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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and Definitely Don’t Admit: Catholic Church Inclination to “Cover Up” Extends to LGBTQ Members of Clergy

Two dozen gay American clergymen, some in the closet and some out, agreed to share their experiences with the New York Times despite the fact that they were putting their livelihoods at risk by doing so, in a piece that made the top of the site on Sunday. As the publication pointed out, “The church almost always controls a priest’s housing, health insurance and retirement pension,” even if he has never taken part in sexual relations with another man.

This story follows closely on the heels of shocking Catholic Church news stories, including the defrocking of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for substantiated allegations of sexual abuse in the church as well as the publication of the incendiary book “In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy” by Frédéric Martel, an exposé of homosexuality within the Catholic Church.

Openly gay New York Times columnist Frank Bruni expressed his concern that the book “may be a less constructive reckoning than a stockpile of ammunition for militant right-wing Catholics” who are eager to orchestrate a purge of known and suspected gay priests among their ranks. The prevalence of homosexuality in the Catholic Church has never been studied, but Bruni’s cited figures that estimate it somewhere between 15 and 60 percent. Martel claims that 80 percent of clergymen are gay. The Times story suggested that in the U.S. an estimated 30 to 40 percent of priests are gay. “A third are gay, a third are straight, and a third don’t know what the hell they are,” said an unnamed interviewee from Florida.

Homophobic Scapegoating

Though the Catholic Church is well aware that homosexuality is common among its ranks, Father Greg Greiten explained that “it’s the making of it public, and speaking about it, where it becomes an issue.” Greiten came out to his parishioners as “gay and celibate” during Sunday Mass in late 2017; they responded with a standing ovation.

Though his community supported him, his archbishop issued a public statement that lamented that he had not kept his sexuality to himself. His critics attacked him with slurs and suggested he was a pedophile, a homophobic misconception that many anti-gay members of the Catholic Church connect with its issues with sexual abuse, using language that describes the homosexual members of the church as part of a calculating, nefarious, underground community.

Research has consistently refuted this connection between the two. It should go without saying that simply being attracted to males does not predispose anyone to sexually abusing boys; with the recent defrocking of Cardinal McCarrick for decades of sexual abuse of both minors and adults as well as the publication of Martel’s book, homophobes within and without the Catholic Church are going to have renewed interest in invoking this falsehood.

Father Greiten, who still serves his parish, suggested that the Catholic Church is responsible for adequately addressing these issues surrounding sexuality. “They are sexually traumatizing and wounding yet another generation. We have to stand up and say no more sexual abuse, no more sexual traumatizing, no more sexual wounding. We have to get it right when it comes to sexuality.”

Anti-Gay Stance From “Progressive” Pope Francis

Currently, the Catholic Church’s stance against homosexuality encourages its clergymen to suppress their sexuality. Pope Francis has suggested that men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” are “objectively disordered” and should not be admitted to the priesthood. “If you have even the slightest doubt, it is better not to let them in,” he told the attendees of an Italian Episcopal Conference last year, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

Church members with “transitory homosexual tendencies” on the other hand — perhaps referring to youth for whom queer sexual identities are understood to be “just a phase” — needn’t be turned away but rather put through conversion therapy. “When it shows itself from childhood, there is a lot that can be done through psychiatry, to see how things are,” said the Pope. Meanwhile, those who are already members of the priesthood should stay closeted and act appropriately so as “not to scandalize their communities or the holy and faithful People of God by living a double life.”

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