The church’s leaders should be open to at least discussing thorny issues around its patriarchal culture and its teachings about human sexuality and gender.
By John Gehring
Several hundred Catholic bishops from around the country have gathered in Baltimore for a national meeting at a time when many of us faithful are grieving, angry and running out of patience. The horrifying scale of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, as chronicled by a Pennsylvania grand jury report in August that revealed widespread abuse and cover-up over several decades, underscores an obvious but essential point: Bishops can’t be trusted to police themselves.
Moreover, a recent investigation by The Boston Globe and The Philadelphia Inquirer found that more than 130 bishops — nearly one-third of those still living — have been accused of failing to adequately respond to sexual abuse in their dioceses. New explosions are still coming. Last month, a former assistant to Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo released hundreds of secret documents that showed how the bishop continued to send predator priests back into parishes. Bishop Michael Bransfield of West Virginia resigned in September after claims that he had sexually harassed younger priests.
It’s not the first meeting of its kind: 16 years ago, after The Globe’s groundbreaking “Spotlight” investigation, bishops met in Dallas to adopt zero-tolerance policies. Any priest who had abused a minor would be removed. Civilian review boards would investigate claims of clergy misconduct. Those policies led to the removal of hundreds of priests, but the bishops didn’t implement procedures that held themselves to the same standard of accountability.
The Vatican, including Pope Francis, has also not done enough. A proposal to create a Vatican tribunal to evaluate accusations against bishops — an idea floated by the pope’s own Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors — has gone nowhere.
Marie Collins, an abuse survivor who resigned in frustration from the commission, rightly observed that “history will judge Pope Francis on his actions, not his intentions.”
The failure to hold bishops accountable perpetuates a privileged culture of clericalism that lets the hierarchy operate under different rules.
Bishops were scheduled to vote on policies to address the abuse crisis in Baltimore. But in a surprise move, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, stunned his fellow bishops and media by announcing that the Vatican wanted those plans put on hold until after a February meeting in Rome called by Pope Francis that will bring together bishops from around the world. That could prove to be prudent for the final outcome, but it’s hard to overstate how tone deaf the timing is given the growing Catholic anger in the pews.
Whatever credibility the Catholic Church has left as a voice for justice in public life, the clock is ticking down fast.
Standards and systems that prioritize transparency and accountability are essential. But church leaders should also recognize that technical or bureaucratic responses are insufficient to address the urgency of this moment. The Catholic Church faces a profound crisis of legitimacy. This crisis is not only the product of sexual predation. Moving forward, Catholic leaders should be more open to at least discussing a host of thorny issues. The church’s patriarchal culture — most exemplified in excluding women from the priesthood — and its teachings about human sexuality and gender are rejected by not only many Americans but also a sizable share of faithful Catholics in the pews.
How does the church hope to influence the wider culture when pastors are ignored by many of its own flock?
At this dark crossroads for the Catholic Church, there is an opportunity for Pope Francis and the bishops to take a fresh look at the church and begin a prayerful discernment about the limits of patriarchy, human rights for L.G.B.T. people and the exclusion of women from the clergy. These will be uncomfortable but necessary topics to explore if the Catholic Church wants an era of renewal and its leaders hope to reclaim the ability to speak more persuasively to a diverse public square.
The final report from a recently concluded monthlong meeting at the Vatican that brought together young Catholics and hundreds of bishops from around the world acknowledged the need for a broader conversation about the church’s teachings on sexuality. There are questions, the report noted, “related to the body, to affectivity and to sexuality that require a deeper anthropological, theological, and pastoral exploration.” While conservative bishops such as Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia led the charge to make sure the descriptor “L.G.B.T.” was not included in a final report — a pre-synod working document used the term for the first time in Vatican history — that subtle but significant opening is an invitation for a long-overdue conversation.
Church teaching isn’t set by a poll or the shifting winds of popular opinion. At the same time, the church is not a static institution. Doctrine does change and develop. The Second Vatican Council met from 1962 until 1965, a time when bishops opened the windows of the church to the modern world. The council brought historic changes in the way Catholicism understood democracy, the Jewish faith, the role of lay Catholics, interfaith dialogue and liturgy.
The question isn’t whether the church should stay the same or change. Paradoxically, the church has always done both. The more essential question is whether a 2,000-year-old institution that thinks in centuries can once again stand with a foot firmly planted in the best of its tradition while stepping into the future renewed and relevant to a new generation.
The Vatican this month is showing unprecedented, if symbolic, outreach on issues of human sexuality, using for what’s believed to be the first time the term “LGBT” in a planning document for a huge upcoming bishops meeting. Vatican officials also invited to speak at a second global meeting a prominent advocate for LGBT people, something some gay Catholic groups say has never been done.
The two moves, announced in the past 10 days, are being seen by church-watchers as largely an effort to speak in a more respectful way with a younger generation of Catholics who are confronting the church on topics from female priests and abortion to sexuality — but who are clearly not ready to totally walk away from the faith.
The efforts related to the Synod of Bishops on Young People (in October) and the World Meeting of Families (in August) are part of an explicit push by Pope Francis’s church to say “we have to pay attention to this whole LGBT reality, especially for those who have chosen to remain in the church,” said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, who has often served as an English assistant to the Vatican press office.
On Tuesday, the Vatican released the details of the bishops’ synod, or meeting, the third in major global gatherings about the family. The others were in 2014 and 2015. While the document was released only in Italian, the National Catholic Reporter noted it was the first time the acronym was used. The Catholic Church “has in the past formally referred to gay people as ‘persons with homosexual tendencies,’ ” the Reporter said.
Rosica agreed it was a first, but said “they’re just using the lingo young people use. There’s nothing earth-shattering.” Vatican spokeswoman Paloma Garcia Ovejero declined to comment on the reason for the adoption of the acronym beyond saying, “I guess there’s no specific answer … it’s just the result of so many proposals and will be used as a ‘tool’ for discussion.”
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke did not respond to a request for comment.
Hundreds of bishops will attend the meeting in Rome to discuss how they can serve young people better. Their meeting will touch on topics from lack of job opportunities for young people in some places and migration to digital addiction and the struggle for reliable news.
