Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Being Married or Being a Woman versus Being Gay

In response to Richard, I just don't see a way around the view of this document as treating gay people as an inferior class.  You and I chose to become married people, something that (under current practice) prohibits us from becoming priests, just as being married to one person prevents us from marrying another.  We can debate whether the Church (in practice) treats married people as inferior to celibate clergy, but I think you would have to concede a difference between preventing someone from becoming a priest because they made a life choice to assume an incompatible state and preventing someone from becoming a priest because they are (despite the lack of any choice in the matter) subject to "homosexual tendencies." 

The comparison to women is a trickier one.  On the one hand, women, like homosexuals, are excluded from the ministry because of who they are, not what they've chosen.  And, personally, I do think their exclusion from ordination is based upon a view of them as inferior in some ways, but I can see your argument.  (In fact, as I mentioned in my original post, there are some interesting overlaps between the arguments the Church made in this document and some of the more philosophical arguments against female priests.  Those arguments, as distinct from the arguments from the scripture and tradition, in the end boil down to an assertion of the "essential maleness" of Christ, an assertion I find to be very weird.)  I think this case is different from the case of women, however, because the Church has explicitly said that gay people are to be excluded because they suffer from an objective "disorder."  The most relevant of the definitions of "disorder" in the OED is "a disturbance of the bodily (or mental) functions; an ailment, disease."  This suggests to me that gay men are excluded from the ministry, not becasue they are essentially different in some evaluatively neutral way, as is (arguably) the Church's position with respect to women, but because they are objectively defective or morally unworthy in some way.  It's very hard to read that in a way that does not amount to treating gay people as an inferior class of persons.

The question of willingness to adhere to Church teachings is a separate one, and I'm not sure why, if that is the concern, there is not a direct focus on that issue.  Surely there are some gay men out there who are willing (enthusiastically) to tow the Church line on sexuality.  I've met some of them.  Why shouldn't they be permitted to serve as priests?  Instead, the document maligns the ability of gay people as a whole to relate to men and women in a healthy way.

For the record, I do vigorously dissent from many Church teachings on sexuality, and on gay sexuality in particular.  I think the natural law arguments that have been deployed in opposition to homosexuality (and birth control) are utterly implausible.  I'm sure that admission will lead some people to compeltely disregard my objections to this document.  That said, my confusion with this document is totally severable from my dissent.  I find this document troubling, even on the Church's own terms.  The Church on the one hand says we should not discriminate against gay people and that, in fact, people are not fundamentally gay or straight, but rather children of God.  On the other hand, however, it has authored a document that discriminates against gay people precisely by treating them as fundamentally gay and, on that basis alone, disqualifying them from the priesthood.  I have a hard time seeing how it can reconcile those two propositions.


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