Reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent
Posted on 9 December 2016
The first reading from the Hebrew Scriptures this week end reminds us:
Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Those thoughts are in the back of my head as I read news stories about the new Vatican document, The Gift of the Priestly Vocation, issued on Wednesday, December 7th and signed by Pope Francis. Most surprising in this new document is not just that it reaffirms celibacy for priests but that it reiterates the narrow teaching of a document issued in 2005 by the Congregation for Catholic Education. That Vatican directive had been issued in response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis; and it was seen by many as way to (unfairly) blame sex abuse on gay priests.
I quote from The Gift of the Priestly Vocation:
“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.”
When I first read about this most recent document, signed by the pope, my thoughts went back immediately to his famous July 22, 2013 airplane interview, when he said: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis spoke to reporters in Italian but used the English word “gay.”
What does this latest Vatican document mean? I really don’t know. Will it force more gay men to lie about their sexual orientation if they want to be ordained? Will it encourage more Catholic institutions to fire gay and lesbian employees? Will it encourage more priests to simply move on? Commenting about this document in the National Catholic Reporter (8 December 2016), the Jesuit journalist Thomas Reese observed: “I sometimes think that it would be good for the church if 1,000 priests came out of the closet on the same Sunday and simply said, ‘We’re here!’ I don’t think the church is ready for that yet, but someday it should be.”
Like many of you, I know more than a few very fine Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, and Protestant ordained ministers and seminarians who are gay. Over many years I have helped educate a great many gay seminarians, most of whom were healthy and well-balanced men of faith and Christian zeal. Thinking about these men, I never thought about “don’t ask, don’t tell.” My concern has always been “does it really make a difference?”
One of my homophobic friends said not so long ago: “I thank Almighty God that Jesus was not gay.” With a chuckle, and wanting to edge him on a bit, I replied “I guess we really don’t know. The historical Jesus did seem to have a thing about the ‘beloved’ young fellow John.” We will never know. It is all hypothetical. To me it makes no difference.
One thing we do know about Jesus of Nazareth, of course, is that he was not a white, male, supremacist. These Trumpian racist days, I find that important to emphasize.