Catholic Church is struggling with serial exposure of its private values more than homosexuality

Fintan O’Toole hits the nail on the head over Keith O’Brien, and the church’s problematic stand on homosexuality (no sniggering Anglicans and etc others, please)…

…in the end, the church’s double life in relation to homosexuality is just cruel. Some priests manage maintaining two different personas very well. Some perhaps even take a kind of pleasure in it. But for some, even at the very top of the clerical tree, it is an appalling strain.

When the desire to touch and be touched, to love and be loved, is “inappropriate behaviour”, it must become appallingly hard to know what is and is not appropriate. In an age when covering up the inevitable outbreaks of desperate desire is increasingly impossible, the church must learn to embrace what is normal and natural.

The most recent pope seems to have been a sincere and learned man. His pin pointing of Francis Bacon and the scientific method is unerringly precise in terms of the power in the secular challenge to the church. But science is not the reason these human tensions can no longer be contained within the church.

British Television first brought secular ideas of divorce and sexual scandal into Irish Catholic homes. British television also broke some of the earlier scandals around the church and child abuse, with people like Mary Raffery following through for RTE and the Irish Times latterly.

TV is one thing, but in one of the last edicts Pope Benedict signed before his resignation he has threatened Cardinals with ex communication for Tweeting from the Conclave.

Putting such a law into force may may reveal an unappealing character trait a church which has never been less than serious about its politics. But it also betrays the degree to which the Pontiff no longer trusts even its most senior members not to break one of its most sacred rules.

The truth is though that in the digital era the revelatory problems of television have now been brought in house to the power of almost infinity. Secrecy, in the conclave, the confessional and even (in the case of the three priests who ‘outed’ Cardinal O’Brien) the employment contract no longer function in the watertight manner they once did.

It is hard also not to the think that there are lessons here for larger more secular corporate entities in a digital age when the individual dissenting voice can worm its way right into and out of the core of an organisation…

It’s also hard not to feel for individuals trapped in the increasingly visble gap between the Catholic Church’s private and public morals.

There may indeed be worse sins than hypocrisy, but few are quite so corrosive when it is serially exposed over time…

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  • I’m not an Anglican but I would like to have one snigger. By banning tweeting from the conclave the Pope has just declared a new form of cardinal sin.

    On a more serious note, hypocrisy is one of those sins that depend upon a person’s status as a leader. The higher up the leadership ladder you go, the more of a sin hypocrisy becomes. I fear that the Churches (not just the Catholic Church) are so badly infected with scandal and the hypocrisy that goes with it that it is virtually impossible, in today’s climate to project any kind of moral leadership.

  • BarneyT

    If we dwell on the statement “…the desire to touch and be touched, to love and be loved…” it should bring the message home. I can’t help feeling there exists deprivation on so many social scales which ultimately renders the individual within normal society as vulnerable and also a risk.

    The urge for contact of a social and sexual nature is great and it warrants recognition at least. Society surely has a role to play in demanding that a priest offers more to it that they presently do. It should send the message to the Catholic church that a priest with a family and all the real world experience and skills that you learn during this time has more of a contribution to make to his congregation. Presently any parental or marital advise they may provide is at risk of being unqualified.

    I realise it is not a simple task to let priests marry, as I understand that leaves them in direct conflict with their conscience and renders them as bigamists i.e. potentially serving two families. The issue must be addressed from the society they serve as such a call will never grow legs from within.

    In the case of O’Brien he clearly had needs but demonstrated little consistency in his (or the churches) view on homosexuality and the life he perhaps sought to lead. Am I right in thinking that his advances and perhaps exploitation of other younger men did not lead to full homosexual engagement? Am I also right in thinking that many other incidents involving the Church and child abuse has not gained the same level of Vatican attention?

    O’Brien is not welcome in the conclave but Brady and others are. That resonates with me

  • BarneyT

    Seymour Major – get your coat now 🙂 Very good

    oh..I extend my article above to nuns too….

  • Granni Trixie

    Part of me is inclined to say ‘let thse amongst us throw the first stone”
    Which seems to be the line adopted by those interviewed outside churches.
    However this Obrien example ought to bring home inconsistencies in the application of understanding and compassion. for example divorced people cannot receive holy communion…ever. So for a marriage not working out the penalty is that you cannot be a fully participating member of the RC church. Unless you get a divorce Catholic style that is (annulment ) which to me is the embodiment of hypocrisy. Then there is the teaching that there ought to be no sex outside marriage,or condoms inside. Instead of teaching which emphasises responsibility in relationships. I also think that the Cardinal was neither compassionate nor Christian towards gay people and their families in the disrespectful way he referred to them.

