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Celibacy, Chastity, Same-Sex Attraction, Priesthood: Some Necessary Distinctions

In the hyper-sexualized society we Christians inhabit, chastity is as counter-cultural today as it was for the early Christians in the decadent Roman Empire.

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The Church is all too often accused of being “obsessed” with sex. Yet is that really the case? Is it not “the world” that is obsessed with sex and thus constantly badgers the Church to discuss the topic. I believe that most priests are like myself: I don’t wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, “Oh my gosh, another day of celibacy!” Truth be told, I don’t advert to that aspect of my life in any conscious way on a regular basis.

Just this week, the media have “discovered” a “secret” document in the Vatican detailing procedures to be followed if a priest has fathered a child. For starters, it couldn’t have been very much of a secret if they discovered it. Indeed, the material the media has “revealed” is a no-brainer and has been the modus operandi of which I have been aware since I was a seminarian. The only value to this discovery might be that for a few minutes the world has been made aware of the fact that there are priests who have “opposite-sex” attraction!

I write today, however, because of an article which has just been posted on Crisis, titled “Celibacy and Priests with Same-Sex Attraction”, by Ryan M. Williams. Dr. Williams is an insightful philosopher, whose Thomistic background is shouted out with every distinction he makes (that’s a compliment). I believe, however, that a few more distinctions are in order.

Very happily, Williams shoots down the notion that “celibacy is a ‘lack’ of something.” On the contrary, he notes that “the Church sees it as a gift given to certain individuals by God that permits them to act more effectively in certain ways.” He goes on to assert that “celibacy is not ‘chosen’ by anyone, but rather, it is received as a special charism. . . .” Showing my own Thomistic tendencies, I cry out, “Distinguo!” Two points. First, one is born celibate and remains celibate either because one does not desire to marry for some reason or for a higher reason (e.g., “for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven”). More to the point: To be sure, celibacy is a charism but a charism which is offered, not imposed; once offered, it can be either rejected or accepted (chosen). In point of fact, to be effective, for the charism’s grace to “kick in,” it must be chosen. In this sense, it is not unlike the situation with the reception of a sacrament: Catholic theology holds that if the proper matter and form of a sacrament are in place, the sacrament “works” ex opere operato (by the very fact of its operation); however, the second shoe must yet drop – the necessity of ex opere operantis (the acceptance of the grace that has been offered by the recipient).

It is good to see that Williams rightly distinguishes between celibacy and chastity – unlike most commentators on the subject who conflate the two: Celibacy refers to the unmarried state; chastity is the virtue by which one lives out fidelity to the sixth and ninth commandments – according to one’s state in life. For a celibate (whether cleric or layman), chastity entails foregoing any and all sexual activity; for a married person, chastity (yes, the married must also be chaste) means fidelity to one’s spouse. Chastity is thus lived out by all the baptized, not merely by those in the priesthood or consecrated life.

One is also pleased to find Williams affirm that “celibate men are not less virile or ‘manly’ than other men who enjoy conjugal union with their wives.” Somewhat amazingly, even Freud holds that view, perhaps even going so far as to say that celibate men are even “more” manly!

Williams says that the Latin Church identifies “two categories” of men called upon “to cultivate the discipline of celibacy.” Priests and men with same-sex attraction. The first problem with the statement is that our author has moved from declaring celibacy a “charism” to regarding it as a “discipline.” This is the very error made by so many who argue against mandatory priestly celibacy as they diminish the charism by referring to it simply as “the discipline of celibacy” – as though celibacy is something one just endures, gritting one’s teeth all the while.

A major error is committed by Williams, however, when he informs us that, from among men “who have recognized and confirmed the gift of celibacy,” “the Church looks for those who have the additional calling to the priesthood” (emphasis mine)! This is totally backwards. A boy (yes, even very young boys – like Samuel) or a young man perceives the call to priesthood, first, and then within that call, he must determine that he truly has the charism by which to live a chaste, celibate life in peace and serenity. We can also look at this from the opposite end of the spectrum: Not a few former married Anglican clergymen (who have the possibility of presenting themselves for the Catholic priesthood, although married) have concluded that their prior call to the married state (in which they have been living) precludes their priestly ordination.

Williams suggests that celibacy can be either “palliative” or “energizing.” By “palliative,” he means something like “preventive medicine,” in that it keeps one from doing something harmful to oneself or to others; “energizing” evokes a positive moving out from the self for the benefit of others. He believes that celibacy can only be “palliative” for those with same-sex attraction. But why? Sticking with the medical analogy, can a diabetic’s fidelity to insulin not only be “palliative” (preventing a diabetic coma) but also “energizing” in that it enables the diabetic to function more effectively for himself and for others? On the basis of this (false) distinction of his, however, Williams holds that one with same-sex attraction can never live celibacy in an “energizing” way – although he later admits that “men with same-sex attraction” can “have active lives for God.”

“The Church has always counseled against ordaining those who have same-sex attraction.” On the surface, that would seem to be the case, but a bit of history and psychology might be helpful here. It is undoubtedly true that “the Church has always counseled against ordaining” not “those who have same-sex attraction” but those who act out that attraction. Indeed, “homosexuality” and/or “same-sex attraction” are modern concepts. Prior to the nineteenth century, those categories cannot be found. What made one be considered a homosexual was the fact that one engaged in homosexual activity. Does a man with same-sex attraction who marries a woman contract a valid marriage in the eyes of the Church? Canonical praxis would suggest an affirmative response, which is to say that his “orientation” may make his marriage to a woman more difficult but not necessarily impossible.

Our author expresses concern that a priest with same-sex attraction, “given the rigors of a priest’s life” could find celibacy “even more of a burden.” I would have two responses here. First, suppose an opposite-sex attracted man has a very strong libido and finds sexual self-control difficult, does he experience less “of a burden” than the other man? Further, one can make the case that since a parish priest’s day finds him surrounded by women (even more so in recent years due to the near-total feminization of the Church), is not an opposite-sex attracted priest having an excessively strong “burden” placed on his shoulders? Of course, this is precisely another of the arguments against mandatory celibacy, isn’t it? And now, another ugly phenomenon is gaining traction: the sexual abuse of women religious by bishops and priests.

To be sure, as the Catechism teaches, a same-sex attraction is an “intrinsically disordered” attraction (par 2352). At the same time, we cannot forget that, after the Fall, all sexual attraction can be disordered, albeit in a different way, as Genesis 3 underscores in pointing to the role of concupiscence. In the hyper-sexualized society we Christians inhabit, chastity is as counter-cultural today as it was for the early Christians in the decadent Roman Empire. Statistics tell us that the average American youth has his first sexual experience around the age of thirteen! The same studies inform us that the average American gets married (that is, if marriage is even on the horizon) around the age of thirty. Seventeen years of promiscuity is hardly fertile soil in which to cultivate a marital union which is exclusive. Similarly, years of promiscuity do not provide fertile soil to foster a life of consecrated celibacy.

The 2005 document of the Congregation for Catholic Education on this topic makes some very careful distinctions:

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 practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called “gay culture”.

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.

When the clergy sex-abuse scandals first started to break, the late-Father Richard John Neuhaus said the whole issue could be summed up in three words: “Fidelity, fidelity, fidelity.” A gift for which we all must pray.


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About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 93 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas is the editor of the The Catholic Response, and the author of over 500 articles for numerous Catholic publications, as well as several books, including The Catholic Church and the Bible and Understanding the Sacraments.

10 Comments

  1. A View from the Inside

    A former seminarian’s take on the Crisis within the Catholic Church 2019

    It has taken me years of thinking in retrospect to come to the realization that the men like “Uncle Ted” McCarrick, do not attend seminary or pursue a religious vocation with the intent of serving God. That is the very last thing on their minds. Many of these people have well-established homosexual tendencies and desires well before they ever enter the seminary. Homosexuals are keen to recognize each other. It is no mere happenstance that they actively seek younger “friends and companions”.

    The Uncle Ted’s of the world select and sponsor specially chosen youth to come to seminary with the intention of being ordained to the Catholic priesthood. But, for them, the priesthood, and everything about it is a lie. Worse and more insidious than that, it is a mask used to hide a great evil.

    The current scandal of homosexuality in the Catholic clergy is not what many people think that it is.
    It is not an issue of a holy man, or group of men ordained into the priestly ministry, fallen into temptation and sin, albeit habitual. Many assume, wrongly, that these “Uncle Teds” became priests out of love of God through guidance of the Holy Spirit. The root of this global malady is much deeper, and darker.

    In ancient times, (1969-1973), I attended minor seminary, that is, a private Catholic boarding school that is the high school equivalent, but with the intention of beginning an education which I anticipated would culminate in my ordination as a Catholic priest.

    From our vantage point as students truly pursuing what we felt at the time was a God-given calling to the priesthood, we were in a position to observe our professors, religious priests and transitional deacons, all, from the perspective and within the context of an extended family.

