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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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A Fall from Fidelity & Subsequent Exposure

Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, the secretary-general of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, resigned on July 20 after a newly founded Catholic online newsletter employed commercially available data to trace his calls, movements, and behavior since 2018 linking him to gay bars and a Las Vegas gay bathhouse:

  • Does the use of such surveillance constitute an invasion of privacy?
  • Does the publication violate basic journalistic ethics?
  • Should such information always be shared with a titillated and voyeuristic public? 
  • Cannot the priesthood of such a man be salvaged or does such exposure and scandal forever destroy his ministry?
  • Does not such high-tech spying threaten the privacy of all of us and open up the possibility of blackmail?
  • How many innocent churchmen were targeted in this probe?
  • While arguably legal should such efforts be outlawed? 
  • How should Church authorities respond or act when questionable means are used to “out” clergy and others? 
  • While we would expect a priest to remain faithful, should a priest face discipline for information gathered by unethical means? 
  • Would acting on this information make the Church an accomplice in sin? (We have never accepted the philosophical dictum that “ends justify means.”)

Many of us know priests who fell with women and later repented, were rehabilitated and gave great witness as pastors of souls.  Placing the question of ordination for homosexuals aside, should not these priests be given a second chance or does the unnatural or heinous character of their acts demand permanent removal and laicization?  I do not know.  Honest about my own bias, I would tend to be harsh against homosexuals.  I suppose much depends upon the type of ministry and the willingness of laity and bishops to forgive.  We live and work at a time when just the insinuation of wrong can destroy ministry.   

What immediately disappoints and upsets many Catholics is that we are all urged to keep our solemn promises, no matter whether to marital fidelity or priestly celibacy. There is no evidence of criminal misconduct by Monsignor Burrill with minors; however, homosexuality is often linked by conservative critics to the abuse of youth.  The condemnation of the homosexual man is frequently intensified by journalists and bloggers making this unsubstantiated association.

My thoughts go back to various men in Holy Orders who made mistakes or who had charges placed against them. Back in 2020, Father George Rutler was accused of watching gay pornography and then sexually assaulting a 22 year old woman. The charges of assault were dropped in May of 2021 as unfounded.  Will that be enough to restore his good name?  Who can say?  The headlines made when a priest is charged are in bold and everywhere.  When vindicated, one is lucky to find a mention in anything larger that a want ad or obituary.  The left delights in what it sees as the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.       

The current environment is toxic and dangerous for the most innocent of clergymen.  But original sin and concupiscence is still at work even in the best of men.  The Church would naturally seek to heal and restore while many other voices would rather expose and depose. 

Can a Gay Man Be a Saint?

I was surprised recently when I read a critic deriding Mark Shea as dissenting upon the topic of homosexual sin.  Finding this hard to believe, I traced the comment back to the posted article in question:

While he can sometimes be caustic, especially regarding politics, I could discern no divergence from Catholic teaching. He merely urged compassion to persons and the avoidance of sinful presumption against others.  As a priest I am obliged to teach the hard truth about many issues of faith and morals; however, as a pastor, I can also well appreciate a pastoral consideration and welcoming to penitents.  We are all sinners.  A man my size cannot disguise that his struggle is largely with the fork, but whatever the transgression, as a confessor of souls, I have always counted myself as the chief of sinners.  While there might be some pointing of the finger, the mission of the Church is predominately that of mercy.    

