Bishop Accountability

[Interview with Fr. Andrew R. Baker]

From "An ‘experiment’ still isn’t law; more on homosexuals and priesthood; Ratzinger joins anti-war voices; Legionaries hold orientation for bishops"

By John Allen
The Word from Rome
National Catholic Reporter
September 27, 2002

America magazine kicked up some dust last week by publishing an essay by Fr. Andrew R. Baker, an American priest from the Allentown, Pa., diocese who works in the Congregation for Bishops, arguing that homosexuals should not be ordained as priests. Accompanying it was an article by Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, taking the opposite view.

Baker wrote that there are grounds for “prudent doubt” about homosexuals due to several factors: an increased risk of problems such as substance abuse, sexual addiction and depression; a tendency towards “duplicitous or pretentious behaviors”; doubts about adherence to church teaching; overwhelming temptation in an all-male environment; the tendency to form cliques; and doubts about the capacity to live a celibate life. Moreover, Baker writes, a homosexual’s vow of celibacy cannot have the same meaning as a heterosexual’s, because homosexuals are already bound to abstain from sexual relations by natural law.

After the article appeared I rang Baker up to ask some questions. He was gracious, volunteering to respond via e-mail. As it happens, Baker and I are roughly the same age (I’m 37, which he will be Oct. 21), but he comes from a much larger family (six brothers and five sisters).Though I draw no special conclusions from the fact, I note that his post-seminary graduate work was done at two Opus Dei institutions: the University of Navarra in Spain from 1994-96, and the University of Holy Cross in Rome from 1996-97. His research interest was contraception.

Given the interest in his essay, I present here the questions and answers. (I’ve edited them only slightly, to eliminate redundancies).

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1. How did the article come about?

I submitted the article on my own initiative. I have some background in moral theology and I have some experience as a seminary professor, formator, and member of a diocesan commission on Holy Orders. This question arose in my mind a few years ago and I’ve finally had the opportunity to reflect and to write about the topic. I am grateful to the editors of America for seeing some value in the content of the article. …

As I’ve said to other journalists, my article is simply my own personal opinion on the topic. I did not ask permission from any one to print my opinion. It has no one’s approval but my own.

2. Were you presenting the official discipline of the church?

The rationale presented is my own but it has been informed by fruitful research, conversations with others, prayer, and my past experience with encouraging vocations and with seminarians.

As far as the official discipline of the Church is concerned, it would be helpful to note that the Holy See has touched upon the topic on at least three occasions such as: Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (formally known as the Congregation for Religious), Careful Selection and Training of Candidates for the States of Perfection and Sacred Order (February 2, 1961), in Bouscaren, S.J., T. Lincoln and O’Connor, James I., “The Canon Law Digest,” Vol. V, Milwaukee, WI, The Bruce Publishing Company, 1963, p. 471; Congregation for Catholic Education, A Guide to Formation in Priestly Celibacy, Rome, April 11, 1974, 21; and Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Directives on Formation in Religious Institutes, in “Origins,” March 22, 1990, Vol. 19, No. 42, p. 687. These documents give indications of a conclusion similar to mine.

The Holy Father, in his recent address to the Brazilian Bishops, spoke clearly about a renewed attentiveness to the selection of candidates. “It would be deplorable that, by a mistaken act of tolerance, he would ordain young men who are immature or exhibit clear signs of affective disorders, who, as is sadly known, could cause serious confusion in the consciousness of the faithful with obvious harm for the whole Church,” he said. (L’Osservatore Romano, 11 September 2002, p. 4) This seems in line with the previous documents of the Holy See I cited. I would place the disorder of a predominant or exclusive attraction to a person of the same sex in the category of an affective disorder.

I would also add that part of the official discipline of the Church is the superabundant availability of grace for everyone to live the virtue of chastity. The most important people in the Kingdom of God are not the ministers but the saints. Even though someone may not be accepted as a candidate for the priesthood, they are still called to great sanctity. For someone with Same Sex Attraction (SSA), the struggle of living chastity can be an opportunity to live sanctity with tremendous heroism.

3. What do you think of the article by Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton?

After it was published, I eagerly read Bishop Gumbleton’s article. America had informed me that there would be another article which would take a different side to the issue, and so I wanted to read the other article before I spoke with anyone from the media about my own.

