01/17/13

Secrecy, Sophistry and Gay Sex in the Catholic Church (Book Review)

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

SS&GS_CoverJesus 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!