14 December 2005
The Times Online reports on the one-year anniversary of a group of young Franciscan nuns and monks who are living together in a mixed convent-monastery in Rome, the Franciscan Fraternity of Bethany. The liberal community, which prays, eats, performs household chores, and debates with one another, was created jointly to ease financial pressures on poorly-funded monasteries and convents, and also to help foster what Bethany’s Father Superior, Brother Paolo, called the “‘powerful positive energy'” that comes from men and women living together. Brother Paolo described the experimental community as under assessment by the Vatican, but something that could lead to major changes in Catholic sanctuaries, encouraging a wider embrace of communal living. The Times’ otherwise smart report, however, didn’t go into the implications of what Vatican approval of mixed-gender communities like Bethany — presumably containing celibate heterosexuals who might become attracted to one another — would do to the rhetorical excuses offered by conservative Catholics in justifying the ban on gay priests. Namely that young, gay men can’t be trusted to live near other young men just as, “‘The heterosexual man, you don’t put him in with attractive young women. With the homosexual, he’s going to live close to men during his formation. It brings turmoil in the seminary if you have a significant number of people of that orientation in the seminary.'” Perhaps the showing of positive energy that Brother Paolo described at Bethany, rather than the rampant sexual frustration or “turmoil” conservatives charge, is just the antidote to this type of reasoning.