Sunday, August 5, 2018

James Alison on Homosexuality Among the Clergy, the Anatrella and McCarrick Stories, and the Trap of Clerical Dishonesty

Someone else who understands and has recently commented on the significance of the Anatrella (and McCarrick) story for those trying to revive the gay-bashing "lavender Mafia" theme about gay clergy and gay bishops in the Catholic church: the gay priest-theologian James Alison. Here's his recent commentary in The Tablet, entitled "Homosexuality among the clergy: caught in a trap of dishonesty":

Would it shock you to know that the leading force behind the term "gender ideology", and the campaign against it, was a gay cardinal? Or that a gay priest wrote the official 2005 explanation as to why gay men could not be priests? 
I learned of the (now dead) Latin American cardinal's reputation for violence towards the rent boys he frequented from a social worker in his home town, and later discovered that this and other outrages were open secrets in both his homeland and Rome. Paris-based Mgr Tony Anatrella was a Vatican expert on homosexuality, one of very few authors the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recommended on the subject, alongside Drs Joseph Nicolosi, Gerard van den Aardweg and Aquilino Polaino, gay-cure proponents all. Anatrella had long been reported to have engaged in inappropriate touching with seminarians and others who came to him for help in dealing with their so-called "same-sex attraction" As recently as this June, and after many years of shameful ecclesiastical obfuscation in France and Italy, those reports have been found to be credible, and Anatrella has been suspended from public ministry. If it does shock you that such paragons of homophobia-dressed-as-Christianity might have been "protesting too much", prepare yourself for a rough ride over the next few years. … 
In all these cases, in as far as the behaviour was adult-related, plenty of people in authority sort-of-knew what was going on, and had known throughout the clerics' respective careers. However, the informal rule in the Catholic Church – the last remaining outpost of enforced homosociality in the Western world – is strictly "don't ask, don't tell." Typically, blind eyes are turned to the active sex lives of those clerics who have them, only two things being beyond the pale: whistle-blowing on the sex lives of others, or public suggestions that the Church's teaching in this area is wrong. These lead to marginalisation. 
Given all this, it seems to me entirely reasonable that people should now be asking: "How deep does this go?" If such careers were the result of blind eyes being turned, legal settlements made, and these clerics themselves were in positions of influence and authority, how much more are we going to learn about those who promoted and protected them? Or about those whom they promoted? 
So it is that voices such as Rod Dreher – keenly followed blogger at The American Conservative – are resuscitating talk of the "Lavender Mafia", and the demand, which became popular in conservative circles from 2002 onwards, that the priesthood be purged of gay men. Investigative journalists are being encouraged to lay bare the informal gay networks of friendship, patronage, and potential for blackmail that structure clerical life (or are being excoriated for their politically correct cowardice in failing to do so). 
The aim is to weed out the gays, especially the treasonous bishops who have perpetuated the system. Ross Douthat – the New York Times columnist – has called for a papally mandated investigation into the American Church (I guess along the lines of Archbishop Charles Scicluna's in Chile) to restore the moral authority of the Church. 
Others, such as Robert Mickens, The Tablet's Rome correspondent for many years, are equally aware of the "elephant in the sacristy", which is the massively disproportionate number of gay men in the clergy, but highlight the refusal of the Roman authorities to engage in any kind of publicly accountable, adult discussion about this fact. This reinforces collective dishonesty and perpetuates the psychosexual immaturity of all gay clergy, whether celibate, partnered or practitioners of so-called "serial celibacy". 
How to approach this issue in a healthy way? As a gay priest myself I am obviously more in agreement with Mickens than with Dreher or Douthat. However, I would like to record my complete sympathy with the passion of the latter two as well as with their rage at a collective clerical dishonesty that renders farcical the claim to be teachers of anything at all, let alone divine truth. Jesus becomes credible through witnesses, not corrupt party-line pontificators. Having said that, I suspect that particular interventions, whether by civil authority or papal mandate, are always going to run aground on the fact that they can only deal with, and bring to light, specific bad acts, usually ones that are criminal. 
I cannot imagine a one-off legal intervention in this sphere that would be able to make appropriate distinctions where there are so many fine lines: between innocent friendship, sexually charged admiration, abusive sexual suggestion, emotional blackmail, financial blackmail, recognition of genuine talent, genuine love lived platonically, genuine love lived with sexual intimacy, sexual favours granted with genuine freedom, sexual favours granted out of fear or in exchange for promotion, covering peccadillos for a friend, covering graver matters for a rival in exchange for some benefit, not wanting to know too much about other people's lives, or obsessively wanting to know too much about them. Let alone the usual rancours of break-ups, career disappointments, petty jealousies, bitterness, revenge and so on. All of these tend to shade into or out of each other over time, making effective outside assessment, even if it were desirable, impossible. 
I don't think there is a healthy way to address this without opening up understanding of some of the dimensions of the systemic structural trap that is the clerical closet.

James Alison is a charitable fellow. I find it impossible to extend to Ross Douthat or Rod Dreher the sympathy he extends to them. The difference in how James and I perceive these American journalists may have, I suspect, something to do with the fact that I'm American and James is not — and, like many of their American critics, who should be listened to carefully in this discussion, I recognize the toxic subtext of both Douthat's and Dreher's work, since that subtext stares me in the face all the time as an American.

Perhaps people living outside the American cultural context don't quite see the depths of heterosexual male-entitled misogyny that inhabit both men's thought — along with homophobia — and in Dreher's case, in particular, the racism. Homophobia is part of a larger "package" in the thinking of American right-wingers, and that package includes misogyny and racism, too. I have no sympathy for any of this and don't want to "understand" it. I want to oppose it — but I also want to oppose the secret-keeping and corruption inside church structures that results in the toxic behavior we see on full display in Anatrella, McCarrick, and many others.

(My thanks to Michael Boyle for pointing me to this article.)

The photo of James Alison is from his James Alison. Theology website.

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