Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Priest outings, further reflections

I have received many comments regarding the article “Does the End Justify the Means?” which I posted on Tuesday 24 November 2009. Some people were grateful that I published this article and some people expressed mixed feelings and/or disapproval of what I wrote. The proposed outing of closeted gay priests raises serious questions both in terms of its efficacy as a strategy and of its ethics.

The questions of ethics aside, will the proposed strategy of outing gay priests be an effective means of forcing change and undermining the power of the hierarchy to attack LGBT people? Unless such outings were numerically significant enough to affect the Church on an operational level, no.

If every gay priest in the USA were to come out (or be exposed) in one coordinated act this would create a crisis for the Catholic hierarchy. If every LGBT member of the US Armed Forces were to come out (or be exposed) in one coordinated act, this would create a crisis for the Armed Forces. Is either of these scenarios probable, no.

What would be the probable effects of public outings of gay priests? In the short term, the hierarchy would most probably deploy permanent deacons to conduct Sunday Eucharistic services. There is already in place a ritual for “Eucharist in the absence of a priest.” In my diocese parishes were instructed to have lay people trained and prepared to conduct Sunday Eucharistic services if need demanded these. This in combination with the redistribution of clergy would insure continuing operation of all parish services.

In the long term, the hierarchy would probably step up the importation of priests from the Third World to fill the void left by ousted American priests. These imported priests tend to be theologically very conservative and would unquestioningly serve the interests of the hierarchy. They also come with an added bonus to the bishop, if he does not like them he can simply have their worker’s visa revoked. This would give the hierarchy even greater power to censor sermons and public comments made by priests.

Let us recall that the clergy pedophilia scandals in the Catholic Church have left the hierarchy still firmly in control. You would have thought that such an inexcusable violation and sacrifice of innocent children by the hierarchy would have led to criminal prosecutions of bishops and strip the hierarchy of any moral authority. It did not. In comparison, a scandal revolving around gay priests who engage in adult consensual sexual affairs is a piece of cake.

The hierarchy could simply say, thank you very much for helping us to “clean house.” They would probably spin this, and they have already begun to do this, as an attempt by militant homosexuals to attack and undermine religious liberty. The hierarchy would spin this further to portray themselves as “martyrs” for speaking up for “morality.” They could accuse LGBT groups of resorting to extortion.

The fact that individuals would be forced into making public statements, against their will, in favor of marriage equality, would invalidate such statements both ethically and in the public’s perception. It could very quickly become a public relations nightmare for LGBT people and our struggle for marriage equality and other civil rights.

Do you recall the attempted extortion of David Letterman? Letterman reported the whole matter to the District Attorney’s Office and the extortionist in that case now faces criminal prosecution. Letterman’s ratings and popularity soared as a result of the attempted extortion, even though many of his sexual encounters involved subordinates at work and could be construed as unethical and possible incidents of sexual harassment. Nevertheless, the public reacted very strongly in his support and against the extortionist. No one likes to be blackmailed, period.

In my case, I freely made the decision to make a public statement against what was, and remains, an immoral abuse of power and a grotesque attack on a minority group by the hierarchy of the Church. If someone had attempted to blackmail me into making that statement, I would have done what David Letterman did. To make that statement under a cloud of extortion would invalidate the statement.

What then can be done to help effect real change on the part of the Catholic hierarchy?

1) Introduce and pass legislation that extends existing labor laws and employee protections to clergy. Catholic priests are currently considered “self-employed” this means they are not protected by labor laws and the bishop can terminate them at will. Granting clergy the right to appeal to the Labor Board will act as a curb on the unrestrained power of a bishop over his priests. This will put sympathetic priests in a much better position to be able to speak their consciences to their congregations.

2) Revoke tax exemption status to any religious organization that uses funds collected from its members to conduct political campaigns. This will force the hierarchy to think twice before they write large checks.

3) Expose members of the hierarchy, and signatories of the “Manhattan Declaration,” who do not live by the sexual standards that they are attempting to impose upon American Civil society. This is not extortion, since one is not issuing an ultimatum to these people but simply exposing their hypocrisy publicly. These are the people who are making executive level decisions that victimize the LGBT minority in our society.


Fran said...

Bravo! Well said Fr. Geoff.

When you speak about the difference between a conscious act - such as your own versus being "exposed" or outed, you make an excellent point.

I have many ex-Catholic friends and non-Catholic friends who ask me all sorts of things about the church as they observe my life in the church with a mix of bemusement, confusion and horror. It is a little sad if I am their source of authority, but whatever.

