Bishop Rejects Claims of Gay Subculture in Diocese, But Falls Short of Universal Denial

Bishop Robert McElroy

The bishop of San Diego has rejected parishioners’ claims that a gay subculture exists among the diocese’s priests and seminarians, and refused to blame the clergy sexual abuse scandal on gay priests.

Bishop Robert McElroy offered his objections as part of a larger reflection on listening sessions he had hosted. Writing in the diocese’s newspaper, The Southern Cross (pages 10-11), McElroy explained his position:

“I share the belief expressed at the listening sessions that a gay subculture within the priests of our diocese or among our seminarians would be a threat to a healthy Catholic community, both because it undermines Catholic teaching on sexual morality and represents an obstacle to priests in achieving authentic celibacy in their lives. But I have not witnessed the presence of such a subculture in my three years as bishop of San Diego. And I give thanks daily to God for the quality of the priests, seminarians and the seminary program with which He has graced our diocese.”

The paper reported in its write up that “many of those who attended the listening sessions focused upon the issue of homosexuality” in regards to sexual abuse, and continued:

“These participants consider it essential to eliminate from the priesthood and seminaries men with a homosexual orientation in order to restore a faithful celibate priesthood. They also called for firing any actively gay employees within the diocese.”

McElroy did not explicitly respond to the question of whether gay men should be in the priesthood, but did maintain that “the screening and ongoing evaluation of our seminarians is rigorous and expansive,” including formation to ensure the priest can live “a life of celibate authenticity.” He also re-affirmed findings from the 2003 John Jay College Report commissioned by the U.S. bishops that clearly stated gay priests are not a cause of the abuse scandal.

The bishop’s written remarks come just a few months after an openly gay and married church worker in the Diocese of San Diego was forced to resign out of concern for his and his family’s safety. Right wing Catholics launched a hateful campaign against that worker, Aaron Bianco, which included vandalism, threats, and physical attacks.

Bishop McElroy , in a past essay ,said right wing attacks should be a “wake up call” for U.S. Catholics to root out the “cancer of vilification” and “judgmentalism” which is present in the Church. Yet, the end of that essay criticized “judgmentalism on both sides,” unfairly equating LGBT Catholics’ loving critiques of the Church with right wing hate groups.

Likewise, in this most recent column, McElroy pursues a middle ground. He rejects the idea of a “gay subculture” in the San Diego diocese, saying he had “not witnessed the presence of such a subculture” as bishop. But beyond saying such a subculture would undermine Catholic teaching on sexuality and impair priests’ celibacy, he fails to define his terms. What would constitute a “gay subculture”? More precision about what “gay subculture” means is needed in this discussion. Does it mean promiscuous sexual activity, networks of friendships, or advocacy to change church teaching? (For a more thorough take down of this “gay network” myth, see Cristina Traina’s post from earlier this week).

With this ambiguous condemnation, McElroy unwittingly provides material for conspiracy theorists spinning anti-gay stories by simply suggesting that if such a such a subculture existed, it would be deeply harmful to the Church.

Bishop McElroy is both a “Francis bishop” and a rising star in the U.S. episcopate. As he ascends, he must act more boldly in defending LGBT people by ceding no ground to harmful, false narratives while explicitly condemning specific acts of hate happening under his purview. Finding middle ground is a worthy cause, but only if it advances the cause of justice and equality for all people.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 19, 2019

2 replies
  1. Mary Jo
    Mary Jo says:

    If this man is an example of a “rising star”, then there is little to be hopeful about in the male priestly leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. He’s clearly not a stand up kind of man but instead displays a lack of backbone. He’s so weak.

  2. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    Many years ago when I was a priest, I belonged to a support group for gay priests. Those of us who belonged to the group found it to be very helpful to have a group of friends with whom we could be ourselves, and discuss the issues we dealt with on a daily basis as gay Catholic priests living and working in a culture that demeaned and worked against us. Being able to deal with those issues, allowed us to give more attention to the people we served in our various ministries.

    In a talk I delivered at a New Ways Ministry workshop in St. Louis (later published in a book edited by Jeannine Gramick) I wrote:
    “Support groups, one of the most helpful aids to gay priests, brothers, and seminarians, can shorten the coming out process by years. Although support groups exist in most major cities throughout the country, the group itself is often in the closet in order to protect the members from clerical and religious harassment. Superiors and bishops could render their people a great service by encouraging the formation of such groups. In a sense, support groups are a gay person’s family. Most other oppressed people can find identification, support, and knowledge from their biological families. Black children are raised by black adults, girls by women, and so on. But most gay children are raised by heterosexual people who do not understand the first thing about being gay. Gay people need a gay family that can help them with knowledge, support, and identification.”

    I have been out of the priesthood for over thirty years now, so I don’t know how much things might have changed since then. But it appears from articles reported on in this site (and from the derogatory term: “gay subculture”), that not much of substance has changed in many places. Which seems to be all the more reason for there to be positive support groups for gay priests and seminarians in dioceses and religious orders.


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