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Taking The Gay Priest Issue Seriously

The cognitive dissonance within the Catholic Church around homosexuality has reached a breaking point
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It was revealed today that two priests from Chicago were arrested in Miami Beach when one was giving the other a blow job in a car, in full view of passersby on a busy street. Said CBS Chicago:

Cortez’s pants were unzipped and open and his genitalia was exposed, the report says.

Berrio and Cortez did not notice the police officer right away, and he had to knock on the window.

Such was their ecstasy that they had become insensible to the world. A sarcastic friend said that this is like Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa for our enlightened time. Maybe Cardinal Cupich can commission a woke sculptor to capture this moment of active spirituality for posterity.

But seriously, consider these faithful young people in Chicago, having to learn that their spiritual director was arrested in Miami giving a blow job to another priest. What does that do to their faith? What kind of self-centered jerk does that to the people he is supposed to serve as a spiritual father?

Catholic News Agency reports that one of the arrested priests is tied to a controversial Chicago program that has been dogged with homosexual misconduct, including use of child pornography. The Casa Jesus program is the gift that keeps on giving.

Here’s something you might not know. Remember Pope Francis’s “Who am I to judge?” remark in a papal press conference, the one that caused The Advocate, a leading gay magazine, to name Francis its “Person Of The Year”?

Here is the context in which Francis made that statement. It was a question about Francis’s having made a former papal nuncio, Monsignor Battista Ricca, his representative to the scandal-ridden Vatican bank, despite the man having lived openly with his gay lover (a former Swiss Guard), having been found trapped in a nunciature elevator car with a male prostitute, being beaten up at a gay bar, and caught with pornography:

Ilze Scamparini

I would like permission to ask a delicate question: another image that has been going around the world is that of Monsignor Ricca and the news about his private life. I would like to know, Your Holiness, what you intend to do about this? How are you confronting this issue and how does Your Holiness intend to confront the whole question of the gay lobby?

Pope Francis

About Monsignor Ricca: I did what canon law calls for, that is a preliminary investigation. And from this investigation, there was nothing of what had been alleged. We did not find anything of that. This is the response. But I wish to add something else: I see that many times in the Church, over and above this case, but including this case, people search for “sins from youth”, for example, and then publish them. They are not crimes, right? Crimes are something different: the abuse of minors is a crime. No, sins. But if a person, whether it be a lay person, a priest or a religious sister, commits a sin and then converts, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives. When we confess our sins and we truly say, “I have sinned in this”, the Lord forgets, and so we have no right not to forget, because otherwise we would run the risk of the Lord not forgetting our sins. That is a danger. This is important: a theology of sin. Many times I think of Saint Peter. He committed one of the worst sins, that is he denied Christ, and even with this sin they made him Pope. We have to think a great deal about that. But, returning to your question more concretely. In this case, I conducted the preliminary investigation and we didn’t find anything. This is the first question. Then, you spoke about the gay lobby. So much is written about the gay lobby. I still haven’t found anyone with an identity card in the Vatican with “gay” on it. They say there are some there. I believe that when you are dealing with such a person, you must distinguish between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of someone forming a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. This one is not good. If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way, saying … wait a moment, how does it say it … it says: “no one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society”. The problem is not having this tendency, no, we must be brothers and sisters to one another, and there is this one and there is that one. The problem is in making a lobby of this tendency: a lobby of misers, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of masons, so many lobbies. For me, this is the greater problem. Thank you so much for asking this question. Many thanks.

The context is critical here. Francis considers what Ricca did to be merely sinful — something to be repented of, and then forgotten. And it is certainly true that God forgives our sins, and remembers them no more. But it’s crazy to think that having lived so flagrantly and scandalously at the nunciature, that Ricca would still be thought fit for an important job like that. As The Guardian wrote at the time:

It would have been standard procedure for him to call in Ricca’s personal file before making the appointment and – whatever the truth or otherwise of the claims against him – it is inconceivable that he would have gone ahead had he known about them. It is hard to imagine a more dangerous official for the pope than one charged with shaking up the IOR [Vatican Bank], yet acutely vulnerable to blackmail.

What remains unclear is whether Vatican allies wiped Ricca’s file clean of allegations after his return to Rome, or whether enemies of the pope’s reform programme stripped them out before handing the dossier to Francis in an attempt to discredit both him and the programme.

So, it would appear from Francis’s answer that the dossier was wiped clean. But it is also clear from Francis’s answer that he doesn’t think priests having gay sex with adults is all that big a deal. Certainly not disqualifying for high position.

Is it really so difficult to believe that Francis would have known all about Cardinal McCarrick’s behavior with seminarians, and still brought him into his circle of influential advisers, and sent him around the world on personal missions?

