Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Does the End justify the Means?

A website has been established called Church Outing. Their intention, along with their rationale for acquiring compromising information on Catholic priests is stated very clearly on the site’s web page, as follows:

“This site was created to provide you with the opportunity to save LGBT youth from the hypocrisy of priests in the Archdiocese of Washington who are socially, romantically or sexually active gay men, yet stand silent while Archbishop Wuerl and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops increase their dogmatic war against gay families.  If you have information that a priest in the Archdiocese is gay (or having a heterosexual affair)  please share your story.”

I believe that there are issues which need to be carefully considered regarding this particular strategy. Church Outing states its goal as the following:

“We encourage every Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Washington DC, gay and straight, to stand up for what is right and to give your support for marriage equality in the District.  We ask you to stand with many other local leaders of faith who have already done so through the Clergy United for Marriage Equality pledge.

Read the Declaration
Sign the Declaration”

What would happen to any Catholic priest who signed a public declaration which is directly opposed to the teachings of the hierarchy of the Church? Once it came to the attention of his (Arch) bishop, the priest would be required to publicly retract his statement and publicly apologize for having made such a statement. If he failed to do so, he would be suspended as a priest and stripped of salary, heath care, housing, etc. In effect, he would be left destitute.

On the other hand if the priest complies with the demands of his (Arch) bishop, he then runs the risk of being publicly exposed. What this would mean in practical terms is that the priest would be removed from active ministry. He would most probably be sent to Saint Luke’s, an in-house psychological facility run by the Catholic Church for priests. There he would be treated for his “sexual addiction” and after a course of “treatment” be returned to active ministry as an assistant, under the watchful supervision of a superior. In effect, his career would be destroyed; however, he would still have a salary, housing, a car, health care, and retirement benefits.

When I made my public statement in opposition to Prop 8, I had many priests E-mail me and express both thanks and support. One of them said “I’d love to say what you said publicly, but I have a heart condition. If I made such a statement, I’d be on the street with no way to pay for my prescriptions or my doctors; I’d be dead in a year. Priests receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy and a four year Post Graduate degree in theology. Put that on a resume and apply for a job, especially in this economy.

Priest’s salaries and incomes are very carefully manipulated by the hierarchy to keep them in a state of indentured servitude. Retirement for priests is 75 years of age in my diocese. Priests are kept in a state of economic servitude by their bishops. You can begin to see why extremely few priests will make public statements of support for marriage equality. Gay priests fear that if they speak, they will find themselves abandoned by many of the people they serve and in some cases by their families.

The gay priests I have known, like many gay men, have only come to begin to accept their sexuality much later in life than their straight counterparts. In my experience most gay priests have been sensitive and supportive of their LGBT parishioners. Targeting priests who are struggling with their own sexuality will simply not work as a strategy. It will drive out of the active ministry many priests who are quietly working on behalf of LGBT people. It will drive many gay priests more deeply into the closet. It will drive some gay priests into greater self-loathing. It will strengthen the power of the hierarchy by providing them with “thought/conduct police” which will further intimidate priests. Finally, this strategy runs a serious risk of casting the LGBT movement as resorting to extortion. While it is understandable, that a society which grew up with Watergate may have grown cynical, we need to remember that the end does not justify the means. The means which we employ define who we become.

Deception, lies, promotion of myths, and encouragement of bigotry are all hallmarks of the California Yes on Prop 8 and Maine Yes on Question 1 campaigns. National Public Radio reports the FBI announced that hate crimes against LGBT people has increased by 10% in 2009 from 2008. I cannot sufficiently express my horror and revulsion that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is an accomplice to these despicable acts.

I fully empathize with the frustration and just anger of the people at Church Outing. However, if we permit ourselves to be seduced into following the morally corrupting and corrosive example of the Catholic hierarchy, to win at any cost, we may find that we become like them. Such a victory would be very hollow indeed.


Fran said...

Thank you for saying this! I was really upset when I read about Church Outing.

Malcolm said...

an excellent very informative post; it's very good to read of the downside to the (not infrequently self-righteous) "outing" movement - especially in relation to the church. It's also very heartening to hear of the support many of the "at risk" priests are providing to their LGBT parishioners.

Terence Weldon said...