In any case, when Fr. Cutie' was "outed" as having a girlfriend many folks said "good for him, standing up to the church and celibacy!"

I was left astounded. Please. He was exposed, for starters and then he used that for his own gain and notoriety. (That would be the one and only moment I felt *almost* sorry for Abp. Famalaro of Miami.)

Every time someone would bring this up, I would bring you up as a person of integrity who spoke up at a critical moment and of his own volition.

To simply out and expose just furthers the f*cked up power balance and does little good, IMO.

The thought of all the gay priests coming out at once, however improbable, is a thought that brings a smile to my face.

As ever, if all the women - gay and straight and all the gay men left the church, there would not even be enough deacons for a proper Eucharistic Service.

Sebastian said...

Also: 1. Require vested pensions for the clergy, which cannot be revoked or denied. At present, in many dioceses, the so-called pension is legally a gift or an allowance, and if a priest leaves, it can be denied. 2. Require that religious organizations participate in the unemployment compensation program, and that priests be included in this. 3. Put strings on your gifts. State that all of your gift be used for x, or that none of your gift be used in any way to fund a political campaign, or in any way be used against the interests of gay priests, gay lay people, etc. 4. Suggest that if the church is really serious about purging gays from the priesthood, that it offer a buy out program - a golden parachute for any priest who is gay and who wishes to leave.

Leonard said...

Exactly. A steady hand is called for group dramatics, no hate-campaigns, no snide ¨I told you so!¨

Dealing evenly, and very directly, with the deflection of REALITY and unfair bulling tactics (no Communion for you and other spiritualike punishing measures) IS called for...let the gentlemen prelates have all the woven cord they need to string themselves up...TRUTH won´t evaporate no matter where they have tucked Cardinal Law away in Rome and no matter how clever/brilliant they think they are...TRUTH, does, in fact, WIN OUT!

Thanks for the followup (Fran, I think Fr. Cutie wasn´t really trying to hide very hard...good thing he is heterosexual, it could have been another ghastly mess with fewer immediate options no doubt).

BobinCT said...

Fr. Geoff, with all due respect, I think we're more likely to see Rome bless same-sex marriage than see priests and the Church covered under labor laws, its simply not going to happen. I am in agreement though about the IRS tax-exempt status, and the gay bishops, archbishops, and cardinals. has an excellent piece entitled Gay Bishops. Its a little long but well worth reading. It shows the degree of systemic corruption in the Church, and makes one wonder if a) true reform is possible and b) if the Church as we know it is worth saving.

Leonard said...


HAPPY THANKSGIVING FROM CENTRAL AMERICA (yes, we expats celebrate it here too)...I´ve added Father Geoff to my photocenterpiece for the Thanksgiving Holiday (at my blog)!


Tony Adams said...

Dear Geoff,
I'm really confused by the emphasis you are placing, in this post and the previous, on what is practical and probable. Your personal decision, the one that brought you into your current life, was neither practical nor probable. It was simply honest and courageous. Why counsel otherwise at this point?
Also, in #3 of this post you seem to contradict yourself when you conclude by endorsing the very thing that will do! It's as if you want it both ways and are trying to straddle the fence.
I try to read your heart, and I am thinking you are inclined to contact Phil Attey and offer your wholehearted support. I've known him for quite some time. His integrity matches yours. Or, to quote Blue Oyster Cult, "Don't fear the reaper".

Anonymous said...

Happy Holiday Fr. Geoff. You are a man of conviction and I must say a hell-of-a-lot of nerve. Pleased to see that.

Myself, I am an Anglo Catholic. We would welcome you with open arms. For your sake I hope that the hierarchy does not rip your collar off.

Your rights as an "employee" of the church should also be protected.

Chuck Lampman

Frank said...

Fr. Goeff,
I'm not sure if my comment didn't get to you because of my ineptitude in mastering the blogger system, or if you chose not to publish it. That's certainly ok, if the later. If the former, I am resubmitting here:

I respectfully submit that the issue is not job security and your argument about ends vs means is inaptly applied to LGBT rights vs outing. The issue is whether to expose Catholic bishops' and clergy's hypocrisy and duplicity in spite of any collateral damage such exposure may cause. This church has become toxic and it is time to call 911!

