GAY TIMES January 1995

Terry Sanderson’s autobiography “The Reluctant Gay Activist” is now available on Amazon

“Just how widespread is homosexuality in the priesthood?” wondered John Junor in The Mail on Sunday. Given the to-do we’ve had about `pervy priests’ over the past few weeks it’s a legitimate question.

It depends, of course, where you look for evidence. According to Mr John Root, in a letter to the Church of England Newspaper (November 18 1994) the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) once told Time magazine that 30 per cent of C of E clergy were gay. However, he says: “by the recent ‘Heart of the Matter’ programme the proportion had dropped to 20 per cent. Somewhat similarly a LGCM leaflet said that 10 per cent of the population was homosexual.” The letter-writer wants to know how LGCM came to the conclusion that 20 per cent of vicars are gay, “is it propaganda masquerading as fact?” he asks.

It’s a difficult issue, but if the outing of clergy in both Catholic and Anglican churches continues at the present rate, we should soon have the definitive answer. There won’t be a single priest, vicar, canon or bishop left in hiding.

First we had Father Liam Cosgrave who popped his clogs in a Dublin gay sauna. Two other priests who were enjoying the facilities at the same time administered the last rites. The owner of the sauna informed the press that he had at least twenty priests on his membership list.

Then, The News of the World’s hard-working “investigative reporter”, Mazher Mahmood, opened his cheque book to yet another rent boy (“burly six-footer, Dave” — a “young boy”, according to Mahmood, of only 26!). Dave obliged by “outing” Father Gerard Cobham, of Liverpool (November 13th).

The following week Mr Mahmood was gleefully telling readers that one of his previous victims, Canon David Haslam (see last month’s Mediawatch), has had his licence to officiate at services suspended (“Gay canon fired over rent boys”).

But it took OutRage!’s outing of ten bishops to really make the establishment’s arse tighten. “Homosexual terrorism,” fulminated The Daily Telegraph (December 1st), condemning the gay group’s “pernicious tactic” of naming closet cases.

The Guardian also thought that OutRage!’s actions were “persecution by another name”. The paper went on to say that the Church is entitled to keep its “traditional position” in condemning homosexuality as sinful. I wonder if it would be arguing the same thing if the church revived its “traditional position” on stoning adulterers or burning witches? (And besides, wasn’t The Guardian one of the two newspapers which published some of the names? Do I detect double-standards?)

What these self-righteous papers don’t understand is that gay people have been on the receiving end of persecution and “pernicious tactics” for centuries. The catalogue of abuse is endless — and not all from the church. Much of it has originated from and been perpetuated within the pages of the press. Such defenders of the closet shouldn’t be surprised when those who cannot, or will not, stay concealed get angry and frustrated at those who remain hidden in order to enjoy privileges that are denied to others. Such closet cases only perpetuate the idea that homosexuality is shameful. How can such dissembling and deceit help young people who want desperately to be honest and open?

The only problem I have with OutRage!’s tactics is that they can’t always confirm that what they say is true. This fact was immediately seized on by The Daily Mail (“Fury as gay militants ‘out’ bishops but say they have no proof”, December 11th). Now The Sunday Times (December 4th) tells us that OutRage! intends to kick down the closet doors of 50 MPs “most of them Tories”. I don’t object to that — except that I don’t think OutRage! knows with any certainty the names of 50 gay MPs. The danger is that if even one of those named is not gay, and they make a fuss about it, the whole outing ploy is immediately discredited. Accusations of witch hunting then become legitimate.

OutRage! must be sure of its facts before employing outing. It is one of the most effective weapons the gay community has ever had, and it would be a shame to lose it through indiscriminate and unjust over-use.

Meanwhile, Richard Ingrams (Observer, December 4th) said that OutRage! had been engaged for some time in a “one-sided war against the Roman Catholic Church”. He said that such attacks were no less than “homofascism”. Oh please! With a fuhrer in the Vatican who could give lessons in iron control to any totalitarian regime, I don’t think the Catholic Church has much to teach us in the way of morality.

Conor Cruise O’Brien wrote in The Independent (November 26th) about the Pope’s “offensive” assertion (in his book ‘Crossing the Threshold of Hope’) that he loves the young. “It is the vocation to love that naturally allows us to draw close to the young,” writes the pontiff. O’Brien says: “This form of words seems to imply that the Pope has altogether forgotten that the complacent institution over which he presides has deliberately covered up for priestly paedophiles, transferring known malefactors of this type from parish to parish, diocese to diocese, and knowingly allowing them to combine paedophilia with their pastoral functions.”

Indeed, in Ireland — where the present paedophile controversy brought down the Government — Catholicism teeters on the brink of losing its traditional vice-like grip. It was unfortunate that the newspapers constantly referred to Father Liam Cosgrave (he of the sauna) in the same sentence as Father Brendan Smyth (the revolting “paedophile priest”). Both cases were presented in the British press as “scandals” of equal magnitude, but that was not, according to Beatrix Campbell (Independent, November 22nd) the way the Irish saw it “People knew the difference between Fr Smith and Fr Cosgrave. The paedophile priest had committed crimes against children. The gay priest had committed no crime…. The funeral of the gay priest was attended by hundreds. Mass was said by his bishop. He was much loved.”

