At the Vatican, Exceptions Make the Rule

An interesting take on the Vatican through the lens of Italian law.

Although this is a difficult point for many Anglo-Saxons to grasp, when the Vatican makes statements like “no gays in the priesthood,” it doesn’t actually mean “no gays in the priesthood.” It means, “As a general rule, this is not a good idea, but we all know there will be exceptions.”

Understanding this distinction requires an appreciation of Italian concepts of law, which hold sway throughout the thought world of the Vatican. The law, according to such thinking, expresses an ideal. It describes a perfect state of affairs from which many people will inevitably fall short. This view is far removed from the typical Anglo-Saxon approach, which expects the law to dictate what people actually do.

(…)

Catholic cultures are based on the passionate quest for spiritual perfection, Dawson writes, unlike the “bourgeois” culture of the United States, which, shaped by Protestantism and based on practical reason, gives priority to economic concerns. As one senior Vatican official put it to me some time ago, “Law describes the way things would work if men were angels.”

This value system means that while Vatican officials often project a stern moral image on the public stage, in intimate settings they can be strikingly patient and understanding. Policymakers in the Vatican tend not to get as worked up as many Americans by the large numbers of Catholics in the developed world who flout church regulations on birth control, for example. It’s not that Vatican officials don’t believe in the regulations. Rather, they believe the very nature of an ideal is that many people will fail to realize it.

Of course, one can debate whether a ban on birth control, or on gays in seminaries, ought to be the ideal. The point is that although Vatican officials will never say so out loud, few actually expect those rules to be upheld in all cases.

We’ll see how this pans out when it comes to gay men in the church.

Amy Wellborn tosses in her non-sensical two cents as well:

Why is it considered unfair to expect priests and seminarians to live by the values of the institution they serve? Others may call it a purge, but I call it truth in advertising.

A seminary has a dual responsibility. It owes the future priest preparation for a life of sacrifice, unique witness and engagement with other human beings at moments of joy and pain in a society that has no respect for his vocation.

But a seminary also owes us, the people in the pews, psychologically mature priests who aren’t engaged in an eternal and ego-driven struggle with their own problems, who are prepared to serve, to teach and preach – with integrity and honesty.

But… I thought the whole Catholic view was that “gay is ok — unless you act on it”? Your average gay semarian isn’t acting on it any more than a straight one is. Where’s the false advertising? Where’s the lack of service and sacrifice? Perhaps this is what the previous author was talking about when he referenced American’s Protestant-based bourgy view on laws and rules.

At least Amy does us all a favor by being truthful — she views gays as psychologically immature egomaniacs who lack integriy and honesty.

p.s. I do love serving as your latest hobby, but I think it’s time to move on, pal.

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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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31 Responses

  1. Dan
    Dan September 30, 2005 at 10:36 am |

    Amy Welborn was not addressing the alleged policy concerning admission of gays to the seminaries (I say “alleged” because, to my knowledge, the policy being discussed has not in fact been adopted by the Vatican). Rather Amy Welborn’s piece concerns the visitiations that are presently occurring in U.S. Seminaries. Her point was that the guidelines for those visitations were 11 pages long and included only one or two questions concerning homosexuality — the vast majority of the 11 page document focuses on other issues. Amy Welborn has been critical of those who say celibate gays who embrace orthodoxy should be excluded from the priesthood.

  2. Dan
    Dan September 30, 2005 at 10:45 am |

    Also, the issue is not simly whether gays “act on it” but the ideology they adhere to and preach. The Church has highly developed teachings on sexuality and these teachings are very definitely inconsistent with notions of sexuality that are embraced by gay culture and, for that matter, very large segments of modern culture generally. To the extent the visitations concern teachings on sexuality (they concern many other things as well, which is Amy Welborn’s point), they are designed to ensure that the those teachings are not be corrupted.

  3. piny
    piny September 30, 2005 at 11:19 am |

    Also, the issue is not simly whether gays “act on it” but the ideology they adhere to and preach.

    It is homophobic and inaccurate to say that gay seminarians are less likely to adhere to and agree with Church teachings on chastity. Their committment to celibacy should not be under more scrutiny because of their orientation.

  4. Dan
    Dan September 30, 2005 at 11:36 am |

    I didn’t say that gay seminarians are less likely to adhere to and agree with Church teachings on chastity (I don’t know one way or the other whether it’s true; it probably depends on what time period you’re talking about — in the 1970s it was undoubtedly true but it may not be any longer given the effect of the JPII generation). It is the New York Times and assorted other liberals who have focused everything on the issue of homosexuality. Amy Welborn’s whole point is that the visitations are not focused on the issue of homosexuality but rather concern a wide range of issues.

