The Gay Priest Thing

Wait a minute. The conference is over? The Roman Catholic bishops have left town already? And we're not going to talk about the gay priest thing?

Only in Dallas. This always was a town where people knew how to avoid talking about the obvious. And Dallas is, after all, where the recent cycle of American Catholic priest sex scandals began five years ago with the history-making jury awards in the Rudy Kos civil case.

Kos, a Catholic priest accused of having sex with dozens of altar boys, was convicted in a criminal trial a year after the civil trial and is now serving a sentence of life in prison.

I guess this is where I am expected to make the politically correct stipulation that homosexuality has no relationship with pedophilia, and, based on everything I have read, that's true. It's all about "power."

But can we say sexual power?

And if we call it that, then how can we talk about sexual abuse by a priest, or by any other person for that matter, and not talk about the obvious in-your-face issues concerning that person's sexuality?

I covered some of the Kos civil trial as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle, and I remember what everybody was whispering about in the corridors. One hot topic, which did get reported eventually in an article in D Magazine, was the cadre of militantly gay priests who had achieved influence in this area's Holy Trinity Seminary. Parents told me how their sons came back from seminary complaining about the verbal hammerings they endured for being straight.

Another issue at the time of the Kos trial was a priest who had come to Dallas to take a high diocesan office supposedly on the condition that the diocese find employment for his male life partner, also a priest. The diocese denied that any such arrangement existed when I checked on the story at the time. But Dallas civil rights lawyer Mike Daniel, a Catholic, remembered that imbroglio right away when I called him during the recent bishops' convention. He said he thought the difficult issue for Catholics in that case was less homosexuality than celibacy.

"I guess the objection would have been the same if it had been a woman," he said. "It's not celibacy, whether it's male or female."

I asked if the two scenarios were truly equivalent--un-celibate behavior with a woman vs. un-celibate behavior with another man. He pondered a little and said the practical reality seems to be that they are not.

"The point is, would the hierarchy have allowed [two diocesan officials] who were male and female to live together? It probably wouldn't have. Whereas I think it was fairly widely accepted that they were special partners. It was not anything they were particularly shy about showing, either."

So. The Catholic Church preaches that homosexuality is a sin. Only men can be Catholic priests. They must vow celibacy. And yet the one form of non-celibacy that seems to be winked at by both the hierarchy and the faithful is homosexuality. Quite apart from political correctness, can somebody just help me with the math?

And let me declare myself a little here. I was raised in the Protestant Episcopal Church, the son of a clergyman. My father would have been called a priest in the Dallas diocese but was a minister in Eastern Michigan. Every Sunday Episcopalians swear fealty to the "Holy catholic" church. It's a hard outfit to figure sometimes. A wag once told me the Episcopal Church is the Catholic Church without the religion. It's easy to make jokes.

But I do have nagging doubts about Protestantism, having grown up over the store. I know that my own household has just been through a very dispiriting experience in the United Methodist Church in which I was reminded, once again, that the great power on earth, other than the Word, is money. Every time I hear someone complain about the arrogance of the Catholic clergy, I think, yeah, but if you don't stay pretty arrogant with these Christians, the rich ones will whip their checkbooks out of their holsters and start firing financial bullets at the preacher's feet to make him dance.

An aura of intimidating power is not in and of itself evil. It's what you do with your intimidating power. MTV has power. The church needs power, too.

But if you take power and tie too many moral knots in it, with deception, hypocrisy and self-protection, then inevitably that power becomes a flail. Somewhere in the twists and turns the powerful person manages to objectify and dehumanize the people on whom he must exercise power. Objectification is always the first major step on the road to the gas chambers, or to child sexual abuse.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze