Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Look, it’s perfectly simple…

From the BBC today:

The Vatican has published long-awaited guidelines which reaffirm that active homosexuals and "supporters of gay culture" may not become priests.

But it treats homosexuality as a "tendency", not an orientation, and says those who have overcome it can begin training to take holy orders. At least three years must pass between "overcoming [a] transitory problem" and ordination as a deacon, the rules say.

All Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy, regardless of orientation.

The guidelines make no reference to current priests, but only to those about to join a seminary.

Some Catholic theologians feel the document is not sufficiently clear, the BBC's Peter Gould says. That it refers to "tendencies" rather than orientation "has left many people scratching their heads," Jesuit scholar Father Thomas Reese told him.


The 18-paragraph document was published with little fanfare on Tuesday morning. The Vatican is not offering further explanation


Critics have long objected that gay seminarians might feel they have no choice but to lie about their sexual orientation.

The guidelines specifically address this issue, urging candidates for the priesthood to tell the truth. "It would be gravely dishonest for a candidate to hide his own homosexuality," the document says.

Observers say the new rules might lead to a dramatic drop in the number of priests, especially in the West.


The document, drafted by the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education and approved by Pope Benedict on 31 August, describes homosexual acts as "grave sins" that cannot be justified under any circumstances.

"If a candidate practises homosexuality, or presents deep-seated homosexual tendencies, his spiritual director as well as his confessor have the duty to dissuade him in conscience from proceeding towards ordination," it says.

"Such persons in fact find themselves in a situation that presents a grave obstacle to a correct relationship with men and women."

But the paper also stresses the Church's deep respect for homosexuals, who, it says, should by no means be discriminated against.

So that’s all abundantly clear then.

Basically, if you are thinking about becoming a priest, you must not have committed any homosexual act, nor ever have been tempted to do so, unless that temptation came not from a ‘deep seated tendency’, but only from a ‘transitory problem’ that occurred over three years ago.

Candidates are required to honestly assess themselves under these guidelines, and I can only imagine the soul-searching as the poor lad tries to work out whether that crush on George Clooney in Ocean’s Eleven counts as ‘a transitory problem’, and whether he was over it by Ocean’s Twelve.

(They’ve avoided applying the new rule to the existing priesthood however, presumably on the grounds that it might reduce the total number of priests in Britain and America to approximately seven. Or perhaps the current gay clergy are the "grave sinners" who are "deeply respected" and are "not to be discriminated against".)


Blogger Duck said...

Aren't semantics wonderful? You can solve any problem with language.

November 29, 2005 4:41 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Language and doublethink. Or in this case, about quadruplethink.

November 29, 2005 7:21 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Recently I read something (no, I can't remember where) that had never occurred to me regarding the Church's ongoing vocation crisis:

The number of vocations in a society has varied inversely, and significantly, with the acceptance of homosexuality in that society. Why? Because until a generation ago, it was far easier for a spiritual Catholic male to enter the priesthood than continually have to think up new excuses he could give his mom as to why he wasn't married.

Given the numbers, it seems at least 60%, and probably far more, of the priesthood have always been gay.

So the disordered have been the Church's primary, and often very effective, shepherds. And I wouldn't be surprised that their effectiveness in that role is due precisely to having a foot in both camps, so to speak.

With regard to increasing the number of vocations, there is no getting around the fact that post-Industrial societies scarcely give a tinker's darn about homosexuality. The alternative for the Church, then, is to open up the priesthood to married men at the very least.

Unfortunately, active heterosexuality is also prohibited. Despite being attaining the status of "orientation," as opposed to a mere "tendency."

My irony meter just went to 12.

November 29, 2005 9:10 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

It is a curious one.

It could be argued that the strength of the Catholic Church (in this country anyway) over the Church of England, is that it 'sticks to its guns' as far as morality is concerned, rather than bowing to every whim of society. The CofE offers no certainties or authority to its flock: you want openly gay clergy, women clergy, gay married clergy, atheist clergy? OK, you've can have 'em all! And numbers attending have nose-dived.

The Catholics have avoided this problem by 'moving with the times' in millenia rather than months.

So why aren't they just keeping quiet about all this? It can only cause disruption and disaster. Non-practising gays are, as you say, the very backbone of the priesthood.

