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Dissent on Vatican document in Canada.

The Vatican document on "men with homosexual tendencies and the priesthood" (dated November 4, but issued only on November 29; for text see C.I., Jan. 2006, pp. 17-19) states that the Church "cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called 'gay culture'."

Seminary rectors and spiritual directors should advise these men to leave, once they become aware of the situation.

Bishops' conferences

The document has generally been well received by various national hierarchies, some of which added cautions about not misinterpreting certain aspects. They did this apparently to counteract the hostile or exaggerated interpretations of the daily press (e.g., in Canada, Toronto's Globe & Mail editorial, "Vatican on witch hunt").

As individuals often differ, so here, too, some people thought the document was too vague, others thought it too narrow. American psychologist Eugene Kennedy, a former priest, complained that the instruction "does not define what deep-seated homosexual tendencies mean" and that this document will therefore be "subject to endless analyses" (Prairie Messenger, Dec. 7, 2005). Fr. John Harvey, on the other hand, praised it for that very reason: "it does not try to answer every question" (C.I., Jan. 2005, p. 20). Winnipeg Archbishop James Weisgerber, interviewed in Rome, thought its focus was "too narrow and that there should have been references to "heterosexuals" (CNN, Dec. 7, 2005). Michael Coren, writing in the Toronto Sun, had no doubts about the usefulness of the Instruction ("There's good reason to bar gay priests"--Oct. 29, 2005), while John Bentley Mays of the Catholic Register joined him in these sentiments: "it clears the air of any lingering misunderstanding" ("Plain sense"-Dec. 18, 2005).

Within the Catholic community at large the strongest opposition has come in North America, especially from individuals with links to--or sympathy for--the "gay culture," and groups and media habitually critical of Catholic moral teaching. This in itself is evidence that this document was badly needed.

Today's "gay culture" had its origins in the United States in the nineteen fifties and that is where it still finds its strongest promoters. Clearly, this has affected the Catholic community. The sex-abuse scandals involving over 1100 priests and bishops over a 50-year period in the USA, the revelations about "lavender" seminaries, abuses in other countries, all confirm this.


Father Scott Gale

First of all, the document has led a few priests to end the ambiguities in their lives and declare themselves "gay." Hamilton-born Fr. Scott Gale of Thunder Bay diocese in Ontario read a prepared statement at the end of Mass on New Year's Day 2006, announcing his resignation from the priesthood. Already two years earlier in August 2003, the 47-year old priest had publicly contradicted the statement of the Canadian bishops calling upon Parliament not to change the definition of marriage. He had this published in the Thunder Bay Chronicle and then gained further notoriety when the Toronto Star also printed his "homily" as an Op-ed piece in a Sunday edition. As was to be expected, Toronto's biweekly Catholic New Times extended its support (Oct. 4, 2003).

Fr. Gale took a leave of absence from July 2004 to June 2005. During this time he told himself that he would have to make a decision whether to remain celibate or not by age 50. The Vatican's November document, he felt, allowed him no choice. It became increasingly difficult for him to be "an official representative of a Church which does not accept and value my sexual orientation." Now, "my worst fears were confirmed."

One may note in passing that he also expressed disagreement with the Church's ruling on "women's ordination." Also, Bishop Fred Colli of Thunder Bay did not seem to grasp what was happening. He actually congratulated the now ex-Father Gale for "having the courage to say: 'This is who I am'." Does one congratulate a person for being confused about his own identity and for not knowing who he is? Persons with homosexual tendencies are not born that way. It is not a gift from God. It is not something to be proud of.

Father Renshaw

Father Richard Renshaw, C.S.C., assistant general secretary of the Canadian Religious Conference until 2002, went public on CBC radio on December 4, 2005, where he laid bare his soul in an interview with Michael Enright on Sunday Edition. Ordained in 1965, he had been able to live out his vows of celibacy until he had a nervous breakdown after which he became an active homosexual. The theological formation and doctrine he had studied before ordination, he said, "had never been the slightest use to me." He consequently developed his own philosophy of listening to his "consciousness, his subconscience and his body," and "listening without judgement." His sexuality was the all-important thing to him. He admitted he had supported "gay" causes publicly for quite some time and has now been suspended from public ministry. He attacked the Vatican instruction as "homophobic," and the Canadian bishops as just "parroting Rome," a phrase used two years earlier by Scott Gale (CNN, New Freeman, Dec. 9, 2005).

