by Terry Mattingly
When it comes to nightlife in Washington, D.C., Dupont Circle is one of the places where people go to be seen.
So Amy Welborn wasn't surprised to see familiar faces while visiting the hot spots with a friend in the late 1970s. It was easy to spot the Catholic University seminarians _ with their girlfriends _ even though the future priests were not wearing clerical garb.
For more, go here: http://www.shns.com/shns/g_index2.cfm?action=detail&pk=RELIGION-FAITH-10-05-05.
Hereafter Mark Brumley opines:
A former seminarian friend of mine from my hometown of St. Louis tells stories of "celibate dating", by which he means dating by men who are supposed to be discerning a priestly vocation that includes celibacy. Just the thing Amy Welborn mentions in the Mattingly column.
Surprise, surprise. That sort of thing led to a crisis of seminary life in the 1970s and 1980s, and of priestly ministry in the 1990s. What a shocker. That, along with heterodoxy of doctrine, bad moral theology, and homosexuality in the seminary. (I will spare readers stories I have heard from seminary officials, former seminary officials and former seminarians about the homosexual network, the Daughters of Trent, and other such things.)
Now we're getting the seminary visitations. No doubt, things have already improved in a lot of places. But it still isn't enough. We'll see whether the visitations yield only marginal results or something more significant. Stay tuned.
One observation about the Mattingly column and Amy Welborn. I love Terry Mattingly's stuff and Amy Welborn's stuff. It's great that a big-time religion news writer and columnist (yes, you are, Terry) actually knows the name of someone like Amy Welborn. Terry is among the best.
Meanwhile, American bishops are bracing for another document about sex and the priesthood--new rules from the Congregation for Catholic Education that are rumored to bar the ordination of all homosexual priests, celibacy or no celibacy.
"A total ban of that sort is unworkable and I think everybody knows it," said Welborn. What Rome is trying to say is "that a self-identified, politicized, gay man who doesn't believe the teachings of the church just isn't going to fit in. That kind of man isn't going to be a priest that practicing Catholics can trust.
Now, Amy's opinion on this is certainly interesting and hardly unique. But I wonder if Terry Mattingly couldn't have found someone more directly involved in seminary formation and experienced with the specific problems in question to quote on the subject of whether it is unworkable to bar homosexuals from ordination. Many of us have opinions on the subject--I freely give mine, so I certainly don't fault Amy for giving hers. But it would have been more helpful in Terry's column to hear from a rector, a spiritual director, or others daily involved in the seminary formation process.
Also, Amy says that a total ban on ordaining homosexuals is "unworkable". If she means that some people can hide their homosexuality and get ordained, then her comments are certainly true enough. People who hide their orientation hide their orientation. But if she means that it is unworkable to set up a rule against ordaining someone known to have a homosexual orientation, it is by no means self-evident that it is "unworkable", nor is its alleged unworkability something "everybody knows". The real question is whether such a norm will be observed by seminaries and bishops.
Such a norm may prove "unworkable" in the sense that seminary officials and bishops may not observe it. If so, then we're half-way down the slippery slope to being right back to where we started. Having disobeyed a norm against ordaining known homosexuals in one instance, such officials and bishops may well ignore a norm against ordaining those who delight in their homosexual orientation. Then the only solution would be the drastic measure of removing the officials and the bishops. Let's hope it doesn't come to that, but let's also be willing to see it happen if that's what it takes to deal with the problem.
It may be that the Vatican will ultimately set down a new rule--even though the old one is apparently still in force--that generally excludes all candidates for ordination who are known to have homosexual inclinations. That will not, obviously, exclude from ordination those with a homosexual orientation who aren't known to have a homosexual orientation. But then requirements of orthodoxy in faith for ordination won't exclude those who embrace heterodox views but who aren't known to do so. Should we ordain those known to be heterodox just because we can't exclude those not known to be heterodox? You can only do what you can do.
Of course one argument is that allowing openly homosexually-oriented men to be ordained, provided they commit to chastity, means we won't have men trying to conceal their homosexuality in order to be ordained, which of course is true. But it doesn't follow from that that such men will be chaste. Those who are open about their homosexuality but who aren't really committed to chastity can lie about a commitment to chastity just as easily as someone can lie about having homosexual inclinations in the first place.
But what about the truly chaste individual with a homosexual orientation who evinces great sanctity? Will he be excluded by the new norm? It may be that such individuals will be accepted on a case-by-case basis, so that the purden of proof would shift to someone with a homosexual inclination to make the case that his orientation is not debilitating or disqualifying. But it might also be the case that the new norm will see as problematic even someone whose homosexual inclination seems sufficiently sublimated. The risk of misjudging or creating problems for others by ordaining such a seminarian may be deemed too great.
In that regard, the situation may be similar to that of ordaining someone known to have a significant alcohol abuse problem. The risk of the problem becoming debilitating to the person or his ministry under the circumstances of priestly life and ministry may be deemed too significant.
But even if the analogy with alcohol abuse is problematic, those who favor a case-by-case scenario have to reckon with the fact that there's a likelihood that some authorities will judge people as "safe risks" who won't be. Not just because you can't know the future, but because the standards by which such judgments are made will not be consistently applied and the judgment of some authorities in question will be poor. That's part of how we got to where we are: some authorities who certainly didn't support homosexual activity by priests nevertheless misjudged some homosexually inclined seminarians' ability to be chaste in the all-male environment of the presbyterate. Or the judges misjudged their seminarians' commitment to chastity. An across-the-board ban has the advantage of being relatively easy to apply because it doesn't require someone to make the more-likely-than-not subtle and complex judgment whether a seminarian's homosexual orientation is likely to prove a problem for him or his ministry.
In any case, we'll see.
That's probably enough said by me on that. For the moment. The visitations are not, as Terry Mattingly and Amy Welborn rightly observe, just about homosexuality, as important as that issue is. Let's pray that all of what needs to change gets changed as a result of these visitations.