Andrew Sullivan: Church’s Treatment of Gay Priests a “Giant, Unsustainable Paradox”

Andrew Sullivan

A prominent gay Catholic writer has added his commentary to the debate over gay priests, suggesting the issue is a “giant, unsustainable paradox” that has become a crisis in the Catholic Church.

Andrew Sullivan, writing in New York Magazine, identified the fact that church leaders promote such gay-negative teachings while so many of the clergy are gay men as a “giant unsustainable paradox.” He opened his commentary:

“The massive cognitive dissonance this requires is becoming harder to sustain. The collapse of the closet in public and private life in the past three decades has made the disproportionate homosexuality of the Catholic priesthood much less easy to hide, ignore, or deny. This cultural and moral shift has not only changed the consciousness of most American Catholics (67 percent of whom support civil marriage for gay couples) and gay priests (many of whom are close to quitting) but also broken the silence that long shrouded the subject.”

Adding to this crisis, Sullivan explained, were the right wing attacks against Pope Francis and his promotion of a more pastoral attitude to LGBT people, along with right wing efforts to scapegoat gay priests for the clergy sexual abuse scandal. The question of Theodore McCarrick “gave the right an opening” in their attacks to build upon the Vatican’s existing discriminatory policy on gay men entering the priesthood.

Sullivan continued his article by telling the stories of unnamed gay priests, like “Fr. Mike” and “Fr. Andrew,” whom he had encountered. In one instance, Fr. Andrew shared about the impact that being gay amid the clergy sexual abuse scandal had on him:

“The breakthrough came suddenly. ‘I said to my therapist, “I think I’m a good priest,” and he said, “I bet you are.” And I burst out crying.’ Andrew’s voice cracked. ‘Being lumped in with pedophiles — it has a way of taking a toll on you.’ The scapegoating has wounded many of the priests I spoke with. It has become a double stigma: targeted by the hierarchy for being gay and by the general public for being pedophiles. Many of the people I spoke to, Catholics and non-Catholics, about the subject of gay priests rolled their eyes and asked about the abuse of children. The news environment is saturated with stories about sex abuse — and rightly so — yet there are hardly any public examples of the overwhelming number of gay priests who would never dream of preying upon the powerless.”

Sullivan pointed out the long history of clergy and religious in the Church whom would be described as gay today, including potentially St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Aelred of Rievalux, and the soon-to-be canonized Cardinal John Henry Newman. While there are many reasons why the clergy may have a higher preponderance of gay men compared to the general public, the 20th century, Sullivan wrote, was “extraordinary” in this regard and in the way a secretive, clerical culture led to abuse:

“If you do not deal honestly with your sexuality, it will deal with you. If you construct an institution staffed by repressed and self-hating men and build it on secrecy and complete obedience to superiors, you have practically created a machine for dysfunction and predation. . .This dynamic has made the clerical closet — not the fact of gay priests but the way that fact has been hidden — a core mechanism for tolerating and enabling abuse. On top of all this, the vow of obedience to superiors gives gay bishops and cardinals huge sway over their priestly flock. Some, of course, realized this power could be leveraged for sex and abused it.”

The core of the Church’s mistreatment of gay priests and the resulting problems this injustice creates is, fundamentally, the magisterium’s teachings on homosexuality, Sullivan asserted:

“At some point you realize that this is, in the end, the bottom line. There is a deep and un-Christian cruelty at the heart of the church’s teaching, a bigotry profoundly at odds with the church’s own commitment to seeing every person as worthy of respect, deserving of protection, and made in the image of God. It’s based on a lie — a lie that the hierarchy knows is untrue, and a lie proven untrue by science and history and the church’s own experience. . .The task, it seems to me, is not to rid the church of homosexuality, which is an integral part of the human mystery, but of hypocrisy, dishonesty, and dysfunction. Impossible? I admit to, at times, a crushing fatalism. But I also believe, as a Catholic, that nothing is impossible with God.”

To read Sullivan’s commentary in full, click here. For all of Bondings 2.0’s reporting on gay priests, click here.

Check in with Bondings 2.0 each day this week for Editor Francis DeBernardo’s reporting from Rome during the Vatican’s summit meeting on clergy sexual abuse. 

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February ??, 2019

4 replies
  1. Friends
    Friends says:

    This is an absolutely astounding, and indeed a dazzlingly brilliant monograph by Andrew Sullivan. I urge all of our readers to give it the time it deserves. The constant advertising interruptions are a nuisance, but it’s well worth persevering through to the end. Sullivan’s detailed description of the gay foppery of Pope Emeritus Benedict is something to behold!

  2. Barry Blackburn
    Barry Blackburn says:

    BRAVO! Andrew Sullivan sees no clothes on the emperor (the Church). BRAVO too to Francis D. representing us and reporting from Rome. Thanks too Robert for great reporting. All of you are excellent Pros!

  3. Tom Casserly
    Tom Casserly says:

    Well, he’s got it right. It’s really like the Communism that Solzhenitsyn exposed: if everybody stopped lying for one day – and exceptionally self-loathing closeted gay members of the hierarchy told the core truth about themselves – the whole thing would promptly right itself. It’s beyond outrageous the Church turning it’s back on centuries of good work undertaken by gay men and lesbian women who willingly and quietly chose to give their lives over to God and in service to the Church. I cannot in good conscience associate myself with it any longer – ever since the republication of the guidelines for the priesthood and that English translation “so called gay lifestyle” I read on December 7, 2016 while on my way to the vigil
    of the feast of the Immaculate Conception. I have found my faith home elsewhere. The meanness astounds me. I consider paradox a “charitable” description of the state of things as it suggests an almost innocent application of principle I am no longer prepared to countenance.


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  1. […] that biology has no connection to our lives.” Then Smith, who is Jewish, asks Sullivan, a famously conflicted gay Catholic, to clarify his views on the issue.He’d be equally open to the view, I […]

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