Father Tony

A Response to Andrew Sullivan on Sin and Crime

Filed By Father Tony | March 26, 2010 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Benedict XVI, Catholic church

Dear Andrew Sullivan,

While I wholeheartedly agree with your conclusion that B16 should retire and that the charade of priestly celibacy ought also to be retired, I was startled by some twists in your route to those good ends.

(Update: Andrew published this letter earlier this afternoon on his blog.)

You say that some men entered the priesthood to find a cure for their gay sexuality. I suspect that somewhere there may be such a priest, but overwhelmingly, we who were ordained gay were actually not in search of a cure. We had a rather high estimation of ourselves as sexual creatures. We were joining a fraternity of accomplished and respected gay men. Gay sex was certainly not off limits to us as long as we bought the duplicity and the premise that we did it secretly. As gay culture became acceptable, the need for this fraternity withered and the priesthood stopped attracting good gay candidates.

Also, I tried hard to understand and to feel your assertion that pedophile priests see their victims as less than human. I don't think I agree with that. I think that in most cases, pedophile priests saw their victims as convenient humans. These men were largely not part of the fraternity of gay priests whose meetings would happen at gay rectories, resorts, bars and baths. As the accusations came to light, many of us who are or were gay priests were totally surprised by the names of the accused. I think that many of them felt trapped by celibacy whereas those of us who simply shrugged it off from the time of our ordinations and led active sex lives and formed healthy relationships with adults were not their associates. They conducted their pedophile sex in secret. I think the media mistakenly paint the image of a priesthood in which all priests were aware of what was happening. I, hardly a blushing flower, was among those shocked at the extent of the situation.

The fledgling group called "Catholics for Equality" hopes to derail an unfair connection between pedophilia and gay clergy. I hope their efforts are successful, but I will say that my experience of the hierarchy makes me firmly believe that a gay bishop or cardinal - especially one who has had his career boosted by not having the kind of sex he might personally desire - might be inclined to go easy on a pedophile priest because he feels guilty about his own desires, mistakenly grouping together all forbidden fruit.

I think what many Catholics don't know is that priests are simply not well trained for celibacy. Even the ones who are not sexually active have substituted the non-celibate preoccupations of gluttony and entertainment and porn and whiskey to take the place of sex. It's a sad way of life all around.

I think B16 will retire "for health reasons" but I am afraid that we do not at this moment have a cardinal ready for election who will abolish the charade of priestly celibacy. Five years from now, there may be one courageous (or practical?) enough to do it, and he may be an American.

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I am not Catholic. The closest I came to organized religion was being a member of a UU church for a few years.

I have what I would guess is a typical secular agnostic attitude toward organized religion ("why would you want to join and support an organization that actively persecutes you for who you are?"), but I am well aware that it is more complicated than that, and I try (I do!) not to judge well-meaning people.

But I'm skeptical of the almost utopian picture you paint of a fraternity of loving gay priests forming "healthy relationships with adults." How does that work, when your participation in this organization depends on such an intricate web of deception? I wonder how any healthy adult relationship could withstand the stress of that kind of life, where you always must be very cautious about who finds out what.

I'm afraid, Father Tony, that no matter how I frame this question you will feel personally attacked. I hope that's not the case, but, if it is, I apologize in advance. I won't say I don't find the whole Catholic thing pretty ghastly, but I will say that my question is sincere.

Dear Steven,

I don't find your comments to be an attack, and maybe my response will help clear things up:

a) I never said it was utopia! If it was, I never would have left. While gay priests have lots of sex, they rarely have the love that is found in a serious and supportive relationship. On the other hand, many of my non-religious friends have spent a lifetime searching for love, so I don't think the priesthood precludes it much more than the world we live in seems to preclude it for many.

b) Many of us joined when we were quite young (I was 13 when I went away to the seminary!) Sometimes you grow up long after ordination.

c)I don't remember it being very stressful. I eventually rejected it because I just got sick of the duplicity, but that was a mark of my own personal development. I had friends who have remained active priests and while I think there is a sadness in their hearts about having missed what I have, they were not particularly stressed. Perhaps what we all had in common was the fact that gay priests are actors. Not unlike Broadway actors. We are convincing with our lines, and our audience wants to believe us because we speak for God. Of course, that is all changing very very rapidly.

So your question is not easy to answer because the priestly "personality" is complex. Not entirely holy or evil. Not entirely noble or despicable. The one thing I wish today's gay priests had more of is courage. That is why I challenge them and why I say that all the good ones have left the room.

Isn't being a Catholic priest very similar to a military career. Keep your fucking mouth shut about personal opinions and you will keep getting a paycheck every month. Another words, you are paid to be a puppett with no original thoughts. ((eyeroll))

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | March 27, 2010 8:18 AM


Not that Fr. Tony needs my help, but in a world where a maniac like J Edgar could hire call boys while in drag anything is possible.

The two gay bishops and many priests I have known were each unique individuals. I think that we have to remember that gay priests range from those who are celibate to those who are "good, but not so holy." I saw the "not so holy" ones more often. They had the best scotch.