  5. other Ryan
    other Ryan September 30, 2005 at 11:40 am |

    Blah blah blah you hate gay people. Be honest and stop wasting your time attempting some kind of reasonable justification for your bigotry.

  6. Dan
    Dan September 30, 2005 at 11:43 am |

    Piny, how do you know it’s inaccurate to say that “gay seminarians are less likely to adhere to and agree with Church teachings on chastity”? Have you done, are you aware of, some sort of poll of seminarians on this issue? In any event I certainly hope that you are right.

  7. other Ryan
    other Ryan September 30, 2005 at 11:49 am |

    Piny, how do you know it’s inaccurate to say

    How do you know it’s accurate, Dan?

  8. Dan
    Dan September 30, 2005 at 11:55 am |

    As I said, I don’t.

  9. piny
    piny September 30, 2005 at 12:11 pm |

    Then why is it a proper rationale for visitations, Dan?

  10. Dan
    Dan September 30, 2005 at 12:24 pm |

    Who said it was? The 11 page document doesn’t say anything about whether gays are more or less likely to adhere to Church teachings. You’re the one who injected this issue into this discussion.

  11. piny
    piny September 30, 2005 at 12:33 pm |

    When you read through the set of questions to be asked of all seminary administrators, faculty and students – the Instrumentum Laboris – you find that there is exactly one question on that issue: “Is there evidence of homosexuality?”

    Along with the resurrection of warnings against “particular friendships,” that makes two sentences in a document that is 11 pages long and covers a lot of territory: What are the seminary’s standards for admission? Is the seminary’s spiritual life vibrant and rooted in Catholic tradition? Are seminarians capable of intellectual dialogue with contemporary society?

    It mentions homosexuality in the context of a personality trait with the potential to render one unfit for the priesthood. This could only be logical if you accept the premise that gays are less likely to adhere to and agree with Church teachings–less likely, in other words, to be fit for the priesthood. Homosexuality is placed on a level with admission by low standards and an inability to intellectually engage questions of faith. Wellborn defends this inclusion of homosexuality by saying that gay people are more likely to be spiritually and morally influenced in ways detrimental to a vocation:

    The same goes for the presence in seminaries of gay subcultures that draw their identity from secular values rather than the Catholic moral vision.

  12. Dan
    Dan September 30, 2005 at 12:45 pm |

    Now you’re inventing yet additional things. Nowhere in the text that you quoted is there any mention of “homosexuality in the context of a personality trait” (whatever that means). You similarly misquote Amy Welborn when you claim she says that “gay people are more likely to be spiritually and morally influenced in ways detrimental to a vocation.” She says no such thing in the text you quote (or, to my knowledge, elsewhere).

  13. piny
    piny September 30, 2005 at 1:05 pm |

    Homosexuality is one of the things they monitor and screen for when they look for whether or not seminarians are fit to be priests. That only makes sense if homosexuality is something that makes you more likely to be unfit for the priesthood–unless, of course, you’re arguing that it’s a positive qualification. It’s why there’s no mention in there of, say, a history of track and field competition or a love of canned peaches. They’re not considered relevant to the question of whether someone might or might not make a good priest. Homosexuality is, because the Church is homophobic.

    The same goes for the presence in seminaries of gay subcultures that draw their identity from secular values rather than the Catholic moral vision.

    She does say that it is reasonable to see homosexuality as potentially detrimental to a vocation. Who would belong to these “gay subcultures,” she believes exist, gay or heterosexual seminarians? Do you think she’s arguing that cultures that “draw their identity from secular values rather than the Catholic moral mission” are good influences on aspiring priests, or that they will make them more fit for the priesthood? She’s arguing that gay seminarians are less likely to be fit priests, and more likely to be influenced by dangerous, anti-Catholic ideas.

  14. Dan
    Dan September 30, 2005 at 1:24 pm |

    The fact of the matter is that there are gay subcultures that reflect an ideology that is antithetical to Church teachings. If all the homosexual seminarians in a given seminary embraced the Church’s teachings and whole heartedly rejected “gay rights,” you would not see from these seminarians “evidence of homosexuality.” If you do see such evidence, that is a red flag. Accordingly, it is entirely appropriate for the visitations to look for it.

  15. piny
    piny September 30, 2005 at 2:01 pm |

    Oh, so we’ve conceded a plurality of gay cultures now. That, at least, is a step in the right direction.

