"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The rumblings: will there be a quake?

Although Pope Benedict XVI has apparently made no firm decision yet, the alarm is already going up about a Vatican plan to ban homosexually inclined men from admission to seminary training for the priesthood. In yesterday's issue of the British periodical Guardian Unlimited, it was suggested that the hammer has yet to fall because the Vatican did not wish to "tarnish" World Youth Day or, more broadly, sabatoge its so-far-successful effort to "soften" the image of the man called by many—and not always with affection—"The German Shepherd." If the draft document is eventually published and contains anything resembling such a ban, the explosion of outrage will exhibit the same intentional spin and the same unintentional irony.

The spin in such words as 'tarnish' and 'soften' is plain as a pikestaff. If the envisioned policy is adopted, it would amount to no more than a pastoral attempt to address two major problems, one of which is known to all the world and one of which is undeniable once one thinks about it. The more widely known problem is that the majority of minors sexually abused by Catholic priests are (or were, since most cases are fairly old) adolescent boys; the other problem is that homosexuals in the seminary live in close quarters with other men, some of whom are gay themselves and some of whom, gay or not, must pose a temptation. A new policy of keeping homosexuals out of the seminary would go a long way toward solving both problems. Is that so objectionable in itself? I am far from alone in thinking it is not. But what we hear so far is that announcing such a policy would spoil the Pope's PR efforts, as if that is what he and his advisors are mainly worried about. Since it's taken for granted that that is what every public figure is supposed to be most worried about, it does not occur to the writer that the Pope might have bigger fish to fry—like reducing the amount of sodomy on boys and preventing the perpetuation of homosexual cliques among priests.

And that points up the unintended irony in all this. For perfectly understandable reasons, nothing has provoked greater contempt for the Catholic Church in the last several years than the sexual abuse of minors by priests. Yet "progressives" never, ever say that part of the solution might to keep homosexuals, a good number of whom fancy adolescent boys, from entering the seminary—where they could and do fancy each other—or keep them from being ordained—a status that makes their pickings far wider. That would be so intolerant, so unenlightened, so "homophobic." No, their prescription is the same one they've been peddling since Vatican II—ordain women and married men too, thus making gender and marital status as well as sexual orientation irrelevant as criteria for ordination. The idea seems to be that, if the pool is dirty, you just add more water rather than remove the contaminants. We know how well that works. Is there any evidence that the clergy of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and Canada, which includes women and married men as well as avowedly active homosexuals, is in better shape morally than the Catholic priesthood? Given the slope built by media bias, one has to labor uphill to learn that the answer is actually no.

To compound the irony, the very policy being contemplated and feared was actually adopted by the widely beloved Pope John XXIII in 1961! It has never been rescinded, but neither have most bishops paid it any notice. Some traditionalist Catholics, embittered by much that has taken place in the Church during the intervening years, blame John XXIII himself for such negligence. Whatever one may think of his policy of keeping the sins of priests as private as possible, largely by utilizing the seal of the confessional, there can be no doubt that one of its effects was to render his ban on homosexual seminarians a dead letter. But of course, some such sins have long been felonies under secular law and have recently been prosecuted as such in criminal courts. Now that they've occasioned huge civil-damage awards as well, the Church can literally no longer afford to avoid owning and attacking the deepest root of the problem. But the progressives are outraged by the very idea that said root is anything other than the tendency of bishops to dodge accountability and "openness." Thus if they had their way, the Church would remain permanently between a rock and a hard place.

For those who understand why, no explanation of that is necessary; for those who do not, no explanation is possible. The only objection I find worth considering is that renewing John XXIII's ban would substantially reduce the pool of candidates for the seminary. No doubt it would, at least in the short term; but it is at least arguable that such a pruning would facilitate new growth in the long term. My only fear is that the bishops, who seem collectively incapable of radical reform without Roman intervention, would find yet another way to make the ban a dead letter. It wouldn't be so hard: just take a man's word for it that he isn't gay. Lying to get what one wants is human nature, after all. Accommodating that wouldn't be good enough in today's climate; but refusing to accommodate it might expose the bishops to more bad PR than most seem to have the belly to handle.

So I say to Benedict: bring it on!
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