It must be because of the paedophilia scandals. But is this the right way of going about it? Don't they first need to establish whether gays are any more likely to abuse altar boys, than heterosexuals are likely to turn into Humberts?

November 29, 2005 10:18 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

The silly part is that married priests were the norm for the first millenium of church history. But Brit is right about the glacial pace of change for the Church. The Church is so steeped in history and tradition that a change of the magnitude of allowing married priests could ignite unknowable consequences. I think that is their major fear - the unknown. Also, the illusion that the invisible hand of God is guiding the church becomes so much harder to maintain.

But you can't expect them to be persuaded by the practicality of continuing to look the other way on gay priests. While it was a dirty little secret, the fact of gay priests could not be used to question the sexual morality of the Church. But if the fact is openly acknowledged and accepted, then the fact that the Church is so dependent on the existence of a sexual perversion would almost make it seem that God has created homosexual men for that very purpose.

Admission of failure is not an option.

November 29, 2005 5:13 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Sniff, sniff. What exactly is your complaint here? Skipper's irony meter may be at 12, but mine is at four figures at the spectacle of a gaggle of secular materialists tut-tutting about this. Is it celebacy, discrimination against gays or the whole Church structure you are aiming at? And why would you care?

A) A Catholic priest is not a Protestant minister or rabbi. He takes vows of poverty and obedience as well and swears to keep the secrets of the confessional even unto death. That would be impossible if he had a family to provide and care for, so I presume you want those vows thrown out too;

B) Duck is right that the Church used to allow married priests. They also allowed co-ed monasteries. Guess what happened? The reason they imposed celebacy was to prevent dynasties in the church. Again, the Church is not congregationalist. It is a unifed, centralized institution that controls a great deal of wealth and even political influence in many places. It is also historically the most open and democratic (in the sense of equal opportunity) institution in the West. Do you not think married priests would pose a serious threat to that? We do not hear much about embezzlement and personal theft in the Church, which is rather astounding when you think about it. And here you guys are calling for more Tammy Fayes!

C) In Catholic schools, orphanages, church groups, camps, etc., boys and girls are segregated. Nuns supervise girls and priests supervise boys in private and isolated circumstances, and that is the real, practical problem the Church faces here. Duck has it exactly wrong--The Church knows full well there would be a lot more Humberts if girls were left in the care of priests, but it has devised structures and procedures to prevent that. If you don't think Mother Superiors are trained to keep a keen and watchful eye out for wayward priests with their girls, you don't know them well. You know, you guys bounce back and forth so often between the argument that sex is a basic human need that must be fuflfilled to avoid horribly destructive emotional warping, and sex is no big deal so park your dirty minds, that I can't keep my paintball gun steady.

D) I don't expect to convince you on the nature of homosexuality, but can we please take paedophilia a little more seriously? Orrin is right that it is far more common than we suppose, and it is almost always a male crime. Everyone knows that any child left in repeated, intimate proximity to a non-biologically related adult is vulnerable in a reasonably predictable sense. Step-fathers and scoutmasters are threatening in numbers beyond the negligible and we don't hire many men to teach the lower grades for a reason (although the equal rights industry is working on that). What is upsetting about your take on all this is how you are in denial about that and seem quite prepared to let kids be endangered as part of the cost of doing business under your equal rights regime. It reminds me of those who stand by watching an explosion in human sex-trafficking while muttering platitudes about consensual sex and private contracts.

I don't know about eternal truth and the big theologial questions, but there is no doubt the Church understands the reality of human sexuality far better than you guys. I think you are just the heirs of all those old time Protestants who loved to fulminate against The Scarlet Woman of Rome.

December 01, 2005 3:32 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

The Church priesthood has, of course, every right make up its own rules for entry to the club. The point my original post was to wonder:

1) why the Church has introduced this particular new ruling
2) why the Church has decided to introduce any ruling about ‘deep seated gay tendencies’ at all at this moment in time?

On point 1:
The wording of the new guidelines themselves is bizarre and muddied to say the least: what’s the difference between a ‘tendency’ and a ‘transitory problem’? How do you know the problem won’t come back? Why three years - does something special happen after three years? Why does it only apply to new clergy and not existing clergy? Can men with gay tendencies not have a vocation? If they think they hear a calling, are they mistaken because God doesn’t call gays – even celibate gays? Can only heterosexuals be celibate - do gays always laspe? How do they think they can enforce it?

