The New York Times published a major feature on gay priests earlier this week, the latest in a series of media stories on the topic about which there is renewed interest due to the scapegoating of these men for the clergy sex abuse scandal.
The article, which made the front page of the print edition, is based on interviews with two dozen gay priests and seminarians. Reporter Elizabeth Dias explored the “impossible contradiction” of a Church with such gay-negative teachings and so many gay priests. Dias explained in the article:
“Fewer than about 10 priests in the United States have dared to come out publicly. But gay men probably make up at least 30 to 40 percent of the American Catholic clergy, according to dozens of estimates from gay priests themselves and researchers. Some priests say the number is closer to 75 percent. One priest in Wisconsin said he assumed every priest was gay unless he knows for a fact he is not. A priest in Florida put it this way: ‘A third are gay, a third are straight and a third don’t know what the hell they are.’. . .
“Almost all of them required strict confidentiality to speak without fear of retribution from their bishops or superiors. A few had been expressly forbidden to come out or even to speak about homosexuality. Most are in active ministry, and could lose more than their jobs if they are outed. The church almost always controls a priest’s housing, health insurance and retirement pension. He could lose all three if his bishop finds his sexuality disqualifying, even if he is faithful to his vows of celibacy.”
Dias noted that the situation of gay priests has become “more dangerous” given renewed efforts to scapegoat them for the clergy sexual abuse crisis. A gay seminarian at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago told The Times that his classmates believe in the Vatican’s ban on accepting gay men to the priesthood, reflecting an attitude that it is gay priests who abuse vulnerable populations. The report continued:
“Just a few years ago, this shift was almost unimaginable. When Pope Francis uttered his revolutionary question, ‘Who am I to judge?’ in 2013, he tempted the closet door to swing open. A cautious few priests stepped through.
“But if the closet door cracked, the sex abuse crisis now threatens to slam it shut. Widespread scapegoating has driven many priests deeper into the closet.
“‘The vast majority of gay priests are not safe,’ said Father Bob Bussen, a priest in Park City, Utah, who was outed about 12 years ago after he held Mass for the L.G.B.T.Q. community.
“‘Life in the closet is worse than scapegoating,’ he said. ‘It is not a closet. It is a cage.'”
Several of the openly gay priests interviewed, like Fr. Greg Greiten, Fr. Michael Shanahan, and Fr. Steve Wolf, have had their stories featured previously on Bondings 2.0. Greiten commented on the present situation of gay priests and the Church generally:
“Sitting in his parish’s small counseling room, Father Greiten reflected on it all. He wished he could talk to Pope Francis himself. ‘Listen to my story of how the church traumatized me for being a gay man,’ he asked, into the air.
“‘It’s not just about the sexual abuse crisis,’ he said, his voice growing urgent. ‘They are sexually traumatizing and wounding yet another generation. We have to stand up and say no more sexual abuse, no more sexual traumatizing, no more sexual wounding. We have to get it right when it comes to sexuality.’ . . .
“‘What if every priest was truly allowed to live their life freely, openly, honestly?’ he asked. ‘That’s my dream.'”
Fr. Michael Shanahan, who is openly gay, offered more hopeful words about why so many gay men continued to serve in the priesthood despite the often high costs:
“‘Am I going to leave the priesthood because I’m sick of that accusation [of gay priests causing sexual abuse]?. . .Become more distant from parishioners? Am I going to hide? Become hardened, and old?. . .
“Why stay? It is an amazing life. I am fascinated with the depth and sincerity of parishioners, the immense generosity. The negativity out there doesn’t match what is in my daily life, when I see the goodness of people. I tune into that, because it sustains me.'”
Several opinion articles on gay priests have been published recently as well. Reacting to December comments from Pope Francis on gay priests, Michael Coren commented at Maclean’s on the Church’s broader contradiction about accepting gay men to seminary:
“It’s also a crass, gross misunderstanding of sexuality and a colossal double standard. Our sexuality is not defined and confined by our genitalia and what we do or do not do physically. It’s all so much more complex and profound than that. Many husband and wife couples have an extremely limited and even non-existent sex life as they age, but they’re still straight. And here’s the point: potential seminarians who are heterosexual and who admit, quite naturally, to sexual or romantic temptation are never turned away for such a reason.”
Deacon Robert F. Coleman of the Diocese of Antigonish, Australia asserted that there will never be justice in the abuse scandal if the focus is not on real problems, but on discriminating against gay people. He wrote in the Cape Breton Post:
“We either choose to get to the truth about the abuse and its causes or we choose to live with smallness of mind. We need to acknowledge the findings of credible research. We cannot be a Church that ignores scientific conclusions when they don’t match our pre- conceived notions. . .It is just plain wrong to make homosexual priests the scapegoat. It only adds injustice to injustice and victimization to victimization. It reinforces in the public domain the already existing view that the Church is a purveyor of homophobia. For God’s sake let us not walk such a craven path.”
Finally, in an interview with Sojourners’ John Noble, Tim Lennon, the president of SNAP (Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests), firmly rejected any attempts to scapegoat gay priests for abuse:
“Our organization totally rejects this whole issue around [blaming] homosexuality. It’s just bigotry in its most base and hateful form. We reject that in any and all cases.”
The New York Times article further has further raised the profile of the controversy over gay priests in the era of a massive clergy sexual abuse scandal. A new book on homosexuality in the Vatican (reviews here and excerpt here), as well as an open letter from gay Dutch pastoral workers calling for Pope Francis to end the Vatican’s ban on gay priests have done likewise. With Pope Francis and many bishops having mixed records on gay priests, it will be interesting to see what, if any, role the question of homosexuality will play in this week’s Vatican summit on the protection of minors.
For the latest updates from Editor Francis DeBernardo in Rome, check Bondings 2.0 daily this week or subscribe to the blog using the box in the upper right hand corner of this page.
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, February 20, 2019