Don’t blame the sex abuse crisis on queer Catholics

Photo by Chris Karidis on Unsplash

This is not a fun moment to be Catholic, I know, and we are all grasping for sense and answers. But here’s the thing: Using an abuse and accountability scandal to scapegoat Catholic queerness is not O.K.

Take, for example, this letter from Bishop Robert Morlino. I trust the bishop has the best intentions, but some of his most scorching indignation aims not at the abuses of power and accountability he is supposed to be talking about but at homosexuality, in general, which he reminds us the church regards as “intrinsically disordered” and that “cries out to heaven for vengeance” and possibly—the referent is not fully clear—is to be “hated with a perfect hatred.” Whatever theological truth may lurk in these words is about as pastorally presented as if I were to nail Acts 2:44 to the door of a bishop’s mansion. There are other concurrent truths, too.


Using an abuse and accountability scandal to scapegoat Catholic queerness is not O.K.

Our friends (and I do regard them as friends) at First Things, meanwhile, know the classiest way to discriminate is to find a member of the class in question to assent to discrimination. Daniel Mattson, who identifies as a man with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies,” contends that “men like me” should be systematically excluded from the priesthood.

Each time I read something like this, I think of how, over and over, the people who have saved my faith when it was on the brink happened to be queer folks. I suspect this is not an accident. I cannot be sure, but I expect it was their experience of marginalization and their humanness against it that helped me see where God is.

Some of these people have been of the left, some of the right. Some have been on TV, some will never be so seen. Sometimes things have even gotten inappropriate. But that was not because they were queer. Straight folks in the church cross boundaries, too, just as much.

The people who have saved my faith when it was on the brink happened to be queer folks.

I came into this church right in the heat of the Boston Globe revelations. I was baptized in 2003. Many times I have been grateful to have been called to this church as an adult (barely, I was 18). But I was old enough to know the difference between the nonsense and the glory.

I would not have begun to know God were it not for a person, harbored in holy orders, whose life could only be described as queer, and who drew me in, safely and respectfully, when the straight dudes wanted to drive me out.

I never noticed queerness in one of the people I looked to early in my Christian life as a guide and model. But years later I ran into him with his partner at a famously welcoming evening Mass, on the other end of town from where he lived.

In years when nothing made sense and the hypocrisy got overwhelming, the testimonies of people whose gender experience most of the world did not bother to understand showed me how tiny my quibbles were in God’s eyes.

The universal church will not be any use if it is rooting out and driving underground all kinds of queer experience.

And it was from some corners of this church, believe it or not, that queer experiences seemed to make the most sense. From one corner, a nun had to keep her ministry to the trans community secret. From another, the sweetest friendship I have ever seen was between a famous, withering Jesuit and a woman whose husband, while dying from AIDS, the two of them had tended to decades earlier.

I am not calling the church to some crass conformity. I do not think mainstream, progressive, affirming culture has queerness all sorted. Not by a longshot. We need ancient wisdom to figure this crazy stuff out. But the universal church will not be any use if it is rooting out and driving underground all kinds of queer experience. We need to be present with that experience if we are to learn from it, together, to enlarge a bit our pitiful grasp of God.

When Pope Francis talks about a pastoral approach to these matters, some people think it is a slippery slope to heresy, and some think it is mere talk. But no: Accompaniment is the only way we can learn what God is trying to tell us—to hold the challenge in our midst. To see it. To confront it, and to embrace it.

In a sense, there is some truth that the problem of abuse has to do with a problem of queer sexuality. It is the problem of a repressed, denialist, immature queerness that discovered itself a little after Vatican II but was not able to go beyond that.

There is a revelation at hand here. It is not a liberal revelation or a conservative one. It is something else, something ancient. Blindness to it has caused so, so much pain. It has caused good people and good leaders to be their worst selves.

We need more penitence and healing. But we also need the courage to confront evil with love, to confront ignorance with the willingness to learn and to embrace.

This essay was adapted from a series of tweets.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Rabaza
1 year 9 months ago

The majority of adults who commit child abuse identify as heterosexuals.
The data speaks for itself. Any claims arguing to the contrary require facts, something Trads and Conservatives do not have nor will they produce.

“Abel, Gene G.; Nora Harlow (2002) [2001]. "The Abel and Harlow Child Molestation Prevention Study" (PDF). The Stop Child Molestation Book. Study text revised. Xlibris. Retrieved 29 June 2012. More than 70 percent of the men who molest boys rate themselves as heterosexual in their adult sexual preferences. In addition, 9 percent report that they are equally heterosexual and homosexual. Only 8 percent report that they are exclusively homosexual”

Monica DeAngelis
1 year 9 months ago

Hi, Julieta - Unfortunately, there are people who present their biases as if they were actual evidence, and they're given a forum to do so on certain TV programs, where other folks, perhaps sincerely (perhaps not) hear these pseudo-reports as if they were absolutely true. They're tuned into to these channels and stations, and hear only the anti-gay cabal spout their venom. Then they come here and to other sites, spouting it back at us as if it were true. And they can't be dissuaded by real facts.

