“Witch Hunt”: Goodstein drops the ball

There are only a handful of reporters at the NY Times I really respect, and Laurie Goodstein, who covers religion, has been one of them. She is generally very balanced in her reporting, very careful to make sure she is presenting all sides.

She doesn’t do it in this piece, though. This piece, while taking the time to quote folks in the pew, spends a great deal of time fomenting sympathy for gay priests and seminarians while skipping over the “whys” of the current “witch hunt.”

Full disclosure: Without going into detail, I do have a dog in this fight. I know gay priests who are terrific, and celibate and joyful and I support them in their vocations and love and trust them. And I know all of this is hurtful to them. My personal feeling is that ordination should have less to do with sexuality than with holiness and an ability to keep it in the pants, whether gay or straight. BUT…

Having said that, and meant it, what the gay priests quoted in Ms. Goodstein’s article do not want to address – what Goodstein herself does not wish to address – is that this “witch hunt” is happening for a reason, and that gay priests and seminarians are being hurt right now and focused on for a reason – the reason being that too many gay priests (and the bishops who shielded them) have by their actions hurt quite a lot of adolescent boys and ALL of their brother priests, both gay and straight, who have lived faithfully to their vows of celibacy.

Now, it’s true that SOME of the sexual abuse discovered to have been going on in the 60’s, 70′ and 80’s (much less so in the 90’s and beyond) was heterosexual abuse…but the truth is that something like 90% of the abuse was male/male. The gay community doesn’t want to look at that fact, they don’t want to examine it, or they want to explain it away and say that such abuse is predominantly male not because the priests are gay, but because their sexual developement is “immature” due to celibacy. Uh-huh.

Ms. Goodstein’s story is framed:

Mean, homophobic, intolerant Catholic church is bearing down cruelly on gay priests and seminarians, because it is hateful.

It should perhaps have been framed:

Tolerant Catholic church, betrayed and reeling from dishonorable priestly behavior, forced to re-examine its policies.

I find this quote to be pretty objectionable:

Gay priests say they are being scapegoated for crimes committed by pedophiles and covered up by bishops who never faced any discipline. The interviews made clear that they now had the strong sense of being persecuted by their own church.

“I feel like a Jew in Berlin in the 1930’s,” said a 48-year-old gay priest who has spent 18 years in a religious order. He said he was considering donning a pink triangle – the symbol used by the Nazis – and getting heterosexual priests and members of the laity to wear the triangles as a protest.

I imagine this priest would have a more justified sense of feeling “like a Jew in Berlin in the 1930’s” if – like the Jews – he and his brother priests were being over-scrutinized for no real reason. But this priest wants to conveniently gloss over the fact that MOST of the sexual abuse against minors took place between priests and adolescent males. If he cannot be intellectually honest about that, well, then he’s not going to be able to be intellectually honest about much else.

This article is missing some balance that remembers what started all of this, which is that gay priests were going after the adolescent boys and ruining their lives.

The NY Times wants us to feel sorry for the gay priests…well, I DO feel sorry for the good ones, and I know there are good ones…but let’s first feel sorry for the kids the bad ones did hurt. THEN lets feel sorry for ALL of the good priests, both gay and straight, who have been hurt by the actions of the few.

The church is undertaking a corrective measure that need not have been taken, had priests and bishops policed their own for the last 3-4 decades, had they not looked the other way when their brother priests were ignoring their own vows. The bishops are greatly to be blamed. Priests who saw what was happening and did nothing bear some blame, too.

I think this “witch hunt” idea is a pretty and convenient over-reaction, though. As John Allen points out here,

…we don’t yet have the document, and as always with church texts, the devil is in the details.

That’s particularly true with this instruction, since the Vatican has already twice published documents indicating that homosexuals should not be admitted to the priesthood (a document from the Congregation for Religious in 1961 and another from the Congregation for Divine Worship in May 2002). To what extent the new instruction will mark a change in policy, and what its practical impact may be, therefore remains to be seen.

True enough. This document, which is causing all of this weeping and gnashing of teeth on the left, may end up being another impotent move. Frankly, I DO believe that God can call gays to the priesthood. I just think if they’re not calling out to Him, daily, for the grace to live out their vow of celibacy, then we’ve got a problem.

From the Goodstein article:

Msgr. Denis Herron, pastor of St. Teresa’s Church in Woodside, Queens, said a commitment to celibacy was more important than a seminarian’s sexual orientation.

“Some people can’t make that commitment, and that can be heterosexuals or homosexuals,”

I agree with that. But I am saddened to see that Goodstein ended her piece thusly:

Monsignor Herron said. “I’m concerned that this could turn into a witch hunt.”