On point 2:
Your mentioning of paedophiles brings up the main question: why now? The suspicion is that this move is in response to the paedophile scandals.

If so, why should it make any difference? No predatory paedophile is going to be dissuaded by these vague questions about tendencies. It also hinges on a dubious link between having gay tendencies and being more likely to be a paedophile.

If the Church is serious about tackling paedophiles, then surely better responses would be to put in safeguards about leaving priests alone with children, as schools now do with teachers.

As to being “old time Protestants who loved to fulminate against The Scarlet Woman of Rome”, you’re close, but not quite right. I was brought up as a Catholic, did long, noble service as an altar boy and went to a school run by De la Salle brothers. And just as nobody likes to criticise communists more than an ex-commie, so it is with lapsed Catholics.

I came into contact with scores of priests and brothers, and witnessed two official allegations of paedophile abuse by priests on members of my peer group. One resulted in an acquittal, the other involved the priest being disgracefully shunted off to another parish far away, until later transgressions resulted in arrest.

But of course the paedophiles are the bad apples. Sincerely, the vast majority were lovely, kind, generous, intelligent people - and one I still count as a great friend. But even of the lovely, kind, generous intelligent ones, how many were average males whom I could easily imagine in heterosexual relationships were it not for their vocation? A couple at most.

If this proclamation will dissuade any priests, it will be the good, conscientious, celibate ones with 'tendencies'.

December 01, 2005 5:42 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

what’s the difference between a ‘tendency’ and a ‘transitory problem’? How do you know the problem won’t come back? Why three years - does something special happen after three years?

I assume it is because they are compromising on conflicting "goods" and practical necessity. They don't believe there is any prima facie reason to assert gays are any less capable than heteros of maintaining vows. They also know not all priests will maintain vows but they are structurally and institutionally much better placed to watch and police wayward heteros. Gay postulates go into male communal living but the heteros don't bunk in with nuns. A three year test is hardly a human rights outrage for one who says he is called to celibacy. Brit, the perfect is the enemy of the good.

As to why paedophilia is more of a concern today, I don't know. Do you think they shouldn't be so concerned because they weren't in the past?

December 01, 2005 6:09 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

I think they should be far less concerned with gay tendencies, and far more concerned with paedophiles. The hush-it-up, move-em-out-of-the-way attitude in the past - the recent past - has been nothing short of a disgrace.

But this isn't any good at all - it won't eliminate a single bad apple, and will probably dissuade a lot of good ones.

December 01, 2005 6:52 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


On reflection, your four-figure irony meter reading is at least plausible. Question: is that beyond red-line for a Canadian? Based on my 7-years living in England, for Brits that level of irony is scarcely noteworthy.

Ahem. I will continue stoking your meter.

Is it celebacy, discrimination against gays or the whole Church structure you are aiming at? And why would you care?

In order: No. Ummm. No. Because the Church strives to be a moral beacon for the rest of us.

Celibacy is clearly the church's call. Between A) and B), your explanation of the why behind celibacy is as concise -- and convincing -- as any I've seen. But, given human nature, demanding celibacy is not a cost-free decision. Which is where the irony meter starts spinning. The Church decries society's increasing acceptance of the gay culture, which also acts to decrease those willing to undertake vocations. Yet if society were to suddenly return to the 50s, the Church would promptly exclude the very candidates it willingly accepted in the 50s.

C) & D). Orrin has it half right. Men are nearly always the perpetrators of sex crimes of all kinds, whether the victims are male or female. Focussing on homosexuality not only ignores most of the crimes, but it uniquely targets homesexuals, when heterosexual men are just as likely to be perpetrators. The problem here is that, to be on the safe side, vulnerable people should never be left under the supervision of men other than fathers in "private and isolated circumstances." Which is why you don't hear much about this sort of thing with the Scouts, for instance. Scoutmasters are not the kind of authority figure priests are, and boys are never left alone with scoutmasters. (How do I know? My son is a Boy Scout, and I have participated with him.)

So my objection, is not so much that it targets gays, but rather that it (and Orrin) uniquely target gay men for sins heterosexual men are just as capable of committing.

I'm not sure what your opinion on the nature of homosexuality is, so I don't know how far I am from agreeing with you. But the more fundamental question is its cause. These Vatican guidelines, guilty throughout of astonishingly empty argumentation where they don't rely on wholesale equivocation, completely sidestep the notion of cause, other than by using mealy-mouthed words such as "tendency".

