I am delighted to repost an insightful review of my book that recently appeared in the Quest Bulletin, no. 65 (Winter 2012-13). It now appears on their site, questgaycatholic.org.uk.
By Rev. Dr. Bernárd J. Lynch
Richard Wagner. Secrecy, Sophistry and Gay Sex in the Catholic Church: The Systematic Destruction of an Oblate Priest. ISBN 978-1-61098-212-2
Jesus tells us “The truth shall set you free.” What he forgot to add ‘It shall also crucify you.’ Richard Wagner would have done well to know this before he set out on the perilous and dangerous study of Gay Catholic Priests: A Study of Cognitive and Affective Dissonance. I have been aware of this study from the early eighties. Nothing had been published before then (1981) concerning the sexual attitudes or behaviours of Catholic priests serving in public ministry. The veil of secrecy surrounding this vocation, as well as the presumption that priests are celibate, has provided a camouflage for the sexually active priest. As this study illustrates, this situation is not without its negative consequences. The sexually active priest is faced with a paradox. The same circumstances that guarantee secrecy also perpetuate the need for secrecy.
There is a sizable segment of the clergy population that is gay and these men are forced to live duplicitous lives of repression in secret. This often creates an atmosphere of extreme isolation and loneliness that can and does drive these men to desperate measures to find emotional and moral support they should be receiving from their Church. These men love their Church, but hate what it is doing to them. As bad as the situation was back in the early eighties, it is worse today.
Richard Wagner’s groundbreaking research broke the code of silence surrounding this delicate topic. The Church’s single minded effort to quash the emerging story and silence him by getting rid of him is what he writes about in his book Secrecy, Sophistry and Gay Sex in The Catholic Church. The latter part of the book is given over to the actual study that led to what he calls his “systematic destruction as an Oblate priest.” If other priests started coming out of the closet and demanded to be treated with dignity and respect it would certainly undercut the entirety of Catholic sexual moral theology – there is no place for non-reproductive sexuality within that paradigm.
The irony is of course that as Father Wagner was being hounded out of his Religious Order an unimaginable scandal, involving hundreds of Catholic priests, Cardinals, Bishops and Religious Superiors worldwide were and are involved furtively shuffling paedophile priests from one crime scene to another. They were, and still are, involved in a massive corporate cover up of their own crimes and those of their brother clergy. This cover up as has been well documented goes right to the very top and involves the present occupant of the throne of Peter.
The double irony is that the expulsion of Wagner was done “to try and protect the Church from scandal”: THE SCANDAL OF THE SIN OF HONESTY. Honesty about one’s sexuality seems to be the only sin the institutional Church will admit to! The public panic and shameful silencing and worse among Church officials towards openly gay priests – is in stark contrast to the apathetic and anaemic response to the systematic sexual abuse of children that now engulfs the Church.
When Church magisterial teaching about who we are and what we do as LGTB people is based on a lie, then, is it any wonder that the domino effect is disaster. Honesty by Catholic priests about their gayness is punishable by job dismissal. Secrecy lies and deceit are rewarded. The thing that sours all relationship is secrecy. Secrecy eats at the soul. Some people are surprised that religion is so corruptible. They should not be. When secrecy is used to protect a ‘higher order of knowledge,’ it can make the keepers of the secret think of themselves as a higher order of human being. ‘Corruptio optima pessima,’ goes the old saying. Blight at the top is the deepest blight. Most of the hierarchy of the Church are more interested in the Church’s image than the truth in Christ. Twenty years ago I founded a support group for gay Catholic priests and religious here in London. The group is in existence to the present day. We have had well over a hundred priests pass through our doors in that time. Despite numerous efforts and a personal letter from our secretary to the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Westminster we are ignored and refused any publicity of our services by the ecclesiastical authorities. As far as they are concerned ‘we do not exist’ just like the abuse of our most vulnerable children.
Lesbian and gay children until very recently had no models of how to be fully human in an anti-gay world. While in western democracies this is becoming easier, it is not so in the Catholic Church. Our gay priests who by vocation should be ‘alter Christus’ are by force and choice models of the ‘great lie’ . . . When Father Richard Wagner came into the truth of who he is in God’s eyes is it any wonder that a Church that models lies and deceit with regard to its LGBT children casts him out into the wilderness? A wilderness that I hope he finds is alive and flourishing with the freedom of the daughters and sons of God…
Full Review HERE!
