Friday, April 09, 2010

The Validity of Homosexual Vows of Chastity in Religious Life

By Regis Scanlon

We are all too painfully aware of the problems that homosexuality in the priesthood has caused the Catholic Church. When the John Jay College of Criminal Justice conducted its research into clerical sex abuse for the U.S. bishops in 2004, it found not a pedophilia crisis but what Dr. Paul McHugh, former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, described as a pattern of "homosexual predation on American Catholic youth." The first question that comes to mind is: Should the Church accept homosexuals into diocesan and religious seminaries and religious community life? Consideration of this question is based on the answer to a more fundamental question: Is a homosexual's vow of chastity in religious life valid?

Attempts to Address Homosexuality in Religious Life
Since the discovery that the real problem among deviant clergy is "homosexual predation," the Church has attempted to address the problem of homosexuality among the clergy. The Congregation for Catholic Education stated in its 2008 "Vatican Report on U.S. Seminaries" that, while homosexuality in U.S. diocesan seminaries is being appropriately addressed, "there are still some places — usually centers of formation for religious — where ambiguity vis-à-vis homosexuality persists."

Strange as it may seem, in the past twenty years there has been only one passing statement — one sentence to be exact — by the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life dealing with homosexuality in religious life. In its 1990 "Directives on Formation in Religious Institutes," the Congregation stated, "In this context [of sexuality and formation] reasons must be given and understood to explain why those who do not seem to be able to overcome their homosexual tendencies or who maintain that it is possible to adopt a third way, 'living in an ambiguous state between celibacy and marriage,' must be dismissed from the religious life."

It is unclear what the Congregation means by "reasons must be given and understood." Is the Congregation still searching for answers to this problem? Is it not yet certain that men with homosexual tendencies should be dismissed from religious life? One does not have to think too long to discover a reason to dismiss those people "who maintain that it is possible to adopt a third way, 'living in an ambiguous state between celibacy and marriage.'" Thirty years ago, Fr. Jan Bots explained that the "third way" is a concept that describes "erotic-sexual friendships" between priests and religious (Homiletic & Pastoral Review, June 1980). Even the ultra-progressive Dutch bishops of the 1980s were in agreement with one another and with Rome in rejecting this "third way." So, those who advocate a so-called third way must be dismissed from religious community life because they are arguing for the right of religious to violate their vows of chastity by engaging in sexual perversion.

That's a clear and simple case. But what about a celibate man with homosexual tendencies: Should the Church dismiss him from religious life? A religious community accepted him and perhaps even knew of his same-sex attraction. It would therefore seem to be uncharitable to dismiss an elderly religious homosexual who has no problem living chastely. More to the point, then, the Church should ask whether men with homosexual tendencies ought to be permitted to enter male religious life now and in the future.

In his Summa Theologiae St. Thomas Aquinas explains that chastity "takes its name from the fact that reason chastises concupiscence, which like a child, needs curbing..." (II-II, Q151, a.1). Chastity is thus a virtue that moderates the sexual appetite according to the judgment of reason. The vow of chastity involves more than perfect continence; it also involves a disposition of interior integrity in which a person gives himself totally to God. An "undivided heart" is the essential element of the vow of chastity (cf. Catechism, #2349; can. 599).

Aquinas pointed out that of the three vows in religious life — poverty, chastity, and obedience — the vow of chastity is the most critical for attaining perfection in religious life. He identified the first step to perfection as the renunciation of external goods in the vow of poverty. The second, higher step is the renunciation of "fleshly affection and of marriage." Aquinas elucidated:
Now amongst all relationships the conjugal tie does, more than any other, engross men's hearts.... Hence, they who are aiming at perfection, must, above all things, avoid the bond of marriage, which, in a pre-eminent degree, entangles men in earthly concerns.... For the soul is hindered in its free access to God, not only by love of exterior things, but much more by the force of interior passions. And, amongst these passions, the lust of flesh does, beyond all other, overpower reason.
Pope John Paul II, in his November 16, 1994, Wednesday audience, spoke of the three vows of consecrated life: "The [Second Vatican] Council...expressly mentions 'consecrated chastity' before the other two vows (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 43; Decree Perfectae Caritatis, nn. 12,13,14), because it considers chastity as the determining commitment of the state of consecrated life."

The vow of chastity, as distinct from poverty and obedience, is the foundational commitment in consecrated religious life. This helps to explain why the order of "consecrated virgins" is a valid form of consecrated life even though the vow of chastity is taken without the explicit profession of accompanying vows of poverty and obedience (can. 604). Virginity also has a central and fundamental significance for the man who enters religious life because giving up woman represents the total giving of himself to God in all three vows. When a man gives up woman (viz., marriage) he is not only giving his "undivided love" to God in chastity, he is also giving to God his greatest possession and placing his spousal will at the disposal of the Bride of Christ through obedience to the Church.

The Homosexual Person
Fr. John Harvey, O.S.F.S., an expert on the pastoral care of homosexuals, defined the homosexual person as one who has an "erotic attraction to one's own sex...[and] the condition has existed for such a length of time that it seems that he will develop no meaningful heterosexual interests" (The Priest, Jul.-Aug. 1977). It is also important to note that the Catechism teaches that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered" (#2357) and that the homosexual inclination itself is "objectively disordered" (#2358).