    “Evidence of homosexuality” refers to an orientation, not any interest in any particular subculture. I know that it’s more convenient to pretend that homosexuality is cultural, but that’s not true. Even the Church recognizes that a celibate homosexual is still, well, queer.

    There are also straight subcultures that reflect an ideology antithetical to Church teachings–they are more numerous among young men: fraternities, to take just one example. Nor, I would imagine, do all straight seminarians wholeheartedly embrace the Church’s teachings on chastity even though they may be willing to accept those strictures for their own lives for the sake of their vocations. Should we therefore interrogate anyone’s insistence that they are not homosexual?

  16. piny
    piny September 30, 2005 at 2:04 pm |

    The fact of the matter is that there are gay subcultures that reflect an ideology that is antithetical to Church teachings. If all the homosexual seminarians in a given seminary embraced the Church’s teachings and whole heartedly rejected “gay rights,” you would not see from these seminarians “evidence of homosexuality.” If you do see such evidence, that is a red flag. Accordingly, it is entirely appropriate for the visitations to look for it.

    Also, you just conceded my point and switched to a different argument. You agree, in other words, that the visitations do screen for homosexuality, and they do believe that homosexuals are more likely to be unfit for the priesthood.

  17. Robert
    Robert September 30, 2005 at 2:41 pm |

    You agree, in other words, that the visitations do screen for homosexuality, and they do believe that homosexuals are more likely to be unfit for the priesthood.

    I’ll concede that, although they’re looking for cultures of homosexual behavior, not just gayness. It is a reasonable interpretation of Church teaching on sexual morality that homosexual men, per se, are less fit (though not automatically disqualified) for priesthood. Priesthood involves the sanctification of a man’s spiritual fatherhood in the service of the church; that fatherhood is presumed to be damaged or impaired by homosexuality, although not necessarily irreparably or irredeemably. (There’s a fairly wide grey area.)

    Should we therefore interrogate anyone’s insistence that they are not homosexual?

    Who’s this “we”? You a bishop?

    How exactly is this any of your business, by the way?

  18. piny
    piny September 30, 2005 at 2:56 pm |

    Is Dan? I sincerely hope not. How is it intrusive to comment on whether or not the Church’s policies are homophobic?

  19. piny
    piny September 30, 2005 at 2:58 pm |

    Especially given that the Church’s policies on what is and is not immoral conduct for priests clearly affect people other than seminarians? Like, say, any children I might choose to send to a Catholic school? Or all of the relatives and friends who were educated at parochial schools, several of whom served as altar boys?

  20. Robert
    Robert September 30, 2005 at 3:04 pm |

    It’s not intrusive. I’m simply commenting that your tone seems rather personally outraged; “how dare they do this to MY seminaries!” Perhaps I’m misreading you. If so, my apologies.

    The Church’s policies affect lots of things and lots of people. However, the Church is not a democracy, and even if it was, there wouldn’t be votes for outsiders. (My understanding from seeing previous comments of yours in other threads and other places is that you are not a practicing Catholic. If I have this wrong, then again, apologies.)

  21. Dan
    Dan September 30, 2005 at 3:09 pm |

    Piny writes: “Also, you just conceded my point and switched to a different argument. You agree, in other words, that the visitations do screen for homosexuality, and they do believe that homosexuals are more likely to be unfit for the priesthood.” I do not concede any of your points (I have no reason to as they have no support in reason or logic) and I do not agree with you say I agree to, as phrased by you. You constantly resort to rephrasing what people actually say (me, what is written in the visitation guidelines, what Amy Welborn wrote, etc.) so as to say something different and then attacking what they haven’t said. I’ve said what I’ve said, and if you can’t understand it repeating it is not going to help.

  22. piny
    piny September 30, 2005 at 3:17 pm |

    It’s not intrusive. I’m simply commenting that your tone seems rather personally outraged; “how dare they do this to MY seminaries!” Perhaps I’m misreading you. If so, my apologies.

    Of course I’m outraged. I’m not in the Army, either, but I’m still pissed off about DADT. It’s unjust, and to the extent there’s a planned crackdown, it’s not going to solve the greater injustice that I’m also personally outraged about.

    I do not concede any of your points (I have no reason to as they have no support in reason or logic) and I do not agree with you say I agree to, as phrased by you. You constantly resort to rephrasing what people actually say (me, what is written in the visitation guidelines, what Amy Welborn wrote, etc.) so as to say something different and then attacking what they haven’t said. I’ve said what I’ve said, and if you can’t understand it repeating it is not going to help.

