By Fr. Thomas J. Loya, S.T.B., M.A.
In his 1961 instructions on seminary formation, Pope St. John XXIII said simply and explicitly that men with same-sex attraction were not suitable candidates for the priesthood. This was stated again in a fuller way years later during the pontificate of St. John Paul II.
The consistent position of the Church in regard to same-sex attraction and the suitability of candidates for the priesthood as well as the growing concern over the high percentage of clergy in the Catholic Church with same-sex attraction has an urgency that goes even beyond protecting the Church from predators and scandal.
Gender confusion is at the same time theological and liturgical confusion. The issue of same-sex attraction in priests is actually an issue of truth.
There is a correlation between the influx of same-sex attracted men into the seminaries on one hand and the theological and liturgical confusion that has perplexed primarily (but not exclusively) the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church for the past several decades.
The title of "Father" given to priests is not just a title. It speaks of a reality. If a man is "father," he must necessarily be a "husband."
"Father" and "husband" necessarily denotes maleness, manhood. If a man has a mature sense of his manhood and therefore his propensity to be father and husband, he will necessarily interface with things as a male, a father and a husband. This means, as a priest-man, he will have an intuitive but palpable sense of having a (female) spouse, a sense of having children, a sense of order, a sense of self-oblation and a sense of authority and responsibility of defending, protecting and providing.
Manhood by its nature functions in a sense of hierarchy, a certain verticality. Manhood is very cognizant of the order of things — who is in charge, where is the pecking order, where are things in relation to who is in charge. Men have a deep sense of honor and of preserving the honor of things that deserve honor, most especially the honor of truth and the honor of "the bride."
Manhood incarnates the transcendence of God, God's awesomeness, authority and mystery. Manhood penetrates mysteries; femininity, the order of creation and the very mystery of the Holy Trinity.
If a priest is a man, and he has a clear sense of his sexual identity as a man, he will by nature approach the Church, his bride, and live his priesthood in the ways that are intrinsic to authentic manhood.
This means he will penetrate the mysteries of truth, theology and the Gospel, safeguard them and mystically impregnate his bride with those life-giving mysteries. He will speak about these mysteries with authority and demand that his children recognize them and be obedient to the unchanging truths, to their authority and especially to their author.
Like an authentic man of integrity and a loving father, the male priest will take the hits of being unpopular or misunderstood at times even by his own children as the priest imparts and defends the truth. Offering himself as an oblation so that his children may be saved will be more important to him than whether he is well-liked or understood.
The characteristics of manhood — of spiritual husbandhood and fatherhood — were perfectly consistent with and played out in the liturgies of the Eastern Churches and also in the pre-Vatican II liturgy of the Latin Rite Church in its prayer, gesture, ritual, architecture and art.
The orientation of worship faced east, conversi ad Dominum. The entire spousal character, which in itself implies a mystical husband-wife dynamic, was contained in the classic architecture and liturgy of the Church.
However, during the same time when men with same-sex attraction began to populate our seminaries, the altars in the Latin Rite churches began to be turned around versus populum.
Priest and worshippers now faced one another. The spousal character of the Mass was obliterated and with it the revelatory value of the male-man-father-husband priest.
Rather than the emphasis on what mystical reality was being made present and incarnate precisely through the male-man-husband-father priest (Christ bridegroom-bride the Church) the emphasis became utilitarian, functional — who is doing what at the worship assembly and "why can't we all play too?" "If that man (priest) is up there at that altar and he can do that why can't I as a woman do that?"
A man who does not have a sense of his own authentic, maleness, manhood, husbandhood and fatherhood will likewise not be able to incarnate mystical manhood, husbandhood, fatherhood and all of their dimensions in the way he lives his priesthood and how he understands the Church, her theology and liturgy.
He will not rise to defend the authority and order of truth. He may give "nice" homilies but they will not be able to impregnate his bride with life. He will be wishy-washy about moral discernment, afraid to speak with courage, clarity and authority from the pulpit about the hot button moral positions of the Church.
Without knowing and being an authentic man-husband-father-priest, he will not have the courage to give his bride and children what they rightfully deserve — their true Church.
A father points the way. He challenges his children to push past pain, fear and complacency and reach for the next plateau of their divinization, of their becoming the best versions of themselves.
Without an intuitive sense of being a father, a priest may work toward making everyone feel good and included. But he will not challenge them to truly stretch and grow beyond their comfort levels. In a word, Father will not really call his children to the one thing that as a father he is duty bound to call them — holiness.
In his book Spirit of the Liturgy, Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) reminds us that there was never a historical precedence in the Church for worship done with the priest and people facing each other throughout the service.
The return of the priesthood to men who are sexually self-possessed and mature must coincide with the return of the liturgy to its authentic spousal character, the proper ad orientem orientation.
This is not a question of conservative versus liberal, of "going backwards" or of a simple nostalgia for the "Latin Mass" and the "good old days" of the Church. Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that if all goes properly at the altar, all goes well in the rest of the Church. If things go wrong at the altar, in the liturgy of the Church, things go wrong in the rest of the Church.
The whole world of human sexuality (maleness and femaleness) finds its mystical context in the proper liturgy of the Church, where the bridegroom, Christ, comes to consummate a mystical marriage with His bride, the Church, on the nuptial bed of the altar in the Eucharist. The restoration of the priesthood to authentic maleness in all of its mystical dimensions must coincide with a restoration of proper liturgy and all of its proper dimensions.
Yes, we must heal the Church of predators and scandalous behavior. But then what? The bad tumor could just grow back again unless as Church we rediscover the mystical meaning of priesthood understood in the context of the authentic liturgy of the Church.
Liturgy and the Eucharist are not something that we just attend or look at. They are the lens through which we see all things. It is in liturgy that we are given the proper vision for all of life, most especially the priesthood.