GAY TIMES June 2002

The Catholic Church is getting its long-overdue comeuppance. I try not to crow about the Vatican’s almost daily humiliation over the “child abuse scandals” because I know that behind it lies the untold suffering of generations of children.

At the same time, there is a distinct satisfaction in seeing this grotesquely inhumane institution – whose catechism defines homosexuality as an “objective disorder” and an “intrinsic moral evil” – picking up the tab for its relentless nastiness.

So much has been written about the present scandal that it has become clouded. What is it really all about? Priestly celibacy, perhaps, or priestly homosexuality? Maybe priestly paedophilia? Or is it about the Pope’s authoritarianism, and the deceitfulness of the bishops and Cardinals?

To read the newspapers, it would appear that the Roman Catholic Church is a hot bed of paedophilia, and the Pope has reigned over this terrible debauching of children with his head firmly buried in the sand.

In the United States, where litigation is everyone’s hobby, the compensation payments have topped $1 billion, and that’s just for starters.

But at least the mess has prompted a bit of soul searching about Catholicism’s whole sick approach to sexual issues – among the clergy and laity, at least, if not among the aged intransigents in Rome.

First we have to look at this term “paedophile priests”. It has been bandied about by the press without much concern for accuracy, and now it is generally perceived that the accused priests are all abusers of little children straight out of nursery school. But is this true?

A paedophile in modern terms is someone who is sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children and will stop at nothing to gain access to them. In The London Evening Standard, Brian Sewell told of his own investigations into paedophilia: “Some years ago, when Scotland Yard was engaged in arresting ring after ring of paedophiles, I thought it might be useful to confront one or two of these offenders to discover something of the mentality that leads them to practise adult sexual activities with children often so young that they amount not to sexual abuse, but physical abuses quite appalling in their implications. The two men willing to talk to me were plausible dissemblers, scheming and deceitful, single-minded in the management of their lives so that their contact with children had a seeming legitimacy. Intellectually corrupt, and utterly without scruple, their activities mock the term paedophilia, for theirs is not a love of children but a selfish self-love that is merciless.”

Most of the Catholic priests presently under investigation do not fit into this category. Their activities have not been with little children, but with adolescents and teenagers, mostly boys. They are not paedophiles. So what are they?

Professor Bernard J. Ransil of Harvard Medical School, has no doubt. In a letter to The Tablet he wrote: “How many of the victims were pre-pubertal children of both sexes? If most of them were, then the diagnosis is paedophilia, and all the outrage expressed in the media has, at least an explanation. If, however, most of the victims were sexually active teenage males, who, as is well known, are especially vulnerable to sexual advances and experimentation, the correct diagnosis is not paedophilia, but homosexuality. These priests are gay, which puts an entirely different spin on the problem because, as all of us brainwashed Americans know from our media, gay is not only normal, it is good. Recall how our media berated the Boy Scouts of America a few years back for refusing to hire gay counsellors. The overworked term ‘discrimination’ was invoked. In the light of the current clergy scandal, the prudential judgment of the Boy Scouts of America seems not only justified, but almost prophetic.”

This idea that homosexual priests are the villains in this piece was taken up by a columnist in The Boston Herald who wrote: “priestly homosexuals run amok with no fear of condemnation, secure in the knowledge that no one dares criticise the love that once dared not speak its name.”

He was merely echoing the opinions of several senior Catholic priests who saw an opportunity to deflect the blame, turning gay people once more into scapegoats – something Catholicism has been doing for centuries.

Bishop Wilton Gregory said there was an “ongoing effort to make sure that the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men” and that “not only is it not dominated by homosexual men, but the candidates we receive are healthy in every possible way: psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually.” A Vatican Spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls went so far as to suggest that no one with a homosexual orientation should be ordained, while a correspondent to The Wall Street Journal stated that the American Catholic Church has been “infiltrated” over the past 40 years by “activist, feminist and gay groups”.

All priests were suddenly under suspicion, but gay priests were feeling particularly vulnerable. Many of them have behaved honestly, of course. Having taken their vows of celibacy, they stuck to them (although at what cost to their mental health one hesitates to ask). Many others have taken vows of celibacy and then gone on to lead lives of quite staggering sexual promiscuity. Having precluded women and married men from the priesthood, the Church has found itself swamped by gay men, many of whom are trying to avoid the truth of their sexuality.

These men cannot have a healthy view of their sexuality, because the Church has branded it sick and evil. Now the Vatican is paying for the damage it has inflicted on them. The Pope is reaping what he has sown in the form of disproportionate amounts of sexual dysfunction in his priesthood.

And so it is with celibacy, the crazy demand that men stifle one of the strongest urges in their lives. As everyone – except apparently John Paul II – knows, if you ban something, the desire for it increases exponentially. Denying young men sex is asking for trouble. As Brian Sewell said in The London Evening Standard: “Boys – as priests know from having been boys themselves – are sexually curious, experimental, often not averse to instruction, inclined to keep their adventuring secret from their parents and not wholly disinclined to allow a second bite at the cherry; to frustrated priests they must seem very tempting. Surrender to that temptation is a symptom, not a cause – the cause is the unnatural rule of celibacy and the frustrated sexuality that stems from it.”

For the Catholic faithful, the idiotic rules of the Church are a constant struggle.  One gay man, a Catholic convert called Chuck Colbert, told his story in The Tablet. He had unsuccessfully struggled for years to reconcile his sexuality with his religious feelings. “It was not until I arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, nearly 15 years ago, that my spiritual desolation over the conflict between my sexual identity and my religious conviction found true consolidation. The catalyst for that life-saving personal transformation began when a bright and theologically astute Jesuit priest and pastoral counsellor became my spiritual director.”

But in order to bring comfort and reassurance to an actively gay man, the “theologically astute” priest would surely have had to disregard almost the entire teachings of the Church – the Papal bull, if you like. And in doing so he demonstrated the huge gulf that exists between the hierarchy of the Church and the people in the pews.

As Andrew Sullivan, a gay Catholic, wrote in The Sunday Times: “As anger has risen, conservatives are calling for a purge of all gay priests and the re-imposition of the strictest orthodoxy. They acknowledge that this could lead to a smaller church – but they are content to see what they describe as ‘cafeteria Catholics’ leave in droves.”

Many ordinary Catholics are liberal and embracing, but the Pope and his entourage of unyielding side-kicks are adamant that there will be no change. There will be no women priests, no relaxation of the ban on abortion or contraception, no enlightened attitude to homosexuality, and the celibacy rules will stay. As one commentator said, the Vatican thinks in terms of centuries, not years. The Pope regards this scandal as little more than a blip in the long and chequered history of his faith. He sees as much more important the longer term aim of uniting Christians (under the Catholic flag, naturally) to be prepared for the onslaught of Islam.

Although there are more than one billion Catholics in the world, the Church depends for its wealth on the USA. And America is changing fast. As in Europe, the numbers of Catholics there is dropping at a precipitous rate. This present scandal has accelerated that decline.

The Pope’s personal intransigence and apparent inability to recognise disaster when it is staring him in the face could be catastrophic for his Church.

For myself, I’ve got my fingers crossed that when this horrible old man finally falls off his throne, his replacement will be another unreconstructed bigot.

Then the arrogance of the Vatican may then eventually be transformed into a bit of genuine humility.

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