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Gays and the priesthood

I'm a catholic priest, excluded from ministry because of my marriage within the church. Alan Gill's article (“Gay priests – another view”, November 30) reflects the confusion in the official church regarding sexuality. Some psychologists do not agree that the homosexual orientation is "intrinsically disordered" but is rather just part of the complex human condition. Certainly, I know of some very good priests from my generation who had a less than "straight" orientation. I am sure of their fidelity to celibacy.  What the Catholic church lacks is balance, not only in the hothouse of seminary training, but in its visible presence in the world.

Immaturity is one result of its absence. Single and married, celibate and sexual, male and female is the balance we find in God's kingdom. Let the dominant culture of male monasticism as its ministerial model begin to change and the whole church may soon begin to mature, I say. 

John O'Donnell


I read with interest the article about gay priests and the sex abuse scandal. I think this discussion misses the point. That is, there would not be a worldwide problem of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church if the Vatican had been sending messages that made it clear that sexual abuse of minors would not be tolerated, rather than sending the message that the way to deal with sexual abuse is to deny and cover it up. Let's focus the primary responsibility for the sexual abuse crisis where it belongs, in Rome.

St. Louis, MO


In this article on gays and the priesthood, Alan Gill refers to the condition of priests attraction to youths as ebophilia.  WRONG! The word is ephebophilia.

Furthermore, the problem of arrested psychosexual development in many priests with a homosexual orientation is exacerbated by the necessity to deny their 'authentic' selves by keeping quiet about their being gay.

If the orientation were no more an issue than eye or hair colour and judgments made on the basis of behaviour, then the self loathing that labels such as an "intrinsically evil" or "intrinsically disordered" cause in men who despite their own orientation, need to run the Church’s party line, would need to be dropped. 

Heavens! As fallen humans, we all have a tendency towards evil from which Christ redeemed us. Pointing the finger at others rather than ourselves is hypocrisy.


Tony Maynard


AIDS Charity

How can Catholics Online promote an organisation that opposes the Catholic Churche's teaching (News, 30) – “the Australian AIDS Fund Incorporated advocates the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS” - and even invite donations to support such an organisation. Surely there are plenty of Catholic organisations which people can support in this area.

Yours sincerely

Suzanne Russell


From the Editor’s Desk

Is it possible for a mere lay woman to get a copy of “Towards Understanding”? I would be very interested in reading it.

Amen to your thoughts about maturity for all.

When the whole concept and structure of 'priesthood' is re- thought and becomes inclusive of all, then "the Church" will begin to become what it was always meant to be.

Kind regards,

Maree Kennedy


Matters of conscience

Max Charlesworth “Conscience and Sexual Morality”, November 30) seems to me to have misconstrued the meaning and role of conscience in the Catholic moral tradition.

The article is strong on assertion, weak on principle. As I understand him, the author falls back on conscience as the determinant of sexual morality (as well as the morality of the use of human embryos in medical experimentation aimed at helping couples overcome infertility, which is not an issue of sexual morality).

Traditionally we have said that conscience is the supreme subjective norm of morality; on conscience depends the moral quality of an individual’s act in a particular situation. But to appeal to conscience as the arbiter of objective morality is unsustainable. It may be true that many, if not most, critical moral issues must be left to the informed conscience of the individual moral agent, but this refers to the subjective decision of the person concerned. It does not determine what is objectively right or wrong.

Conscience decisions are not only usually, but always, subjective. They are personal judgments about the moral goodness or badness of a particular course of action confronting me here and now, not an assessment of what is good or bad in itself. Whatever he would have thought were he alive today, Richard McCormick would never have denied this. To uphold the subjective nature of conscience is not to denigrate conscience but to give it its proper function, enabling human persons in accordance with their human dignity to “act on their own judgment, enjoying and making use of responsible freedom, not driven by coercion and motivated by a sense of duty” (Vatican 11, Dignitatis Humanae, 1:1).

However, as the document goes on to say, our dignity as persons obliges us to do all possible to ensure that our conscience decisions are in accord with objective truth. The late Pope John Paul II stressed this: “The maturity and responsibility of these judgments – and, when all is said and done, of the individual who is their subject – are not measured by the liberation of conscience from objective truth, ……but, on the contrary, by an insistent search for truth and by allowing oneself to be guided by that truth in one’s actions” (Veritatis Splendor 61:2).

In the moral field truth is enunciated in moral principles, statements that contain value judgments about the morality of human actions. They are meant to protect the basic human values that cluster around the absolute and inviolable value of the human person and to provide guidance in decision making. Richard McCormick questioned the absolute and universal character of concrete moral principles, not their relevance and importance. He certainly did not dispense with such principles; indeed he conceded that some of them, such as the torturing of captives and the kidnapping of innocent persons, may be virtually absolute.