So, what does the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life mean when it says that religious must "overcome their homosexual tendencies"? Given the accepted meaning of the terms, the Congregation appears to be saying that it is necessary for a person with a same-sex attraction to do more than give up homosexual acts in order to enter or remain in male religious community life. The Congregation seems to be requiring that he also overcome his homosexual urges or desires. Is it possible to identify "reasons" that "explain why those who do not seem able to overcome their homosexual tendencies" should not be allowed to enter community religious life?

The Near Occasion of Sin
In his book Love and Responsibility, John Paul II wrote, "Man, alas, is not such a perfect being that the sight of the body of another person, especially a person of the other sex, can arouse in him merely a disinterested liking which develops into an innocent affection." Honest men do not take vows of chastity or celibacy and then try to live out these vows by living in close quarters with women. They know that they cannot share intimate living space, like bathrooms and showers, with women and remain faithful to their vows. The Dutch experiment of the "third way," with priests living with nuns, showed definitively that this does not work. This is precisely why male religious live in monasteries with other men, and female religious live in convents with other women. The sexes are separated in religious life primarily for the sake of chastity.

But a man with homosexual tendencies has an erotic attraction to other men. So we must repeat the above insight of John Paul II on concupiscence with a slight alteration: "The homosexual man, alas, is not such a perfect being that the sight of the body of another person, especially a person of the same sex, can arouse in him merely a disinterested liking which develops into an innocent affection." A man with homosexual tendencies must take concupiscence and his sexual orientation into account when he chooses his vocation in life. He may wish to join a religious community of men, but in so doing he puts himself into a serious near occasion of sin. Homosexual tendencies and concupiscence must also be taken into account by the religious community that considers a man with homosexual tendencies as a candidate. Fr. Harvey stated it simply: Avoidance of the occasion of sin is the correct pastoral counseling for homosexuals.

Some may wish to argue that if a man's same-sex attraction is mild perhaps a religious community could still accept him. This is nonsense. A man who has a "slight problem" controlling his erotic urges for women does not overcome his erotic desires by living with women in close quarters. He knows that this will only fan the flames of his passion. The same is true for the homosexual man with mild erotic desires. He does not overcome his homosexual urges and desires by living in close quarters with other men. This will only amplify his homosexual desires. He must overcome these homosexual tendencies before he enters religious life.

Does a Homosexual's Vow of Chastity Have Meaning?
Our Lord Jesus Christ said, "Everyone who has given up home, brothers or sisters, father or mother, wife or children or property for my sake will receive many times as much and inherit everlasting life" (Mt. 19:29). When a man takes vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience in religious life, he is attempting to fulfill these words of our Lord.

It is crucial to understand that when a man forgoes marrying a woman for the sake of the Kingdom of God, he is giving up to God something very good. Marriage to a woman is not evil. It is wonderful. A man could legitimately take a wife and still please the Lord. A man who chooses to give up woman gives to the Lord what he loves most. Consequently, the man's love of God is a total giving of himself. In his 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, John Paul II described celibacy as "the supreme form of that self-giving that constitutes the very meaning of human sexuality."

The fact that the vow of chastity is a free gift of oneself to God is the key to the magnificence of the vow of chastity. In fact, Jesus distinguishes those who freely give up sex for the sake of the Kingdom of God from those who are not interested in sex from birth and those who have lost this desire by the actions of others: "Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 19:12). Only those who have a desire to marry, or are attracted to the opposite sex, and give this up freely for the sake of the Kingdom of God, are fulfilling the evangelical meaning of the vow of chastity.

The celibate homosexual male also gives up sex for the Kingdom of God. But the homosexual must give up homosexual acts because these are, for one, clearly condemned in the Scriptures. St. Paul, for example, teaches about those "who suppress the truth by their wickedness.... Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own person the due penalty for their perversity" (Rom. 1:18, 26-27). Elsewhere, St. Paul teaches that "neither...boy prostitutes nor sodomites...will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9-10). The celibate homosexual male, therefore, doesn't need a vow to give up sex with men. He already has a divine law obliging him to do so.

Because the homosexual is already bound by the natural and divine law to renounce sexual relations with other males, he cannot renounce sexual activity with other males as a free gift to the Lord. And because he does not have a full and healthy attraction to women, he cannot renounce the possibility of sexual relations with women. One cannot renounce what one does not have!

What, then, is the meaning of a celibate homosexual male's vow of chastity? Here we are speaking about someone in whom "the condition has existed for such a length of time that it seems that he will develop no meaningful heterosexual interests." To bind oneself by a vow to abstain from something one is already bound to avoid (homosexual acts) is as superfluous as taking a vow to refrain from doing something one will not do anyway (heterosexual acts). In this case, the celibate homosexual male's vow of chastity is meaningless.

Would a Homosexual's Vow of Chastity Be Valid?
Jesus surely meant by chastity that a man would give up woman for the sake of the Kingdom of God, and that a woman would give up man for the sake of the Kingdom of God. For men, an exclusive attraction to women is a necessary prerequisite for a scripturally valid consecration to the Lord in celibacy. A homosexual male, therefore, does not have the means to answer the Lord's call to give up sex for the sake of the Kingdom of God. If a person cannot do what Jesus intended by the vow of chastity, then that person's vow of chastity is invalid. So, a homosexual male cannot make a scripturally valid consecration to the Lord in chastity through celibate religious life. Similar to the way that impotence is an impediment to valid marriage vows (can. 1084), so homosexual tendencies are an impediment to the vow of chastity in religious life.