Ms Campbell says that in their grief people were feeling that it was “not OK that he should go to a sauna secretly and die secretly.” She feels that the British can hardly even understand this. “The English no longer know what matters. One sex scandal is the same as another. English sexual politics is about reputations, not about what is going on between men, women and children.”

This may be looking at life through slightly rose-tinted glasses. John Lyttle (Independent, November 23rd) went to Dublin to find out what gay life is really like since the law was reformed. He finds optimism, but Dublin isn’t the same as the rural backwaters, as calls to the gay switchboard illustrate. Susie Byrne, one of the volunteers says she has just spent time “mopping up a young couple who attempted suicide. They thought their parents would never accept them.”

When OutRage! released inflated condoms into Westminster Cathedral during a Mass, its actions supposedly “offended” Catholics. “A church is not the appropriate place for such a demonstration, especially when it is being used by people who want to pray,” said Fr. George Stack in The London Evening Standard (November 28th). I hope those same praying individuals will contemplate the meaning of the protest. Pope John Paul’s unyielding opposition to condoms is evil in the extreme. It is costing the lives of innocent people through Aids. It is causing overpopulation in countries that are already starving. There is no justification for it, and if members of OutRage! can kick the Church out of its inhumane complacency, then I wish them well in their efforts.

It seems that the love affair between the newspapers and Sir Ian McKellen is over. Since he stood on an Edinburgh stage and tore a page out of the Bible which referred to homosexuality as “an abomination”, he has been relegated to the Tatchellian status of “fanatic” and “extremist”.

“Sir Ian does the gay cause more harm than good by such petulant protests,” advised John Smith of The People (December 4th). “Homosexuals have a valid point to make about all kinds of discriminatory issues. But they will make little progress if, like Sir Ian, they continue to come across as a bunch of precious poofs.”

We are not fooled by Mr Smith’s cod concern for our welfare. We know from a thousand previous comments how profoundly he hates us.

Readers of The Daily Mail are less mealy-mouthed about their contempt for gay people. “Sir Ian McKellen will need to tear more than Leviticus 18:22 from the Bible if he wants to deny people God’s view on homosexuality. They can still turn to Genesis 19, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:18-32 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11”, wrote Mr Lancaster of Bristol. Mr Hanks of Herts says: “Seeing Sir Ian McKellen publicly ripping a page from the Bible and urging other people to do the same made me want to ask him if he would have the courage to do the same to the Koran.”

Well, I’d like to ask Mr Hanks if he’d approve of Sir Ian being driven into hiding under threat of death by Christian fundamentalists? Is that what he’s advocating?

Dominic Lawson in The Daily Telegraph (December 3rd) asks where it will all end. “What will the Spastics Society, for instance, make of this from Leviticus 21 xvi? ‘No one of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God. For no-one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles…that he may not profane my sanctuaries.”

Amazing which parts of the Bible Christians can gloss over as being “inappropriate” and which parts they feel they must protect as “traditional”.

Sir Ian says that he always rips the offending page out of Gideon bibles he finds in hotel rooms and suggests we all follow suit. But why stop at one page? Why not rip up the whole thing, together with the hymn book, catechism, Church Times, Catholic Herald and War Cry? I certainly do.

Book burners! Fascists! Abominations! cry the Christians. They can certainly dish out the abuse, but they can’t take it.

Clifford Longley, for example, in The Daily Telegraph (December 2nd) began his article with a quotation from an unidentified “male homosexual”. “Most of my friends are people I first picked up and had sex with, and we liked one another. Most gay couples have to make some kind of decision about sex after a while. … He was going to work on the subway and getting offers and I go to work in Manhattan and I get offers, and you get tired of saying no all the time. So, we trick out, as we say, without guilt.”

Mr Longley says: “This is the voice of real homosexuality” before going on to say that the Church should not feel guilty about keeping up its restrictions on gay relationships. But like all propagandists, Mr Longley’s argument depends as much on what he leaves out as what he puts in. Who is supposed to have said the words he quotes? No indication. How does he know that this is “the real voice of homosexuality” and not just the voice of an individual homosexual?

Using the same technique of selective quotation, perhaps we have to turn to The Sunday Telegraph to find the “real truth” about Christianity. In its December 4th issue, the paper told of an Anglican minister, the Rev Andrew Arbuthnot, who practises a “healing ministry” for those who have been’ sexually abused. The “laying on of hands” takes on a whole new meaning, as Mr Arbuthnot is required to “lay his hands” on the genitals of the people he is healing. Not only that but he is required to insert his fingers in order to make the sign of the cross.

Mr Arbuthnot is under investigation, but claims he only did it out of Christian duty.

Funny old world, innit?

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