I wrote two weeks ago about the resignation of a high-ranking Catholic official, Monsignor Jeffrey Burill, the general secretary of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, after a Catholic publication named The Pillar used cellphone data to deduce that he was a frequent user of Grindr, the queer dating app, and regularly visited gay bars. I wondered at the time whether this exposure was due to homophobia and it appears that it was.
In an interview with Michael O’Loughlin, a national correspondent at the Catholic media organization America, the radio program On The Media provides some background on The Pillar, that it is a small but virulently anti-gay organization dedicated to getting rid of all gay Catholic priests from the church.
Ed Condon and JD Flynn [co-founder of The Pillar] were editors at a conservative Catholic news agency called Catholic News Agency that is part of a conservative global empire of Catholic news. There is a television network called EWTN, which is available all around the world, heavily financed by conservative Catholic money in the United States. It owns Catholic News Agency, which was set up really to push a conservative, traditionalist vision of Catholicism both in the United States and around the world.
So you do have these individuals who are connected in the church, who no longer have editors, who maybe push back against some of these kinds of stories. And they seem willing to engage in methods that even some of the more conservative outlets, such as their former employer, refused to do. In these fringe groups like Church Militant, LifeSite News that are really activist organizations that sort of parade as media outlets. They’ve been targeting gay priests for a while now. Homosexuality is an issue that they’re really just obsessed with exposing the church… Willing to use these dirty tricks to advance its agenda while maintaining an air of respectability because of the founders backgrounds and training and experience running a news agency.
O’Loughlin says that the number of gays in the Catholic priesthood is larger than in the general population and gives a possible reason.
There have been some studies, but one idea is back in the 1960s, the church undertook a renewal and reform effort commonly referred to as Vatican II. And at that time, a lot of priests left [I suspect that he misspoke and meant ‘joined’ -MS] the priesthood because they had been hopeful that the church would start to allow married priests, and when the Vatican decided that was not going to be the case, they left. And the theory goes that as a result, the proportion of gay priests, the priests who stayed, was much higher than the general population.
He says that the gay priests who are still in the church are very fearful of being exposed as well.
There are a large number of gay priests in the United States, and many of them the faithful lives committed to their vows of chastity and celibacy, but like all human beings, there are some who simply mess up. And as a result of these articles, I think there’s a lot of fear. Will they be presented in the media as someone who is living a double life when in reality they simply messed up one or two times. So even gay priests who are faithful to their vows, they just feel targeted and they already feel that they’re in a difficult position because they identify as gay, but work for an organization that tends to fight gay rights. And this just feels like another burden they have to contend with.
We might wonder why a gay man would ever want to be a Catholic priest. It may well be that some of these priests felt such a strong calling to be Catholic priests that they were willing to see its anti-gay stances as aberrations that would change over time and are thus lying low, hoping that by staying celibate, their sexual orientation may not become public and a cause for condemnation.
It is also tempting to say that gay priests should just quit the church. But it is not that easy. The priesthood just does not qualify you or teach skills to do much else. Plus they may still feel a calling to be priests.
They are stuck is a difficult situation and we should avoid being too harsh in our judgments.