Failure to recognise the roots of past scandals means Church teaching will continue to be undermined
It did not take very long at all for scandal to rear its ugly head once again in our National Seminary, St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Hitting the headlines in summer 2016 on account of a homosexual subculture within the seminary community, with some seminarians having profiles on a gay dating app, prompting the Archbishop of Dublin to move his seminarians to Rome, now two senior figures in the college are reportedly saying that gay celibate men are welcome in the priesthood. Changes to the seminary structures in light of the scandal of 2016 were minimal, except for the appointment of a new Rector, Fr. Tomás Surlis, a priest of the Diocese of Achonry.
Openness to Allowing Homosexual Men to be Ordained as Priests:
In an article in the Irish Times on 11th November, the Rector of the seminary, Fr. Tomás Surlis and the Dean of Theology (and Professor of Systematic Theology), Fr. Declan Marmion, S.M., are quoted by Mr. Patsy McGarry as having expressed their openness to allowing homosexual men to be ordained as priests. In one sense, this is not surprising because it seems that the authorities have not made efforts to deal with the issue of active homosexual seminarians – we know that a number of men who were later found to have had profiles on the gay dating app, Grindr, were ordained to the priesthood and diaconate. At least one of these men was ordained a priest even after the scandal of 2016. So, only three years ago the seminary was embroiled in a homosexual scandal and now the Dean of Theology and the Rector say that homosexual men are welcome in the priesthood. How, one may well ask, can this be seen as a credible response to the crisis of 2016 or, indeed, to the ongoing dearth of men entering the seminary?
The Church’s teaching on homosexuality is, most likely, not news to Catholic Voice readers, but it bears repeating since the men charged with training men for the priesthood seem to overlook it so readily. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, referring firstly to homosexual acts, states:
Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved (CCC 2357).
With regard to deep-seated homosexual tendencies, the Catechism describes the inclination as “objectively disordered” (CCC 2358). Catholics, however, are exhorted to treat persons with homosexual tendencies with “respect, compassion and sensitivity”. It ought to be noted that both Fr. Surlis and Fr. Marmion are saying that celibate gay men are welcome in the priesthood. However, it seems that this is a very narrow view of the requirement of celibacy, because celibacy is not merely about not engaging in sexual activity, although it is clearly an element. The fact that all people are called to chastity means that those who are unmarried should not be engaging in sexual activity – this indicates that celibacy has a deeper significance than simply refraining from sex. Celibacy is also the renunciation of marriage and of natural fatherhood. It is a true sacrifice, as Pope St. Paul VI beautifully wrote in his encyclical on priestly celibacy, Sacerdotalis Caelibatus:
…this sacrifice of the human love experienced by most men in family life and given up by the priest for the love of Christ, is really a singular tribute paid to that great love. For it is universally recognised that man has always offered to God that which is worthy of both the giver and the receiver. (SC 50)
How is celibacy a sacrifice for a man who, on account of his same-sex attractions cannot truly renounce marriage or fatherhood?
In his article, Mr. McGarry writes that Fr. Surlis was asked whether a gay man who believes he has a vocation and is capable of living a celibate life would be accepted. Fr. Surlis responded thus: “I would say, yes. The same issue arises for a man who identifies as homosexual as arises for a man who identifies as heterosexual”. This is woefully incorrect. As has already been mentioned, the Catholic Church teaches that the homosexual inclination itself is disordered; it does not teach this with regard to heterosexuality which is properly ordered towards union with a person of the opposite sex for procreation. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, the differences between the sexes are “…oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life” (CCC 2333). There is a clear difference with regard to the meaning and demands of celibacy if one is not actually renouncing marriage and family.
Fr. Declan Marmion was once again in agreement with Fr. Surlis. He is quoted as saying:
I think we all know priests and bishops who are excellent ministers and make a great contribution to the Church and society, who are gay but who are celibate. Being frank about it, I think that’s something we shouldn’t be afraid of saying.
