Many assessments of the Catholic Church troubles with clerical sexual abuse have noted as contributory factors the importance of inadequate seminary training in human sexuality, and the poor level of psychosexual maturity of some seminarians and priests. Especially for those priests who entered religious life in minor seminaries as young adolescents, many priests have observed that they entered the seminary as twelve year olds – and emerged in their twenties, with the sexual knowledge of a twelve year old.
This is a bigger problem than just that a lack of personal psychosexual maturity in some priests, may contributes to [possible pathological behaviour. Even among those who have achieved a satisfactory level of maturity, there remains the problem that a lack of training in human sexuality, may leave them ill-prepared to provide suitable pastoral support to those who come to them for guidance on sexual matters.
Part of the reason for the inadequacy of current and past seminary training, lies in its base in single-sex institutions. isolated from normal family life.
It is encouraging then, to find in Pope Francis’ response to the Bishops’ Synod Assembly on marriage and family, (“Amor Laetitia”, the Joy of the Family), that he has acknowledged the problem, and proposed improvements.
At first reading, many lesbian and gay Catholics could be disappointed with Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love). There’s little enough about us to start with, and what there is, seems to do no more than restate the familiar but badly neglected platitudes about “respect”, and the need to avoid violence and persecution. Right up front in its opening pages, the document restates the mantra of the family as consisting of one man and one women, and children – and the purpose of marriage as intertwined with procreation. Later, there is yet again, a firm restatement of opposition to gay marriage. Above all, there is absolutely no hint of any change in the hurtful established Catholic doctrines on sexuality.
Closer examination however, reveals some cause for optimism, certainly in the longer term.
During the two sessions of the family synod, there were many reports of an emerging consensus among the bishops of a need to move away from the hurtful language of the past, concerning lesbian and gay people, and matters of same-sex orientation. By the time of the 2015 synod assembly, even the archconservative Charles Chaput came to acknowledge that the term “objectively disordered” had, in his words, “outlived its usefulness”. (For others of course, such words never had any usefulness, but were downright offensive and intensely hurtful). I’m pleased to report that while the Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love) has little enough to say specifically about lesbian and gay people, there is no reference at all to “objectively disordered”. I think we can take it that this disordered language has now been banished, for ever.
In Fascinating Aida’s show “Charm Offensive”, there’s much to laugh at, much to delight. But when I saw it a few years ago, the highlight was something of a different order altogether: a number by Adèle Anderson which was intensely personal and deeply moving – “Prisoner of Gender”.
In it, she describes the childhood experience of feeling trapped in the wrong body – a boy’s body, which gives her the witty and appropriate title for her song. I suspect though, that it is not only trans people who will be able to relate to this image. From an early age, I never doubted that I was in fact a boy, but knew that I was somehow “different” from other boys, and often felt uncomfortable at being expected to enjoy boys’ activities and toys, but not girls’ things. I too, was a “prisoner of gender”, albeit to a lesser degree than Anderson. I am certain that many other gay men and lesbians will be able to relate in the same way, to some disconnect between who they are in their innermost being, and the expectations placed on them by gender.
Last night (Saturday 2nd April), I was up in London, for a meeting at the Mount Street Jesuit centre, on gay priests. This was one of a series of meetings arranged by the LGBT Young(er) Adults group associated with the former Soho Masses, and now with the Farm Street parish of St Cecilia, where twice a month LGBTI Catholics are specifically welcomed, and where they serve tea and coffee after Mass for their communuity – and for any others of the congregation who want to join them. At 64, I hardly count as a young or even “younger” adult, so have not previously attended any others in the series. In fact, I was not even aware of their existence, until this specific meeting was thrown open to all who are part of the Farm Street/Westminster LGBT Catholics community, in view of its importance.
I was delighted that I made the trip, for some stimulating discussion during the formal part of the evening, and then more over coffee, with friends old and new.
The chair for the evening introduced the discussion by briefly listing some recent news headlines of gay priests who had come out as gay, and the mixed reactions they had received. There was the high profile case of the CDF theologian Msgr Krysztof Charamsa, who on the eve of the 2015 Family Synod came out as not only gay but also partnered – and was promptly fired, from his post at the CDF, and also as university lecturer in theology. There were also many less well-publicized examples of ordinary parish priests, and others. Some, like Msgr Charamsa, met immediate trouble with their superiors, others did not. Some even met direct and explicit support from their congregations.
In an unusual move, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, has asked bishops around the world to host their own press conferences for the release of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of the Family). He has asked that where possible, these should be held on the same day as the Rome presentation, Friday April 8th, and should feature an expert on family ministry, a theologian, or a (married?) couple who are capable of getting through to a wide audience.
The news was reported yesterday by the French Catholic newspaper La Croix. Here follows my free English translation, of the key paragraphs:
The Pontifical Council for the Family has asked all bishops to prepare a press conference for the day of publication of the Apostolic Exhortation in response to the Synod on the family.