Quebec priests

On February 26, nineteen Quebec priests published a 980-word open letter "Trop, c'est trop" ("Enough is enough") in the Sunday edition of the Montreal daily paper La Presse.

The ostensibly polite letter invited the Quebec bishops to dialogue with them about two things: the Canadian bishops' statement opposing same-sex "marriage" legislation (passed in the House of Commons in 2005), and the Vatican letter. Both the attitudes and argumentation of these documents, the authors said, have created perplexity and disagreement.

The authors warn that in these matters "the Church has shown itself to be wrong more than once. What is needed is for the clergy to begin an open dialogue at the parish level."

The Vatican Council, the letter continues, highlighted the fact that the Church loves the world; that she walks with the people in good times and bad times. How is it that she now acts so negatively? Are we back to the prophets of gloom and doom excoriated by Pope John XXIII?

The letter then turns to the rejection of the Vatican document by Father Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., the former Master of the Dominican Order, as reported by The Tablet (Nov. 27, 2005). It quotes several paragraphs including the statement, "I have no doubt that God does call homosexuals to the priesthood."

Having satisfied themselves that with this authority backing them their case was unassailable, they went on to reject the whole ecclesiastical argumentation as utterly wrong. It was, they said, to be rejected in toto. In place of this now outdated Church reasoning they boldly presented the idea that "mankind has evolved." Mankind has redefined what nature is and the Church had better start reflecting this human evolution! The authors conclude by addressing all Canadians:

"We would like to say loudly to the numerous Christians of the country who refuse this approach and language of the ecclesiastical authorities: you are no less Christians for that! As far as we are concerned, the essence of Christianity is not to be found in this debate. Your dissent should not lead to your excommunication. Make sure you don't exclude yourselves!"

Following this call to resistance, they suggested that they should have a dialogue with the bishops on the two issues mentioned.

The letter was signed by six priests from the diocese of Joliette (Bishop Gilles Lussier); five priests from Montreal (Cardinal Archbishop Jean-Claude Turcotte); four priests from Saint-Jean Longueil (Bishop. Jacques Bethelet); three from Gatineau (Bishop Roger Ebacher); and one from the Gaspe diocese (Bishop Jean Gagnon).


The public statement made an initial splash on the CBC and the press. "I wouldn't call this unprecedented but I'd be at a loss to come up with a precedent," said Christophe Potworoski, holder of the Catholic Studies chair at McGill University. He and Guy Menard, of the religious studies department at the Universite de Quebec a Montreal, agreed that there had not been such a broad open protest in Quebec since the 1968 Hurnanae vitae controversy (Globe, Feb. 27, 2006). The only episcopal reaction at this early stage was the comment by Auxiliary Bishop Louis Dicaire that he was irritated by the public nature of their dissent. It should have remained private, he said (Journal de Montreal, Nov. 27, 2006).

Actually, the truth is that this letter, both in content and methodology, fits a pattern. Let us recall a few facts.

Veritatis splendor

In August 1993, Pope John Paul II signed his encyclical The splendour of truth (Veritatis splendor) regarding certain fundamental questions of the Church's moral teaching. It was published in October. Thereupon there was a howl from assorted Quebec theologians--men and women. Sixty of them published an open letter in the Montreal daily Le Devoir (Oct. 6), then--as now--addressed to the Quebec bishops asking for dialogue. Then--as now--the authors scolded the encyclical for having too many condemnations; for not being "open to the people;" for ignoring thirty years of theological development (morality is evolving). Why doesn't this Pope listen!

The sixty authors reiterated their rejection of Humane vitae ("We regret that the encyclical returns to the question of birth control and reaffirms that contraceptive practices, by which the conjugal act is intentionally rendered incapable of procreation, are intrinsically evil in all circumstances." It is unfortunate ..., they said; more flexible views should be aired ...; etc. At the end they expressed "their astonishment" at the proposed measures to stop dissent.

Women's ordination

In May of 1994 Pope John Paul II ended the 30-year-old debate begun at the end of the Second Vatican Council with the definitive apostolic letter On reserving priestly ordination to men alone (Ordinatio sacerdotalis). On June 29, 725 Quebec Catholics--among them 23 theologians who had signed the 1993 letter of protest--published another "Open letter" to the Quebec bishops in Le Devoir. This letter was written by four members of the feminist group "Femmes et Ministeres" ("Women and ministries").

