ROME — The letter couldn’t have come at a better time. Just a week before Pope Francis convenes a crisis summit in Rome on systematic clerical sex abuse in the global Catholic Church, a group of gay priests from the Netherlands have written a letter trying to restore some perspective. In it, they ask the pontiff not to validate persistent gossip that a so-called “gay mafia” inside the Catholic Church is responsible for systematic clerical sex abuse of children.
In fact, orientation should not matter at all in the celibate world of the Catholic clergy. Priests and nuns take a vow of celibacy at ordination that prohibits them from engaging in any sexual act — including masturbation — no matter what their sexual orientation. But if the endemic clerical sexual abuse of minors, the majority of them boys, is confounded with homosexuality, that’s a convenient excuse for the church. The last three popes have pretended the pedophile scandal can be “solved” by getting rid of gay priests.
“We have the distinct impression,” the Dutch group wrote to Francis, “that the Vatican and the Congregation for the Clergy and perhaps even you yourself tend to suggest that those priests who are openly gay are the ones responsible for the sexual abuse of children and minors.”
In point of fact there is no link between the two, and that there is even ample evidence of widespread healthy, consensual gay relationships between gay priests living in communal situations. The more plausible answer regarding pedophiles is that they are attracted to the priesthood simply because of the well known access to and power over little kids.
The Dutch group clearly disagrees with the premise that gay priests are the problem, and instead says it believes unhealthy sexual repression is the key to the crisis. When young men enter the seminary, often as adolescents, they are told that sexual urges are sinful and that they must repent for being normal. The only way to talk about sex for a seminarian is in the context of the confessional.
“We believe that the current major crisis with respect to this context is primarily the result of the disapproval, suppression, denial and the poor integration of sexuality, and especially homosexuality, on the part of many individual priests and within our Church as a whole,” the gay priest group writes, noting that if young men entering seminaries were actually screened for sexually deviant behavior such as pedophilic tendencies, that would also help a lot.
It must also be stated that little girls were and are sexually abused by priests as well, and that it is now well known that nuns were kept as what Pope Francis called “sex slaves” to satisfy the sexual urges of some heterosexual priests.
A new book coming out on February 21 by French journalist Frédéric Martel called The Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy claims that some 80 percent of the Roman Curia, which is the governing body of the Vatican, is gay. The book, which will be published in eight languages in 20 countries, does not focus on clerical sex abuse, the author told The Daily Beast. LGBT Catholic groups are concerned that the timing will nevertheless imply that there is a correlation and they have not endorsed the book.
The Dutch priest letter was sent to a group of journalists by New Ways Ministry, which advocates for gay Catholics and supports gay prelates but which does not support Martel’s book.
The letter was signed by a group of gay priests and deacons known as The Working Group of Catholic Gay Pastors who have been active in church affairs for nearly 40 years. They take issue with Francis’s perceived about-face on homosexuality in recent months after his landmark comment a few weeks into his papacy when he posed the question, “Who am I to judge?” when asked if a gay priest could be devout.
The writers refer to a document called “Il Dono della Vocazione Presbiterale” or “The Gift of Priestly Vocation” that Francis penned in December 2016 for the Congregation for the Clergy. It deals with suitability for the priesthood and will be referred to in next week’s sex abuse summit. The Dutch clerics write of their concern that the pope is tending towards his predecessors’ views that gays should be banned from joining the priesthood.
“Although the document states that the Church deeply respects the persons in question, it also makes the arbitrary and unfounded statement that: Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating appropriately to both men and women,” they write. “At this point in time there are already countless priests working within our Church, who are in fact gay. These men function well, or less so or even badly, as is the case with heterosexual clergy. This has always been the case. … Dono della Vocazione Presbiterale completely ignores this reality.”
Dutch clerics note the scapegoating of gay priests for clerical sex abuse of children that in recent months has become a steady drumbeat both inside and outside the Catholic church, often with no distinction between abuse of power between priests or bishops and seminarians who are of age, and the horrific crime of predatory sexual behavior towards children.
More often than not, the two issues are wrongly grouped together. Only recently, when attention was drawn to the widespread sexual abuse of nuns and female parishioners by heterosexual priests did homophobic critics have to admit that the issues are not at all the same.
The Dutch priests believe that because the church only offers confession as a channel to discuss sexuality, the problem cannot be resolved simply by shutting out gays. “One is simply unable or unwilling to discuss it, or banned from mentioning it, except within the sacrament of confession,” they write. “In our view this is detrimental to the Church as a whole and to the [gay] priests themselves in particular.”
The question they raise is one that sows the most confusion when addressing the issue of the sex abuse of minors. Getting to the essence of the issue, the gay priests write: “We believe that suitability for priesthood does not depend on whether you are heterosexual or homosexual, but rather on whether you are able to deal well with your own sexuality as a seminarian or a priest.”
In an op-ed in the Washington Post last summer, “The Catholic Church is Enabling the Sex Abuse Crisis by Forcing Gay Priests to Stay in the Closet,” Vatican expert Robert Mickens finds the middle ground. “Psychologically healthy gay men do not rape boys or force themselves on other men over whom they wield some measure of power or authority,” he wrote.
“However, we are not talking about men who are psychosexually mature. And yet the bishops and officials at the Vatican refuse to acknowledge this. Rather, they are perpetuating the problem, and even making it worse, with policies that actually punish seminarians and priests who seek to deal openly, honestly and healthily with their sexual orientation.”