Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Ratzinger

Frank O’Hara was being kind when he called the Catholic church “at best and over-solemn introduction to cosmic entertainment.” My experience of it is fairly typical for gay men of my generation who managed to escape its velvet clutches: “Love the sets, love the costumes, the music is beautiful,. . . .but the book needs work.”

While talented artists as diverse as Ronald Firbank and Robert Bresson have had much to say about it, it’s no surprise that the former found himself casting his fortunes with Islam (those Arab youths are fetching), while the latter took the express train to atheism — his particular car filled with beautiful young men and handsome young women (Bresson being the most refined of lesbian hags. )

As for the pedophile scandals that have rocked the church world-wide over the past two decades, they’re no surprise either , proceeding as they do from an institution founded on repression, denial and secrecy– oiled by vast sums of money. But you can only stem the tide of history for so long — though the Church thinks it can continue to do so via its recent pronouncement that it will not abide gays in the seminaries.

As you might expect this is very much on the order of forbidding Italian chefs from making pasta. Consequently foolhardy defenders of the indefensible like Michael Sean Winters (described by the editors of Sludge as “a Catholic writer working on a book about the Catholic left” — snerk!) find themselves spouting all manner of well-intentioned nonsense.

“Last year, I stumbled upon the Web site of a Catholic parish church, the pastor of which has been a friend of mine since we were in seminary together in the 1980s. Among the sermons on the site was one dealing with the sexual abuse scandal that roiled the church in 2002. In this sermon, the priest repeated the conservative line that the scandal was largely the result of homosexual men failing to keep their vows. This did not surprise me because I knew my friend was conservative.
But I also knew he was gay. I was undisturbed because I have long believed that the accident of being gay should not prevent someone from holding whatever ideological inclinations they find compatible with the complex yearnings of their minds and hearts.”

“the accident of being gay” ? Is this like a physical defect, mental retardation or perchance “the heartbreak of psoriasis” ?

“I considered my friend’s analysis facile and wrong, but not offensive per se until he used the pronoun “they” to describe gay men. It was with genuine concern and in a spirit of fraternal correction that I wrote my friend a note calling his attention to the fact that in English, when referring to a group of which one is a part, “we” is the proper pronoun.”

“fraternal correction” ? A good swift kick in the ass is what’s called for.

‘I thought of this exchange last week, as news reports filled the airwaves that the Vatican was about to ban gay priests, and my e-mail inbox and answering machine were jammed with messages of alarm, anger, and frustration. Not all messages came from gay priests; all asked me to join them in calling or writing to anyone who might be able to prevent this disaster, which I happily did. News of the purported ban seems to have been spread by right-wing gossips in the church who were trying to advance a document on seminary practices that has been in the drafting stages for years. According to New York Times, the document would declare that gay men are unfit for orders and should not be permitted to enter seminary. Pope Benedict has not yet signed the document, but anonymous church officials quoted by the Times say the Vatican will soon finalize it. Church conservatives assert that the ban would represent no real shift because—they claim—barring gays from seminaries has long been church policy. In practice, the American church has been receptive to chaste, gay seminarians.”

Bringing to mind the line “Virgins, they say, still get chaste,” as sung by the immortal Del Close in The Nervous Set. The American church, like the church world-wide, has been receptive to masochistic self-loathing gay men who on discovering their sexual orientation long to hide from the world. And what better place to do so than the Church? Not only does it offer the charade of turning away from “temptation,” but it’s got a built-in smokescreen of piety too.

“Benedict’s allies have been pushing such a ban for years. Some claimed that the document was in the final stages when John Paul II’s health went into steep decline last spring. But John Paul II never permitted anti-gay witch hunts. The Communists had used such tactics to smear clerics it did not like, and John Paul never permitted similar whispering campaigns to prosper. Since the election of Benedict, the right-wingers in the church have been clamoring for this document. In addition to restricting the priesthood to their own, they want to use it to help lay the entire blame for the sexual abuse crisis on homosexual priests.”

It’s the “We wuz wit you, boss, at Rigoletto’s!” defense in full flower. And fools like Winter take it seriously.

The problem with such a ban is twofold. First, banning gay seminarians will only drive the issue underground, precisely the situation before the sexual revolution permitted people—even priests—to be more honest about their sexuality.

No dear. I was there during the sexual revolution. Priests continued to lie as always. But you could always spot one at the Baths. They wept with gratitude if you let them blow you — hardly the behavior of forthright gay men.

The most notorious clerical child molesters were all ordained before the sexual revolution and before the changes wrought in the church by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Secrecy and silence encourage immaturity and duplicity, necessary precursors for inappropriate sexual behavior. Second, as my exchange with my friend indicates, many of those priests the right wing considers “their own” are also gay, and only a willful ignorance would fail to see it.

No shit, Sherlock! But willful ignorance exists on all levels. I met Paul Shanley in the early 90’s when he was running gay B&B in Palm Springs. But no publication, either gay or straight would accept a story about this — even after his arrest.

Such a willful ignorance must exist. When I was in the seminary in the mid-1980s, a local bishop came to visit. The bishop dressed for mass in the rectory next door. We seminarians were a bit late in arriving and were met by the bishop’s secretary who said, “Come on boys, get into your dresses. Grandma is coming.” Grandma was the bishop. The secretary had a feminine nickname, which, I am told, his intimates still use. To complete the screenplay quality of the experience, one of the priests who was in attendance that day left the priesthood shortly thereafter to become a flight steward or, as he called it, “a waitress in the sky.” This kind of campiness was common both in the seminary and in my experiences with those already ordained. As for the secretary, he is now a bishop much in favor with conservatives.

Can I get an “Oh Prunella!” ?

The anger about the ban among priests, gay and straight, was more visceral than anything I have ever seen. It is an unwritten rule of gay life that you never, ever “out” a closeted gay person.”

