Friday, December 4, 2009

The question of outing priests.

Regardless of what position you personally may hold in the question of “outing” priests, I think it laudable that there is a considered and lively discussion within the LGBT community, of both the ethical concerns owed to individuals and the demands of justice. I am grateful to all of you who took the time to write comments on my posts. Some of those comments were supportive of concerns which I voiced and some were challenging of those comments. However, all comments were both helpful and valued.

This is a matter which will affect many people both personally and profoundly, so it needs to be treated very carefully. At the same time, LGBT people have struggled for decades and many have actually lost their lives, in an attempt to simply be able to be. To be able to live free from socially imposed shame. Free to live without fear of verbal, emotional, physical abuse and discrimination at the work place and in housing. As I write these words I am painfully cognizant that there are those in this society, and internationally, who would very much like to see us exterminated, or at least made to live invisible and fear filled lives.

This past week alone, the parliament of Uganda considered legislation which would make being a homosexual in that country punishable by life imprisonment and/or death. Cardinal Barragan announced that “homosexuals and transgendered will not go to heaven.” The cardinal’s statement is presumptuous assuming only God can judge individuals; however, such statements engender and encourage both bigotry and hate crimes here on Earth. Many Catholics commenting on the cardinal’s statement have stated that the cardinal does not represent the “official” teachings of the Church on this matter. This is technically accurate. However, if he had stated that “contraception is morally permissible for good Catholics” he would have been instantly reprimanded by Benedict XVI or his representative.

The cardinal would have been forced to make a public retraction of his statement along with a public apology. Please note that the Pope has not reacted to the cardinal’s theologically inaccurate and inflammatory statement. The silence and inaction of the Pope regarding the cardinal therefore, must be interpreted as the cardinal speaking in place of the Pope. This is a way in which Benedict XVI can effect change without actually personally declaring a change of policy. This taken in conjunction with many prominent Roman Catholic bishops signing the Manhattan Declaration, without any correction from the Vatican, clearly denotes a new much more aggressive stance against LGBT minorities by Benedict XVI. It also reveals an intention on the part of Benedict XVI to try and dictate civil law in America and elsewhere.

The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has changed its position on the question of homosexual people. It has done so twice in the last 39 years. In 1975, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Church’s watchdog for orthodoxy) produced a document entitled: “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics.” In this document, they made the most remarkable statement. They stated that there are “homosexuals who are such because of some kind of innate instinct.” That statement was made towards the end of the Papacy of Paul VI and it reflected new insights gained from the science of psychology. Theologians informed by the human science and pastoral experience came to the realization that St. Paul’s statements regarding homosexuality where the product of scientific errors and social prejudices of his time. St. Paul’s statements regarding homosexuality were not revealed truths, but rather the product of the human limitations of an inspired author of Scripture.

This radical change in the understanding of homosexuality in the Scriptures opened the way to a new sensitivity towards homosexual persons which sought to offer them pastoral support to assist them in creating and sustaining life affirming relationships. These new theological insights were made possible both by the advances in human science and by the Second Vatican Council which was for the Roman Catholic Church a “second Pentecost.”

All of this began to change under the papacy of John Paul II in 1978. One of the changes mandated by the Second Vatican was the creation of a new code of Canon [Church] law. The new code was promulgated in the mid 1980’s. John Paul II personally edited the new code’s law on marriage. As originally written, the law was gender neutral leaving the very real possibility that it could be applied to same sex couples. John Paul II personally altered the language to read so that it could only be applied to opposite sex couples.

