Commentary on the Document

A lot of ink (or pixels) will be spilled in the next few days about the interpretation and ramifications of the document released by the Vatican today entitled: Instruction concerning the criteria of vocational discernment regarding persons with homosexual tendencies, considering their admission to seminary and to Holy Orders. Most of it will probably be centered around what is the meaning of the phrase/term Deep seated homosexual tendencies. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time you know that I believe it to mean men who suffer from same sex attraction (SSA). Before I explain that in light of the recent document I would like to comment on the document itself and what it means for those who have deep seated homosexual tendencies and why they should not be accepted into he seminaries.

First and foremost the person who is suffering from deep seated homosexual tendencies is experiencing a serious psychological disorder. As I have said over and over again if you want a better explanation of this condition you should read the first 5 chapters of The Battle for Normality and you should read the Catholic Medical Associations document entitled Hope and Homosexuality.

This disorder affects the person suffering from it at a very basic level of their personality. They do not relate to men and women as they should but rather in an unnatural and intrinsically disordered way. The good of sexuality is always seen in the context of marriage. The person with deep seated homosexual tendencies does not apprehend this good properly. They do not see it as a good. Their tendencies are not ordered as God intends them to be and thus they do not relate to men and women in the way God or nature intended them to.

People suffering from deep seated homosexual tendencies also tend to have much higher rates of suicide, depression, and many other psychological disorders. The statistics backing this are undeniable to the reasonable person. Some agenda laden people will try to pin this on society by saying it is the rejection of these persons that causes these symptoms but that is just an attempt to be politically correct and not admit that homosexual tendencies are intrinsically disordered. Again I recommend you read the two resources above if you have not.

The second point I argued in an earlier post is that men with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies embrace priestly celibacy as it is intended to be embraced. If you view celibacy as only a negative quality in which a person refrains from sexual activity then you will not agree with this argument. If, on the other hand, you are of the notion that celibacy is refraining from a good for a higher purpose then you might agree. We were taught in the seminary that celibacy for the sake of the kingdom is not simply not being married but rather giving up the goods of marriage for the sake of the kingdom as Christ spoke of in Matt 19. Bishop Skylstad in his explanation shows his understanding of this as well: “A priest is called to teach these truths in their totality. He is also called, in the Latin Church, to forgo marriage and his own family life, after the example of Christ himself, as a witness to the Kingdom of God and to his complete commitment to the priesthood and to his undivided service of the Church. As a celibate man, it follows that he must abstain from all sexual activity.” It is something more than just remaining single. A man with deeply seated homosexual tendencies does not give up marriage as a a good. He does not see it as a good for himself because he has no desire for a bride. In other words he does not desire marriage in the way God intended it and therefore it isn’t something he can give up for something else. It falls short as an eschatological witness.

The document released by the Vatican also alludes to the inability of the man with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies to develop a true sense of spiritual fatherhood. I agree with this and feel that there are a number of reasons why this might not be. One is that a vast amount of men with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies have had major problems in relating to their own fathers properly. (See the Battle for Normality and Hope and Homosexuality). Grace builds on nature. This lack of a proper understanding of a earthly fatherhood would make it difficult if not impossible to understand spiritual fatherhood. This would go for the heterosexual man as well. If there are deeply rooted family problems they should be dealt with before entering seminary.

Fatherhood is something more than simply donating (or being capable of donating) a biological gamete. If it were not then a good father would be defined in terms of his fertility and ability to impregnate someone. While he may be biologically successful I don’t think most of us would be willing to define that as being a good father. The Catholic Church does not. But Fatherhood must not seen as merely the relationship between a male parent and a child either. That also is not a Catholic perspective. Fatherhood is always seen in the context of the family. For humans that is the father, the mother, and the children. In other words fatherhood implies a mother and the family is seen in the context of the sacrament of marriage. A man with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies has no desire for this. Thus he cannot truly desire fatherhood as the Church understands it. I am not talking about an intellectual acknowledgment of a teaching. Some people think this is enough. I am talking about a true desire for union, for self donation, for laying down ones life for ones beloved. This desire for a bride and all that comes with it is not present and thus I do not think it possible for a true spiritual fatherhood to be possible where the good of the sacrament of marriage is undesired.

These are a number of reasons why I think deeply rooted homosexual tendencies make a man unfit for entrance into the seminary. Primarily because it is a psychological disorder (found often times in conjunction with other serious psychological disorders) of a serious enough nature that it must be dealt with outside of the seminary. The person with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies does not have the freedom that JPII speaks about in Pastores Dabo Vobis that is necessary to make a total gift of himself to the Church. Once he is free from these enslaving tendencies or he has transitioned from them then I think he could be accepted as a candidate.