Under Francis, the LGBT issue is becoming impossible to ignore. An Atlanta woman writes that she became Catholic because she and her husband found a congregation where the pastor was radically pro-LGBT:

The priest, a genial Santa Claus type, spoke passionately about Jesus’ love for all people. He closed by reminding those who planned to march in the Pride parade after church to wear their T-shirts and noting that the next LGBTQ church potluck was taking place next Friday. The choir nearly blew the roof off with a rousing spiritual that had everyone clapping and dancing in the pews. As the Mass ended, the priest and the deacons threw off their robes to reveal their own rainbow T-shirts and marched proudly down the aisle to wild applause.

My husband turned to me, wide-eyed. “I have never in all my life seen anything like this at a Catholic church,” he said.

“Great,” I replied. “Then this is our Catholic church.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports today that a group of local Catholics is objecting to the fact that Archbishop Wilton Gregory made the Santa Claus-like pastor of that parish one of three advisers to survivors of sexual abuse:

An online petition aims to remove a pro-LGBTQ pastor from his appointed role with the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta advising survivors of sexual abuse.

The petition — which had garnered more than 1,400 signatures as of Friday on Change.org — targets Monsignor Henry Gracz, who has been pastor for 17 years at Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception across from the Georgia State Capitol.

“The concern is centered around his well-known reputation for advocating issues that are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic faith,” Kate Sell, spokeswoman for the group that started the effort, Concerned Catholics of Atlanta, said in an email. “Because there is an overall lack of trust in his fidelity to uphold Church teaching, many are concerned about his fitness to be a ‘spiritual director’ to abuse victims.”

The archbishop stands behind Monsignor Gracz. Leaving aside the abuse angle, I have never been able to understand how or why bishops tolerate priests who so flagrantly defy — and therefore deny — what the Catholic Church teaches about homosexuality. But many of them do. Last year, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark celebrated a mass welcoming members of an LGBT pilgrimage to his cathedral. Cardinal Tobin, as well as Cardinal Kevin Farrell, appointed by Pope Francis to run the Vatican’s office of Laity, Family, and Life, endorsed Jesuit priest James Martin’s much-discussed book advocating normalizing homosexuality within the Catholic Church. Farrell invited Father Martin to give a presentation at the recent World Meeting of Families in Dublin. There is no question that under Pope Francis, the Catholic Church is changing, and changing radically.

I thought about this last week when I spoke by phone to a young man who recently left seminary because he was sick and tired of gay seminarians coming on to him. When he went to his superiors for help, they told him that HE was the problem, with his rigid attitudes. This is a man who chose to test his vocation despite the fact that he had been the victim of unwanted sexual attention by a priest as a teenager, and that one other close family member had been molested by a priest. Despite that, he still wanted to serve God as a priest. But this was too much.

This is one more “goodbye, good men” story about a vocation lost because of sexually aggressive gay priests and seminarians, and gay priests in power who protect each other. This didn’t happen prior to Michael S. Rose’s provocative 2002 book. This happened this year.

The man told me that he welcomes state authorities — attorneys general and district attorneys — investigating the Catholic Church. He said at this point, its the only thing that’s going to root out the corruption.

What an extraordinary thing to say about a Church: that it is so sexually decadent that it cannot reform itself.

Young men like that don’t have much of a voice in our media. Instead, the biggest megaphone belongs to priests like Father Martin, who is freaking out about what he sees as a “witch hunt for gay priests”. Excerpts:

More to the point, I know hundreds of gay priests, and I can say with honesty that all of them strive to keep their promises of celibacy and vows of chastity, none of them conspire with other gay priests, and yet many of them are demoralized by this increasingly hate-fueled witch hunt.

That’s propaganda. I know quite a few married men, but I couldn’t say with confidence that “all of them strive to keep their marriage vows.” I hope they do, but how could I possibly know that? How could anybody? The late Richard Sipe estimated from his studies that 50 percent of priests (hetero and homo) violated their vows of celibacy. I don’t doubt that there are many gay priests who do seriously try to live out celibacy and chastity, but I also am not buying Father Martin’s line here.