    I understand you perfectly. This is what you’re saying. Gay people are more likely to belong to gay subcultures. Gay subcultures–most of them, anyway–have values contrary to the Church’s teachings on sexuality. People who have been unduly influenced by those values–gay men–are less likely to be fit for the priesthood. People who have not–straight men–are in no such danger. Therefore, gay men are less likely to be fit for the priesthood. Therefore, it is perfectly sensible and not at all homophobic for the Church to interrogate gay seminarians and screen for homosexuality as an indicator of unfitness to take holy orders. Of course, all homosexuals won’t be booted–they’re just going to be under a great deal of extra suspicion.

  23. Dan
    Dan September 30, 2005 at 3:34 pm |

    I call you to task for attributing things to me that I did not say and you respond by doing it again. You say that I am saying “Gay people are more likely to belong to gay subcultures.” Where did I say this? This is simply not part of my argument nor is it part of Amy Welborn’s point nor is it stated or implied in the visitation guidelines (I know you argue it’s implied but the argument has no factual basis).

  24. piny
    piny September 30, 2005 at 4:20 pm |

    You say that I am saying “Gay people are more likely to belong to gay subcultures.” Where did I say this? This is simply not part of my argument nor is it part of Amy Welborn’s point nor is it stated or implied in the visitation guidelines (I know you argue it’s implied but the argument has no factual basis).

    Oh, come on.

    You refer to these entities called “gay subcultures.” That would seem to imply that they’re predominantly focused on and maintained by gay people. If not, why bring them up at all in connection with extra scrutiny on gay seminarians? Do you mean to say that straight seminarians should be under equal scrutiny for allegiance to these pernicious gay subcultures? Did you not mean to make any connection between “subcultures that reflect an ideology that is antithetical to Church teachings” and the modifier “gay” (maybe that was a typo?), or between “gay subcultures” and gay people?

  25. Dan
    Dan September 30, 2005 at 4:43 pm |

    That all or nearly all people in gay subcultures that advocate “gay rights” are homosexual does not mean that most homosexuals are in such subcultures. I do not know how many homosexuals advocate some form of “gay rights” ideology.

  26. piny
    piny September 30, 2005 at 5:03 pm |

    Then why did you bring them up–in two separate threads, now–in connection with the Church’s decision to screen for homosexuality? If it isn’t fair to generalize from gay to gay subculture, why did you keep insisting that gay subculture exists? And again, you have here admitted that homosexuals need to be placed under greater suspicion and that it is a good idea to screen for homosexuality when deciding who is and is not fit for the priesthood.

  27. piny
    piny September 30, 2005 at 5:11 pm |

    And your admitted–and conceded!–lack of knowledge of how many gay men belong to the eeeeevil gay culture you refer to didn’t stop you from making generalizations about mores and behavior last week:

    Is it not true that gay culture promotes extremely permissive attitudes toward sex? Is it impossible that gay culture is in some ways disordered sexually? The average gay male has over 1,000 partners in his life. A culture that includes sexual activity at that level is clearly inconsistent with the culture that the Church seeks to promote. It should thus not be shocking or scandalous to anyone that the Church seeks to root out gay culture.

    Either “gay culture” is a useful tool to determine the behavior and ideologies of gay people as a group, or it’s not. Either gays will tend to belong to it and agree with it, or no such general statement can be made. If the latter is true–which you seem to be saying–then there’s no point subjecting gay seminarians to greater scrutiny when determining the validity of their vocations. No point but prejudice, that is.

  28. Dan
    Dan September 30, 2005 at 5:13 pm |

    I don’t see why you would assume that gay subculture can’t exist simply because not all gays are part of it. I have never said what you claim I have “admitted” (yet again you are attributing to me things I haven’t said and then attacking what I did not say). All I can say at this point is reread what I’ve read. Have a good weekend.

  29. piny
    piny September 30, 2005 at 5:57 pm |

    I didn’t say that you can’t believe that gay subculture exists and believe that it’s an important factor in evaluating the behavior and mores of gays in general. I said that you can’t believe that gay subculture isn’t an important factor in the lives of gays in general and also believe that it’s an important factor in evaluating the behavior and mores of gays in general. In other words, if you don’t agree that it’s sensible to generalize about “gay culture,” you cannot generalize about the values and cultural circumstances of gay people. So if you don’t want to generalize about gay culture, there’s no basis for greater general scrutiny of gay people.

  30. The Raving Atheist
    The Raving Atheist October 1, 2005 at 12:46 pm |

    I do love serving as your latest hobby, but I think it’s time to move on, pal.

