Bishop Accountability
  Gay Priests Etc.

By Andrew Sullivan
Daily Dish on
March 7, 2002

Thanks for all your emails. I apologize for seeming angry these last couple of days. The truth is I have never been as depressed about a Church I love. Perhaps this story will help explain why. Some of you may remember my brief account of a wonderful ordination I attended last summer. It was of a friend of mine, my own age, who, unlike me and most of his peers, has dedicated his life to vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and service to God and his fellow men and women. He trained for seven years as a Jesuit. He has worked among the poor, the blighted of the inner city, the young, the needy. He does God's work, without any expectation of worldly rewards, and when I see what he has done to reach out to African-American Catholics in places others fear to tread, I feel only awe and shame at my own selfishness. At several moments in my own faith-journey, he has picked me up and helped me back on my feet. He is a good, good man. I love him as a brother. And, yes, he's gay. When I hear his life and work and dignity trashed, violated, insulted and demeaned by the pope's spokesman, my anger rises, and now, as I write this, the tears well. But you know what? My friend is the real church. He is the real spokesman for the Gospels. And this other spokesman for a Vatican who declared every gay priest a molester-in-waiting has only his conscience to answer to. My friend tells me to go back to the sacraments, to pray that the real church will survive this, and to believe that Our Lord will guide his church back from the secrecy, shame and evil that now infects it. His faith under siege is an inspiration and a goad. Those of us in a state of disbelief and depression need to remember that these hierarchical gay-baiters and protectors of child-molesters cannot take our faith from us, and that our church - the real church - needs us now as never before.

Now, The Difficult Question

But some of you raise important questions. Couldn't it also be true that there are indeed some cliques of gay priests in seminaries and elsewhere, and that celibacy is flouted by some of these people, if not many? Isn't it also true that some of these incidents are not classic pedophile cases, but more like pederast cases, where the victims are not children but under-age youths? I think the answer to both questions is, sadly, yes. The question is what do we make of it? We don't have clear data but it's a fair bet to say that disproportionate numbers of priests are gay. I think that proportion may have increased over the decades as fewer and fewer men become priests and those who get ordained may do so to avoid conflicts over sexual identity. But why should this matter? Celibacy is the rule - for gays and straights. If gays are flouting it, they should be called to account on exactly the same grounds as straights. It becomes a deeper practical and pastoral issue for gays, in my opinion, because the struggle for gay priests to remain celibate is not openly and frankly dealt with. The lingering stigma of homosexuality in the church means that the closet is still the rule rather than the exception, and so these priests are driven underground where they cannot get help and guidance. The closet forces people into further feelings of shame and guilt and secrecy, generating an unhealthy atmosphere in which cliques thrive, cover-ups multiply and scandals are inevitable. The solution? Not more secrecy and purges, but more openness and honesty. If every gay priest were out to his superiors, out to his parishioners, and out to the world, I think we'd be in a much healthier place. Since being gay is not sinful as such, there's no doctrinal problem with this. And such fresh air is not as conducive to psycho-sexual pathologies as the current stifling secrecy. But of course the Church would be embarrassed to announce that gay men are among its strongest pillars, because it still harbors in attitude if not doctrine a lingering loathing of homosexuality, and its own increasingly strained sexual doctrines would seem far less potent if gays were front and center in the church's public image. So the shame continues, the secrecy deepens, the pathologies worsen and the scandals multiply. The only way out is candor and serious pastoral care for gay and straight priests alike.

But Are They Pedophiles or Pederasts?

This question seems to me to be interesting but beside the point. Priests are supposed to be celibate. And if they're not celibate, they're breaking their vows, whether they're gay or straight. If they're not celibate with consenting adults, they're criminals, whether they're gay or straight. What more do we need to discuss? The sly point of raising this issue, of course, is to insinuate that homosexuality is somehow more likely to be expressed with children and under-age youths than heterosexuality. But there's no credible evidence for this. In fact, much evidence points in the other direction. Britney Spears, anyone? Anna Kournikova? You think straights are less attracted to youth than gays? When this slur fails to stick, the Church's spinmeisters try another one: that being gay is a form of sickness and that part of that sickness is an inability to control one's sexual desires. So gays should be purged from the church because they cannot help themselves, while straight pedophiles can. Here's a quote that addresses that precise point: the notion that homosexuals are sexually compulsive and cannot restrain their desires is an "unfounded and demeaning assumption." Moreover, the "human person, made in the likeness and image of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation." That's from the 1986 Vatican authoritative document called "The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons." This is the document that Navarro-Valls single-handedly threw out the window over the weekend to promote his own personal, heretical agenda. The authentic teaching of the Church unequivocally rebuts the hierarchy's current attempt to scape-goat its own gay priests to deflect attention from hierarchical malfeasance. That shows just how desperate and unprincipled they have become. Their arguments are not only expedient, cynical and self-serving. They are un-Catholic in every sense of the word.

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