SHOULD A MAN WITH SAME-SEX ATTRACTIONS
BE ALLOWED TO ENTER THE SEMINARY?
Review & Critique of
Andrew Baker and Bishop Thomas Gumbletonís Positions in
In the September 30, 2002 issue of America magazine, Msgr. Andrew Baker, from the staff of the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, argues, ìif there are firmly established facts, both from an objective psychological evaluation and an examination in the external forum of past and present behavior and choices that a man does indeed suffer from SSA [Same Sex Attractions] as an ëexclusive or predominant sexual attraction towards persons of the same sexí (Cat. #2357), then he should not be admitted to holy ordersÖ It may be that a man could be healed of such a disorder and then he could be considered for admission to the seminary and possibly to holy orders, but not while being afflicted with the disorder.î
In the same issue, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, an auxiliary bishop of Detroit, responds to Msgr. Bakerís position on the basis of his experience as a bishop for thirty years. He asks Catholics to examine their ìown experienceî: ìWithout being aware of it, untold numbers of people in the church have been blessed by the compassionate and healing ministry of gay priests and bishops. Ordinary common sense tells us that such ministry is of God. It is authentic and it is valid.î
Using a 1997 Circular Letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Baker says that a vocation is based on a ìmoral certitude,î founded upon positive reasons regarding the ìsuitabilityî of the candidate. The document then mentions the fundamental reasons not to admit a candidate to Holy Orders. ìAdmission may not take place if there is a prudent doubt regarding the candidateís suitabilityî (Canon 1052, #3). A prudent doubt is a doubt based on ìobjective and duly verifiedî facts (Ibid). The Congregation advises that it would seem more appropriate to dismiss a doubtful candidate than to risk the scandal that may follow from possible future scandalous activities of such a priest.
At this point Baker interprets the Congregationís Circular Letter: ìThe Congregation seems to suggest that even if there is only a ëprudent doubt,í based on objective facts about the suitability of any candidate, ëthe best and safest course of action is not to admit him to Holy Ordersí î [emphasis added]. Bakerís opinion is that the proper ecclesiastical authority does not need ìmoral certitude,î but only a definite prudent doubt. Based on this, Baker argues that having same sex attraction (SSA) is reason enough for the proper ecclesiastical authority to reject a man for Holy Orders.
However, Baker has other reasons for objecting to candidates with SSA. He admits that SSA can be ìtreated and even prevented with some degree of success,î but in his opinion, the possibility of treatment does not deal with the presence of SSA in the present decision of suitability of this man for the priesthood.
Baker sees the ìorientationî to persons of the same sex as a ìdisorientation,î because it tends to a corrupt end. Competent experts need to address this disorder with the cooperation of the person. He poses questions about the possibility of other serious problems which could be found in homosexual persons, including ìsubstance abuse, sexual addiction, and depression.î They will find living in the seminary ìvery difficult,î because they may become involved with persons to whom they are strongly attracted. He also addresses the question of cliques among homosexual seminarians, and believes that persons with same sex tendencies can live ìcertain aspects of celibacy, but their commitment is significantly different from that of heterosexuals because it compromises two fundamental dimensions of celibacy.î
Celibacy, he says, involves a sacrifice of a good for a greater good. But the homosexual person is not making such a sacrifice in taking a vow or promise of celibacy, because he is not attracted to marriage. The second difficulty is that the homosexual candidate cannot relate to the Church as spouse in the same way as a heterosexual candidate does. Even if the homosexual candidate is chaste, he lacks ìcertain important elements due to SSA,î and this could be another reason for proper authority to have a prudent doubt about him.
In response to Msgr. Baker, Bishop Gumbleton argues that a homosexual orientation should not be an impediment to ordination. At the beginning of his article, Gumbleton quotes the theologian Germain Grisez: ìHomosexual men can no doubt be perfectly continent, but the charism of celibacy involves more; peaceful chastity and the sublimation of sexual energy into priestly service for the kingdomís sakeî [emphasis added]. Gumbleton reflects on his own sexuality as a heterosexual personóhow he had to learn to integrate his own sexuality in all of his loving relationships, while remaining a truly celibate person: ìas Grisez puts it, I arrive at a point of ëpeaceful chastity and the sublimation of sexual energy into priestly service for the kingdomís sake.í î
Gumbleton goes on to say that what is true of him as a celibate heterosexual person is also true of the celibate homosexual person, because ìthe celibate homosexual priest or bishop brings the same charism to the service of the church as the heterosexual and can achieve the same ëpeaceful chastity and the sublimation of sexual energyí for priestly service.î
Gumbleton also replies to Baker concerning the nature of the promise or vow of celibacy: ìAgain, while celibacy represents a sacrifice, it is not simply a ìgiving up.î It is a unique way of loving, a charism given by God to persons who are homosexual or heterosexual. For this reason, it is absurd to suggest that the ordination of homosexual persons is invalid simply because of their sexual orientation. Obviously God has called many gay men to the priesthood and to the episcopate throughout the whole history of the church. Indeed, to declare all of these ordinations invalid would call into question the integrity of our whole sacramental systemî [emphasis added].