Why do you suppose that is? I have a guess. Because the Church truly objects to homosexuality, but can't square the corner with the very real likelihood that God is involved with every ensoulment, and also makes some people homosexual. I don't mean to belittle the Church's position in the least. Rather, I only mean to note that if homosexuality as an orientation is a matter of choice, then it may also be a target of moral opprobrium. But acknowledging God creates gays (here, IMHO, much more than that nasty evilution theory is where rational inquiry threatens religious tenets) automatically throws several parts of the Bible directly in the dumpster.

Unless, that is, one concludes that God made people in such a way that we would have someone to kill because he commanded us to do so.

I think you misunderstand our comments as fulminating against Papism, or even being critical of the Church in any way(absent my line about the guidelines, which is a pointed criticism of a document, not an institution). To the extent our observations, are true, then the Church is in a real predicament. And, contrary to your opinion, I think it is brought on by a certain amount of delusion about the sexual orientation of most priests, and how acceptance of homosexuality in the wider society is drying up the Church's pool of recruits.

BTW, Peter -- my primary task at work today is software documentation. Your post provided me several much needed brain breaks in forming a reply. I am truly in your debt.

December 01, 2005 12:28 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

He takes vows of poverty and obedience as well and swears to keep the secrets of the confessional even unto death. That would be impossible if he had a family to provide and care for, so I presume you want those vows thrown out too;

Why impossible? I don't think that the vow of poverty is much enforced anymore, priests own property and earn income on the side. Being a public school teacher is practically equivalent to a vow of poverty, yet school teachers marry.

Married servicemen take vows of loyalty and fidelity to their service that puts more extreme demands on their home life than the average parish priest will ever have to match.

And aren't lawyers subject to a similar oath of non-disclosure with regard to their clients? How does marriage prevent you from fulfilling that oath?

..but there is no doubt the Church understands the reality of human sexuality far better than you guys.

If they think that they can meet their vocational requirements from healthy, well adjusted heterosexual males in today's liberalized sexual atmosphere and maintain the celibacy vows, then I don't think that they understand sexuality that well.

December 01, 2005 4:03 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...


Thank-you. It beats drafting affidavits too. I'm delighted to learn you look to the Catholic Church as a moral beacon. :-).

Ok, ok, you didn't actually say that. You said the Church strives to be a moral beacon for all, including you heathens, thus implying it is accountable to you in some way. Interesting. Are you agitating for a few secular seats in the College of Cardinals?

Seeing your argument, one might conclude that the Church preaches that, while gay sex is an abominable sin, it is perfectly ok for your average red-blooded hetero to have a little slap and tickle on the side to keep hinself psycho-sexually healthy. I don't think so. Let's suppose for a moment that the Church concluded that homosexuality was "natural' which for it would mean divinely-planned or caused in some way. What conclusions would that lead them to? That gay sex is ok and to be countenanced? Yeah, right. The Church teaches that the sexual urge, however natural is a potentially destructive force that is to be sanctified and sublimated in marriage, which exists primarily for the purpose of procreation.(It's now trying to find a way to let married people have a little fun too, but only as an incident and consequence of the serious business). This position was seen as harsh and tough to follow, but unremarkable, until quite recently. Just how do you expect the Church to work its way through biology to giving an approving nod to the Boys in the Band? May I suggest your problem is with the Church's whole theory of sexuality and not with gays in particular. You have a lot of company. You're free to hit them with guns a-blazin' if you must, but then please don't duck responsibility for the Gene Robinsons of this world or the millions of children of divorced parents who figured they were entitled to more sexual fulfillment.


Oh, I don't think the Catholic Church is basing it's views on morality on what "today's liberalized sexual morality" dictates. Nor are the evangelicals. That would be the Anglican and Lutheran churches. Checked the numbers lately?

Guys, serious religion is not, and never has been, about doin' what comes naturally. That's one reason so many who jealously guard their absolute right to rut at will hate it so much.

December 02, 2005 6:26 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Your interpretation is correct -- I do believe the Church strives to be a moral beacon for all. However, by that I do not mean to imply that the Church is in any way accountable to anything but the morality for which it aims to be a beacon.

