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A Gaggle of Gay Priests

September 1, 2018 (1,198 words)

From my perch outside the enchanted circle, it seems nabbing a spot as a regular commentator in the prestige print media requires a serendipitous combination of talent and connections. When the broadcast media is being considered, be sure to add beauty and a quick wit to the list of requirements.

One can only hold such a coveted position by producing on a regular basis, even if one’s every utterance is less than captivating, and each submission is not quite spellbinding. But once ensconced, the incumbents do hold an advantage over the rest of us.

Because editors and program managers are pre-occupied with assembling their next installment, they have little time to scour the country searching for new voices that offer a different slant. So the undiscovered writers roaming the streets of our big cities and small towns, wrestling with their problems in solitude, retain their anonymity.

Father James Martin, SJ, is one of those lucky designated commentators. His current job description is editor at large for the New York City-based America magazine. Over the years (b. 1960) he has built his brand to where he is routinely called on to offer his opinion on pretty much anything-and-everything having to do with the Catholic Church in the United States.

As anyone who has heard him on the radio, watched him on television, or read any of his written work can attest, Father Martin presents a reasonable and even-tempered persona.

… a disquieting tendency to downplay formal teaching

He also has a somewhat disquieting tendency to downplay the Magisterium when thinking through contemporary problems. This has raised concerns among those who think it best to keep the Magisterium front-and-center whenever one is undertaking any serious social analysis.

For instance, in his recent best-selling outreach to the LGBT community, Building A Bridge, he acknowledges intentionally leaving out any sort of elaborate discussion of Church teaching regarding same-sex attraction. This strikes some observers as a glaring omission, to say the least.

He clearly re-states established doctrine that “sexual relations between persons of the same sex are impermissible,” giving the reader the impression he himself does not disagree with this assessment.

Yet he steers clear of that inconvenient truth as he describes the dire need for “welcoming” on the part of the institutional Church, because he “is not a moral theologian,” and “the LGBT community and the Church are just too far apart on this issue.”

Yes, Father Martin is eminently reasonable and even-tempered in his presentation, and this makes him an effective communicator. But since his higher commitment appears to be to open-ended dialogue rather than ultimate repentance, I’m not sure his talents are being applied in any meaningful or productive way.

… open-ended dialogue vs. ultimate repentance

Take his recent op-ed, The Virtues of Catholic Anger, which appeared in The New York Times on Thursday, August 16.

Father tells us every American Catholic has a right to be angry at the ongoing revelations of sexual abuse by priests. He shares with his readers that he too, is angry, for purely selfish reasons: He has been spat on in the subway, and at times has been embarrassed to wear his collar.

His anger also extends to certain traditional Catholics “who have been using these revelations to advance their own agendas, so that the suffering of children becomes an opportunity to stir up hatred, for example, of all gay priests, or LGBT people in general.”

While many of us can’t help but be angry at times, we know full well the emotion of hatred is always off-limits and should never be indulged if one is trying to emulate a Christian example. So here Father Martin is slapping the wrist of a few out-of-line reactionaries, instead of addressing the larger problem.

In this case that larger problem is the long-term existence of a “pink mafia” in certain seminaries that screened out anyone who showed up with a pre-conciliar understanding of the faith, and encouraged the new recruits who were allowed admittance to “get in touch with their sexuality,” as they say.

… the long-term existence of a “pink mafia”

For more on this story, we turn to Goodbye, Good Men written by Michael S. Rose and published in 2002 by Regnery. Mr. Rose explains how the American Catholic priesthood went from an image of wise, strong men like Spencer Tracy in Boys Town and Bing Crosby in Going My Way to an image of “pedophile priests.”

He does that by shedding light on a homosexual subculture that existed in certain seminaries over a thirty year period leading up to the publication of his book.

To reach his conclusion Mr. Rose interviewed dozens of seminarians, former seminarians, recently ordained priests, seminary faculty members, and vocation directors representing some fifty dioceses and twenty-two major seminaries.

He found our “priest shortage” or “vocations crisis” has been self-inflicted, if you will, caused in large measure by an outright rejection of solid Catholic men who upheld Church teaching on hot-button issues such as women priests, sexual morality, and homosexuality.

Goodbye, Good Men details a decidedly counter-productive situation in which homosexuals on the faculty or among the seminarians made life miserable for seminarians who refused to approve of – or participate in – homosexual activity.

Not only did this result in good men being driven from our seminaries, but their homosexual harassers were the only ones left who went on to Ordination.

It would be a mistake to think the broad clerical abuse crisis has been perpetrated strictly by ordained men with a homosexual inclination. But it would be naïve to think the presence of active homosexuals in the priesthood has not contributed mightily to this crisis.

… what exactly is a “gay priest”, anyway?

What exactly is a “gay priest”, anyway? And how are we to distinguish him from a “straight” one? The question itself makes no sense, since our priests take a vow of celibacy as part of their training. Here again Father Martin is employing a contemporary formulation, presumably in the cause of bridge-building.

For the record I, too, am a big fan of building bridges and encouraging dialogue. In the Catholic tradition, one important venue for such activity is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

As to Father Martin’s timely thoughts on the virtues of Catholic anger and the so-called hatred of gay priests and LGBT people, I think I read somewhere we are supposed to condemn the sin, while holding out hope of God’s forgiveness to the sinner.

Figuring out how to execute both sentiments simultaneously is a tricky proposition, often beyond the capacity of mere mortals. Most of us fail by either being too lenient or too strict. Finding an appropriate balance between mercy and moral demand is extremely difficult, even on our best day.

With his polished and proven communication skills, Father James Martin, SJ, could do more in the way of showing us how that balance might be achieved, if only he was willing to tackle the really hard subject of bringing the reliable and still very much germane Magisterium to bear on today’s raucous world.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
September 1, 2018

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