Pope Francis’ recent comment about gay priests has reinvigorated the back and forth about why gay men are banned from ordination, what role such priests may or may not have played in the Church’s sexual abuse scandal, and whether so-called “gay lobbies” exist in the clergy.
Some Catholics have used the pope’s remarks that gay men in the priesthood is “something that worries me” and that homosexuality has become “fashionable” to further condemn gay priests (you can read initial reactions here).
For instance, Archbishop Emeritus Héctor Aguer of La Plata, Argentina, echoed suggestions that in certain dioceses there are a high number of gay priests who “usually cover for each other” and “constitute a kind of lodge or lobby, even those who are ‘non-practising.'” Denying all gay men from the priesthood, which he believes is Francis’ intention, would be “fair discrimination” because they lack “full male integrity.”
Even the liberal-leaning magazine Commonweal published a lengthy piece in which the seasoned religion journalist Kenneth Woodward claimed there were networks of gay clergy and religious, which he had been hearing about for many years. Though he rejects the idea that gay men should not be priests, he expressed concern about these “lavender lobbies,” which he suggested protected the now disgraced, formerly-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Woodward wrote:
“By networks, I mean groups of gay priests, diocesan and religious, who encourage the sexual grooming of seminarians and younger priests, and who themselves lead double lives—breaking their vows of chastity while ministering to the laity and staffing the various bureaucracies of the church. . .As far back as 1968, I heard similar rumors about priests serving in the Roman Curia, mostly from Italians, who are generally more relaxed about homosexuality than Americans and unsurprised when those leading double lives are outed. What concerns me, though, is not simply personal hypocrisy, but whether there are gay networks that protect members who are sexually active.”
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, a noted ally of Pope Francis, hinted that he believed in some version of gay priest networks. Speaking to students at Mundelein Seminary, Illinois, earlier this fall, Cupich said “the facts don’t bear that out, and it’s wrong” in linking gay priests as a cause of sexual abuse. But he continued, reported the Chicago Sun-Times, that the abuse scandal in the Church had a “homosexual tinge” and that a gay “subculture” amounting to a “clique” can sometimes exist.
But other Catholics rejected assertions that gay priests were either a cause of abuse or that gay networks exist. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told iNews:
“‘As long as Catholic Church officials continue their negative evaluations of LGBT people, and particularly of gay clergy, they allow scurrilous accusations to be hurled about because there is no way they can be proved or disproved. . .Accusing a church leader of homosexuality or being part of a “homosexual network” becomes an easy way to destroy a cleric’s reputation.'”
Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter, arguing that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s third letter attacking the pope revealed his homophobia most plainly, wrote:
“Scapegoating minorities has a long and ugly history. Writers as thoughtful as Kenneth Woodward, in the pages of Commonweal, wrote a little too breezily for my taste about the purported existence of ‘networks’ of gay clergy, ‘lavender lobbies.’
“I do not doubt that in the face of suspicions and bigotry, many minorities develop ties with each other for mutual support. But, in my experience, some gay clergy are ultra-liberal and others are ultra-conservative, and so the idea that some kind of common ideological or political agenda would spring from a common awareness of themselves as gay clergy is preposterous.
“Besides, the ugly history of such claims — ‘The Jews all stick together,’ for example — should give anyone pause about raising such concerns without more proof than either Viganò or Woodward offers.”
Regarding Viganò’s claims about a “homosexual culture,” John Gehring of Faith and Public Life wrote in Religion & Politics that there is a “certain irony” because the archbishop helped cover up sexual misconduct by Archbishop Emeritus John Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis.
Brandon Peterson, who earned his Ph.D. in theology at the University of Notre Dame, wrote another defense of gay priests for The Salt Lake Tribune by identifying the problem of abuse as a matter of power dynamics, not sexual orientation:
“There’s no pattern to indicate that the sexual exploitation decried by #MeToo is a function of the predator’s sexual preference; indeed, cases can be found in just about any permutation of perpetrators and victims, whether they be gay, straight, male, female, or otherwise. However, one pattern clearly does emerge: People in positions of power take sexual advantage of their vulnerable subordinates.
“Catholics today are right to widen their lenses in order to see both adult and child victims in the church’s ongoing abuse crisis. However, in turning our attention to seminarians, we cannot address the issue by blaming gay men and calling for their expulsion from the priesthood. Doing so unfairly stigmatizes the church’s many faithful gay priests, it erases the stories of girls and women who have survived clerical abuse, it focuses our much-needed efforts on a wild-goose chase that fails to address the true problems, and finally, it is almost impossible to implement. It may even exacerbate the problem.”
The topic of gay priests has been of renewed interest since new revelations of clergy sexual abuse broke last summer. Sadly, this attention has meant gay priests are being intensely scapegoated for the clergy’s crimes and for a clerical culture of which they are not the cause. That is why New Ways Ministry has re-launched our campaign, “The Gift of Gay Priests’ Vocations” to show our support for gay men and religious who faithfully, dutifully, and effectively served the People of God and to call on church leaders to end the falsehoods about and lift the ban on gay priests.
To add your name to this show of gratitude and solidarity, click here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 18, 2018