Some theists accuse non-theists get accused of being moral freeloaders. Clearly, I think that is self-congratulatory nonsense. (caution: the following sentence contains irony) I concede, though, that it is fair to say that theists in general, and the Church in particular, may very well think more about morality then do non-theists.

That is all to all of society's good, provided that the product of their moral deliberation has some moral basis. When it does not, the result is often lasting damage to the Church's credibility as a moral beacon.

This directive, as vacuous as anything I have ever read, comes to very firm conclusions about gays, driven by some passages in the Bible, but based upon nothing. In other words, had those passages, purportedly directly from God, not been in the Bible, the Church would not have felt compelled to direct as it did. (It is also worth noting that Catholic writings of only two or three generations past, used the same sorts of words, and reasoning, with respect to Jews.)

My issue with this is that the Church is, IMHO, letting culturally bound statements in the Bible that did not come from God get in the way of making a truly moral judgment. While I happen to think the Church has been astonishingly anti-human in its attitude towards sex, it is on very firm ground in insisting the only safe place for sex is within the confines of marriage, both for reasons of health and the ever present prospect of resulting children.

So why should the sanctuary of marriage be denied to gays?

In essence, I agree with your position on sex and marriage far more than you think I do; what's more, I'll bet Duck and Brit do, as well. We (if I may be so bold as to speak for them) just happen to be able to arrive at that conclusion through purely material considerations.

What I am unable to do, however, is use material considerations to arrive at the conclusion that gays must never marry, and therefore must be forever celibate.

If the Church was to come the conclusion that God made some people homosexual, what conclusions would that lead them to? Probably the one it has eventually arrived at, more or less, regarding heterosexualilty: it is a natural force that is to be sanctified and sublimated in marriage.

I'm afraid I wandered off the topic for a bit. I'll try to get a bit closer. Up above you mentioned that priests must take a vow of poverty, which pretty much mandates a celibate clericy. But I think it is pretty clear that the consequence of the poverty vow greatly changes the composition of the priesthood with respect to the rest of the population. Priests are self-selecting, after all.

Hence the overwhelming irony. Homosexuals have probably always been a majority in the priesthood. Further, if notions about the causes of homosexuality prove correct, gays might very well be superior candidates for the priesthood because they understand, and can better relate to, women far better than most men. All without the burden of resisting sexual attraction.

Yet despite all that, they are now unsuitable for the priesthood, despite having been the majority of effective priests over the centuries.

The Church is in a heck of a predicament here. I hope (believe it or not) that I hope it finds a way out. But I predict that thei this latest move will strengthen the precipitous downward trend in vocations.

I don't see that is to anyone's benefit.

December 02, 2005 11:06 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


BTW, I have an unfair advantage today.

I had to come home from work early to pick up a sick son from school.

December 02, 2005 11:23 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

...it is on very firm ground in insisting the only safe place for sex is within the confines of marriage, both for reasons of health and the ever present prospect of resulting children.

So why should the sanctuary of marriage be denied to gays?

Uh, Skipper, did your folks ever have a chat with you about the birds and the bees? Anyway, I take it that your defence of marriage stems from your belief in promoting safe sex and that your belief in man's basic goodness and rationality doesn't extend to trusting him to remember the condom reliably when he is out on the town. So, do you also think the devastating, often life-scarring sense of betrayal a spouse feels when he/she has been cheated stems primarily from health concerns? Or should?

used the same sorts of words, and reasoning, with respect to Jews.

Is your complaint here that practicing Jews weren't allowed to be Catholic priests or that the Church declared the practice of Judaism to be a sin? If the first, you got me, you crafty devil, and I'm heading right down to my local human rights tribunal (boy, they know how to define morality!)to lay a complaint. If the second, how about a link (from about two or three generations ago, please) because that is news.

Let me ask you something. Is your beef with celibacy that it is unhealthy or impossible? Do you believe married men should be entitled to leave or dally if the sex isn't frequent enough and the poor dear is convinced his emotional health is suffering as a result? Just what duty do you say spouses owe each other here? Careful, the feminists are watching you.

December 04, 2005 4:10 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Since I'm no longer a Catholic I try to limit my beefs with Catholicism to those things that impact the larger society. As far as those things that affect only the Church and its members I am happy to let them do as they will.

I would say that the celibacy vow is unnecessary. Now, if the Church had no problem finding an abundance of high-quality celibate heterosexuals to meet its vocational needs, then there would be no discussion.

But we are having this discussion because they aren't finding that abundance of candidates. Celibacy is not a normal condition, you should grant that much. While not impossible, celibacy is an extremely high degree of difficulty move for the average healthy heterosexual male to pull off, equivalent to a quadruple twisting backflip/lutz in the pike position. So your vocations will be filled either by the most freakishly talented spiritual atheletes, or those who see the priesthood as a refuge from their own psycho-sexual demons.

We are constantly reminded by yourself, OJ and other members of the Judeo-Christian Continuum that man is fallen. That utopian schemes aimed at perfecting Man are doomed by man's innate sinfulness. Yet here we have the One True Church representing Christ on Earth thinking that it can buck this trend, and fill its ranks with a cadre of spiritual supermen.

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

December 04, 2005 7:25 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Clearly there are other reasons for insisting that the only safe environment for sex is within marriage, and the betrayal aspect you mention is chief among them, and one I should have included, and for more than just health concerns. Presuming a betrayed woman, she could find the resources available to her children reduced by the presence of new child outside the family. Further, like in-group murder, in-group deceit is considered immoral no matter what culture you look at, so sexual infidelity is a double whammy.

All of which puts the Church on very firm ground when insisting that marriage is the only morally acceptable context for sex.

And puts the Church on theological quicksand when it just as vociferously denies that same sanctuary for gays. Even though children aren't possible, everything else is on the table. Once upon a time not too long ago, when it seemed that gays chose their orientation out of some perverted moral weakness, we now know better. The Church is now in the bind of having to continue the institutional habit of demonizing homosexuality without simultaneously acknowledging that God made the gays the Church is demonizing. Hence the appallingly mealy mouthed language.

or that the Church declared the practice of Judaism to be a sin? [references, please]

My point wasn't that the Church had declared Judaism a sin, but rather, with respect to Jews, the Church as frequently used the same mealy-mouthed language. And worse, probably. "Over the centuries the anti-Jewish teaching was refined, developed, and made ever more negative until, in the 20th Century, the majority of Christians in Europe had such a negative (and false!) understanding of Judaism and such a negative attitude toward Jews that they became easy prey for the Nazi racial categorizations that rationalized genocide." from Reflections on Anti-Semitism and the Church, (Cardinal William Keeler, June 2004)

I don't have a beef with celibacy. I feel it is utterly of no moral consequence whatsoever, and don't have any opinion one way or the other about whether, for any given individual, it is possible, advisable, or healthy. However, as Duck has noted, celibacy is far from a cost-free decision. Demanding it has consequently made the Catholic priesthood far from representative of the larger male population.

Do you believe married men should be entitled to leave or dally if the sex isn't frequent enough and the poor dear is convinced his emotional health is suffering as a result?

If there are minor children, absolutely not -- the primary duty spouses owe each other is to their children.

December 04, 2005 1:38 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Well, Skipper, you feel married folks should deny themselves for the kids. But you know full well many will not. If you and Duck are right that the Church should junk celibacy because many priests will fail, I can't see why you are so adamant about the duties of parents and the ideals they should hold themselves up to.

Look, obviously the existence of Protestantism and Judaism is testament to the fact that many, many religious folks hold no brief for celibacy, and I'm not sure where I stand on this. Not being Catholic, it hardly matters. But I note how quick you are on this subject to urge the church to define its ideals by what you claim we can reasonably expect from the average postulate in our hyper-sexualized society. Do you think the standard for bravery and honour in the Marines should be defined by the statistically predictable capabilities of the average grunt? Do we ask no more of our teachers than what the median first-year B.A. (ed) student is likely to give? There are profound spiritual and doctrinal reasons behind the celibacy vows and they have a big role to play in defining the relationship between priest and parishoner. If you want to attack those, fine, but I find it puzzling to try and argue with those who say: "No, those are all fine and dandy, but celibacy should be abandoned because some people can't cut it."

December 06, 2005 3:37 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


I think you have misunderstood (or, more likely, I have obscured) the point I was trying to make. I'll try again.

I have absolutely no opinion as to whether the Church's celibacy requirement is justified.

