The UK Mail is reporting today that the Italian magazine Panorama, owned by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is publishing an expose of three gay priests–two Italians and a Frenchman–who are leading double lives in Rome, priests by day and party boys by night, complete with gay nightclubs and casual sex. More great publicity for the priesthood. The Vicar of Rome is so incensed that he has called for gay priests to come out of the closet and leave the priesthood. (See Catholic News Service story.) Oh, brother.
This will add further fuel to the claims those, as the Catholic League's Bill Donohue argued on the Washington Post's On Faith blog, that the church doesn't have a pedophilia problem, it has a homosexuality problem. Setting aside the fact that Donohue is completely missing the point–the sex abuse crisis is finally a governance problem exposed by a terrible crime against children–he does have a point, kind of.
The real problem here is not that there are three priests running wild in gay Rome; there are plenty of priests–straight and gay–who misbehave sexually with other adults. The problem is that only these gay priests are the news, not all the other gay priests who labor faithfully, honoring their commitments along with their straight brothers as best they can. We don't hear their stories because they can't tell them for fear of expulsion. And that isn't right.
On this matter, the church's real problem is the closet. I must agree with the Vicar of Rome that it would be helpful if gay priests would come out–so we could thank them for their faithful service, especially as they have been unjustly tarred with "causing" sex abuse. Unfortunately, our church leadership at this time is not creating the kind of open and safe space that would allow for such honesty.
An Episcopal priest of my acquaintance told me that after the ordination of the openly gay Gene Robinson as bishop in New Hampshire, the whole Episcopal Church had to "come out" in a way–and not just in terms of sexual orientation. She has been pleasantly surprised that a lot of other "closeted behavior"–funny business with money, addictive behaviors, and so forth–got cleaned up, too. There's something to that: Having to lie or shade the truth or otherwise not be honest produces a lot of unhealthy behavior.
Funny what being honest will do. What did Jesus say about things like this? "The truth will make you free." Yeah, that was it.