Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Gay Priest Factor

Jcecil over at Liberal Catholic News has spent a lot of time over the last week writing about the rumors that the Vatican will issue a document directing that gay men not be admitted to seminaries. (In case you're wondering why I read a blog called Liberal Catholic News, I'd say this is probably the most well thought-out and generally calm blog out there from the "progressive" side of the theological spectrum, though he's got rather worked up over this question of banning gays from the seminaries, and so I try to keep up with what he says on the theory that it's important to know the best arguments that you opponents have, and he generally is going to have the strongest case of anyone with his viewpoint.)

One of his points that he made a number of times was that he believed that aprox. 70% of priests are gay, and so this would decimate vocations. His basis for this is two-fold, first having been in formation for six years with the TORs a number of years ago and found many of the seminarians and instructors to be gay, and second a demographic argument that went like this:

If there are 1.1 billion Roman Catholics world-wide, and a mere one percent of the general population is homosexually oriented enough to define themselves as exclusively gay in orientation, there are approximately 11 million gay Catholics world-wide.

This is an extremely conservative estimate.

Of this 11 million, which includes males and females, let's assume that a mere ten percent of them decided to take the Church's teaching seriously to try as best they can to live chastely and in celibacy. That would be 1,100,000.

Let's assume roughly half are men, and we're down to 550,000 chaste and celibate gay men world-wide.

Let's assume half again decided that the best way to live celibately is enter priesthood where there would be access to sacraments, structured prayer, spiritual direction and some degree of respect for the choice not to marry. That's 275,000 chaste celibate men entering priesthood.

There are only 397,000 priests in the world according to the most recent Vatican statistics. The 275,000 would be 69 percent of the total priestly population.

Well, as you know, I'm always up for a demographic explanation for something, but this one just doesn't smell right to me. The key to the whole thing is that out of the 550 million Catholic men in the world (assuming that 50% of Catholics are men) there are only 397,000 priests. That works out to 0.08% of men being priests: one man out of 1250. That's just such a small number, that accounting for it out any almost any statistical segment of the population is easy. Think of it this way, out of 1250 men, assuming that this is a statistically perfect sample, you will have:

13-50 gay men (1-4%, depending on what stats you use)

263 divorced men (21% of Catholic men have been divorced)

3-8 asexual men (0.5-1% of people express no desire for intercourse, but 60+ percent of those are women)

131 men who still have never married by age 40-49 (10.5% of men 40-49 have never married, though some of those are probably gay or asexual)

163 left handed men (13% of people are left landed)

38 widowers (3% of men in the US are widowers)

And one priest.

So while almost anyone would agree that there are more men suffering from same sex attraction in the priesthood than in the general population, when it's sucha tiny percentage of the male population that we're playing with "well, what if 10% of X group went into the priesthood" will always work, and thus means nothing.

Clearly, Jcecil's experiences with the priesthood lead him to believe that a larger number of priests are gay. My own would suggest that only a very small number are. (I've known a dozen priests moderately well in my life, and never had any reason to believe any of them were homosexually inclined. Nor is the one person I know who's entered the priesthood nor the two seminarians I currently know.) Personal experiences will, however, by their nature vary.

In the end, I have two major quarrels with JCecil's thinking here:

1) I know I'm increasingly in the minority in the modern world with this, but I have issues with the "gay" and "straight" labels. Part of this is my classics background. Through most of history, people haven't looked on people as being "gay" or "straight" or "bi" but rather at what mix of people they have sex with and how. Even in supposedly "gay-friendly" cultures such as Classical Greece, men did not tend to be exclusively homosexual. Rather, love affairs with other men were seen as more intellectual and spiritual affairs (since women weren't given much credit for intellectual ability) while one had sex with a women to either bear children or just have a good time. And then there were times and places (say the Spartan army or the British navy) where women were just plain scarce and so men filled in with what was available: other men. That's why Church teaching addresses homosexual acts rather than homosexual orientation. And although it's clear that some people are, for whatever reason, primarily interested in having intercourse with their own sex, I think that this focus on action and general dismissal of inclination is the right way to go. Despite modern society's insistence in finding a source of identity in one's primary area of sexual desires, I suspect that in reality it's much sketchier than most people nowadays imagine.

2) From a religious angle, my problem with this whole line of thinking is that it seems to ignore the role of sacrifice in celibacy. St. Paul didn't urge his correspondents to be celibate because they had no better options. He urged them to do so specifically in order to give up this world's goods to focus on that which is beyond this world. So saying, "If you're going to insist on gays being celibate and also on having a celibate priesthood, then you should expect most of your priests to be gay" seems to a great extent to mean as well: "because straights honestly have something better to do than waste their lives being celibate for God."

Societies have at certain times in history willingly sent 10% or more of their young men off to die for their countries. You would think that if we truly preached the priesthood and its nature and importance we could get 0.08% or even 0.1% of our young men to agree to be celibate for their faith. It shouldn't be a matter of what you have to lose, but a matter of what you have to gain.


Anonymous said...

Nice points.
I'd have to say that out of the 300 or more men I've known during my 4 years of seminary, I could only say that one or two were maybe possibly gay. Even that was a loose guess. whatever the guy's personal experience in the seminary was, I sure didn't have it.
I hope the darwin family and me nieces are doing just fine.

Darwin said...

Thanks for the inside info, Will. I thought was must be the case, but it seems kind of weird to call up the seminarians you know and say: Hey, how many of the guys there are gay?

Anonymous said...

Although I do not know as many seminarians as Will, many of my college friends did enter seminary, some of which have now entered the priesthood. Knowing them, many of them were most certainly attracted to women. Others, I would guess were attacted to women, but didn't necessarily date etc... Now mind you, this is also at a public university where many of us had rather worldly upbringings. I can't recall any of these 20 guys ever having homosexual inclinations.

I would think (possibly wrongly) that this is more of a "problem" of the past. In our culture today, homosexuality is more accepted, so I would surmise that gay men would not necessarily seek refuge in the priesthood.

Taking your religious angle a bit farther, sexual orientation may play a larger role than previously thought. Think of this in the context of the Theology of the Body, whereas the marital act points to the Eucharistic reality at Mass. (Pardon my jumblings... It's in those Christopher West tapes.) Christ is the bridegroom, the Church His bride, and the Eucharist His self-giving to us (think wedding banquet of the Lamb). Enter the priest... He acts in persona Christi when he offers Mass.

I know I'm not the most eloquent writer when it comes to advanced theology, but there is a connection there that I remember from the "Naked Without Shame" series. It's something worth pondering...