Same Sex Attraction and Seminary Admission policies

As many of you know, especially those of you who have read my blog from the beginning, I have been outspoken on my blog in favor of not ordaining, or admitting to the seminary, men that suffer from Same Sex Attraction (SSA). This post a few more, because a lack of time necessitates, will lay out my reasoning and why I think the Church will reaffirm this decision. Yes, that is right, reaffirm because this policy has been articulated but not enforced since at least 1961.

First I want to post an anonymous comment made in response to a post on my blog and respond to it point by point so as to be sensitive to someone who took the time to comment, but unfortunately made a few mistakes in his reading as well as a few logical fallacies.

The comment to my post is:

Hi, Fr Todd….I was wandering through the internet, as you do, looking at some bloggs and came across yours. I read The Tablet, which is a UK church review, and noticed this week a little article about seminary visitation and some comments by A’bishop E O’Brien (who I think is the US military bishop) about men of gay orientation not presenting themselves, and not being accepted, for seminary training and the priesthood. I came across your comment as well, though am a bit confused. For example, what is SSA? Anyhow, from the link (“one can only hope this is true”) I guess that you have a definite view on this, and would align yourself with A’b O’Briend. Well, I think you are wrong. Priests of gay oreintation always have been, and probably always will be, a significant part of the presbyterate, most hard working, faithful, gifted men. Like me. 25 years ordained, still here, still faithful. It is incredibly hurtful and alienating to be told by people like you and A’b O’Brien that really we should not even have been accepted for the priesthood. It is the Lord who calls us, not people who evidently suffer from ignorance and a degree of homophobia. The Lord called me. And he called me as I am, and called me to live my life in an integrated way, faithfully, as a priest. But he did not call me to deny myself, or to denied by others.

I agree with the comment in the link (last line – “it says to gay priests, many of whom are hard-working, faithful men who live their promises of celibacy with integrity, that you should never have been ordained”….and I ask, who are you, or A’b O’Brien to assume the right to say this to us ?
One final thought, in my experience where you find ignorance about sexuality, homophobia, discrimination, hatred, self righteousness, it usually stems from fear and even denial on the part of the people who exhibit and act on it. When confronted with this, I ask myself, what are they denying, what are they scared of ? Usually themselves.

Point by Point

What is SSA?

SSA is an acronym for Same Sex Attraction. This is the condition where someone is sexually attracted to people of their own biological gender (I don’t believe in psychol0gical gender as a reality or that people can be trans gendered but I don’t want to be misunderstood or interpreted so I put this in her for clarification. This would also include people who describe themselves as bisexual (they still are attracted to someone of their same biological gender).

I guess that you have a definite view on this, and would align yourself with A’b O’Brien.

This is technically correct but I want to state emphatically that this isn’t a political issue. That is an issue dealing with the way humans govern themselves. Rather I think this is an issue of truths about SSA and it’s incompatibility with the priesthood. Thus I hope all people of good will would “align” themselves with each other on the side of truth. Obviously from the next statement the commenter believe I am incorrect in discerning the truth properly. If so I sincerely hope and pray that God will enlighten my heart.

Well, I think you are wrong.
This statement is a statement of opinion. It is easily recognized by the “I think”. I am not trying to be trite about this or even to point out the self evident. But the commenter states opinions or even wishful thinking as fact and I will point those out including the next point.

Priests of gay oreintation always have been, and probably always will be, a significant part of the presbyterate, most hard working, faithful, gifted men.

This statement states as fact something that cannot be proved and revolves around a subjective interpretation of the word “significant“. Things can be significant for many reasons. Two such reasons are their importance or number. I am assuming that the commenter means the second of the two. Because the actual number isn’t available to us and we are not judging by a set statistical criteria we cannot in state this as a fact. It is only an opinion.

It is incredibly hurtful and alienating to be told by people like you and A’b O’Brien that really we should not even have been accepted for the priesthood.

First of all let me say I am truly sorry that you are experiencing pain. Men who suffer with SSA do suffer greatly, especially those who strive to live out the Church’s teaching as you have said you do by being faithful. I truly do not want to bring anyone unnecessary pain but rather seek to help those I meet to find the freedom and happiness I believe God created us to have.

That being said though I must point out that neither Archbishop O’Brien, nor I, ever made the statement you attributed to us. While I am arguing against the admission into the seminary of men who suffer from SSA, I am not saying it is impossible for them to ever be priests. I for one do not believe SSA is a disorder that is permanent in many cases. I do believe that it is a psychological disorder that can be overcome through therapy. If a man successfully resolves the problem then I do not see any barrier to him pursuing the priesthood. But I think first acknowledge the truth that SSA is a psychological disorder and deal with it as such. That being said I again point out that you attributed to me a statement I did not make. I can’t say whether or not Archbishop O’Brien agrees with me because then I would make the same mistake you did. But I can also say he did not make the statement you attributed to him.

