Priests trapped in closets: The New York Times offers updated talking points for Catholic left

At this point, there is no reason to expect a New York Times story about sexuality and the Catholic Church to be anything other than a set of talking points released by the press office at Fordham University or some other official camp of experts on the Catholic doctrinal left.

This is, of course, especially true when the topic is linked to LGBTQ issues.

New York City is a very complex place, when it comes to Catholic insiders and experts. However, it appears that there are no pro-Catechism voices anywhere to be found in the city that St. Pope John Paul II once called the “capital of the world.”

We had a perfect example this weekend of the Gray Lady’s role in defining the journalistic norms for covering Catholic debates (as journalists prepare for the Vatican’s global assembly to discuss sexual abuse by clergy). Here’s the epic double-decker headline:

’It Is Not a Closet. It Is a Cage.’ Gay Catholic Priests Speak out

The crisis over sexuality in the Catholic Church goes beyond abuse. It goes to the heart of the priesthood, into a closet that is trapping thousands of men.

Looking for a news story that offers viewpoints from both sides of this issue? Forget about it.

Looking for complex, candid thoughts from gay Catholics who actually support the teachings of their church? Forget about it (even though they exist and are easy to find online.)

Looking for any point of view other than the Times gospel stated in that headline? Forget about it.

So what is the purpose of this story?

Simple stated, the goal here is to define this debate for legions of other journalists. Here is how Rod “Benedict Option” Dreher describes this role in the journalism ecology in the Theodore McCarrick era:

When it comes to covering LGBT issues, The New York Times is a propaganda sheet worth reading only for the same reason that, during the Cold War, one read Pravda: to get the ruling class’s party line. …

I wonder if this intrinsic journalistic disorder at the Times has anything to do with the fact that a freelance writer on assignment for the New York Times Magazine had the McCarrick story nailed (the preying-on-seminarians part) back in 2012, but the story never appeared. I know this because I was interviewed for the piece by the reporter, who had court documents, and at least one on-the-record interview with a McCarrick victim. The reporter told me a couple of months later that he couldn’t understand why his story was being spiked. The new male editor on the piece — the woman who had commissioned it had since moved on — kept putting roadblocks in front of him, and none of it made sense.

“Is your new editor a gay man?” I asked.

“Yes,” said the journalist. “What does that have to do with anything?”

Maybe nothing, I said.

Before we go on, let me stress my own stance on the current Catholic crisis. I know that I have run this information before, but I want readers to know that I am not stating that “gay priests” are the most powerful factor in Catholicism’s three-decade sexual-abuse crisis.

I: The key to the scandal is secrecy, violated celibacy vows and potential blackmail. Lots of Catholic leaders – left and right, gay and straight – have sexual skeletons in their closets, often involving sex with consenting adults. These weaknesses, past and/or present, create a climate of secrecy in which it is hard to crack down on crimes linked to child abuse.

II. Classic pedophiles tend to strike children of both genders. However, in terms of raw statistics, most child-abuse cases linked to Catholic clergy are not true cases of pedophilia, but are examples of ephebophilia – intense sexual interest in post-pubescent teens or those on the doorstep of the teen years. The overwhelming majority of these clergy cases are adult males with young males.

III. One of the biggest secrets hiding in the bitter fog from all of these facts is the existence of powerful networks of sexually active gay priests, with many powerful predators – McCarrick is a classic example – based at seminaries and ecclesiastical offices. Thus, these men have extraordinary power in shaping the lives of future priests.

With that in mind — especially that second point — read this crucial “fact” passage that appears in the Times story, without attributions of any kind.

Studies repeatedly find there to be no connection between being gay and abusing children. And yet prominent bishops have singled out gay priests as the root of the problem, and right-wing media organizations attack what they have called the church’s “homosexual subculture,” “lavender mafia,” or “gay cabal.”

Now, what is the meaning of the world “children”? Does that term adequately describe the fact that the overwhelming majority of victims in this crisis are teen-aged males?

Anyone who has studied the clergy-abuse crisis among PROTESTANTS knows that adult males who prey on teen-aged girls are not the same as the criminals who prey on children younger than 12 years of age (approximately). It’s true that there is no connection between male homosexuality and pedophilia. However, is that the key issue in this case? Is that what informed conservative Catholics are claiming?

Let’s see, what else do we need to see in this set of Times talking points? How about another out-of-context statement of those famous words from Pope Francis? Here’s the Times update:

Just a few years ago, this shift was almost unimaginable. When Pope Francis uttered his revolutionary question, “Who am I to judge?” in 2013, he tempted the closet door to swing open. A cautious few priests stepped through.

But if the closet door cracked, the sex abuse crisis now threatens to slam it shut. Widespread scapegoating has driven many priests deeper into the closet.

“The vast majority of gay priests are not safe,” said Father Bob Bussen, a priest in Park City, Utah, who was outed about 12 years ago after he held Mass for the L.G.B.T.Q. community. “Life in the closet is worse than scapegoating,” he said. “It is not a closet. It is a cage.”

Let’s see, it would also help to include a shot at the church’s teaching that sex outside of marriage is sin. Let’s click that off the list, since healthy sexuality has to include, well, you know:

Today, training for the priesthood in the United States usually starts in or after college. But until about 1980, the church often recruited boys to start in ninth grade — teenagers still in the throes of puberty. For many of today’s priests and bishops over 50, this environment limited healthy sexual development. Priests cannot marry, so sexuality from the start was about abstinence, and obedience.

But not all Catholics are bad!

There are Catholics who agree with the Times editorial (and news) pages. Here is a paragraph informing readers (and journalists elsewhere) how to know that you are dealing with Catholics who are not stupid, ancient, uninformed fundamentalists:

So they find ways to encourage one another. They share books like Father James Martin’s groundbreaking “Building a Bridge,” on the relationship between the Catholic and L.G.B.T. communities. Some have signed petitions against church-sponsored conversion therapy programs, or have met on private retreats, after figuring out how to conceal them on their church calendars. Occasionally, a priest may even take off his collar and offer to unofficially bless a gay couple’s marriage.

The key to this story, once again, is that it contains zero information from Catholics — gay Catholics even — on the other side of this crucial debate. There is zero attempt to actually engage the contents of centuries of Catholic doctrine on human sexuality.

There is no need for any of that. Why? Because no one involved in editing this story was interested in journalism. No one was interested in readers being exposed to accurate, informed quotes from people on both sides. No one was interested in showing respect for Catholics — gay and straight — who are stupid enough to believe the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. What would be the point of that?

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