    Who decides on the rules which fly in the face of common sense?

  • Fortlands

    I accept what you say pretty much in toto, Mick.But I’m still waiting for someone to produce facts and figures regarding the level of child sexual abuse and/or ‘inappropriate’ sexual behaviour in the Catholic Church in comparison with other Churches and faiths, and with the general population. I’m not, you’ll note, defending the Catholic Church or the actions of some clergy in it. I’m asking for a wider picture.

  • GEF

    “I also think that the Cardinal was neither compassionate nor Christian towards gay people and their families in the disrespectful way he referred to them.”

    Exactly, in fact had he kept a reasonable low profile over the Gay marriage issue, instead of preaching from the pulpit against it, those 3 or more gay priests would not have gone public and he could have easily retired with nothing more about it. The saying goes “there is no fool like an old fool.” I doubt if Cardinal O’Brien will find much sympathy within his own Catholic community. No doubt others who profess to be Christian or non religious may mock and belittle the Catholic Church more so on top of the recent and ongoing embarrassing child abuse scandal. Whatever the great judge in the sky thinks of him is between the Cardinal and his maker.

  • FDM

    I think this could be one of the most popular threads on slugger.

    I mean it bashes the Catholic church and that just ticks the main box for a lot of contributors to the forum.

    The simple answer is the church has to bite the bullet.

    Priests like vicars should be able to shag someone.

    It is as brutal as that. To be a good priest or vicar that necessarily has to be a consenting adult. I think it actually would make you a better priest and/or vicar to shag someone on a regular basis. Certainly in pastoral care situations.

    I would leave everything else to between the individual and their creator.

    Clearly given this is a digital forum I was created by MicroSoft. Bill Gates is my creator and Bills credo is “fill your boots son, fill your boots”.

  • Framer


    The John Jay report reckoned 4% of priests had had allegations of sexual abuse made of them which is a pretty enormous figure for a community that was supposed to be better behaved and less (actually non-) sexual than the rest of society. Some 80% of the victims were male. Yet the proportion of gay men currently in the overall population is about 1% (i.e. 2% of the male population). Quite staggering.

    As to to other religions, no figures are available so far as I know but anecdotally there have been a fair number of Anglican clergy over the years put through the courts for sexual crimes but not at these levels.

    One suspects it all goes with the territory.

  • Ruarai


    doesn’t your question miss the point?

    Meaning: Whatever about the rates individual of child rapists within the Church vs. wider society, the even more shocking and unforgivable feature and driver of the child rape and abuse scandal has been the institution’s facilitation of predatory behavior. By authoring and enacting a policy of deny, cover, shield and rotate, the Catholic hierarchy itself is in the dock. Or bloody well should be.

    A key point about child rapists in the Catholic Church is not simply that they’re there, since, yes, such people can likely be found anywhere. It’s that the ability to rape children in many instances was actively facilitated and could have/should have been prevented by the hierarchy who were made aware.

    That O’Brien was booted out of the conclave for being exposed as having made a pass or three at grown men, while other Cardinals like Mahony and refuge Law will bring their “judgment” on who should be the new pope…well, Mick talks about “sincerity” but do you see much there?

    Catholics, lapsed or otherwise, need to drop the whataboutary reaction to this scandal. It wasn’t/isn’t simply about the existence of child rapists, it’s about the skewed and distorted priorities of the hierarchy; a value-set that lead to many more children being raped than would have been otherwise and a value-set that sees, even now, people like O’Brien deemed unfit for voting while people like Law and Mahony are there.

    The insincerity at the top of the institution is transparent – and unsustainable.

  • GEF

    BBC news: “Catholic church challenged on shame of Cardinal Keith O’Brien” “Cardinal Keith O’Brien is expected to face a Vatican inquiry after admitting his sexual conduct had at times, “fallen beneath the standards expected of me”.

    The $64 000 question remains. Will Cardinal Keith O’Brien receive excommunication for his sexual conduct with other members of clergy of the Catholic Church?

    What are grounds for excommunication?

    Sacramental absolution of an accomplice in sin against the Sixth and Ninth Commandments

    “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

    6) The sixth and ninth commandments honor human sexuality. This commandment forbids the actual, physical act of having immoral sexual activity, specifically adultery, which is sex with someone else’s spouse or a spouse cheating on their partner. This commandment also includes fornication, which is sex between unmarried people, prostitution, pornography, homosexual activity, masturbation, group sex, rape, incest, pedophilia, bestiality, and necrophilia.

  • More bad news for Cardinal O’Brien, this time from a victim of abuse by Fr Lynagh:

    ‘Do you know who I am? Nobody tells me what to do. If you go to the police then I will tell then that you are trying to blackmail me’ .. words attributed to the Cardinal.

  • Such nonsense, the Pope issued no such edict and threatened the Cardinals with no such thing. What he did do was widen the circle of people that would be bound to secrecy. Given the Vatileaks scandal and that the Cardinals are to be housed in new accomodation with more people involved in Conclave, it’s all fairly understandable.

  • “much less face any criminal charges”

    sherdy, the Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police, David Strang, has been put on the spot:

    Mr Freeman said: “I felt compelled to make a formal complaint to trigger a full criminal investigation.

    “I was shocked to hear there is to be an internal investigation only. This will be heard behind closed doors and the full findings would not be published.

    This isn’t justice. Justice needs to be seen to be done and the Catholic Church has a moral and legal obligation to co-operate fully with any criminal investigation.”

  • Mick Fealty


    I see this thread is already segueing into other matters, so I’m deliberately going to start down the ‘dark end’ of these matters before returning to matters around sexuality.

    I think you raise a very important question. It’s something that has exercised me as someone who looks back very fondly on the church’s role in my own upbringing.

    I asked a Protestant friend about this singling out of the Catholic church as some kind of singular ‘offenders’ a year or two back.

    His view was that so far as sexual abuse that if you take all the Protestant denominations together then it is unlikely the Catholic church’s rate of offence is significantly higher than in other churches.

    What makes the Catholic Church different is its centralisation of power. If a preacher in a mission hall is found to have abused his position of authority then by and large that is a matter of shame for one small community.

    In the Catholic church, issues like those surrounding Brendan Smyth, the offence spreads as the church fails to deal with it at diocesan then arch diocesan levels.

    The infection, so to speak, spreads by association to large swathes of the hierarchy, often taking in several jurisdictions over a lifetime.

    Protestant denominations by contrast distribute power and responsibility for discipline and theological matters of belief.

    Some of those denominations are no less conflicted about sexuality than the Catholic church. Some, without recourse to the kind of urbane hypocrisy we ‘Romans’ often take as read are in fact even more screwed up about it than we are/were.

    But even centralised episcopalian churches like the Anglican communion have arguments, rows and accommodations over issues like homosexuality in priests and bishops and gay marriage.

    We don’t.

    The very fact of the centralisation of power is what’s making the church such a target of the media. More importantly it is what’s making all of this soooo painful for the faithful.

    In short, I still believe the church has done much good in the world. But as with all bright lights it has also cast a very deep and dark Machiavellian shadow.

  • “In short, I still believe the church has done much good in the world.”

    Mick, my experience of the Catholic Church has been a very positive one. I’ve been disappointed that the people in the pew haven’t done more to protect the vulnerable, even when they will have been aware of misdemeanours. Perhaps that’s another consequence of centralisation, a sense of powerlessness.

  • Mick Fealty


    I’ll admit the tweet stuff seems to have been more extracted colour than direct substance but the threat is real enough (Catholic News Service:

    Stipulated by Benedict: “[Such] an infraction will incur the penalty of automatic excommunication.”

    Previously the pact of secrecy was subject to punishment at the discretion of the new pope.

