Catholics are aware that some priests have affairs with adult women. Even Popes have had mistresses. The popular television series, The Borgias, is historical fiction about the intrigues and love affairs of Pope Alexander VI. Catholics are also painfully aware of cases of sexual exploitation of children by priests. Lawsuits in the United States have been well-publicized. In Ireland, Father Brendan Smyth, an alleged pedophile, was the center of a scandal–spanning 40 years and allegedly involving 90 raped and abused children–that helped collapse the Irish government’s Fianna Fail Labor coalition in the 1990’s.
Yet there is one aspect of sexuality that many Catholics refuse to acknowledge. Adult men enter the priesthood–wherein some of them are homosexual–and engage in affairs with other grown men, including other priests.
In the early 11th century, the Archbishop Ralph of Tours arranged for his lover to become the Bishop of Orléans. Pope Urban II and the King of France were aware of the affair. Milwaukee’s Archbishop Rembert Weakland retired in 2002, at the age of 75. After he retired, it was alleged that he had embezzled nearly $500 thousand diocesan funds to pay-off an adult male lover to avoid a scandal. In August 2005, the Bishop of Santiago del Estero, Juan Carlos Maccarone, left the priesthood after a video allegedly exposed him having sex with another adult man. Uruguayan Bishop Francisco Domingo Barbosa Da Silveira resigned in 2009 in the wake of an alleged adult same-sex scandal.
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, has publicly advocated that gay men be ordained. But that would simply mean that the Church would finally acknowledge it ordains gay men. For the past 2000 years, the Catholic Church has ordained heterosexual men, homosexual men, and men who prey upon children of both sexes. The Church’s vow of celibacy has been broken by all types of men, and it has also been honored by men with all types of drives and needs.
I was raised Catholic (and no longer practice), and a couple of members of my family have joined the priesthood. Although they themselves are not gay (another of my male relatives is a secular gay and finds this ironic), they freely acknowledge that in the 1960’s and 1970’s–when gay men had a more difficult time in the United States than today–the priesthood provided both a refuge and a purpose for many gay men. It gave them a respected place in society and a platform to perform good work. Just as heterosexual priests sometimes break their vow of chastity with adult women, adult male priests sometimes have affairs with each other.
In November 2012, I published Archangels: Rise of the Jesuits, a thriller about an attempt by the Jesuits to take over the Vatican and its bank. I invited a female reviewer of Catholic books to read it and received this response:”Yesterday I got to the part where [a priest] explains his affair with [another priest]. I won’t be reading any further. I cannot possubly [sic] do a review of a book that includes a homosexual affair between two priests. Thank you for inviting me to review it.”
The would-be reviewer’s objection wasn’t about a grisly murder that preceded this revelation, and it wasn’t about revelations of (fact-based) murders and financial fraud linked to the Vatican Bank. The objection was to the mere mention (not a description) of a past fictional affair of two grown men. The priest also explained he renewed his vow of celibacy.
The reaction of the would-be reviewer is not a surprise. While Catholics are suing the Church over crimes against children, and while they accept that priests sometimes break their vows of celibacy with grown women (not a secular crime in the U.S.), it is apparently much harder for many to accept that adult priests also sometimes break their vows of celibacy with each other (not a secular crime in the U.S.).
What would Jesus have made of all of this? When it comes to the Church’s track-record, he probably would have been dismayed by embezzlement, crimes against children, centuries of “witch” burning, inquisitions, and “holy” wars. But when it comes to embracing the reality of both heterosexuality and homosexuality in human nature, Jesus was probably very accepting. After all, he kept company with a demon-free woman and 12 men.
This article was published at the Huffington Post on November 20, 2012, with the title: “Homosexuality in the Catholic Church.”