In a section of the synod outline called “the body, affectivity and sexuality,” reports the Catholic Reporter, “It states: ‘Sociological studies demonstrate that many young Catholics do not follow the indications of the Church’s sexual moral teachings. … No bishops’ conference offers solutions or recipes, but many are of the point of view that questions of sexuality must be discussed more openly and without prejudice.’ ”
“There are young Catholics that find in the teachings of the Church a source of joy and desire ‘not only that they continue to be taught despite their unpopularity, but that they be proclaimed with greater depth,’ ” the Catholic Reporter quotes the document as saying. “Those that instead do not share the teachings express the desire to remain part of the Church and ask for a greater clarity about them.”
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways ministry, which aims to connect gay Catholics and their church, said the use of the term LGBT is very significant — especially compared with past language, such as people with “homosexual inclinations.”
“That said, there is nothing in this new document that indicates a change in church teaching. It simply indicates a new openness to discuss these issues more respectfully. How they actually conduct the synod, and, more importantly, what the final synod document will say, is much more important than these developments,” he wrote in an email to The Washington Post.
The second development involves the World Meeting of Families, a massive, Vatican-run event the Catholic Church holds once every three years. The last time it was held, in 2015, Francis was in Philadelphia. The church faced criticism from LGBT advocates when the only sign of gay families amid a days-long display of family issues was a gay man and his mother talking about celibacy.
Eight days ago, the Vatican announced details of the next World Meeting, Aug. 21 to 26 in Dublin. Among many other speakers will be the Rev. Jim Martin, a New York City Jesuit popularly known as Stephen Colbert’s pastor — but within the church as a fierce advocate for positive images and engagement with gay Catholics. Martin will be the first speaker at a World Meeting “on positive pastoral outreach to LGBT people,” the Associated Press reported“Building a Bridge,” about Catholic outreach to the LGBT community, has had several talks canceled in the United States in recent months because of pressure from conservative groups who oppose his call for the church to better accompany gay Catholics, the AP reported.
A survivor of clerical sexual abuse has said Pope Francis told him that God had made him gay and loved him, in arguably the most strikingly accepting comments about homosexuality to be uttered by the leader of the Roman Catholic church.
Juan Carlos Cruz, who spoke privately with the pope two weeks ago about the abuse he suffered at the hands of one of Chile’s most notorious paedophiles, said the issue of his sexuality had arisen because some of the Latin American country’s bishops had sought to depict him as a pervert as they accused him of lying about the abuse.
“He told me, ‘Juan Carlos, that you are gay does not matter. God made you like this and loves you like this and I don’t care. The pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are,’” Cruz told Spanish newspaper El País.
Now 87, Fernando Karadima, the man who abused Cruz, was found guilty of abuse by the Vatican in 2011.
Greg Burke, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, did not respond to questions about whether Cruz’s statement accurately reflected his conversation with the pope.
It is not the first time it has been suggested Francis has an open and tolerant attitude toward homosexuality, despite the Catholic church’s teaching that gay sex – and all sex outside of heterosexual marriage – is a sin. In July 2013, in response to a reporter’s question about the existence of an alleged “gay lobby” within the Vatican, Francis said: “Who am I to judge?”
The new remarks appear to go much further in embracing homosexuality as a sexual orientation that is designed and bestowed by God. It suggests that Francis does not believe that individuals choose to be gay or lesbian, as some religious conservatives argue.
Austen Ivereigh, who has written a biography of the pope, said Francis had likely made similar comments in private in the past, when he served as a spiritual director to gay people in Buenos Aires, but that Cruz’s public discussion of his conversation with Francis represented the most “forceful” remarks on the subject since 2013.
It did not, however, represent a shift in church teaching, Ivereigh said, since the church had never formally made any pronouncements on why individuals were gay.
Christopher Lamb, the Vatican correspondent for the Tablet, said the comments were remarkable and a sign of a shift in attitudes taking place. “It goes beyond ‘who am I to judge?’ to ‘you are loved by God,’” said Lamb. “I don’t think he has changed church teaching but he’s demonstrating an affirmation of gay Catholics, something that has been missing over the years in Rome.”
The remarks come as several high profile members of the clergy have sought to publicly make inroads with gay Catholics, many of whom have felt shunned and unwelcome in the church and have been ostracised.
Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest in New York who has nearly 200,000 Twitter followers, has led the outreach effort and was chosen last month to serve as a consultor to the Vatican’s secretariat for communications.
Martin has argued in his book Building a Bridge that the onus is on the church to make LGBT Catholics feel welcome in the church and to stop discriminating against people based on their “sexual morality”.
It might have been the first academic textbook that greeted the masses via the medium of Garry Trudeau’s comic Doonesbury. In a series of strips in June 1994, recently outed gay character Mark Slackmeyer attempts to pick up a fundamentalist Christian married man, and tells him that the church had, for a millennium, performed gay-marriage ceremonies. “Where did you hear such garbage?” the man replies, irate.
“It’s in a new book by this Yale professor,” answers Slackmeyer. “His research turned up liturgies for same-sex ceremonies that included communion, holy invocations and kissing to signify union. They were just like heterosexual ceremonies, except that straight weddings, being about property, were usually held outdoors. Gay rites, being about love, were held INSIDE the church!”
That week, at least two Illinois newspapers refused to print the strips, while a few dozen readers rang the distributor to ask “why Garry Trudeau exists to make their lives unhappy.” If the strip provoked controversy, the book, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, incited outrage both within and outside of the academic community. Its author, scholar John Eastburn Boswell, known as Jeb, died six months after the comic strips ran at the age of 47, of AIDS-related complications.
In barely 20 years at Yale, Boswell’s work as a historian managed to set the cat among the pigeons to stupendous effect, through years of meticulous scholarship that, if correct, undermined the very foundation of much modern homophobia. In the introduction to his 1980 American Book Award-winning Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century, he observed that gay people were “still the objects of severe proscriptive legislation, widespread public hostility, and various civil restraints, all with ostensibly religious justification.” Boswell’s work suggested, however, that this “religious justification” might, in fact, be bogus—a latter-day alteration, introduced hundreds of years after Christianity was founded.
The book argued that the Roman Catholic Church had not always been as hostile to gay people, and indeed, until the 12th century, had thought homosexuality no more troubling than, say, hypocrisy—or even celebrated love between men. The response to the book was explosive, if polarized. “I would not hesitate to call his book revolutionary,” Paul Robinson, a Stanford University historian, wrote in the New York Times Book Review in 1981. But other critics felt that, despite its attention to detail, its central thesis—that Christianity and homosexuality had not always been such uneasy bedfellows—was not only false, but a failed attempt by Boswell, gay and Catholic, to square two aspects of his identity they felt could not be reconciled.