As John Paul’s papacy continued he used the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI), as an enforcer to crack down on bishops who offered pastoral support to homosexual people. Most notable the Hunthausen intervention in Seattle, in which Donald Wuerl was used as an instrument of Ratzinger to force the Archbishop of Seattle to abandon his pastoral services to LGBT people. The same heavy handed approach forced Archbishop Quinn of San Francisco into a nervous breakdown and an early retirement. Quinn was replaced by William Levada who greatly limited and/or dismantled LGBT ministries in San Francisco. This earned Levada a promotion to cardinal and a new job as head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Beginning with the papacy of John Paul II and continuing with the papacy of Benedict XVI, the Roman Catholic Church has effected a reversal of the papacy of Paul VI. This reversal is an about-face on several issues. Some of these include an aperture to the ordination of women, the autonomy of Catholic Universities from hierarchical control (John Paul II dictated that the discussion of the ordination of women, even by university professors with their students was forbidden), the question of mandatory celibacy for priestly ordination, the pastoral care of homosexual Catholics and of the ecclesiological changes initiated at the Second Vatican Council. The Council had envisioned a collaborative governing relationship between individual bishops and the pope. The reality created by John Paul II and Benedict XVI is a highly centralized monarchical system in which individual bishops are little more than subordinate branch managers.

In a theology of Liberation, Gustavo Gutierrez and Leonardo Boff speak of systemic injustice. Essentially what he means by the term is that a particular institution/system so stacks the deck against justice that it itself must be radically changed for justice to stand any chance at being realized. Boff continues to be a controversial figure in the Catholic Church, primarily for his sharp criticism of the church's hierarchy, which he sees as "fundamentalist" ("A cardinal like J. Ratzinger, who publishes an official paper stating that the only true Church is the Catholic Church, and the others aren't even churches, that the only legitimate religion is Catholicism and the others don't even possess a faith, being just beliefs, perpetrates religious terrorism, besides being a grave theological error".) It appears that under Ratzinger (the Roman Catholic Church has reached that point. Many within the Church wait for the next Conclave [election of a new pope] with the hope that another John XXIII will be sent to us by the Holy Spirit. That the errors of Ratzinger will be revisited and corrected. That the work begun at the Second Vatican Council will be taken up again and brought to completion.

Henri Belloc wrote that “hope is a light diet, but very sustaining.” That is an inspiring and noble sentiment; however, St. Augustine said “Pray as if all depends on God, but act as if all depends on you.” This brings us to the question of “priest outing” as a tool for forcing change not merely “in” the Church; but rather, “of” the Church. If forced outing of a large percentage of priests were to occur it would shake the Church to its very core. It would be covered by the news media and therefore, in the consciousness of lay Catholics. It would expose not the tortured lives of individual priests; but rather, the hypocrisy of the hierarchy who are not merely complicit in these myriad of double-lives but, are part of a system which benefits (in wealth and power) from such a monstrous arrangement.

Outing anyone is a touchy issue. Being forced out against one’s will, even when done with the most selfless and pure motives, even when it is done out of love for the one being forced out, is suspect. As I considered this issue I suddenly remembered my first day of school. I was a small child and I vividly remember that morning. After breakfast Mom bundled me up and gave me my cigar box with my school supplies. She then kissed me, opened the front door of the house and gently forced me out. I was crying terribly, I didn’t want to leave home. I thought Mom was being cruel. There I stood on the front porch with my cigar box and then, I started to walk up the hill towards school. I made new friends, I learned wonderful things and I got to use my crayons and color outside the lines. Mom knew that I’d be safe. She knew that this would help me grow and be happy. Are these the motives of people who out someone else?

I had the opportunity to have an extended telephone conversation with the founder of I was very relieved and encouraged both by his warmth and genuine concern for individual priests. I believe that his motives towards priests is wholesome. If what he is attempting succeeds, I believe it will be a liberation both for many priests and for the greater Church. May God grant him the wisdom of Solomon and the charity of St. Francis, he’ll need both. In speaking with a former priest two days ago, he suggested the formation of spiritual support groups for priests and perhaps even a program to help those leaving active ministry to transition into secular society and jobs. All of these are good thoughts, hopefully they will materialize into helpful realities. I would invite Catholic legislators to seriously look at exemptions which have been given to the institutional Church. While many of these exemptions were granted out of charity towards the Church, many of them are in fact tyrannies imposed on individual priests. For example, laws which permit bishops to strip a priest of a pension, should he leave active ministry after decades of service. Laws which exempt priests from the protection of labor laws.

