GAY TIMES May 1993

However much the churches of England and Rome try to pretend that homosexuality is a peripheral issue, and of little relevance, it refuses to go away. Just as one “scandal” dies down, another comes to take its place.

In March this year, the Bishop of Gloucester, Peter Ball, resigned his post after it was discovered he’d been up the cassock of a novice monk. The Archbishop of Canterbury issued a statement expressing sadness and embarrassment at the incident, but failed to take much account of the young victim’s feelings. That was a mistake the tabloids were quick to pounce on and both The Sun and The Star editorialised mightily about the Archbishop’s insensitivity to the damage which Ball’s attentions might have done to the youth.

I’m sure the young man’s feelings — rather than Murdoch’s bank balance — were the reason The Sun decided to print the novice’s story. For several days the paper wallowed in all the dirty details, revealing when, where and how the abuse had taken place — just the sort of thing the young man might want to keep in a scrapbook to show his children and grandchildren.

Meanwhile The News of the World (which, like all the tabloids, thrives on the combination of the sacred and the sexy) was bringing us: “Gay sex priest in inquiry”; which concerned a cleric in Paisley, Scotland, who is accused of taking part in a “rent boy scandal’ and better still: “We’ll sue over sex beast” —the tale of a Catholic priest who had “systematically abused a whole family of five children’ — boys and girls alike.

The Guardian told us that in Australia, the Reverend David McAuliffe, an Anglican priest, resigned his ministry after a “dispute over celibacy”. It turned out that Mr McAuliffe was playing both ends against the middle, by living in a relationship with another man while assuring the Church (they claim) that he was celibate.

Then The Observer carried an article about a new book, Chosen, which looks at the whole issue of homosexual Roman Catholic clergymen. The author of the book, Dr Elizabeth Stuart, estimates that “between 20 and 30 per cent of Catholic clergy may be gay” and that many of them live furtive lives “coupled with periods of self-loathing, with many priests taking years to come to terms with their sexuality”.

Another thorn in the side of the Vatican is Father Bernard Lynch, who has just published a book, A Priest on Trial, in which he illustrates most vividly how far the Catholic Church is prepared to go to silence critics of its policy on homosexuality. The Church describes gay people as “disordered in their nature and evil in their love”, but Father Lynch’s tale shows us just how easily over-powerful religious institutions can degenerate into wickedness and corruption.

Straight priests, too, made their contribution to the Pope’s woes. The Bishop Casey “scandal’ rocked Ireland all over again when The Sunday Times decided to carry excerpts from the memoirs of the woman he impregnated and hid away. The Daily Mirror told us that the bishop of Santa Fe has been accused of having sex with five teenage girls. The list of transgressors goes on.

The backwash from all this prompted a new round of hand-wringing among the believers. The Independent even revealed that British Catholics, headed by Cardinal Basil Hume, are “modifying the Vatican’s stance by announcing that homosexuality is not sinful”. His Holiness the Pope will not be amused.

On the other hand, Reverend Tony Higton, the well-known Essex vicar who is very fond of hellfire-and-damnation and who has a worryingly obsessive bee in his bonnet about homosexuality, ranted and raved in The Christian Herald about how the Archbishop of Cant, Dr George Carey, had let the Right Rev Ball off with a mere caution. He claimed that Carey had “minimised the seriousness” of Bishop Ball’s sin. “I want to dissociate myself from this double failure,” Higton wrote, “and to express outrage and sorrow at such damage to the cause of the gospel and credibility of the Church.” He was particularly harsh on church people who recommended that Bishop Ball should be forgiven and allowed to stay on in his job; presumably he would have liked to have seen him burned at the stake. He said that bishops had been “mealy mouthed” about homosexual practices for years, and that he cannot understand clergymen who don’t share his point of view. Well, isn’t that the very definition of a bigot — a word that could have been coined expressly for Mr Higton?

But, it appears, hateful Higton is pissing in the wind as far as the rank and file parishioners and clergy are concerned. They, it seems, still have some vestiges of Christianity left in them; tiresome things like kindness, forgiveness and understanding — apparently alien concepts to Mr Higton, who might be happier as padre at News International.

The Rev David Steven, of Mansfield Woodhouse, wrote to The Church Times “The real loss to the church at large and to the diocese of Gloucester in particular, is that those whose duty and joy it is to forgive have been deprived by the bishop’s resignation of doing so most effectively. We have allowed the world to set the agenda, and have discovered that not only can we not choose our bishops, but we cannot choose to forgive them either.”

Over in Rome, the Pope’s response to the growing number of his straying flock, was to issue instructions that they must “keep to their vows and remain celibate”. The old duffer doesn’t seem able to recognise that institutionalised celibacy is for most people —priests included — an unnatural state. The Independent revealed that 100,000 Catholic priests have left the church worldwide in the last 25 years because of the celibacy rules.