I’m cross-posting, here, an exchange I had with a correspondent on my sex advice site this morning. I believe it will be both relevant and insightful to my audience on this site. — Richard
Name: Seattle Guy
Dr. Dick – Were you really a Roman Catholic priest? I’m Catholic – and trying to figure out where I stand sexually. I’d be gay in a second if I had confidence that was my authentic self. I’m definitely bi – somewhere in the middle. Anyway, have you discovered any insights in your experience how God fits into our sexuality? But I guess I should ask, do you still believe in God? How did you find your way to producing porn? How does God figure in everything, in your opinion? Do you think a soul has a sexuality? Are these too many questions? Any response you have would be very appreciated!
Yes, Seattle Guy, you have way too many questions! But because you asked so nicely, I’ll do my best to answer each and every one. Because I’m such a friggin sweet guy.
“Were you really a Roman Catholic priest?” I were, I really were! I was a Catholic priest for 19 years. Technically I still am a priest, but I no longer practice in that capacity. Here’s a little known fact, I am the only Catholic priest in the whole wide world with a doctorate in Clinical Sexology. How about them apples? That and a $1.50 gets me a ride on the bus.
I completed my doctorate with the publication of my thesis concerning the sexual attitudes and behaviors of gay Catholic priests in the active ministry in 1981. This was unprecedented research back then. Hell, it’s groundbreaking even now. Needless to say, there was a firestorm of international publicity upon publication. I was soon to be known as “The Gay Priest.” Like if I was the only one. This notoriety (some would say infamy) effectively ended my public priesthood. I fought the Vatican for the next 13 years, from 1981-1994, in an attempt to salvage my priesthood and ministry, but they would have none of it. I published a book about my ordeal, Secrecy, Sophistry And Gay Sex In The Catholic Church; The Systematic Destruction Of An Oblate Priest. It came out last summer. (Click on the title for more information about the book.)
I was kicked out of the religious community I belonged to, but I was never defrocked. So, like I said, technically I’m still a man of the cloth. Scary huh? And what a difference 30+ years makes. The political climate in the church is even more repressive than it was in the early 80’s, but now openly gay men serve as priests all over the world. I can’t explain it either.
So you’re a Catholic too, OK. But you’re still (at 38) trying to figure out where you stand sexually. I’m not sure I know what that means. You say you’d be gay in a minute if you thought that was your authentic self. You’re bi for sure…somewhere in the middle. In the middle of what, may I ask? You’ll pardon me, darlin’, but you sound suspiciously like a mugwump. Do you know what that is? A mugwump is a fence-sitter, someone with his mug on one side and his wump on the other. The reason I say that is if your were authentically bi, you’d leave it at that, as do all authentically bi men.
“Have you discovered any insights in your experience how God fits into our sexuality?” You betcha I have! But I have a completely different take on this then you apparently do. Ya see I would have phrased the question in the reverse. How does our sexuality fit into god? The way you have it, suggests that the infinite can fit into the finite. And this is precisely where most religious people go very, very wrong. We do god a disservice by trying to stuff the divine into the mundane.
My sexuality fits into god when I am honest and authentic with myself about who I am and acknowledge my insignificance in the greatness of creation, I fit into god when I honor my sexuality, when I celebrate it, when I give it as a gift. I do not fit into god when I am dishonest with myself, or others, when I falsely claim my own significance in the mind of god and when I belittle god with my pettiness and insecurity.
You’ll notice that I was careful not to mention anything about sexual orientation, even though I think that’s what you were ultimately asking me about. Mugwumps are so predictable. Ya see sexual orientation, as we currently understand it, is a relatively new phenomenon in human history. And all of human history barely registers in cosmic history. Why do you suppose we’re so consumed about something so irrelevant to the big picture? And god is the ultimate “BIG PICTURE.” What concerns me is that you’ve come this far in your life and still haven’t been honest to god…or yourself.