Public outings of priests in various dioceses would force the hierarchy to reconsider many of their public statements and policies. It would cause the general public to view statements by the hierarchy on sexual morality with greater scrutiny. It would undermine the ability of bishops to usurp the role of politicians by dictating how they are to vote. A bishop’s place is in the sanctuary not the halls of government.


Frank said...

Goeff, Thank you for letting me/us be a part of this important conversation. - Frank

BobinCT said...



Firesong83 said...

Thank you so very much. You will never know how much this means to myself and others. I came out in 1972. I turned 60 this year. I know what it is like to deal with unreasoning bigotry on a daily basis. The catholic church is not alone in this. I have a strong belief in a Higher Power and I believe that you are one of his messengers. God Bless You

Mareczku said...

I think part of outing someone may be based in a dislike of the person being outed. It seems that it may be getting back at someone. If someone outs someone and ends up getting the person kicked out of his job and causes the person embarrassment and suffering and the person who did it gets enjoyment and satistfaction at seeing this what does it say about the outer? I have concerns about what would happen if all the gay and progressive priests were forced out and what we had left were mostly right wing or conservative priests that dislike gay people. We truly do need more honesty in the Church but in the present climate I don't know how this can be achieved.

mike953 said...

I resigned from the active ministry about 16 years ago. For 12 of those years I stayed away from Church. Then about 4 years ago I found a Church led by an inactive Anglican priest which served the GLBT community. After a couple of years the Boston scandal happened and the church decided they officially didn't want gay seminarians and priests. I wondered if my former clerical brothers, many of whom were Gay, would leave and if they did, wouldn't it be great if they would minister to the GLBT community as resigned priests. I then realized that I could do the same and when the opportunity presented itself I stepped into the pastoral leadership role in the Church I was attending.

Because I know so many Gay priests still active in the ministry, I am very hesitant to support a general outing movement. However, for those priests who are active sexually and who preach condemnation of homosexuality from the pulpit, outing is a proper response. For those active sexually but not condemning from the pulpit, I could probably still support outing. However, for those with a homosexual orientation but who have been faithful to their celibate commitment, I cannot support outing, but I would encourage a support program to help them come out on their own.

I will be following the progress of this movement with great interest.

In the Kitchen With Don said...

The more I think about outing, the more I am in favor of it. I especially hope that this will include outing bishops and cardinals as well. They are really the ones I want to see outed.

Mareczku said...

Mike, I wonder how common it is for sexually active gay priests to condemn homosexuality from the pulpit. It is hard for me to imagine that anyone would be that crazy. It must be difficult for celibate gay priests to come out because them a lot of people assume that they are sexually active. I think prejudice and hate keeps most silent.

Mareczku said...

The thing about outing bishops and cardinals is that they would be relatively safe because I don't think bishops and/or cardinals get kicked out of the Church. Once they are in that position they are pretty much protected. Even those that resign are well taken care of.

Michael Dodd said...

Just kidding here (?), but what if we outed straight priests instead? Who could be upset by that, and yet everyone would keep waiting to see ...

D Gregory Smith said...

Thanks, Geoff.
Excellent and sensitive analysis of a very difficult issue.
Do I think outing is a type of violence? Yes.
Do I think the Church would do the same to me if I stood in her way? Absolutely.

So, I guess the gloves are off.
~from a brother, a Roman and a fellow traveller,

Sebastian said...

This is truly a vexing issue with many aspects. It is my personal experience that in religious orders the superiors know the orientation of most of the men in their province (regional division). There are some religious order priests whose orientation may not be known, of course, but generally, one cannot live and work with other priests for a lifetime without some idea of which "team" they are on. Whether they have kept their vows or not is a question that is more difficult to determine. I suspect that diocesan priests are in a similar situation, but perhaps for them the category of "unknown orientation" is larger, since they tend to work alone more often, and do not live in such close quarters. No bishop or religious superior who has a whit of sense doubts that at least 20% of his priests are homosexual. Most estimates are higher than 20%, and no bishop or provincial is unaware of this. Given this, just what does "outing" mean?