What About "Mild" Homosexual Tendencies?
But what about the celibate homosexual male who has homosexual tendencies but has not engaged in homosexual acts: Would he be able to make a valid vow of chastity in religious life? The Linacre Institute points to some interesting findings on homosexuality in its excellent work After Asceticism: Sex, Prayer and Deviant Priests (Author House, 2006). After conducting an extensive review of the scientific literature on the subject, the Institute states that, "compared to the typical adult heterosexual male, the male with homosexual tendencies is very much a moving target who displays a wide variety of sexual behaviors and interests.... This means that the self-identified homosexual, as well as other homosexually experienced men, often have sex with women whereas the self-identified heterosexual rarely if ever has sex with males."

So, would a celibate male with a mild homosexual orientation be able to give up woman for the sake of the Kingdom of God? Yes, but it would not have the same meaning as it would for a celibate heterosexual male. Woman means much more to the celibate heterosexual male than she does to the man who is attracted to both men and women. The exclamation of Adam at the sight of Eve symbolizes that woman, like nothing else, is the delight of man: "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called 'woman,' for out of 'her man' this one has been taken" (Gen. 2:23). Woman complements man and "at last" fills up his loneliness like no other creature can. When one considers all creation, it is clear that woman is God's greatest gift to man.

The heterosexual male is totally attracted to woman. Thus, the celibate heterosexual male makes a total gift of himself to God by giving up woman in the "supreme form of that self-giving" to the Lord. But woman is not the total sexual interest of the celibate mildly homosexual male — his interest is divided between men and women. The celibate mildly homosexual male, therefore, is not able to emotionally appreciate woman as God's greatest gift to him. Consequently, the mildly homosexual male's act of giving up woman does not represent the total gift of himself to the Lord. Only the celibate heterosexual male can fulfill the Lord's call of giving up a wife and renouncing marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

A celibate man with homosexual tendencies should not be permitted to enter religious life because (1) he will be entering a near occasion of sin; (2) his vow of chastity will be meaningless; and (3) his vow of chastity will be scripturally and canonically invalid. The Catechism states, "Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach 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" (#2359). One should not, however, confuse this vocation with the call to community religious life.

[Fr. Regis Scanlon, OFM Cap., is the director of Catholic Prison Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver, where he is also chaplain for the Missionaries of Charity's shelter for homeless women. His articles have been published in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Faith, Soul Magazine, Pastoral Life, and The Priest. He has also made two series for Mother Angelica's EWTN: Crucial Questions, Catholic Answers and What Did Vatican II Really Teach? Fr. Scanlon's foregoing article, "The Validity of Homosexual Vows of Chastity in Religious Life," was originally published in New Oxford Review (March 2010), pp. 18-22, and is reproduced here by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706.]


Laurinda said...

Thank you for posting this. I thought it was very insightful reading and I have a better understanding of celibacy, chastity and the religious life because of this article. Pax Christi

elgrinnell said...

"Woe to you scribes and pharisees, you lay great burdens on men's backs and do nothing to lift them!"

Pertinacious Papist said...


Is there an intelligible argument that's supposed to be implicit somewhere in your accusatory declaration, my friend, or do you simply make a habit of simply lobbing grenades at those with whom you disagree and then running away?

Laurinda said...

Thank you for your post! I couldn't for the life of me figure out why you wanted to discuss the "g" in Bologna until I looked at my profile on blogspot. Hahahaha, that is some weird question that was an option and I thought it was amusing. At the time I created a profile I'm sure I wasn't thinking about the city in Italy. :)

And you explained perfectly what a person with homosexual tendencies should do, which is not suicide. I would think that someone who makes comments like that is battling some hurt or feelings of guilt over a friend or family member who is actively having a same-sex relationship. Prayerfully, yours.

Apolonio said...

Wow, this was a horrible article by Fr. Scanlon. He can argue for his conclusion the way he wants, but he did it horribly. To limit chastity to renouncing sexual relations is the last thing a priest should be able to say. With that kind of definition, married people are left by themselves without Christ. Even married people need virginity (as they also need all the evangelical counsels, cf. Balthasar, Giussani, etc). I need what we need today is a proper notion of virginity, something of which many priests don't even have.

Anonymous said...

I don't follow what Apolonio is suggesting. Maybe he can spell out what he means a little more clearly so I can understand.

Apolonio said...


it's simple...I'm saying that Scanlon has a wrong notion of chastity.

Braut des Lammes said...

With respect to the consecrated virgins: by making the propositum of perpetual virginity the woman to be consecrated implicitely promises poverty (a modest and simple lifestyle) and obedience (to her bishop in which hands she vows this) as well.

Lutheran said...

..."homosexual predation"...

Which aspect of this is more distressing?--"Homosexual" or "Predation"?

Can one be wholly apart from the other?

No, the church cannot respectfully rely on the ambitions of any predatory psychology. A predator is inherently set on hunting/stalking/destroying its victims in order to fulfill itself. This behavior cannot be set apart from a predator's being--it is the purpose that composes his essence.

