In the modern world of gender politics, sexual proclivities and personal identity are often conflated, frequently on purpose, for political or social reasons. But the Roman Catholic Church holds the view that a person’s human dignity and intrinsic worth as a child of God are not contingent on his or her sexuality.
At the same time, sexual inclinations do not exempt a person from acting in an honorable and honest way in the world.
But recent news out of the heart of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican itself, paints a picture of certain clergy and Church officials who feel that their sexual needs and group loyalties trump the faith they have willingly embraced and even their solemn vows.
On June 11, a Chilean Catholic Website reported that Pope Francis, in a private meeting with the presidency of CLAR (Latin American Confederation of Men and Women Religious), had referred to a “gay lobby” operating in the Vatican.
As reported, the comment was, “there are holy people in the Curia, truly, there are holy people. But there is also a current (stream) of corruption, there is one, it is true… there are words about a ‘gay lobby,’ and it is true, it is there… we have to see what we can do (about it).”
CLAR has since backtracked on the report, regretting its release and explaining that it was based on attendees’ memories, didn’t include the questions to the pontiff, and that there was no recording of the meeting. But the Website, Reflexion y Liberacion, stood by its decision to publish the meeting summary as a news story.
It even cited Scripture, Matthew 10:27: “What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.”
While the Holy See Press Office has emphasized the private nature of the meeting, it has not refuted Pope Francis’ remarks.
The “gay lobby” comment made headlines across the world, reigniting a long-simmering debate about the number, influence, and future of homosexual clergy in the Roman Catholic Church.
No one denies these men exist – and probably, in varying numbers, always have – nor that many have a sincere faith, abide by their vows of celibacy, and honorably serve in their vocations. But the central issue of the so-called “gay lobby” is not whether these men experience same-sex attraction (which the Church has declared to not, in itself, be sinful) but how they conduct their personal lives, the way they treat fellow priests and seminarians, and what their attitudes mean to their vocations and the Church at large.
Reports, both official and anecdotal, have circulated for years that active homosexuals in some seminaries have been violating Catholic sexual ethics – which state that any sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin and that homosexual acts are “objectively disordered” – and aggressively discriminating against heterosexual candidates for the priesthood who don’t agree with their activities (and are too orthodox in their religious views).
As with all things, problems begin at the beginning, and the years a priest spends in seminary have a profound effect on the quality of a man and a shepherd he will become.
Recently, Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien stepped down after reports, stretching back for decades, surfaced that he had engaged in inappropriate, abusive behavior with fellow priests and with seminarians in his native land.
And he’s not alone.
What the Vatican’s research revealed was a pattern of behavior at certain seminaries, which promoted homosexually inclined or “gay friendly” candidates, often at the expense of others, and created a cliquish atmosphere that persisted through the priests’ careers.
In his 2013 book, The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church, longtime Vatican journalist John Thavis wrote about a scandal involving child pornography and photos of seminary staffers and students engaged in homosexual contact that resulted in the 2004 closing of a 200-year old Austrian seminary and the resignation of the local bishop.
Obviously, those engaged in these scandals are giving only lip service to the tenets of the religion they claim to follow, and any clerics involved are ignoring or actively flaunting the binding promises they made at ordination.
The fallout from these sorts of reports, followed by consultations with theologians and psychologists, led to a 2005 Vatican document – begun by John Paul II and released under Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI – that set a new policy dissuading those with “deep-seated” homosexual tendencies from seeking the priesthood.
Despite the sensational aspects of such issues, sexual sins aren’t the only ones at work here. There’s plenty of deceit, greed, and unbridled ambition to go around.
As Thavis quotes an unnamed monsignor, “My friend, for the Vatican, sex is always about power.”
When Pope Francis referred to a “gay lobby” in Rome, he was not necessarily just referring to Vatican prelates whose sexual peccadilloes (with men or women or both) made them vulnerable to outside blackmail (though that’s been talked about for a long time as well).
He was also likely referring to reports of a tight network of gay clerics that wields influence within the Vatican and operates largely for its own (often financial) benefit rather than for the good of the Church.
According to some Italian news sources, the extent of this network of corruption came to light during the “Vatileaks” scandal, in which Benedict XVI’s personal butler released confidential documents. The then-pontiff charged three cardinals with conducting an internal investigation, the results of which were passed directly to his successor.
Some believe that the shocking enormity of the problem contributed to Benedict’s decision to resign early this year.
Since assuming the Chair of Peter, Pope Francis has addressed the nature of the priesthood, emphasizing the roles of active shepherd and spiritual father, and deriding the notion that it exists to serve personal advancement and vanity. He has even called careerism a “leprosy” on the priesthood.
And to be fair, Pope Francis has also cautioned religious sisters against being merely “spinsters” and urging them to be spiritual mothers instead.
What the new pope appears to be doing is urging all clergy and religious to take the focus off themselves and put it back on their faith and the Church to which they voluntarily vowed their fealty and obedience, and then to direct it outwards towards the people whose souls the Church exists to save.