  • seamusot

    I believe that some people are gay not necessarily by choice. In this context, societal pressures cause many to live a twilight life of deceit in a virtual closet. Others – the brave or supported – choose to be transparent. There is a major gap in honesty/freedom between these respective approaches. Whilst most unlikely to happen any time soon, I believe that the next Papal head should invite his crew to declare publicly their sexual orientation with safeguards and respect accorded to his colleagues who confirm that they are gay. We know that many are gay. In the best interests of such priests, career assignments appropriate to their sexual orientation should follow. Unfortunately positions involving direct contact with children – perhaps by reason of public prejudice – are most unlikely to follow. There exists a cohort of gay priests who have suffered unspeakable pain due to false allegations of sexual assaults against minors, sometimes leading to suicides. I knew one such demonised innocent who failed to bear the pressure. The hypocracy of ex-cardinal Keith O’Brien of this parish comes to mind. The policy of “Do not ask – Do not tell” has failed the gay community. I mention specific issues pertaining the the Catholic community simply because of topicality. Doubtless mirrored issues arise elsewhere.

  • GEF

    “There exists a cohort of gay priests who have suffered unspeakable pain due to false allegations of sexual assaults against minors, sometimes leading to suicides.”

    Indeed seamusot, but the question is why do such false allegations arise? Many older Christians of all denominations ( example: Lord Ken Maginnis’s views to the media recently on Gay marriage) after reading the 6th commandment has all these so called moral wrongdoings tied in with one another, such as: “homosexual activity, rape, incest, pedophilia, bestiality, and necrophilia.” Unfortunately for the Church today Politicans who decide (by popular vote) can change the political civil & criminal law of the country (which once looked up to the Church’s teachings for guidance) has in recent years decided to ignore the Church when changing these moral laws.

    So what are we left with IE:
    No1) The Church’s 2000 year old laws laid down in the 6th commandment on sexual morality.
    No2) Politicians (members of all religions and none) who while in power decide to change old moral laws whenever they so wish to gain political favour.
    No3) The Church decides to support the politicians and modernize Church common law and commandments to suit political expediency.

  • Granni Trixie

    What makes the Catholic Church different to others is the man made rule of celebicy. I maintain that married priests would impact positively on th culture of the whole church. I say this because in my experience having to accommodate another person and often children, is good for ones own development and informs values. For instance, how could you stand over what the church says about
    homosexuality if one of your children were gay? Some learning is experiential which priests are ruling themselves out of.

    The more one hears of the reactions of individual priests to cases of abuse brought to them to deal with the more I am convinced that the present culture in their world is promoting something unnatural within them.

  • abucs


    priests have brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces etc etc as well as having a listening and supporting role with many, many families on a daily basis.

    Added to that is a network of similar shared experiences among brother priests and a 2000 year old history of pastoral care.

    I’d suggest you’d have to go a long way to get a more ‘experiential’ group of people when it comes to life.

  • Granni Trixie


    I agree with you if you are saying that one does not have to be married to know about how relationships work and to grow. However what I intended to point to was the crippling impact of imposing the rule of celbacy on an all male culture. You have Only to look at the public utterances of priests/bishops when they try to explain how they dealt with cases of abuse. They don’t get it.

    Yes,I know there are good priests out there but I see what is wrong in the church as systemic as well as individual.

    Two former priests I know are just about the most compassionate,admirable people I have ever met, the kind of people the church needs.They left the priesthood to get married and are great fathers. What could be wrong in letting them remain in their vocations as priests? Anyway, I can see it is round the corner as are women priests.

  • abucs

    Hello Granni,

    there is nothing wrong with your reasoning. No doubt on a personal level there are many occassions where you would be entirely correct.

    Some Catholic rites do have married clergy such as the Lebanese Maronites.

    There are a few problems on the macro level but i will mention just two.

    The first is that priests are usually very busy people and in constant demand to sort out family troubles and offer advice and support. It is a very rewarding but tiring and time consuming vocation. There is the issue of whether this could be done as effectively with family commitments. There is also the question of whether a priest’s own family may ‘pay the price’ for an otherwise absent father. An absent father is not a good role model.

    The second problem is that having a clergy who are so committed to the Church that they forego their own family makes it very much harder for the Church’s enemies to infiltrate her and bring her down from the inside. (Although it is tried). I point to the Anglican communion and the take over of the Church in America and all the bitterness and non Christian theology that stems from that take-over. The Anglican world wide communion is in a real mess whith Bishops representing two thirds of Anglicans refusing to even sit in the same conference as their ‘brother bishops’.

    Very often what is touted as equality and solidarity produces the opposite effect.

    Ending the Roman rites discipline may well produce similar results and should be discussed carefully.

    There are movements to allow older married men to become priests once their own children are independent. This may be good for the Church in the way you anticipate and also not have the expressed downsides.