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Friday, September 16, 2005

Sensus fidelium

Although it seems that the Vatican has not yet officially ruled on whether homosexual men can serve as priests--even when living celibate and godly lives--there are signs that such a ruling, and possibly even a purge, may be coming.

This article in the New York Times discusses the investigations now beginning in the seminaries, intended to locate and root out any support for or toleration of (and one presumes, even compassion for) homosexual inclinations among future priests.

Andrew Sullivan, whose analysis of the Church I almost always agree with, points out that this is not a case of the RCC finally getting around to an issue that it had previously neglected, but that it's an actual reversal of the Church's position on gays and lesbians, which has long been that, while homosexual acts may be sinful, the orientation itself is biological--apparently an act of God--and thus morally neutral. Sullivan writes,

To bar gay people in committed relationships from the church is one thing. To bar even celibate, faithful gays from the priesthood is quite another. It is also implicitly a statement that no gay man can, in practice, live a celibate life, which is to say that the entire basis of the Church's doctrine about how gay men and women should live is false. If the church cannot expect celibacy from one of its own priests who has successfully stayed celibate for over a decade, what does it expect of the rest of us? Under this pope, I think, homosexual persons have become inherently morally sick, Untermenschen in his own language, moral lepers incapable of self-governance and liable to make the church "unclean." They cannot marry or form stable relationships; they cannot remain celibate; and they are all potential molesters of children. What other logical inferences are possible from this new policy?

(Complete post here; it's worth reading in full.)

A more emotional case is made by an anonymous gay priest in this great essay that appeared in Commonweal several months ago. The priest writes,

If the Incarnation shows us anything, it is that God loves us in our humanity, even in our weakness, as St. Paul says--perhaps especially in our weakness. We all have a need to see ourselves as loved by God as we are, even in those parts of ourselves that embarrass or sadden us. Perhaps we think ourselves too plain, too unintelligent, too untalented, or too unsuccessful to warrant God’s love. But God’s love is always far greater than we can imagine, and embraces our entire selves. In my own life, one of the most profound experiences of God’s love came when, after many years, I finally accepted that I could not change myself into a straight man: I was gay and that was simply the way God had created me. Encountering God’s love as I am was a transforming experience, one that I have wanted to share with parishioners not as an example of any personal sexual liberation, but as a sign of God’s infinite, and always surprising, understanding

. . . . .I realized that my decades spent fearing rejection and feeling marginalized had fostered within me a deep love for the materially poor of this world, who are marginalized and rejected in far worse ways.

I don't know that I have anything to add, except my fury at the direction the Church appears to be going. I'm angry, of course, at the Church's treatment of gays and lesbians, its willful blindness to the real causes behind the sex scandal, and its apparent lack of concern about what barring homosexuals will do to the already steeply declining number of priests*--but ultimately I'm most angry about what is to me the larger issue: the fact that the hierarchy seems so unable or unwilling to recognize that the church IS, in the final analysis, its members. Especially as the number of priests declines, and religious orders completely disappear, most of the work of a given parish is done by the lay men and women who run the religious education programs, act as eucharistic ministers, organize fundraisers, or even just sit quietly in the pews week after week.

My parish is blessed with a large and lively (and socially progressive!) community of Franciscan friars, but even so the work of the church wouldn't get done without the hours of mostly unpaid labor by dedicated laypeople. And in many churches, where there's only a single priest--or no full-time priest at all--the situation is even more extreme. I'm well aware that the Church isn't a democracy, but shouldn't the governed at least be asked their opinions now and again? And shouldn't those who are on the front lines of the faith--teaching religious education and confirmation classes, running the choir--be allowed to speak from their experience?

And doesn't Benedict believe in the sensus fidelium--the unerring sense of the faithful--as to when a teaching is consonent with true faith? Or does he simply think that what he senses is what we sense?

*For the record, I think both women and married people should be ordained, but if there has to be a first step, I think the most logical one is not ordaining married men, but ordaining celibate women. Not that you asked.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 10:40 PM |


Blogger Tiruncula commented at 6:24 PM~  

I know. This is extremely upsetting, if not unexpected. I'm not a Catholic myself, but I teach at a Catholic school and have many Catholic friends whom this is going to hurt.

Blogger La Lecturess commented at 4:12 PM~  

Dan, I'm sorry, but I've deleted your comment. I appreciate the civil nature of your remarks, but I doubt that we could come to any agreement on the issue of homosexuality, which I regard as entirely natural--including the acts that naturally follow from the orientation.

We come from different religious traditions and consequently have different attitudes toward the Bible--however divinely inspired and full of truth I believe the Bible to be, I simply do not accept it as literally true in all of its specifics. Catholics don't. Most of the old mainline Protestants denominations don't.

I'm not criticizing your perspective, I'm simply saying that we don't operate within the same traditions--and as you have not changed my views, I doubt I could change yours.

Blogger jo(e) commented at 5:50 PM~  

I was raised Catholic and am not even sure whether or not I consider myself Catholic any more. But it's hard to ever leave the church when you are part of a Catholic extended family and when you live in a Catholic community.

Stuff like this absolutely infuriates me.

When I was younger, I had hope that the Church would change ... but I don't see any evidence of that. Quite the opposite. It's sad, really, when you think of all the wonderful well-meaning people in the church, who have no power to steer it in the right direction. Damned hierarchy.

Blogger What Now? commented at 3:06 PM~  

Thanks for a good post and for the link to Andrew Sullivan's piece. Interestingly, no one is actually talking about this here at St. Martyr's, perhaps because we're a fairly polarized school: The conservative Catholic minority seem to happily go with whatever the Pope says (except about the war in Iraq, interestingly), while the majority, who are liberal and perhaps are more typical of American Catholics, pretty much ignore whatever the Pope says.

The place where we particularly don't discuss such matters? In St. Martyr's LGB student club, which a wonderful priest and I co-mentor. We pretty much work on the principle that we won't say anything unless we have something good to say, so the priest likes to quote carefully excerpted quotes from the American Bishops' statement "Always Our Children," and I just don't talk about the church at all. It doesn't seem the best solution by a long short, but we feel that our hands are essentially tied in this regard.

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