The stupidity of banning gay priests.

Previously published Slate articles made new.
April 16 2008 4:19 PM

Anti-Gay Auto-Da-Fé

The perverse and vicious campaign to ban homosexuals from Catholic seminaries.

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Such a willful ignorance must exist. When I was in the seminary in the mid-1980s, a local bishop came to visit. The bishop dressed for mass in the rectory next door. We seminarians were a bit late in arriving and were met by the bishop's secretary who said, "Come on boys, get into your dresses. Grandma is coming." Grandma was the bishop. The secretary had a feminine nickname, which, I am told, his intimates still use. To complete the screenplay quality of the experience, one of the priests who was in attendance that day left the priesthood shortly thereafter to become a flight steward or, as he called it, "a waitress in the sky." This kind of campiness was common both in the seminary and in my experiences with those already ordained. As for the secretary, he is now a bishop much in favor with conservatives.

The anger about the ban among priests, gay and straight, was more visceral than anything I have ever seen. It is an unwritten rule of gay life that you never, ever "out" a closeted gay person. Everyone has the right to come to terms with their own sexuality in their own way. (I need hardly add that Christians take their name from the master who famously warned against judging others.) Yet, there were threats of outings last week. The hypocrisy of trying to hang the sexual abuse crisis around the neck of gay priests, most of whom are celibate and hardworking, was too much. I know some gay priests who have truly wrestled with their sexuality. As with straight priests, some have fallen from their vows on occasion or on holiday, but most have been largely faithful. Some gay priests are liberal and others are conservative. Some are still conflicted by their sexuality and others are not. What they all share is an almost heroic sense of integrity. To try and blame them for the shiftless careerism that caused bishops to look the other way while children were being abused is beyond the pale.

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The last thing the church needs is an anti-gay auto-da-fé.

Reform of the church must always draw upon our tradition, and if Pope Benedict wants to truly address the source of the sexual abuse scandal, he will reinstate the ancient tradition of the church that prevented bishops from being transferred (the technical term is "translated") or promoted from one bishopric to another, more important, diocese. In a stroke, he would remove the careerism that fueled the sweep-it-under-the-rug-at-all-costs syndrome that fostered the crisis. If a man wants to be the bishop of Bridgeport, let him be the bishop of Bridgeport for the rest of his life. But do not tempt him to fail to face problems in the hopes of becoming the archbishop of New York. This would be a useful first step.

I hope my e-mails (and this article) help persuade the powers that be in the church to back off. When I approach my death, I want a kind priest at hand, and I frankly don't care what his sexual preference is. I suspect that most Catholics feel that way. It is a thing that the right-wingers hate to admit, but the Christian Gospels do not suggest a culture war. They suggest that we be on the lookout for hypocrisy, especially our own.