Fr Geoff, I too have serious reservations about this. I am on record ("Outing the Church" at queeringthechurch.wordpress.com))assaying that I fully support the principle of outing those who actively work against honesty in sexual expression, but this particular effort I believe goes way beyond that and has not been properly thought through.

You know better than anyone the enormous costs to a priest of making such a firm statement of opposition, costs which are much higher than those exacted on any lay figure in the process of coming out. Yet this websie seems to demand this coming out of any priest, not just those who are active supporting campaigns against us, on the misguided assumption that silence is consent.

It is not.

At the pastoral level, the test for an ordinary priest should be simply whether he has been outspoken against us, not has he been actively for us. Very many priests are extremely supportive and helpful at a personal, discreet level, while remaining publically non-committal. Public silence here, is often passive resistance.

The team behind this proposal claim that they would prefer not actually to have to out anybody, but instead to "help" them to negotiate the coming out process. On what basis? What knowledge of the specific conditions and difficulties do they have, to qualify them in such a role?

The sad reality is that for most priests, the choice they will face is not between coming out and accepting a life of integrity as against remaining closeted, as the organisers assume, but between rejecting all sexual expression, or forfeiting a life of service, and with it career prospects, home livelihood and home.

I have been alarmed at how many of our fellow Catholic bloggers have hailed this move as if it were a positive one. Thank you for calling it out.

Sebastian said...

Fr. Geoff,

Thank you for this cogent statement. The forced outing of priests is more likely to keep us in the closet than any other action. Forcibly outing gay priests makes as much sense as forcibly outing gay members of the military. The Church operates its own don't ask don't tell policy, but the consequences are much more punative.

Kevin said...

Great post Father. Two wrongs don't make a right. Jesus said, "forgive those who hurt you, insult you and persecute you.." This is where the gospel really becomes a challenge because our natural instinct is to fight back in kind, but Jesus says rise above it! We can do it!

Leonardo Ricardo said...


Priest or no priest it´s harder for some than others to ¨come out¨ and work through the difficulties of societies general view of homosexuality...it´s been my experience to observe that often there are many, valid, honorable, private and sensitive reasons that each one of us must be allowed to say who we are...it matters that we say the words that attempt to free us from the BIG LIE, the pain and shame of self-loathing, deceit (self and other)...sometimes it´s also a time to take responsibility/make amends for ¨things¨ done wrong...or at least start to deal in REAL.

FULLY REJECTING the ¨smears¨ that many of us have grown up silently (mostly) listening to (at home, church, school, amongst friends and coworkers) is healthy (unless you´re in danger of persecution, abuse or death in Iraq, Uganda or Puerto Rico or Wyoming/beyond according to the FBI Hate Crimes statistics)...praying for the integrity and the SAFE space to announce oneself as being Gay may be a very big individual choice and finally a huge step in being responsible in all that one does...self-accountability is a very big thing, a ongoing inside job...whew, ones personal character is sometimes hard to face.

Think of the celibate folks who have no conflict being Gay or Straight and ¨pass¨ on intimacy altogether.

EXPLOITING and HARMING OTHERS is a different situation entirely than a ¨sorta¨ justified hate campaign designed to PUNISH and EMBARASS those with whom we disagree.

The RC Archbishop of Washington ought be addressed DIRECTLY...over and over and over again...he´s just another grandstanding bloke with a mitre who is following the Bishop of Romes ¨crackdown¨ orders on the job.

Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

My response elsewhere t your words, Geoff:

While I admire Geoff Farrow and have gotten to know him by dint of the unfortunate circumstances of his departure from the active ministry, his comments on churchouting.org are colored by his experience of the anxiety that a newly ex-priest feels when he is set adrift with no career, money, health care or community status, but with only his newly intact personal integrity. I've been there. Geoff has been there. I'm glad I made the decision to jump ship, and I am sure Geoff is glad he proclaimed the truth he had in his heart. I do not think the pain of surgery should keep a man from doing what he needs to do to be whole.

Michael-in-Norfolk said...

I can understand the reservations that Fr. Jeff and commentors have in regard to forced outings.

On the other hand, most anti-gay discrimination in the final analysis is religious based and between the Catholic Church's forays on Proposition 8 and Issue 1 in Maine and now the endorsement of the "Manhattan Declaration" by 7 archbishops, the Church has made itself a player and a target in the struggle for LGBT equality under the civil laws.

