Friday, February 22, 2013

Gay Men in the Vatican Are Giving the Rest of Us a Bad Name

The Roman Catholic priesthood has long been a haven for a certain type of gay man – one who, for whatever reason, does not experience, or care to seek to experience in the wider world, validation for who they are sexually.

Before the rise in the West of the gay liberation movement of the late 60s-early 70s, the priesthood was one of a very few environments where homosexual men could gather and live together without arousing undue suspicion. More importantly, it was perhaps the only environment where they could gain power and experience respect and deference.

Consequently, I think it's fair to say that the priesthood has historically attracted a disproportionate number of homosexual men. For many of these men, the price paid for a life of power and prestige involves the maintaining of a secretive sexual life. It is secretive due to the fact that compulsory celibacy is currently a requirement of the priesthood. Another price that we know has been paid by many men – both gay and straight – is that of a stunted psycho-sexual development. One sad consequence of this can be seen in the clergy sex abuse scandal. I would argue that it's a minority of abuse cases that involve actual pedophiles, i.e., adults sexually attracted to prepubescent children. Instead, many, if not most of the caes, involve grown men attempting to act-out or come to terms with their sexuality with non-consenting teenagers and/or young adults with whom they share a similar level of psycho-sexual development.

Having said that, it's important to remember the analysis of Richard Sipe:

[The] John Jay [Study] concluded that 81 percent of the alleged victims were boys. Some people assumed, as a result, that sexual abuse is a homosexual problem.

Not so. First of all, there have been no studies in the general population that have even suggested gays are any more likely than heterosexuals to be pedophiles.

Plus, there are other, more likely explanations for why the majority of abused children were boys.

Studies of the priesthood have indicated that 66 percent of priests are psycho-sexually underdeveloped or maldeveloped. Part of the reason is that clerical culture encourages the idealization of adolescents (for their purity and passion), as well as encouraging dependency and conformity in its priests.

When adults – gay or heterosexual – function on a level that is equal to most adolescents, it’s not surprising that the people they’re sexually attracted to are adolescents. And in general, the adolescents whom priests spent time with were boys – mainly altar boys.

Yet even if the majority of priests who engage in sexual activity with adolescents are homosexual, it still does not mean that it's the homosexual orientation that's the problem. The vast majority of homosexual people live healthily-integrated lives in the world beyond the clerical culture of the priesthood, the "real" world, in other words. This is because they have "come out" to the reality of their sexuality, accepted this reality, and realized that they are able to choose how to express and live it. Just as with heterosexuals, the vast majority of homosexuals can and do choose to live lives marked by ongoing psycho-sexual growth, loving relationships, and sexual integrity and health. We see the benefits of this choice all around us in the lives and relationships of the gay individuals, couples, and families we know and love.

Where we're not seeing it is in the Roman Catholic priesthood.

This is because the clerical culture of the church, unlike wider society, continues to denigrate and malign homosexuality and its expression. And yet we know that this same culture is heavily populated by homosexual men – not the type "on the outside" that accept and celebrate the gift of their sexuality, but rather the type that is self-loathing, secretive, and often psycho-sexually stunted. Yet they are also men with very real sexual needs. Celibacy is a beautiful gift – and a very rare one. It does not come automatically for most men once they enter the priesthood. A celibate life can be fostered and maintained, but only if sexuality – in all its beauty and complexity – is acknowledged and respected, something that's not happening in the priesthood. Gay men in the priesthood are forced to live secret, isolated, and often sexually furtive lives.

No good can come from such a state of affairs, as we're painfully witnessing almost on a daily basis. The latest revelation suggests that Pope Benedict's recently announced plan to abdicate at the end of the month was prompted, at least in part, by internal reports that detail findings of blackmail, corruption, and, as one newspaper puts it, "gay sex at the Vatican." Following is The Guardian's report on this latest development.

A potentially explosive report has linked the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI to the discovery of a network of gay prelates in the Vatican, some of whom – the report said – were being blackmailed by outsiders.

The pope's spokesman declined to confirm or deny the report, which was carried by the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica.

The paper said the pope had taken the decision on 17 December that he was going to resign – the day he received a dossier compiled by three cardinals delegated to look into the so-called "Vatileaks" affair.

Last May Pope Benedict's butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested and charged with having stolen and leaked papal correspondence that depicted the Vatican as a seething hotbed of intrigue and infighting.

According to La Repubblica, the dossier comprising "two volumes of almost 300 pages – bound in red" had been consigned to a safe in the papal apartments and would be delivered to the pope's successor upon his election.

The newspaper said the cardinals described a number of factions, including one whose members were "united by sexual orientation".

