By David Carlin, The Catholic Thing, June 29, 2018
Note: Professor Carlin makes an argument here about changing discipline on priestly celibacy that is not my own or, it hardly needs saying, that of The Catholic Thing (which takes no official positions). It’s an extreme remedy for what may soon be revealed to be an extreme problem. We publish it as a spur to conversation about the extent of homosexuality among Catholic clergy and what may be necessary to deal with it. – Robert Royal
For years I’ve been opposed to the proposal that the Catholic Church drop its priestly celibacy requirement. I’ve opposed it for two reasons. First, it was a proposal put forward by “liberal” Catholics. Since I believe that a drift toward liberalism is gradually ruining the Catholic Church in America, I fear that giving in to any liberal demands – even sensible ones – will further contribute to the ruination of the Church. Second, I fear that an end to mandatory celibacy will be an awful shock to ordinary Catholic believers who want the Church to maintain its traditions.
The changes introduced by Vatican II were relatively minor, but these minor departures from tradition proved to be a tremendous shock for many Catholics, including many priests and nuns.
But I’ve changed my mind – thanks to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired Archbishop of Washington DC, who was the other day exposed as a homosexual who on at least one occasion, fifty years ago, was guilty of sexually abusing a minor. The best account of the McCarrick horror story that I have so far read was written by Rod Dreher under the title: “Cardinal McCarrick: Everybody Knew.”
According to Dreher’s account, McCarrick’s sexual misbehavior was not limited to one case early in his priestly career. Far from it. Very far. He engaged in homosexual seduction and conduct with young adult men – seminarians and young priests – when he was the bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey. Dreher doesn’t tell us what happened when McCarrick rose higher in the ecclesiastical world, becoming the archbishop first of Newark and later of Washington. I assume we’ll be hearing more of the story soon.
I don’t know how many Catholic priests are homosexual. I doubt that anybody really knows. I’ve read of estimates ranging from fifteen percent to fifty percent. Everybody in a position to make an intelligent guess seems to agree that the percentage of gay priests greatly exceeds the percentage of gay adults in the general population (about 2 or 3 percent). Of course, not every priest with a homosexual orientation is a practicing homosexual. And since so many of our priests are elderly, it is likely that many who used to engage in homosexual conduct no longer do so. Either the urge has waned, or they can no longer get a date.
And it’s not just that we have too many gay priests. It’s that they form networks within the priesthood. They stick together. They protect one another. They help one another advance. The McCarrick case is a splendid example of this.
It was no secret to insiders that he was a practicing homosexual, yet this did not prevent him from climbing the ecclesiastical ladder, from ordinary priest to bishop of a minor diocese (Metuchen), and then to Archbishop of Newark, and then to Archbishop of Washington, and finally to prince of the Church. And nobody stopped him along the way. He was well protected.
A sub-group doesn’t have to represent 51 percent of the whole in order to dominate the entire group. In big corporations, 10 percent ownership is often enough to win control of the whole corporation. In the old days, a well-organized gang of fifteen train robbers could rob a thousand passengers.
The Catholic Church in the United States, it is evident, has a homosexual tilt. If (like me) you had some doubts about this before today, the McCarrick horror story should be enough to remove these doubts.
No wonder it is a rare priest – a very rare priest – who denounces homosexuality or same-sex marriage from the pulpit. No wonder bishops don’t fight back against the gay movement, even though this movement is every day persuading thousands of young Catholics that their religion is wrong, and has been wrong for 2,000 years, in teaching that sodomy is sinful and unnatural.
And no wonder that the Church in America puts up virtually no resistance to our culture of sexual freedom. How can a homosexually tainted religion complain about fornication and unmarried cohabitation? Can it even complain about adultery?
And can anybody be surprised that our Church in America is feeble in its opposition to abortion? For if you fight against abortion, you will have to fight against sexual freedom; and if you fight against sexual freedom, you will, of course, have to fight against sodomy. One domino after another.
And will a priest, even one who is quite definitely non-gay, be able to be a good sexual counselor – regardless of whether the person he is counseling is straight or gay – in a Church that has a “soft spot” for homosexuality?
The Church must be de-homosexualized as soon as possible. The best way of doing this, maybe the only way, is to open the priesthood to married men, the way the priesthood has been open to married men for many centuries in the Orthodox churches.
This is risky. It will be a shock to many old-fashioned Catholics. It will encourage liberal Catholics to intensify their demand that the priesthood be open to women. Ironically, it will encourage liberals to demand that the Church ordain openly homosexual men (and women) to the priesthood provided they sincerely take a vow of celibacy.
But the risk has to be run. Not to do so would be madness. Thanks to the exposure of McCarrick, the secret is out. It will no longer be possible to fool the average parishioner. We are moving in the direction of becoming a gay-dominated religion. There are many factors, not just this one, tending to ruin the Catholic Church in America. But this one is especially lethal.
Let us hope it is not too late. Let us hope we still have in our midst a critical mass of courageous bishops who are untainted and uncompromised.
David Carlin is professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the author of The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America.