    We lived at the seminary from August to May, returning to our parental homes for the summer months.
    During a typical school year, our activities were restricted to the seminary campus. The only excursions that we were allowed was to leave the seminary grounds after lunch on Sunday, having to return for dinner by 6pm. So basically, all that we really could do was take a bus to the mall or catch a movie.
    Obviously, dating was strictly forbidden.

    As for living arrangements, we did not have separate rooms. We lived in what was, for lack of a better description, military style barracks, set up within the larger main building. Each class had its own floor.
    There were common showers, sinks and rows of stalls. In essence, one is deprived of all privacy in this kind of institutional living. This was definitely intentional.
    The priests had their own individual quarters within the same building.

    In such a tightly closed and highly regulated living, working, playing and learning environment, we were around our classmates, boys from other classes, and the clergy who instructed us, 24 hours a day, seven days a week for nearly ten months out of the year. In such proximity, we observed first-hand, the behaviors and traits of those around us, above us, including and especially those responsible for instructing us in all matters of education and the Catholic faith. These priests were, for all intent and purpose, our surrogate parents.

    The first day we arrived at the seminary, by way of a taxi from the airport in most cases, we were able to first meet and begin to mingle with others who would become our lifelong classmates, friends, indeed, spiritual brothers-in-arms.
    Fifty-four 14-year old boys were in our initial freshman class. Of that, twenty-eight of us made it through graduation. Of that, two were ordained priests, and are still faithfully fulfilling their priestly duties and performing their sacramental service for God’s children.

    Within an hour of that very first day at the seminary, even before all our classmates had arrived, I was approached by one of my peers about homosexual opportunities in our newfound environment.
    I thought, “This isn’t good.” This individual did not last through the first Thanksgiving holiday.
    I was grateful, as I think all of us were, that we did not allow that characteristic to infiltrate us as a class.
    We certainly did not tolerate it amongst ourselves.
    However, over the years in seminary, we came to know well which clerics and senior seminarians were one of “them”. That is, we saw them, as well as ourselves, as who and what we truly and really were and are.

    Fast forward many years later, I found out that two of the priests at our seminary died of AIDS. One of them had been my spiritual counselor for my entire time at seminary, and he was a true scholar whom I intellectually idolized. The other priest, much younger, also a teacher and confidant, was one for whom we, as a class, had attended his ordination.

    I still think of and pray for them.

    What has happened is that God and His Catholic Church became the tools of this collective homosexual organism. A predatory homosexual, after years of skillful training in the art of misdirection, is able to use his priestly skills to satisfy his every homosexual desire. He has, after all, power, authority, autonomy, respect and is considered by the public at-large, to be a reputable and highly respected individual.

    Wearing the façade of holiness and protected within an institution infiltrated to the highest bureaucratic levels of like individuals, such priests within the Catholic Church have constructed a never-ending fantasyland theme park of homosexual decadence and unbridled freedom for them. It is a social structure, indeed, a complete society within a larger society.

    They pleasure each other, they protect each other, they promote each other, they recruit new members from their parishes. And, they are both very efficient and successful at what they do. That is the reality. We are just now starting to see the length, breadth and depth of this depravity.

    The point is that these men, although they have taken vows and received the Sacrament of Holy Orders, care nothing of God or for the sacraments that they should be administering or about the people they should be shepherding. Their selfish deviant sexual gratification is their only goal and objective; indeed, it is their god. They are in every way, as false as their father Satan. Long before ordination, they chose the path of purely physical, narcissistic satisfaction behind a well- constructed infrastructure of sin and concupiscence within what is outwardly, Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church on earth.

    Remember this: There is no holiness in these who are hardened and unrepentant, only lies.
    I write this from the perspective of a former seminarian, in order to educate and enlighten others who have been intentionally deceived, naively believing that these are poor, fallen, sinful but good spiritual and well-intentioned men deep down.
    They are not.

    However, God turns all evil into even greater good.
    Christ, with His sacrifice, has already won.
    For my part, I pray and offer my pains and sufferings for the conversion of these same fallen souls.
    I ask you who read this to do the same.

  2. It is undoubtedly true that “the Church has always counseled against ordaining” not “those who have same-sex attraction” but those who act out that attraction.
    Incorrect. Possessing “evil tendencies” does not mean that one necessarily acts upon said tendencies.

    ten·den·cy ˈtendənsē noun; plural noun: tendencies

    an inclination toward a particular characteristic or type of behavior.
    synonyms: propensity, proclivity, proneness, aptness, likelihood, inclination, disposition, predisposition, bent, leaning, penchant, predilection, susceptibility, liability; readiness;
    habit

    “Advancement to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers.”(emphasis added)

    CAREFUL SELECTION AND TRAINING OF CANDIDATES FOR THE STATES OF PERFECTION AND SACRED ORDERS

    PROCLAIMED BY Sacred Congregation for Religious
    February 2, 1961

  3. Someone said recently that the church is consumed with sex. There are so many taboos regarding sexual activity that it seems that for a Catholic to enter Heaven is daunting if not impossible. What seems to be more damning is the argument that Gays choose their lifestyle. It seems impossible for person to choose the gay lifestyle when society castigates them when they “come out”.