Gumbleton believes that the current sexual abuse crisis has led to scapegoating homosexual priests: ìThe first step towards reversing these harsh judgments and negative feelings about gay priests and homosexual persons in general is to examine our own experience. Without being aware of it, untold numbers of people in the church have been blessed by the compassionate and healing ministry of gay priests and bishops. Ordinary common sense tells us that such ministry is of God. It is authentic and it is valid.î By identifying homosexuals as the cause of the current crisis, or an important part of it, Gumbleton argues that we fail to deal with the most basic cause of the scandalous situation: ìThe radical cause was identified in 1971 in the psychological study of Catholic priests and bishops in the United States, authored by Dr. Eugene Kennedy. This study, of course, included homosexual and heterosexual priests. It indicated that a very large percentage of priests were seriously underdeveloped in terms of psychological maturity.î
Gumbleton believes that lack of psychological maturity can lead priests to form inappropriate relationships with teenagers, and whether this relationship is homosexual or heterosexual, it is wrong and can even be criminal. Thus, Gumbleton holds, the basic problem is not a problem of homosexual priests, but rather of ìseriously underdeveloped priests.î ìYet this is a problem that can be overcome. Underdeveloped persons can be guided toward a fuller stage of maturity that will enable them to function in a psychologically healthy way. This is just as true of the underdeveloped homosexual person as it is of the underdeveloped heterosexual person. The important thing to work toward in the seminary and in religious formation is approving for ordination only those persons who have achieved an adequate degree of healthy psychological development.î This applies to both homosexual and heterosexual priests and seminarians.
Gumbleton also provides another good insight, which I know to be true from my many years of work with homosexual priests. He quotes Bro. Jack Talbot to say that homosexuals ìminister through the language of our pain, of our passion story.î Many persons with same sex attractions, including priests and religious, have gone through an arduous process of self-knowledge. By living out this painful process, they develop a ìdeeply prophetic courage.î Again, I agree with Gumbletonís observation. I gave spiritual direction to one such homosexual priest, who was both a strong leader and a deeply compassionate man.
I believe, however, that Gumbleton must recognize that the difficulties which priests with same-sex attractions experience in their stages of development as priests, are greater than those experienced by heterosexual priests. He is right on target, however, when he says that the Church can not ignore the contributions of compassionate service made by many priests with same-sex attractions.
Having reviewed the positions of both Baker and Gumbleton, I should like to critique each of them in conjunction with my own experiences in counseling priests with same-sex addictions for 27 years. With regard to the scholarly approach of Monsignor Andrew Baker to the question of the ordination of men with SSA, I am not convinced by his arguments. Same-sex attractions are much more complex than Baker describes them. They vary in intensity, as psychological research indicates, from exclusively same-sex attractions to mixtures of same-sex and other sex inclinations. As one practices chastity over a period of time, one experiences a diminution in the strength of same-sex attractions. Some persons reach a stage where they are no longer seriously tempted to carnal acts with their own sex. In still other situations, the individual is surprised by spontaneous attractions to the other sex. Bakerís argument fails to account for the variability and flexibility of same-sex attractions. He makes this objective disorder the most important element in the screening of candidates for seminaries and for Holy Orders. I believe there are other more important elements which should also be considered. We need to look at the virtues which one notes in the candidates.
Recently, I had a conversation with an Auxiliary Bishop of a large diocese on this question. He was really concerned that the Vatican Congregations or the National Conference of Catholic Bishops would rule that no man with same-sex attractions should be admitted to the seminary. Representing his Ordinary who is on the same page as he is, he screens the candidates to the seminary. He looks for three qualities in the candidates: 1) the capacity to live the life of the priesthood, which of course includes the theological and moral virtues, 2) that he is a man of conviction who firmly believes that he is called to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, and 3) commitment: he is ready to commit himself to the work of preparation for the priesthood in the seminary. This Bishop believes that he must come to know each candidate. He does not see same-sex attractions as in itself an impediment to ordination. He looks at the history of the whole person. He asks, ìShould this right of the Ordinary of the diocese to make a prudential judgement concerning the fitness of the candidate be taken away from him by a decree that automatically excludes a man with same-sex attractions?î
Baker also holds that the man with same-sex attractions can not really fulfill all the requirements of celibacy. He is not able to ìgive upî marriage and family, because supposedly he has not real attraction to such. Since Gumbleton has already responded to this point, I will merely add that one should not make the same-sex attraction in the candidate the most important factor for his admission. I have known many homosexual men who longed for marriage, wife, and children. Such love for the other sex and for marriage resides in the highest part of the person, and they can exercise it by acts of free will.
