Dreher expects the La Repubblica report—describing a group of gay prelates blackmailed from outside criminal elements—is onto something. Charles P. Pierce derides Dreher’s term, “Lavender Mafia,” and is skeptical of the rumors:
What gives me a little pause is that the “secret gay cabal” theory is an old favorite among those curial powerbrokers for whom Machiavelli was something of a wimp. It also has been a regular trope of conservative Catholics seeking to defend the institutional Church’s inexcusable behavior in the face of the sexual abuse scandal, largely through the rancid technique of implying that being gay and being a pedophile are so closely allied that the former have a reason for covering up for the latter. (The linked piece from the Telegraph makes it clear that “the other side” that so exercised Dreher was not a “Lavender Mafia,” but the usual cast of institutional authoritarians up to and including John Paul II) It also is an old-line reactionary conspiracy theory beloved of, among other people, the late crackpot Malachi Martin.
And it can also be true. Pierce’s detection of the hoary old “lavender mafia” trope is dead-on. Rod’s gay conspiracy-mongering has more than a tinge of sexual panic to it (as does a large amount of Rod’s prose). But nonetheless, this conjecture of Rod’s is of a piece with everything I have heard and seen about the dysfunctional gay men who help run a church dedicated to the marginalization and stigmatization of their fellow homosexuals. Here’s where Rod and I agree:
True, this story is very thinly sourced, which is why I don’t say that I know it’s true. But I expect that it is true because of what I know all too well about the lavender mafia in the US Catholic Church, from things priests in a position to know about the situation in Rome have told me personally, and from situations like the Cardinal Groer debacle.
Where Rod errs, I think, is in believing that covering up child-rape has a direct link to homosexuality.
In some cases, truly fucked-up gay priests may indeed have been involved in the cover-up of child-rape or indeed committed the rapes. But many non-fucked-up gay ones had nothing to do with it and were part of the solution, not the problem. Many straight ones were among the worst conspirators and rapists. (One of the more chilling passages in the psychiatric evaluation of Father Lawrence Murphy, who raped 200 deaf boys in Milwaukee with impunity was about his choice for boys over girls. He said it was because there was no chance of conception if he raped boys.) We’re talking about categories and psyches and pathologies that go far beyond our ideas of gay and straight.
But the high camp sub-culture of the Vatican and large swathes of the Catholic priesthood definitely exists. I’ve seen and heard it with my own eyes and ears. It’s one reason I find the hierarchy so nauseating on this subject. It’s not so much the tortured psyches of these moral leaders, it’s the cynicism that necessarily follows that grieves me. Given the kind of worldly intrigue and politics that practically defines the Vatican, I wouldn’t be in any way surprised that there is a gay faction among the Cardinals; and a gay faction in the Vatican bureaucracy. And it truly saddens me.
The question is whether this faction is for or against reform. I don’t know. But I’ll pause to note that many gay leaders of the church in the past have been among the most conservative. They know their ermined, frilly closets depend upon total secrecy and separation from normal life. So take the latest example – Britain’s Cardinal O’Brien, derailed on his way to Rome because of credible reports of male sexual harassment of his inferiors. He’s no reformer:
O’Brien has been an outspoken critic of gay rights, denouncing plans for the legalisation of same-sex marriage as “harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved”. He was named bigot of the year in 2012 by the gay rights group Stonewall because of his central role in opposing gay marriage laws in Scotland.
I used to think that the gay question was important to me but not that important in the context of the whole church. But as the years have gone by, I wonder if it isn’t actually central to the crisis in Catholicism today. We need honesty – honesty about gay priests who need to come out as a way to buttress their celibacy; honesty about how priests are human beings and can benefit from a stable relationship in ways that enhance rather than detract from their ministry; honesty about the absurdly high proportion of the priesthood that is gay; honesty about the desperate need for wives and daughters to be part of a priest’s life in order to help him understand the flock he is supposed to tend to; honesty about the total arbitrary nature of the ban on women priests; and a recognition that gay priests have been among the greatest leaders of the church and still could be if allowed an option for a loving relationship with another human being – as Cardinal Newman had his whole life.
“Be not afraid!” John Paul II once wrote. “Of what should we not be afraid? We should not be afraid of the truth about ourselves.” This conclave – created by one of the gravest crises in the history of the church – needs to lose fear. It needs to face the truth about itself. And it needs to grasp the opportunity Benedict XVI has given it: the chance for a new birth, a new era, a new broom.
(Photo: Cardinal Keith O’Brien poses for pictures following a conference at Gillis Centre on May 8, 2012 in Edinburgh, Scotland. By Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)