The Song Remains the Same

The Song Remains the Same

New Oxford Review Notes
July-August 2017

Remember when the Catholic priesthood was supposedly “becoming a gay profession”? That was the claim of Fr. Donald Cozzens, a former rector of St. Mary Seminary in Cleveland, who estimated in his book The Changing Face of the Priesthood (2000) that the percentage of homosexuals in the priesthood ranged somewhere between 23 and 58 percent — way out of proportion to their percentage in the general male population.

Not two years later, the explosive revelations of a decades-long cover-up of sexual impropriety and abuse by Catholic clerics appeared to prove Fr. Cozzens correct. Though much of the scandal centered on the sexual abuse of children, a report by the Boston Globe (May 17, 2002) discovered that the “vast majority” of predator priests chose adolescent boys — not young children — as their targets. In fact, one of the more alarming statistics put forth by the John Jay Report, a 2004 study commissioned by the U.S. bishops to gather data about the extent of the crisis, was that 81 percent of the victims were males. According to Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist and a consultant to the Congregation for the Clergy, the John Jay Report “clearly revealed” that the sex-abuse crisis was “not one of pedophilia but of homosexuality. The primary victims have not been children but adolescent males” (Zenit, May 1, 2004). He expressed hope that “this clarification in regard to homosexuality as the basic problem that caused the crisis” would lead to new measures to “protect” the priesthood.

Over in Rome, Pope St. John Paul II said little. He seemed curiously uninterested in the whole mess; it was as if he thought it were beneath his mention. He soon lost his ability to say much at all. His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, was not so reticent about the greatest scandal to rock the Church in modern times. He was quick to bemoan “how much filth there is in the Church, even among those who, by virtue of their priesthood, ought to belong entirely to Christ!”

One of Benedict’s first acts was to approve the publication of the Congregation for Catholic Education’s “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” (2005).

Conservative Catholics in the U.S. received the instruction with choruses of hallelujahs, cheering what they believed was a ban on the ordination of homosexuals to the priesthood. But anyone willing to give the instruction more than a cursory glance could easily see that things weren’t so clear.

In its introduction, the instruction states that its purpose is to deliver “norms concerning a specific question, made more urgent by the current situation, and that is: whether to admit to the seminary and to holy orders candidates who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies.” Deep-seated homosexual tendencies? What are those, and how did we get from plain old “homosexual tendencies” (in the title) to “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” (in the intro)? The instruction fails to provide an answer. It does, however, refer to the pertinent paragraph of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 2358), which also talks exclusively about “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” — without defining the term.

Nevertheless, the instruction states that the Church cannot ordain men with deep-seated homosexual tendencies — or those who “practice homosexuality” or “support the so-called ‘gay culture.’” Rather than a ban on the ordination of homosexuals, as erroneously reported at the time, the instruction bans only those homosexuals who exhibit these traits. And it leaves unclear (and therefore open to varying interpretations) just what the term deep-seated homosexual tendencies means — as well as what it means to practice homosexuality (engaging in sodomy? or something else?) or support the gay culture (financially? attending marches or rallies?).

The closest the instruction comes to providing an understanding is by way of contrast — and it too is murky. “Different,” it says, “would be the case in which one were dealing with homosexual tendencies that were only the expression of a transitory problem — for example, that of an adolescence not yet superseded.” A transitory problem? Does the instruction at least define this term? Give yourself five points if you knew the answer is no.

For help, we’d have to refer to an interview with Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski, then-prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education (Vatican Radio, Nov. 29, 2005). In giving examples of instances in which a homosexual tendency could be considered a transitory problem, he mentioned “an uncompleted adolescence, some kind of curiosity; or perhaps accidental circumstances, a drunken state, maybe particular circumstances like a person who was imprisoned for many years…. These acts are done because one wants to obtain some sort of advantage…. These acts…do not constitute an obstacle to seminary admission or to holy orders.”

