The contorted thinking behind the Vatican’s decision on seminarians is raising questions all along the political spectrum (other, of course, than the reactionary anti-gay activists).

Conservative columnist, William F. Buckley Jr., in an article called The Vatican and Gay Problems analyzes the position of the Vatican. He does not answer the base question of whether gay people are intrinsically gay. This question does not need answer for him to point out the inherent problems with the Vatican’s proclamation:

One of the planted axioms of sexual equality is that homosexual inclinations are congenital. One can be skeptical about this assertion while still granting the point that someone who engages in homosexual acts at age 14 may, at age 24, still harbor gay proclivities.

In other words, you don’t have to believe that a person is intrinsically or immutably gay to believe that they have same-sex longing. And the Vatican’s position is that a person who has these longing cannot be a seminarian. Buckley observes that simply not fooling around for three years (which the Vatican allows for those who are not gay) does not address the underlying issue as to whether the attractions are present.

As most who have reviewed this new proclamation have observed, the ban extends from sexually active gay people to include any person who has same sex desires, regardless of the sexual history. Thus an man who as a teen who messed around experimentally with every guy in sight is acceptable; a virginal gay man is not.

As a side note, I find it interesting that the Catholic Church’s declaration would prohibit nearly all persons who identify as ex-gay. As long as the “homosexual leanings” are present, the Church would not allow you to become a priest. And nearly all ex-gay ministries now concede that same-sex attractions may well remain present always.

Buckley puts his finger on the conundrum: Is the seminary applicant willing to tell the truth?

This question is far more relevant than it might be to the ordinary employee who faced with the same question might feel no moral obligation to appease homophobic inquiries not into one’s actions but into one’s makeup:

Is he willing to tell the truth?

If so, under the new ruling he will be denied the practice of his vocation. If, on the other hand, he is willing to deceive, he will perhaps proceed to ordination, but he will have shipwrecked the integrity of his calling, which denies the right of any priest to conceal the truth and ignore sinfulness.

Thus you have acceptance of a deceiver – who might be willing to continue the Church’s pattern of hiding and covering abuse – but exclude an honest gay man who might live a life of abstinence and never swerve from his position of moral honesty and clarity.

Buckley concludes that this proclamation will cause a more pragmatic problem for the Church:

Most eyes trained on the Vatican letter are looking at its effect in the United States, for the piquant reason that sexual activity here is almost studiously unregulated, yet the Protestant ethic is a cloud that never quite dematerializes, from sea to shining sea. There is, besides, a quite desperate shortage of priests, a decimation of whose numbers would surely result from a hard enforcement of the new document.

This does not bode well for the Church.

One issue that Buckley did not address, and I’ve not see anyone yet identify, is that this ban also prohibits “…those who … support the so-called gay culture.” This would include any straight seminarians who are sympathetic to gay persons and would want to offer a non-judgmental attitude. This is not necessarily new to the Church as it has recently opposed such efforts to reach out with a very heavy hand.

But what this Pope is saying is that not only will the Church be anti-gay now, but he is ensuring that his predecessors for decades to come will also be staunchly anti-gay. This position is further illustrated by the Church’s letter firing any seminary instructors with “homosexual tendencies” that are already serving. The expectation is that this will eventually include all priest so that Father Mykel Judge, were he still alive, would find himself unable to perform the services for which New Yorkers revere him.

This seems to me to be a proposal that will either reverse the course of a generation that has been moving consistently towards acceptance of gay persons, or will (along with positions taken on women and on contraception) cause a generation to move further away from the Church as an authority on matters of morality.

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