If it DOES turn into a “witch hunt,” it is important to remember that such an “overcorrection” is not rooted in “nothing”… all of this is happening for a reason. Let’s remember that.

My son Buster recently quit his job at a local rectory, owing to his extra-busy school-and-music schedule for the year. He loved the job, loved the priests he worked with daily. The older priest from a secular nation, who took his life into his hands to become a Catholic priest in that country, the shy younger priest from India, always at prayer, the “late vocation” priest who liked to work on cars and always seemed to have a rip here or a tear there, and the discreetly gay one who would occasionally let loose by dancing around the rectory singing show tunes and challenging Buster to movie trivia. “They are all such good priests,” he would say to me, admiringly, “and they’re completely dedicated.” And Buster is right, they are.

And every one of them has been wounded, deeply, by the behavior of these bad priests, wounded just as surely as the victims of abuse. The Vatican is trying to figure out how to keep what should never have happened from ever happening again. In looking at the travesty, they saw a pattern, and they are addressing that pattern. If, for a time, the manner in which they address it seems heavy-handed, well…let us remember that what happened involved heavy, heavy crimes.

I have gay family members, and I love them, and I have watched them try to be “Catholic and gay,” and it is a tough thing. It is tough, for that matter, to be “Christian and gay” if you are trying to avoid the “narrow gate,” if you are trying to be the sort of Christian – or specifically a Catholic – who has no respect for, or sense of duty to chastity – which is a thing to which all are called. Married people are called to chastity within their marriage. Single people (gay and straight) are called to celibacy. It’s really that simple (and that difficult). Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, not theme-park rides meant to be ridden until they are wrecked.

The great Lutheran, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote about cheap grace. My brother S and I talked, sometimes, about his struggle to be a faithful Catholic, and the allure of the gay lifestyle which eventually killed him. He looked for grace – he wanted it – and he even, eventually found it. But the cost was very great. It did not come cheaply. It cannot.

“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack’s wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost!

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.

Costly grace is the Gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.

Above all, it is costly because it costs God the life of His Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.

Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon His Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered Him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer The Cost of Discipleship

These are not easy times for anyone. Not for anyone. And the Catholic Church is not the only one struggling with these issues and not getting it all just right. (Should schools penalize the children of gay couples? Another hot-button!)

It seems to me that if we are to move ahead into better, less polarized, more peacable times, we will have to begin by facing things we would rather not, and approaching matters with rigorous honesty – and that is true for both sides. But we’ll have to face those things with compassion, too, and with the understanding that “everything that came before the sexual revolution” is not worthless and without value.

Mostly, we’re going to have to do it with the recognition that none are perfect, save Christ.

This article in The Tablet, written by a priest who is gay, has some sound points to it, but it reveals, still – this troubling mindset, which I think really needs to be addressed if anything good is to come of all of this:

…blame for that clerical crisis is being placed squarely on the shoulders of celibate gay men in the priesthood rather than on the bishops who moved paedophile priests away from the scene of their assaults to new locations where they struck again, abusing more children.

Actually…blame is being placed on the shoulders of NON-CELIBATE GAY MEN in the priesthood, first and foremost…which is where it belongs. Then it belongs to the bishops who moved PEDARAST PRIESTS (pedarasts prey on adolescents and teenagers) to new locations. The priest writing this article is neglecting to make that VERY IMPORTANT distinction and in doing so he is – again – a refusing to acknowledge that what he would like to call a “pedophile” scandal is actually a “pederasty scandal” with strong gay overtones.

Again, intellectually dishonest. This is how the press and the left are framing this issue. And as along as they continue to do so, as long as they want to gloss over the fact that the abuse scandals mostly did not involve 5 year old girls but 12-16 year old boys, this is never going to get cleared up and the “strictly conservative” side will not be able to see their way to do anything but overcompensate for the lack of honesty.

Understand. I DO support CELIBATE gay men being in the priesthood. To me, this is all about celibacy – about men keeping their vows. But I think until this scandal is rightly called what it is, rightly identified for what it is, no healing can come. Celibate gay priests who feel “victimized” by all of this should be making it clear to their NON-CELIBATE priest brothers just how much harm they have done, not pointing a finger and saying “unfair” to the Vatican.

We keep waiting for the Muslim community to say to Islamofascist terrorists, “knock it off, you’re making it hard for ALL of us!”

Celibate gay priests need to do the same. When they do, then perhaps the “strictly orthodox conservative” church can relax its breath and stop the “witch hunt.”

This is a mess, for sure. And it will not get cleaned up as long as the debate is rooted in untruth.

UPDATE: Sigmund Carl and Alfred have grabbed on to Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace idea and run with it, using a baseball metaphor, which of course, means you must go read it! :-)

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