It's Shrove Tuesday --do you know where your pastor is?

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Feb 24, 2004

Twelve years ago the NCR ran a disjointed "open letter to the Holy Father" written by an anonymous and clearly agitated gay priest who, by way of rebuking the Pope, wished to show the harm inflicted on closeted priests of his acquaintance by Catholic doctrine. Perhaps because of the unusually high media attention paid to Mardi Gras this year, the following portrait came to mind:

And then there is the alcoholic priest, well into his middle years, whose sickness no one in community acknowledges. Shortly after I arrived, when he was three sheets to the wind, he shared with me his fondest wish: "Oh to be 21 and black and living in Rio during Carnival time." And he is moderator of the school's water polo team.

And this comes, remember, from a guy writing in favor of gay clergy. I've thought about that nameless priest and his macabre "fondest wish" several times over the years, especially when, in the course of listening to a sermon, it becomes clear that the homilist inhabits a universe alien to Christian personhood. It's not just a question of moral depravity, or shocking taste, or immaturity that borders on derangement -- though all three are present -- rather it's a realization that the priestly facade is a papier-maché mask he presents to the world, and the real person is a kind of larva that lives in and feeds on the mulch of an interior darkness.

Of course it's the papier-maché facade that's ordained and promoted to pastor or bishop or vicar general. Yet even so the interior dispositions leak out sometimes, and one is brought up short. This preacher maintains the mass is a chance for God to say Thank You to us; that bishop insists predator priests have a right to their "good name"; a third friar gives a vocation retreat in a clown outfit. No Catholic can connect this with the logic of his faith or with his wholesome experience; he can only murmur sarcastically, "Oh to be 21 and black and living in Rio during Carnival time..."

Not long ago the webpage of the California Jesuits splashed photos of novices in Mardi Gras drag, along with camp, jokey captions. My first thought was that it must have been an indiscretion. But it's more likely to encode a message they really wanted to send: we have seceded, interiorly, from the Church; we wear a mask, but the mask itself is a tease; what you see is almost what you get.

I supect that, for the most part, gay priests will continue to display a more popularly acceptable facade than the Jesuit model, will continue to live parallel lives in a world of degraded fantasy, and will continue their piecemeal subversion -- aided by an overwhelmingly sympathetic episcopacy. In the short term, the familiar cycle is likely to repeat itself: priests will occasionally scandalize Catholics by word or deed; Catholics will seek redress by appeal to their superiors, the appeal will be ignored or denied, and Catholics will take yet another deep breath and soldier on, treating their priests as dispensers of sacraments ex opere operato. In twenty or thirty years, of course, the landscape may change, and the chanceries and vocation offices may set their sights higher than the water polo team. In the meantime, it's Mardi Gras for them; for us, a long Lent.

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