Bishop Accountability
  Rod Dreher's Gay Problem

By Andrew Sullivan
March 13, 2002

There's no question in my mind that National Review's Rod Dreher is not a homophobe. He's always been extremely civil to me; he has good gay friends; he's a brave journalist. He's also an intelligent Catholic who knows, for example, that Navarro-Valls' recent statement that gays should be barred from the priesthood was an outrageous distortion of what Rod would call "authentic" Catholicism. To see why, you only have to remember that amazing footage of Father Judge praying in the World Trade Center, about to meet his death. If the Vatican has its way, Father Judge would never have been allowed to be ordained. But Rod doesn’t seem to see good men like Judge when he writes. All he sees is something he calls a "lavender mafia" allegedly running the Church, controlling seminaries, discriminating against good straight Irish-Catholic boys, and the rest of it. Yes, that's right. Gays are not victims of this Church, they are a cliquish cabal secretly running it! The evidence? Hearsay, mainly. Dreher laments a "swishy priest" whose homily led a New York cop to walk out of mass, he recommends a book whose blurbs complain about "effete" homosexuals taking over seminaries, aka gay "brothels." He reprints letters from priests who end by proclaiming, "Stop letting the homosexual bishops and their friends pick our new bishops!" and blames the appointment of child molesters on gay bishops and cardinals. He even goes after the Jesuits: “The vindictiveness of the faithless liberals who run the heavily gay Jesuit order is staggering.” Notice the casual attempt to equate faithlessness with homosexuality. Elsewhere, Dreher insists on calling the defrocked Bishop O’Connell “this homosexual ephebophile,” as if his homosexuality is relevant in such an instance. Imagine if he had spat out the phrase “this Jewish ephebophile.” Charming, isn’t it?

THE CHURCH'S FUTURE: Then prompted by the one calm contributor to the discussion, Romesh Ponnuru, Dreher backtracks to say that he has no problem with celibate orthodox gay priests, as long as they are struggling with their "homosexuality." (I think he means desire to have gay sex. There’s no teaching that says gay or straight Catholics should struggle against their orientation.) But what about celibate, orthodox happily gay priests? Dreher ducks the question by defining gay priests as "those that reject Rome's teaching on both celibacy and sexuality." But what of all the others? What about those who are celibate and support the Church's teaching on sexuality? What of those who are celibate and privately differ with the official teaching but do not publicly challenge it? What of those who are celibate but privately offer help and guidance to gays and straights struggling to deal with the Church's teachings on sex? What about those who would like to reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation but, faced with no middle way, are forced into the hands of radicals? And what about those who, like many straight priests, struggle to be celibate but occasionally fail? Should any priest who strays once or twice be expelled? These are the difficult practical questions that cannot be explained or discussed in the context of paranoid rants about "lavender mafias" and seminarian brothels. What we need is firm discipline of any priest – gay or straight – who violates the trust of minors, greater guidance and counseling for gay candidates for the priesthood, and a period of reflection about the meaning of priesthood itself – and how we can rescue what is obviously a deeply troubled vocation for the enormous challenges of the future. And less hysteria and paranoia. Please.

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