I offer the following possibilities, which are not meant to be exhaustive.

1. "Outing" may mean that the priest is sexually active now, or was so in the past and this becomes known. If this is known, he will most likely be removed from ministry, and will likely be effectively abandoned by the diocese or province. He will be blamed personally for his faults, all responsibility will be attributed to him, and the institution will not change. The pool of priests in ministry will become smaller, more closeted and more condemning of homosexuals.

2. "Outing" may mean to say publicly what the superiors and fellow priests already know or seriously suspect privately. This will force the hand of the superiors, and they are most likely to follow whatever course of action is recommended by Catholic laity who are particularly vocal. This won't be a majority vote by Catholic lay people. It will be a decision of the mob, and the mobs at the moment tend to be pretty right wing. This will like result in the same effects as number 1, above.

3. "Outing" priests will embarrass the Church, of course, and this is always a worthy goal, in the eyes of some. But is that really a worthy goal? I, for one, do not think so.

Consider the discussion carefully, as lives are at stake. Not just the lives of priests, but also the lives of the people they would have assisted had they been able to continue in ministry: the funerals unprayed, the baptisms undone, the counseling not offered, the encouragement not given, the works of justice and charity that will not be done.

Ultimately, this is not a question of tactics or strategy. This is not an issue of how to change an institution. The institution needs to change. However, I do not think that it is in anyone's best interest to try to change the institution by mere political pressure, as if it were simply a political party or governmental entity, or corporation trying to make a profit.

We need moral conversion. We need to strengthen ourselves by prayer. We need to raise ourselves up, to understand that seems to be a time of prophetic witness. We need a Gandhi. We need a Martin Luther King (or a Martin Luther, for that matter). We need to assert the moral high ground.

The problem of injustice within the Church is a problem that cannot, in the end, be resolved by lack of charity. Indeed, lack of charity cannot be a remedy for lack of charity. Simply getting back at those we find inadequately brave is not just, and is unlikely to be very successful. Lex talionis, - an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth - is not a remedy. It is merely a prescription for a blind and toothless world.

BobinCT said...

"However, I do not think that it is in anyone's best interest to try to change the institution by mere political pressure, as if it were simply a political party or governmental entity, or corporation trying to make a profit."

But that's exactly how the hierarchy views the institutional Church, a corporate entity trying to make a profit, despite what they've led the Faithful--people of good will--to believe. I do not believe for a minute that they are motivated by deep spiritual convictions. I've heard on good authority that one of the Bishops whose diocese outside of Maine contributed money to defeat same-sex marriage there wants to be a Cardinal, and would have been by now if JPII hadn't died, and now he's trying to curry favor with Benedict. These Bishops are political from the word Go, if they hadn't been they would never have achieved their positions of authority. Just look at the way they handled the sexual abuse of minors, it was all about "damage control," no pastoral sensitivity or ethical high ground there. Its not a question of lex talionis, their actions are politically motivated and demand the same type of response, whether its from ChurchOuting, SNAP, or LAMBDA Legal Defense Fund for that matter.

Sebastian said...

BobinCt: I agree with you, that the bishops have behaved badly, and are often crassly political and are trying to advance their careers. But we should be better than that. We should not follow their example. The Church needs reforming, and reform has never really come from becoming crassly political or behaving badly. Reform in the past has come from living and appealing to the higher values, not from getting into the banal fray with those who need reformation.

Joe said...

Father Geoff,

Thank you for including my previous comments on this issue, despite the fact that I disagreed with your position. The hierarchy would do well to follow your example and let dissenting opinions be published and discussed.

@ Sebastian - You wrote:

"Consider the discussion carefully, as lives are at stake. Not just the lives of priests, but also the lives of the people they would have assisted had they been able to continue in ministry: the funerals unprayed, the baptisms undone, the counseling not offered, the encouragement not given, the works of justice and charity that will not be done."