I do have opinions as to the effect celibacy has had on the composition of the priesthood, and the reduction in vocations. These opinions are based upon observations that might have some relationship to objective reality. To the extent these observations are "true," and that my opinions correctly flow from those observations, then they raise some serious issues the Church must confront.

So, to reiterate: It appears that celibacy has, with respect to sexuality, resulted in a priesthood that is not at all representative of the overall male population, to the point where the rate of homosexuality among ordained priests is probably at least 10 times, and may be as much as 25 times, higher than the normal male rate.

It also true (while always being aware of post hoc ergo propter hoc) that the reduction in vocations is inversely proportional to society's acceptance of homosexuality.

So it seems that the vow of poverty has celibacy as its consequences, which in turn (it seems) has other consequences. Therefore, I predict that the Church will, so long as it insists upon celibacy and a heterosexual priesthood, will face an institution threatening lack of vocations. But it won't be due to any hyper-sexualization of society, but rather that our society no longer demonizes homosexuality, because our society has, collectively, come to realize that homosexuality in and of itself is no more the result of a choice, and hence has no more moral component, than left-handedness.

The preceding has nothing to do with the spiritual or doctrinal reasons for celibacy. It clearly does, to the extent it is true, raise the issue as to whether the Church can survive the celibacy requirement, no matter how profound those spiritual and doctrinal reasons may be. My prediction is that it will not. The depopulation of the priesthood represents unprecedented demographic collapse, dwarfing even what faces post-Soviet Union Russia.

(BTW, Letter of Response to friends in the aftermath of the Vatican Instruction 29 is particularly thoughtful.)

So I shall rephrase your last sentence from:

No, those are all fine and dandy, but celibacy should be abandoned because some people can't cut it.


No, those are all fine and dandy, but celibacy (and the insistence upon heterosexual priests, and putting the priesthood off-limits to women) might cause the Church church to be abandoned, because men won't cut it.

December 06, 2005 4:47 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

There is a difference between not being promiscuous and being celibate.

One is a matter of maturity, and a standard that we can and should hold people to, the other is unnatural.
By "unnatural" I don't mean that it's an urge that cannot be overcome, but it clearly IS the natural order of things to procreate, and we have even been directed by God to have sex.

The reproductive urge, manifested mostly by lust in men, and by lust and maternal desire in women, is our strongest non-personal-survival drive.

It's not like giving up chocolate, or even cigarettes, it's a very, very difficult thing for most men to stay celibate ALL OF THEIR LIVES.
Even if you've gone years without even thinking about sex, it can sneak up on you, blindside you with intense desire.

Aside from Catholic priests, Mormon boys of college age typically go on religious missions of up to two years, and one of the mission rules is complete abstinence.
The only reason that works at all is because Missionaries are ALWAYS in pairs, except when using the bathroom.

Ask them how easy it was, and if they could imagine a LIFETIME of abstinence, especially without a companion to support them, and to provide deterrence.

Assuming that one could live without air, it's like asking people to hold their breath for a lifetime.

It can be done, but only by a few, and fewer still would CHOOSE to do so.

If we're to think of Catholic priests as Medal of Honor winners, instead of average GI's, then it's bad news for the Church when looking at the number of people who have so honored us with their achievements and sacrifices.

December 07, 2005 5:49 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

You know, Oroborous, I actually agree with most of what you say for once.

Except for one thing. All this talk about how warping and near-impossible it is to go without sex (why, it's like asking people to live without air...if they could...which they can't) is a very male perspective. If you replace "people" with "men" in your arguments it doesn't have quite the same flavour. Do Mormon female missionaries always walk around in pairs? Why do I have the suspicion we are all assuming that after we lusty but spiritually-respectful genius' work out just exactly how the Catholic Church should crack this nut, the fairer sex will just go along with whatever we decide. I'm not sure too many modern women see their purpose in life as "providing deterrence" or serving as an outlet for those pesky male hormones.

December 08, 2005 3:40 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Yes, all Mormon missionaries, male or female, are paired off.

The assignments aren't permanent, companions change every six months or so.

If there's ever an odd number of people, then a group of three is formed - no missionary is ever a free agent. (In theory).

Female missionaries get up to hijinks too, it's not just the guys.

Although more females than males would be willing to be celibate for life, in neither instance are you going to get more than a very small minority to agree.

Women crave sex too.

On the point of celibacy "warping" people, it can do so, but the bigger point is that it SHAPES people in ways different from the norm.

