The Gay Priest Thing

The conference of bishops ignored "the elephant in the sacristy"

I apply about a 60 percent discount to my own views here, by the way, because I know that I am an outsider looking in, and there's a lot I won't really get because of it. I also worry, in passing judgment on someone else's religious faith, that I will just wind up sounding like the recent doofus at the Baptist convention who said something to the effect that the Baptists are leading the Muslims by two touchdowns and a field goal in the closing minutes of the last quarter of the game of life.

Therefore, I must check myself against smart Catholics. Wick Allison, publisher of D Magazine in Dallas and former publisher of the National Review, may be Dallas' most devout thoughtful Catholic who can write. In a phone conversation just after the bishops' conference, he said the issue of homosexuality among priests in the Dallas diocese must be drawn even more narrowly to the question of priests who somehow manage to be both flamboyantly gay and also secretive at the same time. He said it was clear five years ago that the Dallas-area seminary had spawned "an environment of openly hostile flamboyant gays.

"In Key West, where we used to have a house, there is a distinction between homosexuals and gays. They'll tell you that 'we threw out the gays 15 years ago.' Of course, who's telling you this is a homosexual couple that you're having dinner with."

The issue here, he said, has involved the latter type, the priests who would be called gay even in Key West. Among some of them, Allison sees evidence of a very complicated, not to say twisted, culture of sexual subterfuge.

"Yeah, there is a subculture," he said, "and it can be painful, and it can be self-destructive and destructive to others, just like any secret subculture."

I thought it was interesting that both he and Mike Daniel came to the same bottom line--that everyone would be better off if homosexual priests were allowed to come all the way out of the closet, at least in terms of publicly declaring their status, if not in violating their oath of celibacy.

"If I were writing about this," Allison said, "I might write that it might be a bit better for the church if everyone came out of the closet. I don't think the parishioners care. I don't know who does care. It's the secrecy that allows something to fester and to become really sick. I don't know if it has anything to do with pedophilia, but it [the homosexuality of priests] is one of the things that certainly has been denied by the hierarchy. And I think they think it's tied to the pedophilia."

How much more tangled can we make this web? The church wrongly ties pedophilia to homosexuality but also wrongly denies that many of its priests are homosexual? What a fine mess.

But it's precisely this mess that makes official cover-up and complicity in child sex abuse possible, according to Windle Turley, a lawyer who represented several of Rudy Kos' victims five years ago. And I know you're going to say, "He's a lawyer who's in this for the money." But I called him after the conference because I remembered, money or not, that he and his people did major research into the history of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church for the Kos case.

He doesn't blame pedophilia on homosexual clergy, by any means, but he does think the church's confusion and official hypocrisy on the issue of the sexuality of priests help create a dangerous atmosphere.

"I'm not saying that gays caused the pedophile abuse," Turley told me. "I'm saying there is a tolerance of the failure of celibacy."

The underground nature of un-celibate behavior, both homosexual and heterosexual, he said, has made possible a brand of adult dishonesty and manipulativeness in which pedophiles may find convenient shelter.

The sum of these problems, Turley believes, makes the Catholic Church tangibly more dangerous to children than other religious institutions. He says the Catholic Church suffers from a "long heritage and practice of hiding and concealing and tolerating sexual abuse." As a result, he says, "I think that pedophilia is more common in the Catholic Church than it is in other religious institutions."

Daniel told me that Catholic parishioners and parents find some aspects of the situation simply too bizarre and embarrassing to deal with. He said--and I confirmed with an attorney for the diocese--that one of the new rules adopted after the Kos case provides explicitly that it is not permissible for a minor to spend the night in the rectory and sleep in the priest's bed.

Good rule. On the one hand.

On the other hand, if you need a rule like this, don't you think you might need to talk about a whole bunch of other things as well?

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