A Washington Post opinion writer claimed that forcing gay priests to remain “in the closet” has caused the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandals.
Robert Mickens, writing in a Post opinion article entitled “The Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandals show it has a gay-priest problem — they’re trapped in the closet,” asserted that Catholic teaching and policy concerning homosexuality fostered warped sexuality in gay priests, which leads to sexual abuse. Mickens based his argument on the fact that almost all of the victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy have been male, the alleged high percentage of Catholic priests with a homosexual orientation, and policies within the Catholic church that dissuade clergy from openly admitting to same-sex attraction.
“It is the fact that almost all of them concern males — whether they are adolescents, post-pubescent teens or young men,” Mickens wrote.
“And while no adult who is of sound psychosexual health habitually preys on those who are vulnerable, there is no denying that homosexuality is a key component to the clergy sex abuse (and now sexual harassment) crisis. With such a high percentage of priests with a homosexual orientation, this should not be surprising.”
Mickens clarified, however, that while homosexuality and the denial thereof by church leadership are the major factors in the church’s sex abuse epidemic, only psychologically unhealthy gay men commit sexual abuse and sexual harassment. He claimed that Catholic policies, such as barring openly gay men from admission to seminary, prevented priests with homosexual inclinations from dealing openly and honestly with their orientations. The pressure of secrecy therefore warped the development of these clergymen’s sexuality, according to Mickens.
Mickens therefore argued that same-sex pedophilia is an advanced stage of homosexuality, rather than a totally separate orientation, albeit in the context of suppression and concealment of one’s sexual orientation.
Mickens pointed to the recent example of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop emeritus of the archdiocese of Washington, who has been accused by five men of years of past sexual abuse. One of the alleged victims, the first child McCarrick ever baptized, accused the cleric of abusing him for over 20 years starting at 13 years old. Mickens claims that the issue is abuse of power, and that focusing on the issue of pedophilia distracts from the problem of church leadership refusing to openly dialogue about homosexuality among the clergy.
Micken’s distinction between abuses of power stemming from repressed homosexuality and abuses of children is unclear at best, especially in light of the fact that most male victims of clergy sexual abuse were children at the time the abuse started and that fact that he argues that warped sexuality proceeds from restricting the open expression of homosexuality among priests.
Mickens asserted that while McCarrick and fellow clergy who have been revealed to have committed homosexual acts, such as Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, have been subjected to scrutiny and church discipline, other clergy who Mickens speculated to have committed heterosexual abuses of power have not, indicating a hypocrisy within the church.
“Our problem in the Church is of the abuse of power, an abuse that happens as a result of homophobia that keeps gay men in the closet, bars them from growing up and results in distorted sexuality for many gay priests,” Mickens wrote. “We need to address this elephant in the rectory parlor.”
The Congregation for Catholic Education, in accordance with the Catechism of the church and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, stated in a 2005 document that those who engage in homosexual activities, support the “gay culture,” or display deep-seated homosexual tendencies are prohibited from being ordained as priests. They clarify, however, that those who work through and overcome homosexual tendencies at least three years prior to ordination may enter the priesthood.
Mickens claimed, however, that Church leadership’s bar against clergy speaking or writing about dealing with their own deep-seated homosexual tendencies amounted to homophobia and engendered further dishonesty and unhealthy secrecy among the clergy.
“The Vatican knows all too well that there are large numbers of priests and seminarians with a homosexual orientation. But rather than encourage a healthy discussion about how gays can commit themselves to celibate chastity in a wholesome way, the Church’s official policies and teachings drive such men even deeper into the closet,” Mickens wrote.
“And like any other dark place lacking sunlight and air, this prevents normal development and festers mold, dankness, distortion and disease. Nothing kept in the dark can become healthy or flourish,” he added.
Mickens’ argument appears to be at odds, at least in part, with the Catholic Church’s perspective on sexuality. Given the church’s official policy concerning homosexuality, those who are willing to work through and overcome their tendencies are welcomed to do so and do it openly with the support of their church leaders – but only with the aim of obtaining healing from homosexual tendencies, not allowing homosexuality to flourish, celibate or not.
According to the church’s theology, homosexuality in and of itself is an aberrant sexuality that is contrary to natural law. Therefore, to identify as gay and so embrace the mentality and lifestyle associated with homosexuality, rather than striving to live in accordance with what Catholics believe to be the divinely intended order of creation, would be problematic for a priest, according to current Catholic doctrine, since they are charged with guiding both men and women in relating rightly to one another and to God.
From the church’s perspective, the answer to the problem of priests who identify as gay and are unwilling or unable to overcome those tendencies and are dishonest about their orientation would not be to embrace that position. Nor would it be to expel them from the church, so long as they are celibate. The Church’s answer would be, however, to remove them from the priesthood.
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