The Vatican's recent pronouncements on gay seminarians and gay priests were anticipated. The document had been in preparation for several years, and the Vatican had been trotting out leaks, playing the usual game of "now you see it, now you don't", for months, signaling that the Vatican planned to crack down on the seminaries.
The American bishops seem have been caught flat-footed by the scope of the crack down, which now encompasses gay priests teaching in seminaries and will no doubt extend outward from there in the future.
The American bishops, generally a mediocre lot -- bureaucrats with little if anything else to commend them -- are doing damage control as best they can (hence the flutter of statements being issued "regretting the pain"), but are apparently baffled at the clarity of the Vatican's various statements and unwilling to absorb the clear language used in the documents.
The American bishops are singular in this respect. Just about everyone else is "getting it" -- the guidelines and instructions represent an extraordinary level of repression but are as clear as a bell. Anyone who can read can understand them.
Catholics who have followed the Vatican's pronouncements on gay and lesbian issues over the last couple of decades are not surprised to find things getting worse.
Catholic teaching, under the guiding hand of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, formerly head of the CDF and now Pope Benedict XVI, has been headed south for almost two decades. The guidelines and instructions are but another step in the Vatican's slide into homohysteria, and things will get worse before they get better.
Despite the claims of Catholic conservatives, who are trying to argue, as usual and with the usual obtuseness, that "what is taught is what has always been taught ...", I think that the recent guidelines and instructions can best be understood -- and the future perhaps anticipated -- in the context of the history of Catholic teaching regarding homosexuality over the last three decades, following the deft hand of Pope Benedict XVI as he reversed the Vatican's trajectory with respect to homosexuals and homosexuality.
The Catholic Church was among the first religious bodies to incorporate a modern understanding of homosexuality into its teaching.
In 1975, the CDF issued the "Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics
The Declaration begins with the proposition that human sexuality is innate:
" According to contemporary scientific research, the human person is so profoundly affected by sexuality that it must be considered as one of the factors which give to each individual's life the principal traits that distinguish it. In fact it is from sex that the human person receives the characteristics which, on the biological, psychological and spiritual levels, make that person a man or a woman, and thereby largely condition his or her progress towards maturity and insertion into society. ... The people of our time are more and more convinced that the human person's dignity and vocation demand that they should discover, by the light of their own intelligence, the values innate in their nature, that they should ceaselessly develop these values and realize them in their lives, in order to achieve an ever greater development.
The Declaration then moves on to a discussion of sexual mores, covering a wide range of topics including masturbation, pre-marital and extra-marital sex, and so on, comparing and contrasting Catholic moral teaching with modern societal values.
With respect to homosexuality, the document says:At the present time there are those who, basing themselves on observations in the psychological order, have begun to judge indulgently, and even to excuse completely, homosexual relations between certain people. This they do in opposition to the constant teaching of the Magisterium and to the moral sense of the Christian people.
A distinction is drawn, and it seems with some reason, between homosexuals whose tendency comes from a false education, from a lack of normal sexual development, from habit, from bad example, or from other similar causes, and is transitory or at least not incurable; and homosexuals who are definitively such because of some kind of innate instinct or a pathological constitution judged to be incurable.
In regard to this second category of subjects, some people conclude that their tendency is so natural that it justifies in their case homosexual relations within a sincere communion of life and love analogous to marriage, in so far as such homosexuals feel incapable of enduring a solitary life.
In the pastoral field, these homosexuals must certainly be treated with understanding and sustained in the hope of overcoming their personal difficulties and their inability to fit into society. Their culpability will be judged with prudence. But no pastoral method can be employed which would give moral justification to these acts on the grounds that they would be consonant with the condition of such people. For according to the objective moral order, homosexual relations are acts which lack an essential and indispensable finality. In Sacred Scripture they are condemned as a serious depravity and even presented as the sad consequence of rejecting God. This judgment of Scripture does not of course permit us to conclude that all those who suffer from this anomaly are personally responsible for it, but it does attest to the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can in no case be approved of.
The Declaration established the framework of Catholic teaching with respect to homosexuals and homosexuality, accepting the modern psychological understanding that some men and women were "definitively" oriented to same-sex relationships due to "some kind of innate instinct" for which they weren't "personally responsible", on the one hand, but maintaining that according to scripture, "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered" and rejecting the idea that homosexual acts were morally acceptable.
