Catholic blogger Gerald Augustinus of Closed Cafeteria links to this ABC story about Fred Dailey, 59, a Catholic priest in Utica, New York, who had been scheduled to head a Catholic Relief Services mission in Lesotho:

"On July 18, Daley was suddenly withdrawn from his mission to Lesotho by its organizers, Catholic Relief Services.

"He says the reason: He is gay.

" ‘This whole situation is surrounding homophobia,’ Daley said to ABC News.

"Daley has publicly acknowledged his homosexuality since 2004, but he maintains his vow of celibacy.

"Daley has also been an outspoken advocate for homosexual rights, appearing on ABC’s ‘Nightline’ with Cynthia McFadden in November 2005.

"Michael Wiest, CRS chief executive officer, and Dave Piriano, a CRS vice president, said that it was not Daley’s sexuality that had prompted their organization to take him off the mission.

"They said that what had concerned them was that Daley was a public advocate of gay rights."

Gerald comments:

"It’s correct¯it’s not that he’s gay, because as a celibate man it doesn’t matter one way or the other¯it’s that he doesn’t shut up about it. That’s exactly what the Vatican meant. Straight priests don’t run around telling folks how they’re into women."

I admit that I was of two minds last year when the Vatican announced in November that young men "with homosexual tendencies" should be barred from seminaries, even if they are celibate. It wasn’t that I agreed with this snarky article in the UK’s Spectator by Damian Thompson, editor of Britain’s Catholic Herald (the URL for the article no longer works, and I had to get the money quote from Amy Welborn ):

"In addition to being Europe’s smallest state, the Vatican also boasts the highest proportion of homosexuals per square foot. To be sure, they are overwhelmingly chaste, but that is precisely the point. . . . And there are ritualist Catholic churches all over the Western world whose priests are mostly celibate homosexuals. . . .

"It goes without saying that any formal exclusion of celibate gay seminarians will shock liberal public opinion; but, for once, the shock will be justified. An automatic ban of this sort is built on the assumption that bishops and seminary rectors lack the God-given power of discernment, and that gay seminarians and priests will be unable to observe their vows of celibacy. . . . "

Unlike Thompson, I don’t mourn the impending loss to the Church of lacy prelates at "ritualist churches" (in Vatican City or elsewhere) curling their pinky fingers and going goo-goo over this or that to-die-for arrangement of Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli . But I do think that in a vocation where all are called to celibacy, all should be given a chance to abide by celibacy. I’m writing my doctoral dissertation in part about Aelred of Rievaulx, the twelfth-century Yorkshire Cistercian abbot and writer of astonishingly beautiful spiritual treatises. Because Aelred wrote a treatise advocating "spiritual friendship"¯a human bond that could foster a bonding with Christ¯he has lately become a patron saint for gay activists (here he is in icon form presiding over Integrity ¯a gay and lesbian Episcopalian group¯and bearing a striking resemblance to Mychal Judge).

Now, I don’t know whether Aelred was gay or not¯mostly because the concept of defining oneself in terms of sexual orientation was unknown to medieval people¯but I’ve always thought: So what if he was (or would be, by modern standards)? Aelred was a master of sublimation. In his most famous work, "On Spiritual Friendship," he urged friends to direct their feelings toward each other in a mutually supported quest for union with God, for it was God, not each other, on whom they were to focus their desires. It’s actually too bad that contemporary gays don’t take Aelred as seriously as they say they do¯for the last thing Aelred meant by "spiritual friendship" was gay sex. In another of his treatises, addressed to the sister he idealized, he expressed loathing and remorse for the fleshly sins of his youth and advocated absolute chastity.

Many gays nowadays talk about their sexual identity as a "gift from God." Well, if that’s so¯and it may well be so¯Aelred showed the way for making proper use of that gift: turning the heightened sensitivity and artistic sensibility that often accompanies it into ecstatic, prayerful prose that burned with love for Christ and his mother. If all gay priests were like Aelred, I wouldn’t have the smallest quarrel with them.

Fr. Daley, however, set a different example. Decked out in a rainbow stole at a rainbow-decorated altar in a 2002 Mass for gays, lesbians, and¯as is obligatory nowadays¯the bisexual and the transgendered, Daley went on and on about "homophobia," assured his congregation that he wouldn’t tell them "what to do in their bedrooms," and condemned theologians who had the temerity to "use the Bible" as authority for deeming homosexual acts sinful. I don’t think that’s what Aelred had in mind in "Spiritual Friendship." And if that’s what’s meant these days by being a gay priest or a gay seminarian, the Vatican is well-advised to bar gays from priestly formation. I wish Fr. Daley weren’t the template for the contemporary homosexual priesthood¯but I may be wishing in vain.

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