    Take for example our President’s recent order to the Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis that he remove all trans gender soldiers from active duty. When Mattis asked for more evidence he found that most of the active TG military were discovered to be top performers. Trump had to acquiesce. What can be learned from Trump’s kneejerk actions?

    The church must low key their insistence that Gays have chosen their lifestyle. Marcus and Michelle Bachmann are owners of a “clinic” where the slogan is “pray the Gay away”. I have asked their methods and success rate… no reply. I also asked of they consider a Gay to be obsessed? No reply. My feeling is that their success rates are not that good, however their apparent psychological methods could be dangerous to a client.

  4. According to Saint Peter Damian, who fought this same crisis within the Catholic Church in the early 11th century, the vice of sodomy “surpasses the enormity of all others,” because:

    “Without fail, it brings death to the body and destruction to the soul. It pollutes the flesh, extinguishes the light of the mind, expels the Holy Spirit from the temple of the human heart, and gives entrance to the devil, the stimulator of lust. It leads to error, totally removes truth from the deluded mind … It opens up hell and closes the gates of paradise … It is this vice that violates temperance, slays modesty, strangles chastity, and slaughters virginity … It defiles all things, sullies all things, pollutes all things …”

    “This vice excludes a man from the assembled choir of the Church … it separates the soul from God to associate it with demons. This utterly diseased queen of Sodom renders him who obeys the laws of her tyranny infamous to men and odious to God. She strips her knights of the armor of virtue, exposing them to be pierced by the spears of every vice … She humiliates her slave in the church and condemns him in court; she defiles him in secret and dishonors him in public; she gnaws at his conscience like a worm and consumes his flesh like fire. … This unfortunate man is deprived of all moral sense, his memory fails, and the mind’s vision is darkened. Unmindful of God, he also forgets his own identity. This disease erodes the foundation of faith, saps the vitality of hope and dissolves the bond of love. It makes way with justice, demolishes fortitude, removes temperance, and blunts the edge of prudence”

  5. Living as a faithful married man of almost 40 years and serving a deacon of 20 years, chastity is a gift not a burden! Chastity is a choice as is sexually acting out so let’s not confuse the issue here. Each one of us is given God’s graces to live and celebrate our vows but also to realize, understand and eventually deal with the consequences of our own decisions. Facts are facts, no matter or whatever the sexuality of the person.

    • I read that celibacy is a gift from God. Like responsible sexual activity is not also a gift. I want to think that celibacy is unnatural when “Genesis 1:22And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply”. The only missing word is “responsibility” when propagating the species. Mother Earth is very fragile.

  6. Father Stravinsky’s you wrote a very good article a lot of it over my head and I’m having coffee here at the doctor’s office so I’m not going to go look at all up basically what you’re saying is what I see you’re saying is that people need to leave the chaste fives everyone not just Catholics but every human being and when they marry their allowed to have the sexual intimacy that’s permitted in marriage so they’re not sitting other than that anyone who has an orgasm is sending okay especially those that masturbate but we don’t hear this from the pulpit we actually hear nothing from the pulpit I don’t even think the sex education classes I properly taught that masturbation is a major sin so I’m grateful that you’re still around writing I wish you would get together with the land mass movement in the Trinity movement and finally iron out that differences because that’s causing a lot of dissension in the church that if we were United maybe come in as a as a good marine or Navy Seals type to clean up a lot of the issues but you please have all these little technical issues that your combating over but again no one should be having an orgasm outside of a proper marriage that’s the only place that’s how I read it in a simple terms

  7. Father Stravinskas,

    Are you saying that all people should be chaste and celibate unless they marry to have their orgasm. The Church is not stressing this enough that masturbation along with any other pre-marital relationship is a mortal sin – Also, hopefully you can look beyond the Latin mass of the new rite and embrace traditionalists so we can all unite together and fight the devil on some real issue..

  8. Why would a person with deep-seated homosexual tendencies be excluded from a seminary if the tendency itself is not a sin? Why treat this differently if all sexual attraction can be disordered after the Fall? This would imply that the Church has nothing to offer a same-sex attracted person which would keep them chaste. There is the fruit of the Spirit temperance or self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). This might be something to look into.

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