Celibacy In A Sex-Obsessed World 1: A Gay Cardinal?

A very different post from my last one, but again about a Cardinal. This is intended to be the first of a series, which I may be able to continue tomorrow if we have the forecast snow but don’t lose power.

The Departure of a Cardinal

Cardinal Keith O'Brien

In response to the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the BBC asks, Is it even possible to live a celibate life? On 22nd February Cardinal O’Brien raised this question, in the context of the celibacy required of Roman Catholic priests, in a BBC interview:

I realise that many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family of their own.

It was the very next day, 23rd February, that accusations of “inappropriate acts” by O’Brien, with three priests and a former priest, were made public and reported in The Observer. Two days later O’Brien was forced to resign. He later admitted that

there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.

Now this raises questions of what dirty tricks might have been behind the timing of these allegations, forcing O’Brien out days before he was due to vote in the election for a new Pope, and so soon after he had hinted at what kind of candidate he might prefer. But my point here is not to discuss that, but to consider what the story might have to teach us about a Christian attitude towards sex and sexual orientation.

Is Keith O’Brien Gay?

A more significant question raised by these events concerns Cardinal O’Brien’s sexual orientation, if that is a meaningful concept. Is he in fact sexually attracted to primarily to men? To put it bluntly, is he gay? Has he tried to suppress this, but without complete success? Does he think it would have been easier to suppress this sexual preference if he had been married?

According to Wikipedia, O’Brien was at one time “regarded as “liberal” on the issue of homosexuality”. But by 2012 he was in the public eye as an outspoken opponent of same sex marriage, and the gay rights group Stonewall gave him their “Bigot of the Year” award. If the Cardinal is in fact gay, then I am sure such groups would also consider him for a hypocrite of the year award. But it would need a careful look at what he actually said before deciding if such an award would be fair.

Alternatively, the Cardinal may not actually be gay at all. Maybe he is attracted primarily to women, and could have been genuinely happy as a husband and father. But as a young man confined in an all male seminary and forbidden even to masturbate, he might have been driven by testosterone to inappropriate acts towards the only people who were available, his male students. If so, it would seem that enforced celibacy led him into what his church considers a greater sin than marriage, or masturbation: homosexual activity.

Whatever his natural sexual inclinations, surely the young priest quickly regretted those inappropriate acts. Very likely he came to hate them, and fear them being revealed, and that might well have fuelled a more general negative attitude towards same sex attraction and marriage.

Anyway, unless O’Brien chooses to reveal more himself, it is unlikely that we will ever know his true sexual preferences. And that is probably for the best. I would just say that it is sad that his distinguished career ended in this way, and wish him a long and happy retirement from public life.

Celibacy and Gay Bishops

While the Roman Catholic Church requires celibacy of its priests, with a very few exceptions, the Church of England can be said to require celibacy only of those who are homosexual. …

To be continued.

9 thoughts on “Celibacy In A Sex-Obsessed World 1: A Gay Cardinal?

  1. “While the Roman Catholic Church requires celibacy of its priests, with a very few exceptions, the Church of England can be said to require celibacy only of those who are homosexual.”

    Strange world, isn’t it? In Eastern Orthodoxy, priests may marry, homosex is forbidden, and celibacy and fasting are expected among priests on eve of the Divine Liturgy. Orthodox bishops are taken from the order of monks and therefore are not married. All Orthodox monastics are expected to be celibate and to follow the fasting periods. As you see, fasting and celibacy are linked in the ancient tradition. These acts of self-denial serve to purify one’s thoughts in preparation for worship. In contemporary society self-denial for any purpose is laughable.

  2. Paul tells Timothy, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” 1Ti 4:1-5
    I might be reading this wrong, but I’ve always thought that forbidding to marry was a doctrine of devils. How are red-blooded men expected to cope when they are forbidden God’s natural outlet for their sexuality, plus they are stuck in confessionals day in, day out, listening to the details of other people’s sexual sins?
    I don’t condone what they do in any way, shape or form, but I do see how it happens. It’s devilish, it really is.

  3. ThinkingItThrough, I think I agree with you. I will be going into this in more depth, and as I think it through I may come to some conclusions which aren’t quite what I expect.

  4. In practice it might be closer to the situation to say the CoE expects celibacy of those of its ministers who are not married, which would cover all “homosexuals” plus non married heterosexuals.

    I look forward to your reflections on this one Peter. A fellow Anglican , like me visiting her mother in a care home, asked today whether I thought the RCs should remove the requirement to celibacy.

    I found it difficult to answer. I certainly see celibacy as a path some may be called by God to follow, hard though it may well be. But it does not seem to be a Biblical injunction .

    That said if a particular “congregation” or denomination chooses to require that as a point of internal discipline and order, then provided it does not set that out as other than an internal matter then those who are troubled by it can vote with their feet. Paul evidently felt there were some benefits.

    I guess I see the traditional Salvation Army requirement that its officers are teetotal in a that sort of light. Similarly while unlike my more Anglo Catholic bretheren I see no serious theological objection to the concept of lay presidency at the Lord’s Table , I am happy to submit to the discipline and order of the CoE. As a licensed minister that aspect of ministry is not my prerogative. I do not feel I am being restricted.

  5. Colin, sorry to be slow replying. I deliberately used the words “can be said” in my final sentence because I was aware that this is true only with significant qualifications – an issue I want to get into in my follow-up post, when I have time for it.

    I don’t want to meddle in the internal affairs of a church which is not my own. I discussed RC celibacy largely as a lead into other subjects, again where I am going in my next post, as hinted at in my final paragraph.

    However, I don’t think it is reasonable to expect RC dissenters from this policy to “vote with their feet”. It is a very Protestant idea that each individual can decide for themselves which church to be a member of. For Roman Catholics, as indeed for some Anglicans, even evangelical ones like the Ugley Vicar, there is only one true church, at least in any one place, and outside that there is no true Christian ministry and perhaps no salvation. It would all be much easier for our C of E if those opposed to women priests and bishops would leave and form their own church, but they have reasons of principle for not doing so. But that is not where I want to go in this thread (so please no comments here about women priests and bishops). The result: many RC priests who want to marry try to remain celibate out of obedience, but a large number of them fail. That is a major weakness in the RC church, and I am glad to see that at least one cardinal has recognised it.

  6. I have, for a long time, thought the same thoughts that you just wrote about Priest and their sometimes “skewed/perverse” sexuality. Maybe He is gay, or maybe he is straight, but highly sexual (like most if not all human beings) and couldn’t express it in any other way.

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