I have no doubt that that’s the line that Father Martin would like everybody to believe. But I just don’t buy it. Read this jaw-dropping 2011 report on the gay clerical culture in the Archdiocese of Miami, and then try to convince yourself that the real problem in the Catholic Church is anti-clerical homophobia. [UPDATE: A reader says that the Gawker link contains an image that some would find pornographic, or at least Not Safe For Work. — RD]

Here’s a 2013 story from Vanity Fair magazine about the gay clerical culture in the Vatican. Excerpts:

At the Vatican, a significant number of gay prelates and other gay clerics are in positions of great authority. They may not act as a collective but are aware of one another’s existence. And they inhabit a secretive netherworld, because homosexuality is officially condemned. Though the number of gay priests in general, and specifically among the Curia in Rome, is unknown, the proportion is much higher than in the general population. Between 20 and 60 percent of all Catholic priests are gay, according to one estimate cited by Donald B. Cozzens in his well-regarded The Changing Face of the Priesthood. For gay clerics at the Vatican, one fundamental condition of their power, and of their priesthood, is silence, at least in public, about who they really are.

Clerics inhabit this silence in a variety of ways. A few keep their sexuality entirely private and adhere to the vow of celibacy. Many others quietly let themselves be known as gay to a limited degree, to some colleagues, or to some laypeople, or both; sometimes they remain celibate and sometimes they do not. A third way, perhaps the least common but certainly the most visible, involves living a double life.


There are at least a few gay cardinals, including one whose long-term partner is a well-known minister in a Protestant denomination. There is the notorious monsignor nicknamed “Jessica,” who likes to visit a pontifical university and pass out his business card to 25-year-old novices. (Among the monsignor’s pickup lines: “Do you want to see the bed of John XXIII?”) There’s the supposedly straight man who has a secret life as a gay prostitute in Rome and posts photographs online of the innermost corridors of the Vatican. Whether he received this privileged access from some friend or family member, or from a client, is impossible to say; to see a known rent boy in black leather on a private Vatican balcony does raise an eyebrow.

I know the identity of that gay cardinal whose “husband” is a Protestant minister. His name appears in the Vigano letter.

My guess is that Father Martin sees that his great project of normalizing homosexuality within Catholicism — a crusade that, again, has been embraced and encouraged by Francis and key allies in the Vatican  — is in trouble because of the things coming forward about Cardinal McCarrick and the protection powerful gay clerics give to each other. Father Martin writes:

Where does this extreme hatred of gay priests come from? It comes from fear. Fear of the “other.” Fear of the person who is different. Sometimes fear of one’s own complicated sexuality. In frightening times, it can also feel empowering to blame and scapegoat the “other.” As the philosopher René Girard consistently points out, scapegoating unites us around a common enemy and encourages us to believe, falsely, that we have solved the problem.

Is this the only response they have? That if you believe Scripture, and you believe in 2,000 years of consistent Church teaching, and what they have to say about homosexuality, that you are a fraidy-cat and a hater? This line is so hackneyed, but has been so effective.

We know from the 2004 and 2010 John Jay studies, commissioned by the US Catholic bishops, that over 80 percent of the abused minors were males — and that only a small percentage of those were pre-pubescent males (that is to say, victims of true pedophilia). Yet the 2010 John Jay study ruled out homosexuality as a factor in the abuse. That 2010 study was criticized (plausibly, in my view) from liberal Catholics like National Catholic Reporter‘s Tom Roberts for what they saw as flaws in its scope and methods. It is certainly not the case that homosexuality alone explains the abuse scandal — there are other major factors, including clericalism — but it defies common sense to regard the wildly disproportionate numbers of male abuse victims and conclude that same-sex male desire for sexually mature boys had nothing to do with it.

Sexual abuse is only one facet of this issue. Neither of those two Chicago priests arrested in Miami were abusing minors. They are simply sexually corrupt. I don’t know if we have reliable numbers indicating how many gay priests maintain strict celibacy (someone please post a link if we do), but even assuming that they do, when they do like Monsignor Gracz, and affirm the goodness of homosexuality, encouraging gay Catholics and supporters to march in Pride parades, they deny what the Catholic Church, and Holy Scripture, teach is moral truth. There is no way around that.

And Pope Francis seems to be indifferent at best, and at worst empowering those within the Church who want to overturn this teaching. This is the internal battle raging within the Catholic Church. Archbishop Vigano’s testimony lays it bare.

Church leaders can refuse to talk about it, or speak only in Father Martin’s language, which is soothing to the ears of the media. But ordinary Catholics can see what’s going on. In the year 2000, Father Donald Cozzens, then rector of a major Catholic seminary, published a well-regarded book on clerical sexuality. From The Guardian‘s coverage:

His book claims that seminaries are becoming “significantly gay”. About 20,000 of the US’s 32,000 priests have left the clergy to get married in recent years, and many of those who remain are gay (more than half in some estimates), he says.

The revelation, in a sober religious work, could not have come at a worse time for the Vatican, which has hardened its attitude to gays. Fr Cozzens writes: “The priesthood of the 21st century will likely be perceived as a predominantly gay profession. Vicars or priests and seminary administrators who have been around a while speak . . . of the disproportionate number of gay men that populate our seminaries and presbyterates.

