for a gay man to be celibate than it is for a straight man to be celibate is unreasonable. I think experience would prove such an assumption just is not true. Straight men must live in a world where over 80% of their colleagues in ministry are women. Not to expect them to experience serious struggle in the attempt to live the celibate life makes no sense. Yet, the expectation is that they would live a celibate life.
As the Church prepares men for celibate living in priestly ministry, there are a few things I think would be necessary. First, the reason for celibacy must be clear, compelling and engaging. Second, There must be a realization that celibacy is a way of living that does not deny sexuality, but is a charism and a virtue that enhances the sexual power of an individual to engage in intimate relationships that are mutually life-giving. Third, this presupposes a fairly full understanding of the nature of human sexuality and the place of genitality on the spectrum of sexual experience. It requires physical, sociological, psychological knowledge and self-understanding. Fourth, it requires that celibacy be understood and experienced as a positive force for living life in union with Jesus Christ. In other words, the spirituality of the gift of celibacy helps one discover in the lived experience of the celibate the presence of the saving Christ and the Living God.
As I ponder the question of priesthood, celibacy and homosexuality, it strikes me that there is one priesthood of Jesus Christ, one presbyterate whose members are bishop and priests together. There is a way for presbyterates to be together in fraternal and priestly community. There is not a straight priesthood or a gay priesthood. There is only one priesthood. The Church has a right to insist that those who are called to priesthood learn and live out the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Does it matter if one is gay or straight?