Survivor: Vatican

Survivor: Vatican

Gay men and
lesbians who were wondering just how far Pope Benedict XVI
would take his decades-old homophobic agenda had to wait
only a few months: The Vatican is finalizing a
document intended to renew its efforts to purge gay

Reportedly, the
tenor of the directive is that homosexuality and the
priesthood are essentially incompatible. To that end, the
Roman Catholic Church will likely demand that gay
candidates demonstrate years of celibacy before they
can enter seminary. Further, the church may prohibit
its priests and institutions from making any appearance of
public support for gay people. The church in the
United States has already begun Vatican-ordered
inspections of its 229 seminaries, looking for, among
other things, “evidence of homosexuality.”

expectations that the pope would approve a still harsher
“instruction” that even celibate gay men be
barred from the priesthood, this latest move from the
Vatican comes as an unprovoked attack.

whole issue has been raised by the official church within
the context of the sex abuse scandal,” says
Michael Rocks, former president of the Philadelphia
chapter of Dignity USA, an LGBT Catholic group. “What
does this say about priests who are gay who already have
come out and supported gay issues publicly? What does
this say about the thousands and thousands of gay men
who have already taken stands? They’re protecting
the hierarchy at all costs. People used to say the police
were a group who always protected themselves. [The
church] puts the police to shame.”

R. Scott Appleby,
professor of 20th-century U.S. religious history at the
University of Notre Dame, says that if the Vatican enforces
this decision, “it could end up restricting
entry into the priesthood to heterosexuals, which is a
de facto extension of the existing teachings. Even
worse, it would place homosexuals into the position of
hiding their orientation, lying and suppressing their
identity, or not entering the church.”

Joe Murray, U.S.
convener of the Rainbow Sash Movement, a group of
Catholics who wear rainbow sashes to mass to denote that
they wish to receive the sacrament as openly gay men
and women, regularly attends services at the
Immaculate Conception Parish in Chicago. Murray compares
the latest witch hunt to the military’s
“don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
“I’d like to know how they’re going to
enforce this. The U.S. military can’t do it.
What does the Vatican have that the Pentagon
doesn’t?” he asks. “If they are
able to enforce this, it would backfire. More churches
would be closed and less people serving.”

When the
church’s plans were first made public, friends of
Father Mychal Judge—an openly gay Roman
Catholic priest and chaplain of the New York Fire
Department who was killed during the events of September 11,
2001—were equally angry. Thomas Von Essen, New York
City’s former fire commissioner, called keeping
such men out of the priesthood a shame.

There are
approximately 46,000 Catholic priests in the United States,
according to a recent report in The New York Times. Some
sources, including The Changing Face of the
Priesthood, a controversial book by the Reverend
Donald B. Cozzens, estimate that gay men account for 40% or
more of all ordained U.S. Roman Catholic clergy and

And they are
facing increased scrutiny—especially as church
leaders and fringe groups come out against their
ordination. Archbishop of Atlanta Wilton Gregory,
former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops, has criticized homosexuality within seminaries.
Cardinal Adam Maida, who is archbishop of Detroit, and
the Family Research Council, an ultraconservative
Christian lobbying group, have each called pedophilia a
homosexual problem.

In a written
statement, the Reverend John Trigilio Jr., president of the
Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, asked the U.S. Conference
of Bishops to “thoroughly, completely, and
specifically investigate and eliminate all vestiges of
homosexuality and liturgical abuse from all

Yet there are
groups offering support to gay priests. The Augustinians of
the Immaculate Heart of Mary is an independent Catholic
religious order in Philadelphia, a city with one of
the largest concentrations of Roman Catholics in the
United States. The order’s founders envisioned a
congregation unrestricted by age, gender, marital status, or
sexual orientation—and one in which celibacy
would not be required of priests—and their
order thrives despite absence of recognition by the
Roman Catholic Church. It was not until 2004 that the group
finally found a home with the National Catholic Church
of America, an inclusive “Vatican-free”
Catholic council, and Augustinian officials have plenty to
say about discrimination.

“By its
action, the church is stating that even men of exemplary
holiness are to be refused the opportunity to minister
simply because they are gay,” says the Reverend
C. Christopher Tobin. “We agree with retired
Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong, who notes that current
and potential seminarians are to be punished not for
anything they have done, but simply because of who
they are.”

Tobin says the
Augustinians diverged from the Roman Catholic Church
because “we could no longer excuse the blatant
discriminatory practices of the hierarchy against
women and sexual minorities. We do not accept that
anyone should be excluded from Communion or from ordained
ministry because of marital status, sexual
orientation, or political affiliation.”

In February,
Jesuit father James Martin took part in the 2005 Religious
Education Congress panel “Homosexuality, Celibacy,
and the Priesthood: Opening up the
Conversation,” defending the freedom of gay men to be

there are hundreds, if not thousands, of celibate gay
priests ministering to Catholics in parishes, schools,
hospitals, high schools, colleges, retreat houses,
soup kitchens, nursing homes, and chanceries,”
Martin told the panel, noting that because gay priests are
expected to hide their identities, critics tend to
associate homosexual clergy with high-profile cases of
priests accused of child molestation. He said general
fear and ignorance perpetuate the view that even celibate
gay priests must be barred from the church.

“The vast
majority [of gay priests] are healthy, hardworking,
faithful, loving, celibate members of the clergy. That
is simply the truth. In order to grow as a people, we
need simply to admit that truth,” Martin added.

Still, plenty of
gay priests have opted to remain in the shadows. The
National Catholic Reporter
recently spoke with a gay
(and celibate) priest from the East Coast who has been
anonymously offering his opinions in radio interviews
and newspaper articles around the country. He has
criticized the tendency of gay priests to retreat from the
larger population of seminarians even as he’s
also acknowledged that with rejection from the larger
church comes a certain amount of internal persecution.
That said, he’s also noted that a “few”

of his
parishioners know he’s gay and that he has preached
against persecution and homophobia from the pulpit,
though never from a first-person perspective.

The Catholic
Action Network for Social Justice in St. Louis decided to
send a more overt statement with a new billboard on a busy
interstate promoting the message “Love Makes
Families, Support Gay Couples.” Archbishop of
St. Louis Raymond Burke has barred the group from meeting
on church property since the billboard went up.

A top Jesuit
official also recently criticized the Vatican’s
planned dismissal of gays. The Reverend Gerard
Chojnacki, provincial of the New York Province of the
Society of Jesus, drafted a letter lambasting the
church, citing “the grief this will cause many good
priests and the Catholic faithful.” He went on
to defend gay priests who have served and died
honorably as clergymen: “I find it insulting to
demean their memory and their years of service by even
hinting that they were unfit for priesthood because of
their sexual orientation.”