While Pope Francis has ignited some confusion amongst the laity with his public pronouncements on homosexuality (“Who am I to judge?”, which was his off-the-cuff response to a question about his advancement of a priest with known homosexual proclivities), he has on other occasions spoken against homosexuality in the priesthood, at least in a general way.
In “The Strength of Vocation” he has now provided another book-length interview with Spanish priest Fr. Fernando Prado, in which he addresses the issue of homosexuality in the priesthood. He addresses it, but depending on who you ask, he stops short of a complete ban against it. He states:
“The question of homosexuality is a very serious one…. In our societies, it even seems homosexuality is fashionable. And this mentality, in some way, also influences the life of the church… For this reason, the Church urges that persons with this rooted tendency not be accepted into ministry or consecrated life… [For those already ordained] [i]t is better that they leave the priesthood or the consecrated life rather than live a double life.”
While one might wish that the statements were firmer – that those with deep-seated homosexuality must not be admitted to the seminary, and those priests who are acting upon such tendencies must leave the priesthood – his pronouncement stops well short of such a demand. He merely states that the Church “urges” that such men not be admitted, and if they are in ministry and are not living a chaste life, that it is “better” that they leave.
The use of such “squishy” words and phrases may be intended to leave the door open for “pastoral” approaches to dealing with the issues, but have the effect of permitting, perhaps even encouraging, dissent from true Catholic teaching on homosexuality. As expected, Jesuit and homosexualist apologist Fr. James Martin seized upon the words to encourage homosexual priests to remain in ministry (“My sense is that he is essentially reminding gay priests to be celibate—like all priests are called to be.”). Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese, writing in the heterodox National Catholic Reporter, is even more to the point: “You do not urge a group of men to live in celibacy if you think they should be banned from the priesthood.” Thomas Aquinas is rolling over in his grave.
We have all heard that there must be a “pastoral” solution to these issues, but we also know that “pastoral” is a term that can be and has been used to cover a multitude of iniquities. We may be well past the point where a pastoral approach is adequate to put an end to this scandal.
Fr. John Hollowell, priest of the Archdiocese of Indiana, in response to the McCarrick scandal, noted in a homily that quickly went viral:
“There’s never been a worse scandal in the Church, scandal being a thing that literally drives people away from the truth because of the behavior of some people. God says what he will do about it: “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture”. What the Church will do about it is anyone’s guess – I pray that the response is dramatic, swift, and far reaching. 500 years ago the clergy was in a pretty sorry state morally and the Council of Trent made DRASTIC changes and put a seminary structure in place. I hope other changes are made that aim at similarly dramatic reform of the clergy, the priests, and the bishops.”
Emphasis in the original.
The priesthood is a heroic vocation. But it is also a privilege, not a right. Those with deep-seated homosexual proclivities may believe they are called to serve in this vocation, but they have no absolute right to do so, and a lack of clarity around the proper discernment of the priesthood may only serve to dissuade those who are truly called. We pray that the leaders of our Church have the courage to address these issues in a way that respects the dignity of the priestly vocation and the spiritual needs of the laity to be led by good men who respect the office of the priesthood, preach the truth, and lead a chaste life.
As always, pray for our Church, our bishops, our priests, our seminarians, and all religious, that they carefully discern and faithfully live out their vocations.