In an interview in the National Catholic Register (Dec. 11, 2005), Cardinal Grocholewski explained further that such acts “may have been about pleasing a superior or someone [the candidate] knows, or to earn money,” and might have occurred under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or coercion.

As NOR emeritus editor Dale Vree wrote at the time: “This certainly opens up a can of worms. So you can be in jail for ‘many years’ and commit homosexual acts, and still you can be admitted to the seminary. You can commit homosexual acts in a ‘drunken state’ or under the influence of illegal drugs, and that’s O.K. You can commit homosexual acts ‘to obtain some sort of advantage,’ and that’s O.K. You can ‘please’ a superior or someone else, and that’s O.K. You can commit homosexual acts to earn money — which would include being a ‘gay’ male prostitute — and that’s O.K. Good golly, Miss Molly, it’s a free-for-all! Never mind homosexual acts; do we want priests who have been ‘imprisoned for many years,’ who are druggies, who sell their bodies (and their souls) for money? This is hideous in and of itself” (editorial, Feb. 2006).

We know, we know. At this point, you’re probably asking: Why bring up this sordid history? It’s all in the past. Haven’t we moved on as a Church?

We bring it up because the Vatican has brought it up again. This past December, the Congregation for the Clergy issued “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation,” a 90-page document on clerical formation. This new Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis is actually an “update” to a 1985 amendment of a 1970 document of the same name. Of the 2016 version’s voluminous 210 paragraphs, a grand total of three address the issue of the ordination of homosexuals, and — surprise! — they are essentially verbatim quotes of the 2005 instruction. Tellingly, the updated ratio fundamentalis treats “The Protection of Minors” in a separate section, making no connection between the ordination of homosexuals and sexual abuse — despite the abundant data made available in the aftermath of the sex-abuse crisis in the U.S. Church.

As if to prove the maxim that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, many in the Catholic media tripped over themselves in welcoming the new ratio fundamentalis, which they believed to be a reaffirmation of the Vatican’s 2005 ban on the ordination of homosexuals. And again, in their rush to declare victory, they missed the essential details.

How wrong they were then — and still are now! But you don’t have to take the NOR’s word for it. Fr. Louis Cameli, a Chicago priest, argues that many observers have overlooked the nuanced language in new ratio fundamentalis. Both the 2016 document and the 2005 instruction on which it is based “avoid…a blanket prohibition of the admission of homosexuals to seminary or holy orders,” he writes (L’Osservatore Romano, Dec. 18, 2016). In the new document, Fr. Cameli observes, only “three specific categories of persons are to be excluded” — the same three given in the 2005 instruction. Anybody else feel a sense of déjà vu?

Fr. Cameli, it should be noted, doesn’t have a problem with any of this. Quite the contrary! He thinks it’s all fine and dandy. It wouldn’t be unfair to characterize Fr. Cameli as gay-friendly. After all, in his book Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality: New Paths to Understanding (reviewed in the Oct. 2014 NOR), he writes that “we can affirm securely that the sexuality of homosexual persons belongs to the sexuality common to the human family. It is, therefore, unequivocally a blessing, something that can lead homosexually inclined persons to God.” If, as Fr. Cameli has it, one’s homosexual sexuality can lead one to God, then it stands to reason that one’s homosexual sexuality could lead others to God. Hence, he praises the new/old ban/non-ban as “very wise and very prudent” — and in the official Vatican newspaper, no less. That ought to tell us something.

Other gay-friendly Catholics, however, weren’t so pleased. Take Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a pro-gay, pro-sodomy, pro-same-sex-marriage outfit that’s been censured by both the Roman Curia and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He excoriated the ratio fundamentalis for its “sloppy” and “dangerous” language — language, he says, that “is not understood by the rest of the world” (National Catholic Reporter, Jan. 13). “If the Vatican did not want to ban gay men from the priesthood,” DeBernardo asks, “why didn’t they say so in clearer terms?”