Do you still believe in God? Yes, in a manner of speaking! I tend not to use the word “god” as much as I used to, because it comes with too much cultural baggage. I prefer the term, “divine. But whatever I call it, I’m positive my god is nothing like your god. Your god is made in your image. My god is not made in my image. In fact, my god so unlike me — a mere fallible, insignificant mortal — as to make my god incomprehensible to the likes of me. But that doesn’t mean there’s no appreciation. There is!
“How did you find your way to producing porn?” God led me! Just kidding. Actually, I’m not kidding. It all started back in 1981, believe it or not. My career as a therapist in San Francisco coincided with the advent of HIV/AIDS . Not surprisingly, my practice evolved into working primarily with sick and dying people. In the mid-90’s I founded a nonprofit organization called, PARADIGM, Enhancing Life Near Death. It was an outreach and resource for terminally ill, chronically ill, elder and dying people. Despite the fact that this was brilliant cutting-edge work, I couldn’t find the funding I needed to keep the nonprofit alive. This precipitated a massive mid-life crisis and a rather sudden move to Seattle in 1999.
I continued to work with sick and dying people here. I developed programming for women newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer and men with prostate cancer. This lead me to develop concepts for videos for people experiencing life threatening and/or disfiguring illnesses; to help them deal with reintegrating sex and intimacy into their life post diagnosis. But I needed to find funding for this ambitious project. I soon realized that no mainline foundation would fund an overtly sexual project like this. I would have to fund this on my own. But how? Friends prevailed on me to start by making porn. I’d make a load of money and then I could turn my attention back to the original project — death and dying work. Thus Daddy Oohhh! Productions was born. Unfortunately, the load of money has yet to materialize. But while I was shooting porn, my focus is to create projects that are different in style and tone from what currently rules the marketplace.
“How does God figure in everything, in your opinion?” Once again, I think you’ve got that backwards. The better question, to my mind, is: How does everything figure into god? And here my answer echos my previous answer. If there is a god, then everything figures into god with ease and grace.
“Do you think a soul has a sexuality?” Nope, I don’t. Sexuality is part of the finite material world. It’s a bodily function that apparently goes away when our body dies. A soul, as it is popularly understood, is something other. What precisely? I can’t really say. Hey, maybe something else takes the place of sexuality in the spiritual world, if there is a spiritual world. I guess you and I will just have to wait to find out.
In the meantime, wouldn’t it be great if you freed yourself up to be exactly who you are? And not wait on someone, especially someone of a religious bent, to give you permission to do so, or tell you what you can and cannot be.
FATHER BOB PIERSON: As Catholics we must follow our own conscience in making decisions such as how to vote. My conscience tells me to vote no on the amendment because I have yet to hear a convincing reason why we need such an amendment to our state constitution. In fact, I believe the church does not have the right to force its moral teaching on others outside the fold.
Imagine what our Church would look like if all us LGBT clergy, religious and parishoners decided to come out.
Just in time for National Coming Out Day, which just so happens to be today, October 11th, we have this from Craig:
I’m 19, and I’ve decided that I’m gay. But I don’t know how to tell anyone. I’m afraid that I’ll lose my friends and family. I come from a very religious family, and they’ll never understand. I don’t want to hurt them, but I want to be honest about who I am. Just wondering if you could help me.
Coming out is never easy—or almost never—but having to do so to bigoted people makes things worse. There are many different aspects to the coming out process. It means both owning and valuing who you are, and sharing that information with others. You’ve apparently laid the groundwork by self-identifying as gay. Unfortunately, coming out also means learning to deal with the hostility many people have toward us sexual minorities.
Owning your sexual identity and integrating it into your overall sense of self is the first step in what I believe is a lifelong process. Your sexual preferences are just a small part of who you are. It is indeed an important part, but it’s not necessarily the defining element that some would make it out to be. In this instance, LGBT folks are not all that different from everyone else who is awakening to his/her sexuality. We can take some comfort from the fact that we are not alone. So many other segments of the population are marginalized and discounted because of their race, gender, age, religion, ethnic origin, you name it. Let’s face it, pup, our culture doesn’t do real well with diversity.
And ya know what else? There are a whole lot of us who are marginalized and who are discriminated against, who then turn right around and discriminate against and marginalize others. This just breaks my heart! Hopefully you’ll avoid the temptation to do this yourself.