It is the Lord who calls us, not people who evidently suffer from ignorance and a degree of homophobia.

This is name calling or the fallacy of Ad Hominem. That is when you attack the speaker/writer personally rather than the argument they are making. These two names in particular are ones used often in the media to describe people who oppose the “homosexual” lifestyle. Is it truly evident that I am suffering from ignorance or homophobia because I disagree with you? I am neither ignorant of the disorder of SSA nor do I fear it. Because a person disagrees with you doesn’t make them automatically ignorant. Ignorant means resulting from or showing lack of knowledge or intelligence. I don’t think it is fair for anyone to assume that either knowledge or intelligence are lacking simply because you disagree with their position.

Homophobia is a term coined to imply that those who disagree with the “Homosexual” lifestyle, or that SSA is normal, only do so because they are afraid of it. This again is name calling pure and simple and has no basis in reality. I find it striking that there is never a reason articulated about what we fear. Why am I does a person speculate I am afraid because I disagree with them? What do they think I am afraid of? The persons themselves? Catching a disease? In truth it is just a convenient way to dismiss facts and arguments so that a person doesn’t have to disagree with them.

It is name calling pure and simple and does not belong in rational discourse.

The Lord called me. And he called me as I am, and called me to live my life in an integrated way, faithfully, as a priest.

There is a lot to impact in this statement but I will try to do it without being overly verbose. The Lord called you. Yes he did. We all have a primary vocation which is a call to holiness by virtue of our baptism. I believe you are speaking here of your call to priesthood which is subsidiary to your call to holiness. It is through our individual calls that we fulfill the universal call given to each of us.

And he called me as I am – This also is true but there are two points that need to be made. First you use the words “I am”. Forgive me if I dally with a significance you might not have intended but the point needs to be made for others. When speaking here I believe you are intending to say that he called you while suffering from SSA. We need to be careful though with the words “I am” that they don’t take on an ontological significance. SSA is a disorder. It is not a genetic defect. It is not something we are born with. I know a lot of people would love to argue it is because then it they can use it to mitigate their culpability or excuse their behavior. I will deal with this later in another post when I argue that this is a disorder with primarily a psychological genesis. The most important part to understand is that God did not create you intending you to have SSA. SSA is not a gift from God. It is a curse resulting from the fall and original sin. This brings us back to the call to holiness.

Everyone of us is called as we are (not ontological but the state we are in). But we are not called to stay that way. We are called to transform our lives and be conformed to Christ. We are called to become something we are not. We are called to turn away from sin and turn toward the gospel. We are called to become holy. We can only do that through God’s grace but the first step is to realize we are not. We are creatures who have a fallen nature that needs to be overcome by the saving grace of Jesus Christ. But to do that we must turn away from sin and turn toward God.

In short. You were called as you are. But you were not called to stay that way. We are all called to be something we are not now. This is the pilgrimage we are on. We have not arrived.

The last part of your statement says – and called me to live my life in an integrated way, faithfully, as a priest.

We are called to live our lives in an integrated way. But we cannot integrate something that is intrinsically ordered into our lives. We are called to overcome those things through the saving power of Christ. SSA cannot be integrated, it can be contained, managed or marginalized. But we the true goal is even higher. It is called to be healed. Impossible? Not for a people of hope. Phil 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

But he did not call me to deny myself…

But he did: Mark 8:34-35 (NAB) – Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

We don’t deny who people are. But SSA isn’t who people are. It is not substantial it is accidental. It is something they suffer from. And it is something that is to denied by the person suffering from it. Just as is alcoholism, or bulimia, or depression… The are not things we are to live with. They are things we are intended to be free from and that freedom only comes through following Christ.

It says to gay priests, many of whom are hard-working, faithful men who live their promises of celibacy with integrity, that you should never have been ordained

Two points. First off all a mane suffering from SSA cannot be celibate. He can only be chaste. Celibacy is not simply a negative where someone gives up sexual relations. It is chastity when a single person refrains from sexual relations. Celibacy is the giving up of a good. It is giving up marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven… not because one does not desire a bride. Thus a man suffering from SSA cannot have SSA and celibacy in an integral way. We are all called to be chaste but we are not all called to celibacy. A priest must be both celibate and chaste. I hope to articulate this more fully in another post.

The second point is not directed toward the commenter but rather toward the writer of the article that is quoted although the mistake is the same. They are attributing to Archbishop O’brien a statement he did not make or at least did not make for this article; namely: that you should never have been ordained.


Finally the closing sentence:

One final thought, in my experience where you find ignorance about sexuality, homophobia, discrimination, hatred, self righteousness, it usually stems from fear and even denial on the part of the people who exhibit and act on it. When confronted with this, I ask myself, what are they denying, what are they scared of ? Usually themselves.

