Thursday, March 22, 2012

Is the Pope Gay? Richard Sipe Dares to Ask

And another article this morning that seems to go hand in hand with the material about which I've written earlier in the day--this, as with the links in my previous posting, also recommended by an esteemed reader of Bilgrimage, Kathy Hughes:

At his blog site recently, Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk and one of the leaders in the movement to assist those abused by clergy in the Catholic church, tackles the question, Is the pope gay?  (pdf file). As Sipe says, he asks the question not to accuse Benedict of sin or sexual misbehavior, but because Benedict has authored Vatican documents whose language of intrinsic disorder about homosexuality has now entered Catholic magisterial teaching.

As a theologian, former priest who is now married, and trained psychotherapist, Sipe rejects the understanding of homosexuality as a disorder.  With E.O. Wilson, he sees it as "normal in a biological sense"and as a "distinctive beneficent behavior that evolved as an important element of early human social organization."  In Wilson's view (and Sipe agrees with this), "Homosexuals may be the genetic carriers of some of mankind’s rare altruistic impulses."

And yet, as Sipe notes, Benedict has been clear about his view that gay-oriented men do not belong in seminaries and the priesthood.  One of the very first things the Vatican did in response to the revelations that began to break in 2002 about the extent of abuse within the Catholic priesthood was to organize a visitation of seminaries in the U.S. which focused obsessively on questions of homosexual orientation or activity among seminarians.  And John Paul II's spokesman Cardinal Joaquin Navarro-Valls went so far as to say that "people with these inclinations just cannot be ordained," and, as Sipe adds, then speculated that the ordination of gay priests might not even be valid.

So Richard Sipe asks the question of whether the pope is gay not to slur or condemn, but for the following reason: 

The emphasis the Vatican places on sexual behavior and especially pronouncements about the “intrinsic” evil of masturbation, contraception, homosexuality, invitro fertilization, gay marriage, etc. leave it open to special scrutiny and criticism.

And for this reason as well:

The fact that Benedict XVI has spoken out so vigorously and clearly about homosexually oriented men even those who practice celibacy makes him a prime target for investigation and speculation. If they are not suitable candidates for ordination to the priesthood (and their ordination is of questionable validity) what does that say of him and scores and scores of other prelates who are without doubt homosexually oriented? 

And because, as he notes, if you ask people in Rome who claim to have any kind of insider knowledge at all about who Benedict is and what goes on inside the Vatican, you consistently receive the reply that Benedict is, of course, gay--which is not to say anything certain about his sexual behavior, but which is to address his sexual orientation.  And so the Catholic church's attempt to denounce this and that form of sexual behavior--and homosexual orientation itself--with apodictic announcements about "intrinsic disorder" and "intrinsic evil" seems distinctly . . . odd . . . if some of the chief pastoral authority figures issuing these announcements might themselves very well be gay.

Sipe concludes,

The Vatican is wrong about sex. Its teaching is grounded on a false understanding of natural law. If not, Pope Benedict XVI is in big trouble—he is unsuitable even as a candidate for the priesthood and his ordination may be invalid.

And he's absolutely right.  And this is a conversation the Catholic church must have if it ever expects to get to the rot at the very heart of the Vatican that manifests itself in the abuse crisis and in the ongoing volley of new stories about what has been known re: Maciel, about abuse in the Dutch church, about attempts to destroy a group working to assist survivors of clerical sexual abuse in the U.S., and so forth.

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