Tim O'Leary
1 year 9 months ago

Monica - you won't even listen when self-identifying homosexual men tell you the same thing. Their comments are backed up by the Centers of Disease Control statistics (the epidemics of venereal disease), by the Grand Jury testimonies and John Jay Report. Only a non-scientific blindness can obscure this.
Daniel Mattson
Joseph Sciambra

Rylan Gibvens
1 year 9 months ago

What additional facts are you looking for? Heterosexual men do not sleep with young boys. How many heterosexual men do you know that, having no available partner for sex, turn to another male to provide them sex? To be even more precise, how many heterosexual men do you know that seek out boys for sex? This activity did not take place in a prison. It took place among men who have freedom among and access to the normal population. So, if it's not a 'queer' issue, what is it? What is it that would make these men attracted to boys to the point where they would become involved sexually? The priests I have known could no less easily have had relations with women or girls than with boys or men. What hetero man would choose a boy as a partner? A sexually frustrated, stimulated, etc. heterosexual man in normal society does not become sexually enamored of another male. there is no argument to be made that they do.

That does not mean that no homosexual male can be a good priest, any more than it means that a sexually active heterosexual man can carry out the duties of a priest faithfully. Yes, at base the problem is a sexual one. Equally yes, this problem is also pretty consistently a homosexual, sexual one. It's not straight male priests molesting boys. It's ludicrous to deny this. It has been ludicrous to deny this since the seminaries began accepting openly sexually active men - gay or straight. The pull of that has been stronger on gay men. Straight men did not need the shelter of seminaries to assist with their sexually active lifestyle. Heterosexual pedophiles may have found a welcoming seminary attractive. Homosexual non-pedophiles may have found it attractive as well. Homosexual pedophiles clearly did find the attraction irresistible. Looking at the results it is clearly a two piece problem. One piece is pedophilia, the other is homosexuality.

There has been some small amount of heterosexual pedophilia, so an argument can be made that the first/largest issue is pedophilia but to turn a blind eye to the huge percentage of gay pedophilia is to insult the victims.

Michael Barberi
1 year 9 months ago

It is easy to say "prohibit all homosexual men from entering the priesthood because this is root cause of the sexual abuse scandal." However, if we take the time to educate ourselves about the facts and the causes of this problem, most of us will conclude that this so-called solution is a scapegoat and illusory. We need to recognize that such an over-reaction poisons the reputation of the overwhelming majority of well-adjusted and mature homosexual priests who abide by their vows and do the Lord's work.

The root cause of this sexual abuse problem, inclusive of bishops, is "moral corruption within a culture of clericalism". Given this, I offer a more reasoned solution for reflection which does not exhaust all the details:

"All homosexual and heterosexual priests who sexually abuse minors and bishops who cover up these crimes are to be defrocked. All homosexual and heterosexual priests who engage in consensual sex with adults should be defrocked as well as bishops who coverup, minimize or ignore the breaking of vows of celibacy. In other words, enforce a rigorist zero tolerance policy. Additionally, priests who use pornography, troll the internet for sex or sexual gratification with minors or adults should be severely disciplined. This does not preclude the room for repentance, on-going psychological treatment and 'lifetime' oversight of such priests in some circumstances. However, it is clear that the Vatican needs to take dramatic and immediate action."

The Church also needs to address and resolve how Bishops (e.g. Wuerl and McCorrick) can become Cardinals when their sexual abuse crimes and/or coverup was known and/or documented? Let's face it, the sexual abuse scandal is 'systemic' and worldwide in various degrees but not insurmountable. As to the restoration of the Church's reputation and credibility, this will take decades.

Anne Danielson
1 year 9 months ago

“I Know my sheep, and My sheep know me.”

Michael, first and foremost, our call to Holiness, has always been a call to be chaste in our thoughts, in our words, and in our deeds. A sexual inclination is not a person, it is an inclination. Christ would never identify His beloved according to sexual desire/inclination/orientation, for to do so would violate His own Commandment regarding lust and the sin of adultery.
Every same-sex sexual desire/inclination is a disordered sexual inclination. There are also many disordered opposite sex sexual desires/inclinations.
It is not The Faithful who are responsible for covering up the abuse; in many cases, the abuse was hidden from The Faithful by those who deny Christ’s teaching on sexual morality.

Those who desire to create a separate personhood in order to identify themselves or others according to sexual desire/inclination/orientation, which sexually objectifies the human person, in direct violation of God’s Commandment regarding lust and the sin of adultery, are guilty of denying the respect, compassion, and sensitivity due to those persons who desire to overcome their disordered same-sex sexual attractions, and are called to fulfill God’s Will in their life, that all persons desire and accept and thus experience authentic Salvational Love, God’s Gift of Grace and Mercy.