I take no position about the desirability of that occurring, but I note that people who have been celibate for a lifetime are fundamentally different from the majority of humans, who have participated in one of the most basic human experiences.

It's as if Catholic priests had never eaten food, or at the very least, had sworn off it.

Peter, you seem to be very cavalier about dismissing the force and effects of the sex drive, which is especially odd coming from an addict - I would have assumed that you knew quite well how constant, unfulfilled desire can wear away at a person.

December 08, 2005 4:34 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I don't quite know what that unfortunate shot was about, but I trust it made your day.

So, women "crave" sex too, eh? I guess that's why the history of relations between the sexes has always been so harminious. Perfectly symbiotic.

December 08, 2005 5:13 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Do you mean to say that men and women cannot both crave sex for wildly different reasons?

December 08, 2005 8:49 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...


So, women "crave" sex too, eh?

Yes, they do, and quite often.
Try asking some about it.

Failing that, it's an easy subject to brush up on - there have been thousands of books and periodical articles written about it.

I don't quite know what that unfortunate shot was about, but I trust it made your day.

It did not, for the simple reason that I took no "shot".

This is one reason why you and I rarely communicate effectively - you love to infer things from my posts, whereas I am very rarely attempting to imply anything. I write it plainly, or don't say it.

Therefore, you often believe that I'm saying something that I am not.

For instance, if I were to write "Do you like the band N'Sync ?", I wouldn't be attempting to imply that you were gay, I'd be asking if you like N'Sync's music.

My points here were twofold:

Peter, you seem to be very cavalier about dismissing the force and effects of the sex drive, which is especially odd coming from an addict - I would have assumed that you knew quite well how constant, unfulfilled desire can wear away at a person.

1) You are incorrectly assessing the amount of influence that the sex drive has over the thoughts and behavior of the average person, male and especially female, which leads you to improperly assess how easy it is for a person to remain celibate for life, and also to improperly assess how being celibate for life would/does affect a person's outlook on life, and ability to understand fellow humans.

2) It is my understanding that you are a proud and unrepentant tobacco addict, and if that's so, I was attempting to get you to relate your cravings for tobacco to the cravings that most people feel for sexual activity.
In other words, it can be put off due to circumstance, or by force of will, but it's always there.
Talk to people who have quit smoking, or who have attempted to quit, and you'll find that although a few can just lay them down and walk away, most people cannot, and it's very hard to accomplish, sometimes taking many, many attempts.

If I have misunderstood about your tobacco use, then I apologize for my ignorance and the misunderstanding.

In any case, the reference was never intended to be insulting, it was just an attempt to promote empathy and understanding.

Speaking of misunderstanding, you've been reading my comments for over two years now.
In that time, how often have I been intentionally insulting, even to trolls and the irrational, even when THEY are being insulting ?

Although I occasionally am, it's rare.
Flamewars aren't my bag, man.

December 08, 2005 10:29 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Proud and unrepentent? Hey, man, pay attention! That was my gambling, heroin and booze habits. The fags are a source of deep, debilitating shame.

I am absolutely fascinated by your analogizing tobacco cravings to sexual urges. I am sitting here utterly bewildered by the image of you marching determinedly in the cause of a smoke-free world while telling the Church and other assorted prudes to get with the programme--don't they know it is a craving for cryin' out loud? C'mon, Oroborous, haven't you read all those studies on the dangers of second hand sex? I guess the key is getting to the kids early and persuading them never to start.

Talked to the missus last night. Told her my good friend from the Daily Duck told me women actually crave sex and that there are all kinds of articles and studies that prove it. Offered to get them for her. She told me she thought you were disgusting and I'm sitting here alone, blogging. Thanks a heap.

December 09, 2005 2:32 AM  
Blogger Brit said...


What time was it where you are when you posted that one - was it 2.32am?

I don't know about the fags, what about the blogging addiction?

December 09, 2005 2:58 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

5:30 am. Those on a mission to save the world rise early.

It's not an addiction, it's a craving. Completely different, as Oroborous will tell you, although sort of the same. Women have it too. We may not actually see many of them, but studies show...

December 09, 2005 3:54 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Funny, Peter, funny.

As I've mentioned before, your sense of humor is your saving grace.

Or humour, as some of you might prefer.

December 09, 2005 4:42 AM  

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