In 1983, the Congregation for Catholic Education, acknowledging the role of "physiological or psychological factors" in homosexuality, citing the CDF Declaration in part, drew the same conclusion in " Educational Guidance in Human Love: Outlines for Sex Education
":Sexuality is a fundamental component of personality, one of its modes of being, of manifestation, of communicating with others, of feeling, of expressing and of living human love. Therefore it is an integral part of the development of the personality and of its educative process: "It is, in fact, from sex that the human person receives the characteristics which, on the biological, psychological and spiritual levels, make that person a man or a woman, and thereby largely condition his or her progress towards maturity and insertion into society".
With respect to homosexuality, the document noted:101. Homosexuality, which impedes the person's acquisition of sexual maturity, whether from the individual point of view, or the inter-personal, is a problem which must be faced in all objectivity by the pupil and the educator when the case presents itself.
Pastorally, these homosexuals must be received with understanding and supported in the hope of overcoming their personal difficulties and their social mal-adaption, their culpability will be judged with prudence; but no pastoral method can be used which, holding that these acts conform to the condition of these persons, accord them a moral justification.
According to the objective moral order, homosexual relations are acts deprived of their essential and indispensable rule.
102. It will be the duty of the family and the teacher to seek first of all to identify the factors which drive towards homosexuality: to see if it is a question of physiological or psycho logical factors; if it be the result of a false education or of the lack of normal sexual evolution; if it comes from a contracted habit or from bad example;(63) or from other factors. More particularly, in seeking the causes of this disorder, the family and the teacher will have to take account of the elements of judgment proposed by the ecclesiastical
Magisterium, and be served by the contribution which various disciplines can offer. One must, in fact, investigate elements of diverse order: lack of affection, immaturity, obsessive impulses, seduction, social isolation and other types of frustration, depravation in dress, license in shows and publications. In greater profundity lies the innate frailty of man and woman, the consequence of original sin; it can run to the loss of the sense of God and of man and woman, and have its repercussions in the sphere of sexuality.(64)
103. The causes having been sought and understood, the family and the teacher will offer an efficacious help in the process of integral growth: welcoming with understanding, creating a climate of hope, encouraging the emancipation of the individual and his or her growth in self control, promoting an authentic moral force towards conversion to the love of God and neighbor, suggesting - if necessary - medical-psychological assistance from persons attentive to and respectful of the teaching of the Church.
In 1986, the CDF, now under the control of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, reversed course, issuing the "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons
The Letter said it was a "clarification" of existing teaching, issued because in "the discussion which followed the publication of the Declaration ... an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good.
What the Letter did, however, was turn the 1975 Declaration on its head, reversing the course of evolving Church teaching concerning homosexuality.
The Letter rejected the emerging understanding that "the homosexual condition" was distinguishable from homosexual acts, and instead argued that the condition, itself, was the problem: When people "engage in homosexual activity, they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent.
In the 1975 Declaration, homosexual orientation was "disordered" because it tended toward homosexual acts, which were "disordered" because they were not ordered to procreation. In this sense, homosexuality was treated like any other human sexual urge that tended toward non-procreative sex outside of marriage, differing in degree and inclination, perhaps, but not in substance or effect.
In the 1986 Letter, on the other hand, homosexual acts were treated as "disordered" because the acts "confirmed" the"inclination", and the condition -- homosexual orientation -- was "essentially" self-indulgent, whether or not a gay or lesbian engaged in homosexual acts.
The 1986 Letter, I believe, reveals the core of Pope Benedict's thinking on the issue, and is worth quoting in depth for that reason:3. Explicit treatment of the problem was given in this Congregation's "Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics" of December 29, 1975. That document stressed the duty of trying to understand the homosexual condition and noted that culpability for homosexual acts should only be judged with prudence. At the same time the Congregation took note of the distinction commonly drawn between the homosexual condition or tendency and individual homosexual actions. These were described as deprived of their essential and indispensable finality, as being "intrinsically disordered", and able in no case to be approved of (cf. n. 8, $4).
In the discussion which followed the publication of the Declaration, however, an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.
7. The Church, obedient to the Lord who founded her and gave to her the sacramental life, celebrates the divine plan of the loving and live-giving union of men and women in the sacrament of marriage. It is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good. A person engaging in homosexual behavior therefore acts immorally.
To chose someone of the same sex for one's sexual activity is to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals, of the Creator's sexual design. Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living. This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent.
As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one's own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God. The Church, in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically understood.
