New information about the outing of leading Catholic official

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.

O’Loughlin says:

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.


  1. Holms says

    O’Loughlin says that the number of gays in the Catholic priesthood is larger than in the general population

    Proportion, not number. And I’m a little leery of the upper range of the estimates -- 40%? Maybe. Dunno about that.

    As for their predicament, I am reminded of the athiest priest project. Some people are simply trapped.

  2. steve oberski says

    But then there are the sins of omission, a concept pounded into me via a publicly funded Catholic school system and the Baltimore Catechism as promulgated by gods earthly messengers in the embodiment of nuns in full amour of god regalia.

    As I recall, if you fail to do something that you can and ought to do that is as big a no-no as actually committing the thing you ought to have prevented, to wit, it borders on statistically impossible that these “stuck” priests are not aware of kiddy rapers in their midst, given the very closed nature of their society. They went to seminary with them and they maintain contact with many of them over the course of their “career”. They know who they are and they are not saying anything.

    And for that I will cut them no slack.

  3. says

    This may sound like it’s conflating homosexuality and pedophilia, but it’s not except for a feeling that being either could trigger in strongly religious people… I’ve long suspected that a large number of priests, nuns, and monks didn’t so much have a “calling” as a self-hatred for their sexuality or perversion (and usually in their minds it’s all perversion). They take their vows hoping the vow of chastity will help them overcome their desires, or at least temper them. Turns out it’s not that easy.

  4. Matt G says

    The odious George Pell estimated that half of Australia’s priests are gay.

    As for why gay men choose the priesthood, isn’t this the best place to hide your sexual orientation and not have to answer why you don’t date or get married?

  5. DrVanNostrand says

    @Tabby Lavalamp

    A related explanation I’ve read about many times is a social one. Devout gay catholics are never truly accepted by the church. If they’re out, they’re supposed to remain celibate anyway. The priesthood allows them to remain in the closet, while also elevating their status within the church. I can certainly see how it would be an appealing option for someone who has been brainwashed by their religion into thinking that their sexuality is inherently disordered.

  6. John Morales says

    Homosexuality is an issue that they’re really just obsessed with exposing the church…

    If the church wasn’t against it, didn’t preach against it, then the exposure would be futile, wouldn’t it?

    But it is, and it does, and therefore it isn’t.

    I don’t believe a single one of those gay priests didn’t know exactly what they were getting into when they decided to go through the lengthy and solemn process of becoming a priest.

    They are stuck is a difficult situation and we should avoid being too harsh in our judgments.

    I’m not even slightly harsh, but I recognise hypocrisy when I see it.

    I’m also amused they’re hoist with their own petards.

  7. dean56 says

    “O’Loughlin says that the number of gays in the Catholic priesthood is larger than in the general population ” — and then provides a very week rationale for that without supplying any data or real evidence.

    Be very suspicious of endorsing this. One of the “defense lines” used by people looking to push away the church’s responsibility in child abuse/rape cases was to say “it’s just a bunch of gays in the priesthood — we need to get rid of them”. Locally the previous bishop in my town pushed that, and the current bishop still does. Bishops to the north of where I live have as well.

    I get that the point of this post is not related to the church’s ongoing work to avoid responsibility for their longstanding defense of men who abuse and rape kids, but admitting a weak argument for why the number of gays in the priesthood is larger than it is in the general population gives the organization a way to say “See, we told you it was all the evil gays.”

  8. jrkrideau says

    The priesthood just does not qualify you or teach skills to do much else. ?

    Depends on the priest and his training but the education and training received might qualify him for all sorts of things. At the basic parish priest level, at a guess, counseling, social organizing, small business development, sales, perhaps municipal administration.

    At a higher level, university professor perhaps? Philosophy, theology and various social sciences come to mind but I am sure the church will have a few physicists kicking around.

    Last former priest I worked with was consulting on survey work about UNHCR missions in Africa. The Ph.D and years of doing somewhat similar work for the Church around the helped clinch the contract.

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