Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

going, gone

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jul 17, 2005

Vision Book Cover Prints

The Scotsman appends the last chapter to a pitiful story of a priesthood never meant to be.

[Archdiocese of Edinburgh priest Fr. Steve Gilhooley] makes no secret of his disdain for the new Pope Benedict, with his calls for a smaller, "purer" Church. "Makes me think of Nazism," says Gilhooley, who wants to reach out to as many as possible. And how can that happen with a pope who has called for prayers to be memorised in Latin? "I'm not going to say that I'm leaving the priesthood because a guy that I find objectionable has been made pope -- it's not that simple. But it helped."

Sexually abused as a seminarian and perpetually taut with anger, Gilhooley is at once an exasperating and a pathetic character. His autobiography (The Pyjama Parade) reveals an emotionally needy man of limited abilities whose convictions and intellectual outlook derive almost entirely from pop music. No philosophical or theological principle has a firm lodging in his mind. In their place is a frothing cauldron of resentments, in which hatreds surface and submerge with hopelessly incoherent rapidity. Some of these resentments stem from injuries he himself claims to have suffered, others seem imperfectly understood and borrowed intact from the erratic Leftist culture of pop music and movies. Most tellingly, in 200-odd pages he manages to evince no gratitude toward any person or institution and no positive enthusiasm for any endeavor -- human or divine -- with the exception of televised soccer.

Like many who collect and cherish personal slights, Gilhooley made a career of getting others to feel sorry for him. Perhaps that's how he got permission -- otherwise inexplicable -- to be ordained. He claims to have received death threats and even attempts on his life in retaliation for his candor, although it's impossible to believe that he didn't contrive them personally in order to assume a larger presence on the stage he built for himself. He clearly delights in persecution. Tireless in cataloguing the iniquities visited upon him, he is equally keen to record his acts of bravery: bold words, stunning ripostes, mighty prelates reduced to silence by an unwelcome truth from his lips.

He used to have an opinion column in one of the Edinburgh newspapers ("Steve Gilhooley: The Priest That Speaks His Mind"), in which he ranted against injustices of the right wing, striking a series of poses of righteous indignation. I found it as wearying as being trapped next to an angry drunk at a bar, but it must have gratified other readers, among them Archbishop O'Brien. Then too, Scotland has no shortage of anti-Catholics who would have enjoyed the spectacle of intellectual disarray at the heart of the Romish Church.

Recently Gilhooley went AWOL for a couple weeks (prompting fears of suicide), and resurfaced in Dublin, where the interview recorded above took place. He has now announced that he's leaving the priesthood. Having exhausted the repertory of dramatic exits with a series of door-slammings, it's his only stunt left.

Gilhooley's clown-on-a-bicycle act took place too close to ground level to call for grief at his falling off the vocational tightrope. It's neither comedy nor tragedy, yet. Among the many (ignored) warning signs in the story this one happened to strike me: when a priest gives voice to the belief that the teaching of Jesus Christ can be found in a purer or more reliable form outside the Catholic Church than inside her, he's in a state of free-fall. A crash is inevitable.

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