Being different in our society is a double-edged sword. Obviously, it’s a challenge to the status quo, but it also frees us up to tread a less traveled path. To compensate for the difficulties of being a minority, we get to define ourselves in ways that are unavailable to the dominant culture.
I don’t suppose any of us is ever entirely really free of our own internalized homophobia, any more than other marginalized minorities can rid themselves of their internalized self-doubt. No one can completely escape the prejudices and biases that surround them, but most of us make our way, regardless. That’s why coming out is so important. It empowers us. It increases our self-esteem. Honesty increases personal integrity. And when we stop hiding or denying this important aspect of ourselves, we have greater freedom of self-expression, and we become more available for happy, healthy and honest relationships.
So, how much do you know about LGBT history? Knowing that you belong to a big and vibrant community with a long and illustrious history will enhance your queer identity. You’ll find positive role models in every era of human history, and in every human endeavor—and affirmative role models will help you achieve a positive sense of self. (However, you’re gonna have to do some digging. The dominant culture suppresses queer history, which often leaves those who are just coming out feeling isolated, alone and unsure. Fear of rejection from the dominant culture is greatest for those who don’t know they belong to something bigger and stronger than themselves.)
Knowing your gay history will also give you ammunition to refute those around you who will try to label you as sick or sinful. Loads of LGBT folk have enriched civilization through science, religion, music, politics, art, theater, sports and literature, to name just a few. Long before you and I showed up on the scene they were paving the way for the freedoms and tolerance we currently enjoy in this country.
If you’re not already involved in your local gay community, it’s high time you got hooked up. Practice your coming out skills with other LGBT people. Coming out to those who are most likely to be supportive will make this phase easier. And in doing so, you’ll be creating a natural support system of friends who will be your gay “family.” You will also find helpful resources, including support groups, crisis lines, gay-friendly churches and synagogues, social outlets and political and cultural activities and organizations.
Once you’ve honed your coming out skills with the queer community, you’ll be ready to move on to straight folks. This will probably be a mixed bag. Some won’t give a hoot. Others may have a lot of hoot to give. The best advice I can give you is the same advice I received from my gay elders when I was coming out at about your age: Make your coming out a celebration.
Listen, if you carry your hat in your hand, shuffle your feet and look all dejected when you make your announcement, your audience will have little choice but to receive the information as bad or troubling news. However, if you stand up, look the person in the eye, and tell her or him that you have some wonderful news to share with them, you will be giving them a running start on receiving the information as good news. Besides, a positive presentation will help short-circuit some of the initial shock or confusion they may experience.
Expect that most straight folks—particularly those of a religious bent—will need some time to get used to the idea of you being queer. And as you suggest, it is quite possible that some family members or friends may reject you initially. But it’s not the end of the world, and lots of people, even some religious folks, come around in their own sweet time.
Coming out to others will be a more positive experience if you’re comfortable in your own skin. Hopefully you’re not overly dependent on others for your sense of self—a tall order for someone of your tender age and background. But remember, thousands of people, young and old from every corner of the world, are making their first tentative steps out of the closet right this minute. You are not alone.
How well you do fare may ultimately hinge on controlling, as much as possible, the time and place you come out. If you “out” yourself as opposed to being “outted” by someone else, you’re more likely to succeed. Being able to judge the receptiveness of your audience is also important. The best time for you might not necessarily be the best time for the person you’re about to tell. (F’rinstance, grandpa’s funeral may not be the ideal time to announce to your family that you’re a big fat flamer.)
While some friends and family may have figured you’re queer long before you have, give everyone the time and space he or she needs to work through the news. Be prepared for some negative reactions. (Having some supportive friends available to talk things through afterward, or retreat to, will help.) If you do your best to bring the news in a life affirming way and your audience still rejects you, that’s not your fault; nor does that make them right. You have the right to be who you are. You have the right to be out, proud and open about all the aspects of your life, including your sexuality. Never let people unable to accept that, even if they are family, diminish your self-worth.
Coming out may be difficult, but it’s also very rewarding. Coming out affirms your dignity, as well as underscores the dignity of other queer folk. Finally, never take for granted the freedom and tolerance the dominant culture begrudgingly gives us. It’s only through vigilance and political action that we secure our rightful place in society.