8. ... increasing numbers of people today, even within the Church, are bringing enormous pressure to bear on the Church to accept the homosexual condition as though it were not disordered and to condone homosexual activity. Those within the Church who argue in this fashion often have close ties with those with similar views outside it. These latter groups are guided by a vision opposed to the truth about the human person, which is fully disclosed in the mystery of Christ. They reflect, even if not entirely consciously, a materialistic ideology which denies the transcendent nature of the human person as well as the supernatural vocation of every individual.
9. The movement within the Church, which takes the form of pressure groups of various names and sizes, attempts to give the impression that it represents all homosexual persons who are Catholics. As a matter of fact, its membership is by and large restricted to those who either ignore the teaching of the Church or seek somehow to undermine it. It brings together under the aegis of Catholicism homosexual persons who have no intention of abandoning their homosexual behavior. One tactic used is to protest that any and all criticism of or reservations about homosexual people, their activity and lifestyle, are simply diverse forms of unjust discrimination.
There is an effort in some countries to manipulate the Church by gaining the often well-intentioned support of her pastors with a view to changing civil-statutes and laws. This is done in order to conform to these pressure groups' concept that homosexuality is at least a completely harmless, if not an entirely good, thing. Even when the practice of homosexuality may seriously threaten the lives and well-being of a large number of people, its advocates remain undeterred and refuse to consider the magnitude of the risks involved. ...
10. It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law. ... But the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.
11. It has been argued that the homosexual orientation in certain cases is not the result of deliberate choice; and so the homosexual person would then have no choice but to behave in a homosexual fashion. Lacking freedom, such a person, even if engaged in homosexual activity, would not be culpable. ... Here, the Church's wise moral tradition is necessary since it warns against generalizations in judging individual cases. In fact, circumstances may exist, or may have existed in the past, which would reduce or remove the culpability of the individual in a given instance; or other circumstances may increase it. 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. What is essential is that the fundamental liberty which characterizes the human person and gives him his dignity be recognized as belonging to the homosexual person as well. As in every conversion from evil, the abandonment of homosexual activity will require a profound collaboration of the individual with God's liberating grace.
12. What, then, are homosexual persons to do who seek to follow the Lord? Fundamentally, they are called to enact the will of God in their life by joining whatever sufferings and difficulties they experience in virtue of their condition to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross. ... Christians who are homosexual are called, as all of us are, to a chaste life. As they dedicate their lives to understanding the nature of God's personal call to them, they will be able to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance more faithfully and receive the Lord's grace so freely offered there in order to convert their lives more fully to his Way.
In the Letter, Cardinal Ratzinger laid the structural foundation for all that has followed since.
Cardinal Ratzinger, however, did not then dominate the Vatican as he later came to do, and other congregations continued to distinguish homosexual acts from homosexual orientation, treating the latter as morally neutral.
In 1990, for example, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life issued "Directives on Formation in Religious Institutes
", the first Vatican document since the 1960's that expressly addressed the issue of gay priests .
The document distinguished between celibate gay priests -- the orientation but not the acts -- and non-celibate gay priests -- gay priests who "do not seem to be able to overcome their homosexual tendencies, or who maintain that it is possible to adopt a third way, "living in an ambiguous state between celibacy and marriage" must be dismissed from the religious life ...
In 1992, Ratzinger raised the stakes, setting the Vatican against the growing secular movement for gay and lesbian civil rights in secular society.
In "Some Considerations Concerning Legislative Proposals on the Non-discrimination of Homosexual Persons
", the CDF repeated that "the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder
" and extended this principle to civil law.
The document brought the Church into the arena of civil law with respect to the rights of gays and lesbians, and provided the spadework for the Church's resistance changes to civil law that would protect the rights of gays and lesbians in Europe and North America: Recently, legislation has been proposed in various places which would make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal. In some cities, municipal authorities have made public housing, otherwise reserved for families, available to homosexual (and unmarried heterosexual) couples. Such initiatives, even where they seem more directed toward support of basic civil rights than condonement of homosexual activity or a homosexual lifestyle, may in fact have a negative impact on the family and society. Such things as the adoption of children, the employment of teachers, the housing needs of genuine families, landlords' legitimate concerns in screening potential tenants, for example, are often implicated. ...
10. "Sexual orientation" does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc. in respect to non-discrimination. Unlike these, homosexual orientation is an objective disorder and evokes moral concern.
11. There are areas in which it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account, for example, in the placement of children for adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment.
