Come out, father
3, 2002 by
Gay men are nasty,
filthy child molesters, right? Well, actually, way, way wrong.
But that's the conclusion a lot of people are drawing from the
ongoing scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. And sadly, among
those contributing to the revival of that tired old myth are
decent, honorable gay Catholic priests themselves, who don't
molest anybody but who, by their frightened silence and refusal
to stand up for themselves, are inadvertently allowing the smear
to go unchallenged.
The idea that gay
men molest boys was one of the big lies of homophobia for
decades. It was in relation to gay men what the old blood libel
was in relation to Jews: a dirty, dishonest fiction, but one
with undeniable power to rile up fear and loathing.
spent years exposing and defeating that lie, and by the late
1990s we had pretty much succeeded. Witness the fact that when
the Boy Scouts of America went to court to defend its policy of
excluding gays, it trotted out every conceivable argument and
excuse--except the argument that gay scouts might molest boys.
That argument was so dead, even the BSA didn't dare dredge it
Then along came
the Catholic Church and its sexual abuse scandal, in which most
of the abuse appears to involve male priests molesting young
male parishioners. Suddenly, the age-old libel seemed to have a
new lease on life. And what did the Catholic Church do? Did it
respond by admitting that it had gravely sinned by allowing
abuse of every kind--heterosexual, homosexual, and
pedophilic--to run rampant for decades while shifting the
abusers to new posts where they could abuse again?
It did not: Senior
church spokesmen here and in Rome proclaimed that gay priests
were the problem and that the solution was to sweep them out of
the priesthood. The clear implication being that--you guessed
it--gay men are nasty, filthy child abusers, and the way to get
rid of abuse is to get rid of gays.
So just when
we thought we had finally buried perhaps the worst libel ever to
be flung our way, it has come roaring back to life, resurrected
by the spinmeisters of Rome. True, we have fought back by
pointing to long-established studies demolishing the idea that
gays molest more than straights, and maybe we've made some
progress. But the most eloquent set of voices we need in this
debate are the ones we're not hearing--the voices of gay priests
themselves. Estimated at 15% to 50% of the American priesthood,
these are the guys who minister to the sick and poor, say the
midnight masses, toil in the parishes nobody else wants, and
have never molested anybody.
Gay priests are as
horrified by the scandal as any element of society. More
horrified, probably. Yet, so far, anyway, they are
silent--terrified that if they speak out and say, "Yes, I'm a
gay priest," and "No, I don't molest children," and "Yes, I'm
disgusted by the scandal and want the abuse to end," they'll be
drummed out of the church and lose their life's vocation. And
they might be right.
The problem is
that by saying nothing, by refusing to take the risk of coming
out and bearing witness to the reality of their lives, they are
adding to the impression that they are all somehow shameful and
guilty, denying us the witnesses we need and powerfully
undermining both their own cause and the cause of gay
For decades gay
men and lesbians have taken enormous risks at enormous personal
cost in order to right the ancient wrongs of homophobia. From
the teenager who comes out and risks homelessness to the marine
who comes out and risks court-martial, gay people have bravely
borne witness, have suffered great losses, and in so doing have
changed the world. For priests, whose calling is one of
sacrifice, self-negation, and bearing witness, to refuse to do
the same is a blot on their mission.
Jesus said, "Let
your light shine before others so that they may see your good
works and give glory to God." In the present climate that's not
a platitude. It's a necessity.