Thursday, December 08, 2005

Is all intercourse sexual? A thought or two about the Vatican on gay priests

In the recent hullaballoo about the admittance of gays to Catholic seminaries, there is one particular part of the Vatican's new policy that I find particularly striking.

As reported by the Catholic News Service, "the document [states] that the Church, while deeply respecting homosexuals, [quoting the document itself] 'cannot admit to seminaries and holy orders those who practice homosexuality, who present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or who support the so-called gay culture. The above-mentioned persons find themselves, in fact, in a situation that seriously obstructs correct relations with men and women.'"

Now, of course, there are questions about how deeply you can respect a group of people that you think cannot correctly relate with members of either sex. Is the Church's respect for homosexuals then something like the kind of respect we usually feel for those who cannot correctly relate to others, i.e., those with various affective disorders, and thus a mixture of pity and incomprehension? In other words, it appears that there could be no real respect here at all.

And there are some interesting issues that arise from the fact that the document makes exceptions for those for whom homosexual tendencies are only fleeting, while previous Church documents and the most recent Catechism of the Catholic Church have declared that homosexualiy, rather than being a fleeting state is intrinsic (albeit, an intrinsic disorder). Who are these would-be priests who just experimented on their way to the seminary?

What is most striking though is the statement that "the above-mentioned persons find themselves, in fact, in a situation that seriously obstructs correct relations with men and women." Note that these people are not just those who practice homosexuality, nor those who support the so-called gay culture (whatever that may be), but all of those with deep-seated "tendencies". What this is essentially saying, then, is that homosexuals are so ill-formed in terms of their minds, affections and, one wants to say, souls, that they cannot form any proper relationships with any other human beings. This is an amazingly strong statement. What is even more amazing though, is the principle from which this must be drawn.

If I, being a homosexual, cannot thus have any appropriate or correct relations with any men or women, then this must be because all relationships are at their very base sexual. It seems unlikely that this would be because all relationships are for me, qua homosexual, sexual, since after all, there is nothing particularly sexual in my relationships with women. Instead, it must be that all human relationships are essentially sexual.

If this is the case, then Freud has been vindicated (by of all institutions, the Church of Rome). But note, that this means that we must either dilute the notion of a sexual relationship to the point where a relationship is sexual only if there is some notice of the sex of the people involved, in which case there is nothing to the notion; or, we must really believe that all relationships including those one has with his grandparents, his children, people in line at the grocery store are somehow colored by whether or not the others involved with them are of the sex to which he is attracted. It appears that this document of the Church is opting for the latter. And, while to say this is not a refutation of the Church's position, I, for one, will state that this is exceedingly creepy. I'm pretty sure--and I am at least above-average on the self-reflection scale--that I sometimes relate to human beings both of the sex to which I am sexually attracted and to the sex to which I am not sexually attracted in a wholly non-sexual way.

Moreover, if all relationships are, at base, sexual ones, then it would appear that the least plausibly correct human state would be that in which one tries to remove himself from this sex-infused human condition, viz., celibacy. The Church simply cannot have it both ways on this count. Either it's sex all the way down, or one can remove himself from seeing all human beings as falling within or outside of the class of the sexually interesting.

There is another option. The Church might be saying that homosexuals relate to other humans as if they themselves were of the opposite sex. I.e., it might be that gay men relate as if they were women. Perhaps this is the sense in which the relationships are not correct. But this is just still to say that all human relationships are couched in terms of sexual attraction or possible sexual attraction or conceivable sexual attraction. (It's hard to know quite how to put this so that somehow people Donald Rumsfeld or Benedict XVI still fall within the ambit of possible sexual attraction for me--these are good cases of people to whom, though they be male, I feel no sexual attraction and so to whom I think I do not relate sexually--yet the Church seems to be saying that I relate to them in terms of my sexual tendencies or orientation.)

There might be good reasons for keeping practicing gays out of the priesthood, but that's just to say that celibacy is a rule for all priests. If there's a good reason to keep celibate gays out of the priesthood, it cannot be the reason that the Vatican has seen fit to put forward. The reason given is confused in its very conception.