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coming out sideways

By Diogenes (articles ) | Mar 30, 2004

The Clergy Abuse Tracker links an interview with David France, author of Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal. The interview appears in a gay magazine called The Advocate. France himself is identified as "openly gay," a fact mentioned in none of the half-dozen reviews of his book in the mainstream media that caught my eye, nor in his article on gays in the seminary which Newsweek splashed at the peak (5-20-2002) of The Scandal frenzy. He's a player, not a spectator. By conventional journalistic ethics, France should be disqualified from covering the story. Like the gay priests he spoke to in researching his book, however, he exempts himself from the rules -- with at least the tacit permission of his superiors.

France draws a sharp distinction between pedophiles and homosexuals, but has no patience with the transparent sophistries and evasions of those who deny that most priests are gays:

But we now know from talking to these priests who molested teenagers: They are gay, and the right wing knows it, and if we don't own up to those among them who are gay and who did this, then nobody is going to buy our argument that the pedophiles are not gay. They're going to see all these priests as the same ball of wax, they're going to roll us in with them, and that's doing us a disservice. They know we're not making sense of this. We have to figure out if indeed 85% to 90% of these abusive priests -- and there were thousands from this generation of priests -- were gay men assaulting kids against the kids' will, having nonconsensual sex with teenage boys. We should ask ourselves why that was happening, who these guys are, what created that, and what circumstances led them into that kind of behavior.

Credit where credit is due: France can face up to facts that the Wilton Gregories cannot (don't miss his take on "Fr. Spags"). He admits, further, that gay priests are beset with tensions that make them sexually unstable:

One priest I was talking to, Father John Whipple from Cocoa Beach, Fla., spent his career in a boys school as an educator, which he described without being very specific. It was so pivotal to me when he said, "Homosexuality, even if you don't know you're a homosexual, has a way of coming out sideways. Because you're not dealing with it straight on, you deal with it in weird and strange ways." He said, "It can be in the form of wrestling with boys, immature behavior, touching." So I asked him, "Did you touch?" And he said he didn't want to talk about it. ... Now, why teenagers? Because you can get away with it. Because you can manipulate a teenager. Because they are weaker than you are.

Even though it is written in the service of gay liberation, this interview concedes some important points: that gays are disproportionately common in the priesthood; that they live tormented by doctrines they are nominally commissioned to defend; that this torment warps them in ways that makes them more liable to sin and less honest about their true condition. For France, the "solution" -- the only way gay priests will ever attain inner peace and equilibrium -- is an overthrow of moral teaching and discipline. In one important sense he's right: for gay priests to let go of subterfuge, Church must cease to be the Church.

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  • Posted by: Sterling - Apr. 01, 2004 11:57 PM ET USA

    Gee, these comments remind of a movie I saw 35 years ago, while in college, and to me, it proves just how naive teens can be. My roommate (same sex - it was the old days) and I went to see some movie, and part of it showed nude male adults wrestling with other males - students, I think. My female roommate and I were totally flummoxed about the meaning of this, and decided it must be a celebration of muscularity. Poor teen boys, who are probably just as befuddled as we girls were!

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