Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A Cancer in the Clergy

This struck me as a fairly perceptive article dealing with the crisis of clerical abuse and vow-breaking, and all the more surprisingly so given that the source is Commonweal, a magazine not necessarily known for its fanatical devotion to Church teaching on sexual morality.

Among those issues is one that no one in the Catholic hierarchy seems eager to investigate: the extent to which there are gay networks operating within the American priesthood, its seminaries and chanceries, and within the Vatican itself. And to what ends? Perhaps the hierarchy is afraid of giving aid and comfort to right-wing zealots who would like to use the McCarrick scandal as an excuse to out and purge all homosexual priests and bishops. There can be no excuse for such a purge. We have all met gay priests who live chaste lives and honor their vows of celibacy, just as we know there are more than a few heterosexual priests who fail to honor theirs. But it wasn’t just clericalism that allowed McCarrick to abuse seminarians and young priests for decades, even though his behavior was widely known within clerical circles. And it wasn’t just his ecclesiastical clout that provided him protection. It was networks, too.

By networks, I mean groups of gay priests, diocesan and religious, who encourage the sexual grooming of seminarians and younger priests, and who themselves lead double lives—breaking their vows of chastity while ministering to the laity and staffing the various bureaucracies of the church.

During the nearly four decades I spent writing about religion for Newsweek, I heard numerous tales of “lavender lobbies” in certain seminaries and chanceries, told mostly by straight men who had abandoned their priestly vocations after encountering them. At one time or another, the whispering centered on networks in Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Chicago, or Pittsburgh, among other dioceses. One of the few priests to complain in public was the late Andrew Greeley, who spoke of gay circles operating in the administration of Chicago’s Joseph Bernardin, a cherished friend of his. As far back as 1968, I heard similar rumors about priests serving in the Roman Curia, mostly from Italians, who are generally more relaxed about homosexuality than Americans and unsurprised when those leading double lives are outed. What concerns me, though, is not simply personal hypocrisy, but whether there are gay networks that protect members who are sexually active.

To use the phrase "cancer" may seem to some unnecessarily inflammatory, but I chose it with a certain consideration. What, after all, is cancer? It is a disease in which cells threaten by the body because they have the ability to reproduce much faster than other cells around them, thus causing abnormal growths which threaten the body. It strikes me that in some sense, the presence within the all male priesthood of networks of clerics who are sexually active with each other acts a bit like a cancer. It's not just that these men are violating the sacred vows they have taken before God and the Church, though that in itself is of course very bad. But the fact that these are networks of somewhat promiscuous male-on-male sexuality acting secretly within the all-male priesthood creates a network of extraordinary closeness seemingly tailor made to take over points of power within the Church. A figure like McCarrick must have had dozens of men also in leadership positions within the clergy who had a history of intimacy with him or about whose own transgressions he had knowledge. Machiavelli said it was better to be feared than loved, and the nature of McCarrick's network must have mixed the two: men with whom he had sexual history and also men who knew that he could reveal their own transgressions.

A priest with a mistress or a history of abusing female parishioners might have the same openness to being blackmailed, but because his former lovers would all necessarily be outside the clergy, he would not have the same network within the clerical hierarchy which combined former lovers and people whose secrets he held.

And so all male sexual networks would have a particular ability to take over an all male, theoretically celibate clerical group which no other type of sexual sin could command in quite the same way.

No comments: