Respond to the Closet and the Cage with Compassion

Respond to the Closet and the Cage with Compassion February 26, 2019

For obvious reasons, there has been a lot of buzz about Catholicism in the news the past week. The bishops’ summit at the Vatican has meant that there’s been a particular focus on child abuse, but conversations about sexual abuse in the Church seem to inevitably lead to conversations about sexuality and Catholicism. This past week saw a significant number of articles about homosexuality and the clergy.  The release of Frederic Martel’s In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, and Hypocrisy has meant that most of these articles have been shocking and somewhat sensationalist (although at this point “sensationalist” can in no way be equated with “false”). In contrast to these more exciting articles, the New York Times offered the more modest and profoundly sad article “It’s Not a Closet. It Is a Cage.’ Gay Catholic Priests Speak Out.”


If you haven’t read this article yet, it’s absolutely worth reading. Talking about it with friends over the past week, a number of us found that we had been deeply affected by it and had a lot to say.  These are some of our responses.




For me, one of the parts of this article I found particularly upsetting was the way that seminarians and priests were discouraged from having “particular” relationships. If clerical culture demands that people avoid close friendships, it’s setting the stage for priests to be mentally/emotionally unhealthy, lonely, and miserable. It’s horrifying to me that priests would be discouraged from forming close friendships given that they are on the front lines when it comes to dealing with people’s trauma and crises. The sense of isolation must be crushing for those who follow this advice.



“The Game of Life asked, ‘Would you rather be burned over 90% of your body, paraplegic or gay?’ The men were conditioned to view being gay as a death sentence. They were taught to hate their sexuality and sexuality can’t be separated from self. This lack of understanding and integration creates unhealthy men who cannot operate as whole human beings. The psychological torment inflicted because of ignorance is enormous.

“A number of responses to this article have said things like, ‘We don’t give a crap about your tormented coming out story.’ The absence of respect in this response reveals a deeper problem about the absence of compassion and basic human decency. Stories are told about people without listening to them. Letters are written with words that no reasonable human being would say to another in person. They get shared over 10,000 times. 10,000 times. In a church where so much effort is put into having a well formed conscience we need to take a step back and examine this collective conscience. If we don’t find this horrifying then we need to take another look at our examination of conscience criteria.” – Beth




“Leaving aside the heart wrenching fact that, in a religion that boasts of accepting all kinds, all peoples, no matter what background, culture, history, or character, the tortured confessions of these priests coming out in secret for fear of their livelihood would still be the utmost in hypocrisy and cruelty in the Church. To simply classify someone’s sexual orientation as disordered with no regard for their person, their soul, their heart, and their vocation (whether a priest or not) is the utmost in unChristian behavior and is despicable. We cannot possibly begin to understand God’s infinite love (infinite being beyond measure, decorum, societal acceptance, or orientation) if we seek to destroy those who are simply different, who don’t fit the norm, and who are trying their best to live in a world that thrives on forcing conformity… [We must not] negate the inherently Christian ideal of bearing one anothers burdens as Christ has done and instead rely on self-pity and scapegoating to compare infinitely different sufferings to each other in order to tear an entire group of marginalized people down. This is not what the Church should be about.” Jenn Francis at The Shoeless Banshee




When I read articles like this, I worry about lack of compassion and charity for priests as human beings, as well as the way some seem to want to make the priest into some weird sexless, desire-free object. I got to thinking about how much more freeing it would be if we could all talk about sex. I got to thinking also about how much healthier it would be if we could talk about the actual church teachings about human sexuality and their history, as well as the impact of such things. So often the mere mention of discussing these things brings forth a tsunami like response of NO, as if discussing it means we are going to change things. And even if we did change things, that is not entirely unprecedented in the history of the church. I am not saying we must change the teachings, but I am wishing, hoping, praying, for a day when we can gather and live our lives as church, discerning, learning, teaching, reflecting, and growing.
“The New York Times piece mostly made me sad. That’s because there is a trope out there, encouraged by some corners of the church, that says that gay = abuse. That is 100% wrong. There is also a trope out there, also in the 100% wrong category that letting priests marry would eliminate abuse. As most abuse happens in families, something I know all too much about, that theory is blown for me. That these ideas would continue to bubble up around the issue made me sad. That priests are still focused on blotting out an entire part of themselves makes me sad too, and that worries me more about the potential for abuse. I offer no solutions, just the sound of my flag of sadness flapping in the winds of current events. However, I do wish we, as church, could work through these issues with more openness about sexuality.” – Fran Rossi Szpylczyn
Art by Brian Jocks

Browse Our Archives