This recent flurry of attacks is certainly ugly, but look at the attackers—They ARE themselves predators of assorted styles, and by definition are themselves ugly. There are disaffected personalities with grudges, homosexuals “hurt” that THEY must change their ways in the new life of faith in Christ, proclaimed atheists (which is hilarious in and of itself) who are simple deconstructionists and nothing more than expendable foot soldiers for Satan, and other “shocked” morons who heartily mistaken THEIR machinations for life in Christ.

So, what’s new under this sun? This is yet another same old play out of the same old unimaginative playbook of narcissists, greedy (fill in adjective), jealous types, and inadequate sorts. All currently feel empowered due to the immediate worldwide political climate which they mistaken for their personal authority to behave like indecent ingrates. The reality is that they have NO rights as they claim. They have NO authority as they claim. They have NO truth as they claim.

Fine post Papist!

Daniel said...

A fine article indeed and one worth sending to all our friends.

There is one nagging question I have, though: the author asks rhetorically "should homosexuals be allowed in the seminary?" Ahhhh...why are we asking that? Of course the answer should be a resounding "no" but I'm honestly perplexed why such a question should be asked.

In my Catholic grade school days - and do please correct me if I am getting this wrong - we were taught that one can sin in three ways, by thought, word and/or deed. If that is true (and the example of Our Lord's words about "already commiting adultery in one's heart" is often given in support of this) then a homosexual is, at the very least, sinning by thought.

And, truthfully, isn't a homosexual sinner just a sinner like everyone else? We don't call incorrigable thieves "theft oriented" people, or killers as people with "murderous tendencies". I am not at all convinced that homosexuals are "born" that way, nor do I believe that shoplifters, murderers and adulterers are born that way either. I know it is often said that homosexuals are born that way but I simply don't believe it. Sadly, I have known a few people who were not born into sodomy but, strangely, developed a taste for it after being molested. And we all know that these tragic sinners can stop committing this unspeakable sin; we have the evidence before our own eyes of that as well as the evidence of organizations who help them.

So I'm not sure why we should be even discussing the possibility of allowing these people into the priesthood. Should we?

Pertinacious Papist said...

Which aspect of this is more distressing?--"Homosexual" or "Predation"?

Lutheran, I like what you say in your comment, so don't take this wrongly. I wish to point out only that while both of the above aberrations are "distressing," as you put it, there is a difference between the ordinary and expected predation of males upon females, as wolves upon lambs, and the disordered predation of males upon males, whether pre- or post-pubescent.

I would make the same point in response to Dan when he asks "... isn't a homosexual sinner just a sinner like everyone else?" Well, yes and no. He is no more or less a sinner insofar as sin is sin, but this fact does not undo the distinction between sin that falls into the category of naturally vs. unnaturally ordered.

Having said that, I agree entirely with your assessment, Dan, that homosexuals are not "born" with that predetermined "nature," anymore than a person is born fated to be a murderer. It's one thing to speak of a predisposition to alcoholism or violence or same-sex attraction -- which already bespeak disorders on the dispositional level. It's another thing altogether to say that a person "can't help" being "gay," or "violent," or "getting drunk," as though that were their innate nature.

Still, anyone who has tried to quit the smoking habit and hat a hard time of it, or the pornography habit, or the gambling habit, etc., knows that however responsible he may have been in getting himself thus habituated, it can begin to feel almost like hopeless proposition to consider changing his behavior. Here is where one must empathetically call upon God's mercy. None of us is capable of overcoming sin in his own power. What we can do is implore God to be merciful, and the Blessed Mother, and the hosts of heaven to intercede for us (and for our friends in homosexual bondage). For that is the only hope.

Dan, I also agree that the question whether homosexuals should be admitted to seminaries shouldn't even be on the table. Fr. Scanlon meant it, obviously I think, in a rhetorical sense to make his point.

Anonymous said...

I understand Fr Scanlon's point, but under his view one has to know exactly what one is giving up, yet how many young religious have 'known' a woman before they make their vow?
This explanation might be technically correct, but doesn't work in the real world.
People's carnal nature is not so easily organized and therefore the material form of the vow should take into consideration something beyond mere sexual contacts, to what lies behind it, which is the carnal desire to posess another person, male or female.
I am no modernist, but in either case that is a true sacrifice for the kingdom of God, because it cuts to the bone of both hetero and homo sexuals.
The occassion of sin issue i agree with.

Anonymous said...

As a heterosexual,I cannot see the logic of the author's argument. The pure law of statistics would tell us that throughout the history of religious celibacy, there had to be many homosexuals who took the vow of chastity and never violated it. Why would it be more difficult for a homosexual to live a chaste life in religion than a heterosexual. The author's position that only those attracted to women can take a vow of celibacy is, in my opinion, illogical and a denial of the simple law of statics.

Anonymous said...

"Only those who have a desire to marry, or are attracted to the opposite sex, and give this up freely for the sake of the Kingdom of God, are fulfilling the evangelical meaning of the vow of chastity."

This is rubbish. The author confounds chastity and celibacy. Chastity excludes ALL voluntary sexual pleasure--heterosexual, homosexual, masturbation, fantasies, pornography, etc. The virtue of chastity has absolutely nothing to do with whether one has a desire to marry or the object of one's attractions.

If I were a religious (I'm not) with homosexual attractions living a life of perfect chastity, I would find this article highly offensive. This is horrible and novel theology. It's a good reminder of why I canceled my NOR subscription.

cathcom said...

"Even married people need virginity"

This is very interesting... how does one defined virginity in this context?