In an apparent quotation from the report, La Repubblica said some Vatican officials had been subject to "external influence" from laymen with whom they had links of a "worldly nature". The paper said this was a clear reference to blackmail.

It quoted a source "very close to those who wrote [the cardinal's report]" as saying: "Everything revolves around the non-observance of the sixth and seventh commandments."

The seventh enjoins against theft. The sixth forbids adultery, but is linked in Catholic doctrine to the proscribing of homosexual acts.

. . . Pope Benedict has said he will stand down at the end of this month; the first pope to resign voluntarily since Celestine V more than seven centuries ago. Since announcing his departure he has twice apparently referred to machinations inside the Vatican, saying that divisions "mar the face of the church", and warned against "the temptations of power".

La Repubblica's report was the latest in a string of claims that a gay network exists in the Vatican. In 2007 a senior official was suspended from the congregation, or department, for the priesthood, after he was filmed in a "sting" organised by an Italian television programme while apparently making sexual overtures to a younger man.

In 2010 a chorister was dismissed for allegedly procuring male prostitutes for a papal gentleman-in-waiting. A few months later a weekly news magazine used hidden cameras to record priests visiting gay clubs and bars and having sex.

The Vatican does not condemn homosexuals. But it teaches that gay sex is "intrinsically disordered". Pope Benedict has barred sexually active gay men from studying for the priesthood.

Part of me pities these individuals whose actions have set them up for blackmail. But then I think of the great harm they are doing to themselves, to others, and to the Church. It's unnecessary harm, as gay people have the opportunities in this day and age to live, as never before, lives of wholeness and integrity.

What's stopping the many gay priests and bishops from stepping out of their closets of secrecy? Is it the lure of the rich trappings of power and prestige also housed in these closets? Is it fear of losing this power and prestige? Is it more practical – the fear of simply losing their position and thus their source of income? Do some really believe what the clerical leadership teaches about homosexuality? Are they simply incapable of realizing that the way they're drawn to reach out and touch and be touched by another is capable of being lovingly and healthily experienced? Perhaps for many it's a painful and uncomfortable mixture of all these reasons.

One thing I do know for sure is that our gay brothers within the feudal world of the Vatican are giving gay men everywhere a bad name. I must admit that as a gay Catholic man I resent this. So many of us have made the difficult journey to a place of self-realization and integration, and discerned that it's the truly enlightened and authentically spiritual path to tread. And yet our so-called spiritual leaders refuse to recognize it, let alone embark on the journey themselves. I don't want our church to be led by such hypocrites and cowards.

Yet, undoubtedly, things are only going to get worse unless Catholics, as 'the Church,' demand a fundamental change in the way our leaders think and talk about sexuality – in all its wondrous diversity. For that to happen, however, the whole leadership system must be reformed. We can no longer depend upon a "good" pope, i.e., one who thinks like us, to come in and make everything better. A benevolent autocrat is still an autocrat. It's time we acknowledged that the church took a terribly wrong turn when, around 1600 years ago, it assumed the trappings of empire during the time of Constantine. No more overlords, autocrats, emperor-like popes. We have to return to the radical egalitarianism of Jesus. Only then will God's spirit of compassion and justice be manifested in and through the Church, i.e., the community of those committed to following Jesus.

And I like to think that in emulating Jesus' example of embodying God's spirit, we're liberated from all kinds of entrapped ways of living that give us or others any type of "bad name."

Related Off-site Links:
The La Repubblica Report on the Vatican "Gay Cabal" – Original Text – Terence Weldon (Queering the Church, February 23, 2013).
Papal Abdication Linked to Inquiry Into 'Vatican Gay Officials,' Says Paper – John Hooper (The Guardian, February 21, 2013).
Reports: Pope Resigned After Findings of Blackmail, Corruption, Gay Sex at Vatican – Doug Stanglin (USA Today via Detroit Free Press, February 2, 2013).
Did Gays in the Vatican Drive Benedict Out? – David Gibson (Religion News Service, February 22, 2013).
Thoughts on the Vatican's 'Gay Lobby' – John L. Allen Jr. (National Catholic Reporter, February 22, 2013).
Did The Cardinals Inquisition Result In Pope Benedict's Resignation? – Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, February 21, 2013).
Let’s Not Kid Anyone, Ratzinger XVI Resigned Due to Sexual, Financial Scandal – Luis Miranda (The Real Agenda, February 22, 2013).
Vatican Slams Media Reports of Gay Scandal – Paul Brandeis Raushenbush (The Huffington Post, February 23, 2013)
A Gay Priest "Makes It Known" – Terence Weldon (Queering the Church, February 22, 2013).
"Perfect" Priests and Their "Sacrificial Lambs" – John C Seitz (National Catholic Reporter via The Progressive Catholic Voice, December 5, 2012).
Homosexual Relationships: Another Look – Bill Hunt (The Progressive Catholic Voice, September 8, 2012).
A Dangerous Closet – Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea (The Boston Globe, March 11, 2007).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Homosexuality and the Priesthood
Officially Homophobic, Intensely Homoerotic
A Fact That Should Be Neither Surprising Nor Derogatory
Let's Face It: The Catholic Church is a Gay Institution . . . and That's a Good Thing!
The Pope's "Scandalous" Stance on Homosexuality
Vatican Stance on Gay Priests Signals Urgent Need for Renewal and Reform
Report: Homosexuality No Factor in Abusive Priests
Weakland, the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal, and Homophobia
Keeping All the Queens Under One Roof
Oh, Give It a Rest, Papa!
Catholic Church Can Overcome Fear of Gay People
The Many Manifestations of God's Loving Embrace
What Is It That Ails You?
What the Vatican Can Learn from the X-Men

