Saturday, December 4, 2010

Donatism Alert: Pope Benedict's Back on the Banning-Gay-Priests Bandwagon

     The big  news last week was that, in his new book, Pope Benedict said condom use to prevent HIV-infection is okay for male prostitutes.  The scientific world responded with a resounding, "It's about time.  But it's not enough."

     But there's much more to the book, in which Pope Ratzinger's bigotry shines through, like a sunbeam splitting the clouds and illuminating a dove flying over a pair of hands locked in prayer.   

     Once again, Ben's promoting his "theology" of celibacy and priesthood, which claims celibate gay men are so intrinsically disordered that they can't properly image Jesus and should therefore not be ordained.  

     What he is saying is that the priesthood must consist of men who have renounced the love of women, not those for whom it has never been a major temptation:
     "Sexuality has an intrinsic meaning and direction, which is not homosexual...The meaning and direction of sexuality is to bring about the union of man and woman.  And, in this way, to give humanity posterity, children, a future. This is the determination internal to the essence of sexuality. Everything else is against sexuality's intrinsic meaning and direction ... Homosexuality is incompatible with the priestly vocation.  Otherwise, celibacy itself would lose its meaning as a renunciation. It would be extremely dangerous if celibacy became a sort of pretext for bringing people into the priesthood who don't want to get married anyway."
     This is ironic in view of the widely held view that he himself is not a man for the ladies (as a gay catholic once said to me). It's also obviously unworkable. But his reasoning is interesting, for it shows that he understands one of the problems that compulsory celibacy has brought to the church in the West. As it became less and less common for men not to marry – and perhaps this was a result of increasing prosperity as much as anything else – the church was one of the few professions in which a gay man could remain "respectable", even to himself.
     Furthermore, Ben's viewpoint, if promulgated, will create a dilemma of Donatist proportions: Are gay priests who have already been ordained validly ordained?  If not, what does that mean about all the sacraments that they performed?  Does that mean my child wasn't really baptized?  Have I only been eating bread and wine all these years and not Jesus' body and blood?  Are my confessed sins really forgiven?  Is my marriage invalid?  Are my children bastards?  Am I going to hell?

     No need to worry, conservative Catholics.  That line of thinking is Donatism; a heresy. (Had you lived in the fourth century and believed that sinful priests' sacraments were invalid and did not confer your god's grace, you would have been excommunicated or put to death.)  

     A priest, who lives in a state of mortal sin, will someday leave the priesthood, or is later found to have an invalid or illicit ordination, still performs valid sacraments.  Why?  Because the Catholic god provides, where sinful gay priests (like me) failed.

     Confused?  I'll try to clarify Ben's anti-gay and anti-Donatist logic with a few "hypothetical" situations. 

     1.  A heterosexual priest hears the confessions of his nine-year-old students.  Unbeknownst to the children's parents and (maybe) teachers, the priest has been feeding the children more than Christ's body for the past two years.  Even though the priest is raping these children, the sacraments of Confession and Eucharist that he performs for the children still shower them with god's grace and love, because the priest, in spite of his moral failure to stop using the children for his sexual gratification, is still a vessel of god by virtue of his ordination.  To believe that that abusive priest's sacraments fail to confer grace upon the children he's raping is Donatism.

     2.  A gay priest, who has never had sex (this includes with children), retires at age 73 after forty-eight years of faithful ministry.  If Pope Benedict's anti-gay-ordination theology is promulgated, this closeted and celibate gay priest's ordination could be invalidated.  All of the sacraments performed by this gay priest would remain valid.  But, after a lifetime of sacrifice and service, this priest is thrown out, because being gay is just so evil.

     That's the logic of Pope Benedict.