Yes, priests who come out or who get "outed" may be left in a desperate situation. But the anti-gay jihad of the Church is one of the things that stands in the way of passage of employment non-discrimination laws and and supports arguments for retaining Don't Ask, Don't Tell ("DADT"). Because of this, others can and do lose their jobs and find themselves left in desperate situations. I know many who have been discharged under DADT and I myself was forced out of a large law firm when it became known I was gay. I had ZERO legal protections because of the efforts of the Catholic Church and other denominations that demonize gays.

Harsh as it may seem, I believe that closeted priests that continue to tow the Vatican line are inflicting daily harm on others, especially LGBT youth who must listen to the Church's poisonous message. As a consequence, they make themselves targets and need to suffer the consequences. Again, it is a harsh result, but we cannot continue to allow the Church to destroy gay lives literally daily.

The truth is, I suspect that if every gay priest came out at once, the Vatican would be forced to retain them or else have the institution literally collapse.

BobinCT said...

I don't know what the answer is here, or what a more appropriate response to the Archbishop and his partners in deception would be. I can appreciate Fr. Geoff's and the other comments, they're all legitimate. However, we can't lose sight of the fact that we're dealing with a highly dysfunctional system here, i.e., the organizational structure and hierarchy (not to mention the teaching on sexuality) of the Roman Catholic Church. Silence and denial allow this dysfunctional system to continue to operate and the bishops to exert their power. This same silence and denial also contributed to the sexual abuse of thousands of minor children. I can empathize with the fallout to individual priests if they were to be outed, but life is all about choices. At some point, they chose on some level to not be true to themselves, and in doing so became a part of this dysfunctional system. I wouldn't want to see priests out on the street either, or be forced into treatment for an "addiction" they don't have. But I also find it hard to believe with the shortage of priests that large numbers would be forced out, who would replace them? Maybe rather than target uncelibate priests that website should be going after uncelibate Bishops, Archbishops, and Cardinals.

Donald said...

I can understand why some might find this a way to help muzzle the bishops, but like you point out, it will probably only serve to hurt innocent priests. Rather, what I would like to see done is to out bishops, cardinals, and even the pope (if anyone happens to have the goods on him). That might bring some good results.

Donald said...

I have mixed feelings about this. I have friends who are closeted gay priests who do what they can in quiet ways to help fellow gay brothers and sisters. I also know closeted gay priests who are fooling around on the down low and publicly showing an anti-gay face. The ones I would prefer seeing outed are the bishops, cardinals and even popes if anyone has the dirt on them.

Joe said...

“At what point do you cease to be an agent for healing and growth and become an accomplice of injustice?”

"But to withhold them, would be far more costly and I would become an accomplice to a moral evil that strips gay and lesbian people not only of their civil rights but of their human dignity as well."

Do you know where those 2 above sentences came from, Father Geoff? They're from your very first post on this blog.

Is the forced outing of priests extreme? Perhaps. But is the Church's actions in DC, ME, CA and numerous other states in opposing gay civil rights extreme? Definitely.

The reason why the Church hierarchy has become more and more brazen in its opposition to gay civil rights is because good people, including all too many priests, have sat by silently. But that old paradigm has proven to be ineffective. As anyone who's ever been bullied knows, a bully won't stop until you fight back.

In an ideal world, people's sexual orientation wouldn't be an issue. But, if studies and anecdotal evidence are to be believed, there is a large percentage of gay priests. It is simply unacceptable for them to collaborate, whether directly or through silence, the Church's actions which hurt not only gay Catholics, but gay non-Catholics, the latter whom the Church has no business in interfering with.

IT said...

I am opposed to outing anyone unless the person to be outed is working directly against his GLBT brothers and sisters.

Then, I think, he's lost his right to our sympathy and understanding.

The word is "outtyla" which looks almost like "out-lya"

Jeff said...

Exposing hypocrisy is not morally corrupt, It is morally imperative.

Mareczku said...

I have issues with outing gay priests. I think a lot of the right wing conservatives would love to have all the gay priests outed and kicked out of the Church. Some of these people are quite vicious and hate-filled and they would react with glee to see some priests destroyed. Remember, many of these people even want celibate, chaste gay priests removed. Where does that leave gay people in the laity?, without any support whatsoever. And yes, the fear of other gay people coming after them with long knives will only force many of these priests deeper into the closet.