Image: Jason Greenberg.


brian gerard said...

An excellent post, Michael. It appears that the honest light of day is, after all, penetrating into the Vatican.

As always, I find your call at the end:
"For that to happen, however, the whole leadership system must be reformed. We can no longer depend upon a "good" pope, i.e., one who thinks like us, to come in and make everything better. A benevolent autocrat is still an autocrat. It's time we acknowledged that the church took a terribly wrong turn when, around 1600 years ago, it assumed the trappings of empire during the time of Constantine. No more overlords, autocrats, emperor-like popes. We have to return to the radical egalitarianism of Jesus. Only then will God's spirit of compassion and justice be manifested in and through the Church, i.e., the community of those committed to following Jesus. "

to be entirely too dismissive of all those christians who have already accomplished this. Starting with Martin Luther.

wild hair said...

You have put words to maybe what I was feeling. If there is any truth to there being a gay cabal in the vatican this story is, as you point out, giving healthy gay men a bad name.

One caution. Cardinal Herranz, one of the three investigator cardinals for the report sent to Benedict is an opus dei man. These folks are gay haters.

There is still a need for more information even in the face of the "secret report" that will only be given to the new pope.

Terence Weldon said...

An excellent and important analysis, Michael. The core issue is not that there exist gay men at the Vatican - but the absurd and dangerous insistence on compulsory celibacy. I think it’s absolutely true that there are gay bishops and cardinals at the Vatican, and that some of them are sexually active – just as many priests are gay everywhere, and many priests everywhere have sexual lives, sometimes openly, more usually hidden. But allegations that these are tied up with blackmail, or that the papal resignation was precipitated by blackmail, are no more than rumours, and could be based on no more than mudslinging in the dirty political games to win curial influence. Probably the most important lesson to be drawn from the story, is the urgency of doing away with the ridiculous rule on compulsory celibacy, and an acceptance that some people (and clerics) are gay. When openness is not scandalous, there’s no possibility of blackmail.

It’s also important to note that the La Repubblica report included a much more serious allegation, of widespread financial skulduggery, that most of the sensationalist reports of a gay cabal have totally ignored.

John Webster said...

I am extremely impressed with this posting Micheal. Your analysis as to the true nature of the sex scandals, and why they occur is in my opinion spot on. Until the church can embrace it's gay clergy, and appreciate them for the true gift they can be, the sickness will continue. Self hate is the culprit. It is impossible to "Love thy neighbor as thyself" if you hate yourself. Basic, fundamental reality.

Clarence said...

I still love the multiple ironies behind the idea that we can't let gay men into the seminary.

First off, where will guys who don't want to marry go?

Second, if you are drawn to men but don't want to go to prison, where else would you go?

And lastly, if the church has this job where they don't want the holders of that job to have sex, and you have a population of people (gays) who you don't want to have sex, don't you think that we would be putting those people into that job? Guess not.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the excellent commentary, Michael. You made many excellent points here.


Anonymous said...

I have always felt that the closeted gays in top Vatican leadership positions have gone over to the dark side so to speak like J. Edgar Hoover and Roy Cohn...self-hating corrupted gay men....your analysis certainly explains the process in the most clearest terms and compassionate way .....I was in a minor high school seminary from 1958 to 1961...was struggling with feelings of physical attractions but in deep denial at the same time....never even heard of the word gay...being from the south I had heard about "queers" but didin't identify myself that way....there was absolutely no one to go to to talk about what was really going on with me.....unthinkable to even breach the subject....I did not remain in the took me years and a good dose of loving, supportive gay liberation consciousness raising groups in the 70s to finally come to terms with my gay patner of thrity years and I were recently married here in the state of Washington, now that marriage equality passed last November.....I still identify inwardly as a priest...thank you for all that you do to support gay people and the People of God in general.....Michael Ferri