Tuesday, December 10, 2002

On ordaining men with same sex attraction

As someone who teaches at a seminary, I might be expected to have an opinion on this one. And those who are concerned with orthodoxy might expect me to take a certain position on it. Sorry to disappoint.....

From what I can figure out, there are a disproportionate number of seminarians who have significant same-sex attraction. I have no way of knowing just what percentage there are, but I'm sure it is much higher than the much less than 10% of the male population that have a chronic, engrained same-sex attraction. So, if an absolute prohibition were instituted, it would significantly affect seminaries.

I'm not so sure I agree that there should be an all-out ban on ordaining men with same sex attraction. First, I think it would be impossible to enforce. I agree with those who say that the only way for someone who has such a problem to deal with it is to address it squarely and honestly. A policy like this would probably result in a significant amount of duplicity, I think. There is already too much duplicity in seminaries (and in academia and in Church life in general) as it is.

Second, and more importantly, I don't think such a policy acknowledges the diversity that really exists in sexual attraction. Same sex attraction is a disordered desire, but there is not a monolithic type called "homosexual" or "gay." Some may have some same-sex attraction, but also have a significant amount of opposite-sex attraction. For some, it is a whole way of life (people who identify themselves as "gay," for instance.). For some, it is NOT their identity, but a very trying aspect of their overall humanity. Where does one draw the line? If you have ever in your life had a same-sex attraction or even an encounter, no matter what the circumstances, are you automatically excluded? I think the important points of discernment are a) homosexual attraction and the seminarian's attitude towards it, b) his enthusiastic acceptance of Church's teachings on sexuality and c) his demonstrated ability to live chastely ought to be a point of discernment, but I don't think there should be a comprehensive ban.

There are other questions people bring up, like whether there would be too much temptation in a seminary environment or the "boy's club" of the presbyterate and whether a seminarian that does not have a strong heterosexual attraction can represent the bridegroom. As for the first, well, isn't a parish setting quite a tempting environment for a lonely celibate heterosexual man? With all those women all over the place being involved in almost everything? As for the second, I think the Donatist controversy cleared that one up. Neither a priest's personal moral condition nor what disordered desires he experiences affect his ability to celebrate the sacraments validly. Remember, we all experience disordered desires. No one really knows for sure what causes them in us or in men with same-sex attractions (save that it is one of the effects of original sin). And even if we did know, would it really make a difference? I think not.

Oh, and for those who will think I'm "soft" on men with same-sex attraction because I've had these feelings myself, all I can say is, it ain't so. I don't remember ever having any same-sex attraction at any point in my life, even at my all-boy's boarding high school, where one might expect such a thing to happen to even a mostly heterosexual boy. I've always been attracted exclusively by women. You amateur Freudians out there can make of that what you will.

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