When I came out at 36 through a local Dignity chapter I was soon shocked to learn that there were non-celibate priests, sexually active gay priests and priests involved in long-term romantic relationships. I filed this information away because, at the time, I needed to focus on my own coming out process. But now, when I think how so much of my adolescence and young adulthood was wasted struggling to reconcile my "objective disorder" and my Catholic religion, while the priests who represented that religion and all its rules and dogmas were doing what I was forbidden to do, I still get angry. The rejection of my sexuality by the church, the horror of the confessional, the years of self-hatred, poor self-esteem, spiritual abandonment, not to mention the years of therapy, have had significant impact on MY life and MY ability to earn a living.

If this is a matter of economics and job security, I dare say that the church's stance on homosexuality has had a direct impact on ME: academic underachievement, the choices of careers in which I could feel comfortable - mostly non-profit, dead-end, helping professions. Many of us out here don't have a pension or a health care plan. I don't see the church coming to our rescue. As a matter of fact, in Washington,DC, they actually threaten to withhold assistance to the most needy, holding the poor hostage to Catholic political ideology around LGBT rights. Talk about collateral damage!

But the issue is not about job security for priests. It is about hypocrisy, duplicity and the continued psychological abuse of minors. (Thank god, most young people now have a mind of their own). It is not OK to insist that the boys in the pews be pure and chaste while the boys in the rectory are sneaking off to the baths or Palm Springs or cruising on Silver Daddies. As a gay man in a loving relationship I am not welcome in the Catholic Church. Perhaps if I had clandestine encounters, one night stands and sex in the park, I could periodically repent, go to confession and take communion. Then I too could appear to be a celibate, spiritual person.

In 2009, there should be no question of whether to have to out or not to out anyone. If your "objective disorder" precludes you from being a card carrying, holy-communion-receiving Catholic, then say good-bye, go to the unemployment office and be a man. Don't ask, don't tell is a cop-out.

Unfortunately it has been the outspoken, gay-supportive, celibate gay priests who have been most unfairly persecuted by bishops, while the promiscuous and secretive have survived to verbally denounce homosexuals and LGBT rights or, by their silence, to allow others to do so. And I'm not even talking about the pedophiles.
Perhaps the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church should do a hostage exchange, at a remote location, somewhere in Spain.

BobinCT said...

FDeF, I could have written your post myself. I've had the same experience, from academic underachievement, working in not for profits, the whole nine yards, all as a result of trying to come to terms with my sexuality. After high school I considered seminary but, unlike these priests, I didn't go because I thought it would be dishonest of me to do so, and out of fear that I would be exposed. Little did I know! Things didn't begin to turn around for me until I was 38 y.o when I was accepted--much to my surprise--into a graduate program at Yale University. I did well and graduated with a master's degree, but because I was older I'm still working for non-profits, have no pension plan, and have resigned myself to the fact that I can never retire. In the mid-1990s I too began to hear stories about non-celibate gay priests and what really goes on in the seminaries. I didn't pay much attention to it until 2006 when I actually met a non-celibate gay priest in his sixties on Silver Daddies. Of course he didn't tell me he was a priest, I found out by accident six weeks into the relationship. When I confronted him he spilled his guts to me and confirmed all of the stories I had heard. He said he was never celibate from the minute he entered the seminary, and never had any intentions of being celibate once he was ordained. Then, like you, I became angry because of the damage that was done to me as an adolscent and young adult trying to deal with my "objective disorder," and all the productive years that were wasted as a result. Please spare me the violins for these "poor priests." They're hypocrites and liars, and the damage they've done to others is far greater than what they would suffer if they were outed.

Oberon said...

I am a firm believer in outing politicians who enjoy the benefits of our community on the weekend but vote against our rights durign the week or who gay-bash to get elected. However, in the case of Gay priests, I absolutely oppose outing them. It is a false equivalency, and it would only result in more pain and anguish. Let's leave that to the official organized church, God forgive them.

Mareczku said...

I have read the reflection and the comments. God help us all. Whatever happened to love one another as I have loved you? What can be done to help the young people? It is very discouraging.

Russ Manley said...

Geoff - I've posted an excerpt from your "Sexuality and Marriage" post on my blog, which sort of ties in with a series of posts I'm working on. Hope you don't mind.

Tom said...

I echo FDeF and BobInCT. My experience has been much the same as your, except that I eventually went into the seminary, under the guidance of "holy" priests that used their privileged knowledge of my orientation to manipulate me and abuse me. Thankfully, I escaped from the whole mess in 2004 after only two years of ministry. I was told to cover up the abuse I'd endured, when I finally told my bishop about it. I nearly ended by life as a result. I have to respectfully disagree with you Geoff (my dear friend, whom I love dearly) and say that it's time to out these priests that do such violence (emotional, theological, and sexual)to gays, when they themselves are living a duplicitous life and screwing whatever comes their way.

