America's Parallel Church

Some time has now passed since the Vatican's clear ban on all gay men in seminaries. And here's one thing that chief theocon, Richard John Neuhaus, and I can agree on. Judging by the public and private responses of most bishops, cardinals and lay people, this Instruction is not really going to be enforced. Some orders, like the Jesuits (thank God they're still around), are explicitly resisting the order to discriminate against good seminarians on the basis of their sexual orientation. They regard the Instruction as the moral equivalent of an order not to hire black men or Latino men or red-heads. It's morally preposterous. Given this, many friends - especially in the clergy - have urged me to cool it. They assure me that nothing is really going to happen, that Benedict doesn't mean it, that even if he does, he's old and no one in America is going to enforce it, and so on. What they're really saying is that there are two churches - the one Benedict pretends to govern, and the one that actually exists. Although I'm relieved at the resistance to the Vatican's bigotry, I find this too glib a response. For one thing, the Church has now a public voice in this, and it is clear: gay men are uniquely psychologically and morally flawed, "objectively disordered," and so on. This public teaching matters. It inflicts enormous pain on many people; it acts as a deterrent to gay teens or men who believe they have a vocation; and it rests on a profound hypocrisy, coming from an institution full of gay men at the very highest echelons. It is also empirically untrue. And any time the Church teaches something untrue, it wounds itself and the faithful. Nevertheless, it's clear the new teaching has hit something of a wall. It has convinced no one not already in the grip of the new fundamentalism. And it has appalled everyone else. The Vatican, like the old Soviet Union, is pretending to preach things, and lay Catholics are pretending to believe them. This is not a sign of a healthy church.