It seems to me quite gratuitous to assert that, if he were alive today, ‘McCormick would now acknowledge that homosexuality is an alternative and legitimate mode of human sexuality and that this could be seen as a genuine “development” in Catholic moral theology’. We simply do not know that, nor does it logically follow from his rejection of Catholic ‘integrism’, as outlined by the author.

Brian Lewis



Cardinal Newman once said that he would drink a toast to conscience first and to the Pope second. It seems that Max Charlesworth and the late Richard McCormick SJ would also raise a first glass to conscience. But Newman’s notion of conscience differs from theirs. He rejected neither universal principles nor the teaching of the magisterium. For him conscience was the internal witness of the law of God rather than the creation of man. He was mistrustful of the ‘free choice’ of the individual moral agent: “Dare not to think that you have got to the bottom of your hearts, you do not know what evil lies there”.

For Max Charlesworth, the crucial part of any conscience decision involves becoming informed about the relevant principles, whatever they may be, and the concrete circumstances within which one must act. Counsellors and medical experts may be consulted, but Church teaching apparently not. The danger here is that a conscience decision easily becomes rationalized personal preference, what Newman calls a counterfeit conscience or the “right of self-will”. All things become allowable. Homosexuality becomes an alternative and legitimate mode of human sexuality. The early human embryo only has the status that its makers are willing to confer upon it.

Newman would have had no truck with such relativism: “When men advocate the rights of conscience, they in no sense mean the rights of the Creator, nor the duty to Him, in thought and deed, of the creature; but the right of thinking, speaking, writing, and acting, according to their judgment or their humour, without any thought of God at all.”

Peter Dolan

Lambton, NSW


More from Bruce Duncan

My apologies to Andrew Doran for my delay in replying to his letter (16 November 2005).

Unfortunately he has misunderstood me as denying the 'real presence' of Christ in the Eucharist. My point was rather to argue that the 'real presence' of Christ in the Eucharist must be understood in the full context of his real presence in the Church, in the Word of Scripture, in the whole liturgy of the 'breaking of the bread', and especially in our solidarity with the sick and suffering. It is very helpful to see how expression of belief in the Eucharist has varied greatly over the ages, and that devotional forms take shape in response to particular historical circumstances.

If our devotion to the Eucharist loses sight of this context, it can become isolated, and sometimes result in exaggerated practices, or rhetoric about Christ being 'physically' present in the Eucharist. The Church does not teach that, but instead holds that Christ is sacramentally present. Christ's risen body is not the same as the physical body he had during his life.

Here we are wrestling with a mystery that we will never be able to explain: that we believe Christ to be truly and intimately present to us in the Eucharist, but we don't know how to explain this. In the 13th century especially the language of 'transubstantiation' became Church teaching, and took on further colouration at the Council of Trent. In recent decades many theologians have tried to find a more contemporary expression of our faith, but we will always be left without adequate words for this mystery.

In my article I was also concerned to take up an aspect that is too often overlooked by some, that integral to the Eucharist is the signification of breaking and sharing bread. The Eucharist is not simply meant to be a personal or spiritual devotion. It also implies God's solidarity with all those without enough bread or food to eat, and implies a demand on believers to share their resources with the poor and hungry. Matthew's Last Judgment scene articulates this brilliantly: “When did we see you hungry...?”

Pope John Paul II also repeatedly insisted on this. Recall how he said in his document on the new millennium: “Intense prayer, yes, but it must not distract us from our commitment to history”, to building a world of justice and peace, where all can enjoy the hospitality of God's table.

We need to keep making the connections, joining the dots in the symbols of the Eucharist. Why did Jesus choose bread and wine? Why did he break it and ask us to keep breaking and sharing it? Why did the first Christian communities share all their goods in common? My point is that Christ is not just present in the species of the bread of Eucharist, but in the sharing of that bread as well, implying and demanding solidarity with those in great need. This has always been the practice of the saints and the ideal for all Christians.

In the current scene of massive hunger and the campaign of the UN Millennium Development Goals, it seems so clear that the Eucharist of its very nature demands we exert every effort to feed the hungry and insistently urge our governments and people to help eradicate hunger and poverty. Is it not true that this is a practical demand of our faith? If we were to ignore this call to action, would Jesus not see this as a betrayal of the Gospel and of the Eucharist itself?

The point about the tabernacles being at the side of the main altar was a throw-away line to illustrate the point. Traditionally tabernacles were at the side of the altar. You can see this today in the four major basilicas in Rome itself. The directive (“It is strongly recommended...”) to place tabernacles at the side in the church can be found in the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, par. 276, implementing the Vatican Council decisions. This explains why many parish churches did move their tabernacles to a side chapel.

Yours sincerely,

Bruce Duncan CSsR


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