I want to address two arguments I have seen made in the blog world that I disagree with. The first is that “Who cares who a man is not sinning with as long as he isn’t sinning.” In other words: “Attraction doesn’t matter.” If a man admits he is sexually attracted to men but is single, celibate, if he has never acted on his sexual desires for men even a single time, knows them to be disordered and accepts church teaching should we not ordain him? No we shouldn’t. Attraction does matter. There is an easy way to make this case. Substitute children for men. If man admits he is sexually attracted to children but is single, celibate, if he has never acted on his sexual desires for children even a single time, knows them to be disordered and accepts church teaching should we not ordain him? No we shouldn’t.

Attraction does matter. When we state it with children instead of men we see quite clearly the answer is no. The only reason homosexual tendencies are more obscure to us is because of years of chipping away against our taboo’s. We have been desensitized to the disorder of homosexuality, in large part because of its sympathetic portrayal in the media. Simply put disordered attraction does matter. Refraining from sexual activity and admitting the desires are disordered is simply not enough. To be admitted to the seminary you must be free of the disordered tendencies or desires as well.

The second argument is that what is important is what the person teaches and their fidelity to church teaching. I agree that both these things are necessary and that is why a man must make a solemn profession of faith before he is ordained. I do not believe it is enough though. Take the recent scandal in the church in the United States. Teaching, orthodox or heterodox, did not result in the scandal. Disordered attraction did and lack of fidelity to basic chastity. There are a ton of priests who are not in line with the Church that didn’t abuse anyone. I still think they shouldn’t be ordained if they aren’t faithful to the teachings of the Church. But an intellectual understanding of what the church teaches and an ability to convey that to others whether through preaching, teaching etc does not mean that man will not abuse someone. Many men with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies hide under the veil of orthodoxy. What we really need is orthopraxis. We need holiness and sanctity. Teaching is important but it is not sufficient. Attraction still does matter and not matter what a man teaches or preaches, deeply rooted homosexual tendencies cannot simple be dismissed. Attraction does matter.

That brings me back to where I started. I am convinced that deeply rooted homosexual tendencies can be equated with same sex attraction (SSA). I believe SSA is deeply rooted homosexual tendencies. I think the document agrees with me as well. The Catechism distinguishes between acts and tendencies. Acts are obvious but the tendencies are the attraction itself. The document makes reference to this specifically to set the context in the teaching of the church. It then makes the statement “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 practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called ‘gay culture’.” So the deeply rooted tendencies or attraction itself is enough to keep men with SSA from entering the seminary. As I said above, and Bishop Skylstad echoed, the seminary is not the place to deal with issues of this nature.

Furthermore, the document makes a distinction between transitory issues and deeply rooted homosexual tendencies. Transitory issues are those that have passed. They are over. They are not ongoing. They happened and they have been overcome. It draws a distinction between situations that are in the past and those still present. It says: “Different, however, 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. Nevertheless, such tendencies must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate.”

If the problem is passed, if the tendencies=attraction are no longer present then they may be admitted to major seminary. Clearly the document is stating that men with SSA should not be admitted to the major seminary (I would also argue the minor seminary).

There will be a lot of anger and name calling surrounding this decision. Most of it by people who clearly reject the authority of the Church to proclaim the truths concerning human sexuality. There are many who would rather form the Church in their image instead of allowing the church to form them. For those people this document will be seen as witch hunt or another example of the Church’s intolerance. I see it very differently though.

I believe that for the faithful Catholic this is a document of great hope. I don’t see it as a call to dismiss and discard men with Same Sex Attraction but rather a clarion call that we need to help them. First and foremost is the clear message that these tendencies can be overcome in some cases. It is possible that they are only transitory. This should give great help to the faithful man struggling with SSA. It is possible that you can be free from this disorder. But it should also inspire faithful Catholic psychologists to redouble their efforts to find ways in helping people to overcome them. For too long now we were willing to say to a man you can suffer from the disorder as long as your not acting out. That is not what God intended and I personally think it is a failure on our part to put up with that line of reasoning. What we should have been saying and what I hope we will be saying is: I think we might be able to help you be free from this. Let’s do everything we can to help you.

I think it is a very good document and I pray that people will receive it in the spirit is was intended and with open hearts.

5 Responses to “Commentary on the Document”

  1. Other Eric Says:

    You may see it as a document of great hope, but by the logic of your own argument, you deny the teaching of the Church on the possibility that those with persistent same-sex attractions can “unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.” As long as the attraction remains present, the individual who suffers from them cannot achieve the “successful integration of sexuality within [his] person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being” and therefore is incapable of the chastity to which he is called. Fully functioning heterosexuality appears to be the necessary prerequisite for salvation. Attractions matter, after all.

  2. Father Todd Reitmeyer Says:

    I do not deny any church teaching and really don’t see your argument. The successful integration of sexuality within a person is not a prerequisite of chastity or salvation. I think you are reading something into an argument that is not present in reality.