Traditionally and technically in Catholic theology, virginity is defined as "the absence of any sinfully experienced lustful sensation" (that's from Fr. Hardon's Catholic Dictionary). Any deliberately experienced sexual pleasure forfeit's one's reward to one of the three "aureolæ". So I'm just wondering how you see virginity in the context of matrimony. Thanks!

Sheldon said...


In view of the 'development' of the Catholic theology of sexuality since Vatican II, I suppose you are right. Fr. Scanlon could have expressed himself with more 'nuance' and 'balance'.

I, for one, am not entirely convinced, however, by the new egalitarian view of the unqualified equivalency of secular and priestly/religious vocations. I wonder, too, whether there is not more than meets the eye in the traditional view as expressed by St. Paul, Augustine and Aquinas. While Paul grants the perfect legitimacy of the matrimonial estate, he definitely warns that it will involve, for those who choose it, a troubling entanglement in worldly concerns, and his clear interest in seeing his readers remain free of such concerns. Even our Lord seems to suggest a certain preference for the vocation to celibate life in his call to take up this call extended to those who are able.

I would also disagree with your idea that "married people are left by themselves without Christ" on this view. Rather, I would simply echo Paul's view that married people may have greater distractions in concerning themselves with the "things of the Lord" -- distractions not only about things like whether I'll be able to afford my kids' braces, but about things like whether my wife will have a headache again tonight when I'm so horny I can't think straight and want vent my lust in a night of bed-shaking passion.

Yes, sexual intercourse, procreation, and marital bonding are God-blessed goods, among in the hierarchy of goods, there are also lower (founding) and higher (founded) goods. And I would leave it to the reader to guess why neither our Lord nor the Apostle Paul were married, and why they both permitted and blessed marriage, they also counseled another option for those "able" to undertake it.

Sheldon said...

"... more than meets the eye in the traditional view as expressed by St. Paul, Augustine and Aquinas."

To spell this out: for example, the counsel of Augustine and Aquinas against 'lust' in the marriage bed. With all the talk of pederast predation in the news lately, it seems that these doctors of the Church would also caution against the possibility of spousal 'predation' in the marriage bed. Aquinas ranks 'spouse rape' as a sin more heinous than 'adultery', for example.

Anonymous said...


I’m not unaware that crassness is unfortunately tolerated, no, accepted in today’s society and that if one objects to it, one is labeled a prude or worse yet unsophisticated (horrors!) Oh for a more polite genteel society.


Apolonio said...


Some of the comments by the others on this post have already addressed other concerns which I also agree with. But with regards to virginity, it the way Christ loves the world. I will use it the way Giussani used it: possession in detachment. See, for example, how Christ "possessed" the woman at the well more than the "five husbands" did. Why? Because he understood the depth of the woman. Yet, he had no "relations" with her. There is something more beautiful than just sexual relations and even marital relations.

This is not to say that marriage is a bad thing. virginity, in fact, presupposes it as JPII said. But the fact that Scanlon has reduced virginity or chastity as a "renunciation" is a horrible way of seeing virginity. It is a possession, an embrace of the truth of the other.

Finally, the difference between the celibate and married people is this: the celibate *embodies* the fact that Christ is sufficient. Celibate people remind married people that the other is not sufficient, that only Christ can fulfill one's deepest longing. So in this way, married people need virginity, that is, to "let the other person be," that is, to allow Christ be in the middle of the relationship because he alone is the source of fruitfulness. This is why, for example, JPII emphasizes first of all about man's original solitude before anything else, something which popular presenters of TOB never gets.

The fact is this: Scanlon's view of virginity is a limited and suffocating way of seeing this beautiful gift and possible vocation for a person.

Apolonio said...

I wrote something on virginity here:

and this one is helpful too:

Lutheran said...


Indeed Indeed!!! Something of the ole' catch 22... The first is a brand of the second that also operates by many other names. But, evil by any other name is still the same.

Great job in staying true! After all, the option of apologizing for true faith in the true God simply to placate Satan and his evildoers is something quite repugnant and even irresponsible/reprehensible at best. Testing the Lord by denying Him? YAAAAAACK!!!!!!!!!!!!

Pertinacious Papist said...


I appreciate your comments and usually agree substantially with many things you say. Please try to avoid, however, the sort of crass language that some find offensive. I know I've sometimes been lax in my own language, so don't take it as a holier-than-thou. Thank you.


You make a number of excellent points in keeping with the kind of outlook suggested by JPII in his TOB and related works. I also appreciate your discussions in the linked posts you've offered above.

One problem: your use of the terms "virgin" and "virginity," while perhaps profound in the JPII sense (and I "get" most of what he suggests in his work, I think), does not accord the conventional definitions and understandings of those terms. This may be a problem for some, if not many, readers.

Pertinacious Papist said...

A quick Google of "Virginity" turns up the following from the Catholic Encyclopedia (cited by Wikipedia): "There are two elements in virginity: the material element, that is to say, the absence, in the past and in the present, of all complete and voluntary delectation, whether from lust or from the lawful use of marriage; and the formal element, that is the firm resolution to abstain forever from sexual pleasure." And, "Virginity is irreparably lost by sexual pleasure, voluntarily and completely experienced."

