Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI: Pope Benedict, why
isn’t celibacy enough?
By R. John Kinkel, VOTF Michigan
[R. John Kinkel, a former priest, teaches sociology at
Baker College in Michigan and is the author of Chaos
in the Catholic Church (Xlibris, 2005). The commentary
below is reprinted with permission from the Los Angeles
THE CATHOLIC Church seems to be unraveling at an astonishing
rate. The latest threat to its future comes next week,
when the Vatican’s Congregation on Catholic Education officially
begins scapegoating gay priests — believed to make up 30%
or more of the U.S. Catholic clergy — for its sex abuse
That’s when the Vatican has said it will issue regulations
banning men who are actively homosexual or have “deep-seated
homosexual tendencies” from the priesthood. Catholic seminarians — priests
in training — who say they are gay will be ordained, under
the new rules, only if they have not had sex with another
man for four years.
As a former priest who left the church to marry and raise
a family, I am sadly sympathetic to gay priests who may
quit rather than put up with these absurd and unenforceable
homophobic requirements for ordination.
Isn’t it enough that the church insists on a celibacy
vow? Must it now also insist — for gays only — on celibacy
even before entering the priesthood?
The greatest challenge to the Catholic Church is not
gay priests, it’s the Catholic Church. The record is consistently
dismal. In the late 1960s, the Vatican ignored reality
and banned birth control. Droves left the church. In the
1970s and ‘80s, heterosexual priests like myself who wanted
families and had hoped for a change in the rules on celibacy
were told to pack up and find work elsewhere. We did, some
The result has been a dire shortage of priests and a
big increase in the percentage of priests who are gay,
a function of mathematics and social trends.
Now the Vatican has cooked up this brilliant idea: exclude
homosexuals from the priesthood. According to media reports,
the new directive will give gays a chance of being ordained
if they have “overcome” their homosexual tendencies for
four years before becoming priests. If a priest’s “disorder” is
deemed to be “transient” and he forswears gay culture and
behavior, he could be cleared for ordination — the “it
was only a phase” provision.
It’s not completely clear yet how the new rules will
be implemented and administered. But how does one prove
that something didn’t happen, or that one didn’t have impure
thoughts? This new policy may well be the tipping point
in the church’s long and painful decline in the U.S. The
many ordained priests who are gay will feel pressure to
leave the church or, more likely, go further underground.
Others will be falsely suspected or accused. Many sincere
aspirants to the priesthood will be discouraged from pursuing
a clerical career by the prospect of such an unpleasant
and intrusive ordeal.
What’s wrong with being a gay priest? If you’re celibate,
as the Catholic Church already requires you to be, then
what’s the difference if you’re gay or straight at heart?
Perhaps most important, we should ask why this policy
is directed only at homosexual priests. Yes, most of the
sex abuse cases documented in the church scandal involved
incidents between priests and boys. But I’ve read some
of the grand jury documents and have been struck by the
fact that many priests abused young schoolgirls as well.
Yet this new instruction from the Vatican seems to give
a free pass to heterosexuals who have been sexually active.
The only rational response is to reflect on how insane
church leaders have become. In the last several decades
they have failed miserably whenever they have been asked
to solve problems and move the faithful on to greater commitment.
They have consistently insulted married couples with the
birth control issue, ignored the legitimate aspirations
of priests and women, and now seek a new role as sex police.
I hope that gay priests and their gay bishops will choose
not to run or hide but instead, as some suggest, call a
strike, a work stoppage. The American Catholic clergy needs
to send a strong message to Pope Benedict: Tear down this
wall of prejudice! Catholic clergy everywhere should declare
the new regulations dead on arrival at every seminary and
diocese. It may be the last chance the church has to save
itself from becoming completely irrelevant.