Leadership Seeks Loyalty

Daily ReadingsFeast of the Chair of St. Peter, Apostle
1 Pt 5:1-4 / Mt 16:13-19

Tend the flock of God in your midst, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful profit but eagerly. [1 Pt 5:2]

This verse is particularly apropos for me this morning as I’ve been in an online debate about defrocking homosexual priests as a response to the abuse problem within the Church.

I hold a rather unpopular opinion about this one. Unlike the conservative side, I insist that removing all homosexual priests for the actions of some homosexual priests is going to hurt the Church; thus I only want to see non-celibate homosexuals penalized. Unlike the liberal side, I don’t agree that celibacy itself is a problem; thus I don’t support returning to a married priesthood and “normalizing” priestly sex. That won’t stop those who fail to address their attraction to minors in an appropriate manner (i.e., before they act on it).

My opinion, then, is that any priest who discovers that, no matter how hard he tries, he cannot adhere to his vow of celibacy — no matter what he’s being celibate from — should voluntarily resign from the priesthood; and, if he doesn’t, he should be involuntarily removed. I don’t differentiate what the priest in question is being celibate from, because in my eyes it doesn’t matter. Any violations of priestly celibacy hurt the Church.

The argument of those who would remove homosexuals is that the priesthood itself constitutes an enormous amount of temptation. They’re not wrong about that argument; it’s a very male environment and the fact that discernment can (and should) start before full adulthood exacerbates that. Where I believe the argument breaks down is the idea that any person who is so tempted can’t be held responsible for giving in to that temptation. I insist that any thinking being who can’t overcome sexual temptation is disordered for that alone, and that most human beings can, should, and do.

Put another way: most laypeople don’t sleep with anyone and everyone who catches their eye. In fact, doing so against the other person’s will is considered a rather heinous crime. If laypeople can be reasonably expected to manage their sexual temptations, it’s not a stretch to hold priests to the same standard. After all, priests are supposed to be leaders.

The argument of those who would respond by returning to the married priesthood is, in my eyes then, the same argument. It’s still based on an assumption that people can’t overcome sexual temptation; the only difference is that those on this side are saying that they should be given an appropriate route to relieve it, so as to eliminate the use of inappropriate routes.

I don’t buy that argument simply because the majority of sexual abusers/predators are not priests and, presumably, had access to more appropriate routes to relieve their temptation. I also can point out that there are a lot of celibate people who are not priests or vowed religious — or, even, who hold religious beliefs at all. There’s no causative link between celibacy and sexual predation.

That’s why, when discussing the abuse problem in the Church, I point my fingers only at the abusers and their enablers. The abusers violated their vow of celibacy; the enablers made the problem far worse by not demanding the abusers either return to their vows or leave the priesthood. The exact nature of the victims, or the type of prohibited sexual contact, is a secondary consideration in my mind. Abuse is abuse and violations are violations, and both are far worse when they’re perpetrated by a leader.

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This, then, leads to question about the nature of leadership. I’ve long been a very vocal advocate of servant-leadership, where (among other things) the leader actually sees himself/herself as the least important member of the group and instead defines their role as a facilitator for the group’s overall improvement.

Peter’s exhortation in this verse is consistent with that when he explains that priestly leadership should always be for the sake of carrying out God’s will. The statement also clearly implies that those who cannot do such a thing, should not be priests.

I’m quite fine with this particular idea. I’ve found, when in leadership roles myself, that acting as a servant-leader often accomplishes the group goal far better than trying to “boss folks around.” It’s harder to be such a leader, but more than worth it in the end, because you earn not just obedience but loyalty.

And isn’t that what God wants and deserves? Loyalty as opposed to mere obedience?