Let me say, for the record, that I’m heterosexual as far as I know — or, rather, if I have other tendencies I’m not aware of it. I put it that way because I don’t think it’s an either/or situation, but a continuum — and because I really don’t care. In any event, I have good reason to know that sexual orientation has nothing to do with the ability of a priest to do his job — and then some.
I was raised by a gay priest. My mother became his housekeeper in 1955, when I was 11 years old, and took care of him until he died in 1989. During my adolescence, and for many years thereafter, he was the father figure that I looked to for advice and example.
I’m not saying that the man was perfect, nor was the man of god. He was a control freak, emotionally unavailable to an amazing degree, and an intellectual snob of the first order. He was flamboyant, grandiose, and given to attempts at buying affection. But if it weren’t for him my mom, younger brother and I would have ended up penniless, with little prospect of improving our fortunes and no place to turn. Instead, I got a decent shot at the teenage years, a good education, support when I needed it, and a reasonably good start in the world.
In retrospect, I realize that Father counseled gay priests, and that some of the parishioners he was close to, both male and female, were most likely gay as well. Whether or nor there was “hanky panky” with any of the males I’m unable to say, but I have pretty clear memories of that part of my life and I don’t recall anything that seems suspicious.
There is no question in my mind that the man loved me after his fashion, but never was there a hint of impropriety. I didn’t realize for a number of years that he was gay, until, as part of my recovery from alcoholism, I began to look at the reality of the people who had helped shape me into who I am. The realization cleared up a lot of ambiguities about his background prior to entering the priesthood, a few about the man that I knew, and a few things about me, as well. For one thing, I’ve always been able to spot gay men easily, have always been comfortable in their presence, and yet seem to have no interest myself. I occasionally wondered about that — didn’t lose any sleep over it — but now I realize why. It. Just. Seemed. Natural.
Do homosexual priests have affairs with parishioners? Almost certainly — after all, some heterosexual ones do. Does one occasionally stray across the somewhat arbitrary line into the under-aged category? Almost certainly. Do the heterosexuals? Sure. Are these things reprehensible? Certainly. Do homosexual priests molest young boys? Not in my experience. Is that definitive? No, but everything that I know about mental health (quite a lot, as it happens) indicates that pedophilia is an entirely separate issue from sexual preference, and that pedophiles are far more likely to be heterosexual.
One thing is sure — if you were a Catholic youth, back in the 20th Century, and were bothered by any kind of “sinful” thoughts, the priesthood must have seemed like a real haven, where you could serve God and feel safe. It must have been a shock to arrive and find out how many others thought it to be the solution — and to eventually find that when it comes to demons, you can run — but you can’t hide.
© 2002 Wm. E. Webb