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