The clergy abuse scandal continues to be not just the top religion story of 2002, but one of the year's top stories overall. There are far too many articles published each day for Weblog to keep up with all the details, but we'll keep highlighting major developments and trend stories. (For more in-depth coverage of the scandal, check out Yahoo's full coverage and the Poynter Institute's news tracker.) Weblog earlier notedNewsweek's recent cover story, "What Would Jesus Do," which suggested that he'd ordain women, married people, and homosexuals to the priesthood. Discussions on women and married priests continue, but the theme for this week's news coverage is undeniable: gays in the priesthood.
"Now that the transgressions of clerical abuse and official cover-up have been exposed, the church's second biggest secret is coming out of the closet: an institution that denounces homosexuality is kept afloat by a disproportionately gay work force," says this week's Time. "This irony is old news among most priests. … Estimates of the percentage of gay priests range from 15 percent to more than 50 percent."
Time's Amanda Ripley says the attention to gay priests has been brought by the church hierarchy. "Since many of the victims are teenage boys, the thinking goes, the perpetrators must be gay — and that must be the problem, not sexual repression, not leaders who ignore serious criminal allegations." Now, she writes, church officials are persecuting gay clergymen and may "question the validity of even celibate gay priests." They may even engage in "a witch hunt" by asking seminaries to (gasp!) "uphold orthodox moral doctrine in their applications process and in their classrooms."
The problem with that approach, Ripley says, is that (as has been repeated ad nauseum) "no mainstream research has found any link between pedophilia and homosexuality." (Well, no, but then again a lot of these abuse cases aren't really about pedophilia, either.)
"Some gay priests, unable to stomach the ingratitude after their years of service, say the comments may force them to walk away from a job they excel at," Ripley writes. "Many others are stepping further back into the closet, deeper into a world of secrecy, shame and isolation—the very dark place where priestly dysfunction can breed."
Ripley's basic argument seems to be that since homosexuality doesn't cause pedophilia, the church should allow for gay priests. Never mind that many of the gay priests Nichols talked to had broken their vows of celibacy. Never mind that, as Newsweek reports this week, Catholic seminaries are becoming some of the "country's gayest facilities for higher education," discouraging heterosexual candidates ("People I know quite well have left the seminary either in disgust because people are not keeping vows, or in alienation because they're not gay. In some cases it's a serious problem," Notre Dame's R. Scott Appleby tells the magazine.) Never mind that the Roman Catholic Church's teaching that homosexual orientation is "an objective disorder" and a brokenness, if not a sin itself (and thus, a cause for concern in its spiritual leaders).
In other media, one of the main spokesmen on this topic is Mark D. Jordan, professor of religion at Emory University and the author of The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism. In The New York Times, he sounds rather measured, explaining that "out-but-celibate" clergy are necessary to the church. In a piece for Newsday and other papers, however, he claims a bit oddly that the Roman Catholic Church is "intensely homoerotic" in "its symbols and roles, its beauties and gifts," and thus encourages homosexual men to sign up. (In Time, he gives as an example the Eucharist, "in which an all-male clergy sacrifices male flesh before images of God as an almost naked man." Enough said?)
Last week, the Chicago Tribune reported that this new attention to homosexual priests is "a powder keg." "Some liberal priests and parishioners are furious, saying church leaders have begun raising questions about gay priests instead of addressing the church's real and very separate problems: sexual abusers of any orientation and the practice of reassigning abusive priests from parish to parish," the paper said. "Some conservatives are angry too, but for different reasons. They say homosexuality in the clergy is a concern that has long deserved more scrutiny, and that church leaders still are failing to fully deal with it." Don't expect this debate to go away anytime soon.
Oh, and by the way, I don't know how many Weblog readers saw last week's article about how the largely gay Metropolitan Community Churches denomination had avoided becoming part of the child molestation story. But you can forget it now.
More on Rick Warren's parsonage
As noted in several of today's online Christianity Today articles, both the House and Senate have voted to protect tax exemptions for clergy housing allowances. But one more point should be made: while this bill might moot the case over Rick Warren's parsonage exemption, it doesn't end the battle. Some future court, with a similar case, might be just as activist in asking whether the exemption violates constitutional prohibitions on entwining church and state.
Copyright © 2002 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
See our past Weblog updates: