CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic online) - The reports passed like lightning through the blogosphere on Friday, July 23, 2010. They were recast in numerous stories as though each had its own sources. They all stemmed from a sensationalist cover story Italian magazine "Panorama" entitled "The wild nights of gay priests". The writer claimed to have tracked three Catholic priests who were actively living homosexual lifestyles and frequenting homosexual bars in Rome.
I immediately attempted to ascertain more facts. When I saw numerous reports from news sources which promote the homosexual lifestyle, my antennae went up. Soon, the reliable "Catholic News Agency" filled in the gaps with a report entitled "After exposé, Vicariate of Rome asks clergy leading 'double lives' to leave priesthood" which we offered to our global readership. The Vicariate of Rome assists the Bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI.
The Vicariate responded with courage. They did not deny the story but defended the overwhelming majority of holy and faithful priests in Rome. They questioned the motivation behind the alleged expose, "the purpose of the article is obvious: to create scandal, defame all priests ... discredit the church and - in another way - put pressure on that part of the Church defined by them as 'intransigent, that strives not to face the reality' of homosexual priests." They insisted that if the story proves true, the priests involved were living "double lives", not being morally "coherent", were injuring all other priests, should reveal themselves and leave the priesthood.
They affirmed, "we firmly adhere to what the Holy Father Benedict XVI has repeated several times in recent months: 'the sins of priests' call us all back to conversion of heart and life and to be vigilant so as not to 'pollute the faith and Christian life, damaging the integrity of the Church, weakening her capacity of prophecy and testimony, tarnishing the beauty of her face'." We should all make such an affirmation.
The teaching of the Catholic Church regarding homosexual sexual activity as morally disordered, constituting grave sin and against the Natural Law which binds all human beings is unequivocal. Among the clearest summaries was one set forth by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons" promulgated in 1986 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith. Here are a few of the insights:
"The Church, obedient to the Lord who founded her and gave to her the sacramental life, celebrates the divine plan of the loving and live-giving union of men and women in the sacrament of marriage. It is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good. A person engaging in homosexual behavior therefore acts immorally."
"To choose someone of the same sex for one's sexual activity is to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals, of the Creator's sexual design. Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living. This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent".
"As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one's own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God. The Church, in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically understood."
In 2005 the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education issued its "Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders." This document reaffirmed this teaching and applied it in the context of seminary formation and consideration for ordination. It was needed. Some seminaries were not following the teaching of the Church. Major magazines like Newsweek were publishing scandalous articles such as its "Gays And The Seminary" piece released in May of 2002.
The document states: "From the time of the Second Vatican Council until today, various Documents of the Magisterium, and especially the Catechism of the Catholic Church, have confirmed the teaching of the Church on homosexuality. The Catechism distinguishes between homosexual acts and homosexual tendencies. Regarding acts, it teaches that Sacred Scripture presents them as grave sins. The Tradition has constantly considered them as intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law. Consequently, under no circumstance can they be approved.
"Deep-seated homosexual tendencies, which are found in a number of men and women, are also objectively disordered and, for those same people, often constitute a trial. Such persons must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. They are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter.
"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 practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called "gay culture".
"Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies."
So, what does this story in "Panorama" of Italy have to teach Catholics concerned with the challenges facing the Church? I suggest a few thoughts. First, we need to acknowledge that there are priests who were admitted to orders with homosexual problems - whether they are temptations or what is often called "orientation." We need to pray for these men that they will stay chaste and receive both the grace and the support system they need to fulfill their vow of celibacy and faithfully discharge their holy mission.
We need to understand and embrace the teaching of the Catholic Church concerning the immorality of homosexual behavior and accept no other teaching. That is the case even if a contrary position is presented by one who purports to have theological 'expertise'. The Magisterium speaks for the Catholic Church, not dissident voices or errant teachers. Priests who engage in the homosexual lifestyle should follow the advice of the Vicariate in Rome, stop living double lives and leave the active priestly ministry.
We need to pray for the Pope and the Bishops - that they have the courage, pastoral wisdom, and resolve to deal with this problem and pastor the Church through a season of purification. We need to prepare ourselves to answer the questions which such reports always give rise to, especially in the current growing climate of hostility toward our Church.
We should not be shaken by these kinds of reports. This is not the first time that sin has crept into the Church or into the lives of some priests. Our Catechism helps us to understand: "The Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real though imperfect." In her members perfect holiness is something yet to be acquired: "Strengthened by so many and such great means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state - though each in his own way - are called by the Lord to that perfection of sanctity by which the Father himself is perfect.".
"Christ, 'holy, innocent, and undefiled,' knew nothing of sin, but came only to expiate the sins of the people. The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal." All members of the Church, including her ministers, must acknowledge that they are sinners. In everyone, the weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good wheat of the Gospel until the end of time. Hence the Church gathers sinners already caught up in Christ's salvation but still on the way to holiness"
"The Church is therefore holy, though having sinners in her midst, because she herself has no other life but the life of grace. If they live her life, her members are sanctified; if they move away from her life, they fall into sins and disorders that prevent the radiation of her sanctity. This is why she suffers and does penance for those offenses, of which she has the power to free her children through the blood of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit." (CCC #825, 827)
Finally, we must not participate in the kind of scandal mongering which this article seems to be attempting to promote. In the words of the Pope, "the sins of priests' call us all back to conversion of heart and life".