Friday, June 4, 2010

Catholic Gaydar, Weeding Gays Out of Seminary or Helping them through?

     During my last year of seminary, a professor informed my Theology of Ministry class that there was an ultra-conservative theology being floated around Rome by then-Ratzinger, now-Pope Benedict, that espoused the theological claim that homosexual men could not properly stand in person of Jesus and thus failed to imitate his celibate sacrifice.  Ratzinger claimed gay men were so intrinsically disordered and gay sex so depraved that giving up evil gay sex for good holy celibacy was not a sacrifice, but a necessity.  Therefore, gay men could not imitate Jesus' straight celibacy and gays could not be validly ordained priests in the Catholic Church.

     When my professor asked the nearly twenty of us what we thought of that train of thought, nobody answered.  Nobody moved.  Everyone sat frightened, worried that if he spoke, he would be labeled a depraved sodomite.

     A few months later in January 2002, the sexual abuse scandal in Boston hit the papers.  Again, gays were the scapegoats, constantly being equated with pedophiles and blamed for the evils of the church.

     A few months later, after I was ordained a priest, Ratzinger's gays-can't-be-validly-ordained-priests theology was floated around Rome in document form.  The U.S. bishops went nuts, frightened by the prospect of all their gay priests suddenly being removed from ministry.

     I got depressed, knowing that my days were numbered in the priesthood.  Any day the powers that be could throw me out on the street with nothing, because I was gay and my sacrifices, the love and intimacy that I had given up to serve the people of my parish, had been deemed worthless, meaningless.  I had offered up to god in sacrifice a possible relationship with a close friend that I'd fallen madly in love with.  My heart was broken and bleeding, and Cardinal Ratzinger's brood of homophobic ladder-climbers were saying that gays couldn't sacrifice.  They had no clue.

     The bishops managed to keep the document from being promulgated, but Months after Ratzinger's rise to the Papal throne in 2005, Pope Benedict released a document that barred gay men from being admitted to the seminary.  Thankfully, I had already left the priesthood, for matters of conscience, justice, truth, and dignity.

     Father Sweeney said the new rules were not the order of battle for a witch hunt. “We do not say that homosexuals are bad people,” he said. “And sure, homosexuals have been good priests.  But it has to do with our view of marriage,” he said. “A priest can only give his life to the church in the sense that a man gives his life to a female spouse. A homosexual man cannot have the same relationship. It’s not about condemning anybody. It’s about our world view.”
     The gays-can't-properly-image-Jesus theology of Ratzinger is now mainstream, which means those espousing it will claim that it was always part of church teaching.  Why aren't gay priests leaving in droves?

     Here are some of the priestly job interview questions:
     “When was the last time you had sex?” all candidates for the seminary are asked. (The preferred answer: not for three years or more.)  “What kind of sexual experiences have you had?” is another common question.
     I was asked these questions by my future director of seminarians, when I was alone in his rectory and after I'd been pumped full of liquor.  I was also asked, "The director of seminarians in Peoria sleeps with his seminarians, what do you think of that?"
     “Do you like pornography?”  Depending on the replies, and the results of standardized psychological tests, the interview may proceed into deeper waters: “Do you like children?” and “Do you like children more than you like people your own age?”
     Early on in my interactions with said director of seminarians, I was told that having been a victim of sexual abuse might disqualify my from becoming a priest.  In 1995, the church was still operating under the assumptions and myths that those abused would automatically become abusers and that gays were pedophiles.  What projection!
     It is part of a soul-baring obstacle course prospective seminarians are forced to run in the aftermath of a sexual abuse crisis that church leaders have decided to confront, in part, by scrubbing their academies of potential molesters, according to church officials and psychologists who screen candidates in New York and the rest of the country. 
     Of course, they are focusing on gays.
     But many of the questions are also aimed at another, equally sensitive mission: deciding whether gay applicants should be denied admission under complex recent guidelines from the Vatican that do not explicitly bar all gay candidates but would exclude most of them, even some who are celibate. 
     Scientific studies have found no link between sexual orientation and abuse, and the church is careful to describe its two initiatives as more or less separate. One top adviser to American seminaries characterized them as “two circles that might overlap here and there.”  
     That doesn't make any sense.  Any person who knows simple geometry knows that if two circles overlap, they overlap once.  They can't overlap "here and there."  It's called a Venn Diagram.  Not only does the church disregard science, but also grade school math.
     Still, since the abuse crisis erupted in 2002, curtailing the entry of gay men into the priesthood has become one the church’s highest priorities. [Right up there with saving souls.]
Venn Diagram via 
     They will fail.  The church is a culture based upon secrecy.  From the confessional to the Vatican's secret "historical" archives, from the bishops' second set of (secret) files kept on each priest that were exposed in sexual abuse lawsuits, to spiritual direction, and from seminary formation to the oaths priests sign before ordination, the church's clerical operates on secrecy.

