Thursday, October 23, 2003

Addressing the Unmentionable

In the August 5th ('02) issue of the London Tablet, Donald Cozzens eloquently defends his decision to expose the current crisis in the Catholic priesthood. However, for many Catholics it is upsetting to read that "....the disproportionate number of homosexually oriented priests and seminarians may well be a significant factor in the drastic reduction in the number of candidates for our seminaries.

This factor alone is cause for serious investigation - if not alarm. Rather than focus on celibacy, the booming economy or the freedoms of the so called sexual revolution as hidden causes for the poor vocation rate in the modern Church, perhaps the focus should be on the dominance of persons with the same sex urges (and behaviours) who people our seminaries and rectories (and maybe even our chanceries).

Cozzens illustrates his insight with an example of a prospective candidate for the priesthood who visits a seminary in his attempt to discern his life call. The young man announces his decision this way: No, I won't enter. I came here expecting to meet Spencer Tracy and instead I met Truman Capote."

Earlier, Fr. Andrew Greeley has opined that the Catholic laity can generally accept a Gay priest if he is a man of Faith and can pray and lives the life of Chastity. However, says Greeley, a predominantly active gay priesthood is a different matter. Levels of sexual tolerance are definitely limited. The Catholic laity in this country has been unbelievable in its capacity to forgive the sins of priests. But is it not asking too much of the average Catholic to accept his homosexual priests as models for his children? Have we not seen too many examples of the priest sexual misbehaviour which is generally focused on teenage males? How many Catholics have been hurt --spiritually-- by the molestation of same sex afflicted priests? Does the heterosexual misbehaviour of priests have the same chilling effect as that of their homosexual colleagues? Cozzens surely challenges us to ask these hard questions.

The elders among us can recall the quick, even touching forgiveness of the so called "whiskey priest". "The poor man had a problem.." the Catholic laity would say. Yet, introducing the sexual dimension, straight or gay, does have a powerful and often lethal effect. Whether or not this represents some profound Jansenistic margin is irrelevant to the immediate issue.

A Catholic colleague of mine in a police department in an American city wept huge, sobbing tears when his nephew, a young priest, was arrested for soliciting a male over the internet. He told me that ANYTHING would be better than this----bank robbery, terrorism, anything - but not this! This is exceedingly difficult to bear. Euphemisms appealing to tolerance and counter charges do little to alleviate the shame and revulsion linked to same sex activity. And this in spite of the energy and money spent by special interest groups to persuade the American public that this is the same as any other sexual behaviour! Yet, even within the Catholic community the campaign for acceptance of same sex behaviour is gaining ground. Recently, in a large diocese in this country (at a diocesan administration meeting) the publicly known cases of three PRIEST COUPLES were discussed. Surprisingly, some of the clergy present seemed apathetic or even accepting of such relationships. No wonder, then, that this feeling seeps into the community of lay Catholics. Why should they continue to honor and respect such leaders? But more significantly why should priests be held up as role models? Why would any young man who values his integrity and chastity want to join such a group? Is Cozzens right?

In 1978 this writer made a public presentation to a religious order's General assembly urging caution in accepting candidates with same sex drives. This caution came from the presenter's extensive experience in treating homosexual priests in psychotherapy. The presentation was made after serious thought and much prayer in the hope that some men might be spared the agony and guilt attendant upon a priest acting out his same sex desires.

The well known "cognitive dissonance" of the psychologist Festinger is appropriate here. The priest called to celibacy as sign of his belief in the Kingdom of Heaven and his love of Jesus is thrown into enormous conflict if he tries to balance his commitment with acting out urgent desires. This is true for any kind of psychosexual orientation in the priest but it seems that the priest with the same sex drive has a deeper trauma than his heterosexual brother. Hence, he can suffer more ---- not so much from public disapproval as from inner guilt. The Catholic concept of "intrinsic disorder" rings very true here!

The priest is quite aware that his inordinate and inappropriate desires to act out are in conflict with what he KNOWS to be his spiritual commitment. Hence, the dissonance! The eminent psychiatrist, Robert Stroller in his famous book, "Perversion - The Erotic Form of Hatred", claims that the homosexual on a very deep psychic level agrees, at least in part, with straight society. There is a profound suspicion that something is disordered within the homosexual interior!" However, in the past decade a surprising phenomenon has developed in the Catholic world. Not only tolerance for acting out same sex desires but even encouragement for them is extended to the homosexual priest and seminarian. Such a radical departure from the "Orthodox" Catholic position, has in effect signaled a throwing down of the gauntlet. It is not the priest who needs to be rescued from incredible seduction (as it was when this writer made his bold and unwelcome caution) but the Church Herself.

The testimonies of gay Catholics who have "come out" of the Gay lifestyle (a term defined by gay activists) mount yearly, and attest to the power of the same sex drive. Such evidences arise in the safety of Courage meetings where one can truly explore the truth of one's interiority. Shattering revelations of confessors in respected Churches encouraging these men to CONTINUE in their self destructive relationships and practices are almost routine.

One vocation Director of a religious community has been known in his interview with prospective candidates to ask (in the approximately fourth question) how he (the candidate) would feel joining an Order where 50% of the members are homosexuals.

The consequences of such an approach are obvious. The Straight candidate is usually repelled (as was the young man mentioned by Cozzens) who then either seeks membership in a more psychosexually normal group or abandons the idea of the priesthood altogether.

The makeup of the future personnel is also obvious.

Because of the secretive nature of the homosexual bonding (as described some years ago by Enrique T. Rueda in his "The Homosexual Network") the question raised by Cozzens so explosively, is assiduously avoided either by outright denial or by techniques of name calling. The rare one who dares to confront the reality here outlined risks being labeled homophobic or uncompassionate or unchristian. The gay group has been eminently successful in this tactic of diversion.

Clearly, Cozzens has done a great service in confronting those who "only want to live in peace with everyone..." or those who just hope it will go away. If nothing is done and the present direction continues as is, there will be a definite negative effect in the vitality of the American church. The "Old Timers" who pray at the daily Masses and who fill the collection baskets will soon be gone and there are left the Truman Capotes who talk only to each other.

Whatever happened to the great spiritual principle so succinctly articulated by the Episcopalian Bishop of Atlanta, Bishop Bennett Simms: "Compassion does not mean endorsement!"?

Where does this leave us?
1. We MUST talk about this crisis- openly and if possible with intelligence and humility. We cannot countenance name calling and suppression of perspectives. We can function only within the parameters of the Gospel.
2. We must come up with a modern, workable, prayerful, creative approach within the framework of the Catholic church. "Church" is defined in this context by Tradition and Scripture expressed by the Holy Spirit through the Councils.

Who is to do this? I wish I could but it needs a wiser and stronger person than I!
May the gracious Lord and His Mother protect us.