Having spent many years in Roman Catholic schools and having gotten to know a number of gay priests and ex-priests shortly after I graduated from college and was living in Boston, I can state without hesitation that with this asinine, perverse new set of rules, the church is harming only itself in the long run. In effect, it's attempting to displace and deflect its longstanding policy of harboring and coddling pedophiles and ephebophiles--which most gay men are not--while still not addressing its failure to protect the young among its flock or the predatory sexual immaturity of too many of its priests. It also fails to recognize the large number of ordained priests who are gay or the fact that continuing to bar married men or women (of whatever sexuality) to become priests, while also now excluding by scapegoating gay men will only exacerbate the Catholic church's priest shortage and ensure that eventually, the church will have almost no priests, at least from Western countries, since most heterosexual male Catholics in the West haven't been and aren't clamoring to take a lifetime vow of chastity (which is more extreme than celibacy), and certainly there won't be enough of them to make up for the estimated 25%-50% of homosexuals or bisexual men now in seminaries. In fact, some orders are known to be havens for gay men; will those orders also now screen as tightly? Will they survive? (And are bisexuals welcome? The pope didn't single them out, interestingly enough. Maybe he doesn't believe bisexuality is an objective orientation.)
The new guidelines, I think, are born out of the current pope's staunch anti-gay mindset, which he expressed quite viciously in his infamous, homophobic 1986 document (as pope John Paul II's favorite henchcreature, cardinal Ratzo), "Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons." In this document, he made the following inflammatorily hateful statements, which he pawned off as Catholic theology:
- according to a 1975 church document, homosexual acts were "intrinsically disordered," which he strongly agreed with;
- while homosexual "inclination" is not a "sin," according to Ratzo, it's a "more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder";
- homosexual "activity" is "not" a "morally acceptable option";
- Ratzo's anti-gay fanaticism is "based, not on isolated phrases for facile theological argument, but on the solid foundation of a constant Biblical testimony," even though the four Gospels, which record the life and teachings of Jesus Christ in His words, never mention or condemn same-sexual behavior, which he would have been aware of;
- but wait, it doesn't matter what the Scriptures say, because according to Ratzo's logic, "to be correct, the interpretation of Scripture must be in substantial accord with that [Catholic] Tradition" as expounded by him, so sorry Orthodox, Protestants, etc.;
- furthermore, according to Ratzo, "homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living"*;
- and so when people have same-sexual sex, "they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent";
- the "abandonment of homosexual activity" is equated with "conversion from evil";
and on it goes. There's little in this document that's "pastoral" or that shows the care and love that Christ demonstrated more than once, but it appears that Ratzo-pope has a fixation, no obsession, he wants to pound home. Gay sex is "intrinsically evil" to him, and if he has to cherry-pick from Leviticus, Romans, Timothy, and overlook the four Gospels (especially Matthew, Luke and John, in which Jesus Christ is quite clear on the treatment of others, on the use of Scripture to attack others, and so on), early Catholic traditions and history (as delineated in books by the late historian John Boswell and others), and so forth, so be it. Nevertheless, he says nothing in this document or in the new guidelines about the negligence of people like Boston's former cardinal Bernard Law, who in documents that were released a few years ago, appeared far more intent on protecting the church than Catholic children and adolescents who'd been abused. Neither document deals directly with pedophilia or ephebophilia, both which, stripped of their moral valences, still constitute psychological and psychosocial problem areas--as well as crimes, in our society--and beg to be addressed with the same theological fervor. Studies have shown that most child abuse is cross-sexual rather than same-sexual; and the vast majority of men in Western societies are not ephebophiles or engaging in ephebophilic sexual encounters (perhaps Ratzo's fantasy life, like those of too many Catholic priests, are stuck in a warped misreading of Ancient and Classical Greece or at the emotional maturation level of English boarding schools).
In fact, most of the priests I had as teachers and pastors, even the flaming ones, didn't seem interested in boys as much as men. There were a few who had an eye for the boys, but they were the minority. The gay priests I came across as an adult were definitely into other men, not children or teenage boys. (My mother's dynamic and beloved former pastor, a priest, got yanked by his order for propositioning a policeman and another man--men, not boys!--who were on a board he also served on. To this day, she maintains that he was "set up.") Yet none of this fundamental reasoning appears in the "pastoral" letter or the new guidelines.
The result is that gay men who seek, incomprehensibly to me in 2005, to become Catholic priests either will have to give such plans up or go deeply into the closet. Catholic seminaries will have to engage in active rooting out and policing of candidates for the clergy, and it's not too far-fetched to imagine that some seminarians' truthful, grace-filled, private confessions--of same-sexual desire, for example--might be used against them. That's right: confessors, as well as well as fellow students, will basically become spies. Such a poisonous atmosphere, which will foster severe sexual repression, strikes me as the perfect starting point for the kinds of sexual abuse that have ravaged the clerical ranks.
Our own society, like many across the globe, nevertheless marches on in terms of social progress, and several predominantly Catholic countries--Spain and Belgium--as well as one of the most Catholic states in the US, Massachusetts, and progessive Canada, not only already offer comprehensive equal rights and civil protections for LGBT people, but also permit gay marriage. As for the church, it can make swift tracks back to the medieval era all it wants, but the world is moving on.
BTW, I knew such crap was coming from a man who'd been a member of the Nazi youth (a fact that his ardent supporters have tried their best to explain away, of course). Benedict means blessed. But there is nothing either blessed about this current pope or this policy. Accursed is more like it!
*So what about childless Catholic couples who have no desire to bear children? What about "chaste" priests and nuns?