Bishop Gumbleton seems to employ some anecdotes for his argumentation and his article focuses on the question of those who are already priests who suffer from SSA. My focus is more on the question of whether the presence of SSA would qualify as a prudent doubt for admission regarding a man who has yet to be ordained.

I did notice that Bishop Gumbleton refers to what he calls the “scapegoating” of sufferers of SSA for the clergy abuse scandal as well to the “giftedness” of these priests.

I would simply like to say that I think that SSA is a factor for some cases of abuse but certainly not for all. The root causes, I believe, are more diverse and extensive. However, if one should recognize that SSA is one of the causes, this is not necessarily “scapegoating” but an honest evaluation of evidence.

I would also like to add that the best pastoral response to my brother priests who suffer from SSA is certainly to affirm their many fine qualities and gifts, but also to help them to see that they are suffering from a disorder and that they can find both spiritual and psychological help within the Church in order to deal with their difficulty.

As a matter of fact, it is precisely the struggle for chastity in accordance with the Church’s teaching and the search for possible healing that can be a great gift for the individual and the Church. A priest who is afflicted with such a disorder can be consoled with the Cross and with the faith of knowing that he is filling up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of the Church (Col. 1: 24). But recognizing the gifts of someone by seeing the value of their fruitful suffering is not the same thing as the suitability for Holy Orders. All those who suffer from affective disorders can find supernatural value in their suffering but it doesn’t mean they should necessarily be priests.

4. Would your logic apply to removing already ordained homosexual priests?

I’m happy you asked this question. I had hoped that more questions that were not explicitly covered in the article would arise from a discussion of the points being made. I would honestly be interested to hear what others would say about your question.

I don’t think, however, that the exact same logic could be used with priests. The article itself only dealt with the exercise of the virtue of prudence before ordination and not the prudential decision and pastoral care for priests who suffer from SSA. This question is a more complex issue. But I do believe that certain elements found in the article could serve as a basis for advice to be given for cases of priests with SSA.

5. Do you believe that homosexuality is one of the causal factors in the sex abuse scandals?

I have certainly heard and read that some people have made a connection between the two. I believe that there is compelling evidence that would suggest that, for some abuse cases, SSA disorder is one of the causal factors, especially with older post-pubescent minors. As I said before, I don’t think it is clear that SSA is a causal factor in all cases of abuse nor do I believe that it is the only cause. With or without the scandal, the question of admission to seminaries and Holy Orders of those who suffer with SSA is still a valid and important one to discuss.

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I have been asked by several colleagues how to assess the political weight of Baker’s essay, a logical question given the way it was attributed to a “Vatican official,” without explaining whether that means this is a new statement of church policy or simply someone’s private opinion.

Baker has the curial rank of adetto seconda classe, or “aide second class.” This means he is a desk officer with, typically, four layers of authority above him: the cardinal-prefect, the secretary, the under-secretary, and the capo ufficio, or “head of the office.” An adetto cannot promulgate policy changes. (Technically speaking they can’t even go on a coffee break without their capo ufficio’s permission, though not all superiors are quite so hard-nosed). Hence in one sense Baker’s essay carries no special magisterial significance. He acknowledges above that the essay was not approved by anyone before publication.

On the other hand, in my experience the views Baker expressed are shared in many Vatican offices, and often at higher levels of authority. In 2001, for example, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, expressed the view that homosexuals should not be admitted to seminaries in an interview with Catholic News Service. Last March, Vatican spokesperson Joaquín Navarro-Valls said to the New York Times that homosexuals “cannot be ordained.”

Not everyone, however, takes quite so hard a line. Some would allow that a candidate with a homosexual orientation might be able to offer convincing evidence of a capacity to live a faithful celibate life, and hence be eligible for ordination. The Congregation for Catholic Education has been pondering a document on this subject for years, and internal debate is said to be ongoing.

In that sense, I believe Baker’s essay represents a climate of opinion that is fairly widely held inside the Vatican, and that has gained strength in the wake of the various sexual abuse scandals. Whether that climate will eventually result in an official statement on the inadmissibility of homosexuals remains to be seen.



Original material copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.