Vatican Instruction is Very Clear and has not Changed:
For starters, this is quite beside the point because there are two different issues at play. Fr. Marmion refers here to men who have already been ordained – whether or not they should have been ordained, or whether they deliberately concealed their homosexuality, they have been ordained. The question here is, should men be admitted to seminary when it is known that they are homosexual? The Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, in its 2005 document, 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 clear that men “who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture’” cannot be admitted to seminary or holy orders. The only significant distinction that this document makes is between deep-seated tendencies and homosexual tendencies which may be transitory. However, it says that even these transitory tendencies must be overcome at least three years before ordination to diaconate.
The points made by the Congregation for Catholic Education’s document are echoed and developed by Fr. David Marsden, SCJ, a priest who spent several years working in Maynooth Seminary and who experienced first-hand the laxity of the seminary authorities when it came to the issue of homosexual seminarians. In his book, The Priest as Spiritual Father, published by Lumen Fidei Press, Fr. Marsden comments on the Vatican document’s use of the terms “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” and “homosexual tendencies”. He notes that deep-seated tendencies are more or less permanent as opposed to being transitory.
Furthermore, he says that the question to be asked about a candidate is, “Are the homosexual tendencies that the candidate speaks about of a transitory nature or not?” Even if they are transitory, says Fr. Marsden, they will not be present now, i.e. in a candidate for ordination.
Therefore it is clear that the instruction does not approve of men with homosexual tendencies being ordained priests because even a transitory homosexual tendency must be overcome before ordination.
Poor Vocational Prospects for the Ordained Ministry:
As is indicated by the title of his book, Fr. David Marsden focuses attention on the spiritual fatherhood of the priest. When a man is ordained a priest, he stands in the person of Christ, united to His bride, the Church. In turn, this has clear implications for the value and meaning of priestly celibacy: far from being merely a renunciation, the union of the priest with the Church generates life. In other words, the fatherhood of the priest is very real, and his identity as a spiritual father requires many of the same qualities as those required for biological fatherhood. This, as Fr. Marsden notes, draws attention to the fact that priesthood is not just about what a man does or does not do, but what the man is. The complementarity of the roles of natural and spiritual fatherhood are such that “…a significant absence of the appropriate levels of affective maturity needed for the demands of marriage should indicate poor vocational prospects for the ordained ministry”.
When the remarks of Fr. Surlis and Fr. Marmion came to light in the Irish Times, we contacted every bishop in the country seeking a response. Naturally, questions abounded about the authority by which the two priests made their comments – are they reflecting the position of our bishops on this matter? Do our bishops, most of whom expressed confidence in Maynooth in the wake of the 2016 scandals, still have confidence in it when its Rector and the Dean of the Faculty of Theology are so openly dissenting from the Church’s position on the ordination of homosexual men? At the time of publication no response had been received.
Has Nothing Been Learned from the Past Number of decades?
The fact that these high-ranking clerics are now so brazen in voicing their support of ordaining homosexuals to the priesthood, combined with the tacit approval of the bishops, will also cause many faithful Catholics to question the sincerity of countless churchmen who have vowed to clean up the Church in Ireland after decades of sexual abuse scandals. What is being ignored by Fr. Surlis and Fr. Marmion, and any bishops who believe themselves to be more enlightened than the Church when it comes to the question of ordaining homosexual men is the fact that the abuse crisis was a homosexual crisis. Despite the mainstream media frequently referring to “paedophilia”, the vast majority of sexual abuse was perpetrated against post-pubescent males by homosexual predator priests. The position of these men is very disturbing when one takes this fact into account. Has nothing been learned from the past number of decades? Have the faithful not suffered enough on account of men being ordained who should never have been admitted to seminary? Why do our bishops refuse to acknowledge the true roots of the abuse crisis? Are some of them compromised in some way? Unless our bishops are willing to admit that they have disregarded the Church’s wisdom on the question of who can and cannot be ordained, and unless they take decisive measures to correct the appalling errors espoused by Fr. Surlis and Fr. Marmion, they continue to be complicit in undermining Catholic teaching, and they continue to ensure that they have absolutely no credibility among the faithful as long as they refuse to be faithful and strong shepherds.