It has been shown repeatedly that many gay men enter the priesthood in an attempt to avoid dealing with their sexuality. The reasoning is that if they devote themselves to the church, their homosexuality will go away, or they will at least be able to ignore it. And now we’re seeing where such reasoning leads — child abuse, recrimination and “scandal”.

For The Church Times, the Bishop Ball case raised fundamental questions about attitudes to homosexuality. The paper said, in an editorial: “The suggestion is heard that if a homosexual disposition were seen as a fact rather than a reproach, then people who had it would be able to make realistic choices about their lives, and would understand the risks they took in entering professions which still deplored it; and those professions themselves would examine their thinking honestly. But that general degree of truthfulness is still a long way off.”

In the end it came down to those passages in the Bible which the self-righteous quote with such relish. Mr John Wilkinson wrote (Church Times): “… even we ordinary Christians are bound to condemn homosexual practices, however lovingly we seek to differentiate between the sin and the sinner. Speaking as one of those many heterosexuals who do not reject or persecute people of homosexual tendencies, but endeavour to express charity and compassion toward them, I still find myself brought up short by the plain unambiguous prohibition: “Thou shaft not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is an abomination’ (Leviticus 18.22).”

Nothing more to be said, is there? Unless, of course, you are the Rev Derek Whitehead who replied to the previous correspondent thus: “Come with me into the next chapter of Leviticus, where haircuts and trimming the beard (v. 27) and tattooing the skin are also condemned. In the following chapter disrespect to parents (19.9), adultery (v.10) and incest (vv. 11-12) — not to mention homosexual acts as well — all incur the death penalty. Is Mr Wilkinson in favour of such measures? Leviticus says we must be, and surely we may not pick and choose which texts of the scripture we will accept as authoritative.”

The Rev Whitehead says that the New Testament states (in Jesus’ own words) that the divorced and remarried are all adulterers. If Leviticus and Mark are run together (“and why not, since they are both the unchanging word of God?”) all re-marrieds and divorcees should be in the condemned cell.

It is regrettable that while homosexuality remains a matter for “scandal’ and outrage in the church, abuses will continue. By encouraging men to deny their sexuality — a force more powerful than religious observance can ever be — both Anglican and Catholic establishments are saving up tragedy for innocent people.

***

“It’s not been the best of weeks for the “we are all at risk” brigade,’ wrote Richard Littlejohn in The Sun. “Kenny Everett and Holly Johnson, the latest celebs to declare they have the Ads virus are both notorious homosexuals.”

It was certainly a great week for the “they’ve brought it on themselves” crew, though. Kenny Everett quickly put paid to tabloid speculation about his health by confirming that he has known for four years that he is HIV positive. The papers were reasonably kind to him at first. “Brave Kenny,’ they said, “he keeps on joking despite the tragic news.”

Of course, tabloids weep crocodile tears all the time. The sympathy won’t last and Kenny Everett and Holly Johnson’s reputations will soon go the way of Freddie Mercury’s. They will become demonised and pilloried because of their sexuality.

Holly Johnson’s interview with The Times was hijacked two days in advance by The Sun, which said: “For the man who told the world to ‘Relax —make love, not war’ — and boasted of the joys of promiscuous gay sex, it was the ultimate punishment.”

It was also a gift to the tabloid homophobes, just the ticket for another spot of gay-bashing. Everett’s and Johnson’s admissions, together with the Channel Four programme which suggested that the African Aids epidemic is largely a myth, gave new impetus to the idea that there is no Aids without homosexuality, and no homosexuality without Aids.

In The Daily Mail, the clarion call was taken up by Dr Gordon Stewart, Professor Emeritus of Public Health at Glasgow University and a former World Health Organisation adviser on Aids. He argued that HIV is not the sole cause of Aids: “The onset of Aids is hugely encouraged by high risk behaviour — by which I mean promiscuous homosexual behaviour or aberrant sex or drug taking — among people with HIV. If they avoided this behaviour HIV patients would not invariably get Aids and they would certainly live for much longer.”

He blames the emergence of “gay lib” for the spread of the virus and says: “We should take the sentimentality out of Ads and recognise that the disease is, with a few exceptional cases, directly caused by the behaviour of the victim.” He recommends that research money should be slashed as should money being “poured’ into caring for those affected by HIV.

Meanwhile, Anthony Daniels “a practising GP” was writing in The Daily Telegraph that whenever a popular figure such as Kenny Everett is shown to be affected by HIV “he is rightly the object of sympathy and compassion”. He says that anyone who argues that the disease is some kind of divine retribution is a “moral imbecile”. This all seems well and good, but as the article progresses, we soon realise that Dr Daniels is not in the business of sentimentality either. He tells us that our sorrow should not “blind us to the epidemiological facts which demonstrate clearly that, in this as in other Western countries, Aids is overwhelmingly a disease of certain categories of people, namely homosexuals and those who take drugs. Thus, most sufferers can be said to have contributed to their own downfall.”