Boswell was young and brilliant, blond and boyishly handsome, with an incredible facility for languages. His work might at any time draw on any of 17 dead and living examples—among them, Catalan, Latin, Old Iceland, Syriac and Persian. As a teenager growing up in Virginia, writes the researcher Bruce O’Brien, he had converted to Catholicism from Episcopalianism. This conversion was precipitated by a show of tolerance and strength: “because, in large part, the archdiocese of Baltimore had voluntarily desegregated its schools, without a court order, solely because it was the right thing to do.” Here, he saw a Catholic church that was intrinsically moral and would be a beacon of light against intolerance—one that might lead the charge on other struggles for equality in a country whose sensibilities were shifting at great pace.
Many saw the book, therefore, as a chance for a reckoning—Boswell giving the church the opportunity to welcome the gay community. As his sister Patricia, who spoke at his funeral, puts it: “Jeb’s love of God was the driving force in his life and the driving passion behind his work. He did not set out to shake up the straight world but rather to include the gay world in the love of Christ… to acquaint all with the fearsome power of that love, the wildness, the ‘not tameness’ of it.”
Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality is a 442-page journey through around 1,000 years of gay history. Assiduously researched, it jumps from country to country, instance to instance, drawing on examples of love between specific men, and generalized cases of societies in which sex between men was quite normalized.
Boswell spends some time delving into the relationship between the 4th-century Ausonius, a Roman poet living in Bordeaux, France, and his pupil Saint Paulinus, later the Bishop of Nola. Whether or not the relationship was a physical one is impossible to say—but the passionate affection the two had for one another seemed to transcend ordinary platonic friendship.
In whatever world I am found,
I shall hold you fast,
Grafted onto my being,
Not divided by distant shores or suns.
Everywhere you shall be with me,
I will see with my heart
And embrace you with my loving spirit.
“It would be inaccurate to suggest any exact parallel between such relationships and modern phenomena—as it is to compare medieval marriage with its modern counterpart,” Boswell wrote. But the idea that the concept of friendship has simply changed rang hollow to him—especially given that in many ancient societies, homosexuality was conventional and so might well have been part of a normal friendship. “Friends of the same sex borrowed from the standard vocabulary of homosexual love to express their feelings in erotic terms,” he wrote.
Saint Augustine, writing at the same time, described a friendship thus: “I felt that my soul and his were one soul in two bodies, and therefore life was a horror to me, since I did not want to live as a half; and yet I was also afraid to die lest he, whom I had loved so much, would completely die.” Elsewhere, however, he claims to have “contaminated the spring of friendship with the dirt of lust and darkened its brightness with the blackness of desire”—yet this is a denigration not specifically of homosexual lust and desire, but of sexuality more generally.
In the same period in Antioch, an ancient Greco-Roman city sometimes called “the cradle of Christianity,” Boswell described how Saint John Chrysostom visited the town, in what is today Turkey. Chrysostom was surprised to see the men of the city “consorting” not with prostitutes, but “fearlessly” with one another. Boswell quoted him: “The fathers of the young men take this in silence: they do not try to sequester their sons, nor do they seek any remedy for this evil. None is ashamed, no one blushes, but, rather, they take pride in their little game; the chaste seem to be the odd ones, and the disapproving the ones in error.” In this early Christian city, Chrysostom found homosexuality to be so very common and accepted that “there is some danger that womankind will become unnecessary with the future, with young men instead fulfilling all the needs women used to.”
Boswell shored up example after example of homosexual love and sex in the early Christian world over the course of almost 1,000 years. There were occasional laws against them, he pointed out, but they were not usually religious ones, but civil, where homosexual acts were fined as a way to increase tax coffers. Indeed, often the people being taxed in this way were not ordinary members of society, but bishops and clerics. “Purely ecclesiastical records usually stipulate either no penalty at all or a very mild one,” he wrote. Under Pope Saint Gregory II, for instance, lesbian activities carried a 160-day fasting penalty, likely under the same terms as Lent. A priest caught going hunting, on the other hand, would be in comparable trouble for three years.
In the 1980s, at a time when laws against sodomy remained in place in many American states, the book was a bombshell—especially for Catholics. The United States, at that time, was still a place of extreme homophobia and prejudice. In 1978, the openly gay politician Harvey Milk had been assassinated in San Francisco; a year earlier came Anita Bryant’s organized opposition to gay rights, with its rhetoric about saving children from gay “recruitment.” Queer studies remained a very niche part of academic study—Yale’s Lesbian and Gay Studies Center, which Boswell helped to found, emerged only in the late 1980s.
Criticism of Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, therefore, came on a variety of fronts. In some parts of the academic community, it came from historians like the R. W. Southern of the University of Oxford, who believed that “gay history” was not an interesting or important part of historical research. (Southern, O’Brien notes, was largely influenced by having grown up in “a repressed age where homosexuals were criminals [a word he used when talking about homosexuality.]”) In others, it came from theological scholars who picked apart Boswell’s thesis and found it undermined by the scholar’s deep, deep desire to be right. In the Catholic magazine Commonweal, after the book’s release, Louis Crompton wrote: “It is a pity that [the book] is … vitiated by a determination to construe all its voluminous evidence in the light of an untenable leading idea.” Some of its harshest criticism came from members of the gay community, who accused Boswell of being an apologist for the church’s atrocities against gay people. In the Gay Books Bulletin, Wayne Dyne wrote, decisively: “Christianity is definitely guilty of the stigmatization and persecution of same-sex relations in our civilization. It has served as a redoubt for bigotry of all sorts, and until those who call themselves Christians are ready humbly to acknowledge this, they are coming to us with dirty hands.”
Boswell, for his part, seemed to take the response in his stride. To the many critics who argued that such categories as “gay” and “straight” were modern conceptions, Boswell responded: “If the categories ‘homosexual/heterosexual’ and ‘gay/straight’ are the inventions of particular societies rather than real aspects of the human psyche, there is no gay history.” The book had caused controversy, but it had also won multiple awards and cleared important ground in developing this largely uncharted territory of gay studies.
