John Leo
Years ago an old friend, now deceased, was ordained a priest and joined a new community in the Midwest. My friend was homosexual, and it slowly dawned on me, on a visit out there, that the other priests in the house seemed to be gay too. So was the local bishop, according to the clerical grapevine.

I wish I could say I was overcome by an intense desire to figure out what was going on, but I wasn't. We pushed these things out of our minds in those days. Sample questions I could have asked my friend but didn't: Will straight priests feel welcome in this house, and if not, wasn't this place going to be a gay institution? What would that mean? And what are the chances that a houseful of like-minded, high-energy homosexual men would remain celibate? If they were sexually active, didn't this make them hypocrites, committing themselves publicly to a rule they were all ignoring?

Good questions, finally being asked throughout the Catholic Church. As the battle lines are now drawn, one side says that sexually active gay priests are a small percentage of the clergy, perhaps only 10 percent. The other side says the church has a severe long-term problem with a powerful "lavender mafia" of gay priests and bishops that controls many seminaries and undermines the integrity of the church by encouraging what the church forbids. Intentionally or not, the argument goes, this gay culture discourages straight recruits to the priesthood and gradually makes the clergy more heavily homosexual.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, the current head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently said, "It's an ongoing struggle to make sure the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men." Apprehension about gay domination of the church is now a top-level concern? Ordinary Catholics hadn't been told.

Still, it isn't exactly fresh news. The last cardinal in Boston, Humbertos Medeira, warned the Vatican in 1979 that a sharp increase in the number of gay seminarians meant a decline in straight seminarians. He said, "Where large numbers of homosexuals are present in a seminary, other homosexuals are quickly attracted." Straight applicants, he said, "tend to be repelled."

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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