Pope Benedict on Gay Priests, Sex Abuse, etc.

The Tablet (the super-liberal British “Catholic” newspaper) has done a very good job of just posting, without comment, some of what seem to be the most interesting quotes from Peter Seewald’s latest published interview with Pope Benedict, Salt of the Earth:

I wanted to pluck two of the best passages.  First, he had this to say about the ordination of men with homosexual tendencies:

Homosexuality is incompatible with the priestly vocation. Otherwise, celibacy itself would lose its meaning as a renunciation. It would be extremely dangerous if celibacy became a sort of pretext for bringing people into the priesthood who don’t want to get married anyway. For, in the end, their attitude toward man and woman is somehow distorted, off centre, and, in any case, is not within the direction of creation of which we have spoken. The Congregation for Education issued a decision a few years ago to the effect that homosexual candidates cannot become priests because their sexual orientation estranges them from the proper sense of paternity, from the intrinsic nature of priestly being… The greatest attention is needed here in order to prevent the intrusion of this kind of ambiguity and to head off a situation where the celibacy of priests would practically end up being identified with the tendency to homosexuality.

From the context and the internal logic of the quote, it’s clear that he’s not just referring to those men who self-identify as gay, or are actively homosexual, but to all men who simply are not heterosexual.  I’ve mentioned this before, but the primary point of clerical celibacy is for a man to offer back to God the biggest gift he’s been given.  Look at God’s blessing of Abraham in Genesis 22:15-18, to provide him descendants as numerous as the stars, in response to Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, out of faith in the resurrection (Hebrews 11:17-19).  In becoming priests, men sacrifice a physical lineage as numerous as the stars for a spiritual lineage.  They go from being fathers in the physical sense to spiritual fathers, as Abraham did (Romans 9:8). Those who are approach the priesthood without even a desire for marriage or children, whether because of homosexuality or any other cause, are approaching the altar without a gift.  They’re not sacrificing anything in swearing to celibacy.  Rather, as Benedict notes, the celibate priesthood can offer an escape, an easy answer to the “Why are you thirty and unmarried?” question.  Men who approach the office as a place to flee are dangerous as priests.  Beyond this, a priest truly is a spiritual father, so a man without a desire for fatherhood objectively shouldn’t be a priest.  Spiritual fatherhood is a responsibility larger, not smaller, than physical fatherhood.

A second area which he addressed that I was moved by was his description of the abuse crisis:

It is a great crisis, we have to say that. It was upsetting for all of us. Suddenly so much filth. It was really almost like the crater of a volcano, out of which suddenly a tremendous cloud of filth came, darkening and soiling everything, so that above all the priesthood suddenly seemed to be a place of shame and every priest was under the suspicion of being one like that too. Many priests declared that they no longer dared to extend a hand to a child, much less go to a summer camp with children. For me the affair was not entirely unexpected. In the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith I had already dealt with the American cases; I had also seen the situation emerge in Ireland. But on this scale it was nevertheless an unprecedented shock… Right now, in the midst of the scandals, we have experienced what it means to be very stunned by how wretched the Church is, by how much her members fail to follow Christ.

Wow.  The infinite gap between the Head of the Body, Christ, and His Members, us, has rarely been described more vividly.  And it’s a huge blessing just to know that we have a pope who recognizes the sheer gravity of how badly things have gone wrong.  He clearly has an eye on both what the predator priests have done to children, and what they’ve done to the priesthood itself.  This latter focus isn’t institutional self-interest, but a concern for souls.  If you alienate the world from the priesthood and from the Church as a result of these bad priests, you really do endanger their salvation.  So the crisis has always had these dual effects: destruction of innocence and the body, and endangerment of the soul.  Someone Else drew the two together well in Luke 17:1-2, by the way.


  1. I was wondering, what can a homosexual offer to the Lord since the non-practicing of his or her sexuality is of course already expected of them? A heterosexual can either enter into a marriage where they give themself to the other or they can sacrifice the good of marriage, having children, etc. for love of the Lord. Does a homosexual have to find some other aspects in which they can offer themselves to God in service? Forgive me if I’ve misunderstood something. This is not a criticism (I agree entirely with what the Holy Father and you say).

  2. I see the scandal as Satan’s response to the extra effort and prayers we’ve been offering for an increase to the priesthood.

    It’s devious, cunning and while I don’t have the stats to know if it’s effective, this tactic has worked to turn the world against the priesthood.

  3. Sprachmeister,

    It’s a good question. On the one hand, celibacy is what all the unmarried are called to, so it seems like no great sacrifice. But while celibacy is nothing more than is expected and required, and it can still be sanctified by offering it up lovingly to God.

    Undeniably, to live as a celibate, homosexually-inclined Christian is tough going. I know a few men who live this life, and I have immense respect for them. Those who seem gay suffer both at the hands of judgmental Christians (who are just sure they’re not celibate), and judgmental homosexuals (who think they’re “denying who they are” by being celibate, and not self-identifying as gay). Both Christians and practicing gays all too often view these men as threats. So God has given them a harder life than He’s given many of us, but God is a Just God, so we know He’ll reward them proportionately. The Beatitudes hold immense promise for our homosexually-inclined brethren.

    Some Saints willingly chose a path which lead to martyrdom, like St. Edmund Campion journeying back into England to save the British souls; others simply are born into a path that leads to their martyrdom, like those Iraqi Christians killed for going to Mass a few weeks ago. They’d lived in Iraq their entire lives, and were doing nothing more than was asked of them (meeting their Sunday obligation), yet their lives and deaths were still a radical testament to love of God. What applies to martyrdom also applies to celibacy, as Our Lord tells us in Matthew 19:12.

    That said, beyond all of this, some of the men and women in question will be called to make use of their singleness for the Kingdom of God – Eve Tushnet comes to mind as someone who has turned her disinclination to marriage into a way of dedicating herself more fully to God.


    The important thing to remember in all of this is that those times and places in which the Church has been most persecuted tend to be those times in which God blesses Her with Her greatest Saints. Even a cursory glance at history shows this: the numerous Church Fathers sprouting up like flowers through the pavement under Roman rule, Francis of Assisi during a particularly excessive period in Church history, St. John Vianney after the French Revolution, St. Josemaria Escriva during Franco’s reign, St. Padre Pio during the regime of Mussolini, JPII during Poland’s subjugation under Nazism and then Stalinism, etc.


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