Today, Boswell is remembered for two things—by those who didn’t know him, for his contributions to his field; and by those who did, for his unwavering kindness and generosity. A 1986 video of Boswell giving a talk shows a man who was at once dazzlingly bright and brilliantly charismatic. He’s likeable, urbane, often very funny. On and off campus, he was adored—by undergraduates, who clamored to be in his classes, and undergraduates; gay and straight members of faculty alike; and by many members of the Catholic community. At Harvard, where he had completed his PhD, he counted among his devoted friends John Spencer, rector of the Jesuit community of Boston, and Peter J. Gomes, the Plummer professor of Christian morals, after he came out publicly in 1991. “At a time of great public trauma for me, he wrote me out of the blue a lovely letter of support,” Gomes told the Harvard Crimson, shortly after Boswell’s death. “He gave me courage.”
When he passed away in December 1994, Boswell had been in the Yale infirmary for some months. The music historian Geoffrey Block recalled visiting him in his hospital room, where, despite having only recently emerged from a coma, he was “brilliantly and miraculously holding court,” quoting lines from films and singing “Cause I’m a Blonde” from the musical Earth Girls Are Easy. Admirers and friends drifted in and out of the infirmary—friends he had helped through crises; a devoted graduate student; his father; the newly installed President of Yale, Richard Levin, who cried freely and readily. “A young barber who came to the infirmary room to give Jeb a haircut moved us to tears when he refused payment.”
Boswell died on Christmas Eve, surrounded by family, friends, and his partner of many years, Jerry Hart. In the months leading up to his death, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, which had been previewed in Doonesbury, incited similar levels of controversy to Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. Comprised of the study of more than 60 manuscripts from the 8th to the 16th century, it was a full investigation into the history of same-sex unions. These he described as relationships that were “unmistakably a voluntary, emotional union of two persons,” and “closely related” to heterosexual marriage, “no matter how much some readers may be discomforted by this.” Again, critics argued that he was looking for something that he dearly wanted to be there. Block, in his 2013 memorial, wrote how delighted and thrilled Boswell would have been to have been able to legally marry Hart. “I came across a sign on a lawn that would have made Jeb, a devout Catholic—perhaps paradoxically considering this institution’s take on his sexual identity—extremely happy. It simply said, ‘Approve R-74. My Church Supports Marriage Equality’.”
My parents created a single view on the world for me through a Catholic lens. It was a narrow peephole that included Mass every Sunday, confession before Easter and Christmas, and don’t get me started on the fact that every time I asked my parents for help the answer was “go pray.”
As a child, this lens was clear, full of nightly prayers and Vacation Bible School. When I grew out of my training bra, I began to question Catholic teachings because the narrow lens didn’t seem fair to women. My perspective widened and feminism had all the answers.
The first frustration began when I discovered womanhood in the church boils down to being a wife or nun. To complete the seven sacraments and live fully Catholic, you must get married or work for the church. What if you don’t want to do either but still want to be a devout Catholic?
This causes single, gay and working women to feel like outsiders to their church. Women feel singled out by the church for being themselves and embracing a modern lifestyle. It seems unfair for women to be stuck in time and sacrifice who they want to be for the sake of outdated traditions. Or if you become a nun, you cannot rise to levels of power as men do in the church.
Women cannot be priests, bishops or cardinals. No, women can only aspire to be Mother Teresa and work tirelessly in the slums as a mother figure to the poor and needy. Meanwhile, men wear expensive white garments and heavily influence the Catholic population. As a result of men being in power in the church, updating women’s roles is irrelevant without women in power to represent the issue.
Essentially, the church is a boy’s club, but unlike politics there is no slow progress including women. Men are in charge, and without a woman’s perspective, they are incapable of realizing the misogyny within the church. The options for women in the church are few and serve as clear evidence of misogyny.
Catholic women are pressured to see motherhood as a rite of passage. The Virgin Mary best exemplifies this manifestation by being a virgin who birthed the son of God. She is evidence of the weight the church puts on motherhood. Again, there is an unescapable pressure for women to become mothers, which excludes gay Catholics, infertile women and career women.
Children mean a lot of different things, but for a woman they are always restrictive (blessings can still be restrictive). Historically, motherhood has been a women’s single role but now there are career women with fast paced lives. Women should be encouraged to embrace their talents and passions before having a child and shouldn’t be shamed for doing so. The church puts a high place on mothers (can’t blame ‘em, it’s tough being a mom!), but they need to consider that not all women want to be mothers, wives or nuns.
In addition, married couples are encouraged to have large families. In Jesus’ times, several children were relevant for subsistence living, but it has now become a financial burden to Catholics following outdated teachings to “embrace life.” Nowadays, to embrace life and having a few expensive pets will cost you approximately a quarter of a million dollars per kid. Yes, a child is more than a dollar sign, but realistically the church doesn’t account for the financial consequences of embracing life.
Indeed, fertility is a blessing, but selective fertility is being responsible and allowing room to map out a child’s success. Being pro-life is not about being prolific, but being able to provide the most concentrated energy into each life, such as providing the best academic and health opportunities.
Speaking of best health opportunities, abstinence is another outdated example of church teachings ruining modern generations. Corpus Christie, Texas exemplifies this best because the population of pregnant teenagers contributes to being a part of the highest in the nation. Of course, there are several factors to consider, but one is the majority of these young girls are Hispanic and Catholic. Hispanic Catholic households value traditions such as abstinence and often fall to ignorance on how to have a healthy sexual relationship.
The show “Jane The Virgin” best captures this Catholic culture within Hispanic families. Her strict Catholic Abuela teaches Jane Villanueva, the lead character, that her virginity is like a flower. Abuela makes Jane crush the flower, then Abuela tells her to make it perfect again, and when Jane can’t reshape it, Abuela tells her that after you lose your virginity you can’t be perfect again.
Jane’s mother had Jane at sixteen because Abuela’s flower scare tactic failed. The crushed flower image stays with Jane throughout her life and later struggles to be affectionate with her own fiancé. She waits until marriage and struggles to be confident in bed with her new husband. (SPOILER) When Jane is single again, she is handicapped to have a healthy sexual relationship and later admits her Abuela’s teachings greatly skewed the realities of sex.
It isn’t just Hispanic culture, but Catholic culture chooses to shame sex rather than be liberated with education and options. A culture that shames sex leads to ignorance and mistakes are a result. As I mentioned before, the Catholic lens is narrow and the consequence of maintaining this singular lens can lead to larger issues such as an unplanned pregnancy.
