THE GAY PRIEST
When we were young, being gay meant that we had the joyous abandonment of a child, an attribute that St Paul gives to being children of God (cf Rom 8:21). Today, being gay is understood as a man having a sexual relationship with another man; just as lesbian means women being in a sexual relationship with each other. They are the first letters of what is ever expansively called LGBTQ….
Such groups have Pride Parades where they proudly portray their sexual proclivity. I have never been able to swallow these public displays of sexuality. I am a married man. It is my conjugal right and also a divine gift to have sexual relations with my spouse. That happens within the confines of our bedroom. It is perfectly legitimate and morally acceptable.
However, it is not an absolute or inalienable right. I cannot have marital sex in broad daylight in an open park or on the beach. By doing so I would be infringing on the rights of others. As the old saying goes, “Your freedom ends where my nose begins”.
Let alone the sexual act itself, can I publicly boast of my sexual prowess or lack of it? Can I publicly say that I have sex so many times a day, a week or a month? Or as the joke goes – having sex bi-weekly, tri-weekly and finally just to try weakly! Surely social decorum demands of me that what is essentially a private act should remain just that – private.
It is for this reason that I am unable to stomach the Pride Parades. Even if a person is LGBTQ…, what is the need for broadcasting it? By doing so one is actually belittling the relationship. It would not then be based on love, but a boastful pride and a public assertion of what is essentially a private affair or relationship.
Being gay has hit the Catholic headlines with a 51-year-old Franciscan priest in Germany, Markus Furhmann, being elected as a Provincial. Nothing extraordinary about that, but for the fact that he had recently publicly declared that he was gay. Priest commentators in India, including a moral theologian, have hailed this development. In contrast, the laity is in a state of confused silence. How can the ignorant laity challenge a moral theologian in a prominent seminary?
I don’t claim to be wise, nor do I pretend to be ignorant. Hence I would like to enlighten my fellow laity on the subject. The moral theologian, referred to above, cleverly sought to obfuscate the issue by calling it a case of homophobia; hate or discrimination against homosexuals. It is for this reason that I had earlier commented that a moral theologian could be like a shrewd criminal lawyer, who through clever arguments, is able to defend the indefensible.
A case in point is the flawed judgement in the Franco Mulakkal case. Such defence lawyers specialise in obfuscating issues, by diverting attention from the essentials to the peripherals. In the Mulakkal case, the judge went off on a tangent about repairs to the convent kitchen, instead of focussing on the rape accusations! Here too, what is essential to being a Catholic priest?
As things stand today he is expected to be perpetually celibate, for which he makes a public profession of faith. The Code of Canon Law, promulgated by Pope John Paul II on 25/1/1983 categorically states that “Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence and therefore bound to celibacy” (Can 277). So this is not a matter of being homosexual or heterosexual, but a question of continence; that is abstention from all and every form of sex or sexual stimulation. Though not at all easy, that is the perfection to which a consecrated celibate is called.
The official Catechism of the Catholic Church, also promulgated by Pope John Paul II, but on 11/10/1992, is again categorical in stating that “In the Latin Church ordained ministers are to live a celibate life, and who intend to remain celibate” (CCC 1579). This is not so for the Eastern Rite Churches where priests and deacons may be married (CCC 1580). I presume that Furhmann belongs to the Latin Rite and is therefore bound by celibacy.
Defending his sexual orientation Furhmann said that “there is too much institutional hypocrisy in our church”. Is he not a part of that hypocrisy when, on the one hand, he has vowed to be celibate, and on the other, he publicly states that he is sexually active? Besides, if he can justify his acts, then why can’t all the sexually errant bishops in India use the same reasoning? There would be no end to it.
As a layman, the only vows I have made are in the sacrament of matrimony. But I have always been inspired by St Francis of Assisi. I was in the Porziuncula Basilica in Assisi on 1 st March 2017 which happened to be Ash Wednesday. Located on these premises is the miraculous garden of thornless rose bushes. It was here when Francis was once consumed by sexual passion (after all he was a human being like the rest of us) that he threw himself onto the huge thorns so that the excruciating pain of those piercing thorns would help him overcome his sexual temptation. His penance bore fruit. However, those rose bushes thereafter never grew thorns again, an eternal testimony of how physical penance can help one control one’s emotions.
It is in this same then chapel of Porziuncula that Francis and his companion Friars Minor adopted the rule of chastity at the Pentecost Chapter. This rule was approved by the then Pope Honorius III through his decree “Solet Annuere” on 29/11/1223. I presume that this decree and rule are extant and binding on Furhmann and his colleagues. I presume that he also wears the distinctive Franciscan habit with a cord and three knots. They stand for the three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. Has Furhmann unknotted one of them?
When a priest seeks to be ordained, the people are asked if they accept that person. Hence ordination, like the sacrament of matrimony, is not a one-way street. It is not a private act. It is a public commitment to the ecclesial community. It cannot be wished away. If for any reason, a priest feels that he is no longer capable of living that commitment then he should apply for a dispensation and be relieved of that bond. He cannot have his cake and eat it too; being “celibate” on the one hand and being sexually active on the other.
As a married man, I cannot even pretend to say that I don’t have sexual temptations. It is another matter that, by God’s grace, I have so far remained faithful to my spouse of 38 years and my matrimonial vows. If, however, I was to have a gay relationship with a man, while being bound in matrimony to my spouse, then it would be a breach of contract and a ground for my wife to divorce me; as provided for in Section 10(2) of the Divorce Act 1869 that applies to Christians.
So whether one has received the sacrament of ordination or of matrimony, one has to play by the rules. To the likes of Markus Furhmann and sundry moral theologians, I would humbly suggest that they pay a visit to the rose garden in Porziuncula, Assisi.
Yes, we all have human frailty, but we are also receptacles of divine grace and strength, if only we are open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.
NOTE : The writer is a firm believer in Franciscan spirituality. One may also read “The Gay Right”, first published in July 2009.