September 29, 2005
RICHARD J. ROSENDALL
The Vatican's witchhunt will create a church of exiles
The Vatican's recent decision to purge Catholic seminaries of gay men makes me think of Groucho Marx's line, "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member." In truth, the Church's authoritarianism drove me away years before I was ready to deal with my sexuality.
Leaving the Church, however, can be easier than making it leave you. Family tradition, rituals instilled early, the music and images and stories -- they can exert a lasting emotional pull long after you have rejected the core beliefs. This personal awareness tempers my irreverence when I wonder with exasperation what it would take for diehard gay Catholics to get the message that they are not welcome. Belonging to a family or a Church that doesn't want you may be painful, but that doesn't make it any easier to turn your back.
It is supremely ironic that a key hallmark of the life of Jesus of Nazareth was his affinity for and kindness toward outcasts: the tax collectors, the adulterous woman, the Good Samaritan. He admonished against judging others, decried as hypocrisy public displays of prayer, and declared that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. How far the Roman Church has strayed from its Originator.
Some Church observers have noted that Joseph Ratzingerís new job as Pope gives him pastoral responsibilities that he lacked as head of the office formerly known as the Inquisition. Their hopeful thought is that perhaps the more liberal instincts of Ratzingerís youth might reassert themselves once His Holiness ventures outside the fortress walls to encounter his diverse flock.
Well, forget it. If there were any lingering doubt, the Vaticanís latest action makes it clear that veteran gay activist Frank Kameny is right: this Popeís proper name is not Benedict, but Maledict. His latest malediction is of a piece with his notorious 1986 "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," in which he made excuses for anti-gay violence while claiming to deplore it.
The new Church witchhunt reminds me of two priests I met during my college years. One was an eager authoritarian tool while also cruising for sex in gay bars (I was a firsthand witness). The other subtly conveyed gay fellow feeling to me while transmuting his celibacy into glowing pastoral care. (I will offer no more details of these men lest I myself become an accessory to a witchhunt.) The contrast between these two priests suggests a further irony: If the new prohibition were extended from seminaries to the priesthood in general, it would be more likely to imperil the one whose ideology more closely matches that of Ratzinger.
A consistently enforced ban on gay priests would lead to the greatest purge since Stalin's show trials. But the bishops who obstructed justice for decades in cases of priestly child molestation are looking for scapegoats, not consistency. Their action will only make the Church's sexual problems worse, since it is not homosexuality that leads to abuse, but secrecy, repression, and lack of accountability.
This unholy policy will only inject more poison into the ecclesial hierarchy. Rome's ongoing flight from reality boggles the mind, even though we could hardly expect any better from those in charge. One wonders what it will take for mainstream news organizations to look past the papal pomp and pageantry to confront the Church's medievalist obscurantism, which has been ridiculed by Western writers at least since Galileo's Dialogues, and is now resurgent.
To my peers who chose to remain in the Roman Church as I did not, I can only suggest that if the Church means anything as a spiritual community, it must transcend the corrupt and hateful organization that claims to lead it. Remember the promise in Matthew 18:20, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I shall be there with them." They can't take that away from you.