The more deep seated a disordered inclination of any nature becomes, the greater the likelihood that disordered inclination will lead to sin, which is physically, psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally harmful and destructive.

God Desires that we desire, to overcome our disordered inclinations and become transformed through Salvational Love, God’s Gift of Grace and Mercy. What is that Ancient Wisdom we all seek?
“In The Beginning Was The Word, And The Word Was With God, And The Word Was God”: Our hearts are restless until they rest in “The Way, The Truth, The Life (Light) of Perfect Love, Our Savior, Jesus The Christ.

Michael Barberi
1 year 9 months ago


Your comments seem to imply things that I cannot fully embrace as the complete and absolute moral truth. I don't believe that a same-sex attraction/inclination is an innate "intrinsic disorder". The magisterium has not provided any evidence in support of this claim. The Am. Psychological Association has studied this issue and does not agree with the assertions of the Catholic Church. Homosexuality and heterosexuality are not chosen but something people are born with.

I do believe there is a moral difference between sexual acts within a marriage (e.g., civil, Christian or Catholic) that are done in the service of love, and those outside of marriage. I also agree with you that all of us must strive to be chaste but I think our definition of chaste will be different. I know what chaste means and I think most good intention Catholics misunderstand this virtue. I do believe everyone should strive to overcome sin which does not necessarily mean every act that the Magisterium calls sin or intrinsically evil.

I have studied moral theology for 7 years and while this does not make me an expert, my conscience is joyful and at peace with respect to this issue. However, I continue to keep an open mind, study this issue continuously, pray often and seek both spiritual advise from priests and theologians.

We will have to agree to disagree on this issue as it could easily lead to a very protracted argument between us where neither of us will persuade the other of our respective viewpoints. Let's leave this subject to another time.

As to the sexual abuse by clergy, I have made my comments are clear.

James Haraldson
1 year 9 months ago

So if there is no moral predisposition to a homosexual mindset, how do you account for the indisputable fact that homosexuals are almost universally supportive of a "right" to crush the skull of an unborn baby and what do you think it means?

J Rabaza
1 year 9 months ago

Youre talking garbage as usual from your ilk

Indisputable fact: the internet gives nut jobs a platform to write jibberish and peddle it as truth

James Haraldson
1 year 9 months ago

So what do you think it means that you can not deal with the implications of this fact and need to have a hysterical reaction of denial?

Paige Smyth
1 year 9 months ago

Teen boys are a target by priests according to evidence. Priests wanting sodomy and oral sex with teen boys. That isn’t pedophilia. That is straight up predatory homosexual desire. Make of that what you will. It’s time to call a spade a spade. I agree with Bishop Morlino.

Gay Timothy O'Dreary
1 year 9 months ago

great piece, Nathan

Tim O'Leary
1 year 9 months ago

Nathan - You are blind to the obvious because of a counter-Christian ideology. Queer is a pejorative that has been co-opted in an ideology of praise of sexual deviance or perversity (just as gay was co-opted before it). Lust and licentiousness blinds one to the truth. We are all subject to lust and concupiscence because of original sin. But, the queer ideology boasts of lust, identifies with lust. It is not the Christian way. As St. Paul wrote: "Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.( Rom 1:26-28). As St. Peter wrote: "For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” (2 Peter 2:17-19) Only Jesus can save you from this false culture of death.
1 year 9 months ago

I will agree slightly with the author that scapegoating any group in this is an easy out. Scapegoating bypasses the deeper issue of failure to live the Gospel life completely. As my priest friend said in his homily this weekend, "This has nothing to do with the Faith! It has nothing to do with the standard. It has everything to do with infidelity. Failure to attain the standard which is Christ." These monsters will line the floors of Hell for what they did. No doubt. But...we must be aware that these men were not create in a vacuum. They came out of the laity. The Church entire has lost sight of the Standard which is Christ and holiness. The laity too have become lax in the pursuit for holiness desiring an easy, comfortable catholicism. The Church reinforced the "easy path" after Vatican II by divesting Herself of Her rigor, Her discipline. In my ministry I can tell you the perversity/evil/sin that the laity accept as "fine and dandy" now and just apart of life: divorce and remarriage, contraception, homosexuality, etc. These are great evils that no Catholic can participate or endorse without committing sin! We need to begin by dispensing with the superficial pursuit of virtue and holiness. Holy vocations come from Holy, intact families. "If you wish to reform society, begin by reforming yourself!"

Andrew Wolfe
1 year 9 months ago

Mr. Schneider, your facts, your interpretation, and your judgment is completely wrong. God forgives all our sins through Christ and the Church, whether sodomy or fornication or murder or drug abuse. Denying that these are sins and denying the disorders of the impulse to commit them is neither loving nor merciful. Sin destroys whether we acknowledge it as such or not. Endorsing someone's self-destruction through homosexual sin is no more loving than endorsing it in sins of violence or theft or dishonesty.


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