Again this who sentence is Ad Hominem. You are avoiding discussion by calling names. Ignorance, homophobia, hate, self righteousness are all standard mantras recited ad nauseum to avoid discussion or discount someone’s arguments on something other than their merit. Finally the assertion that I must be afraid of myself or that I am denying some secret inclination… Neither is true and it is the sin of rash judgment to think it, calumny or slander to say it, and libel to print it. Lets not resort to name calling but rather to use our mouths to speak truth as God intended.

Well this response took me two hours so I am hoping to lay out my arguments in some future posts as time permits. If you would like to read some materials that discuss the nature of SSA much better than I can then I have some recommendations to follow. A lot of my premises for making an argument against admission to the seminary of men with SSA are found here. I will attempt to apply those to that situation in future posts.

The first two are by the Catholic Medical association and the last one is a book called “The Battle for Normality”. The first five chapters of that book do an excellent job of laying out the causes of SSA and the remaining chapters for how it can be treated. If you really want to follow up on it you might check out the links at Amazon that show other books that were bought by people who bought this one.

Hope and Homosexuality by the Catholic Medical Association

Catholic Medical Associations Open Letter to Bishops regarding the scandal.

A good book to read and recommend to men suffering from SSA.

As Christian’s we have a responsibility to pray for those suffering from this terrible disorder. It is easy to dismiss them or turn away from them but it is not Christlike to do so. Please join me in praying.

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6 Responses to “Same Sex Attraction and Seminary Admission policies”

  1. JMC Says:

    Do any of these books you recommend contain a reference to a medication to be given to people suffering from SSA? I remember hearing in the news about 30 years ago that such a medication had been developed and approved, but haven’t heard a word about it since, nor can I find any reference to it anywhere.

  2. Father Todd Reitmeyer Says:

    From what I know of SSA I do not believe there is a medication for it nor would I suspect that there could be.

    Medication is usually present when some chemical interaction in the brain is not functioning properly. SSA is more of a learned or conditioned response and thus not something that medication could help although cognitive therapy and others can be of aid.

    I have never heard of a drug that alters what you are attracted to although some might claim beer can in large quantities.

  3. Flo Says:

    “First off all a mane suffering from SSA cannot be celibate.”

    Fr.Todd,

    if I understand you correctly, you are stating that a man suffering from SSA cannot be celibate, because he cannot give up marriage in any meaningful way.
    As far as I know the church does not see SSA as an obstacle to marriage and there are men and women out there who suffer from SSA and still lead good marriages. Doesn’t this imply that men with SSA can be celibate, since marriage is still a possibility despite their disorder ?

  4. David Morrison Says:

    HI Father,

    There are a couple of stumbling blocks in your position. First, it unfortunately appears to assume that every man who lives with a degree of same sex attraction must do so to the same degree. This is not true and appears to wander a little close to a reductionist approach to the topic of people living with SSA that the Catechism implicitly and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explicitly have decried.

    The second tends to flow from the first. It is simply not true that to live with a degree of same sex attraction is to never marry or even have children. There are many men who live with a degree of same sex attraction and who are married and are good husbands and good fathers.

    I believe, properly understood celibacy is a promise not to marry whereas a committment ot chastity is a committment one makes for the whole of one’s life, whether married or not. A married man lives chastely by not artificially contracepting and by not using pornography or desiring other women. A single man lives chastely by not having sex with anyone else or himself.

    Finally, priests I have known in my life who have not lived with any SSA have told me that, for them at least, marriage and fatherhood to a biological family would have been the far more difficult vocation – so I am not sure they would necessarily agree that in accepting priesthood they necessarily sacrificed something they would have seen as an unqualified good.

  5. Father Todd Reitmeyer Says:

    David,
    I do acknowledge that people live with different degrees of SSA. In fact that is one of the causes for our greatest hope. Men with lesser degrees have much more hope of overcoming this through therapy. However I do not think that the seminary is the best place to work out these issues. I can’t deal with every single situation. I am talking about men with a predominant attraction to other men or men who are equally attracted to both men and women. Not the man that might have an occasional thought or temptation.

    I think I dealt with the rest of it in the longer post.

    I would also like to point out that my position acknowledges degrees simply by stating that in all cases I don’t believe it to be a permanent condition and in fact I argue for the possibility of men with SSA eventually entering the seminary if it can be overcome.

  6. JIm Says:

    I am curious, you use the term SSA. Same Sex Attraction and describe it as a disorder. Is it listed as a psychological disorder? The answer is “no”.

    You are a priest, homosexuality is intrnsically disordered according to our faith. You should stick to your area of expertise and not attempt to legitamize your position by making up “disorders.”

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