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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Wednesday, June 12, 2002
12:46 PM

USA TODAY WATCH... The paper's front-page story by Marco R. della Cava is headlined Gays tell bishops: Don't blame us. The on-line edition's hed is Church calls acts 'disordered,' gays feel 'blamed'. Either way, the story is a simple endorsement of many gays' views that they're being scapegoated for the Catholic church sex scandal. John Sonego, communications director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), wrote an Op-Ed making the same point but he needn't have bothered (p. 13A, can't find it online).

In print, the story is illustrated by a picture of two lesbians in the foreground and one gay man sittin' in the back. All religious. All misdirection.

The startling thing--it shouldn't startle by now, but it does--is the failure to even acknowledge, never mind resolve, the fact that this is a gay sex scandal. The vast majority of victims are boys or young teens. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the religious journal First Things, was on the Catholic EWTN television network last night and said 90-95% of the cases involve priests abusing males. I don't know if that figure is too high, but it tracks with what I've seen elsewhere and I've seen no credible rebuttal--I don't think I've seen any rebuttal anywhere--to that position. So how is this not a gay problem?

Gay and lesbian Catholics have a tough row to hoe and, if you want to know, it's one obstacle in my own desire to fully embrace the Church. Catholics are now taught that homosexuality is a disorder; that being homosexual is not a sin; and that homosexual acts are a sin. In short, the Church asks gays and lesbians to practice celibacy--to practice a heroic disconnection from their own bodies in a way that married men and women do not; and without the joys and comforts of raising a family as a shield against the world. Right.

But that doesn't change the central fact of this case, actively avoided by the Post and other media: In the Catholic Church of this generation, most sex-abuse victims are male and most abusers are, too. USA Today's promotion of the don't-blame-us-crowd cites fears of a gay witch hunt:

A particular source of concern for gay Catholics is a forthcoming Vatican-led visitation of U.S. seminaries. Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls went so far as to suggest recently that the church consider removing priests who are gay. And Archbishop Julian Herranz, head of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, described pedophilia as a "concrete form of homosexuality." Gays here feel that those views could, at the very least, discourage homosexually oriented men from seeking the priesthood. At worst, they say, it could chase gays out a steadily shrinking pool of 46,000 U.S. priests. Few statistics are available on the number of priests who are gay, but psychotherapist A.W. Richard Sipe estimates from case studies of 2,700 priests that 30% are gay and half of the 30% are sexually active. "This Vatican visitation is code for a witch hunt. Gay priests are terrified," says Frank DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministries, a national organization headquartered in Mt. Rainier, Md., that is dedicated to building bridges between the gay community and the Catholic Church.

If only gay priests had been more terrified of breaking their vows of celibacy, a duty shared by gay and straight priests alike, and enforced a strict vigilance against blurring any lines governing sexual conduct. Instead we get this:

If the leadership doesn't support its (gay) priests, then the question is, what about the rest of us? What about the gay organists, gay choir members, gay spiritual directors?" asks DeBernardo. "There's a deep anger at the bishops who have spoken against gays, but also puzzlement that no other bishops have spoken out for us."

I guess this is just generic modern-day narcissism but it's not about you, DeBernardo, it's about the kids. I am puzzled about the hundreds of priests who broke bedrock vows, or never observed them in the first place, and about why they were not ostracized within a Catholic religious community that made those promises voluntarily. There ain't no draft to join the priesthood.

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