Church officials in England have strongly rejected critics’ charges that a “homosexual clique” controls a seminary there, charges which also link gay priests to the clergy sexual abuse crisis Both types of accusations have prompted strong repudiations.
Officials from St. Mary’s College, Oscott, rejected a former employee’s claims about a “homosexual clique” being in charge, saying the claims were “a distorted and false picture of life and formation.” The employee, Fr. David Marsden, SCJ, wrote his complaints in an open letter to the nation’s bishops’ conference published by right-wing Catholic websites. The Tablet reported on the controversy:
“[Marsden] said that ‘the normal, heterosexual students in Oscott’ called for all gay and bisexual students and members of staff at the college to be dismissed.
“Fr Marsden, who was dismissed from his role as formation tutor this year, said that he was fired for striving to uphold the Church’s teaching on sexuality, after he recommended that an openly gay seminarian discontinue formation. He said that dissent from Church teaching, and the admission of gay men to the priesthood, was “the root cause of the most pressing scandal of our times”. He said the problem began during the selection process.”
St. Mary’s officials have limited their comments on Marsden due to pending legal issues, but they said his removal was for “a number of reasons.” Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham and the seminary’s trustees have all expressed their confidence in the St. Mary’s administration.
The situation at St. Mary’s prompted a British gay priest, writing anonymously, to respond. It was not only Marsden’s assertions about the seminary incident which upset the priest, but Marsden’s assertions about homosexuality and abuse. This priest shared in PinkNews:
“All of this has led me to batten down the hatches in my own little world. I have questioned on numerous occasions if I even want to be a fully paid-up member of the church, the priesthood. And yet, I carry on. I keep going. Why? Because my faith, and the precious faith of my parishioners young and old, who find comfort and hope in the life and words of Jesus, is not the property of the institutional church. It is not dependent on petty politics and vile open letters.”
This incident is part of a larger discourse about the presence of gay men in the priesthood which arose this summer as a result of the clergy sex abuse crisis. In the National Catholic Reporter, Fr. Peter Daly attacked the idea that a collective of gay priests is somehow controlling the wider church. He pointed instead to the problem of homophobia, writing :
“Some archconservative Catholics in the U.S. are saying that [Cardinal Theodore] McCarrick was protected by some sort of ‘gay clique’ in the hierarchy. This is utter nonsense. If there is anything that is not talked about honestly by clerics, it is their sex lives. Clerics hide behind the mask of presumed celibacy. I doubt that McCarrick or [Cardinal Keith] O’Brien even admitted to themselves that they were gay. . .
“Both McCarrick and O’Brien hid behind public homophobia. In their public lives, they were vocal opponents of gay rights and gay marriage. McCarrick opposed gay marriage in Maryland and the District of Columbia. He also opposed giving health insurance to gay couples employed by the archdiocese. Like O’Brien, he may have felt that his anti-gay public positions insulated him from rumors about his private life.”
Thomas Plante, a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University, also wrote in America in defense of both gay priests and justice for abuse survivors:
“Inappropriately blaming or victimizing homosexual men, within or outside of the church, does not keep children safe or solve clergy sexual abuse problems. Regardless of sexual orientation or the vows of priestly celibacy or even marital vows, only a small percentage of people seek sexual activity with children and teens, and the vast majority of them are heterosexual, married and noncelibate laypersons who tend to exploit members of their own family. The false and distracting focus on homosexuality is not relevant to keeping children safe within the Catholic Church.”
The incident in England exposes the links between the claim that a “homosexual clique” controls the church and the belief that gay priests are a cause of sexual abuse. Refrains elsewhere of a “lavender mafia” or “subculture” or “network” are devastating enough when conservatives use these terms to undercut LGBT inclusion and harm gay priests. Therefore, the English faithful deserve more from church officials than just a denial in this incident. They deserve church leaders affirming gay priests and all the good service to the people of God they have given and continue to give.
–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 12, 2018