That’s an interesting question, and one that can be asked in reverse: If the Vatican did want to ban gay men from the priesthood, why not say so clearly? Evidently, the Vatican wants neither to ban nor not ban homosexuals from the priesthood since it chose to do neither. If the Vatican did want to ban homosexuals from the priesthood, all the 2005 and 2016 documents needed to do was refer to an earlier official pronouncement on the matter. Back in 1961, Pope St. John XXIII approved the publication of the Sacred Congregation for Religious’s “Instruction on the Careful Selection and Training of Candidates for the States of Perfection and Sacred Orders.” Of its compact 52 paragraphs, only one sentence deals with homosexuality, and it’s a doozy: “Advancement to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with the evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute serious danger.” That this instruction, with its clear and forceful language, has disappeared down the memory hole ought to tell us something too.

It’s not that the Vatican is unwilling or unable to completely prohibit certain types of people from the priesthood. Consider Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994), Pope John Paul’s blanket ban of women from ordination. The Church does not have women priests, will not welcome them into seminary, and won’t even consider doing so. Women are strictly off limits. Not so homosexual men. As Fr. Cameli said in an interview (America, Dec. 19, 2016), “When the Holy Father wants to take a position against something, it’s quite clear.” If not? Then we get a smorgasbord of gobbledygook.

Lost amid the back-and-forth about the ordination of homosexuals is that neither the 2005 instruction nor the 2016 ratio fundamentalis says one word about the gay men who have already been ordained. They are, for the most part, still with us. Consider the statement given by the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, a fledgling 1,200-member group that stumps for things like married priests and the ordination of women. It condemned the ratio fundamentalis for being “disrespectful” and “insulting” to those “ordained priests with a homosexual orientation who serve the Church with distinction.”

It is instructive to note that this schizophrenic situation was mandated from on high: The 2005 instruction was accompanied by a letter, signed by Cardinal Grocholewski himself, stating that “priests who, in fact, have been ordained with homosexual tendencies,” and priests “in whom such tendencies have manifested themselves after ordination,” are to “continue to exercise their ministry.” Gay priests were grandfathered in! There’s nothing ambiguous about that pronouncement.

Yes, most of us “moved on” from this issue long ago. It’s not something enjoyable to dwell on. And surely most bishops and priests were relieved to see it go away, disappearing from the headlines. But those gay priests? They never went away.

The presence of homosexuals in the priesthood has been a constant fact — not even the 1961 instruction had much of an effect (how could it, if it’s so easily ignored?). How many there are, and how many are in formation, is, of course, unknown. But as recently as a few years ago, it was speculated that the number was quite high. “It’s an empirical fact that lots of men are gay who are priests,” Fr. James Bretzke, a professor of moral theology at Boston College, told U.S. News & World Report (July 29, 2013). “I would also observe that the numbers of gay men…in the church ministry is probably larger than the general population.” In this you can hear echoes of Fr. Cozzens’s earlier estimations.

Is the Catholic priesthood still in danger of becoming a “gay profession”? We sincerely hope not, but there’s no official mechanism to prevent it from becoming one — and the Vatican appears to be just fine with that.

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One comment on “The Song Remains the Same

  1. Vatican Report: US Seminaries are Healthy, Let the Bishops Take Comfort. (Queers take comfort, too.)

    A Dec. 15, 2008 report from the Congregation for Catholic Education gives our Novus Ordo seminaries a clean bill of health, based on pre-orchestrated visits in 2005 and 2006:

    The general conclusion, therefore, of the Visitation was positive. While there are some institutes that continue to be inadequate, the diocesan seminaries are, in general, healthy. Let bishops, major superiors and rectors … take comfort in the notable improvements that have taken place.

    The Apostolic Visit was obliged to point out the difficulties, in the area of morality, that some seminaries had suffered in past decades. Usually, but not exclusively, this meant homosexual behavior. Nevertheless, in almost all the institutes where such problems existed, at least in the diocesan seminaries, the appointment of better superiors (especially rectors) has ensured that such difficulties have been overcome. … Nevertheless, there are still some places—usually centers of formation for religious—where ambiguity vis-à-vis homosexuality persists. In this context, the Congregation underscores the importance of its 2005 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.

