Question 149



Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB PhD Nov 2011

The occasion for these reflections is the 2011 book Sex, Celibacy & Priesthood, by Lou A. Bordisso.

The author has gathered and published the statements of 59 priests who are self-described as heterosexual, homosexual or bi-sexual.   For the most part, each priest attempts to justify his decision to abandon the 6th Commandment, and the Church’s requirement that all priests in the Western Rite be celibate.  Since the unspoken intention of the book is to force a change in the discipline of the Church regarding celibacy for the ordained priest, it requires an analysis and a refutation.   

Bordisso avoids using any moral judgments regarding the sexual lives of the priests he covers.  For him, a priest is either celibate or non-celibate, and he thinks that there are as many definitions of celibacy as there are priests. 

The primary flaw of all the arguments offered throughout the book is the refusal to obey God and his 6th Commandment, which regulates the sex drive. 

Many of the priest contributors have rejected the Church’s requirement that the priesthood in the Western Rite is for celibate men, with few exceptions (e.g., Anglican married priests who have come into the Catholic Church).  If they can redefine the 6thCommandment and the requirements for the

Sacrament of Holy Orders, then they can do the same with all the Commandments and with all the Sacraments.  Today we find a strong push to redefine marriage.

 The 6th Commandment forbids any form of genital sex outside of marriage.  Many of the contributors have abandoned that Commandment, and consider themselves to be exceptions.  The Commandment, they claim, does not apply to them.

 Many contributors have rationalized their rejection of celibacy by their reliance upon very liberal theologians or students of scripture who are very clever in reinterpreting the pertinent passages in the Old and New Testament that condemn homosexual behavior.  They reject Church teaching, and accept dissenting theological opinion. 

Some of the contributors acknowledge that they are chronic masturbators.  Some use homosexual forms of pornography.  By reinforcing their strong addictions to these bad habits, they are choosing to place formidable barriers between themselves and their growing into the virtue of self-possession and chastity.

 Many complain of loneliness.  Part of the maturing process is learning how to deal with loneliness.  Every priest has the opportunity to deal with 1,000s of people.  He can form many friendships, but all of these are to be fostered in a manner that is chaste and respects the dignity of the individual.  There are boundaries that are not to be crossed.  Christ is the model for all friendships and all expressions of love.

Every person has the task of coming into the possession of his or her sex drive, once they pass through puberty and their sexuality awakens.  There are no exceptions to this.  God’s plan for sex is total abstinence before marriage, and total fidelity within marriage.  Some contributors seem to think that it is impossible to live a normal life without having regular orgasms.  Since this has become an absolute for them, they then feel justified in having sex in a wide variety of ways: anonymous sex, group masturbation, etc.

One contributor admitted that he and his girlfriend (who was married) had a son who is now 12 years old.  Where is this man’s sense of responsibility to his son?  Every son wants to be loved, cared for and wanted by his natural father.  Once a person excuses himself from the normal restraints of chastity, then it becomes very easy for him to exempt himself from more and more restraints. 

Most of the priests who are guilty of sexually abusing young men (and some young women) are those with homosexual orientations.  Their destructive behavior has brought about catastrophic results: young men who have been abused and still suffer from this traumatic experience; a serious scandal which has brought public scorn upon the priesthood; billions of dollars in lawsuits brought against dioceses and religious orders who did not give sufficient oversight to these offending priests; and creating more obstacles for normal young men who might be considering a vocation to the priesthood. 

All of these disastrous consequences can be traced back to priests with homosexual leanings who refused to be chaste.  It is time for unchaste homosexual clergymen to admit the great damage they have brought about, take responsibility for it, and cease to extol their sexual orientation as a great blessing.

Several contributors mentioned the prevalence of homosexual behavior during their years in the seminary or in houses of formation.  This means that their superiors are responsible for their lack of oversight, or for their complicity in these moral degeneracies.  This includes vocation directors, rectors of seminaries, faculty, formators, spiritual directors and bishops who did not give sufficient oversight to their seminaries and houses of formation.   There was a period of time when homosexual behavior was approved of, or sympathized with, by many who were involved with seminary formation.  We are now reaping the whirlwind of these seriously wrong-headed choices of candidates and their rejection of morality and Church discipline.

No priest can live by a double standard: be chaste wherever he performs his priestly duties, and be unchaste in his private life while away from the parish or scene of his duties.  We have only one conscience, and we carry it everywhere we go.  It is to be applied correctly wherever we are.  No one is exempt from the dictates of the Commandments.  God’s plan for morality applies to everyone, everywhere.

No normal male would choose to enter a seminary, or join a diocese, or religious order if he discovered a strong homosexual dimension there.  This is a self-inflicted wound brought about by the officials of a diocese or religious order.  These are barriers to good potential candidates that various officials of a diocese or religious order have chosen to allow.

What is to be done with unchaste homosexual priests?  They are human beings, and have their God-given dignity, which all must respect.  They also have freewill and intelligence, and they are fully responsible for their choices and deeds.  If they refuse to accept chastity and the discipline of celibacy, which accompanies the priesthood and religious life, then they should be required to resign their active priesthood.  Their on-going scandalous behavior makes them unsuitable and ineligible as functioning priests.  The same standard applies to unchaste heterosexual clergymen.