Previously, a number of Canadian bishops had publicly expressed sympathy with the idea of women priests and ordained deaconesses, especially in Quebec and New Brunswick. The president of the CCCB--the Quebec Bishop Jean-Guy Hamelin--had issued a statement on May 30 saying: "The Catholic Bishops of Canada accept the teaching of the Pope and make it their own." But he left a gratuitous ambiguity in the short announcement by saying that the Pope had not made it an "article of faith."

Meanwhile, the world's daily press ordained that "the debate was not over." In the United States, for example, Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee--later on disgraced for a homosexual encounter--declared: the Pope's "method of exercising authority was a problem." In the Toronto Star, Michael Higgins of St. Jerome's College, Waterloo, ON, declared that "Somehow, the Pope doesn't get it" (June 25, 1994). The Canadian Religious Conference (CRC) expressed "dismay" ("Major superiors upset over 'closed attitude' on issue of women's ordination," Catholic Register, June 18, 1994). And the June 27 headline in Le Devoir read: "Enraged women threaten Church with a boycott of the Mass."

The June 27 letter had asked Bishop Hamelin to reopen the debate, and the bishop declared himself sympathetic "because so many of these people work closely with us." That was like pouring oil on the fire. A second petition appeared in Le Devoir in late August, this one with the signatures of 1300 women and men, including this time the feminists from English Canada.

It all ended rather abruptly when a small Montreal magazine Jesus, Marie et Notre Temps collected 8000 signatures in a matter of two weeks in support of the Pope.


The pattern is clear enough. After 30 years of uproar and dissent in moral teaching, the Holy Father ends the debate by clarifying the rules, and 60 dissenting theologians call for "dialogue" with their bishops. After 30 years of discussing women's ordination worldwide, the Pontiff explains why it cannot and may not be done, declaring this to be the final word, and 2000 women and theologians in Quebec denounce the decision and demand their bishops to enter into "dialogue" with them. After 30 years of explaining the difficulties with homosexuality--Sexual ethics, 1976; Pastoral care, 1986; Considerations on discrimination, 1992; Meaning of human sexuality, 1995; On homosexual unions, 2003--the Vatican reiterates age-old teaching about homosexuality and the priesthood, and nineteen priests denounce it, call the Catholic community to dissent, and ask for dialogue with their bishops. It is ever such.

Only one of the nineteen is known outside Quebec. Like Scott Gale and Richard Renshaw, he suffers from "deep-seated homosexual tendencies." Fr. Raymond Gravel of the Joliette diocese has for several years denounced the bishops' stand against same-sex "marriage" and the Church's teaching on sexuality including abortion. Bishop Lussier has ignored requests to do something about this man. Now we learn that before ordination Raymond Gravel was a homosexual prostitute and a barman in a leather bar (Globe, Feb. 27, 2006).

It seems clear that, despite pretensions to politeness, this letter is born of arrogance and contempt. Year after year the "gay" subculture has advanced in aggressiveness and boldness in their demand for full equality, and this has spilled over among Catholic supporters, especially those who are part of that culture. It seems to me that it is no longer possible for bishops to placate them with "discreet" silence or private undertakings. It is a public assault which requires a public reply and action.

Note (March 9)

At the very last moment, a 13-page document from the Website of the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC) in Montreal has reached us, thanks to (Mar. 8, 2006). The CRC represents over 200 religious congregations in Canada, mostly of women.

Based on a survey of member congregations, of which (only) 60% responded, the document calls for a pretty-well autonomous church in Canada; a free "creative" liturgy adapted to people's "needs" and "experiences;" a downplaying of dogma and moral teaching; an end to Catholic teaching on contraception, homosexuality, and assisted suicide; the introduction of married priests, women priests, and the right of parishes themselves to celebrate the Eucharist; full equality of women and men in the Church in all ministries; and, of course, dialogue.

There is not a reference to Christ, Scripture, prayer, or devotions. It is just an introspective, self-pitying wail for freedom from "Rome."

The Bishops of Canada should close down the CRC without further ado. This document even more strongly confirms the need to deal with the "nineteen" in a decisive manner. If priests (or nuns) don't want to be members of the existing Church, they should be requested or advised to leave.

Fr. Alphonse de Valk. C.S.B.

Father de Valk has been following battles between the Magisterium and the dissenters since the close of the Second Vatican Council. He was ordained a priest in 1965 and celebrated his 40th anniversary last December.
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Title Annotation:gay clergy; Pope Benedict XVI
Author:de Valk, Alphonse
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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