A blunt question is put forward: “Can a gay person be a saint?”  Before we reflect upon any answer, those of us who are heterosexual must be honest about the prejudices we have inherited and contrite about the times when we were far less than charitable or compassionate. Any appreciation upon this matter must start with a personal query to our own holiness and trajectory toward sainthood.  While we may have rightly judged homosexual acts as wrong or immoral, did we malign or even seek to humiliate and to alienate our brothers and sisters?  We leave to God the particular judgment of souls; however, we must make assessments about right and wrong as a people consecrated to truth. While it is unpopular with many radical proponents for active homosexuality, the Church distinguishes between sinful actions and “disorientation.”  Intimate sexual conduct outside of heterosexual marriage is a sin.  One’s orientation is either morally neutral or signifies a defect.  There is a huge difference between being sinful and being wounded by sin.  We enter a broken world and all of us are touched by the tragic consequences of sin.  But it is within this human condition that Christ opts to redeem us.  Our Lord voluntarily embraces our human vulnerability.  He comes to bring healing and order to our hurt and messiness.  The Church cannot pretend that a disorder is normative.  The Church cannot impugn the meaning of love as being satisfied or validly expressed through sinful conduct.  Just as many heterosexual unions suffer various degrees of dysfunction; the struggle is even more intense for our brothers and sisters who must rise above their disorder and not seek to enthrone it as the capstone of their identity.  The hurdle faced by the faith is how to extend our saving moral message without being labeled as a “hater” of those with same-sex attractions.  We are all called to love and friendships.  We are all summoned to relationships where we can work together and find friendship and love.  It is within this communion with one another that all of us stumble at one time or another— by being selfish or mean or neglectful or abusive or whatever.  Our Lord teaches us that we must love one another and forgive as he forgives us.  Those of us who are heterosexual in orientation must not act out in violence and bigotry to those who threaten our sense of self and our appreciation of manhood or womanhood.  Those who are homosexual must rein in their anger at those of us who love and cherish them as friends and neighbors, but cannot condone same-sex acts or the accompanying lifestyle.  Sometimes this upset in the gay community is also focused on its own members, particularly those who believe what the Church teaches and seek to be celibate and chaste in their relationships of love.  Despite past sinfulness and possibly stumbling, it is here that the question is answered.  Can a gay person be a saint?  YES, if he or she has a saving faith in Jesus Christ that is acknowledged or realized through repentance of sin and a life of loving discipleship or obedience.  This is the same formula for any of us. 

Pope Francis has stunned many with his assertion that while he opposes any notion of homosexual marriage, he is not opposed to same-sex unions.  However, as the Holy Father discussed the matter, it became clear that he would hope that these connections would be chaste or celibate.  My only reservation about this is that similar arrangements for heterosexual men and women are frowned upon as dangerous cohabitation. As someone who struggles with the temptations of the stomach, I shudder to imagine how I would fare if I lived adjacent to a bakery.  However, consecrated religious men and women live in close proximity and do so chastely and with great spiritual fruits.  Could not men and women who are drawn in love to one another be formally recognized in bonds of brotherly and sisterly love? If lines should be crossed through genuine accident or momentary weakness we have the sacrament of penance and the seal of confession.  It seems to me that this might be an opportunity to catechize upon love and to expand it beyond or at least within the domestic parameters established by the Creator for the propagation of the species.  Just as voluntary priestly celibacy makes the man a special sentinel for the kingdom; these bonds from necessity might do much the same. 

We need to dissect the true meaning of love from any false or fractured sign of its presence.  Masturbation is not love.  The violation of the body of another is not love.  A kiss and a hug may be visible signs of a friendship or love we cannot immediately see.  But what makes love real?  The marital act between a husband and wife is a manifestation of love consecrated by the Lord.  It is not the same as deviant sexual acts or intercourse outside marriage.  That which confirms and expresses the marital covenant gives grace.  Wrongful acts might result in new life, but none should condone either rape or promiscuity.  Sin damages our relationship with others and with God.  That is why fornication is a poor preparation for the sacrament of matrimony.  The self-offering of the spouses must convey a mutual surrender to each other, a pouring-out that seeks to be in conformity with divine providence.  Spouses should see Christ in each other’s eyes.  The union of man and woman in marriage is raised so high that we are to perceive something of the heavenly bridal analogy operative in both the sacrament of marriage and that of the Eucharist.  Christ is the groom and his bride is the Church.  While analogies are somewhat mixed or strained, the Church is also modeled on Mary as the handmaid of the Lord.  Christ as the groom lays down his life for his bride, the Church.  The sin of fornication is only a short step away from that of adultery.  Scripture often connects this sin with that of idolatry in terms of our relationship and worship of the God who created us and calls us to unity in him, alone.  Pursuing the inclination or pattern of his or her disorientation, there is no path forward by which the homosexual could be sexually active and faithful to the Lord.  While not denying one’s goodness as a child of God, the unmarried person (of any orientation), is entitled to love with others and acceptance by the community.  However, none of this requires genital expression.  I would submit that all single people who seek to live chastely should be witnesses of prayer and exceptional service in the cause of charity.  Not having a spouse or children of their own, they can become exceptional saints for the community that needs them.  The focus must change from “poor oppressed and unfulfilled me” to a strong witness in enabling and caring for others, especially the oppressed and hurting.  There is a saying that “God can write straight with our crooked lines.”  Well, this being the case, here is a situation where the world and those in it can be changed for the better by those who started out with a keen sense of themselves as wounded healers. 