12. Homosexual persons, as human persons, have the same rights as all persons including the right of not being treated in a manner which offends their personal dignity. Among other rights, all persons have the right to work, to housing, etc. Nevertheless, these rights are not absolute. They can be legitimately limited for objectively disordered external conduct. This is sometimes not only licit but obligatory ... the state may restrict the exercise of rights, for example, in the case of contagious or mentally ill persons, in order to protect the common good.
13. Including "homosexual orientation" among the considerations on the basis of which it is illegal to discriminate can easily lead to regarding homosexuality as a positive source of human rights, for example, in respect to so-called affirmative action or preferential treatment in hiring practices. This is all the more deleterious since there is no right to homosexuality which therefore should not form the basis for judicial claims. ...
14. The "sexual orientation" of a person is not comparable to race, sex, age, etc. also for another reason than that given above which warrants attention. An individual's sexual orientation is generally not known to others unless he publicly identifies himself as having this orientation or unless some overt behavior manifests it. As a rule, the majority of homosexually oriented persons who seek to lead chaste lives do not publicize their sexual orientation. ... Homosexual persons who assert their homosexuality tend to be precisely those who judge homosexual behavior or lifestyle to be "either completely harmless, if not an entirely good thing", and hence worthy of public approval. ... In addition, there is a danger that legislation which would make homosexuality a basis for entitlements could actually encourage a person with a homosexual orientation to declare his homosexuality or even to seek a partner in order to exploit the provisions of the law. ...
16. Finally, where a matter of the common good is concerned, it is inappropriate for church authorities to endorse or remain neutral toward adverse legislation even if it grants exceptions to church organizations and institutions. The church has the responsibility to promote family life and the public morality of the entire civil society on the basis of fundamental moral values, not simply to protect herself from the application of harmful laws.
A few months later, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was released by Pope John Paul II.
The Catechism was six-year product of "consultation among all Catholic Bishops, their Episcopal Conferences or Synods, and theological and catechetical institutes" -- John Paul called the Catechism a "symphony of the faith" -- and Cardinal Ratzinger's views did not dominate the document.
The Catechism distinguished between "homosexual acts" and "homosexual tendencies" in the text, echoing the 1975 Declaration more closely than the Ratzinger documents:2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,140 tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."141 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
Of particular note is the Catechism's clear statement that gays and lesbians could
live chastely through human support, prayer and God's grace. The Catechism, in this respect, reflects traditional Catholic teaching concerning sexual chastity, and did not narrow out gays and lesbians as a distinct class of persons from unmarried heterosexuals.
Three years after the Catechism was release, the Pontifical Council for the Family issued "The Truth And Meaning of Human Sexuality
", a long and comprehensive look at human sexuality.
The document discussed homosexuality in terms of adolescent development, echoed the Cathechism, and declared, "A distinction must be made between a tendency that can be innate and acts of homosexuality that 'are intrinsically disordered.
":104. A particular problem that can appear during the process of sexual maturation is homosexuality, which is also spreading more and more in urbanized societies. This phenomenon must be presented with balanced judgment, in the light of the documents of the Church. Young people need to be helped to distinguish between the concepts of what is normal and abnormal, between subjective guilt and objective disorder, avoiding what would arouse hostility. On the other hand, the structural and complementary orientation of sexuality must be well clarified in relation to marriage, procreation and Christian chastity. "Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained". A distinction must be made between a tendency that can be innate and acts of homosexuality that "are intrinsically disordered" and contrary to Natural Law.
Especially when the practice of homosexual acts has not become a habit, many cases can benefit from appropriate therapy. In any case, persons in this situation must be accepted with respect, dignity and delicacy, and all forms of unjust discrimination must be avoided. If parents notice the appearance of this tendency or of related behaviour in their children, during childhood or adolescence, they should seek help from expert qualified persons in order to obtain all possible assistance.
For most homosexual persons, this condition constitutes a trial. "They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition". "Homosexual persons are called to chastity".
In 1998, the Congress on Vocations to the Priesthood and to Consecrated Life in Europe said the crucial test for a prospective priest was to be "able to control these weaknesses.
The 1998 document, circumvented -- ignored might be more accurate -- Ratzinger's 1986 and 1992 pronouncements, and recommended "to reject not [candidates] who have such tendencies but rather 'those who cannot manage to control such tendencies.'
In 2003, the CDF, under Cardinal Ratzinger's signature, issued "Proposals To Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons
", a follow up to "Some Considerations Concerning Legislative Proposals on the Non-discrimination of Homosexual Persons
", issued a decade earlier.
