Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

When Two Gay Catholic Tribes Go To (Cold) War

Sex, secrecy, and Mutually Assured Destruction
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N., an exceptionally well-informed lay Catholic, tells me that there are two basic tribes of gay bishops and priests.

The first tribe is the Progressives — some sexually active, others not — who believe homosexuality should be normalized by the Catholic Church, and are pushing openly for the Church to change its teachings to reflect that.

The second tribe are Conservatives who live a double life. Outwardly they advocate for traditional Catholic teaching on homosexuality, but they also live homosocially (in the sense of socializing with other gay conservative priests), and some have gay sex. They therefore live in a state of cognitive dissonance.

N. discussed particular examples of both kind of bishop and priest.

I asked N. why the gay Catholic progressive priests don’t simply out the hypocritical conservatives. Why not destroy your opposition, especially given that they really are hypocrites?

“Neither side wants to do that to the other. That would mean Armageddon,” he said. “Both sides live in a Cold War situation. They take potshots at each other, and fight proxy wars, but neither side wants to challenge the other too hard. If they really went to war, there would be nothing left for anybody.”

What N. meant is that the problem is so deeply embedded within the Catholic clerical structure that if the truth were known, the system as we know it would likely collapse, and neither gay nor conservative gay priests would have any privileges left to enjoy. So they tolerate each other.

After that conversation, I thought about orthodox (theologically conservative) Catholic bishops who are not sexually compromised, and who have the power to clean up these sexually corrupt messes in their dioceses — corrupt in terms of acts and teaching — but who leave things alone. Why don’t they do so?

Might the answer be: because they sense that the problem is such that if they really tried to clean up the mess, they wouldn’t know for sure which pillars and walls would fall?

It was reported by Italian media (and others) that the reason Benedict XVI resigned is because he was confronted by hard evidence of a sizable gay underground in the Vatican, and did not have the strength — spiritually and otherwise — to confront it. If true, it is worth asking to what extent that state of affairs exists at the diocesan level. It is worth asking to what extent a clerical culture of Mutual Assured Destruction might be preventing true reform within the Catholic clergy.

In phone calls and e-mails lately, I’ve been hearing from more and more priests who say they are finding it hard to know who to trust within the priesthood — because of a culture deformed by sexual secrets. This one letter from a priest (I’m withholding his name) is typical:

I’ve been thinking a lot about secrecy in the Church.  It’s part of my job.  I can be excommunicated if I reveal anything I have heard in the confessional.  But then there’s the other kind of secrecy.  You learn, if you have any degree of intelligence, that you are extraordinarily vulnerable as a seminarian.  You learn that you have to pick your battles.  Depending on the level of support you have from your bishop, you learn to keep quiet about many things, only choosing to speak openly with those brother seminarians whom you trust.

Unfortunately, this stays with you. … If we had an atmosphere where we could speak openly without fear of reprisal, that would do tremendous good both for the morale of the clergy and for the transparency in the Church.  But we don’t have it and things have only gotten worse in Rome under Papa Bergoglio.