Benedict XVI rules out gay priests
Or so it seems. Time is clearly worried about it. The NY Times is worried about homophobia. And Andrew Sullivan calls on gay priests to come out and fight back.
There are no reliable statistics on what percentage of either American men or Catholic priests think of themselves as gay. The CDC reports some 4-6% of American men have had at one point in their lifetime some form of physical relations with another man.
This contrasts sharply--and tragically--with the pattern of sex abuse among Catholic priests. I blogged earlier this year on the scandal of Catholic priests. Here is the profile of their victims:
Age.................Number......% male....% of all victims
Ages 1-7........ 487 victims.....42% male....5% of all victims
Ages 8-10......1390 victims.....71% male...14% of all victims
Ages 11-17....8410 victims....85% male....82% of all victims
Totals.........10,287 victims....81% male...100% of all victims
........................................................totals exceed 100%
........................................................due to rounding
This is very scary. The victims are overwhelmingly teenage boys. If Catholic priests share the same tendencies as American men as a whole, then the homosexual 4-6% of priests produced 80% of the scandal. If we think that homosexual priests are double the percentage of the American population, little changes: then the homosexual 8-12% produced 80% of the scandal.
So in any reasonable estimate, the bottom line is still the same: Catholic priests with homosexual tendencies are a dramatically higher risk to be untrue to their vows.
It is sometimes asked: why not ordain homosexual priests if they vow to remain celibate? The statistics give part of the answer: that has been Catholic policy for the last generation, and the evidence is that homosexual priests are dramatically more likely to betray their vows. If the Church had ordained no homosexual priests, that would have eliminated about 80% of the scandal.
Should the Catholic Church then absolutely bar all homosexual men from the priesthood? In the ancient world, at least some of the Church's most brilliant bishops are believed to have had some same-sex experiences prior to conversion. The classic example would be Augustine of Hippo, a saint and doctor of the Catholic Church: his reference in his Confessions to "defiling the spring of friendship with the filth of lust" (3.1.1) is usually understood to indicate same-gender unions. It would be a tragedy to lose men of the stature of an Augustine.
Will the new rules against gay men in the priesthood lead to a witch-hunt? In America, highly unlikely. There is a vastly greater risk that the rules will be politely received and quietly ignored. There may come a generation of American bishops who earn a reputation for swift, full, and loyal obedience to Rome; but that generation has yet to make its appearance north of the Rio Grande.
Will the new rules hurt recruitment for the priesthood? Quite the contrary. The last generation of recruitment for the priesthood has been badly hurt by the spread of homosexuality in the priesthood. Devout Catholic men do not stay long in seminaries where they have to fend off passes from classmates. The failure of the last generation of Catholic bishops to deal vigorously with this problem is part of the reason for the priest shortage in some dioceses.
I have sympathy for those faithful priests who are attracted to other men and are concerned with the forthcoming new rules. There is no reason for good faithful priests to feel persecuted within the Church.
But this is on balance the wise move for the Catholic Church at this moment in her history. The purification of the priesthood from men who are unlikely to be to true to their vows is a healthy step forward. Benedict XVI's new rules will contribute to more priests, stronger vocations, and a stronger Catholic Church.