When I was a priest, I used to fantasize about leading priests across the USA to all come out from the pulpit on Transfiguration Sunday. It was a pipe dream.
Like BobInCt and FDeF, these priests and other lay gayboys of the church have been conditioned into a corner, believing that they need to make up for something that isn't a sin. They have been bullied into believing they have no other option. But deep down, they know that a life of service in non-profits or church jobs, won't even suffice nor will it win salvation for their soul. So, they live a torturous existence: saint on the outside, tortured sinner on the inside. I've known two priests that have killed themselves because they were gay.

The damage the church does to LGBT youth and adults has no measure.

Geoff, thank you for continuing to put it all out there and for dialoging and journeying with me in this post-traumatic priest disorder existence. Have you spoken yet to the fellow from Church Outing? I've been playing phone tag with him. From my time in seminary in Baltimore, I know gay priests that are in power positions in D.C. and Baltimore who are gay. They need to be confronted. Whether they end up getting outed is another issue, but they definitely need to be called on their duplicity.

FDeF and BobInCT, check out my blog at

Anonymous said...

Please Fr. Geoff...
We need you on the Anglo-Catholic side...

BobinCT said...

Heretic Tom:
I'm so sorry for what you had to endure in the seminary. Looking back, the two priests that I first discussed going to seminary with when I was a senior in high school both discouraged me. They both taught at my high school, knew me pretty well, and they told me to go to college first, experience life, and then decide about the seminary. I wonder now if they weren't trying to protect me from what would have been in store for me had I entered. I didn't tell them but I was still wrestling with the idea of being gay, but maybe they could sense that, and I think going through what you went through would have destroyed me at that point. I know that these two priests were straight, I stayed in touch with them for a while after I graduated, a year or two later one left the priesthood to get married and have children, and the other left for the same reason shortly after. But when they told me to wait I felt a sense of relief because of my sexuality and thinking I would be living a lie. When I found out what really goes on in the seminaries I became very grateful to those two priests. This story also underscores the view of a "gay priesthood" which makes the Church's position on homosexuality all the more reprehensible. I just don't understand how the gay priests who stay can live with themselves. Maybe that's why there's such a high incidence of alcohol abuse among Catholic clergy.

Anonymous said...

"Ethics aside?" Nonsense. How can the ends ever justify the means. No ethicist would put "ethics aside." Maybe it's time to dig out Aristotle and recover the ethical dimension to life is "not sidetracked" by tactics that are in themselves unethical. Remember, it is THE MEAN of the ACT ITSELF, not the END, that determines the ethical dimension of human action. Outing is IMMORAL and UNETHICAL, violates human privacy and dignity, and imposes from the OUTSIDE the morality onto others.

Mareczku said...

Gay Species made an interesting point. He said outing is immoral and unethical and violates human privacy and dignity. Is outing an act of hatred? Is it an act of homophobia? Some straight people probably approve of it so they can know their targets. Some gay people might approve of it as a means to stick it to someone they dislike. Both groups might get some satisfaction from seeing someone kicked to the curb and suffering. I find it sad that some people seem to get a kick out of seeing other people hurting. In either case it labels the person as a homosexual as if this is the most important thing about him.

Matthew said...

But, there are Catholic priests on the list, or at least one I saw at the DC cathedral. I'm not Roman Catholic so I don't know what the consequences are for putting one's name on the marriage equality petition. But, I assumed if I saw a RC priest name listed there, it was a matter of personal conscience and not something the bishop would harrangue you about.

I have mixed feelings about this whole thing but I agree that as long as they don't publicly preach against homosexualiity, maybe they should not be outed. I certainly think that if the private advice you are given behind closed doors is incompatible with what you are hearing from the pulpit, it needs to be confronted.

Frank said...

To Tom, Thankfully, I am relatively happy and well-adjusted despite the trauma of growing up gay and Catholic as I've written about on my blog. Coming out at 36 and finding a supportive circle of friends and a loving partner has been healing.

To Gay Species, I'm not sure who's putting ethics aside. The open discussion of outing in the context of the web site is important to an ethical stance. I don't think you can dismiss outing just by saying the "ends don't justify the means"; nor can you justify outing by saying the reverse. There are gray areas here. And I suggest that "human privacy and dignity" have already been compromised by the duplicitous behavior of the certain clergy in question.