Bishop says Vatican document is ‘timely and necessary’

Editor’s note: On Nov. 29, Bishop Robert J. Baker released the following statement in response to the Vatican document on the issue of homosexuality and the ordination of priests.

The document released today by the Holy See, entitled “Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with Regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in View of Their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders,” is both timely and necessary. It reiterates the constant teaching of the Catholic Church through the ages and reinforces teachings given in my recent Pastoral Letter, entitled “The Redemption of Our Bodies.”

We wish to underline at the outset the pastoral concern of the Church to the people discussed in this instruction and the importance of extending to them understanding and friendship. As the Church has compassion upon all people, it sees the person suffering from same-sex attraction no less than anyone else as a child of God.

“We, as a Christian community, should reach out to those suffering from a homoerotic inclination so that they may be surrounded by the love of friendship. Those who suffer from a homosexual orientation should not be abandoned to loneliness or despair” (“The Redemption of Our Bodies”).

We live in an age where confusion over the nature of marriage and misunderstandings of one’s own sexual orientation have led to an over-sexualization of our culture. The preoccupation with sex viewed as the supreme vehicle to obtain personal fulfillment exists alongside an unfortunate devaluation of the dignity of the human person that sees the other as merely an object for self-gratification.

The Catholic Church believes in a complementarity of women and men, both physically and spiritually, that is essential to being truly human. We believe that the giving of oneself in nuptial love reflects the inner life of the Trinity. This truly human giving of oneself in intimate sexual union is at once free, total, and permanent, excluding gratification as a mere self-centered, sterile, and ultimately depersonalized act. This self-giving, which is the product of the divine Love of the One in whose image both male and female are created, engenders a fidelity that is spousal in nature and scope. So great is this gift that celibacy is a fitting way of life that truly mirrors the dignity and beauty of the heterosexual married state.

Therefore, in a sense, all human beings are meant to be spouses — either in a lifelong chaste relationship with another, committed to his/her good as husband and wife, or in celibate dignity. Parenting, the living of maternity and paternity, is a part of each adult human life, whether physically or spiritually.

Consequently, it is precisely this complete gift of self and spiritual fatherhood that is required of a priest to serve the Church. The celibate priest expresses his sexuality, not through denial, but through spiritual paternity, living his life as a committed father of his flock, and as one ‘married’ to the Church. He is called to relate in an emotionally mature way to his flock as father and to his bride, the Church, as his spouse with generosity, compassion, and fidelity. He is called to live and unequivocally teach the truths which God has entrusted to His Church. That commitment necessarily excludes living or promoting a way of life that by its very nature opposes the gift of chastity.

The Instruction recognizes the reality of these demands on a faithful priest. A candidate for priestly ordination must be capable of displaying affective maturity in his dealings with all people — men, women, and children. The commitment to chastity becomes the vehicle that provides freedom for that self-giving. That self-giving is provocative of spiritual paternity. A man who acts upon or suffers from deeply rooted same-sex attractions or supports the “gay” subculture is simply not in a position to fulfill these requirements, even though he may be able to perform other priestly functions well. Chastity is at the heart of the Christian understanding of humanity.

This Instruction indicates that if such tendencies reflect only a transitory problem, such as an incomplete adolescence, they must be overcome at least three years before a candidate’s ordination to the diaconate, at which point the man becomes a cleric. The issue of chastity must be clearly resolved well before a man becomes a member of the clergy.

Finally, a point of a very sensitive nature is the responsibility of the Church to protect the children entrusted to Her care. The lessons of the past few years in regard to priestly sexual abuse are still fresh in many minds. The John Jay Study, the largest and most comprehensive study ever commissioned on the scope of sexual abuse of minors, revealed that 81 percent of the cases of priestly sexual abuse were acts of homosexual abuse. This data may not be simply swept aside.

The chaste integration of one’s sexuality, even for heterosexuals, is essential prior to one’s being considered a candidate for the priesthood.

Jesus Christ is still calling many men today to serve him as Catholic priests. It is my profound hope that this Instruction and the screening and formation processes that flow from it will provide an impetus and an aid for those men to respond to the gift of His Grace to serve Him faithfully and fully as Catholic priests.

The expectations of this Instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education are normative in recruitment for candidates for the priesthood throughout the world. The Diocese of Charleston will faithfully implement these expectations.