On November 29, 2005, the Congregation for Catholic Education in Rome released an instruction concerning the admission of men with homosexual tendencies to seminaries. Barring men “who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called gay culture,” the instruction was immediately subjected to endless commentary about what it means by “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”
Gradually, the questions shifted to what the document means by “affective maturity”—but there are other important theological issues raised by the instruction that have yet to receive the attention they merit. One is an issue of moral theology. The second is a concern of theological anthropology or the “theology of the body.” The third is an issue in the theology of orders. And the last concerns marriage.
Within the instruction, “deep-seated tendencies” are contrasted with “homosexual tendencies” that are “only the expression of a transitory problem—for example, that of an adolescence not yet superseded.” So, deep-seated tendencies are relatively permanent, not transitory. Deep-seated tendencies are not some developmental glitch that one grows out of or past, as it were. They are “seated” deeply in the person, and are not so much a passing product of environment or situation but something the person brings with him to every situation and environment. The instruction is saying that the bare presence of such “deep-seated tendencies” is reason enough to bar a candidate from the seminary. It is not what the person makes of such tendencies but the fact of the tendencies themselves that, according to the instruction, is a problem.
Some—even several in the American hierarchy—suggest that the instruction is concerned not with the tendencies but with the place the person gives them in his own sense of himself, his personal identity. This interpretation understands the instruction to mean that the problem is not the presence of homosexual tendencies but one’s self-definition. Those men who have deep-rooted tendencies cannot be called by the Church to priesthood because their self-identification revolves around being gay. In this way, the problem of “deep-seated tendencies” is moved toward what the instruction identifies as “the so-called gay culture”—for the adherents of which, typically, a homosexual orientation is indeed taken to define a person and to be the most important fact about themselves. And it is said that part of the problem with such a self-definition is that it may lead to homosexual activity.
Some who subscribe to this interpretation have even gone so far as to identify or equate the problems of homosexual and heterosexual candidates. They argue that, if a man’s heterosexual orientation dominates his self-definition and personality and therefore makes him unable to live the celibate life, then he, like the man with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies, would be disqualified from ordination as well. In these ways, the category of possessing “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” is moved to the other categories of being homosexually active or of engaging in gay culture. At the same time, the psychologies of heterosexual and homosexual men are put on par with each other, suggesting that they face the same prospects with the same chances for affective maturity.
Now, it may be that deep-seated tendencies turn out to be uncontrolled or uncontrollable. But “deep-seated” does not mean “uncontrolled or uncontrollable.” Nor does it mean “desires I have chosen or allowed to be central or predominating in my sense of identity.” The instruction is speaking of desires that are not situational or transitory (as perhaps in adolescence, in the case envisioned by the instruction). Some American seminaries may find attractive the notion that the problem is “self-definition,” because it would not require them to do anything different from what they are doing now. Even now, no seminary enrolls men who are actively homosexual or who live a gay life-style. This sort of interpretation, in fact, would make the instruction completely unnecessary, and all could say, as several have done, that all the instruction demands of us is that we carry on as usual.
As for the psychosexual parity of heterosexual and homosexual men, a standard American Catholic seminary practice is indeed to suppose, with the American Psychiatric Association, that a man can possess affective maturity, of which psychosexual maturity is part, while at the same time having deep-seated homosexual tendencies.
The instruction, however, supposes no such thing. For the instruction, an affectively mature man may once have had homosexual tendencies; but if so, they were transitory and he has grown—to maturity—out of them. Affective maturity is thus a more foundational issue than parsing “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.” If we paraphrase and speak of “tendencies that won’t go away,” then the real difference is whether such tendencies all by themselves are compatible with affective maturity or not. Those for whom the problem is self-definition think they are; the instruction thinks they are not. This is clear enough, really, from the letter of the document. It is also clear from the comments of Cardinal Grocholewski, the prefect of the congregation that issued the instruction.
This important psychological issue, however, is intimately and ineluctably related to a matter of moral theology. Affective maturity requires the consolidation of a man’s passions and emotions into stable patterns that are congruent with and cooperate with moral virtue. So, a heterosexual man who has reached affective maturity and is ready for orders is serenely chaste, and the stable pattern of his passions and emotions does not spontaneously and precipitously bring him to the brink of immoral action: He not only wants to be chaste but his sexual desires and emotional responses are chastened—disciplined, schooled—and therefore ordinate; they cooperate with his moral decision to be chaste, whether as a married man or as a celibate.
Affective maturity does not prohibit affections, of course; it means having good affections—ordinate and well-tempered affections. A man of deep-seated homosexual tendencies can certainly attain to chastity, refraining from all sexual behavior that is intrinsically disordered. He can be chaste, in that his sexual desires and tendencies are not unruly in the sense of regularly bringing him to the brink of immoral sexual activity. He may be chaste to the extent that his sexual desires do not preoccupy him. Nonetheless, if homosexual activity itself is always intrinsically immoral, and homosexual tendencies are therefore always objectively disordered because they incline to what is always intrinsically immoral, then it makes good sense to say that his sexual affections, as such, are not good. They do not bear on the feminine, which is the target of mature male psychosexual desire. And therefore, since they are deep seated, they prevent “affective maturity,” which means, if it means anything, having good desires rightly ordered.
In fact, if a man of deep-seated homosexual tendencies can be affectively mature, then it cannot be said that homosexual tendencies are objectively disordered. And, obversely, if homosexual tendencies are objectively disordered, then no man with deep-seated homosexual desires can ever be affectively mature. In this light, it is hard to see how such a position that understands the problem to be one of self-definition can be in line with the 1986 Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Further, if homosexual tendencies are not objectively disordered, then there can be nothing intrinsically disordered about their satisfaction—and therefore one could not agree with the 1975 Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Nor could one agree with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Those who make self-definition the problem may not have expressly denied the teaching about either homosexual tendencies or homosexual acts, but they cannot consistently assert this teaching and at the same time read the instruction as they want and take affective maturity in the way they wish to understand it.
