You can always count on Commonweal for theological humor. This time in relation to the recent Vatican document on seminarians concerning homosexuality. Now there is no surprise that they are not exactly thrilled with the document. At least though they were inventive and came up against a new excuse. Now the document is a – wait for it – a sin against hope.
Many things can be said about the Vatican’s Instruction on gay candidates for the priesthood. Here I want to argue that it is a failure against hope. It indulges, at least materially, in one of the two cardinal sins against hope, presumption. Aquinas, in the Summa Theologiae, wrote of this sin that “one thinks one has…greater knowledge…than one has.” Jesuit philosopher William Lynch noted that hope “keeps reality open and keeps declaring that not all the facts are in.” In at least two places, the Instruction engages in presumption.
First, this is the only Vatican document on homosexuality in recent decades that does not allude, in any respect, to the possibility that we have more to learn about homosexuality. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says of homosexuality that “its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained.” The source of this acknowledgment is surely the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s request that theologians “deepen…their reflections on the true meaning of human sexuality,” and, as a result, “make an important contribution in this particular area of pastoral care,” a request expressed in its 1986 letter to Catholic bishops on The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.
This criticism seems to me to be especially silly. The document from Congregation for Catholic Education references seminary admissions and is not suppose to be an all inclusive document on homosexuality. Besides considering the admission of those with "deep seated homosexual tendencies" to the priesthood does it really matter what the underlying "psychological genesis" is or that we need to learn more on the subject? Alcoholism is suppose to have a component of genetic disposition. But would a seminary care if an alcoholic was predisposed to alcoholism at birth or had developed the problem through free will? Root causes are important to learn about, but they don’t matter when it comes to determining a suitability of a candidate for any profession much less a vocation to the priesthood.
It is also interesting what they left out in the context of the quote they used from the CDF’s letter.
They are encouraged to call on the assistance of all Catholic theologians who, by teaching what the Church teaches, and by deepening their reflections on the true meaning of human sexuality and Christian marriage with the virtues it engenders, will make an important contribution in this particular area of pastoral care
Commonweal isn’t much for "teaching what the Church teaches" and the fact that human sexuality should only be expressed within marriage. His statement that this is the only document in recent decades not alluding the possibility of learning more about homosexuality is also wrong. The Vatican’s document on same-sex marriage does not in any way address root causes or talk about learning more about homosexuality. Just like the recent document it is strait forward in addressing just the topic it brings up.
Furthermore, why would anyone seeking to foster hope, especially in a homosexual person, trust the Vatican on this? To do so might even lead to what Aquinas calls the other cardinal sin against hope, despair. Of that sin Aquinas wrote: “one who despairs judges…that for him, in that state, on account of some particular disposition, there is no hope of the divine mercy.” I am not saying that I fully understand homosexuality, but I am saying that the Instruction’s bald assertions might rob some homosexual persons of hope.
Despair of what? Not being a seminarian? Is the theoretical virtue of hope dependent on seminary admission. Well I guess women also should then despair since they have no hope of ever entering a seminary. In fact I am dispairing with no hope of ever entering a seminary. Just because I am married and have no vocation to the priesthood why should that bar me?
Mainly though what annoys me about these articles is their underlying dishonesty. One of the authors of this article, William McDonough, constantly speaks on "gay and lesbian" issues including supporting same-sex marriage. In these articles even though they will selectively quote from the Catechism and Church document they don’t accept what the Church truly teaches. That the homosexual inclination is “objectively disordered”and homosexual practices are “sins gravely contrary to chastity.” The fact is that they have a problem with the document is because they think that no homosexual regardless of whether they are chaste or not should be barred from the seminary. We are suppose to accept an honest critiques when the underlying theological assumptions they make are severely mistaken. Garbage in – garbage out. It would be much more honest if they would just come out and say they don’t support what the Church teaches instead of playing theological footsies. More any more we hear stores of priest "coming out" and then announcing they have been chaste. But you never hear them clearly elucidate what the Church teaches. They almost never call their own inclination objectively disordered and instead tie their very identity to their disorder. It is time for writers in dissident rags like Commonweal to come out of the theological closet and write what they truly believe instead of constantly skirting around the issues while taking potshots at the Vatican.