To be fair, the current Catholic Pope, Pope Francis, is turning heads by taking steps to modernize the church. Pope Francis has chosen to take a new approach on divorce, abortion, contraception and gay marriage thus making the church more inclusive despite traditionalist backlash. The appropriate alternative, for me, is full on feminism.
The lens of feminism allows you to clearly see that sex can be empowering when you’re given the knowledge to take control of your body and assert it how you see fit. “Your body, your choice” is much more than a chant at pro-choice rallies; it disregards all the decisions made for women’s bodies throughout history. Catholic history is what has trapped women. Historically, the Catholic lens puts modern women in these stagnant traditional roles under pressure of the church. On the converse, feminism is a broad and all around inclusive lens allowing women to write their own history.
Gregory Baum was one of Roman Catholicism’s outstanding theologians of the 20th century, who let the Holy Spirit – rather than the institutional church – direct his restless, curious mind and could never understand why it landed him so consistently in controversy, criticism and vilification.
He called himself “the first Catholic theologian who publicly defended the ethical status of homosexual love.” He was reputed to be the author – certainly he was involved with the production – of the Winnipeg Statement of 1968 that distanced Canada’s Catholic bishops from Pope Paul VI’s July 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae, which prohibited artificial contraception.
Dr. Baum’s writing’s were accepting of liberation theology in the face of condemnation from the Vatican. He wrote on the works of tendentious Islamic reformer Tariq Ramadan. He was one of the church’s most eloquent and uncompromising advocates for social justice and society’s marginalized groups. He authored articles and books sympathetically explaining Quebec separatism to anglophone Canadians.
Though he was born into a Protestant Jewish family, he was drawn to Catholicism and the seminary in his 20s. He later left active priesthood and, in 1978, married a former nun. His autobiography, The Oil Has Not Run Dry: The Story of My Theological Pathway, published last year, revealed he was gay and had, in his 40s, a sexual relationship with a man.
“I did not profess my own homosexuality in public,” he wrote, “because such an act of honesty would have reduced my influence as a critical theologian.”
Indeed, throughout his adult life, he was one of the church’s great theologians on ecumenism, a fact that was noted in the citation when he was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 1990. As one of the Second Vatican Council’s periti (expert theologians) in the 1960s, he wrote an early draft of Nostra Aetate (In Our Time) – “The Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions” – that moved the church into the sunlight of accepting the unified spiritual goals of all humankind and especially the bonds between Christians and Jews, ending the church’s centuries-old branding of Jews as the killers of Jesus Christ.
He believed it was essential for the Catholic Church to change, to let power devolve from Rome. Well before the clerical sex-abuse scandal erupted, he diagnosed the church as “a company that becomes so big that it can’t be run any more.” Any management consultant, he wrote, would take one look at the church and would say, “This is simply impossible. You have to decentralize, you have to delegate. You need a different system.”
After studying for two years at New York’s New School for Social Research in the 1970s, he pioneered the introduction of sociology to religion, embracing the teachings and writings of political theorist Hannah Arendt and classical sociologists Marx, Tocqueville, Durkheim, Weber among others.
At the core of his theological convictions – and explaining so much of what he did – lay the writings of the early-20th-century French philosopher Maurice Blondel. They led to what may have been his most important book, Man Becoming: God in Secular Language, assessing positively Blondel’s acknowledgment of God’s redemptive presence in human history.
God, in other words, existed in the nitty-gritty of life – an “insider God,” as Toronto’s Regis College academic Mary Jo Leddy explained Dr. Baum’s view. You fall in love? That’s God at work.
God was on the ground with grace – the benevolence shown by God toward the human race, the spontaneous gift from God to people, “generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved.”
As leading Canadian Catholic Church scholar Michael Higgins wrote of Dr. Baum six years ago, the embrace of Blondel’s thought “proved to be Baum’s Copernican revolution. Henceforth his writing, research, teaching, and activism would be shaped by Blondel’s views: his theological anthropology; his rejection of the church’s negative valuation of the secular; his belief in the ubiquity of grace.
“It was not a big step,” Dr. Higgins said, “from Baum’s adoption of Blondel’s inclusivity to his realization that God is mediated by all kinds of things besides the institutional church.” Not a big step for Dr. Baum, but a step many others could never take.
Dr. Baum died Oct. 18 in Montreal of kidney failure. He was 94. When he had entered hospital several days earlier, he told friends he was “disappearing inside.” Those, such as Dr. Leddy, who came from across Central and Eastern Canada to visit him in his last days found him sunny, genial and serene as death approached.
Blondel’s impact was the goalpost in the evolution of Dr. Baum’s thought – the finish line to the formal shaping of his mind. The whole journey of his life was an opening of his thought to God’s presence in history exhibiting an inclusiveness that outreached the writ of the institutional church.
Gerhard Albert Baum was born in Berlin on June 20, 1923, to Bettie (née Meyer) and Franz Siegfried Baum. His well-to-do Protestant father died early and his Jewish mother had a passion for medieval art and Gothic and Romanesque architecture, to which she introduced her son.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, she made the choice to send her 17-year-old son to England to escape persecution under the Nazi race laws. She never saw him again.
As a nurse, she became infected with pneumonia in the hospital where she worked and died during the war.
When he arrived, the teenager was interned by the British along with other German older teens and adults – many of them scholars who became volunteer teachers in the internship camps, which enthused him.
He was transferred in 1940 to an internship camp in Quebec. He came to the attention of a woman active in volunteer work who sponsored him to attend McMaster University in Hamilton, where he studied mathematics and physics.
He also began reading Catholic thinkers Thomas Aquinas and Étienne Gilson.who established the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies at University of Toronto.
One Christmas he was given a gift of The Confessions of St. Augustine, the autobiography of the great Church Father detailing, among other things, his conversion to Christianity – and the young student was hooked. In the year he graduated from McMaster, 1946, he decided to enter the Augustinian religious order to become a priest. At this point he adopted the name Gregory.
After ordination, he was sent by his order to Switzerland’s University of Fribourg for graduate studies. Along the way he read a book on the Catholic Church’s treatment of Jews and was appalled.
His dissertation, touching on the subject, was completed in 1956 and published two years later under the title That They May Be One: A Study of Papal Doctrine (Leo XIII–Pius XII).
