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Op-Ed from In Newsweekly:
Reasons for hope from the Vatican
James A. Lopata November 30, 2005
There is so much that is problematic with the latest "instruction" from the Vatican, that it is hard to know where to begin. But, ironically, because there are so many problems, there is also hope.
We will, no doubt, be reading an awful lot about the problems with this new letter which all but bans gay people from becoming Catholic priests. Here are a few problems:
The statement that those with "homosexual tendencies ¦ find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women," is, at the very least, an insult, coming from a group of celibate men who have been denying priesthood to women.
Also, that the letter was "made more urgent by the current situation" leaves wide open the question as to what the Church sees as the "current situation." Does this refer to the pedophilia sex abuse scandal? Many may interpret this as such. If that's so, then that's a problem. But there is some good news in that the Church did not explicitly conflate pedophilia with homosexuality, which may indicate some hope that the Vatican may be finally understanding that the two are not connected.
Another problem comes in the second to last paragraph where the letter asks potential seminarians to be honest about their same-sex attraction feelings, despite the highly probable consequence that they will be denied ordination.
The paragraph reads: "It would be gravely dishonest for a candidate to hide his own homosexuality in order to proceed, despite everything, towards ordination. Such a deceitful attitude does not correspond to the spirit of truth, loyalty and openness that must characterize the personality of him who believes he is called to serve Christ and his Church in ministerial priesthood."
This letter literally places policy before truth. The Vatican has it backward. The truth will no longer set you free, rather it will prevent you from being ordained.
So here's where the hope comes in. The Vatican says it is seeking truth in the area of homosexuality. The Vatican could have left this paragraph out altogether. Furthermore, the policy says nothing about currently ordained priests and bishops. Shouldn't they be truthful and come out?
English Catholic theologian James Alison said at the 2005 National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian & Gay Ministries conference in anticipation of the release of this statement that it "appears to be an administrative intervention marking a proper pause in a system in deep trouble precisely because of the systemic dishonesty which has characterized the living out of this issue. In this context, a place for honesty is a good thing. We have to eliminate the closet, then we can have discussion and progression," he said.
But there is even more cause for hope.
In this letter, the Vatican's definition of homosexuality has changed. The letter states that the Church's "Catechism distinguishes between homosexual acts and homosexual tendencies." Well, yes, it does, but this new document distinguishes the two less clearly than before.
An earlier Vatican document said: "what is at all costs to be avoided is the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behavior of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and therefore inculpable." ("On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," # 11, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), 1986) Yet, this new instruction seems to say a homosexual orientation inevitably leads to behavior that makes it impossible for men with "deep-rooted homosexual tendencies" to be celibate priests. Additionally, the document says that only those whose "tendencies" appear to have been "transitory" can enter priesthood.
The implication being that either the Vatican seems to be siding with ex-gay ministries claiming that homosexuality can be changed, or contradicting its previous teaching that: "the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a 'heterosexual' or a 'homosexual' and insists that every person has a fundamental identity: the creature of God, and by his grace, his child and heir to eternal life." ("On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," # 16, Vatican CDF, 1986)
Why is this good news? The more the Vatican changes its definitions, the more it becomes clear that the Vatican is speaking in opinions, rather than facts.
Since the Church has no solid evidence that gay people cannot relate properly to men and women, it speaks in abstractions about it.
The more the Vatican separates its policies from facts and truth, the shakier the ground on which it stands. Remember Galileo?
The shakier the ground, the better off we are. As Harvard's Rev. Peter Gomes said of religion in adapting a Winston Churchill quote at the New England HRC dinner in Boston last month: "After they have tried every other possible alternative, they will finally turn to the right thing.
Well, the Vatican has tried again. That's one less wrong alternative for it to try. We look forward to its next try. •