Again, St. Thomas Aquinas, emphasizing that acts other than copulation destroy virginity, but also clarifying that involuntary sexual pleasure or pollution does not destroy virginity, as he says in the Summa Theologica (II-II, Q. 152):

"Pleasure resulting from resolution of semen may arise in two ways. If this be the result of the mind's purpose, it destroys virginity, whether copulation takes place or not. Augustine, however, mentions copulation, because such like resolution is the ordinary and natural result thereof. On another way this may happen beside the purpose of the mind, either during sleep, or through violence and without the mind's consent, although the flesh derives pleasure from it, or again through weakness of nature, as in the case of those who are subject to a flow of semen. On such cases virginity is not forfeit, because such like pollution is not the result of impurity which excludes virginity."

Pertinacious Papist said...


I hadn't noticed before, but I think we've had a visit from our erstwhile interloper, Fr. O'Leary. Thanks for minding your manners.

Anonymous said...

I hadn't noticed your name before but if Dr. Blosser agrees with you as a rule, I most probably will as well,


Apolonio said...

Dr. Blosser,

I agree with you it is not conventional. But it is precisely the nature of virginity that makes it unconventional. It is a supernatural life after all. I think we need to keep in mind that to reduce virginity the way Fr. Scanlon does is to make it similar to buddhistic or other asiatic practices of celibacy. As Augustine, the great act of virginity is not the renunciation of the married life but the consecration to God. This aspect the buddhist does not have. Also, Thomas Aquinas, in "The Perfection of the Spiritual Life," speaks of renunciation as only a means. He ties virginity and poverty together, saying that perfection does not come from renunciation but that the following of Christ is what constitutes perfection. In fact a perfect soul is one who has his affections entirely devoted to God. Virginity is an act of latria, and it is this embodiment of God's love for the soul that makes virginity a great thing, not because it renounces things. Sure, it comes along with it, but that is secondary. Catholic Tradition sees virginity as accepting the sufficiency of Christ and to get away from this christological context is to get whole notion wrong. I think what we need today is to get away from the conventional use of the term and use it the way it has been handed on to us.

cathcom said...

Thanks for the two articles! I read through both of them (some interesting stuff!) but I couldn't help but still ask what virginity is in the context of matrimony...

You wrote something interesting in one of the articles, that virginity is not abstinence but availability. Are you referring to some mystical virginity of some sort? Cause I'm just not getting how this jives with the Church's understanding of virginity being a state in which a certain number of people are called to.

Venerable John Paul II taught: "The gift of virginity is reserved to a limited number of the faithful, who are called to a particular mission within the ecclesial community" and "the Church is not a virgin in the body of all her members..." - that's from the August 20, 1997, General Audience.

Plus, I don't think Fr. Scanlon was even referring to virginity in his article. He was referring to the evangelical counsel of chastity.

Now sure, we are all called to be chaste. But in the context of the evangelical counsels this chastity refers to abstinence from sexual pleasure that is limited to a certain number of people through the taking of vows. Virgins on the other hand are those who have never experienced willful sexual pleasure. It would be Buddhistic and reductionist to extol all this by the mere fact that it is an absence. However it is precisely the Catholic concept of chastity and virginity for the sake of the kingdom that distinguishes it from those other concepts and elevates them. It is as you pointed out St. Thomas said, a means to an end. What I don't get is what you think this "means to an end" is in the context of marriage.

Sheldon said...

PP and Donna,

My apologies for the crass bit. Sorry, Donna. Meant no offense. Just trying to make a point and got carried away a bit. Sorry PP.

I can't say that I really understand any better what Apolonio's beef is. Not that I have any problem with his 'deeper' or 'higher' spiritual interpretation of 'virginity'. But that certainly is not the first meaning of the term that comes to mind, either in ordinary natural life, or even in reasonably informed Catholic circles. The interpretation seems esoteric, spiritually aesthetic, Balthasarian.

Besides, as others have noted, the article is chiefly about celibacy and whether a homosexual's vows of celibacy can be taken seriously. Seems to me Fr. Scanlon makes a seriously important point.

Apolonio said...


i think i will write something on this over at another blog, but I can only respond quickly right now.

By virginity, I do mean the evangelical counsel of chastity. What I was saying is that the counsel can be applied (analogically) to the married state. It is still virginity but in an analogical way. Married people cannot *embody* the fact that Christ is sufficient but they can witness to it.

Every evangelical counsel teaches married people how to embrace the vocation that God called them to be.

Let's take virginity since this is the issue at hand. Those who are consecrated to God teaches us: only Christ is sufficient. What does this witness, this embodiment, teach married people? That when you don't leave space for Christ in the relationship, you will suffocate the other person. Christ is first and without him marriage is impossible. Only in Christ can a man say to his wife, "I love you," that is, "You cannot die" (Marcel). Only in Christ can there be true fruitfulness. This is actually what was lacking after the fall. True, Adam and Eve could still bear a son (a kind of fecundity) but they could not resist death or suffocating each other. This also applies to father-son relationships. The more a father tries to control his son, the more his son will be suffocated. What he needs to do is to understand that Christ too is part of this relationship and that he can simply educate (witness) his child while at the same time allowing him to be free, even to make mistakes. Take Christ, for example, who heard Peter saying "I will not betray you." Yet, Christ knew he had to "detach" from him and tell him that he will be betrayed by him. He had to "allow" Peter to betray him. Yet, in all of this, what mattered to Christ was the "hour," his obedience to the Father's design. This is true love, possession in detachment. To love a person is to love the other the way the Father loves him or her. So if a seminarian is in love, the way he can love the girl is to follow his own vocation to the priesthood. It is the only way he can really love the girl.