I never knew a single priest who abused a child, and good for that, because in my youthful vigor (and my own history of abuse) I would have beaten said priest. Priests who abuse children are far rarer than priests who are simply ordinary gay men. The priesthood was a great place to hide out once and not have role or marriage expectations.

Thoughtful post Fr. Tony.

Juston Thouron Juston Thouron | March 26, 2010 9:28 PM

I read Sullivans' article yesterday but only got a third through it before my noggin started turning red.

Will people ever get past inventing spurious connections between gay priests and pedophile priests? Or talking about one while unconsciously slipping into conversation about the other as if they were the same thing?

I like to think Sullivan knows better than to do that. But he made no effort to distinguish the one from the other. It was hard to see him go on and on with his speculations. They started right at the beginning of the third paragraph when he left off talking about his own experiences.

I also see that Sullivan didn't comment on your response when he posted it.

You handled that very, very well Father Tony. Kudos.

Thanks Juston,
One of the reasons for "Catholics for Equality is to fill the "response void" when the homophobic religious right goes on the offensive. To date, there is no "one voice" that can make a good response. Andrew is eloquent and intelligent, and I hope he would be part of Catholics for Equality but he is not alone the voice needed. And i suspect he would agree with that.

Very interesting read. And some good points.

Will "Catholics For Equality" sign a Declaration stating:

"homosexuality is not wrong, sinful or disordered."

Will your group take that stand?

Or do you endorse "don't ask, don't tell" for Christians/Catholics?

Dear AndrewW,
Which do you think we'd do?!

Well, let us know when you formally adopt that Declaration. It should be the foundation of your efforts.

As a group, please confirm that "we're not wrong, sinful or disordered."

A. J. Lopp | March 28, 2010 2:42 PM

In my view, you are missing a word. "Homosexuality is not intrinsically wrong, sinful or disordered."

For example, gay rape is just as wrong as straight rape.

Sexuality in general can be used for good or ill. And pointing out that sexuality is not wrong, sinful or disordered does not excuse us from the concept of sin itself.

Good point A.J.

But they still won't sign a formal Declaration.

Catholics For equality are still Catholics.

The only thing really noteworthy would be Catholics that formally declare that we're not wrong, sinful or disordered. Otherwise, they still believe that.

Dear AndrewW,
I can't imagine why you presume what you are presuming in the above comments. You know close to nothing about this fledgling group but you are making dismissive conclusions. Are you one of those people who carries his "axe to grind" with him from one post to another, always ready to make the post fit your agenda even when it doesn't?

I have asked you four time to make have Catholics For Equality to make a formal Declaration that

"Homosexuality is not wrong, sinful or disordered."

You have consistently refused to do so.

Make the Declaration and put it on your website.

If you're not willing to make a stand, what the point Tony? Your group is soliciting donations. The least you can do is let potential supporters know what you think of homosexuals.

Dear AndrewW,
Now I see your problem. You are referring to some other group. My group is new. Still in planning stages. Has solicited no funding and has not yet got a website.
Having cleared that up, even if I was part of whatever group you are describing, I would never respond to a high-handed demand to do anything. Why should a group bow down to your demands even if you bully that group by repeating, as you insist, your demand four times? Not a winning strategy!

"Un-wronging homosexuals" is a "hi handed demand?"

Are you kidding? Religion defined homosexuals as wrong and has created ALL our difficulties for 2,000 years. That is a fact. Anyone who cares about ending the hatred of homosexuals and creating our full equality knows we need to end the that we are wrong.

Catholics For Equality had an "Organizational Meeting" on January 30-31, 2010 in Washington D.C.

At that meeting, the Catholics for Equality Development Board was assigned the following tasks:

1. Develop a strategic plan for the organization.

2.Incorporate Catholics for Equality as a 501(c)(4) organization.

3. Develop a communications strategy and program to orchestrate the organizational launch which will involve institutional branding and the creating of both online and print materials.

4. Identify and solicit initial funding.

5. Develop an outreach strategy for bringing in community including influential theologians.

I'm sure you remember #3. You were there.

I want to know if your group is willing to sign a Declaration that says specifically:

Homosexuals are not intrinsically wrong, sinful, disordered or deviant.

If you are not willing to make that Declaration, then your organization shouldn't be funded. If Catholics are changing, like you have claimed, have them un-wrong us. That would be meaningful.

If you're just going to prance around with a rainbow flag and be the gay-friendliest Catholics ever, that's cute, but it doesn't really help.

Dear AndrewW,
For what it is worth to you, I believe that "Homosexuals are not intrinsically wrong, sinful, disordered or deviant." I am reasonably sure that everyone in our fledgling group believes the same and would never say otherwise.
Again, we have no website, have solicited no contributions and will certainly not be doing anything in response to your "demands". This is about as much of a polite hearing as you'll get because, quite frankly, your comments sound hysterical. The group is composed of seasoned activists and folks with church experience who want to build bridges and make change, and don't take wild and crazed shots at others. However, I invite you to stay tuned because I suspect you will like what you hear from this group, even if your more abrasive and demanding style is not ours.