The document amounted to a frontal assault on legal recognition for gay and lesbian equality. The document urged governments to "contain
" gay unions "to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defenses and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon.
The document begins with a discussion of homosexuality, a discussion that largely repeats the view put forward in the 1992 "Considerations" document:4. There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law. Homosexual acts "close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved".
Sacred Scripture condemns homosexual acts "as a serious depravity... This judgment of Scripture does not of course permit us to conclude that all those who suffer from this anomaly are personally responsible for it, but it does attest to the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered". This same moral judgment is found in many Christian writers of the first centuries and is unanimously accepted by Catholic Tradition.
Nonetheless, according to the teaching of the Church, men and women with homosexual tendencies "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided". They are called, like other Christians, to live the virtue of chastity. The homosexual inclination is however "objectively disordered" and homosexual practices are "sins gravely contrary to chastity".
The document then moves on to a discussion of strategies the Church can use to fight legal recognition of gay and lesbian unions:5. Faced with the fact of homosexual unions, civil authorities adopt different positions. At times they simply tolerate the phenomenon; at other times they advocate legal recognition of such unions, under the pretext of avoiding, with regard to certain rights, discrimination against persons who live with someone of the same sex. In other cases, they favor giving homosexual unions legal equivalence to marriage properly so-called, along with the legal possibility of adopting children.
Where the government's policy is de facto tolerance and there is no explicit legal recognition of homosexual unions, it is necessary to distinguish carefully the various aspects of the problem. Moral conscience requires that, in every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth, which is contradicted both by approval of homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons. Therefore, discreet and prudent actions can be effective; these might involve: unmasking the way in which such tolerance might be exploited or used in the service of ideology; stating clearly the immoral nature of these unions; reminding the government of the need to contain the phenomenon within certain limits so as to safeguard public morality and, above all, to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defenses and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon. Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil.
In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.
And finally, the document calls upon Catholic politicians to oppose recognition of gay and lesbian unions:10. If it is true that all Catholics are obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are obliged to do so in a particular way, in keeping with their responsibility as politicians. Faced with legislative proposals in favor of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are to take account of the following ethical indications.
When legislation in favor of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic law-maker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral.
When legislation in favor of the recognition of homosexual unions is already in force, the Catholic politician must oppose it in the ways that are possible for him and make his opposition known; it is his duty to witness to the truth. If it is not possible to repeal such a law completely, the Catholic politician, recalling the indications contained in the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, "could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality", on condition that his "absolute personal opposition" to such laws was clear and well known and that the danger of scandal was avoided. This does not mean that a more restrictive law in this area could be considered just or even acceptable; rather, it is a question of the legitimate and dutiful attempt to obtain at least the partial repeal of an unjust law when its total abrogation is not possible at the moment.
The hand of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, is the moving force behind the Vatican's recent pronouncements on gay seminarians and gay priests. The document reflects another step in what appears to be a determined campaign by Pope Benedict to reverse the course of Catholic teaching concerning homosexuality, a course that reflected a trajectory taking modern understanding of homosexuality into account.
The history of the Church's teaching regarding homosexuality during the last 30 years suggests that the common explanation for the Vatican's recent ban on gay seminarians -- that the ban is a response, however misguided, to the sex-abuse scandal -- is wrong.
To my mind, things will get worse before they get better. I think that we can expect Pope Benedict to move beyond the seminaries and into the active priesthood. And I take no comfort from the fact that the current documents are applicable to the priesthood. As I read the documents, Pope Benedict appears to believe -- not unlike fundamentalist Protestants -- that homosexuality is a contagious disease, and I expect the Vatican to continue to move vigorously to resist all attempts by civil society to level the playing field for gay and lesbian citizens.
In the long run, Pope Benedict will not succeed, if for no other reason than that he is and old man and will be a transitory force in Catholic teaching. I have no doubt that in the long run, the base instincts of Pope Benedict will fall by the wayside, an artifact of error, just as the Church's historic antagonism to Judaism fell in the years following Vatican Council II.
But until that time comes -- and I have no expectation that it will come in my lifetime -- the Church's antagonism to gay and lesbian rights creates a dilemma for Catholics like me, who strongly believe in equal treatment under civil law for gays and lesbians.
For the present, I continue to stand in "faithful opposition
", remaining Catholic, separated from the Eucharist, fighting the base instincts of the Pope and the Vatican.
In the long, I just don't know.