Seminarians’ sex lives, revisited

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Yesterday I highlighted a New York Times article on psychological screening of seminary candidates. I actually thought the article accomplished a lot and I enjoyed reading it. And I dinged it for failing to explain -- and include quotes defending -- the Vatican position on accepting homosexual candidates. After reading one of the comments in yesterday's thread -- and some comments on the interwebs -- I actually think this point is worth revisiting.

First let's look at the issue in question, from the Times article:

It is part of a soul-baring obstacle course prospective seminarians are forced to run in the aftermath of a sexual abuse crisis that church leaders have decided to confront, in part, by scrubbing their academies of potential molesters, according to church officials and psychologists who screen candidates in New York and the rest of the country.

But many of the questions are also aimed at another, equally sensitive mission: deciding whether gay applicants should be denied admission under complex recent guidelines from the Vatican that do not explicitly bar all gay candidates but would exclude most of them, even some who are celibate.

The notion that the guidelines are complex and confusing is a major theme of the piece. But a commenter yesterday discussed the directives in question and I decided to give them a read and . . . they're actually pretty clear. You can read "Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders" here. It basically reaffirms church teaching on homosexuality. It notes that the church distinguishes between homosexual acts and homosexual tendencies. It says homosexual acts are grave sins, intrinsically immoral and contrary to natural law. Then it says that deep-seated homosexual tendencies are also objectively disordered, that people who have these must be treated respectfully and sensitively. But here's the language from the 2005 document:

In the light of such teaching, this Dicastery, in accord with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, believes it necessary to state clearly that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called "gay culture".

The article says it's clear-cut that men who actively practice homosexuality should be barred but it says the other categories are more difficult to discern. It notes that some Catholics saw room for admitting celibate gay men and that the Vatican further clarified:

"It is not enough to be sure that he is capable of abstaining from genital activity," ruled the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education, which issued the initial guidelines. "It is also necessary to evaluate his sexual orientation."

For any church body to speak this clearly about sexual orientation is noteworthy. For the Vatican, this is like hanging a neon sign in the office of every seminary director. I actually found myself smiling while reading the Times story the first time. But rereading it, I laughed when I got to the part above because it goes on to talk about how difficult it is to understand what the word "orientation" means. And it sort of goes on and on and on about how difficult it is to understand what the Vatican means.

Do you think the real story is that the Vatican is saying that homosexual men are not to be admitted to seminary and that some seminaries are having a really hard time accepting that? That's what the folks at Catholic World News seem to be saying.

To that end, it's worth looking again at the quote from Mark Jordan, identified in the Times as a Harvard Divinity School professor and expert on homosexuality in the priesthood and by Catholic World News as a critic of church teaching on homosexuality:

"And not the least irony here," he added, "is that these new regulations are being enforced in many cases by seminary directors who are themselves gay."

I'm wondering if that shouldn't have been the launching point for the article instead of one of the wrap-up quotes.

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