Do Ask, Do Tell
We knew this was coming, of course.
The Catholic Church makes it official today: Men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" are not fit to be priests. Sexual orientation is now a job qualification for the ordination.
The Church's reasoning?
"... the entire life of the holy priest must be animated by the gift of his whole person to the Church and with an authentic pastoral love. The candidate for ordained ministry, therefore, must reach emotional maturity. That maturity renders him able to put himself in the proper relation with men and women, developing in him a true sense of spiritual fatherhood toward the ecclesial community entrusted to him. ... The church, even while deeply respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to seminary or Holy Orders those who are actively homosexual, have deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture. Such people, in fact, find themselves in a situation that seriously obstructs them from properly relating to men and women."
The Vatican document bans gay seminarians because of a finding that gay men do not have, and apparently can only rarely develop, the ability to "properly relate to men and women", and, as a result, gay men cannot properly fulfill the pastoral role of priests.
In short, gay men do not possess and cannot, with rare exceptions, perhaps, develop a critical job qualification for the priesthood, pastoral competence.
The Vatican's finding isn't true, of course, and most Catholics know better. A large number of Catholic priests in the United States -- reasonable estimates range from a third to half -- are gay, and almost all Catholics personally know at least one gay priest who they think is an excellent priest and pastor.
Not so, according to the Vatican. If we are to believe this document, most of the gay priests we know, respect and love -- the gay priests who married us, baptized our children, counseled us during a time of turmoil and need, who tend to our spiritual growth -- lack a critical job qualification for the office.
I don't want to argue with the Vatican about whether or not gay men are qualified to be priests, any more than I want to argue with the Vatican about whether married men should be priests or whether women can adequately represent Christ. I think that the Vatican is wrong, but I think that the Vatican is wrong about many things. So be it.
And I don't want to get into a discussion of the Alice and Wonderland logic behind the idea that a priest must be sexually attracted to women in order to exercise "spiritual fatherhood" to the women in his flock. I'll leave that to the theologians.
What I do want to do is follow the Vatican's line of reasoning a bit further.
In the narrowest terms, the document applies only to seminarians -- those training to become priests. It is they who are banned from ordination, who must be weeded out before they become priests.
Technically, the document does not apply to ordained priests already working in the parishes. Odd, of course, because it would seem to me that if the Vatican believes that gay men lack an essential qualification for the job, it would want to do something about it.
The Vatican will try to talk out of both sides of its mouth for a while, I suppose, taking the line that although gay men must be banned from ordination because their sexual orientation "seriously obstructs" their ability to be good priests, the gay priests and gay bishops who were ordained in the past -- a third to a half -- were the rare exceptions that prove the rule.
But that is bull shit -- a third to a half are not "rare exceptions".
The Vatican is transparent in its hypocrisy -- the document does not apply existing priests because the Vatican knows that it can't do without gay priests in the United States until it has developed a sufficient cadre of foreign priests to handle the large number of parishes in the United States who would be rendered priestless if the Vatican banned gay priests from parish work.
So the Vatican will try to impose a "don't ask, don't tell" blanket over the question of the qualification of gay priests. And it is probably wise to do so, if wisdom is measured by cynical pragmatism.
But if the Vatican is right, it seems to me, what is true of gay priests -- gay priests are not capable of fulfilling the pastoral role, with rare exceptions -- is doubly true of gay bishops, it would seem to me.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a lot to say about bishops and their role in the Church, as you might imagine. But the primary role of a bishop is pastor and shepherd to his flock:
CCC 862: "Just as the office which the Lord confided to Peter alone, as first of the apostles, destined to be transmitted to his successors, is a permanent one, so also endures the office, which the apostles received, of shepherding the Church, a charge destined to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops." Hence the Church teaches that "the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ."
If the Vatican's finding is correct, then sexual orientation is a job qualification for the bishopric, and gay bishops are -- to be blunt -- unqualified and should be removed.
And with respect to the gay bishops, in contrast to gay priests, the cynical pragmatism of the Vatican doesn't apply. The Catholic Church has no shortage of bishops, and the Vatican can easily ordain replacements as and when needed. So the bishopric is not subject to fears of a shortage.
That being the case, I think that it is fair to ask each of our bishops, on the record, whether they are gay -- whether they lack an essential qualification for the office they hold.
So do ask.
I intend to ask my bishops, The Most Reverend Joseph Perry, the Auxiliary of Vicariate VI, and His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, the next time I am within earshot.
And I intend to get an answer, not an evasion.
I urge you to ask your bishops, too, if you get the chance. Or write a letter, asking, and see if you get a response.
Insist on an answer.
And I don't think we should exempt the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ, the Servant of the Servants of God -- the man who is responsible for this madness.
Pope Benedict XVI.
Ask him, too.
And insist that he tell.
You might find that the Vicar of Christ is no more qualified to be the Servant of the Servants of God than Mike Brown was qualified to deal with Hurricane Katrina ...