The gift is not homosexuality but rather how the person with this disorientation responds to the movement of God in his life.  The gift is how he gives himself to the Lord and the mission before him.  Such a person might fall victim to temptation, but that is not unique to homosexuals— despite the long-held negative stigma.  It may be that we are too quick to dismiss the young boy “sowing his oats,” until that is, a father finds out that his daughter is the boy’s virgin field.  The rise of the women’s liberation movement has deflated something of this double standard, although in the wrong direction.  In any case, no matter whether a sin is committed according to nature or as contrary to it, all sin is in opposition to the direct will of God.  We are called to holiness but not long after infant baptism our clean slate gets smudged.  Indeed, the blackboard itself may have defects or cracks in it because of the effects of sin passed down from the primordial garden or more recently from the dysfunction of families and the wrong turns of a post-Christian society. 

The posture of the believer is constant repentance, reception of mercy and renewed faith.  Over the years my posture as a priest has softened regarding homosexuals, not because I dissent from the teachings of Scripture and the Church, but rather because I want penitents to know that they will not receive condemnation from me in the confessional but rather the forgiveness that Jesus makes possible by the shedding of his blood.  Pope Francis made big headlines in the news when asked about homosexuals and he responded, “Who am I to judge?”  I think what he meant was that all of us stand under the judgment of almighty God.  The role of Christ’s priests, and the Pope is the chief “visible” priest of the Church, is to make available the ministry of reconciliation— the forgiveness of sins.  We must teach the hard truth about right and wrong; but, we must also always show the compassionate and caring face of Christ to sinners.

What complicates the current discussion is that a secular and hedonistic society tends to surrender the ghost in favor for all things corporeal.  The body becomes the absolute focus.  Any challenge or struggle with concupiscence is set aside for its wholesale celebration.  Love is readily defined as erotic or romantic, but less so as maternal (note the rise of contraception and abortion) or empathetic (note the plight of immigrants or ethnicities).  Yes, even brotherly love and divine love are weakened in this movement toward narcissism.  The focus is upon what gives pleasure to the individual.  This is where the “if it feels good do it” mantra really takes off.  Readers can find books that no longer warn against the seven deadly sins but rather detail the myriad of ways by which we can succumb to them. 

As one who believes that homosexual intimate acts are wrong and sinful, those like me should be permitted to retain this position without recrimination as bigots.  There should be no punishment for refusal to give approbation or support to what we reject as contrary to the universal moral law.  I would urge as pastorally and civilly significant a level of toleration that would preclude any criminalization of homosexuality. 

Just as I would not want embarrassing and/or lewd heterosexual acts thrown into my face by the media, I would urge homosexuals to pursue modesty and a degree of discretion.  Noting the signs of the times, we can give sinners the right to sin but would expect the same privilege in seeking to be good and holy.  As with the COURAGE program, the Church must be welcoming and supportive with efforts to affirm human dignity while enabling their chaste and faithful involvement within the life of the Church.  Celibacy needs to be better prized and understood as so much more than restraint or abstinence; but rather, as a means of putting love into action for others.  Instead of saying NO to love, we need to help people to understand the true depths of love and how all of us can say YES. 

We do not need discrimination.  We do not need violence and bullying.  We do not need name calling and derision.  We do not need hateful condemnation.  It works the other way around as well.  The doctrinal teaching about disorientation should not be seen in a pejorative light, but rather as an effort to protect human dignity.  When well-meaning people speak of “hating the sin, but loving the sinner,” homosexuals should not be quick to condemn them because they personally see no way of separating the two. 

Frankly, there are some practical questions that leave me uncertain.  I am troubled when an organist is fired for “coming out” or when a teacher loses her job for announcing her same-sex marriage.  My sympathies are with the Church because such things might compromise our message.  Nevertheless, are we missing some middle-ground that might preserve both the integrity of our message and mission while also welcoming these brothers and sisters?  It seems to me that we have to take back the dialogue.  I suspect that speaking about the nature of friendship and love may be the path to reconciliation.  Not denying that we are gendered or sexual beings, one can be fulfilled and complete without genital activity.  We all need love; we do not all need “sex” to live and to be happy.