“Studies find that approximately half of American priests and seminarians are homosexually oriented . . . the percentage appears to be highest among priests under 40.”

There have been calls for the book to be banned and complaints from the parents of some trainee priests. But the book has already sold out its initial print run of 20,000 copies, making it a best-seller for its publisher, the Liturgical Press.

Dean Hoge, a sociologist and specialist on priesthood at the Catholic University of America, said: “It is the most important book on Catholic priests . . . for years. These topics are being talked about openly by the laity and the academic research community, but they are not being talked about openly by the Catholic leadership; and that’s a tragic situation because these are real problems and should be discussed.”

That book came out 18 years ago. What has changed since then? Is the priesthood of the 21st century going to be a predominantly gay profession? If so, how will that affect the Catholic religion? Because it will. It certainly will. The cognitive dissonance within the Roman Catholic Church on these matters has reached a breaking point.

Does Pope Francis care? I wonder. His silence on the Vigano accusations speaks loud and clear.

I hope that priests and members of religious orders will write in the comments below about their own experiences. If you are gay, your comments are welcome. Everybody remember to speak with respect. Calling anyone who believes what the Catholic Church teaches about homosexuality a “hater” is a canard intended to stifle debate. But it is true that there are people who hate gay people. You are not welcome to express that hatred in this thread.

UPDATE: First Things has an article up about “Out At St. Paul,” a popular LGBT ministry in a Manhattan parish. Excerpts:

Immediately following the 5:15 Mass tonight, OSP will host its first-ever “Mission and Prayer” meeting, an open forum intended for discussion about integrating gay Catholics into parish life.

When I walk into the meeting, an older priest and a scraggly-faced layman clutching a copy of Karl Rahner’s Prayers and Meditations are talking about how much fun they had at an upstate lake early in July. At the other end of the room, a young teacher named Marianne assures me that almost all the parish priests at St. Paul are openly gay or fully endorse active homosexuality, and even the ones that aren’t forward about it—“well, everyone knows.”


A young man wearing an orange polo with a popped collar draws a big laugh when he rises from his seat and others struggle to extend the cord of Jason’s podium microphone to reach him.

“Sorry, it’s not long enough,” Jason says.

“That’s what he said,” the young man quips.

After joining the room in laughter, the man sitting next to me confesses that flamboyant strains of humor amuse him, but he thinks it gets old sometimes. He tells the table that he often goes cruising to pick up guys at bars, but wishes he knew how to live a more stable sexual life. My table sighs in agreement: Being queer and Catholic is a hard line to walk.

Read the whole thing. 

UPDATE.2: I received this testimony from “Brother John” in an e-mail the other day, and meant to include in this omnibus post, but forgot. I’m glad he posted it in the comments:

Such an experience is probably common among priests/seminarians, not in the sense that it happens often, but many probably have similar stories of ‘suspicious behavior’ and difficulty deliberating about what to do.

I am a friar in initial formation with a religious order. This summer I attended a conference in Europe with other young friars from around the world. During the 2 weeks, I observed a ‘couple’ among the friars; they would save a seat for the other at meals, flirt, pair off exclusively at free times, inseparable. One was obviously gay, the other so-so.

Some trivial details: at the end of the conference I was to fly out Sunday morning, but trains did not run early Sunday morning, so I had to leave the hostel Saturday-midnight to catch the last train and sleep in the airport. After packing my suitcases, and taking a nap, I departed my hostel unit at about 11:30pm and went downstairs to a bar/cafe/lounge on the first floor of the hostel to wait for another friar who was going to leave Sat-night also.

The bar/lounge had been closed for at least a half an hour, and the ‘couple’ was sitting alone together in a dark corner. I laid down on a bench to wait. One of the couple confronted me, “why are you down here?” “Why don’t you wait in your room?” I responded, “My bags are packed, I’m ready to go, I just want to wait here”. The couple left perturbed. I’m pretty sure I interrupted a make out session.

So, why didn’t I express my concerns about them to my rector? Because I’m afraid of being labeled ‘rigid’ ‘judgmental’ or even worse… ‘conservative’. (Remember when Pope Francis said that there is always ‘something else going on’ with ‘rigid’ people?) I’m afraid of being bullied by peers, which can be ruthless. The House Chapter, which approves or denies me for vows, can and probably will say that I’m not ‘pastoral’. And it’s not like I had any proof of anything. So, I keep my head down and try to protect and preserve my vocation. Such ‘vague oppression’ allows deviancy to lurk and prevents people from ‘speaking out’.

I just wanted to be Catholic, and thus, I do not feel very welcome in the Catholic Church.



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