  3. Flo Says:

    Dear Fr.Todd,

    after reading your comment, I still have a few questions.

    -What exactly does “overcome” mean ? Does it mean a full change and attraction to women or the absence of attraction to men or full mastery and control of the attraction ?

    -In your answer to the second argument, I do not exactly understand what your argument is. Holiness and sanctity are needed, but why does SSA preclude a man from being such ?

    -Do you believe that men with SSA are incapable of leading a good, catholic marriage ? (to avoid misunderstanding, I do use marriage here in its proper understanding as a union of man and woman) And if so, what do you say to all those men (and women) with SSA, who are good husbands and wives? (For examples see Courage, I assume you are familiar with it)

    Thanks for your time.


  4. Other Eric Says:

    In your comments, you have raised three points that you believe should restrict the sacrament of Holy Orders from those who experience same-sex attraction. They are:

    The inability of the individual suffering from same-sex attraction to achieve a sense of spiritual fatherhood.

    That the presence of same-sex attraction itself is sufficient to apply special limitations on an individual based on the potential for immoral behavior.

    That the presence of same-sex attraction in an individual merits that judgments be made about the individual’s capacity for holiness and sanctity.

    The nature of the first assertion implies that the individual referred to would also be irregular for the sacrament of marriage. Given that the presence of same-sex attraction is defined as a grave psychological disorder, it would seem that any attempt at marriage by such a person would be nullified by canon 1095.

    We therefore have a person who seems to be called to the single, celibate life, by default. However, even if the attractions are never acted upon in this forum, it cannot be chaste. According to the Pontifical Council for the Family in their document, “The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality” from 1995, section 17 says, “Chastity is the joyous affirmation of someone who knows how to live self-giving, free from any form of self-centered slavery. This presupposes that the person has learnt how to accept other people, to relate with them, while respecting their dignity in diversity.” Paragraph 2347 of the Catechism says “chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one’s neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all.” Yet, in your restriction of the homosexual person from Holy Orders, you deny that the homosexual is capable of properly relating to individuals of either sex. Refraining from sexual activity in his case would therefore not have the character of chastity. It would instead be a form of Manichaean self-denial.

    In the case of the second and third assertions, you would have to believe that the Church permits judgments to be made about the same-sex attracted up to and including their state of grace and that the prudent should take preemptive measures based upon this judgment. Since this process would have to be viewed as consonant with the individual’s inherent human dignity, you would have to hold that same-sex attraction overrides the right to invoke social justice and redefine human dignity apart from the Grace of God and so pervert the Church’s teaching in these areas.

    The cumulative effect of all this attaches a moral significance not only to the condition itself, but also on the experience of the condition. In this context, your clarion call to the faithful to offer what I take to be conversion therapy implies a moral directive to the homosexual to attempt to cure himself of his disorders. You casually admit that this may not be possible in all cases. Indeed, that the document defines “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” in contrast to the transitory condition implies that the Church recognizes not all will overcome this disorder. This would mean that for those who cannot resolve their attractions, we would either have to assign mitigated culpability to their sexual indiscretions due to a depraved psychology, or accept that in the struggle against the powers of darkness, there will be some unavoidable collateral damage.

    More importantly, we would have to immediately shut down the Church’s Courage ministry if it continues to fail to insist upon conversion therapy for its members. As you have pointed out, to say you can suffer from the disorder as long as you’re not acting out, as this ministry does, and to place an emphasis on personal holiness apart from the correct ordering of one’s sexuality makes the Church complicit in grave scandal. The endorsement, given by John Paul II’s pontificate, would have to be emphatically withdrawn. The new teaching would have to be that heterosexuality, or at least the attempt to attain it, is the necessary prerequisite for salvation.

    Now it could be that there is something that I haven’t gotten right, either in respect to Church teaching or in my understanding of your arguments. Perhaps it would help if you defined some of your terms. If the successful integration of sexuality within a person is not a prerequisite of chastity, then the Church’s own definition of chastity, given in paragraph 2337 of the Catechism is flawed. Please explain what the correct definition is. Do you accept any reference to same-sex attraction experienced in degrees and moral judgments that might be made based upon them or do you hold that the same-sex attracted man who attends Church regularly, frequently receives the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist, accepts the Church’s teaching on sexuality and avoids all occasions of sin is the moral equivalent of a male prostitute?

  5. Catholic News Geek Says:

    Father, I know this will sound weird, but could you contact me off blog? I’m at I need to verify a mutual friend in Rome’s e-mail address. I don’t want to post it here online (for obvious reasons). I may need him to say a Mass for a group of pilgrims I’m leading to Rome next February, but I’m not sure I have his proper e-mail address.

    Wishing you a blessed and fruitful Advent. Not signing my name for reasons I’ll explain later. Sorry, I know this sounds weird, but I assure you it’s on the up-and-up.

    A piu tardi.

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