[WARNING: Very little humor here]
“Silence is not a virtue when charity calls for speech.” (St. Poemen, c. 400)
Besides a provocative title, let’s set some ground rules: 1) celibacy is celibacy; whether gay or straight is a moot point. 2) Celibacy is much more than not being married, to state otherwise neglects our theology and our discipline. 3) “All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) 4) Final judgment rests with God.
Why worry about a bishop’s sexuality in the first place when they are supposed to be celibate? There is a statistical blip for bishops and priests in the area of pedophilia; whereas the incidence of this horror is higher in the general population, it is still about half and half, young males and females that are molested. For the clergy, the rate of homosexual pedophilia is much higher. Perhaps, and only perhaps, a gay bishop would be willing to overlook such indiscretions (read crimes here) of a gay priest? Of course the same could be said of a straight bishop who overlooks the dalliance of a heterosexual priest. In my canon law experience, there are significantly more priests involved with women than pedophilia cases. 90% of the priests I have advocated for or been used as a consultant have been heterosexual that had violated celibacy in one form or another. But a priest romancing a woman is a far cry from gay pedophilia, and less newsworthy it seems.
Could a bishop’s sexuality influence his decisions? For the sake of discussion, I’ll answer yes. But how is such a bishop chosen if the church is trying to avoid ordaining active homosexuals or men with deep seated gay tendencies? The process looks complicated in choosing any bishop, but in reality it is quite simple—names of priests are surfaced from various sources, Catholic bishops send in names after discussion in their respective provinces, a bishop’s committee in the United States vets the candidates, sends them to the Apostolic Nuncio with three names suggested for a particular diocese that is vacant and the Nuncio forwards the list to Rome with a check by the one person he thinks should be the choice. The Congregation for Bishops reviews all this and presents the three to the Holy Father along with the preferred order of choice. In reality the other two men on the list may well become bishops in the future.
So, is there an issue with this system? Yes, I suggest it lies in the names being gathered from various sources; what are these sources? Well, when a diocese is vacant, super secret letters are sent to various people of the diocese, both clerical and lay, asking for who would be a good fit and asking a number of questions about this man’s qualifications. While all those various names are collected, realize that the bishops of the province have met, and meet regularly to surface names for potential bishops. Are any of the super secret letters read? The answer, I believe, is yes. However, why would bishops acknowledge potentials not on their own lists? And if a potential appears as a recommendation from the diocese, that is just backup for what has already been decided.
Then, surely, these are all decent recommendations? Herein lies the challenge; how many potentials are friends of current bishops? It’s been said, too many times by bishops, “Father Smith here has been appointed by the Holy Father as your bishop. He has been a (choose one: close friend/classmate/fellow professor) of mine for years.” In other words bishops are choosing only those they know and have a relationship with. While this is human and understandable, it puts other qualities as secondary considerations. Of course, I’ll say of my friend that he is holy, able, confident and one heck of a theologian. But what of other potential candidates that meet and surpass those qualities, but are simply missing the primary appellation of “Friend.”
Back to the premise, the bishop’s sexuality. To carry it further, if you are a gay bishop, which of your friends that are potentials are you likely to carry the torch for as a bishop? (sorry for the double entendre) Your friend is chosen bishop of a diocese and now you have two bishops who can surface names and specifically their friends who share their proclivities. Thus a gay bishop is birthed and the probability of other gay bishops being named is increased. This is not necessarily a bad thing if all are celibate and committed to that discipline but here is where it could fall short: some define celibacy as only prohibiting marriage, or more broadly, sex with a woman. Some homosexuals do use this overly narrow definition of celibacy; it not longer is perfect continence (canonical meaning) but imperfect continence.
Now bishops of like mind choosing priests of like mind to become bishops is nothing new. In previous eras the potential episcopal candidate was determined by family, wealth, station, etc. It was and is common to see a number of bishops named coming from one diocese. In a couple of generations past, the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Archdiocese of Chicago were examples. More recently the Diocese of Lincoln has had its share; but this is the same diocese whose deceased former vocation director was credibly accused of molestation of seminarians. This is certainly casts a bit of a shadow on those bishops, hopefully undeserved. But the underlying tendency remains, a gay bishop may not just look for potentials to join the episcopacy but how would he choose, interact with seminarians and priests? If the premise is true, then the relationship is incestuous at best.
Again, the sexual inclination of the cleric should not be an issue if celibacy is celibacy. We are all open to sin and Jesus’ redemption but the continuing possibility of birthing gay bishops should give everyone pause, especially if their concept of celibacy within themselves and others is flawed. A hard look is needed at the system for surfacing names of candidates for the episcopacy; should bishops be choosing their friends? Not to be flippant, but a question for a bishop proposing a buddy, “Have you ever slept with him or know anyone who has? On pain of excommunication?”
One solution to the problem as it exists, is to have a totally transparent process for surfacing the names of potential bishops, vetting and choosing them. Notice the phrase “more transparent” is missing since there is nothing transparent about the process at the present time. To even suggest that the people of a diocese choose their own bishop, after proper investigation of his life, spirituality and fidelity to the Church, is threatening to some bishops who would see friends, classmates, or dare I say “lovers,” put on the mitre rather than others. It has only been recently, within the past two centuries, that all episcopal appointments were accomplished by a few prelates. Historically there is a lot of precedence for the people and clergy of a diocese calling their own bishop. Such a process would be open and would, hopefully, thwart any attempt to birth another gay bishop who doesn’t practice Church theology and discipline.
An end note: 90% of the priests I work with are hard working, hard praying priests who are outstanding pastors, if a little bit nutty at times. Most of us parish priests are convinced that our pastoral skills are second only to the Good Shepherd and God divinely directs us in the administration of the parish; which makes us characters to the people we serve. I know a number of good bishops, but unfortunately due to my history in canon law, a lot of bad ones. One such bishop told me a priest of his who had been accused of various things was not guilty of a civil law crime; which he was not. But what of canon law, what of sin? A bishop or vocation director alleged to have sex with a seminarian is wrong, civil law or no. Such seminarians can mature with the same breach of understanding of celibacy and thus the cycle continues, even unto pedophilia.
For the purpose of full disclosure, I believe that all proven pedophile bishops and priests be removed from office immediately. All such bishops and superiors that have covered up, ignored or were negligent in supervising such priests must be subject to the loss of the clerical state. The loss of the clerical state of such bishops and superiors is a gain for the Church.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Monica intercede for us!