He wants to know why so much effort has been put into turning those with HIV into “immaculate victims who cannot be said to have brought the disease upon themselves” and says that “praise and blame are ineradicable categories in the way we think about human conduct and the cant term non-judgmental is …well, judgmental.”

And so, it seems, we’re back to square one. The Sunday Telegraph reported that “Virginia Bottomley has ordered a dramatic cut in the Government funding of the Terrence Higgins Trust” so the argument that “gays have brought it on themselves” seems to be permeating even into the Department of Health.

It’s only a matter of time before the tabloids take it up again. And we can expect no sentimentality in that area — and no compassion or sympathy either.

***

What a to-do in Glasgow over reported “gay romps” in a clump of bushes in Kelvingrove Park. So enraged were the district council when they heard about the gallivanting that they promptly burned the offending shrubbery to the ground.

This harsh, and environmentally unfriendly, action irritated the Scottish Wildlife Trust — not because they were concerned about the loss of habitat of the Greater Cruising Gay, but because wrens used to nest in the bushes which the barmy burghers burned.

Anne Smith, a columnist on Scotland on Sunday was amused by all this. “One of my English friends immediately fantasised a flat-capped, horny-handed councillor bellowing: “We’ll ha’e nae nancy boys in Glasca. This is a man’s toon. Pu’ it doon!’” she wrote.

She expressed her admiration for the “stamina and resolute gayness of the gays who could hang out among those wet and windswept bushes in the dark looking for love and points out that now one bit of cover has been removed, they’ll simply move to another somewhere else in the park; it takes more than a conflagration to stop determined trollers.

So, what will the council’s next move be? To burn the whole park down, perhaps? But why stop there? “The Council will probably have to pull down Queen Street Station, all the public toilets and one or two bars in the city centre,’ says Anne Smith.

So why are the district councillors so “het up” about a few trysts in the undergrowth? “They call it political correctness,” says Ms Smith, “but we social historians are not fooled; we know how many Calvinists make a trend.”

***

It seems that “outing” is still in fashion in the USA. According to the London Evening Standard’s American correspondent, Jeremy Campbell, “a dossier is being readied on the private lives of members of the Congress who support gays in the military. There is a $10,000 reward, offered by a professor of history, to the first person who outs a four-star military officer, male or female, a Supreme Court Justice or an American cardinal.”

In the meantime, according to Campbell, “gay militants are ransacking the archives for evidence of homosexual leanings among the “deceased revered icons of American history”. So far the finger has pointed at Abraham Lincoln who “shared a bed for three years with a shopkeepers Joshua Speed” and Daniel Webster, whose letters to his bosom buddy, James Bingham, are peppered with terms of endearment such as “lovely boy” and “Dear Beloved”. In one letter he urges Bingham to “accept all the tenderness I have”.

In another missive, Webster wrote to James Bingham: “Yes James, I must come to you. We will yoke together again. Your bed is just wide enough, we will practice at the same bar, and be as friendly a pair of fellows who ever cracked a nut.”

Well, that seems clear enough, except that Campbell pours cold water on the theory by rolling out an historian by the name of James Rotundo, who says: “love letters written to famous men by famous men in the 18thand 19thcenturies should not be judged by our modern preconceptions… manhood is a cultural construction, an invention of society, and it is not the same from era to era. The meaning of manhood changed three times in the 19thcentury alone.”

Philip Larkin said sex was invented in 1963, Jeremy Campbell seems to be arguing that homo-sex is of even later vintage. But he’s not going to get away with it. As we all know, some great historical figures have been gay and no amount of ‘theorising’ is going to take these heroes away from us.

***

Playwright Denis Potter lunched a scathing attack on the Murdoch empire in Channel 4’s Opinion programme. The point he was making – that Murdoch’s papers and TV stations debase all other media, as well as the customers they serve – is a point I’ve been making for years.

However, I did admire Mr Potter’s invective. I would have been proud to have created his description of Murdoch as “that drivel-merchant, global huckster and so-to-speak media psychopath…a Hannibal the Cannibal” or his description of Kelvin McKenzie as “that sharp little oaf who edits the Sun. The best, though, was saved for Garry Bushell who became “that sub-literate, homophobic, sniggering rictus of a lout.”

Does that bother our Gazza? Not one iota. The Sun revealed that its prize columnist, who spends most of the time in his TV column talking about the death penalty and pinko poofters, is now “having his opinions studied in more than 30 universities.”

What they don’t reveal is that he is held up in the groves of academe as a shining example of how low British journalism can sink.

However, we mustn’t spoil Gazza’s day. “I’m not surprised,” he said, when told of his popularity among students of the media. “Cream always floats.”

Regrettably cream is not the only thing that always floats, as anyone who has been to a sewage works will tell you.

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