Imagine (and you don’t need to try too hard) how some Christian communions might promote their accomplishments and uniqueness.
The hipsters might say something like, “we are the church of the city and for the city.”
Doctrinalists might come up with something like, “we put the strict in confessional subscription.”
The transformationalists (not quite as urban as the hipsters) might talk about “a gospel for all — here Stephen Coulbert’s deep gravelly voice when you read “all” — of life.”
And the social gospelers might promote a communion that is “ushering in Christ’s loving and just reign.”
But what would you say about a communion that touted, “we know how to make effective and gracious use of gay clergy”? I’m suspecting that this would not be the best Call to Communion.
And yet, for all of the Roman Catholic complaint about the sexual laxity of the mainline Protestant denominations, and for all of the teaching about marriage, celibacy, and theology of the body, Roman Catholics ordain homosexuals in what seems to be record numbers.
Please, dear reader, keep in mind that I really dislike cheap shots based on below-the-belt issues. Sex is such an easy way to push the outrage-porn button. So I am not trying — really really trying not to — play any kind of homophobia card. Nor am I knowingly playing on anti-Catholic bigotry. I am seriously curious about how a conservative church reconciles its teaching about sex with knowingly ordaining homosexuals. Not to mention infallibility and certain knowledge. This is a conversation that has been public. It is out of the closet. And yet Bryan and the Jasons went right along — nothing here to see.
How is it, then, that you can promote your communion’s wonderful views of marriage and celibacy, and look to your church as the sensible and chaste alternative to mainline Protestantism, but don’t comment on the numbers of priests that are pretty staggering (even while accusing mainline churches of ordaining lesbians).
Here are a few, scattered and old discussions of the phenomenon (which some might call a problem):
For more than a decade, now, voices have been heard expressing concern about the growing numbers of gay priests and seminarians. Vicars of priests and seminary administrators who have been around awhile speak among themselves of the disproportionate number of gay men that populate our seminaries and presbyterates. They know that a proportionate number of gay priests and seminarians would fall between 5 and 10 percent. The extent of the estimated disproportion, naturally enough, will vary depending on general perceptions, personal experiences, and the frequency of first-hand encounters with self-acknowledged gay priests.
The general perceptions, in turn, are often shaped by various studies and surveys which attempt to measure the percentage of priests who are gay. An NBC report on celibacy and the clergy found that “anywhere from 23 percent to 58 percent” of the Catholic clergy have a homosexual orientation. Other studies find that approximately half of American priests and seminarians are homosexually oriented. Sociologist James G. Wolf in his book Gay Priests concluded that 48.5 percent of priests and 55.1 percent of seminarians were gay. The percentage appears to be highest among priests under forty years of age. Moreover, the percentage of gay men among religious congregations of priests is believed to be even higher. Beyond these estimates, of course, are priests who remain confused about their orientation and men who have so successfully denied their orientation, that in spite of predominantly same-sex erotic fantasies, they insist that they are heterosexual.
Here’s an attempt to turn gay priests into an asset:
Traditional Catholic theology as summarized in the catechism (No. 1578) states that men are called to the priesthood by God. So despite statements that homosexual priests are either a scandal or embarrassment, Catholic belief is that all men called to holy orders are responding to a divine call. (As an aside, it is perhaps unsurprising that in a church that enjoins celibacy on homosexuals, some gay men would choose the celibate life of the priest.) Some have argued that the ordination of homosexuals somehow represents the church in error. But homosexual priests, like heterosexual priests, are ordained through the divine authority of the church, which has that responsibility and right (No. 1578) and, according to traditional Catholic theology, imprints on the priest an indelible spiritual character (No. 1582).
Therefore, one can state that God has called, and is continuing to call, homosexuals to serve as priests in the church and that the church confirms this call through ordination. The question, then, is not whether God is calling homosexual men to the priesthood, but why. Theologically, how might one understand these signs of the times?
The school of suffering. The vast majority of homosexuals in the United States are acquainted with the suffering that comes from being a misunderstood and often persecuted minority. This commences from early adolescence and can continue for the remainder of one’s life. Homosexuals are frequent targets of prejudice, ridicule, rejection from their own families and, sometimes, violence. Here, therefore, are men who understand suffering, stigma and frustrationthe very types of experiences that Christian theology teaches can lead one closer to companionship with the Christ who suffers. To use the words heard during Lent, the homosexual is often despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering…one from whom others hide their faces (Isa. 53:3).
Being schooled in this unique experience of suffering can result in a profound sense of compassion and identification with the most marginalized in society: the sick, the lonely, the refugee, the materially poor, the outcast, the least of my brothers and sisters (Mt. 25).
Then some challenge the statistics:
Fr. Cozzens claims that statistics show that 50 percent of priests and seminarians are homosexually oriented. A gay culture in the priesthood or seminary, he says, makes it very awkward for heterosexuals, who as a consequence doubt their vocations and withdraw. Seminaries must therefore consider the kind of support that is needed for heterosexual seminarians in a gay culture. We are not told whether the prevalence of homosexual orientation and gay expression is bad or good. Fr. Cozzens seems to suggest that it is simply a fact of life with which we must learn to live. This is very unpersuasive on a number of scores.
First, I do not believe the statistics. The very few surveys and studies that have been done on homosexuality among priests are almost certainly flawed by the factor of self“selection. Those who, for whatever reason, are interested in homosexuality among priests respond at a far higher rate than others. Had I received a questionnaire in such a survey, I would not have responded. As for Fr. Cozzens’ depiction of seminarians, I can only say that they must be very different from those whom I have known during fourteen years of seminary work. Are there seminarians who identify themselves as homosexual? Certainly. Are there some who are sexually confused and in need of counseling and spiritual direction? Absolutely. But is there a dominant homosexual culture in seminaries that makes life difficult, if not impossible, for heterosexuals? That does not jibe with my experience.
It is very possible that in the 1970s and ’80s there were a significant number of seminarians who were sexually confused, and were encouraged in that confusion by a sexually charged society. They were not challenged to harmonize their ideas and their lives with the teaching of the Church, and today some of them are priests. Some are effective and faithfully celibate, while some are actively involved in the gay subculture. The latter pose a very real problem, but the incidence of the problem, I am convinced, is nowhere near the figure proffered by Fr. Cozzens. His claims are both unsupported and irresponsible.
I understand that a clergy shortage might be one explanation for these figures and reflections. I also can comprehend that someone who is gay but doesn’t practice may be capable of executing priestly duties. But what is odd is conceiving of the convert to Roman Catholicism who might think first about joining the Christian Reformed Church because of the denomination’s position on homosexualism and homosexuality.