    Tell Amanda to unban me from her comments section and I’ll find a new hobby.

    I don’t see how you’re my hobby any more than you’re the hobby of any of your frequent commentors, or any of the many other blogs that have linked to you on multiple occasions. Pandagon seems to have at least 50 posts mentioning you; are you her hobby too? Or, for that matter, is Dawn Eden her hobby? I’ve done over 30 posts on the Volokh Conspiracy, over a dozen each on Dean Esmay, Clubbeaux, and there are countless religious blogs which have each received at least a half-dozen post treatments from me. If you’re my hobby, I have a lot of hobbies.
    I think what make you say you’re my hobby is that I disagree with you, much as bloggers who label the commenters who disagree with them as “trolls.”

    The problem is that the sole focus of my blog is religion and occasionally abortion, turf on which you frequently tread. Also, like Volokh, Den Beste and Esmay, you’re an atheist/agnostic who preaches an odd form of religious “tolerance” which never bothers to explain why we should accord respect to Wizard of Oz-like fantasies which we would never tolerate in the political sphere. And then you insist on re-writing the crazy religious rules in some haphazard fashion, i.e., celibacy good, exclusion of women tolerable, exclusion of gays bad. The Catholic Church probably thinks that it’s your hobby.

    That being said, I will leave you in peace. As soon as you explain why Constance Baker Motley wasn’t a sexist pig.

  31. Lynn Gazis-Sax
    Lynn Gazis-Sax October 1, 2005 at 12:57 pm |

    Half of me doesn’t want to go near this comments thread, but since I may be one of the few people here who regularly reads both Amy’s blog and Feministe, I feel obliged to put in my two cents.

    Amy is, in fact, one of the more gay friendly folks among conservative Catholic bloggers. By that I mean that she’s defended the show Six Feet Under, started threads asking how Catholic teaching can be defended to someone who has never felt more “ordered” than when coming out as gay, has criticized sharply the “at least it was a woman” response when a Catholic priest scandal turns out to be heterosexual, and that, unlike some of her commenters, she doesn’t reduce the sex abuse scandal to homosexuality and dissent. She’s a long time critic of bishops of whatever theological stripe, when they shelter those who abuse kids (one of the main reasons I started reading her blog was for its coverage of the abuse scandals), and she’s questioned celibacy on her blog in the past (taking some flack from readers for doing so).

    None of this means that she’ll be joining Dignity any time soon. Or that Jill, if fully informed of all of Amy’s views, would necessarily be all that keen on her. I suspect that Jill would, if she spent time in Amy’s comments threads, find people a lot like those she finds on Dawn Eden’s blog, and be just as weirded out as she is in Dawn Eden’s comments. That Amy’s about as pro-life as you can get, while Jill is about as pro-choice as you can get. That Jill would be rolling her eyes, at best, as she saw Amy dissing Planned Parenthood, etc.

    Amy’s first post, on her blog, on the seminary visitation, is here: http://amywelborn.typepad.com/openbook/2005/09/ready_to_rumble.html. Money quote: “But should the man who struggles with same-sex attraction and seeks to live chastely, who buys the whole package of Catholic moral teaching, be put into that category? Absolutely not. To me, that’s insane, and truth be told, it’s not that difficult to tell the difference. And if you think that your list of favorite, orthodox priests through the ages doesn’t include at least one who’s struggled with same-sex attraction, you’re mistaken, and I’ll bet you real money. Not that we can prove it, of course.” She’s saying this among a bunch of people some of whom don’t think it’s insane at all to bar even those who have been chaste for years, and who buy all the Catholic Church teaching about homosexuality, if they’re predominantly gay in orientation. But she also expresses the view that “the self-identified political gay man shouldn’t be in seminary,” and, over the course of various posts about the seminary visitation, she generally concludes that the Church probably won’t do the “insane” thing, that they probably will clean up seminaries in the way they should be cleaned up, etc. At which point she gets the opportunity to write the piece for the NY Times, and there you have the whole history of Amy’s views on the seminary visitation, as I know them, and can now feel free to evaluate them as you like.

    As for me, I’m now out of this thread. I’ve expressed my views on the seminary visitation abundantly on my own blog (here, for example: http://notfrisco2.com/leones/?p=1360), and don’t really need to go on about it here (other than, as always, I’m still Christian, and still thinking making out gay people to be uebersinners is wrong).

    Oh, John Allen, the guy who wrote the first piece Jill links, for anyone who doesn’t know, is the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter (http://www.natcath.com), and has a very interesting weeky column there.

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