The dissertation came to the attention of German Jesuit Cardinal Augustin Bea and Dutch priest Johannes Willebrands, president and secretary respectively of the Vatican’s newly established Secretariat for Christian Unity. They admired the book, and Dr. Baum found himself appointed to the Secretariat, assigned to help prepare for the Second Vatican Council announced by Pope John XXIII in 1959.
Dr. Baum later told the story of Cardinal Bea, during the Council years, assigning his staff to guard their manuscripts until they got to the translators and were published, to save them from being snatched and their texts altered by church conservatives.
Nostra Aetate was easily one of the most important and – particularly with its section on the Catholic Church’s relationship with Jews – one of the most controversial documents to emerge from the Second Vatican Council. It made Gregory Baum’s name as a theologian and confirmed him as a leading interpreter of the Council’s accomplishments.
It also established him as a clear spokesman and writer on the church in the modern world – a role which he carried out for five years, on Cardinal Bea’s instructions, travelling around North America giving talks on the Council’s work before taking up a professorship at University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto.
The church was unable to contain his application of Blondellian thought and roaming intellectual curiosity.
Michael Higgins wrote of him, “Baum defines himself not as a theological shaper or foundational thinker, but as a journalist following his curiosity wherever it leads him.
“To Baum, one should note, ‘journalist’ does not betoken a scribbler with a deadline, but rather someone inexhaustibly fascinated with ideas, intellectual trends, and currents.” In an interview, Dr. Higgins called him an experimenter and explorer.
University of Toronto’s Prof. Stephen Scharper, a scholar in anthropology, environment and religion who did his doctorate under Dr. Baum’s supervision, described his work as “being attentive to where the Spirit was calling him.”
It called him repeatedly into controversy and censure, from which Dr. Baum never flinched.
He was thunderously criticized by the church hierarchy and had restrictions placed on his teaching after publicly dissenting from the Vatican’s 1976 Declaration on Sexual Ethics, with its strictures against homosexuality.
He was censured for declaring that the church was not immune from the social and institutional toxins that infect other organizations.
He himself openly criticized the church governance of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI – the latter who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger led the Vatican’s powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church’s thought police (and whom Dr. Baum knew well as a fellow peritus at Vatican 2).
His frequent public speeches, to say the least, got up the nose of his superiors (his 1987 Massey Lecture explored liberation theology and its justifying biblical exegesis, much of which the Vatican considered Marxist).
Dr. Baum’s openness toward the ordination of women and gay marriage also made him a target for conservatives.
The mildest of his critics labelled him a dilettante driven by mere trendy nonconformism.
In the late 1970s, he was summoned by his Augustinian order under direction from Rome to return to the order’s monastery which he refused to do.
He eventually withdrew from active priestly ministry and accepted a teaching position at McGill University after reaching the then-mandatory age of 65 retirement at University of Toronto. In 1978, he married former nun Shirley Flynn. Her death in 2007 left him grieving her loss for the remainder of his life.
His departure from the priesthood was a mystery to many who knew him, until the publication of his 2016 autobiography revealed that he left the church because of his personal commitment to being gay.
Even before this revelation he had long been demonized by conservative Catholics for his writings and teachings. A 2012 interview on Catholic Salt + Light TV that he did with its chief executive, Rev. Thomas Rosica, generated hundreds of furious, outraged e-mails. “Yet Gregory was a very significant theologian of the Second Vatican Council,” Rev. Rosica said. “We owe much to him for his role in the decree of ecumenism and interfaith relations.”
In light of the proposed Catholic Synod in 2020, there is an issue that, if not included, may prove to be a fatal flaw for the current church hierarchy.
By Stephen de Weger
As distasteful as it may be, having now been dragged through the public square of the royal commission, unless the Synod faces up to another plank in the Church’s own eye, that of clergy sexual activity and misconduct involving adults, its hopes may well be dashed before they are even discussed.
Such sexual activity may be perceived in many ways. While it may be seen as a deeply human and spiritual expression of love between a celibate and an understanding other, it has also been described and experienced as ‘mistakes’ or ‘experiments’ on the journey to celibacy; the repercussions of mandatory celibacy; professional sexual misconduct; sexual/indecent assault; or simply spiritual and power abuse.
Regardless of how it is perceived, sexual activity between clergy and adults happens, and must be addressed. Not only does it happen, but research has shown ‘clerics are more likely to engage in sexual misconduct with adults than minors’.
One reason Catholics found the reality of child sexual abuse a difficult pill to swallow was that for decades its reality was kept secret to avoid scandal. Canonical prohibitions, cover-ups, media boycott threats, and even inter-cleric blackmail ensured the public never heard of clergy sexual activity in any form.
Even if there were suspicions, few had the language with which to name and discuss, as Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea describes in her 2004 paper Psychosocial Anatomy of the Catholic Sexual Abuse Scandal, ‘priests raping nuns, priests living with paramours, priests masturbating regularly, priests dying of AIDS, priests sodomising children, priests soothing their loneliness in the arms of beloved women or men’.
Furthermore, such discussion was taboo. But then came the sexual revolution and Vatican II, not to mention a less ‘frightened’ media.
In 1992, psychologist to clergy, Sheila Murphy, wrote a little known book titled A Delicate Dance: Sexuality, Celibacy and Relationships Among Catholic Clergy and Religious. The introduction was written by Donald Goergen of The Sexual Celibate fame.
“The sexual revolution and Vatican II was a release from ‘parental control’ resulting, for many, in the sudden emergence of full-blown psychological adolescence with all its risk taking, uninhibited experimentation and lack of a fully developed sense of responsibility.”
One of the conclusions Murphy reached from the stories of her 236 female and 97 male clergy/religious participants was that the sexual revolution of the 60s, along with the ‘window opening’ of Vatican II, played a part in an increase of clergy sexual activity with adults, resulting in spikes of such activity in the 70s and 80s.
The sexual revolution and Vatican II was a release from ‘parental control’ resulting, for many, in the sudden emergence of full-blown psychological adolescence with all its risk taking, uninhibited experimentation and lack of a fully developed sense of responsibility. As a result, of those who did not leave the clerical life, many without developed internalised scaffolding either slid into such adolescent liberalism or, collapsing under new adult demands of freedom, retreated into reactionary conservatism. Others grew up and adopted new ways of being ‘celibate’. Clergy sexual misconduct is found in all three groups. Furthermore, most victims of this misconduct are still living today, but remain unacknowledged; and most have never spoken up about their experiences.