     Priests are adept at manipulating the system to keep things on the down low.  Whenever a conversation goes somewhere that a priest wants to keep confidential, the Sacrament of Reconciliation or spiritual direction is initiated.  Thus, the conversation becomes privileged and protected under the seal of the confessional.  In these privileged conversations, seasoned priests form naive priests and eager seminarians to manipulate the system.  I learned, by example, that this is best done when it's just the director of seminarians and a college boy, sitting in front of a fireplace, after-dinner liquors in hand, following two or three cocktails (Real priests drink scotch.), dinner, and a couple bottles of wine, with Father's bedroom door cracked open, just in case.

     This was how I was prepared for my interviews with psychologists and the seminary board before I was accepted by my diocese for seminary.  I was told by the director of seminarians, who was a canon lawyer, to flat out lie if asked directly about being gay.

     Truth is relative in Catholic clerical culture.  I was told it's only lying if the person asking for the information has a right to the information. We can all see how this seed of "wisdom" has played out in the sexual abuse/rape scandal.
     Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, a psychologist at Catholic University who has screened seminarians and once headed a treatment center for abusive priests, said the screening could be “very intrusive.” But he added, “We are looking for two basic qualities: the absence of pathology and the presence of health.”
     I'm not the "expert" that Rossetti is, but also having spent time in a treatment center for priests, nuns, religious, and ministers damaged by the church, I would venture to say this: the entire church system is ill and pathological.  It's based on fear, control, masks, and lies; not truth.  

Venn Diagram via
     Pathological people will seek out a pathological system.  Catholic gays are conditioned to believe they are pathological, so what better place to turn for redemption and acceptance than the celibate pathological priesthood?

     When I was ordained a Catholic priest in 2002, the vast majority of the guys in seminary were gay.  I estimate 80-85%.   The exact number is impossible to know, because no one could be publicly honest, even if he was celibate. Furthermore, the truth of one's orientation was "privileged" information that others had no right to, so lying about one's orientation was as automatic as one's gestures during Mass.

     Since coming out of the closet and leaving the priesthood, I've heard numerous accounts of others leaving because they are gay and stories about those who stay, slowly drinking themselves to death, or having sexual relations on the side, while publicly condemning gays. Combined, these stories number about 25 as confirmed gay, one confirmed bisexual, and only two confirmed straight guys (one who left to get married, one who's having an affair).  Any diocese that claims to have no gay priests or seminarians is lying.
     In the densely populated Diocese of Brooklyn, officials are confident of their results in one respect. “We have no gay men in our seminary at this time,” said Dr. Robert Palumbo, a psychologist who has screened seminary candidates at the diocese’s Cathedral Seminary Residence in Douglaston, Queens, for 10 years. “I’m pretty sure of it.” Whether that reflects rigorous vetting or the reluctance of gay men to apply, he could not say. “I’m just reporting what is,” he said.
     Sorry to break it to you "Doctor" Palumbo, but you're just reporting what they want you to see.  You've been punked.

     Pope Ratzinger's document barring gay men from seminary is a sham, a political distraction meant to take the heat off of the true sins of dysfunctional mother church.  Closeted priests (like Ratzinger) form seminarians to work the system and teach them how to answer questions about sexuality so that one passes as straight.  Ratzinger knows this happens.  The bishops know this happens. Those is power want gays to keep getting ordained, because manipulating the closet is a time-tested method of control.  Bully the fearful gays into obedience.  It's all part of the clerical caste system.

     Sadly, gay Catholics will continue entering the priesthood in droves, because when someone believes that their god is calling them to something holy, the rest is just detail.
Venn Diagram via me.


ppfuchs- Peter P. Fuchs said...

Hey Tom,

You are a brave guy for writing all this, especially this particular post. I have to say that you have helped me realize that whatever I suffered by going to the seminary quite a while ago is not quite comparable to the level of contradiction you went through a while later. Your first paragraph about Ratzinger's plan announced in class is pretty devastating, and I did not know about it. It shows the depth of his psychological depravity, in my opinion. I think you should count yourself lucky that you came out of all this with a good sense of humor, which is very helpful in life. Your comment about the 80-85% being gay accords with what I experienced too. But of course they are institutionally incapable of acknowledging it. I have come to the conclusion that the best way to look at having been in the seminary is in the cosmic sense.
It was an unfortunate experience that brought me to places I might otherwise not have gone. Many people have such experiences of all sorts. Only when we see it as a bizarre sort of blessing does it become a creative moment. And this allows us to feel compassion for all the poor souls in that particular purgatory, to which we were once, inexplicably, attracted.

I wish you strength!

Peter Fuchs