It’s time for all of Ireland’s closeted gay priests to drop the hypocrisy, come out and stand up for good, says Rob Buchanan.
I can’t say am not shocked by any of the findings of a book called Thirty-Three Good Men: Celibacy, Obedience and Identity/, which has lifted the lid on an extensive underground scene inhabited by mainly young, gay Irish priests. The interviews were carried out by former seminarian Dr John Weafer who was the first lay director of the Irish Bishops’ Council for Research and Development in Maynooth.
Anecdotal observations and first-hand experience on Dublin’s scene have led me to understand that the number of Catholic priests regularly attending gay pubs, clubs and saunas is significant. Many priests are in long-term relationships with fellow men of the cloth. Lots of gay priests may well be celibate and have never set foot inside a gay bar, let alone a sauna, and their sexuality is none of our business. However the moment a priest begins to sleep with men at night whilst sanctimoniously denigrating homosexuality by day, then we have a major issue.
The feeling among some of us in the LGBT community has been that, given the progressive times, these gay priests might act like a liberal fifth column within the church, pushing for greater tolerance. But given that the majority of the resistance in the struggle for marriage equality is coming from the Catholic Church, it looks like no such push has happened. The hypocrisy of closeted gay priests isn’t just disappointing, it is despicable.
“As long as priests don’t go public and don’t flaunt those actions that don’t correspond with being a celibate priest they [bishops] turn a blind eye,” Dr Weafer claims. Well, I don’t think the Irish people should turn a blind eye to gay priests preaching anti-gay sentiments. If a gay priest is going to stand in front of a community several times a week, assuming a moral authority that he himself is flouting, then he should be held accountable.
If you are speaking for God and Rome, if you are having people bowing to you, trusting you with their most secret confessions and the education of their children, then by Christ you’d better be willing to practice what you preach. The recent highlighting of the plight of LGBT teachers in Catholic schools and other LGBT staff of Catholic institutions, working in repression under the religious exemption provided by Section 37.1 of the Employment Equality Act, should put further moral pressure upon closeted priests to speak up.
Being a priest is not an ordinary job. By its very definition it is a sacred vocation where a man dedicates his life to not only spreading the gospel, but also representing the values of the Catholic Church. Neither endorsing the religious persecution of gay people, or keeping the guilty silence of the clerical closet, is compatible with a gay priest’s chosen purpose in life. He is responsible to all his parishioners, straight and gay, and his deceitful double life is contradictory to that duty.
In 2015, when the future happiness of LGBT people in Ireland will be put in the hands of heterosexuals in the form of a referendum, we can no longer afford to look the other way. This deceitfulness at the heart of the Catholic ‘No’ campaign must be faced.
So what do we do? I don’t believe in ‘outing’ priests, or anyone else for that matter. What I do believe is that the laissez faire attitude of lay people towards gay priests needs to be questioned. I think it’s safe to assume that part of the Church’s willingness to turn a blind eye to the ‘enemy within’ is a based on cynical need to stop the number of young people joining up from dropping. It is a prime example of the two-faced doublethink dogma of the Catholic Church. It represents an appalling contempt for parishioners, not to mention LGBT people in this country, who find themselves having to fight against the Church in order to obtain marriage equality and adoption rights.
My message to the gay priests is simple: Given the massive oppressive hold, both social and legal, the Catholic Church has had and continues to try and exert over the Irish people, you are in a unique position of opportunity. I can think of no more pertinent use of the phrase: “if you are not part of the problem you are part of the solution”.
By remaining a complicit silent element in the machinations of an organisation that targets your own people, you are worse than any heterosexual priest evangelising homophobia from the pulpit. You are being instrumental in holding back the progress of equal marriage. Stand up and be counted as a gay man and attempt to reconcile the schisms that follow. You may not have been able to change your sexuality (and why would you want to?) but nobody forced you at gunpoint to remain a mouthpiece for the dogmatic denigration of your own kind.
You have a responsibility to the parishioners whose attitudes you are attempting to fashion. You have a responsibility to the children who look up to you, who are receiving the message that being gay is “intrinsically disordered” and ‘less’ than being straight.
Ask yourself how you can use your role as a spiritual and social leader in your community to reconcile that dark side with hope and tolerance by trying to reform the church from within. The problem is not that you are gay, or that you are a priest. It is your fraudulent insincerity, your ‘do as I say not as I do’ attitude.
If you are of the older generation or where unsure of your sexuality before entering the priesthood, and then found celibacy didn’t suit you, then you have my sympathy. But now has come a time for that sympathy to end.
There are many priests, gay and straight, who despite the rigid controls of their superiors have stood up for equality and expressed a desire to reach out to LGBT people. Follow their lead and perhaps, as many other LGBT folk have discovered, ordinary people will surprise you with their love and acceptance.
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