Priestly Exemptions

Green Melinda

Despite the Australian Parliament resoundingly knocking back marriage equality for all Australians, work continues here and overseas to address discrimination against those of us who are not heterosexual.

It was pleasing to see that a number of states in the USA passed pro-GLBTI bills during their recent election campaign.  It gives a glimmer of hope that all is not lost in the USA.  Full equality seems just a bit closer with Obama returned to the Whitehouse.

In Australia a new draft federal anti-discrimination law is about to be released for public comment.  Among the provisions of the new act will be a clause outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

In a recent opinion piece in MCV, Anna Brown, co-convenor of the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and a senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre writes about the new Act and makes the following point:

One area requiring careful consideration will be exemptions for religious organisations. Currently federal laws give religious organisations broad license to discriminate when it accords with religious doctrine. Of course there are situations where discrimination may be reasonable, such as the training of priests.

Any new legislation requires careful consideration.  Her statement has highlighted an important area in anti-discrimination laws and what it means to grant exemptions.

The issue of granting an exemption to a church to stop a homosexual training isn’t a tough call I wouldn’t have thought.  To suggest that it’s reasonable to stop a gay person training to be a priest is exactly the sort of discrimination that is without foundation and should be challenged without hesitation by lobby groups.

I’m going to assume that in this instance the discussion is about the Catholic Church and priests.  The church is coming under increased pressure to reveal all they know about child sex abuse by their clergy in Victoria and New South Wales.  The whole issue of sexual orientation is a big issue for them.  The church through their bishops and archbishops have many times come out against marriage equality.  They claim that it is against nature, wipes away millennia of tradition and may deprive children of parents of the opposite sex.

There’s a disconnect in Anna Brown’s comment and reality.  For what reason should the church not want to train young men to be priests based on their sexual orientation?  There’s an uncomfortable link that Brown makes between sexual orientation and paedophilia   It’s not overtly stated but the claims of banning gay men from the priesthood should be of concern to the VGLRL. After all, there is no good reason to enforce such a ban.

The right for the church and indeed any religion to have its own set of rules that sit alongside the laws of the land is perfectly acceptable.  It’s when church rules breach the laws of the democratically elected parliament’s law that a problem arises.  Under what circumstances should the any organisation be granted an exemption?

The church catechism says ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered’ and ‘they are contrary to the natural law’.  In the same section of the catechism the church also says that homosexuals are called to chastity   Just like their priests are called to chastity

They go on to say:

By the virtues of self-mastery that teaches them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

The same ideals that any man trying to be celibate should aspire too.

The church also acknowledges that gay people exist and that the number is ‘not negligible’ and  that gay people ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity’ and also ‘every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’

The text then goes on to say this about gay people.

These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

There are so many other ‘sins’ that this applies to, whether its murder, theft, having an affair, the list is endless.  The church says that all can be forgiven and conquered with the love of Jesus.

With all that said, on what grounds can a church that claims to be against unjust discrimination, object to an out gay man signing up to the priesthood?  If the gay man commits to chastity, with the help of ‘disinterested’ friends, why would the church object?

The answer I think is bound up in the misperception that gay men are on a recruiting drive to get poor young people to convert to homosexuality.  The notion that having a gay man as a priest somehow puts children at risk confuses homosexuality with paedophilia

As we well know paedophiles come in all shapes and size and can’t necessarily be regarded as either gay or straight.

For the co-convenor of the VGLRL to suggest that it’s reasonable for the church to discriminate against gay people is quite wrong and flies in the face of all the lobby is trying to achieve.

Gay people are perfectly capable of believing in God, obeying the laws of their religious affiliations and participating in church life.  It’s not like there aren’t any gay priests about.

There should be no exemptions granted to religious bodies based on sexuality.  That would leave the way open for the Catholic church to further demonise and belittle those who have a genuine desire to serve their God, their church and their people.

About the author

Gregory Storer is a secularist and atheist. He is the father of two and married to Michael Barnett. They both agitate for gay rights and challenge homophobia every chance they get.