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Is Homosexuality Only a Catholic Priest Problem?


Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Keith O’Brien resigns.

The cardinal, who was Britain’s most senior Catholic cleric, stepped down from his post after allegations were made of “inappropriate” behaviour against him. His confession came in a statement issued on Sunday March 3, and stunned Catholics in Scotland and the UK, as well many in the Vatican, and cardinals who are gathered in Rome for the conclave. He will not be attending the Conclave to elect the successor to Pope Benedict XVI that started its meetings on Tuesday March 12. In the statement issued by the Catholic Church in Scotland he apologised and asked forgiveness from those he had “offended”.

His admissions came exactly a week after The Observer, a British Sunday paper, had published allegations by three priests and a former priest from the diocese of St Andrew’s and Edinburgh, accusing him of engaging in “inappropriate behavior” with them in the 1980s.O’Brien at first contested the allegations, effectively denying them, but in his latest statement on March 3, made available by the Scottish Catholic Media Office, he has openly acknowledged the fact. He said: “Initially, their anonymous and non-specific nature led me to contest them. However, I wish to take this opportunity to admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal. To those I have offended, I apologise and ask forgiveness. To the Catholic Church and people of Scotland, I also apologise. I will now spend the rest of my life in retirement. I will play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in Scotland.” His resignation was accepted immediately. Cardinal O’Brien, who recently advocated priest marriage, has been an outspoken opponent of plans to legalise same-sex marriage.

Beyond the understandable surprise and consternation such a personal and ecclesiastical event can provoke in us let us try to read it on a larger anthropological level by asking a couple of questions. First question; Is homosexuality necessarily a bad problem? No, it simply could be the expression and the particular embodiment, in some people’s life, of a human positive problem; that of becoming aware of our own sexuality. This process doesn’t occur in a neutral or aseptic human space. Sensual desire, sexual excitement, masturbation, self-pleasure, lusting imagination, bodily attraction,  intimacy, sexual intercourse and even chastity are other human experiences we usually go through, at various stages of our life, in order to succeed in that process. We are born with genitals, male or female, but the awareness of what does it mean is not given at birth. We learn it, in suffering and frustration but also in joy and satisfaction, in a life-long process. Sexuality is not reducible to its biological component. It implies a complementary polycentric maturation on various levels: psychological, sociological, relational and spiritual. Considered from another perspective, this process has a subjective as well as an objective dimension. I’m man or women not because the physician tells me I am but rather because deep inside I feel myself such. The subjective moment of appropriation of our own sexuality is not a secondary process and can not be painlessly overlooked. But that is also true for the relational-social dimension of sexuality. I feel I’m man or women also thanks to and because others look and consider me that way. This is the complementary but also contrasting distinction Judith Butler establishes between sexuality and gender. For this reason, we are called to live this anthropologically licit process in the respect of the shared ethical principles and laws of the group we belong to. But since gender is a socially and culturally conditioned process we must approach it also critically. In addition to this, the believer chooses to live this complex human process in God’s presence, after biblical principles and with God’s grace and mercy. This religious help and support doesn’t dispense, nevertheless, anybody of going through this demanding process in all its various stages and dimensions.

Second question; Is sexuality a problem only for homosexuals? To think that would be deceptive and misleading. Heterosexuals share with homosexuals much more common ground than it is usually thought. Alfred C. Kinsey, Master & Johnson, Albert Ellis and others have shown, in their pioneering work and research on sex and identity, that sexuality is a transversal, open, heterogeneous and paradoxical human condition and experience. This universal anthropologically solidarity tears down the distinction between Adventists and Catholics, believers and non-believers, but also between moral “reliable” and morally “suspected” people. Moral reliable people do have sexual problems too. And this is a blessing and a mark of their humanity. Ego-syntonic and ego-dystonic feelings are not only bound to certain psychiatric disorders but are the common ground we all build our historical identity upon. And part of this life-process in managing and organizing our sexuality includes the experience of self-control and discipline. No sexual life could really survive without discipline and self-control, neither that of the homosexual nor that of the heterosexual. Dismantle or to give up this essential category would mean, at this level, to increase unnecessarily the risk of frustration and meaninglessness. Nevertheless self-control is a necessary but not a sufficient category to deal with sexuality. The “control” category presupposes only a mechanical understanding of sex and body. It could be brought back to Descartes reductive view of the body as “disenchanted” flesh (“res extensa”). Here the body is reduced to one of its dimensions and by this made steerable. But this first illusion makes possible the emergence of a second one that is perhaps even worst; that which erroneously amplify and inflate man’s own capacity of controlling (“res cogitans”).  Now, believers should know that we can destroy our life and sexuality by not controlling them but also by trying to control them too much. Sexuality, as the body itself, needs more than to be controlled, it needs to be supervised, listened to and oriented. All the mystery of body and sex, their opacity, their enchantment, their paradox and ambivalence, their beauty and resistance, their deepness and attraction is given in a famous prayer of Augustine who prayed to God this way:  “Grant me chastity  and continence, but not yet” (Confessions, Book VIII, chap. 7).

Our solidarity goes to ex-cardinal O’Brien in his anthropological fight to learn how to dialogue with his own body and his own sexuality as we all humans do, believers and non-believers, Catholics and Adventists, homosexuals and heterosexuals. But our vigorous reproach goes against him for having abused his institutional power to reach his own personal purposes, for not considering with attention and respect other’s people vulnerability and particularly for trying to persuade people around in his diocese of an illusory a-sexual life.

Hans Gutierrez

Florence, Italy




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