Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Can't we all just move on...?

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Sep 11, 2003

Some of God's chillun still don't believe the bishops have their spiritual well-being at heart in dealing with non-traditional lifestyle choices. Portland (ME) priest Fr. John Harris was discovered in late 1999 to be running a scabrous web site for gay priests named St. Sebastian's Angels. The website had to go, of course, then Fr. Harris went to counseling, and then -- bingo! -- he was back in the one holy catholic and apostolic ministry business. The move has occasioned some throat-clearing:

"Something's not right here," Kendrick said. "You won't let us meet on church property, but you let the Web master of a pornographic site be a priest? What's up with that?" Cote's answer, Keller said, was that "there was not a complaint by any minor in any of this. Following treatment, [Harris] was returned to active ministry because there was no danger to any minors in this."

Norwich bishop (and former Portland auxiliary) Michael Cote is here speaking through his spokeswoman Jacqueline Keller. We've heard this line before: gay is OK if no kids are involved. If no youths are involved. If, to the best of our knowledge, no one has officially claimed to be a victim of misconduct before his 18th birthday. Paul Kendrick claims to find the reinstatement of Harris "incomprehensible." Most of us will hope that it's genuinely incomprehensible, because there's an embarrassingly obvious reason why a bishop might be forced to defy public opinion and common sense, namely, that the consequences of not doing so could be even worse.

Telling the St. Sebastian's Angels story suffers under three disadvantages. First, while the gay participants (for obvious reasons) minimize the pornographic nature of the site, the whistleblowers (for equally obvious reasons) have to sanitize the evidence that supports their case. Everyone has to edit and resort to euphemism in reporting the facts: sympathizers from motives of disinformation, critics from motives of decency. Allyson Smith does a deft job of relating what is relatable.

Second, some church officials and some players in the prestige media are only too willing to turn the tables on the whistleblowers and make them into the villains. When the Roman Catholic Faithful first broke the story of Cape Town auxiliary bishop Reginald Cawcutt's participation in St. Sebastian's Angels, the following paragraph appeared in The Times of London:

Sydney Duval, spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Cape Town, said the Roman Catholic Faithful appeared to be running a cloak-and-dagger gay-bashing campaign. He said: "This is despicable snooping. It is not Christian and very much like the Pharisees of old. It is behaviour worse than the misdeeds they claim to be outing. They have chosen the unethical route -- hacking into an interactive counselling service, eavesdropping on confidential material, betraying, judging and damaging the victims and then rehashing their dark discoveries for public consumption. It smacks of sanctimonious McCarthyism on the electronic highway." Catholic officials this week praised Cawcutt as a progressive force in the church, saying he was renowned for his compassion.

Pretty strong stuff from an official mouthpiece (compare it to the USCCB's bewilderingly bland reaction to ECUSA's decisions on gay bishops and gay marriage). Bishop Cawcutt eventually got the chop, but only because his lay critics failed to take the hint and clam up -- or "move forward," as the ecclesiastical jargon has it. John Harris, meanwhile, after a spell on the 90-day disabled list, was back in the rotation and going from strength to strength "because there was no danger to any minors in this." Right.

The third difficulty about the St. Sebastian Scandal is that the sleaze factor obscures a more serious problem: the pathological hatred for Church doctrine exhibited by gay priests and gay bishops, and the readiness of this hatred to accommodate itself to outward displays of propriety and even finicky respect for ecclesiastical decorum. Cawcutt himself was capable of gripping his crosier (in public) and rumbling his total allegiance to the Holy Father and the Church's sexual teaching, etc., etc. As his postings make clear, he is not alone.

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