Sunday, September 18, 2016

Readers Write: Butching Up the Priesthood, Hoplophilia Among the Clergy, Developing Clerical Manly Muscles, and Matching Papal Shoes and Gloves

Sparkling commentary here in the past several days, which I've been reading with delight, amusement, and amazement (who knew there's such a thing as hoplophilia?). To allow readers who may not pore over discussion threads a chance to hear some of your remarks, I'm going to lift them into a posting. 

In response to the discussion of why Richard Sipe thinks it's appropriate and necessary to ask about Pope Benedict's sexual orientation (given Benedict's fixation on and fulminations about the sexual orientation of others), Richard Demma writes,

Our Jesuit novice master (of holy memory) back in the 1960's was gay as a silly goose and very much closeted. He formed powerful and disturbing attachments to some of the more 'masculine' novices and gave us lectures on the necessity of developing 'manly muscles', so we wouldn't be confused with 'sissy boys'. He abhorred those novices, like myself, who were of the 'delicate flower' variety. To counteract what he viewed as the feminization of the priesthood, he set up a gym in the basement of the novitiate - where he would work out all sweaty with his macho novice buddies - developing their 'manly muscles'. It sounds sickening, but in fact he was a good and decent man, devout, pious, old fashioned, but severely conflicted - and all of us novices could see right through him. We loved him for his goodness and were sickened by his obvious pathology, which was embarrassing to watch. But I have to say Benedict far surpasses him in the 'weirdness' factor. As Hans Kung said upon Ratzinger's election as pope (not necessarily in reference to his sexual orientation) "He's utterly charming and very very dangerous."

In the same thread, sonje observes

Those are *really* nice shoes! But that's not my point. I have noticed, in my monitoring of right-wing Catholic media, that it seems to be a thing for priests to choose some stereo-typical macho activity and stress their enthusaism for said activity on every possible occasion. Some pick hunting, others pick football, and so on. In a similar vein, others will make it clear that they have some kind of (heatero)sexual past. What you describe sounds like a similar strategy.

To which wild hair replies

I have a little memory about the shoes, but not Ratzinger's. There was this big JP 2. the great, exhibit at the local museum. My two gay friends who got married last year came for the exhibition. There were all kinds of vestments that JP 2, the great, wore on various occasions. At the end of the exhibit, one of my friends whose irreverence exceeds mine, wrote in a comment book that what he liked about the exhibit were the matching shoes and gloves…

" seems to be a thing for priests to choose some stereo-typical macho activity and stress their enthusaism for said activity on every possible occasion." 

Hoplophilia among the clergy is wildly inappropriate but sadly not unknown.

And Leah adds

The "butching up the priesthood" thing you see in conservotrad media is so ridiculous. Haven't they ever heard of the bear sub-culture? Liking hunting and football says nothing about your sexual orientation, only about what you like to do in your spare time. There's a scene for almost every sort of race, body type, and personality out there, both in the LGBT communities and society at large. The conservotrad view that emphazing how their priests adhere to a narrow definition of masculinity only shows how fragile their masculinity really is.

It strikes me that these incisive comments are skewering a culture of pretending that thoroughly undermines the ability of Christian communities to proclaim the gospel at this point in history. Not only does pretending allow us to worship idols — in this case, the idol of toxic heterosexual masculinity (or toxic pretend heterosexual masculinity, in the case of many Catholic clergy). But it also legitimates moral choices that undercut the very pretensions we claim to hold dear as members of a religious community. Pretending allows us to pretend we're better, more coherent moral thinkers and moral agents than we actually are, something about which Jesus was utterly scathing in his gospel parables.

It has been ridiculous enough for the U.S. Catholic bishops to pretend that contraception is a live moral issue, when we all know — and have known for decades now — that the magisterial teaching on contraception has not been received by the laity, calling its truth claims into question in the most radical way possible. It is absurd for the U.S. Catholic bishops to rattle their sabers about contraception at this point in history when we've known for decades now that some 90%+ heterosexually married Catholic couples use contraceptives.

But even more absurd: at one right-wing Catholic blog site after another right now, you'll read statements about how necessary it is for Catholics to vote for Donald Trump because abortion. Because, so they want to pretend (and how shameful this is!), he's a champion of the "pro-life" cause, when anyone with access to a computer and the internet can easily find scads of material about his stance(s) on abortion in the past, his marital history, his boasts about promiscuity and infidelity, and so on.

Some champion of Catholic moral values.

The culture of pretending has gotten us precisely nowhere, when it comes to the challenge of proclaiming the gospel credibly at this point in history. And right at the very heart of it is a bunch of silly pretense about the sexual orientation of Catholic clergy and hierarchial figures that convinces absolutely no one with eyes open wide.

The graphic: a screenshot from Huguccio Della Chiesa's scintillating essay "The Cost of Looking Good in the Magic Kingdom" (pdf file) at Richard Sipe's website.

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