Thursday, February 28, 2013

Jamie Manson on the "Dark Side" of Proposals to End Mandatory Celibacy: Whither Gay Priests?

To my mind, the operative paragraph in Jamie Manson's recent wise warning to Catholics in favor of the option of married clergy to consider a possible "dark side" of revising the mandatory celibacy requirement is this one:

The truth is that there are many wonderful, popular gay priests who are working in our midst. But sadly, with the exception of courageous men like Fr. Fred Daley, who came out to his congregation in 2004, most of these priests feel they must work from the closet.

As Manson concludes,

For these reasons, we must remember that if we are going to argue for changes in the rules surrounding ordination, we must argue for a true transformation of the priesthood. We must fight for a priesthood that bears all of the marks of justice, which means the inclusion of married men, women, openly gay men and lesbians, and anyone who holds the charism of celibacy. 
A truly just priesthood is the only kind of priesthood that stands a chance of flourishing in this broken church that continues to send so many away empty.

She builds to this conclusion by noting that many of the married Anglican priests who have swum the Tiber of late "are the men who have left their church because of their disgust over its increasing inclusion of gays, lesbians and straight women in the priesthood." And so, celebrating the possibility of a married priesthood with this model in place raises serious questions about what, precisely, we're celebrating: would opening the priesthood to married men actually make things worse for gay priests, and drive them away from the priesthood?

And, as she notes, when one considers that Cardinal O'Brien spoke in favor of abolishing the celibacy requirement within days before allegations were made public that he had committed sexual misconduct with a number of priests and a former priest, and that Bill Donohue, a longstanding opponent of gay rights, also now suggests that the church might dispense with the mandatory celibacy option, then one has to wonder what a married priesthood really would portend for gay priests.

These, after all, are men who have been among the loudest of leading Catholic figures in recent years to decry any capitulation of the church to culture. But it begins to appear that the culture they envisage as enemy may well not be a dominant secular culture in which male entitlement and heteronormativity are taken for granted. The culture on which their call to resist capitulation evidently rests is a burgeoning culture in many places in the world that calls for acceptance of the rights of gay folks and of women. It's that culture, which is growing more powerful in many places in the world, that folks like O'Brien and Donohue (and many Catholic bishops and Vatican leaders) have sought to depict as inimical to Catholic values, as they warn the church not to yield to culture.

The church-in-danger-of-yielding-to-culture thesis so popular under the last two papacies has been, then, a sleight-of-hand game played by many Catholic leaders and quasi-official spokesmen for the Catholic church. The real name of this game is the idolization and enshrinement, under the aegis of Catholic truth, of a long-ensconced dominant culture of patriarchy, misogyny, and heteronormative homophobia which assures heterosexual males (or, in the case of clerics like O'Brien and many other Catholic clerics, it appears, males capable of presenting themselves as heterosexual even when they're not heterosexual at all) pride of place in "God's" scheme for things.

The most vociferous spokesmen for the church-vs.-culture thesis in Catholicism today are not countercultural in the least. They're actually and essentially arguing for the capitulation of the Catholic church to the dominant values of patriarchal, male-entitled, heteronormative culture. And they're willing to concede a useful place within their male-entitled, heteronormative church to a plethora of gay priests, as long as the latter remain hidden in a compete purdah, self-hating, and willing to collude in ugly, immoral games played against other gay human beings--willing to let themselves be turned into despised objects in these games.

As I say, even when one grants the solidity of Manson's argument about these matters (and I do), what caps that argument--and must not be missed--is this: though there are many wonderful gay priests engaged in ministry in the Catholic church, sadly, most of these priests feel they must work from the closet.

And this is a serious part of the problem, as the future of the priesthood is discussed. If reports that the priesthood is now a largely gay profession are correct, then these reports remain astonishingly unverified--due to the choice of almost every one of those gay priests to remain in the closet.

I understand the fear that produces this situation. I also understand that gay priests who become public about their identities run the serious risk of losing salaries, pensions, housing, and healthcare benefits. They run the risk, as well, of losing the power and privilege they enjoy as members of the clerical elite.

But their choice to remain closeted and to live in fear of punishment and the loss of many perks if they come out of the closet is one of the main factors assisting the hierarchy in keeping alive the charade that there are no gay priests, and that a church whose clerical sector is apparently full of gay priests is anti-gay in key respects. And this will not change until gay priests choose to stop colluding in this cynical and destructive game.

That, to my way of thinking, would be the first step in the necessary process of the "true transformation of the priesthood" that Manson envisages in her conclusion--a process leading to the opening of the priesthood to women, married men (and women), and openly gay priests. None of this can or will take place if gay priests continue to choose to remain in the closet. As Hans Küng has noted, "I've always said that if one priest in a diocese is roused, that counts for nothing. Five will create a stir. Fifty are pretty much invincible."

The graphic is from Phyllis Neill's coming out of the closet story at Buzz12.

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