The superiority of celibacy is this: it is the imitation of Christ's love for the world. How does he love us? By ascending to the Father. By ascending to the Father (detachment), he can send His Spirit so that we can receive Him eucharistically. It is virginity. So virginity in the context of married is this: to allow Christ to take hold of the other.

I'll try to write more on this later at

Anonymous said...

Are you f___ing kidding me? Another lame attempt to push the crimes and sins being committed by priests and covered up by the Pope off to the evil homosexuals. Hide behind all of the big words and references that you want, but you're not fooling anybody. Pedophiles are the problem, not homos. And you straight idiots who pretend to "know" if gay people are or aren't born that way should go find a hobby or sound like ridiculous fools.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Hide behind all of the big words and references that you want, but you're not fooling anybody. Pedophiles are the problem, not homos.

The John Jay Report found "that between 80-90% of the victims were pubescent males, and that allegations of actual pedophilia only occurred in approximately 10% of the cases." Philip Jenkins' major work reports that "The Chicago study also found that of the 2,200 priests, just one was a pedophile... The vast majority of instances involve priests who have been sexually active with a person below the age of sexual consent, often 16 or 17 years old, or even older. An act of this sort is wrong on multiple counts: It is probably criminal, and by common consent it is immoral and sinful; yet it does not have the utterly ruthless, exploitative character of child molestation. In almost all cases too, with the older teenagers, there is an element of consent." (Wikipedia)

Timn said...

My only excuse for posting something so late on Fr Scanlon's article is that a lot of what he says relies on assumptions that contradict the Catholic faith. Four examples of this follow.

1. "[A gay man] may wish to join a religious community of men, but in so doing he puts himself into a serious near occasion of sin."
This is not strictly speaking true unless gay men are insatiable lechers who are attracted to every single male that happens to be in sight. Failing that, living in a community of men is only a possible near occasion of sin. But who ever said we must avoid every possible occasion of sin? We are only bound generally to avoid whatever in fact leads us into sin.

2. "To bind oneself by a vow to abstain from something one is already bound to avoid (homosexual acts) is as superfluous as taking a vow to refrain from doing something one will not do anyway (heterosexual acts). In this case, the celibate homosexual male's vow of chastity is meaningless."
To see how silly this assertion is, just translate it into the case of marriage vows: To bind oneself by a vow to abstain from something one is already bound to avoid (sleeping with other men's wives) is as superfluous as taking a vow to refrain from doing something one will not do anyway (beating one's wife). If Father cannot see the value of taking vows which forbid both of these behaviours, I can only say it is a real mercy to women that he discovered his vocation not to get married.

3. "Jesus surely meant by chastity that a man would give up woman for the sake of the Kingdom of God, and that a woman would give up man for the sake of the Kingdom of God. For men, an exclusive attraction to women is a necessary prerequisite for a scripturally valid consecration to the Lord in celibacy. A homosexual male, therefore, does not have the means to answer the Lord's call to give up sex for the sake of the Kingdom of God."
The second sentence is ostensibly based on Matt. 19, but there Jesus only speaks of being incapable of or renouncing marriage. So long as marriage is possible (and many gay men marry women), it makes good sense to talk of renouncing it. Scanlon denies this: he says marriage is not good unless a man wants it. But this is subjectivism pure and simple! Marriage is objectively good, and whether a man wants this good has nothing to do with his ability freely to renounce it.

4. "But woman is not the total sexual interest of the celibate mildly homosexual male — his interest is divided between men and women. The celibate mildly homosexual male, therefore, is not able to emotionally appreciate woman as God's greatest gift to him. Consequently, the mildly homosexual male's act of giving up woman does not represent the total gift of himself to the Lord."
Father's subjectivism comes through here again, but observe also that the last statement virtually says a man's self is his desire for sexual relations with a woman. This kind of reductionism has been explicitly rejected by the CDF in the letter to Bishops on the pastoral care of homosexual persons.

All in all, Fr Scanlon's piece is pretty shocking. His ideas on occasions of sin are dangerously naive, his reduction of man to heterosexual desires is laughable, and his thoroughgoing subjectivism---his being a subjectivist only when it suits him---is truly surprising. Do we not have a right to expect better from a priest?

Anonymous said...

I think there's something wrong with Fr Scanlon's argument, although I can't fully articulate that.
Fr Harvey and the Courage group prefer to speak of persons having same-sex attractions, rather than being homosexual. The reason is that the attraction does not define the essence of the person.
Fr Scanlon seems to speak of these persons as if their attractions determine their whole personality.
On the practical level, surely there have been some, if not many, men over the centuries with same-sex attractions who have made vows of chastity and kept those vows.
Surely that is acceptable to the Lord. To dismiss those vows as invalid seems very harsh.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Second, Fr Scanlon’s argument seems to make the essence of the vow consist in one’s attractions. But what if that argument were applied to the other vows? For example, I have never been especially concerned about material wealth, nor driven to acquire it. Does that lack of attraction for wealth invalidate my vow of poverty? Certainly not—what a silly way to view it.