If you and your group believes that - put it in writing. Gay-friendly isn't enough Tony and you know that.

I haven't made any demands and I haven't been "abrasive." It's a very simple issue - we've been made wrong for 2,000 years. What is your group going to do about that? Do you believe in some sort of divine don't ask, don't tell.?

Sign the Declaration. It will create significant support for your new organization. Catholics are divided about homosexuality. Give them something to support. Address the real problem of religion and do something meaningful. Un-wrong us.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | March 26, 2010 11:38 PM

I don't think calling for terminating the career of der papenfuehrer even begins to cover the question.

The root of the problem is the universal lack of ethics displayed by the roman cult, a caricature of the ancient Roman imperial state at its worst. Their power, projected over 1300 years, is one of the chief tragedies of humankind.

Looking at it rationally, there are no crimes they haven't committed, refined and used repeatedly to accumulate power, land and money. They are not a religion, they're jesus christ Inc.

Count their 1300 year slaughter of women, the eastern orthodox, muslims, jews, LGBT folks and rational people and they’d likely surpass the Nazi's as mass murderers.

1) We should to join in the chorus of outrage in broad sectors of society at the criminality of rapists in the ranks of priests, imams, ministers, rabbi's and pastors and press to include their protectors among the higher ranks and among christer, particularly catholic, prosecutors and police.

We should denounce their sick attempts to scapegoat us by equating being gay with being a sexual predator.

2 ) We should call for taxation at the same rate applied to Disney, Industrial Light and Magic and other corporations whose products include illusions and fantasies.

3) We should call for secularizing cult educational and medical institutions to prevent rape. Without compensation.

A school is a school and it isn't a better school for having a bunch of crucifixes nailed to the wall looking down at a lot of young boys and girls with torn anal cavities and vaginas quietly losing their minds.

Quite the contrary.

4) We should call for jailing any clerics who cause the spread of HIV-AIDS by advocating abstinence and opposing the use of mass education, the use of condoms and other measures to slow the spread of HIV-AIDS.

5) We should call for the indictment and arrest of Ratzinger and others in the clergy guilty of being co-conspirators and accessories to the mass rape of children.

That's a good response to Andrew Sullivan's "Gays who don't develop properly will molest your children" theorizing. It seemed like a whole lot of "I'm trying to make sense of this but I don't really want to take the time to understand what's going on," which is typical for him.

I'm guessing pedophiles often join the church for the same reasons as gay men: because they don't have another outlet for their sexuality and want cover for not being married to an adult woman. Plenty of them end up molesting girls as well as boys, so to say that they're just emotionally arrested and wanting to go after the people they were attracted to at 13 (other 13 year old boys) isn't the whole truth.

Anyway, I don't think Benoit will be retiring. Who's going to force him out? Instead, there should be a criminal investigation. Too bad powerful people see the church as its own moral arbiter that can't be investigated.

Andrew Sullivan is like Evelyn Waugh: both Roman Catholic, both supercilious twits, both with a Tory mind set.

How facile to speculate on the nature of a gay priest never having been in the situation. Fr Tony is correct with his 'actor' theory. Does the actor/priest really know his true role? To "To be or not not to be..." almost seems appropriate.

Priestly suicide is not unknown and has nothing to do with pedophilia, just their own sexuality. Like the poor, oral masturbators will always be with us, expounding whether we agree or not.


Why are these men described as 'gay'? Pedophilia is not gay in my world. Now it should be said that the majority of pedophiles are non-gay men and/or clergy. BTW Clergy who are pedophiles are not found only in the RC.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | March 29, 2010 8:22 AM

"....I will say that my experience of the hierarchy makes me firmly believe that a gay bishop or cardinal - especially one who has had his career boosted by not having the kind of sex he might personally desire - might be inclined to go easy on a pedophile priest because he feels guilty about his own desires, mistakenly grouping together all forbidden fruit."

I think that's valid, Father Tony, but have wondered at times whether there might be a bit more to it than just that: A gay bishop might well also hesitate to take action because in exposing the peophile priest, especially a gay one, he might fear disclosure of his own hidden sexuality. Something akin to fear of blackmail. Any thoughts on that one?

Dear Don, I think your supposition is absolutely true, and that the pot-kettle dynamic has kept many a bishop from slapping the hand of an accused priest.

Thanks for furthering the dialog and putting more substance into the conversation. We were never trained for celibacy- we were terrified into it. My experience is not that far from your own...

lacy panties | March 29, 2010 5:37 PM

One reason there's a confusion between gay priests and pedophile priests is that many of the priests implicated in the Church's sexual abuse scandal were not pedophiles, but were gay men who had sexual relations with teen age boys, many of them years passed the onset of puberty, which marks the end of pedophile relationships. I think the figure I read indicated that 78% of the cases identified in the United States involved priests with sexual partners aged between 12 and 17. Very few of those priests would properly be labeled pedophiles. Much of the confusion, I think, stems from efforts within the gay community to deny this reality and claim that the cases described in the media under the rubric of "pedophile priests" had nothing to do with homosexuality. Which is, to put it precisely, bullshit.