Every graph portraying clergy sexual abuse of children shows a spike in the 70s and 80s. This spike is to be expected given time spans of research, the age of victims, and the new openness towards reporting. My own study of clergy adult abuse, however, showed the same spiking.
While much more research is needed, and while acknowledging the reality of severe under-reporting, I suspect that the spike in my study is related to the sexual revolution and Vatican II reforms, as Murphy suggests. To simply dismiss this possibility out of fear of being perceived as conservative or lacking in compassion militates against a possible fuller understanding of this whole issue.
One cannot simply ignore the reality that in this period, society, including the Church, underwent a sexual ‘diaspora’ from centuries of centralist control and policing. A severe pendulum-swing away from previous restrictions could only be expected and many clergy fully participated in that swing. But what did we swing into?
According to the gospel of sexual revolutionaries, writes Murphy, ‘freedom from sexual hang-ups was the answer to all society’s ills … good sex would lead to instant intimacy; good sex would alleviate loneliness; good sex would eliminate interpersonal tensions’. How could this new social psychology, supported by such secular saints of sexual liberty as Kinsey, Masters and Johnston, and Hite, not be attractive to many clergy who had lived under the repressions of Victorian and Vatican sexuality?
The issue is that even though the revolution was needed, many forever-adolescent clergy at the time fell also into the outstretched arms of the emotional promises of sexual promiscuity, laced strongly with sexualised spirituality, or spiritualised sexuality, propelled by a ‘love and then do as you please’ mantra, because, after all, ‘God is love’. Sadly, according to victims/survivors of clergy sexual misconduct, this new unintegrated liberal mantra too often also became the major ‘pickup’ line that many a misconducting cleric used for grooming, or as a way of justifying their experimenting.
What the Church and almost everyone has up to this point ignored is that for every sexually active cleric there was and is another person involved. These real women and men have been, too often, cast aside as collateral damage; as ‘mistakes’ or ‘experiments’ of clergy on their journey to, or indeed, rejection of celibacy; their versions of what occurred rarely, if ever, validated or included in the discussion.
Now that the bishops have been forced by royal commissions and media exposure to deal with the reality of clergy child abuse, they can not ignore that of adult abuse. Unless the Church — its hierarchy, clergy and religious, conservative and liberal, gay and straight, and what’s left of the laity — spends some effort now to remove the plank from its own collective eye, any attempt of the 2020 synod ‘to stop the drift, revive hope and set a vision‘ is going to be ignored.
Richard Sipe, the former priest who spent 25 years studying the sexual behavior of the Catholic clergy, appears in “The Keepers,” the Netflix documentary series about the unsolved murder of Sister Catherine Cesnick and the monstrous abuse of some of her students by the chaplain of a Baltimore high school in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Sipe is the bearded fellow with the cool eyeglasses in Episode 4.
A Benedictine monk and priest for 18 years, Sipe came to Baltimore to study counseling at the old Seton Psychiatric Institute. He left the priesthood at 38 and married a former Maryknoll sister. He practiced psychotherapy in Maryland before moving to California with his wife in the late 1990s. He has written six books and contributed to numerous documentaries on the celibate priesthood and sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. He estimates that he has reviewed more than 1,500 cases and provided expert testimony in 230.
Sipe famously helped the Boston Globe reporters who broke the story of widespread abuse by priests in Massachusetts. In “Spotlight,” the Oscar-winning film about the Globe’s investigation, the actor Richard Jenkins plays Sipe – or at least his voice, by phone – telling reporters that his lengthy study of priests found that six percent of them had had sex with children. Sipe provided the Globe Spotlight team with guidance throughout its lengthy investigation.
So he’s an old hand at this. He’s heard a lot of stories and told many.
Sipe found credible Wehner’s story, including her claim, made some 25 years after Cesnick’s murder, to have been taken by Maskell to see the slain nun’s body in a secluded, wooded area. Sipe believes Wehner and other victims can repress their memories of traumatic experiences for years.
And while repressed memory is still a debated concept in psychiatry, his embrace of it is not what made Sipe prominent and controversial. Rather, it was his research and his published findings about the abuse of minors by priests, accompanied by his criticism of celibacy, that brought Sipe to public attention and earned him the ire of Catholic hierarchy.
He argued then, and argues now, that child sexual abuse by the clergy should be addressed as part of an examination of celibacy, which, he says, stunts the psychological development of priests, leaving them emotionally unprepared for the celibate life.
“Don’t say we have celibacy,” he corrects me during an interview. “We have only a rule of celibacy. We have a large number of priests who claim celibacy but who do not practice it. And 6 to 9 percent of priests are involved with minors sexually.”
When Sipe first made that disturbing claim years ago, church officials criticized him and some, he says, told him to shut up about it. He says he was invited, then disinvited, to sit on a Maryland state council on the abuse of minors.
“I was blackballed,” he says. “Bishops wouldn’t have anything to do with me.” Among his critics was the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Washington, one William E. Lori, now the archbishop of Baltimore. “Mr. Sipe’s approach is not helpful,” Lori told The Baltimore Sun in 1994. “It’s an approach that is anti-celibacy. He seems to relate the tradition of celibacy to sexual immaturity. Celibacy is not the problem.”
But it is, insists Sipe, now 84.
A five-year study in Australia, he says, supported his findings. And a comprehensive study by John Jay College of Criminal Justice, published in 2004, confirmed his original estimate of the percentage of American priests involved with minors. The study found, he says, that more than six percent of priests ordained between 1960 and 1984 were alleged to have had sex with children. A longer look, from 1950 to 2002, found 10,667 children allegedly victimized by 4,392 priests. Half of their victims were found to have been between 11 and 14 years of age; about 80 percent of them were male.
Sipe had seen the scandal that rocked the church coming.
In his 1990 book, “A Secret World,” he described a system in which church officials held celibacy as an ideal, yet ignored violations. Priests who had an interest in women were advised to “take a housekeeper.” Priests who abused children were routinely recycled, moved from parish to parish by superiors, their problems never addressed. Those who went after children, Sipe argued, had been locked into an adolescent stage of development.
Over the last three decades, the Catholic Church has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits brought by thousands of victims, male and female, around the world. Popes, cardinals and bishops have apologized numerous times for the church’s complicity in the offenses of priests. And yet, for Sipe, the condition that fostered the abuse of minors, celibacy, remains in place.