    It’s worth recalling the 2005 Instruction on ordination of queers, mentioned above. Here’s a description from Steve Brady of Roman Catholic Faithful (RCF), a man who has been fighting the lavender mafia for more than a decade. The following is taken from his spring 2006 newsletter:

    In the section marked “II. Homosexuality and ordained ministry” the document states:
    “the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, may not admit to the seminary and Holy Orders those who practice homosexuality, show profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture… If, however, one is dealing with homosexual tendencies that may be simply the expression of a transitory problem, such as for example an adolescence not yet complete, such tendencies must be overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate.”

    If any of you mistakenly believe that this document has not opened the door for the ordination of homosexuals, the current president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops will clarify it for you in the news blurb below. You cannot forget the fact that the same Bishops who protected the sodomites who abused children still control the seminaries. These same Bishops, many who are sodomites themselves, have constantly refused to address this issue.

    Bishop Says Edict Allows Some Gay Priests (Washington Post, Nov. 30, 2005):

    “[Bishop William S. Skylstad] The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said yesterday that under a new Vatican directive on homosexuality, men with a lasting attraction to members of the same sex can still be ordained as priests, as long as they are not `consumed by’ their sexual orientation.”

    “…Several prelates, including Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, indicated that they will continue to ordain seminarians regardless of sexual orientation,… ”

    Steve Brady, after years of suffering at his parish, finally came to the Traditional Mass. As he wrote in his winter 2007 newsletter: “RCF was founded because of the lies presented to my children as truth by Catholics. Placing my children in parish religion programs here at St. Peters in Petersburg was one of the mistakes I made as a parent. It is very difficult to undo the damage done by those who pervert the faith while holding a position of authority in the parish or school. The example they set can be equally destructive.” This is, unfortunately, common throughout the US.

    How should we view this latest report from the Vatican? Should we imagine that the seminaries are basically emptied of queers? I submit that there is insufficient evidence to think so. Consider the following interview of a former seminary rector published in the Washington Post in Dec. 2005, during the Vatican “visitation.” Entitled Letter Advises Against Gay Seminary Teachers, the article regards a Vatican letter that accompanied the homo Instruction:

    The Rev. Donald B. Cozzens, a Catholic author and former seminary rector, called the letter a “bombshell” because it affects current priests, not just future ones.

    Cozzens, whose survey research indicates that a quarter to half of all U.S. priests are gay, said the letter “doesn’t say that rectors or professors in our seminaries who have already been appointed should be removed, but one wonders if that’s not what might begin to happen — a kind of culling of gay rectors and professors.”

    Furthermore, he said, “I think it could also raise questions about people working in chanceries and about bishops who happen to be gay. And why stop there? I see it as a logical extension of the instruction, but it underscores the problematic nature of the instruction.”

    What Fr. Cozzens confirmed is that: 1) There are a lot of queer priests, 2) There are likewise a substantial number of queer rectors and professors, 3) There are bishops who “happen to be gay” (it just happens!!), and 4) The Vatican will have problems if they get serious about removing the queers. It seems the Vatican inspectors missed this!

    Has the Vatican gotten serious? Judge for yourself. Pansies squeal loudly when pinched. Have you heard their outcry from the seminaries? Not yet. As Steve Brady noted above, “You cannot forget the fact that the same Bishops who protected the sodomites who abused children still control the seminaries. These same Bishops, many who are sodomites themselves, have constantly refused to address this issue.” Add to this that they continue to teach hideous homo-perversion to Catholic children in USCCB-approved sex-ed programs such as Growing in Love [link no longer available], and the picture is clear: it’s queer business as usual in the US.

    Will Pope Benedict do anything about this? If his track record at the CDF is any indication, don’t expect much. But even worse now, Rome has given its blessing to the seminaries! It’s best to get your families, especially your sons, away from the Novus Ordo.

    Pray the Rosary every day!

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