Blame the Gays?

Is there really such a category as “gay priest”? Should there be?

So, as promised, we will continue with what I’m hoping will be the “final wrap-up” of the priest scandals. Last time we discussed “blame the bishops.” This week, we’ll move on to “blame the gays.”

As usual, when it comes to the issues surrounding homosexuality, I look to the left and don’t like what I see. Then I look to the right, and again I don’t like what I see. In this case, the left has created this category of “gay priest,” as if there is nothing out of the ordinary about a presumably celibate cleric self-identifying with a label that presupposes a sexually active lifestyle. They’ve even claimed a hero, the supposedly “gay priest” Fr. Mykal Judge, who died ministering to firefighters on September 11th. 

I find this story fascinating – and horrifying. Those closest to Fr. Judge deny that he was anything other than a celibate, heterosexually oriented priest, and there is apparently no evidence to corroborate claims of Fr. Mike’s alleged “gayness.” But that hasn’t stopped these increasingly outrageous media claims. He went from being a “priest” to a “homosexually oriented priest” to a “gay priest” to “a leader in the gay community.” Don’t get me wrong – Fr. Mike would be no less heroic, in my eyes, if he were a celibate, homosexually oriented priest. But he wasn’t. That’s the truth, and it’s not being reported.

On the right, I see the claims that this whole scandal, from end to end, is about homosexuality. “Gay” men are supposedly predators -- all of them, or at least a vast majority. “Predatory homosexual men” is the exact term, I believe. It’s a blanket statement I find somewhat disturbing.

So where exactly is the middle ground? Where is the truth? What role does the issue of homosexuality play in the priesthood today?

There is no doubt that the Catholic priesthood has a problem where homosexuality is concerned. Recent reports are indicating that up to 30% of today’s priests are homosexually oriented. In a world where the general population is 2-3% homosexual, 30% is a pretty skewed number. 

Why so many? There could be many reasons. I’m sure many men, realizing they’re not attracted to marriage, have seen the priesthood as an alternative way to serve, and to give meaning to their lives. Maybe some others have used the priesthood to “hide” -- since priests don’t date, they figured that no one would look down on them for not showing an interest in women. 

As the numbers of homosexually oriented seminarians grew, they drew others in. Heterosexual ex-seminarians have told me that, in certain formation houses, a “gay subculture” developed which actively excluded – and persecuted – heterosexual seminarians. As the “straight” ones were driven out, the percentages grew larger.

Of course, none of this would necessarily be a problem, if these men were committed to the practice of celibacy. But in many cases, that appears not to have been the case. We’re seeing more and more evidence that many of these men entered the seminary with no intention whatsoever of practicing celibacy. Others started out with good intentions, but apparently didn’t have the personal strength and holiness necessary to live out this rather difficult vow. 

Where was the screening process? No one, hetero- or homosexually oriented, should be ordained to the priesthood without having been closely examined for factors that might impede the commitment to celibacy. It seems to me that, given the culture inside some of our more troubled seminaries, an individual’s lack of commitment to celibacy would be obvious. 

I have no doubt that there are many, many homosexually oriented priests living lives of holy, celibate, faithful service today. But I also have no doubt that they face an additional struggle not encountered by heterosexual priests, one that should give our seminaries significant pause before ordaining a homosexually oriented man. The priesthood is, essentially, a brotherhood. It is a group of men, often living in close proximity to each other. How well would a heterosexually oriented man live a vow of celibacy if he spent his whole life living in close, intimate quarters with women?

And so, I believe that the Church needs to re-examine its screening process. No man, regardless of sexual orientation, should be ordained if he is unwilling to live celibacy. No man should be ordained if he suffers from an emotional immaturity or other condition which could impede his ability to live chastely.

But what does all of this have to do with the crisis at hand? Are gay men more likely to abuse children? Would eliminating homosexually oriented priests eliminate the abuse problems?

I was all ready to go on and discuss that issue, but then I remembered the promise I made to my editors to try to stay around 750 words. It’s a promise I’m trying to keep. So I’ll save that question for next time.

See ya then.