“I said it in 1992,” he says. “I knew enough by then. I said, ‘The problem we’re looking at is the tip, and if we follow it to its foundation, it will lead to the highest corridors of the Vatican.”
But still? Hasn’t an epic lesson been learned from all this?
“I’m convinced we’re not past it,” Sipe says. “People have sexual impulses that they have to deal with, and the church doesn’t deal with them. Church leaders hold up celibacy, as if it is some kind of ideal, as if it is even possible.”
And what if the Roman Catholic Church were to do away with the all-male, celibate priesthood?
“I think it would lead to a flourishing,” Sipe says. “I think we would see a renewal of men and women committed to the priesthood. We have nuns with advanced degrees ready to step in . . . The danger is, it will upset the power structure. The resistance would come from the established male hierarchy; they don’t want to give up power and entitlement.”
Still, Sipe believes, there will come a day for the married priesthood. “The Catholic religion will evolve,” he says. “The church will not prosper without woman and marriage in the priesthood.”
Adapted from The Sex Effect: Baring Our Complicated Relationship With Sex, out now from Sourcebooks.
Back in March, Pope Francis sparked a wave of headlines when he hinted at the possibility of ordaining married men as priests. Since there’s no evidence that church practice will actually change, reactions to Francis’ comments were premature. But the speculators ignored one interesting point: Opening the priesthood to married men would probably reduce the high percentage of priests who are gay.
While doing research for my book The Sex Effect, I came across many scholars who suggested that preventing priests from marrying altered the makeup of the priesthood over time, unintentionally providing a shelter for some devout gay men to hide their sexual orientation. By continuing to disqualify women and married men, the priesthood attracts men who desire to forgo sex for the rest of their lives in an attempt to get closer to God. Because the church denounces all gay sex, some devout gay men pursue the celibate priesthood as a self-incentive to avoid sex with men, which can help them circumvent perceived damnation.
Of course, many factors influence a person’s decision to join the clergy; it’s not like sexuality alone determines vocations. But it’s dishonest to dismiss sexuality’s influence given that we know there is a disproportionate number of gay priests, despite the church’s hostility toward LGBTQ identity. As a gay priest told Frontline in a February 2014 episode, “I cannot understand this schizophrenic attitude of the hierarchy against gays when a lot of priests are gay.”
So how many gay priests actually exist? While there’s a glut of homoerotic writings from priests going back to the Middle Ages, obtaining an accurate count is tough. But most surveys (which, due to the sensitivity of the subject, admiittedly suffer from limited samples and other design issues) find between 15 percent and 50 percent of U.S. priests are gay, which is much greater than the 3.8 percent of people who identify as LGBTQ in the general population.
In the last half century there’s also been an increased “gaying of the priesthood” in the West. Throughout the 1970s, several hundred men left the priesthood each year, many of them for marriage. As straight priests left the church for domestic bliss, the proportion of remaining priests who were gay grew. In a survey of several thousand priests in the U.S., the Los Angeles Times found that 28 percent of priests between the ages of 46 and 55 reported that they were gay. This statistic was higher than the percentages found in other age brackets and reflected the outflow of straight priests throughout the 1970s and ’80s.
The high number of gay priests also became evident in the 1980s, when the priesthood was hit hard by the AIDS crisis that was afflicting the gay community. The Kansas City Star estimated that at least 300 U.S. priests suffered AIDS-related deaths between the mid-1980s and 1999. The Star concluded that priests were about twice as likely as other adult men to die from AIDS.
Given that the church has called a gay orientation an “objective disorder” and gay sex “an intrinsic moral evil,” it may seem bewildering why a gay man would chose this profession. But it makes more sense after realizing the church encourages sublimation of homosexuality through prayer. “Homosexual persons are called to chastity,” states the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”
Sexual sublimation is by far the most common theory in the literature as to why there are so many gay priests. There has also been speculation that as a discriminated-against minority group, gay men may be more sensitive to empathize with people—a strong desire to help others leads some of these men to the altruistic priesthood. Another common theme is that clerical celibacy is good cover for gay people wanting to hide their orientation.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Review Board reported that “certain homosexual men appear to have been attracted to the priesthood because they mistakenly viewed the requirement of celibacy as a means of avoiding struggles with their sexual identities.” As gay former-priest Christopher Schiavone put it, “I thought I would never need to tell another person my secret, because celibacy would make it irrelevant.”
It’s not as if the church is unaware of this issue. A past president of the USCCB complained about an “ongoing struggle to make sure that the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men.” And Pope Benedict once said that homosexuality in the priesthood was “one of the miseries of the church” and that the church needed to “head off a situation where the celibacy of priests would practically end up being identified with the tendency to homosexuality.”
Allowing more married men in the priesthood would probably bring more straight men into the fold, which would reduce the percentage of priests who are gay. Given that the worldwide number of permanent deacons (who are allowed to get married and can perform nearly every task required of a priest except consecrate the Eucharist or hear confessions) has increased by nearly 40,000 people in the past forty years, there appears to be a large group of married men open to clerical life.
But just because some church officials would like to see fewer gay priests doesn’t mean that a change in discipline would benefit the institution. A large percentage of priests being gay doesn’t automatically equate to a crisis or indicate that church teaching should change. Though other denominations have shown that women, married men, and sexually-active LGBTQ people can be entirely competent as pastors, for centuries the Catholic Church’s model of relying on single, sexually-abstinent men has generally served the institution well. And most Catholic priests are psychologically well-adjusted and satisfied with their lives and occupation.
In doing so, the hierarchy has contributed to a phenomenon it would rather have people ignore: Rigid policies on homosexuality and clerical celibacy have inadvertently driven many gay men toward the priesthood. “Bishops are caught in the middle and running scared,” priest-theologian Richard McBrien told reporter Jason Berry in his book Lead Us Not Into Temptation. “They live in a church with a very hardline policy on homosexuals, yet they realize they’re drawing from that population well beyond its presence in society, by default.”
A paradox of this magnitude seems baffling. And it certainly is baffling for the gay priests who battle cognitive dissonance. But as an entry in Human Sexuality in the Catholic Traditionpoints out, “Christian faith proclaims its deepest truth in paradoxes.” The contemporary church’s greatest paradox may be that its positions of authority continue to be heavily represented by people it declares “objectively disordered.”