Holy Arithmetic! That does’t add up…Gay Catholics? Gay Priests?
New York Times: The Pope’s Gay Panic
By FRANK BRUNI
“I HAVE many questions for and about the “gay lobby” in the Vatican, but I’ll start with this: How can you be so spectacularly ineffective?
You wouldn’t last a minute on K Street; the Karl Roves of the capital would have you for lunch. Despite your presence in, and presumed influence on, the upper reaches of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, church teaching still holds that homosexuality is disordered, and many church leaders still send the preposterously mixed message that while gay and lesbian people shouldn’t be admonished for, or ashamed about, their same-sex attractions, they should nonetheless elect cold showers over warm embraces. Look but don’t touch. Dream but don’t diddle.
“It’s like saying, ‘You’re a bird, but you can’t fly,’ ” cracked Sister Jeannine Gramick, an American nun who has long challenged the church on this issue, when we chatted recently.
“That’s not original,” she quickly confessed, referring to her analogy. “It’s been around awhile.”
I called her after the news reports last week that Pope Francis, in a private meeting with a Latin American religious group, had wrung his hands about a network of gay clerics at Catholicism’s command central. “Gay lobby” was the phrase he used, according to the group’s notes, but it wasn’t clear whether he meant a political faction per se.
What was clearer was his acknowledgment — rare for a pope, and thus remarkable — of the church’s worst-kept secret: a priesthood populous with gay men, even at the zenith. And that underscored anew the mystery and madness of the church’s attitude about homosexuality.
If homosexuality is no bar to serving as one of God’s emissaries and interpreters, if it’s no obstacle to being promoted to the upper rungs of the church’s hierarchy, how can it be so wrong? It doesn’t add up.
There’s an error in the holy arithmetic.
The answer that many church leaders now give is that homosexuality isn’t in fact sinful, not in and of itself, not if it’s paired with chastity, which Roman Catholic priests of any persuasion are supposed to practice. Church leaders also stress that they don’t mean to disparage gay people or deny them full human dignity.
“The first thing I’d say to them is: I love you, too,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, told ABC News earlier this year. “And God loves you. And you are made in God’s image and likeness. And we want your happiness.”
“You’re entitled to friendship,” he went on, laying out the ground rules for same-sex longings and pairings. As for sexual love, he added, “that is intended only for a man and woman in marriage, where children can come about naturally.”
Let’s leave aside the legions of straight people, Catholic and otherwise, who aren’t tucking their sex lives into a box that tidy, tiny and fecundity-minded.
Let’s focus on something else. There’s no way for a gay or lesbian person not to hear Dolan’s appraisal as something of a condemnation, no matter how lavishly it’s dressed in loving language. It assigns homosexuals a status separate from, and unequal to, the one accorded heterosexuals: you’re O.K., but you’re really not O.K. Upon you there is a special restriction, and for you there is a fundamental dimension of the human experience that is off-limits, a no-fly zone of the heart.
It’s two-tiered thinking, which is present as well in American political life, where many people who say that they have no problem with gays and lesbians and no intent to discriminate against us also say that we shouldn’t be allowed to marry, because, well, that’s the tradition, and marriage is an accommodation too far.
The Supreme Court is poised to weigh in on the matter in the next two weeks, and while the smart money is on a toppling of the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbids the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in any of the 12 states that have legalized it, there’s little sign that the court will compel all the other states to get with the program.
And so we gay and lesbian people will be told: you’re O.K., but it’s up to states to decide just how O.K. There’s an asterisk to your supposed equality, a margin of difference between what others deserve and what you do.
That’s not really acceptance, and that may explain some of the findings of a Pew Research Center poll of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans that was released last week. About one-third of the respondents said that they’d not told their mothers the truth of their lives, and an even greater fraction had not told their fathers. In other words, fear and secrecy — not to mention the potential psychological damage associated with each — persist. And you can’t divorce that from marriage inequality’s insinuation that gays and lesbians have less honorable relationships, and are lesser creatures all in all.
Nor can you divorce it from the Catholic Church’s wildly contradictory signals. Although the church doesn’t deem homosexuality paired with chastity to be sinful, the Vatican decreed in 2005 that men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” shouldn’t be ordained as priests.
AND yet many such men have been ordained. The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit and an editor at large at the Catholic magazine America, told me that he’s seen thoughtful though not scientifically rigorous estimates that anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of Catholic priests are gay. His own best guess is 30 percent. That’s thousands and thousands of gay priests, some of whom must indeed be in the “deep-seated” end of the tendency pool.
Martin believes that the vast majority of gay priests aren’t sexually active. But some are, and Rome is certainly one of the many theaters where the conflict between the church’s ethereal ideals and the real world play out.
I lived there for nearly two years, covering the Vatican for The Times, and while I got no real sense of any “gay lobby,” I was given my own lesson in the hypocrisy of clerics who preach one set of morals and practice another.
Every so often, I’d have lunch or dinner with the Rev. Thomas Williams, who was the dean of theology at a pontifical university and belonged to the Legion of Christ, a conservative order. He liked to expose secular news organizations to the order’s philosophy, and over time his classic, square-jawed good looks — he resembled some ecclesiastical man of steel, ready to star in “Superman Genuflects” — led to television time as a Vatican analyst.
Last year he took a leave from ministry, amid accusations of affairs with several women. He admitted to one of them, and to fathering a child.
The friends with whom I’ve shared that story invariably ask: “Doesn’t that make you angry?”
No. Just really, really sad.
Thank you, Frank Bruni!