Also at stake in the faulty reading of the instruction is theological anthropology—attached to what the instruction calls the “spiritual paternity” the priest is supposed to exercise. Affective maturity requires a disciplining of sexual desire and affection, and the priesthood requires a kind of sublimation or redirection of a man’s natural sexual orientation to the service of the Church, the spouse of Christ, and to spiritual paternity in bringing forth children of God from the laver of baptism. In this, the heterosexual man does not have to suspend or abstract from what would be his felt and conscious choice of “sexual object” were he sexually active. The celibate priest has renounced something that nonetheless, on a different plane, the symbolic and ecclesial, finds expression; he has embraced something—the Bride of Christ, the Church—that is in harmony with what he has renounced.
The instruction indicates this framework for understanding its teaching in its very first section. For affective maturity, it directs its readers to Pastores Dabo Vobis. But for “spiritual fatherhood,” the instruction sends us to the 1994 Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests from the Congregation for the Clergy, and this document in turn sends us to the paragraph on celibacy in Presbyterorum Ordinis, the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests of the Second Vatican Council. Through celibacy, the council teaches, priests “more expeditiously minister to his Kingdom and the work of heavenly regeneration, and thus they are better fitted to accept paternity in Christ more widely.” The text also puts celibacy in the context of the nuptial relation of Christ and the Church. Priestly celibacy in the service of Christ and the Church is therefore properly that of a man, a male—it is an exercise of “paternity.” The priest’s maleness, his sexuality, his sexual psychology, is a part of his conformation to Christ.
In priestly celibacy there is a form of life in which the meaning of sexual difference for self-gift—nuptiality—is lived and in which the specific finality of sexuality in fruitfulness is preserved. In this, the priest is configured to Christ. Because of celibacy, moreover, which makes the gift of self to the Church total, there is even greater configuration to Christ, as John Paul II pointed out in Pastores Dabo Vobis. But this realization of nuptial self-gift occurs in its characteristically masculine form. The theologian Sara Butler has noted the priority of the love of God relative to our love, the initiative that characterizes the love of Christ and the love of God and that makes their figuration as masculine appropriate: “This priority in loving can be compared to a masculine mode of loving, of self-donation,” she writes, “when considered in light of the ‘nuptial meaning of the body’ and the active role of the husband in the marital embrace.” Feminine and masculine modes of loving are coordinate; they complement and evoke one another, but they are distinct.
Presbyterorum Ordinis therefore envisages a seamless integration of the psychosexual and affective with the sacramental and spiritual. The priest renounces ordinary paternity, but he gives himself to spiritual paternity. He renounces something good, and something to which he is by nature directed, and something for which he may have felt a conscious desire. And yet, in its own way and at its own level, spiritual paternity expresses the truth of the body. All is harmonious, and there is no discord between one’s own identity, affectivity, and sexuality—and the representation of Christ as bridegroom the bride of the Church.
There is thus a sort of “affective” conformation to Christ that priestly mission and life calls for. Ordination, to be sure, effects a conformation to Christ at a sacramental level, making the priest an instrument of Christ. But just as there is a prior conformation to Christ required of the candidate at the level of the body, at the level of the moral virtues, and at the level of charity, so also at the affective level. It is, therefore, not merely that the man of deeply seated homosexual tendencies cannot be affectively mature but also that his affective immaturity, since it fails of masculine maturity, prevents him, at that level, from conformation to Christ. Claiming that a man with deep-seated homosexual tendencies is an apt candidate to exercise spiritual paternity means emptying it of any meaning specific to maleness.
If we are going to ordain men of deep-seated homosexual tendencies to the priesthood, we will have to excise from spiritual fatherhood anything that connects it to actual sexual desire, sexual differentiation, and bodiliness. For the same reason that there is nothing to prevent a child in a modern family from having “two daddies” or “two mommies,” there will be nothing to prevent a homosexual man from exercising spiritual fatherhood. But then, it will be hard to see why it is that only men can be ordained to the priesthood, contrary to the universal practice of the Church as confirmed by Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. If a priest does not have to be psychologically masculine, why should a priest be somatically male? It will follow as well that there can be no significance to the manhood of Jesus of Nazareth. In the end, we will have to practice a studied ignorance of all paternity, even that of the Father of Lights, from whom every fatherhood takes its name.
Marriage, too, must be among the casualties of the neglect of the natural order of desires and affections that ignoring the plain sense of the instruction implies. The relation of Christ and the Church is the great sacrament of which the relation of husband and wife in Christ is the little sacrament. If the manhood of Christ is theologically insignificant, then sexual differentiation must be immaterial to the little sacrament as well. It cannot become irrelevant for one without becoming irrelevant for the other. If spiritual paternity is whatever we want it to be, then marriage—with is own paternity and maternity—is whatever we want it to be, too. We land squarely in the postmodern sensibility about matters sexual and marital.
There are serious implications to the attempt by some commentators to interpret the recent instruction as being concerned primarily with self-definition. There are implications for the morality of homosexual acts. There are implications for the psycho-physico-spiritual unity of man. There are implications for the theology of orders. And there are implications for marriage, as well. All these implications are contrary to the established, universal, and constant teaching and practice of the Church.
Guy Mansini, O.S.B., teaches systematic theology at St. Meinrad Seminary in St. Meinrad, Indiana. Lawrence J. Welch teaches systematic theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.