Oh really? I must have been out sick that day when it was taught in Gayness 101.
Apparently the suddenly clueless Kevin Drum has bought this line. Happily his cyber-compatriot Steve Clemons hasn’t.

“Everyone has the right to come to terms with their own sexuality in their own way. (I need hardly add that Christians take their name from the master who famously warned against judging others.)”

And we can all see where that got him.

“Yet, there were threats of outings last week. The hypocrisy of trying to hang the sexual abuse crisis around the neck of gay priests, most of whom are celibate and hardworking, was too much. I know some gay priests who have truly wrestled with their sexuality.”

And I know some gay priest who love to wrestle. Your point?

“As with straight priests, some have fallen from their vows on occasion or on holiday, but most have been largely faithful.”

I know what you mean, dear. Gay Pride week is such a stressful time in the seminaries. And that’s not to mention the impact “Dinah Shore” has on those poor nuns.

“Some gay priests are liberal and others are conservative. Some are still conflicted by their sexuality and others are not. What they all share is an almost heroic sense of integrity. To try and blame them for the shiftless careerism that caused bishops to look the other way while children were being abused is beyond the pale.
The last thing the church needs is an anti-gay auto-da-fé.”

And the last thing gay priests need is the promise that all they can expect is a bike ride like the one Claude Laydu took in Le Journal d’un cure de campagne

Reform of the church must always draw upon our tradition, and if Pope Benedict wants to truly address the source of the sexual abuse scandal, he will reinstate the ancient tradition of the church that prevented bishops from being transferred (the technical term is “translated”) or promoted from one bishopric to another, more important, diocese. In a stroke, he would remove the careerism that fueled the sweep-it-under-the-rug-at-all-costs syndrome that fostered the crisis. If a man wants to be the bishop of Bridgeport, let him be the bishop of Bridgeport for the rest of his life. But do not tempt him to fail to face problems in the hopes of becoming the archbishop of New York. This would be a useful first step.

A far more useful first step would be turning offenders over to the authorities the nanosecond they come to light. Needless to say, that’s not gonna happen.

“I hope my e-mails (and this article) help persuade the powers that be in the church to back off. When I approach my death, I want a kind priest at hand, and I frankly don’t care what his sexual preference is. I suspect that most Catholics feel that way. It is a thing that the right-wingers hate to admit, but the Christian Gospels do not suggest a culture war. They suggest that we be on the lookout for hypocrisy, especially our own.”

Well they are, dear, but not in way you’ll appreciate.

“A Catholic priest in this town [Worcester, Mass.] was temporarily pulled from the pulpit after refusing to support the state bishops’ drive against gay marriage.
The Rev. George Lange of St. Luke the Evangelist was replaced last weekend by Bishop Robert McManus of the Worcester Diocese, who led the Saturday evening Mass and the Sunday morning Mass at the church.
The move came after Lange and his associate pastor, the Rev. Stephen Labaire, posted an item in the Sept. 11 church bulletin stating their opposition to a proposed Constitutional amendment that would ban on gay marriage. The state’s Catholic bishops are leading a signature drive to get the amendment on the 2008 ballot.
The bulletin item read: “The priests of this parish do not feel that they can support this amendment. They do not see any value to it and they see it as an attack upon certain people in our parish, namely those who are gay.”
A spokesman for McManus, Raymond Delisle, told the MetroWest Daily News of Framingham that Lange and Labaire remain in place at the church.
Delisle said the bishop’s intention was not to rebuke the priests, but to “present the church’s teaching on the subject.”
But parishioner Cindy Hodgdon said her church leaders’ “hands were slapped very publicly.”
“Bishop McManus told us that Father George ‘made a mistake’ and ‘should not have done that,’” she said.
“Everybody was stunned,” said parishioner Rob Wilson. “It was a rather stunning homily.”
Labaire declined comment to the Daily News and Lange could not be reached for comment.

We shall conclude today’s homily with a passage from Ronald Firbank’s greatest novel which deals with the climax of the pursuit of its hero for the physical affections of a flirtatious altar boy:

“Up and down, in and out, round and round ‘the virgin,’ over the worn tombed paving through Saint Joseph, neneath the cob-web banners from Barocco to purest Moorish by early Philip, back to Turan-Shah — ‘Don’t exasperate me, boy’ — along the great fane (after all) was nothing but a cage; God’s cage; the cage of God!. . .”

Thus endeth the lesson.


  1. Marshall September 29, 2005 1:57 pm 

    Re what “warn[ing] against judging others” got the man from Nazareth, I am reminded of the Glasgow trial that transported the fiery Jacobin-activist Thomas Muir to Australia in 1793. The presiding judge – one Robert McQueen, Lord Braxfield, Lord Justice Clerk of Scotland – upon hearing an insolent observation that Jesus Christ himself had been a reformer of sorts, retorted: “Muckle he made o’ that – He was hanget.”

  2. David N. Scott September 29, 2005 8:00 pm 

    Yeah, I’m much more fond of the church than, say, DE is,
    but the rather simple point that they need to act against
    molesters instead of people in consensual, adult relationships
    is so obvious that it really shouldn’t need to be said…

    Sort of like the Northam Protestant church attacking gay marriage
    while maintaining a most unbiblical 50% divorce rate, etc etc etc.

  3. David N. Scott September 29, 2005 8:01 pm 

    Wow, that came out ugly. I guess I should keep writing, even when it looks like Im writing off the screen?

  4. Evil Jimi October 2, 2005 9:01 pm 

    David … still working on why the comment textarea scrolls horizontally in IE and Firefox. It works fine for me in Opera 8.50 on XP-Pro. From what I can tell, however, yes, just keep writing and it gets wrapped when posted.

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