Admitting it exists is an important step, but stopping it may be harder than it seems
Gossip was swirling around the Vatican at the time of Pope Benedict’s abdication that he was resigning because a “gay scandal” was about to break which would implicate high ranking members of the curia. Now Pope Francis has spoken openly about a “gay lobby.” The Huffington Post reports his comments in a meeting with members of the Latin American Caribbean Confederation of Religious Men and Women:
The existence of a significant number of homosexual men in the Catholic priesthood has been discussed openly for some time. Michael Rose’s 2002 book Goodbye Good Men shocked many Catholics by exposing the rampant homosexual subculture within American seminaries.
Anyone who has been close to the seminary system in Britain and the US will have similar stories to tell as the one related to me by a young man, who on his first night at seminary, was invited to an obviously gay party at which the rector of the seminary appeared wearing a T-shirt that said on the front, “Am I gay?” and on the back, “Ask my boyfriend…”
First hand stories abound of orthodox young men being propositioned by members of a homosexual clique and then persecuted and eventually expelled when they did not conform to the prevailing gay subculture. In 2005 the Vatican ordered an investigation into seminaries in the United States and things have improved considerably since then. Pope Francis has now indicated that a similar homosexual sub culture exists within the Vatican and that he wants to do something about it.
It may prove more difficult than he thinks. The “lavender mafia” in American seminaries had become blatant. Seminary professors were not only engaged in homosexual relationships, but they were advocating “gay rights” and actively promoting homosexual choices. There were plenty of witnesses and evidence. It was comparatively easy, therefore, to weed out the problem.
The situation in the Vatican is likely to be far more secretive. There may be active homosexual clergy and staff working in the Vatican, but it is unlikely that they are gay campaigners. Instead, if there is a “gay lobby” it is far more likely to be akin to an insider’s club. Homosexuality itself will never be mentioned. All will be communicated with a wink and a nudge. Plum appointments will be awarded to favorites, peccadilloes will be swept under the carpet, and a blind eye will be turned towards sexual indiscretion.
What can be done about a secret society that has no obvious members and which remains no more than a shadowy collection of friendships? Not much. It is no sin for a man to experience same sex attraction; nor is it forbidden for him to have close friends. Indeed, a celibate priest needs close, supportive friendships, and a strong fraternal spirit is encouraged amongst the clergy.
It would not be right to launch a witch hunt–suspecting every priest with close male friends to be part of a homosexual clique; neither would it be possible to investigate every bedroom in the Vatican to see if illicit behaviors are taking place. What can one do? Send in the Catholic Bedroom Police? Monitor every priest’s off duty activities? Check every vacation partner, hotel booking and “special friendship”?
It is even more complicated: It is possible that there are active homosexuals in the Vatican, but that the “gay lobby” being referred to is a group of men who are celibate homosexuals–men who operate within a network of other men who share the same proclivities not only sexually, but also in matters of liturgical taste, church politics and theological views.
We think of homosexual activists as radical liberals, but this other category of Catholic homosexually-oriented clergy are conservative theologically and liturgically, and strictly celibate. If these conservative priests are the “gay lobby” being referred to, then the situation is even more complex. They cannot be weeded out because they are doing nothing wrong; furthermore their enemies may be the radical liberals who don’t like their conservative stance, nor the fact that (in their view) these men are hypocritical “suppressed homosexuals”. So in an attempt to undermine their conservative stance and perceived hypocrisy the liberals may be aiming at this group as the secretive “gay lobby” that needs to be outed and routed.
If Pope Francis is to take action against this shadowy “gay lobby” the best way forward will not be a purge or witch hunt, but a positive appeal for all the curial officials to live up to their ordination vows. No matter how complex the situation, the problem will be solved not first by punishment and banishment, but by renewal and reform from within the human heart. This renewal and reform requires a return to the gospel ideals of Christ-like simplicity, self sacrifice and service–ideals which Pope Francis lives out and which the rest of the priests in the Catholic Church should emulate.
Fr Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, SC. Visit his blog, browse his books and be in touch atdwightlongenecker.com