the perilously lovable lifestyle
By Diogenes ( articles ) | May 07, 2006
The photo's part of a vocations campaign conducted by the Diocese of Rochester. Rich Leonardi recently posted it on his blog, and seems to have picked up the same cracked-bat sensation the ad gives me. It's the chin-in-hand pose plus the "I love my life" line that makes my skin crawl. If the poster doesn't hit you the wrong way as well, skip the observations that follow.
Several years ago I began to notice that the remark, "I love being a priest!" nearly always set my teeth on edge. There's nothing wrong with the sentiment itself -- one hopes all good priests would share it -- but with remarkable consistency it was uttered by gay or gay-partisan priests, and they always seemed to trade, dishonestly, on the natural assumption that the priesthood as such is inseparable from the Church the priesthood is meant to serve. The dishonesty comes from the fact that, when addressed to Catholics of innocent good will, the line gives reassurance or asks forbearance where neither is warranted: "I hate the Church; I love being a priest. I hate the Pope; I love being a priest. I'm out to undermine Catholic doctrine I detest; I love being a priest." The hatred either remains unspoken or is whispered only to allies; what's offered for public admiration is the "love" -- and this turns out to mean not love of the Church, but love of a lifestyle. I started keeping (desultorily) a list of instances in which I saw this shell game being played. Here's a very partial sampling:
- Fr. Peter Davis lived and ministered with passion, humor and drama. On Dec. 28, he died at a Portland, Ore., hospice of AIDS. He was 43. He loved being a Jesuit and a priest. "I absolutely love it," he told a radio talk show host. "I do it easily. I do it naturally." [obituary in the National Jesuit News, April 1988]
- I loved being a priest. I was an effective preacher, in demand for weddings and baptisms. People surrounded me with affection and constantly validated my call to ministry. ... Holy Father, let me tell you a "secret." Many, many priests in the American clergy are gay. They are good men, Some are celibate; others live compromised lives. Without exception, they are men who love being priests in today's crazy world, and they are men who live in fear and secrecy. [article by an anonymous gay priest, NCR, December 18, 1992]
- Five priests who have tested HIV-positive or have full-blown AIDS agreed to talk to NCR about their illnesses through the encouragement of Fr. John McGrann. ... If there were common threads to the experiences of the men who spoke, they included a love of ministry and, considering the odds, a stable or improving health profile. [Pamela Schaeffer story, NCR, April 18, 1997]
- He wasn't a pedophile, he claims. Just a normal male strangled by a tight collar. "I think celibacy is the toughest thing in the priesthood," Father X told me in a typically candid moment. "I love being a priest. But I don't like being a celibate." ["A Priest's Confession: 'Celibacy Is the Toughest Thing'" LA Times, September 14, 2001]
- While I deeply loved being a priest and ministering as a priest, I have found the burden of living such a public life in a hostile environment too heavy to bear. [Clifford Garner (St. Sebastian's Angels member), "Dallas priest says watchdogs destroyed his name and career," Dallas Morning News, September 7, 2002]
- The Rev. Fred Daley, a gay, Roman Catholic priest, had grown increasingly disturbed by Vatican pronouncements over the years that homosexuals were unfit for the clergy. ... "I'm as much a member of the church as anybody else," said Daley, of St. Francis de Sales Church in Utica, N.Y., who was ordained in 1974 and said he has never considered leaving the priesthood. "I love being a priest." ["Gay Priests Struggle With Vatican's Rules," NYT, November 12, 2005]
The image of the Rochester clergyman above belongs to Fr. Joe Marcoux, who snagged OTR's attention two years ago for his public opposition to -- how did you guess? -- the Church's "vile and toxic language" employed in her teaching on homosexuality. The open letter of which Marcoux was a principal signatory insisted that the Holy See's stance on adoption was a "demonization" of gays and lesbians. This Roman Catholic priest loves his life, however. And if you enter the Rochester seminary program, presumably, you will too. What's wrong with this picture?
Average Joe Layman reasons, in his innocence, that first you make a decision that the Catholic Church is the True Church, then you make a decision that the Church is important enough that personal sacrifices to advance her mission are worthwhile, and only finally you might decide that God wants you to serve his Church as a priest -- whether the priesthood-as-lifestyle happens to attract you or not.
By way of analogy, you'd figure that an American in the 1950s or 1960s who had decided to become a CIA agent should have arrived, prior to his commitment, at the conclusion that it was a "good thing" in some sense that the democratic West should win the Cold War. If, on the contrary, a guy said (in the manner of our second respondent above), "I just LOVE being a clandestine intelligence operative in today's crazy world!" while at the same time he regarded the nation that employed him as a malign entity -- well, he'd have a problem, and his fellow citizens would have a bigger one.
The contemporary crisis in the priesthood is, in large measure, a consequence of Catholics' having chosen to ignore the ambiguous way in which a man's loves and hates can become ingredients in his treachery. For while the Church may present problems to a gay man, the priesthood provides him with great advantages, indeed, with too many of them. Priestly celibacy explains to his family and friends why he remains unmarried and provides excellent cover for continued sexual experimentation. The priesthood gives him freedom in the use of his money and time of a kind enjoyed by none but the wealthiest family men, and he can cultivate rich friends willing to supplement his modest income. Instead of a future of loneliness or shame, he has an outwardly respectable profession in which he can set the bounds of his contacts as broadly or narrowly as he wants.
He may enjoy sundry aspects of "the church stuff" his job entails, but even if he detests religion and everything thereunto connected, he has a huge range of evasive maneuvering at his disposal. When the anti-ecclesial priest comes into conflict with his bishop or the lay faithful on matters of faith or churchmanship, it is he -- and only he -- who has chosen to pick a fight. In sum, the priesthood provides the cynical sexual misfit with almost everything he wants and almost nothing he doesn't. Of course such a man "loves being a priest." On those terms, who wouldn't?
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