Celibate gay Catholics score ‘clerical cover-up culture,’ fear backlash

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the wake of allegations of sexual abuse and harassment lodged earlier this summer against Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, two celibate gay Catholics fear a backlash against gay priests faithful to their vows, and voiced skepticism over the church's ability to put its own house in order.

"There are plenty of gay priests who have kept their vows. Making this a gay issue is distraction, mostly, an attempt to place blame mostly (away from) from the clerical cover-up culture," said Eve Tushnet of Washington, who has written two books on Catholic life. "It does a major disservice to women who were abused by the church and also a major disservice to gay priests."

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Tushnet recalled being in church the weekend a statement from the Archdiocese of Washington was read from the pulpit regarding Archbishop McCarrick, who served as archbishop of Washington for five years and was elevated to the College of Cardinals; he resigned that post July 28. He has been retired as Washington's archbishop since 2006.

"It felt like they were trying more to protect themselves: 'We as an archdiocese are not part of this scandal,' and not 'If there's anything that you know...," Tushnet said.

Ron Belgau, who lives in the suburbs of Seattle, is founder of the Spiritual Friendship movement for gay Christians. He joined the Catholic Church in 1999 -- "sort of the last possible moment you could join it without this" scandal, he told Catholic News Service.

Belgau, too, suspects backlash against gay priests as a result of the unfolding scandal. "I think that homosexuality is only part of the issue. I think the hierarchy's unwillingness to disciplining any of its own is a much bigger problem. But obviously it wouldn't surprise me. We're already seeing it," Belgau said. "It wouldn't surprise me if it becomes another opportunity to focus blame on gay priests."

"It felt like they were trying more to protect themselves: 'We as an archdiocese are not part of this scandal,' and not 'If there's anything that you know...," Tushnet said.

He said he had considered priesthood, but "I was somewhat harassed by a former vocations director and in the two years I was discerning the priesthood, I caught some glimpses of the kind of dysfunction -- nothing anywhere as extreme as McCarrick, but I realized this might not be the most supportive place to live a celibate life."

[Explore America's in-depth coverage of Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church.]

He added, "There are probably priests who might be attracted to both men and women, but who have easier access in keeping it within the priesthood. It's safer, because secrets will be kept there, (rather) than having an affair with a laywoman. ... I would expect that most of the priests who are involved in this, except for those who are forced into relationships by superiors, most of them are predominantly attracted to men."

"This is really about bad shepherds," said Tushnet, author of "Gay and Catholic" and editor of the anthology "Christ's Body, Christ's Wounds: Staying Catholic When You've Been Hurt in the Church."

She repeatedly called herself "disconnected" from the church, but just in terms of its ecclesial life. "I try to be obedient, I go to Mass, I go to confession. But I do not know people in the hierarchy, and as it turns out, that may have been good for me. And that's sad," she told CNS.

"I have one friend in particular, a contributor to the archdiocese, who really does feel betrayed and knows people who tried to warn the Vatican In the past -- and wondering why was nothing done," Tushnet said. "It's shocking, right? That the best way to preserve your faith is to stay away from your bishop. That's terrible!"

"The biggest issue on this is the culture of secrecy around homosexuality and the priesthood," Belgau said.

"The first and most important thing is finding out how the abuse is being done, and preventing and punishing them" to end a "culture of coerced homosexuality."

"Starting in seminary, you pretend that you're choosing seminary -- celibacy for the sake of the kingdom -- but it's really avoiding the fact that you're gay," he continued. "There's a very different atmosphere for straight seminarians to talk about whether is this a good idea for them. Are they ready to give it up -- marriage -- to be committed to the priesthood, and for gay seminarians, (with) single-sex attraction, there's much more pressure that there just isn't an issue ... or if they admit to homosexuality, to downplay it, not really process it.

"I think that produces a lot of priests, Belgau said, "who have not either really grappled with the question. 'Should I be in the priesthood at all, or am I just here to run away?' and grappling with 'What does it really take to recognize the struggles that I'm dealing with, and can I build up the support that I need to remain faithful I the midst of that?'"

Tushnet said friends she has talked with since the allegations surfaced wonder, "How is it that we're only just now having more scandals revealed?" and complaining there has been "so little housecleaning."

Her prescription: "The first and most important thing is finding out how the abuse is being done, and preventing and punishing them" to end a "culture of coerced homosexuality."

Belgau said he considered the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick both "shocking and non-shocking, I had never heard any rumors about McCarrick, so I was not expecting McCarrick himself. But I had seen enough by then to know that these sorts of stories were out there, and to expect that they would come out over time."

Archbishop McCarrick may not have been the first bishop to be caught in an abuse scandal, but he won't be the last, according to Belgau: "I'm sure there is more out there."

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A Fielder
7 months 2 weeks ago

Mr Belgau, why is it that your motivations for discerning the priesthood were noble, (wanting support to live celibatly), but other gay seminarians are “pretending” and “avoiding?” This sounds like internalized homophobia. There could be some for whom this is true, but if you are concerned about that backlash against the faithful gay priests, your argument is probably not really fair to many who probably had similar motivations to your own.

A Fielder
7 months 2 weeks ago

Ms. Tushnet wants to end a “culture of coerced homosexuality.” The first step will be to end coerced celibacy for gays and lesbians. Sexual integration requires freedom, and the church’s unjust treatment of gays and lesbians has facilitated the creation of victims, some of whom are now also perpetrators. Why has this system generated so many gay priests and religious? Because we consider that we have no other (respectable) choice. When McCarrick entered the seminary convicted gay men could have been imprisoned or chemically castrated. This is no excuse, it is context. Eve does make a good point, lesbians can also be blackmailed by straight clerics, just like gay priests can be exploited by their superiors or peers. Unfortunately, striving to be faithful (to the church's antiquated teaching) only leaves one more vulnerable to harassment.

sheila gray
7 months 2 weeks ago

Do you really believe there is such a thing as “coerced homosexuality”? I do not.

A Fielder
7 months 1 week ago

Sheila, if this question is for me, I assume that Eve really meant coerced homosexual sex. I would agree that there could be such a possibility. Gay people in ministry who feel compelled to be closeted are vulnerable to blackmail. I would imagine (or at least hope) that the more prevalent problem is actually consensual sex amoung priests and seminarians, especially if committed relationships are discouraged or forbidden. The liaisons might be convenient and pleasurable, but I doubt they lead to sexual integration or happiness. And the more widespread the behavior is, the more likely heterosexual men (if there are any left) or those who are actually chaste will grow to resent their gay colleagues. I can't imagine this dynamic would be a healthy part of any culture.

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