For years, due to the free-speech public forum that is WVOX, I was able to shout to the rooftops about what I believe is one of the biggest problems in the Catholic Church today—priestly celibacy. I will always be grateful for having had that privilege. But it recently dawned on me that, away from the microphone as I am for the moment, this blog will ensure that it is in the public domain during the election of a new pope.
I realize that no one may care what I think, least of all the hierarchy of the church. But I will feel better for having put it out there, and if it engenders any discussion at all, I will have done my tiny part.
The practice of celibacy in the Catholic Church is, in my view, unhealthy, unnatural and corrosive. As well, it has contributed to a culture of secrecy in this already opaque institution by the need to hide the sex abuse scandals, and what is becoming more apparent by the day, to mute the existence of a culture within a culture of a sizeable gay community within the church, as well as the indiscretions of straight priests.
In and of itself, the presence of gay priests is—and should not be—a problem. But by priestly standards, the description "gay priest" is a virtual oxymoron. The condemnation of homosexuality by the church makes it impossible and impractical for a cleric to disclose his sexual orientation.
Straight priests have similar dilemmas. These men—we know not how many—have had and continue to have affairs and long-term relationships with women. Perhaps they feel less vilified, but at what price comes their guilt? What is the emotional cost of living a lie?
How is a gay cardinal or archbishop to deal with gay priests if he himself is gay? What is a pastor to do about a subordinate’s dalliance when he himself visits his girlfriend on Friday night? And what should the dutiful and faithful priest do, and how should he feel, when the boys, bonded by their errant behavior, insist that he adhere to the code of silence? One wonders, while the church was covering up the child abuse issues, which exist throughout society, was it perhaps hiding from view a larger issue of sexual dysfunction and immaturity of a broader scale. We will probably never know.
This brings us to the larger issues of one’s sex and sexual orientation. It shouldn’t matter if a man or a woman, straight or gay, wants to serve God and humanity through the priesthood. Why do we cling to ancient notions that keep women as second-class citizens and that deny the scientific truth that homosexuality is not a choice? How hypocritical is it to condemn the misogyny and homophobia of some middle-eastern countries and their religious beliefs when the longest standing Christian institution on earth is not all that far ahead of those ideals.
It seems self-evident that old notions about sexuality drew many gay men to the church. It’s not all that better now, but it is still light years more acceptable to be gay today than 40 years ago. How attractive must the path of priesthood have been for a devout gay man? He not only would be accepted, he would be revered and respected for doing a good job. He would be judged on his merits and not his sexuality. How ironic is it that one of the world's most anti-gay institutions tacitly became a place of acceptance and equality for good men who happened to be gay?
The church must face up to the reality that celibacy has failed. It is—well—not normal; indeed, less normal than being gay. The church must face the fact that women and married men—straight or gay—will make good priests. To do otherwise is to continue an unnatural life style that will once again lead to aberration and scandal.
This is harsh, but I lay it out there as food for thought: Suppose I said to you that I had created the best school-bus and ambulance service in the world staffed with 60,000 people who were devoted to the task. So intent was I on recruiting dedicated people who would not be distracted, that I insisted they take an oath never to sleep with a man or a woman, or raise a family. How many well-adjusted people would I get?
The church and its new pope have a lot of work to do—most of it dealing with modernity.