Third, Fr Scanlon makes a comparison with the impediment of impotence in marriage: “Similar to the way that impotence is an impediment to valid marriage vows (can. 1084), so homosexual tendencies are an impediment to the vow of chastity in religious life.”
I don’t see this as a valid analogy. Impotence is an impediment to marriage because it requires the ability to consummate the marital act. But there is no such parallel requirement in living a life of chastity.
Besides, the desire for children is another requirement for a valid marriage. If people marry while deliberately intending to exclude children when they’re able to have them, it is grounds for annulment. But the Church has always allowed couples to marry even if they are naturally infertile, such as older couples. The inability to conceive is a natural condition outside of their control, so it doesn’t invalidate the marriage. Fr Scanlon doesn’t mention this. I think this would be a better parallel with the vow of chastity in the case of same-sex attracted persons. Their choice of an exclusive love for Jesus Christ is the essence of the vow. If in fact they don’t have much attraction to heterosexual relations, that is something they really have no control over, at least in some cases.

Finally, consider this statement from the website of Courage:
“There is more to a person than one's sexual attractions. Even if one experienced same-sex attractions for most of one's life, he or she is first and foremost a child of God created in His image. To refer to that person as "gay" or "lesbian" is a reductionist way of speaking about someone. We are even trying now to avoid using the term homosexual as a noun, or as an adjective directly describing the person (i.e. homosexual person). Although it takes more words, we prefer to speak of "persons with same-sex attractions". Fr. Harvey has said that, if he could, he would rename his first book "The Homosexual Person" to something else like ‘The Person With Homosexual Attractions’ “

Building on that, it is the person who makes the vow. The attraction is a tendency a person may have, but I see no basis for saying a person with such an attraction is incapable of making a vow.

Again, I agree with Fr Scanlon that it’s not advisable to admit such persons into religious life. But his argument that they are incapable of making a valid vow is a bad argument. I doubt it would stand up to canonical scrutiny.

Sr. Lorraine said...

A proper response to Fr Scanlon’s argument would require an article. I agree that it’s not good pastoral practice to admit persons with strong same-sex attractions into religious life.
But his argument that it is impossible for such a person to make a valid vow of chastity is just plain wrong.

First, Scanlon’s view of chastity is negative. He focuses exclusively on the aspect of renunciation of marriage, and then argues that a homosexual person cannot make such a renunciation. But in Pope John Paul’s treatment of theology of the body, the pope clearly focuses on the positive aspect of chastity “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” John Paul says that the choice of such continence “is not because ‘it is not advantageous to marry’ nor because of a supposedly negative value of marriage that continence is observed by those who make such a choice ‘for the kingdom of heaven’ in their lives, but in view of the particular value which is connected with this choice and which one must discover and welcome as one’s own vocation.” The Pope clearly means that such continence is a vocation in itself, and involves far more than merely renouncing marriage. It is a choice of love for Christ, loved beyond anything else on earth.

Alicia said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this article. As a "former" practicing homosexual, Our Lord through Our Lady brought me back to the Church. I came to scientifically, and personally understand the same-sex attraction characterics of myself through prayer, the sacraments, and research. I thought I was called to religious life, but felt I may be called to live chastely moreso. Now that I have read your article, I totally understand the logic with not enabling people with or have tendencies toward, same-sex-attraction into religious life. As I know from personal experience, it is a case of self-acceptance and feelings of loneliness, mistaken for erotic passions, leading to occations of sin, if put in such situations (all male monastery, all female convent). I quite enjoy my current chaste friendships of both sexes outside married, and consecrated life. It is a great calling from Our Lord to me, and besides I am free to love all equally, and evangelize better, away from the occation to sin, in such a close female proximity say, in a convent.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Bless you, Alicia, for your witness.

davep said...

dear author: the Mystery of the call to serve God and his people has to be made clear. the sexuality of a human being should not be the question. For all are born with an occasion to sin. I believe they carry it with them on there bodies.They are called genitals! so to live a celibate life for the sake of the Kingdom one has to try and keep this natural urge under control. the sacrifice is the same for all Human Beings who accept the call. As for the problems of pedophiles it would be against Christ to say this but he did say "better for man to tie a millstone". davep

Pertinacious Papist said...


Why would it be "against Christ" to quote what He said?

Several other things here. We are all called to detest sin, to allow the Holy Spirit to conform our comportment to God's will expressed in Church teaching.

What you say about priests being called to control their sexual appetites is true. Even though not everybody is called to the priestly celibacy, everyone is called to chastity.

But the heterosexual male who is called to detest adulterous liaisons with women other than his wife is not called to repulsion against his sexual urges in their proper procreatively-disposed outlet.

On the other hand, the homosexual male who is called to detest sexual sin has no homosexual counterpart to heterosexual marriage that he is called to embrace, because the very disposition is, as the Catechism says, "gravely disordered."

This requires a higher theology of asceticism than is sufficient for the ordinary husband or wife.

Here's the tough love of authentic Catholic compassion:

davep said...

Dear Father Scanlon: thank you for your reponse to my thoughts on your article. Ole Brother in Christ! Davep

alberto said...

cATHECHISM OF THE cAtholic church: 2359. homosexual people are called to chastity is possible also for the, even if they do not desire to marry with a woman...and their donation is full also because it is full the primeval donation by God: God gives full and saint chastity as saint thomas aquinus he gives this virtue which is a part of temperance. so if an homosexual is capable to live in chastity for the catechism, why he cannot live chastity in religious life???