Sunday, December 18, 2005

Well Done Father Bob

On January 15th Father Bob Pierson will be resigning as the chaplain at St. John's University, aka The Closest Place to Heaven on Earth (and not coincidentally where I went to college). As many of you may know, in addition to being home to college football's winningest coach ever, is the birth place of both Big Yellow Ball and Vincent Ball. Each of which rank among the pantheon of greatest sports in all existence. Basically, they're exactly the type of sports you'd expect would have been created at The Closest Place to Heaven on Earth.

Father Bob is resigning in protest to the Vatician's recently-issued rule prohibiting homosexuals from entering the priesthood. Protest may be too strong a word. Here's how Father Bob put it: "Because I can no longer honestly represent, explain and defend the church's teaching on homosexuality, I feel I must resign." Regardless, the teaching is pushing Father Bob to move from his current post, and in all likelihood to one within the monastery involving significantly less ministry.

I want to take this chance to applaud Father Bob's actions, and to wish him all the best in future. I didn't know him well, but I certainly relied upon his services in the campus ministry department, attended both Mass and Confession with him, and generally found him to be an engaging and capable priest.

For the record, Father Bob is himself a homosexual. He disagrees that being homosexual is in any way relevant to the priestly duties, and I must say that I concur.

What I do find relevant to the priestly duties is whether or not the priest is celibate. Apparently Father Bob agrees, because in his comments he made it clear that regardless of his homosexuality he remains celibate. Again, I applaud Father Bob, because I think with this comment he draws attention to exactly the point at which the Vatican rule becomes incoherent (and for the record it was really only a clarification, not a strict rule or an Encyclical or anything with any extreme officiality).

Though I am usually a staunch defender of Vatican teaching, I feel there are certainly questions to be raised in response to what they've issued here. The teaching is basically that those with "deep seated homosexual tendencies" should not enter the priesthood (those already in the priesthood are apparently grandfathered in).

I think the problem with this teaching is that there is no concrete reason given that homosexuals are any less called to the priesthood, unable to perform the sacraments, or somehow provide unsatisfactory service to the Church. So long as they remain celibate, the call of all in the priestly vocation, there doesn't seem to be a relevant difference between heterosexuals and homosexuals. After all, the Church itself teaches that homosexuality can certainly be a "birthed" condition (as opposed to a chosen condition). They also teach that being homosexual is not sinful and that only acting on it is a sin. So why, if priests are not acting on their sexual nature, should homosexuals be treated any differently than heterosexuals?

My impression is that the Church, in issuing this ruling, was guided by a certain fallacy of logic which befalls many; it seems to me that the Church confused action and identity. I think that by saying, "those with deep seated homosexual tendencies cannot be priests," the Church meant something active. A less active statement may have been something to the effect of, "those who by their nature are homosexual cannot be priests." This later statement is of course not what the Church said, and I think it's important to note that they didn't use a stronger phrase than the one that they actually did. I mean, they basically said "if you're gay you can't go into the priesthood", but they didn't actually say that, so we've got to give them a little bit of leeway.

But more or less, I think they've come up with a flaw in their thinking. That flaw is that they didn't really stop to ask the question "what does it mean to 'be homosexual'?" Instead of recognizing that people can be homosexual without acting on that, they used a premise more along the lines of "what does it mean to be homosexual if you aren't a practicing homosexual?"

This type of thinking would explain why they say those with "transitory homosexual inclinations which have been overcome" can be priests, and at the same time draw the line at "deep seated tendencies". What's the difference between the two? A transitory inclination is something which isn't acted on. But if you have tendencies then you're more likely than not to act on them. This is probably a weak distinction, and I think the Church needs to immediately revist their take on this issue, but it isn't completely incoherent. However, it's also far from perfect thinking, and I'd guess that conflating action with identity is probably the type of fallacy in reason that led to the position they put forth.

What I think really interesting is that I've seen this same fallacious reasoning applied in opposition to the Church's position that being gay isn't sinful but acting on it is. People who oppose this line of thinking often question whether or not you can "be" homosexual without acting on it. They say that by telling homosexuals their natural inclinations are towards sinful acts they are essentially condemning the condition itself. Basically, the thinking is that you can't divorce the action from the person.

And now it looks to me like the Church made the same mistake when they put out this rule. And that's truly unfortunate because it does a huge disservice to the Church. It hurts the Church's identity when they stake themselves to weak reasoning. It hurts the believers in the pews who rely on all of the faithful servants God has called to the priesthood. And it hurts the men like Father Bob, who truly love their faith, remain celibate in devotion to their vocation, and want nothing more than serve their God.

Not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken


Emily said...

The Closest Place to Heaven on Earth--I love it!

Gina said...

American pie.

finally i know a song.

emnovak said...

Way to comment on the actual post....Matt, you need to call me asap. And it's good to see a thoughtful post again. With none of those "when you die" type of questions. I agree, it's stupid. This teaching denies many people the opportunity 1) to enter the priesthood and 2) to have excellent priests who may be homosexual but can still do God's will on earth.

Lady said...

woot for matt and his posts
i defered a "fallen" catholic to it
i think it will help him beaucoup, but matt it doesn't mean i think you are always right and your word is the end all be all-- that's you who thinks that...