The Baltimore Sun ran this piece a few days ago on their new archbishop. Edwin O’Brien is touted as having experience in ministry to and dealing with gays, but I have to wonder about the ignorance shown in this remark:
We don’t want our people to think, as our culture is now saying, there’s really no difference whether one is gay or straight, is homosexual or heterosexual. We think for our vocation that there is a difference, and our people expect to have a male priesthood that sets a strong role model of maleness.
I think it’s a serious mis-read to say that our (Western?) culture sees homosexuality as mainstream. There are aspects of the treatment of homosexuals in film and tv that strike me as not unlike Big Entertainment’s approach to blacks and uppity women forty to sixty years ago. Put them in comedy so we can laugh at them. Certainly that’s not the only portrayal of gays today or women of the 40’s. But ponder it. Do you really think Will & Grace is that much of an accurate portrayal of serious homosexuality? I don’t see it as much different from Billy Crystal’s character a generation ago. Or Bill Cosby’s I Spy character in the 60’s.
I think O’Brien also misreads “no difference” from the people who don’t watch screwball sit-coms. There are a lot of religious people who perceive what the apostle is getting at in this passage:
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:27-28)
Lastly, I think there’s a touch of sexual naivete in the archbishop’s notion of “maleness.” If maleness is so tied up in people’s expectation of their clergy, what good is celibacy? Celibacy is a setting aside of one’s genital sexual activity so as to focus oneself with God and in ministry. Is training homosexuals to be celibate something way different from working with heterosexuals? Is a person’s sexual expression so tied up with their “maleness” or “femaleness” that it overrides the undeniable twenty-third chromosome?
Perhaps seminaries have failed to impress the importance and role of celibacy upon their students. That strikes me as more of a serious deficiency of rectors, spiritual directors, and bishops rather than the students themselves.
What I mean is this: if one priest acts out sexually, that indicates a failing of the individual person. If there is widespread abandonment of commitment, while it doesn’t absolve individuals of culpability, it also indicts teachers and leaders. And as a former seminary rector, Archbishop O’Brien is on the line for it.