The scepter of a Gay Witch Hunt within the Church was revived this week by the shocking circumstances of the outing of Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill by The Pillar. It came on the heels of a ban on celibate gay men joining the priesthood and an artificial confluence of sex abuse in the Church and the issue of gay priests. In the words of Fr. James Martin who said in 2018 that, “The intensity of hate and level of anger directed at gay priests are unprecedented in my memory”.
Because of our common responsibility in their plight, we must support gay priests if they wish to leave the priesthood and/or retire in dignity. Setting up a fund to help them do so would be a step in the right direction.
It is always a mistake to measure the past with the yardstick of our time. This applies to the US founding fathers as it does to priests with same-sex attraction. To develop empathy and compassion for the impossible situation of many gay priests and members of religious orders, one must consider the situation for gay men twenty or thirty years ago.
From the moment I realized I was attracted to men, browsing the La Redoute catalog to my coming out years later, I always felt a Damocles Sword hanging over my head. I knew I would one day lose everything: the respect of my parents and friends, the fruit of my studies and perspective of a career, and face damnation. Over many sleepless nights, I came to the conclusion I had two options to retain my life: i) marrying a woman; or ii) joining the priesthood or a monastery.
The priesthood was the logical shelter to hide my homosexuality and retain some social status.
In my twenties, the pressure on making a choice accelerated and I chose option 1. I did one last desperate attempt at heterosexuality. When it predictably ended up in a disaster, I moved as far as possible from what I was about to lose and came out. Ironically my first gay experience was with the Catholic chaplain of my university but that is another story.
My point here is that homophobia among Catholics is one of the reasons why the Church is massively staffed by gay men as Frederic Martel revealed a few years ago in his bombshell book “In the closet of the Vatican”. Tragically this is the unintended consequence of the Church’s never-ending crusade against homosexuals. Limited research uncovered that between 15% to 50% of the 415,000 Catholic priests have same-sex attraction. There is no available data when it comes to religious orders. Given the possible extent of the issue, it is our responsibility to provide some level of reparation for gay priests, monks, and nuns.
The situation of many gay priests is untenable. Particularly if they are sexually active, have a partner, or are HIV positive. Resigning and being able to live their sexual orientation, in a society that has evolved tremendously in twenty years, often means falling into disgrace and possibly poverty. Priests’ retirement homes are often not LGBTQ+ friendly irrespective of whether priests are celibate or not. For Gay priests, today, the Church can sometimes be more a cage than a closet. The example of Cardinal McCarrick, who now has to rely on the handouts of his few remaining friends, best illustrates what happens to priests whose same-sex attraction is uncovered.
In our fight for the liberation of all LGBTQ+ people, we cannot exclude gay priests, monks, and nuns who suffer in the closet of the Church. We must separate the individual suffering from the stance of the Church on homosexuality. Solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Church could start with setting up a nonprofit to give the agency to leave the Church if they so desire or are forced to.