Again, Baker is of the opinion that a priest with SSA can not relate to the Church as Mother. Christ is the Bridegroom and the Church is His Bride, and the priest is an icon of Christ and should have a special relationship with the Church. In response, I hold that a priest with SSA can rise above these attractions and on the higher plane of intellect, memory and will, develop a spousal relationship with the Church.
The unspoken premise behind the opinion that men with same-sex attractions are not suitable candidates for the priesthood is the presumption that a person with same-sex attractions can not control his desires and develop a life of interior chastity. Yet, the Church expects all of her members to strive for interior chastity, and for the unmarried, chastity is expressed through a celibate lifestyle, either as a single lay person or a vowed religious. If we truly believe that unmarried lay people with same-sex attractions are capable of living lives of chaste celibacy, why should we automatically assume that a young man with same-sex attractions who wants to enter the seminary is incapable of the chaste celibacy which is required of him?
Having responded to the principal objections of Baker, I turn again to Bishop Gumbletonís position. While I tend to agree with Eugene Kennedyís evaluation of priests some years ago, namely priests lacking in maturity or under-developed, I also hold that helping the under-developed heterosexual priest is easier than helping the under-developed homosexual priest. For this reason, I would give more attention in the seminary to the candidate with SSA than to the heterosexual seminarians, because I believe that the person with SSA usually has more emotional problems than the person without SSA. With the help of a good spiritual director and in some cases a good Catholic therapist, the man with SSA can be healed over a period of time of various emotional difficulties that he has had. At the same time, he learns to carry the cross of some emotional difficulties which remain in his life. Gumbleton should understand that the person with SSA may continue to suffer some emotional difficulties.
Gumbleton identifies ìthe most basic cause of the scandalous situationî within the Church as being the number of priests who are ìseriously underdeveloped in terms of psychological maturityî. I would add that another large factor in the current scandals is the widespread theological dissent present within many Catholic institutions, including seminaries. Many priests have been educated in seminaries and Universities where theologians and professors disagree with the authentic teaching of the Church on marriage and human sexuality. By separating the procreative aspect of marriage from its love-union aspect through the justification of contraception, the full meaning of human sexual intercourse was reduced to preoccupation with individual sexual ìfulfillmentî. Many have embraced the teaching of pop psychologists who describe masturbation as ìself-pleasuringî, and a source of relaxation. Then comes the argument, if sex can be separated from procreation and marriage, why could not two persons of the same-sex who are attracted to each other find their happiness in an attempt at bodily union with each other? Books such as Human Sexuality by Anthony Kosnik (Paulist Press, 1977) have reached the libraries of many Catholic seminaries and colleges, and have served to foster a massive dissent by Catholic leaders from the magisterial teaching of the Church. A young man entering such a climate in the seminary may find it difficult to live a life of chaste celibacy when the necessity of such a lifestyle is not clearly taught, encouraged, and fostered.
For many years, I have counseled priests with same-sex attractions. From 1978 to 1990, I gave summer retreats to over 200 priests and brothers, as I mention in my book The Homosexual Person: New Thinking in Pastoral Care, Ignatius Press, 1987. These men used the spiritual resources available to lead chaste lives. They were good priests. Yes, some of them had had initial failings, but they had had a real conversion of heart. This experience led me to the conviction that homosexual persons can be chaste ñ an experience verified over and over again in Courage, the spiritual support group founded by Cardinal Cooke in the Archdiocese of New York, in 1980.
I believe that we need more research into this question before we come to any conclusions. Hopefully, those in ecclesiastical authority will consult priests, psychologists and psychiatrists who have worked with persons with same-sex attractions. I also hope that they be willing to talk to homosexual priests themselves. I hope this writing will be of some help to the Church.
Years ago, at the Catholic University of America, I saw a sign on the wall of a Professor of Physics. He was an authority on sonar, but he was also a very brilliant teacher. On the wall, was a picture of a bumblebee. Under the bumblebee, I read the following: ìAccording to the laws of aero-dynamics, a creature shaped like the bumble bee is not able to fly. But the bumble bee flies.î
 While Bishop Gumbleton uses the term ìgayî, I prefer the term ìperson with same-sex attractionsî. The term ìgayî often has political and ideological implications which are incompatible with the beliefs of Catholic persons with same-sex attractions who are striving to live chastely.