If an unchaste priest is willing to actively pursue the virtue of self-possession, self-mastery, self-discipline and chastity, then he should enter a well-supervised program of growth in the virtues, such as COURAGE.  If he is unable to cope with this, then he too must be required to leave the active ministry. 

The priesthood is not a sanctuary of refuge for the unchaste homosexual, or heterosexual, or bi-sexual individual.  The priesthood exists to serve the people of God as Jesus designed it to be.  The priest actsin persona Christi capitis.  If a man is unwilling, or unable, to accept the duties and responsibilities of the priesthood, then he is unsuited and incapable of serving the people of God in the capacity of an ordained priest.

If a cleric is unchaste, then he has no credibility as a moral guide or as a spiritual leader.  In addition, he will almost invariably refuse to address these moral issues from the pulpit, and will actively discourage other priests from doing so.  This is another huge blockage to the proclamation of God’s plan for marriage, spousal love and family.  This is both shocking and scandalous.

The dioceses in this country that have a generous number of seminarians are those who love Christ and faithfully strive to keep his Commandments.  The dioceses that suffer from great shortages of priests and religious are often characterized by a homosexual culture, or by a culture that openly dissents from Church teaching on morality.  All of us are called to ongoing conversion.  All of us are called to evaluate our situation accurately and truthfully, and then take the necessary measures to correct any abnormalities and deviations from God’s moral code.

The virtue of chastity applies to everyone: singles, the married (no contraception or sterilization), widows and widowers, heterosexuals, bisexuals and homosexuals.  There are no exceptions.  Our bodies have a nuptial meaning.  By means of our bodies, we are able to make the total personal gift of ourselves to others.  We do this in a chaste manner, as becomes our vocation in life.  We respect the total dignity of other persons. 

This excludes such acts as fornication, adultery, masturbation and sodomy.  The spousal act is reserved to spouses who have committed themselves to each other in an irrevocable bond of marriage, which is totally faithful and open to the goodness of life.  Only in marriage does the spousal act express and accomplish what it was designed to express and accomplish.

As God designed it, the spousal act belongs only to a husband and wife irrevocably committed to each other, open to both the goodness of love and to the goodness of life.  Sex outside of marriage is always conditioned, always with reservations, and withholds something from making the total personal gift of self.   We are never to use another person as the object of our pleasure.

Unchaste clergy are making a serious error of judgment of their own status before God.  They are blaming their duplicitous condition on “outmoded Church teaching” or “Church discipline” rather than looking directly at Divine Revelation to see how their status appears in the eyes of God.  I cannot judge them.  However, for their sake and the sake of God’s Church, I will remind them of God’s judgment, which of course applies to me and to all of us. 

I begin with “Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully, has already committed adultery with her in his heart…And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna” (Matthew 5:27-30). 

 The context of these admonitions is chastity.  The passage from Matthew is a clear reference to the sin of masturbation.  What else can it be?  Shoplifting?  It could, and in fact does, apply also to shoplifting, but shoplifting is totally out of context, and so shoplifting is not the main focus.  Does it apply to manual rude gestures?  Smoking? Punching someone in the face? 

Again, it could, and in fact does, apply to any manual compulsive behavior that is grave enough to lead to condemnation.  Masturbation has to be at the top of the list because the context is chastity.  Also, masturbation is in essence a “prayer” to be unchaste, leads to more and more unchaste behavior, resulting in a host of societal disorders and therefore is gravely immoral. 

So, the standard set by our Lord Jesus Christ is clear.  This is not “Church discipline.”  This is the standard of chastity, based on the sixth Commandment, by which we will all be judged.  This is the standard of obedience versus disobedience.

 What will happen to the disobedient?  “…but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him”  (John 3:36). 

What will happen to the unchaste?  “But as for cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of every sort, their lot is the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Rev 21:8).  This is God’s judgment – not just Roman Catholic teaching, interpretation, Magisterial pronouncement, or Church discipline, or culture.

 The standards that the unfortunate unchaste clergy have set for themselves, the majority admitting to masturbation and various types of intermittent sexual encounters, would not be chaste, even if they were married.  Everyone can empathize with their struggles.  However, repentance and change must come quickly, before they die or else the outcome for them at Judgment Day is unlikely to be a happy one.

In the meantime, how can they be credible moral guides for their people?  They cannot. They should humbly recognize that they cannot and take appropriate action – repent or resign.

The self-discipline that the virtue of chastity requires is a good thing.  It forces us to come into the possession of self, and gain mastery over our sex drive.  It forces us to acquire will power, self-control over our passions.  The virtue of chastity forces us to remove ourselves from the center of the universe, and find our proper place in the human community. 

The struggle to gain mastery over our sex drives forces us to choose God’s plan for us as bodied persons in preference to satisfying our desire for instant gratification.  Every man, woman and child must go through the process of acquiring the virtue of chastity.  There are no exceptions.  Our human maturity, integral fulfillment and ultimately our salvation depend upon it.

[The August 2011 issue of THE LINACRE QUARTERLY (Journal of the Catholic Medical Association) has many fine articles on the theme:  Responding to the Abuse Crisis.]