Gay priest purge? Next trial balloon

crystal colors balloonsLike I said, we are still in the trial balloons stage on the whole issue of the rumored Vatican statement that was supposed to "purge" the priesthood of gay men. This is why I believe that it is much more important, at this point, to talk about the sure thing, which is "Instrumentum Laboris" [PDF] and the wave of examiners who will be visiting Catholic seminaries across the United States in the near future looking for doctrinal train wrecks. This is why, in my Scripps Howard column this week, I focused on the fact that a renewed emphasis on mandatory celibacy runs throughout the questions in the 12-page Vatican document that will guide these confidential seminary investigations.

While the document -- as posted on the World Wide Web -- contains one or two clear references to homosexuality, there are a dozen or more direct or indirect references to mandatory celibacy and its role in the training, or "formation," of priests.

To cite only one sequence, investigators will ask: "How does the formation integrate harmoniously the spiritual dimension with the human one, above all in the area of celibate chastity? How are the seminarians formed to celibate chastity in the areas of friendships, human relationships, human freedom and the formation of the moral conscience? In the judgment of the Visitors, does the seminary provide adequate formation that will enable the seminarians to live celibate chastity? (This question must be answered.)"

Why talk so much about celibacy? That's simple. If you cannot (a) afford, for statistical reasons, to seriously cut the number of gay priests serving at altars and you (b) also know that it is next to impossible to strictly define what it means for someone to be gay, once actively gay, possibly gay, militantly gay or even formerly tempted to be gay, then you (c) focus harder on getting all of your priests (you too, straight guys in overwhelmingly female parishes) to do a better job of keeping their vows.

And, besides, as the always candid progressive Father Donald Cozzens wrote in the New York Daily News:

Finally, there is a dimension of hypocrisy. If and when the Vatican instruction is released and enforced, in many cases the seminary official, religious superior or diocesan bishop who informs a gay candidate for seminary admission that he is not acceptable will be gay himself.

Thus, I am not surprised to see that the omnipresent Rome insider John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter is now saying that the still forthcoming document on homosexuals in seminaries "will not demand an absolute ban" and will simply ask seminary leaders to make decisions on a case by case basis and be extra careful.

Allen reports that gays would be kept out of seminaries:

* If candidates have not demonstrated a capacity to live celibate lives for at least three years;

* If they are part of a "gay culture," for example, attending gay pride rallies (a point, the official said, which applies both to professors at seminaries as well as students);

* If their homosexual orientation is sufficiently "strong, permanent and univocal" as to make an all-male environment a risk.

There's more to the Allen report, of course, and now the Associated Press has a report out on the same topic (and with very similar sourcing). So there is another ripple of news on this hot story, but I would urge readers to, once again, treat all of this as yet another trial balloon. And what is the larger story? Perhaps this is more wood under the fire that could lead to conservative Catholics -- not liberals, conservatives -- starting to talk about Anglican Rites and larger Eastern Rites and other forms of Catholicism that would allow men to marry and then be ordained.

P.S. Check out this Religion News Service report by Godbeat veteran David Briggs on how the theological left views the current tensions about Catholic seminaries, gay priests, etc. Are the sources quoted arguing, essentially, that Catholicism in the American context is now another liberal oldine body?

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