To the shock of many of us LGBTQ people of faith is the Vatican’s recent decision in the document “The Gift of Priestly Vocation,” to ban gays from the priesthood; thus, reaffirming its 2005 stance. Those of us who have “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” or who “support the so-called ‘gay culture’” are categorically denied to serve one of the church’s most revered and respected posts. And to know that Pope Francis, our LGBTQ pope-friendly pontiff, approved the document has many of us in disbelief.
We all recall Pope Francis’s remarks when flying home after a weeklong visit to Brazil in 2013 (which set off global shock waves) where the pontiff was queried about the much talked about “gay lobby” in the Vatican. “When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them?” This public statement is the most LGBTQ-affirmative remark the world has ever heard from the Catholic Church.
In 2013, The Advocate, a nationally renowned and respected LGBTQ ‘zine, named Pope Francis their “Person of the Year.” Pope Frances’ more liberal-leaning pronouncements, however, don’t match his actions. But, in looking at gay priests within the historical context of the Catholic Church, the Pontiff knows that gay priests have always been in the Vatican.
As a matter of fact, the homosocial and homosexual milieu of gay priests have always been part and parcel of the life and operations of the Vatican, as well as the Catholic Church, for centuries. Their strength to come out now as a formidable force within the hallowed walls of the Vatican is laudable on the one hand and a liability on the other hand, especially in terms of casting a gay suspicion on all priests as well as the potential to expose those priests who want to remain in the closet.
The Catholic Church needs its gay priests. The Rev. Donald B. Cozens, author of The Changing Face of the Priesthood, wrote that with more than half the priests and seminarians being gay, the priesthood is becoming a gay profession. Many who know the interior of the Catholic Church would argue that the priesthood has for centuries been a gay profession, and not to ordain gay priests or to defrock them would drastically alter the spiritual life and daily livelihood of the church.
“If they were to eliminate all those who were homosexually oriented, the number would be so staggering that it would be like an atomic bomb; it would do damage to the church’s operation,” says A.W. Richard Sipe, a former priest and psychotherapist who has been studying the sexuality of priests for decades.
Sipe also points out that to do away with gay priests “would mean the resignation of at least a third of the bishops of the world. And it’s very much against the tradition of the church; many saints have gay orientation and many popes had gay orientations.”
The reality here is that as quietly as the church has tried to keep it, the Catholic Church is a gay institution. And that is not a bad thing!
The problem in the Catholic Church is not its gay priests, and its solution to the problem is not the removal of them. The problem in the Catholic Church is its transgressions against them. And I ask: Who will remove the church from itself?
Years of homophobic church doctrine have made the church unsafe for us all, young and old, straight and LGBTQ, adult and child. Eugene Kennedy, a specialist on sexuality and the priesthood and a former priest, wrote in his book, The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality, that the Catholic Church “…had always had gay priests, and they have often been models of what priests should be. To say that these men should be kept from the priesthood is in itself a challenge to the grace of God and an insult to them and the people they serve.”
Supporters and activists of the “gay lobby” in the Curia emphatically state that this brave and visible group is essential to the running of the Vatican as well as protecting themselves from the church’s hypocrisy in scapegoating them for many of the social ills of the church.
Pope Francis knows this, which is one of the reasons he has commented disapprovingly about the political and activist clout the powerful “gay lobby” has in the Curia, the Vatican’s secretive administration. “The problem is not having this orientation. The problem is lobbying by this orientation… Being gay is a tendency. The problem is the lobby,” the Italian news agency ANSA quoted Pope Frances saying at a press conference during his trip to Brazil in July.
Right now, the Catholic Church stands in the need of prayer. And the Pontiff knows it. Francis aptly stated in a December 2013 interview with 16 Jesuit magazines that “the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards” should the Catholic Church, in this 21st Century, continue on it anti-modernity trek like his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.
Sadly, this pope is like the previous one when it comes to upholding church doctrine, but with a friendlier pastoral facade. Shame on the church’s continued opposition to gay priests in light of its history and reality, and of the gifts they have given and continue to give to the Catholic Church.
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Huffington Post blogger and freelance journalist.