The sex scandals involving Roman Catholic clergy and boys come in every morning with the regularity of terrorist activity in the Mideast. The stories engender heuristic discussion of problems if not cognate, at least tangential. What is happening to the Catholic clergy? Is what is happening conceivably welcome? What are we learning about the homosexual subculture in the clergy? What is it teaching us about such public questions as homosexual scoutmasters?
There is a new book called "Goodbye! Good Men," in which the author, Michael Rose, contends that individual Catholic seminaries are seedbeds for the perversions we are reading about. In the words of one reviewer, "Rose presents evidence that the leadership in some seminaries often discharged men (in the recent past) who were unabashed in their heterosexuality, while at the same time simply denying that an actual sacramental priesthood exists."
The prominent scholar Garry Wills, writing in The New York Review of Books under the heading "Jesuits in Disarray," speaks of the near dissolution of the religious order in which he once served as a novice. His tone about developments is that of the statistician, recording events without any sense of personal involvement in them. If Wills had been writing about a lesion of interest in civil liberties, or racial integration, or women's rights, there'd have been a poignant throb of concern; no such thing here. He is as detached in talking about the Jesuit disarray as a researcher would be about an atrophied body part.
In the past, Jesuit novices "offered stirring models" for students who wanted to join them in their "high calling." But now we have the outward flood, and other exercise grounds for idealistic energy. "Many nuns discovered this while participating in, or watching other women participate in, the civil-rights demonstrations of the '60s."
Mr. Wills quotes the authors of a book who note "the gaying and the graying of the Jesuits." Notwithstanding, the remnant Jesuit leadership is relatively in high regard: "I think the church is being governed by thugs," Mr. Wills quotes one Jesuit administrator, who would, however, not say this about the present leadership of his own order. And there is this "social bond" that is "the Catholic version of the gay movement." In some Jesuit quarters you have the beginning of a new form of social discrimination: "Some of those (straight) Jesuits interviewed express resentment at being excluded by the gays."
What to do about it? Tough. There is a little band there of "restorationists." But if the order's general in Rome "should try to enforce the papal ban on any homosexual activity, the already thin ranks could be considerably reduced -- gays might leave in droves, as heterosexuals already have."
Author Stanley Kurtz, writing on National Review Online, addresses the problem of a gay subculture in the priesthood by analogy. Suppose, he says, that gays were welcomed as Boy Scout leaders and proceeded to form bonds. Inevitably, some would engage in sex with some boys, and scandal would follow. Never mind that this would be so only of a small minority of the gay scoutmasters. "Hasn't the fear always been that only a minority would do so, but that this minority would be sufficient to do irreparable harm, not only to many young boys, but to the Boy Scouts as an organization?
"All of this has already happened in the church. Clearly, the acceptance of celibate homosexuals into the priesthood has had important positive consequences for these men, and for the people they serve. Yet the dangers to the church in such a policy are also, clearly, profound. There is a difficult balancing of goods here. But what seem to me to be the entirely sensible concerns of those who resist the notion of homosexual priests or Boy Scout leaders cannot be dismissed as hysteria or prejudice, simply because not every homosexual Boy Scout leader or priest would end up abusing boys or young men."
And Rod Dreher, a Catholic who has written about the church scandals, engages Andrew Sullivan, the prominent writer, Catholic, homosexual. Dreher excuses his mention of Sullivan's problems, intending "no disrespect." "If I made a habit of holding myself out as a Catholic in good standing, but wrote publicly about sleeping around outside of marriage ... why shouldn't people question me about it? Andrew (Sullivan) confesses today to being a Catholic dissenter. ... That's between (dissenters) and their confessors, but what really bothers me is that many of them, including priests, teach this dissent as authentic Catholicism.
"I do not believe that homosexuality mandates child abuse. I do not believe many, or even most gay men abuse minors. I am unpersuaded, though, that the culture of homosexuality in the priesthood has nothing to do with the numerous scandals, which almost always involve boys. If Tailhook were a widespread phenomenon, then we would be right to question whether an abusive culture of heterosexuals in the Navy contributed to the problem."