What is your response, then, to the Washington diocese's decision to ABANDON all charity work in D.C. if D.C. passes a marriage equality law? And the Washington diocese is NOT the first diocese to end charitable programs over their opposition to laws that give LGBT people equal rights.

It seems to me that it's the Church which is practicing a "lack of charity."

BobinCT said...

Sebastian, simply telling the truth is, as you say, living and appealing to higher values, and people of "good will" will respond to that. Look at the reaction of the general public to the revelations of the sex abuse scandals, particularly how the Bishops covered it up for so many years. Because of that their credibility is already greatly diminished even among Catholics. I also don't think that telling the truth is following their example, remember they're the ones who lie so its just the opposite of what they do. In addition, unlike the Bishops, our motives are not to advance careers or keep money flowing into the collection baskets every week to keep a multi-national corporation solvent.

Frank said...

I have posted the following comment on Sebastian's blog in response to this discussion:
You make excellent, very rational arguments. The issue is so complex and there have been thoughtful, serious comments from several vantage points.
But how do you/we address the issue that was brought up in this discussion previously: the fact that some/many of the priests in question are doing exactly what is forbidden of those in the pews; people who if they are honest and open and attempting to live authentic lives, would be refused the sacraments. There is no justification for such duplicity in church teaching, so far as I can tell. I am not necessarily an advocate of "outing" but something's gotta give.

Sebastian said...

Joe, you asked for my response to the DC situation. I think that the Archdiocese of Washington is wrong to threaten to withdraw from publicly funded charitable work if the DC marriage law is enacted. My reasons are stated in my blog. However, you are incorrect when you say that the Church has said it will withdraw from "all charity work." It has not said this. It has said that it will withdraw from all city contracts for charitable work. Catholic Charities would continue to exist and serve, but they would have to do it without public funds from the District of Columbia, and it would therefore be considerably reduced in DC, but not in Maryland. I'm sure the DC Council will find other takers for its charitable monies, although those others may not be as efficient or honest. Say what you will about the Catholic Church, one cannot claim it is not organized to do the job.

BobinCT said...

Check out Murphy's Law: Priests, Children, Sex and the Catholic Church on Excellent article and puts what we've been discussing in perspective and what we're really dealing with.

Joe said...

@ Sebastian - You're right - Catholic charities would not end "all" charitable work. BUT, considering that it gets something like 80% of its funding from PUBLIC MONEY, I don't see how it can possibly continue to do charitable work to the extent that it had been.

"I'm sure the DC Council will find other takers for its charitable monies, although those others may not be as efficient or honest."

What is the extent of Catholic charities' work in DC vis-a-vis other charitable organizations? If it makes up a majority, or even a large minority, it goes to show the lengths the hierarchy will go to to oppose gay civil rights. To throw the poor under the bus to fight a minority trying to obtain equal civil rights (which doesn't force the Church to do anything), fits into my definition of evil.

BobinCT said...

Ten years ago, 85% of my parish gave to the Archibishop's Annual Appeal, which supports numerous charitable agencies in the Archdiocese. This year, 35% of the parish gave to the Appeal. This is not because of the economic downturn of the last year or two, the number of people giving to the Appeal has steadily declined since 2003 when the sexual abuse scandals really hit the fan. In addition, while economically my parish runs the the gamut from the very rich to people on food stamps, it is located in what is considered an affluent area, and the pastor has always emphasized that people should give according to their ability--$5 is fine if that's all someone can afford. I assume that most people, like me, are giving what we would have given to the Archbishop's Appeal to other charitable organizations that provide services to the poor, elderly, battered women, etc. So I don't believe for a minute that exposing the hypocrisy of the Church would be tantamount to throwing the poor under a bus. There are many non-Catholic agencies providing the same services, in some cases more effectively and, I might add, with no strings attached. Further, for the Church to hold the poor hostage to advance their dysfunctional agenda more closely fits my definition of evil.