Saturday 25 October 2014

Carol Hunt: The 'intrinsically disordered' label has to be tackled

The EU has decried homophobic laws in Russia. It could start looking closer to home too, writes Carol Hunt

Published 19/01/2014 | 02:30

Out and proud: Stefan Luecke and Karl Heinz Schroeder, both from Germany, share a kiss at St Peter’s Square in Vatican City. Photo: Frank Mc Grath

'I do not feel as if I am intrinsically disordered as my church will have me believe. That phrase is insensitive, offensive and deeply hurtful to me as I'm sure it is to others like me . . ."

These are the words of a currently serving, Irish diocesan priest (Today with Sean O'Rourke on RTE Radio One last Wednesday.) We didn't hear them from his own mouth, though. As reporter Brian O'Connell explained, this priest lived in so much fear of exposure that he insisted an actor read the words he had sent. He explained why: "As we [gay priests] are not free to speak out I live in constant fear of being found out or being outed."

Recently human rights activists have been -- rightfully -- appalled at the increase in homophobic laws. Just this week the European Parliament passed a motion calling for change to discriminatory policies in Uganda, Nigeria, India and Russia -- where Vladimir Putin has promised gay visitors to the Sochi Winter Olympics they will have nothing to fear in Russia, but warned them to "leave children alone" as he defended a controversial ban on promoting homosexuality to juveniles.

They may well have looked closer to home. Since Mary McAleese made her comments about the Catholic Church being in denial because "a very large number of priests are gay", there's been quite a lot of -- sometimes fractious -- discussion about the nature of the Catholic Church's views on homosexuality.

Is the church innately homophobic or is it a case of the liberal media being only too delighted to have yet another opportunity to criticise? Are there really so many "gay priests" and if so, why?

On the Sean O'Rourke show, Father Bernard Lynch from Ennis -- a Catholic priest (expelled) and psychotherapist who currently lives in London with his husband --told Brian O'Connell that he believes the rate of homosexuals in the priesthood is now disproportionately high; he believes it to be at least 30-40 per cent in Ireland. Lynch has long protested the church's unequal treatment of both women and homosexuals. However attitudes toward them differ; women, though they are not viewed as "intrinsically disordered", are not allowed an equal status to men in the church. Gay men though, can become priests despite their "disorder" as long as they remain celibate.

Or can they?

Pope Benedict, in his 2011 book Light of the World, gave an unequivocal "no" as the answer.

He reminded us that: "The Congregation for Education issued a decision a few years ago to the effect that homosexual candidates cannot become priests because their sexual orientation estranges them from the proper sense of paternity . . ." What Benedict means is that the very fact of a man being homosexual should preclude him from a priestly vocation -- it's irrelevant whether he acts on his sexual impulses or not. "Homosexuality is incompatible with the priestly vocation," said Benedict . . . Otherwise celibacy itself would lose its meaning as a renunciation."

What Benedict wanted to avoid was a church where "celibacy became a sort of a pretext for bringing people into the priesthood who don't want to get married anyway".

Which is, of course, exactly what has happened through the ages. Let's have a look back at the last century in Ireland. Post-Famine Ireland was an economic basket case. Primogeniture (eldest inherits the land) had been reintroduced and increasingly large numbers of men and women had not the means to marry. If you weren't the eldest, you only had a couple of other options open to you -- emigration or joining the church being two of them. The Catholic Church, at this period (post-Emancipation) was transforming itself into a dynamic property owning middle class organisation, with an increasingly strict Victorian sexual moral code.

Thousands of Irish men and women were sent into seminaries and nunneries at very young ages, many of them completely unsuited to a life of celibacy. But for those who were gay it was a God-send -- if you'll excuse the term. In a country where homosexuality was illegal, it meant that they could stay within their communities and remain respectable, even to themselves; they didn't stand out as men who had no interest in marrying women.

But once the economic situation improved and marriage rates started to soar again -- the compulsory celibacy required of Catholic priests proving a problem for many -- the number of gay men within the priesthood started to become more noticeable. This hasn't just occurred in Ireland but seems to be happening worldwide. Recently we have heard tales of a powerful "gay lobby" in the Vatican, seminaries called "Pink Palaces" and estimates that up to 60 per cent of all Catholic priests are gay; including many bishops and even some cardinals.

Pope Francis's response to these allegations? In an impromptu press conference, he said: "So much has been written about the 'gay lobby'. I still haven't run into anyone in the Vatican who has shown me an identity card with 'gay' on it."

Well, he wouldn't, would he? Not when one considers what his predecessor had to say about homosexuals. However, Francis surprised many when he said: "When God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person."

And, of course, this is most definitely the "Christian" thing to do. But if that's the case, then church teaching on homosexuality must change. It needs to ditch the outdated hypothesis that sex is only useful for procreation, and that homosexuality is somehow a deviant human choice unknown among animals.

In particular the phrase "intrinsically disordered" has to be removed. As noted earlier, many people find this phrase deeply offensive and hurtful -- but are they misinterpreting it?

Some have argued that this phrase does not carry the hatred attributed to it; that the "disorder" of homosexuality is somehow akin to that of sins like lying and gluttony. I find this argument disingenuous (tomorrow I may diet or tell the truth but a homosexual person is, by definition, a homosexual) particularly the assumption that the practice of homosexuality is, in itself, a sin.

Sins, when exposed, are generally punished -- the severity of penance fitting the crime. The acceptance of homosexuality as a sin -- and a grave sin at that -- is why countries like Russia, Uganda and Nigeria can implement their horrific laws against LGBTI people with a cloak of moral righteousness.

To describe a person's sexual orientation as "intrinsically disordered" is not to, in the words of Pope Francis, "consider the person" but rather to demonise them for what they are -- which is not heterosexual. Is that what homophobia looks like? You tell me . . .

Irish Independent

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