But this is true of straight priests as well. These men are still sexual beings, flesh and blood. In these crises, they tend to do one of two things: either fall so deeply in love that they cannot sustain a life without physical intimacy and so leave the church or, more often, recalibrate, confess, and recommit to the celibate life. Father Joe spoke poignantly of falling in love. It was my last relationship. I asked if we could have a friendship that was also sexual, and he said no. My lapses these days are watching porn in my bedroom.
How do you live a healthy sexuality in a context where your sexuality is stigmatized? The preponderance of gay men in the priesthood is, in fact, nothing new in the history of the church.
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For well over a millennium, it was commonplace, and though there were occasional denunciations of it, these were usually followed by papal inaction or indifference. Even Saint Augustine had one particularly intense love affair with another young man. As was the case in convents as well. The gifts that lesbians have brought to the church are just as extraordinary, but because the priesthood is exclusively male and women are kept from positions of real power, lesbian nuns are, for better or worse, not caught up in this specific crisis.
He had had sexual relationships with men in his younger years, but, vowing chastity as a monk, he sublimated these desires into an idea of intense celibate love for another man. Francis and Leo IX would agree across the centuries. Damian was a leading reformer of the church in his day, far beyond the gay-priest issue, and a synod in responded to all of his many proposals — except the one against gay clergy.
Instead, Alexander locked it up! Homosexuals, in the new theology, were part of nature — many had noticed homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom, particularly among hares and hyenas — but they were also somehow contrary to nature. Aquinas never resolved this paradox. Neither has the church. As the taboo deepened in the succeeding centuries, there is little reason to believe that gay priests disappeared, but most went more fully underground.
Still, same-sex love remained a profound part of Catholic Christianity. Ignatius sent Francis to evangelize Asia, and their long separation was a source of suffering for both. God knows the profound impression that those words of great love made on my soul. The greatest Catholic theologian of the 19th century, Cardinal John Henry Newman, devoted his personal life to another man, Ambrose St. This does not mean the two had a sexual relationship although they might have , but it does suggest that deep same-sex love was still alive in the highest echelons of the Catholic priesthood, even at the apex of Victorian repression and even in someone about to be celebrated as a saint.
When St. Newman famously converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism and was part of the reformist and aesthetic Oxford Movement, which was strongly influenced by homosexual men. The greatest Catholic poet of the 19th century, the Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins, was gay; one of the deepest theologian-priests of the last century, Henri Nouwen, was as well. Both suffered bouts of deep depression.
But why is the priesthood so gay? It is worth noting that the connection between homosexuality and spirituality is by no means restricted to Catholicism.
Homosexuality - Wikipedia
Some evolutionary psychologists have found an ancient link between gay men and tribal shamanism. Among gay priests themselves, I heard a variety of explanations. Others explained that they were drawn to the ritual of the church. Catholicism is a faith centered on the Mass, where the body and the soul and the senses are as important as the mind.
The Mass is, in some ways, a performance. These types — also found in the arts and scholarship — are sticklers for detail, ruthless about rules, and attuned to tradition and beauty. In many ways, the old, elaborate High Mass, with its incense and processions, color-coded vestments, liturgical complexity, musical precision, choirs, organs, and sheer drama, is obviously , in part, a creation of the gay priesthood. Their sexuality was sublimated in a way that became integral and essential to Catholic worship.
Then there is the common experience of a gay boy or teen, brought up in the church, who turns to God in struggling with the question of his difference and displacement from the normal. He is forced to ponder deeper questions than most of his peers, acquires powerful skills of observation, and develops a precocious spirituality that never fully leaves him. This resonates for myself as a Catholic boy and teen. The first person I ever came out to was God, in a silent prayer on my way to Communion.
Like many solitary gay Catholic boys, I saw in Jesus a model — single, sensitive, outside a family, marginalized and persecuted but ultimately vindicated and forever alive. But there are other reasons for gay men to seek the priesthood that are far from healthy. The first is celibacy.
If you were a young gay Catholic in centuries past, one way to avoid social ostracism, or constant questions about why you lacked an interest in girls or women, was to become a priest. This pattern, though much less severe than in the past, endures.
Love by Numbers: uncovering the secrets of sexual attraction
I will become a magisterial personality. Often, this unconscious struggle breaks down. It is simply too difficult not to be oneself. Some cope through absurd flamboyance and high camp; others sink into depression. Alcoholism and addiction take over. They had been such athletes when they were young. And then I had a meltdown. It was one of those moments of wanting something to happen with a friend.
One evening, when I left his place, I realized I really wanted to have a relationship with this guy. Then it came flowing out of me.
Other gay priests, more self-aware and cynical, find there is a career to be made in all of this falseness. Everything was suppressed, no questions were asked in seminaries, and psychological counseling was absent and even now is rare. Scarred, scared men became priests, and certain distinct patterns emerged. One, as we have come to learn, was sexual acting out and abuse. To conflate sexual abuse with the gay priesthood, as many now reflexively do, is a grotesque libel on the vast majority who have never contemplated such crimes and are indeed appalled by them.
It is classic scapegoating. At the same time, to decouple the sexual-abuse crisis entirely from the question of gay priests is a willful avoidance of an ugly truth. Pedophilia is a separate category outside the question of sexual orientation.
Love by Numbers: uncovering the secrets of sexual attraction
But some abuse of male teens and young adults, as well as abuse of other priests, is clearly related to homosexuality gone horribly astray — and around a quarter of the reported cases involve to year-old victims. The scale of it in the late 20th century was extraordinary — but, in retrospect, predictable. If you do not deal honestly with your sexuality, it will deal with you. If you construct an institution staffed by repressed and self-hating men and build it on secrecy and complete obedience to superiors, you have practically created a machine for dysfunction and predation.
And the hideous truth is we will never know the extent of the abuse in centuries past or what is still going on, especially throughout places in the world like Africa and Latin America where robust scrutiny of the church is still sometimes taboo. Another pattern was externalized homophobia: What you hate in yourself but cannot face, you police and punish in others. It remains a fact that many of the most homophobic bishops and cardinals have been — and are — gay. Take the most powerful American cardinal of the 20th century, Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York, who died in He had an active gay sex life for years while being one of the most rigid upholders of orthodoxy.
Monsignor Tony Anatrella, an advocate for conversion therapy consulted by the Vatican, was recently suspended for sexual abuse of other men. Anti-gay archconservative Cardinal George Pell was recently found guilty of sexual abuse of boys in Australia. The founder of the once hugely influential hard-right, anti-gay cult the Legion of Christ, Marcial Maciel, was found to have sexually abused countless men, women, and children.
Benedict XVI has described himself as a bookish boy, averse to sports. But this is because so many in the hierarchy still cannot see homosexuality as being about love and identity rather than acts and lust. As we uncover layer upon layer of dysfunction at the very top of the church, it may be time to point out how naked these bejeweled emperors can appear.
And this, of course, has added another layer of complexity to the story of gay priests: Generations matter.