Cardinal McCarrick scandal inflames gay-priest debate
Allegations that disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick engaged in sex with adult seminarians have inflamed a long-running debate about the presence of gay men in the Roman Catholic priesthood.
Some conservatives are calling for a purge of all gay priests, a challenging task given that they are believed to be numerous and few are open about their sexual orientation. Moderates want the church to eliminate the need for secrecy by proclaiming that gay men are welcome if they can be effective priests who commit to celibacy.
Among the most outspoken moderates is the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and writer whose book, “Building a Bridge,” envisions a path toward warmer relations between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community.
“The idea of a purge of gay priests is both ridiculous and dangerous,” Martin said in an email. “Any purge would empty parishes and religious orders of the thousands of priests [and bishops] who lead healthy lives of service and faithful lives of celibacy.”
That outlook infuriates some conservative Catholics.
Citing McCarrick’s case, Michael Hichborn of the Lepanto Institute, which promotes traditional Catholic teaching, says there must be a “complete and thorough removal of all homosexual clergymen from the church.”
“It is going to be difficult and will likely result in a very serious priest shortage,” Hichborn said. “But it’s definitely worth the effort.”
While the McCarrick scandal has intensified debate in the U.S. about gays in the priesthood, it’s a global issue. Recent gay-priest sex scandals have surfaced in Chile, Honduras, France and Italy.
In the U.S., where investigations may determine if church leaders turned a blind eye to McCarrick’s penchant for young seminarians, there have been follow-up allegations of sexual misconduct in seminaries. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who said Monday that he didn’t see a letter sent to his office by a priest in 2015 concerning McCarrick’s activities, recently announced an investigation into his diocesan seminary.
Catholic teaching, when it comes to homosexuality, is nuanced. The church says gays should be treated with dignity and respect, yet it has long taught that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.”
In 2005, the Vatican stated that even celibate gays should not be priests, saying church leaders cannot accept seminary applicants who “practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.”’