Our friends over at Beliefnet.com have posted an online poll that, to my way of thinking, precisely captures the MSM understanding of the current controversy over the Vatican and gay seminarians. It poses this question: "Should gay men be Catholic priests?" Readers can answer by clicking on one of these these three options: "Yes, if they can live celibately," "no" and "not sure."
I do not think that this is the question that the Vatican is trying to answer, at the moment. So far, it appears that the traditional side of the Vatican (there are divisions in Rome, as well as elsewhere) is trying to ask this question: "Should the Roman Catholic Church strive to ordain only men who believe its doctrines, including its teachings on homosexuality?"
Thus, I opened my lengthy trial-balloon post the other day by stating:
We seem to be nearing the end of the Vatican trial-balloon marathon about its document on the future of seminarians who disagree with the Catholic Church's teachings on homosexuality. Please notice that I did not say that this story is about the future of gay seminarians.
To which one of our loyal readers on the left responded:
P.S.: I held my thoughts about your inaccurate lead, tmatt, but didn't see where you came back to the subject. Surely if the Vatican had wanted to issue a ruling on doctrine, it would have done so.
Posted by Joe Perez at 1:41 pm on November 25, 2005
This is precisely the point. The Vatican does not believe that it needs to release a ruling on its doctrines in the area of moral theology. It believes that it's doctrines are just fine the way they are, thank you very much. The Vatican is having trouble enforcing its doctrine, especially when it comes to ordaining priests who believe it and will actually defend it.
There are, of course, very real divisions inside Catholicism on this issue.
Everyone knows that and those divisions are at the heart of the story, because they extend high, high, high into the ranks of bishops, religious orders and seminary professors that are in charge of the ordination process. And before someone raises the question, let me stress that there are gays and straights who embrace the church's teachings on sexuality and there are gays and straights who do not. This is part of what makes covering this story so complex.
One other point: I once had the chance to ask Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, after a heated debate among the U.S. Catholic Bishops on a topic related to this, if he believed that the Roman Catholic Church now teaches that homosexuality is caused by a "gay gene" and, thus, human beings are born gay. He said "yes." Other Catholics disagree and see sexuality, in general, as a continuum in which few people are locked into one sexual orientation. This side tends to take bisexuality very seriously.
Thus, some Catholics believe that some change is possible, either in sexual orientation or in behavior. Others fiercely disagree.
Thus, reporters often hear statements such as the following, from the anonymous gay priest -- "Fr. Gerald Thomas" -- who writes for Beliefnet.com from time to time. He writes, concerning the leaked Vatican text:
Where, in the end, is the message of Jesus in this document? Where is his message of inclusion and encouragement and love? It is nowhere.
For me, this document is an occasion of deep sadness -- for those men who will never enter the seminary, for those men who will feel forced to leave after years of discernment and prayer, and for those celibate gay priests who will feel great anguish over their treatment by the Vatican. And I feel sadness for the people in the pews, too, who will be deprived of something simple: good men.
This leads to an obvious question: Does this priest believe that Roman Catholic leaders (or some of them) are sinning when they strive to teach, defend and enforce the church's teachings on homosexuality?
In other words, who is sinning? The Catholics who enforce the church's teachings or those who oppose them?