Gay Priests, Moral Condemnation, and Self Respect

Wishes breed no horses

James Finn
Nov 3 · 7 min read
Image licensed from Adobe Stock

LGBTQ people swallow moral condemnation like doses of arsenic, usually from religious people. With our allies, we have to be bold about directly confronting belief systems that marginalize us. We must not pretend that belief systems are not toxic when they clearly are. We must fight for self respect and basic humanity. This is what I mean:

In the US, Evangelicals and the Catholic Church spend millions of dollars every year lobbying to stop LGBTQ people from fostering and adopting children, from having the right to employment and housing, and even from enjoying basic civil equality like the right to purchase goods and services.

In Poland last summer, Catholic bishops incited mobs that attacked people at LGBT Pride events. In Africa, senior Church leaders, including third-ranking Vatican official Cardinal Robert Sarah, endorse harsh criminal penalties for LGBTQ people, calling prison sentences a matter of culture and morality rather than a question of human rights.

The State Department formed a panel last summer to re-examine human rights in the light of so-called “natural law,” a Catholic and Evangelical buzz phrase for denying human rights to LGBTQ people. According to the New Republic, the panel consists almost exclusively of anti-LGBTQ religious zealots.

Francis’s meaning is unambiguous. He’s saying that men who are strongly sexually attracted to other men are neurotic and unbalanced.

Catholic and Evangelical churches routinely inject children with anti-LGBTQ toxins, harming queer kids and fostering bigotry in their peers. Religious schools purge LGBTQ staff and demonstrate to kids that even highly accomplished LGBTQ people are bad role models.

I write about religiously inspired homophobia all the time. I immerse myself in statistics and studies. I know that the more religious a person is, the more they attend church, the more likely the are to be homophobic. I know that according to the Pew Research Center, people almost always learn their bigotry in church.

Nonetheless, when I write about religious bigotry, I constantly take flack from people who tell me I’m being intolerant of religion. People tell me I shouldn’t criticize institutions like the Catholic Church, because “people are entitled to their beliefs.”

Many progressive people and even many progressive LGBTQ people argue that institutions like the Catholic Church are not intrinsically anti-LGBTQ. I think they do that to justify their own Catholic identity, to protect themselves from the dissonance of materially supporting institutional homophobia.

Sticking our fingers in our ears does not succor the suffering or aid in the struggle for justice and equality. Pretending that anti-LGBTQ oppression isn’t real doesn’t help anyone. Agreeing to disagree about basic human decency isn’t an option for people who value the full humanity and worth of members of minorities.

This past summer, the Catholic Church released a document on education that denies the transgender experience, condemning transgender people and those who affirm them as “annihilating the concept of nature.”

The document is a ‘sugar-coated call to action’ against vulnerable transgender kids. The Vatican authors, while throwing in a few platitudes about respect and dialogue, issued a hard-core denial of the lived truths of transgender people, whose personal views are entirely absent from the document.

Echoing Pope Francis’s previous statements, they ignore vast bodies of medical and biological science that demonstrate that transgender people do not choose to be who they are. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Endocrine Society are just two professional associations that curate and organize such research and who find that transgender people are who they are because of innate biology.

According to Pope Francis, people with “ingrained” same-sex attraction suffer from “neuroses” and “unbalances” that are so worrying to him that gay men must be excluded from training for membership in the Catholic clergy.

The Washington Post, reports that Pope Francis says in a recently published book that gay men in the clergy “is something that worries me” as are societies that consider homosexuality a “fashionable” lifestyle.

The Catholic hierarchy is blaming gay men in the priesthood for the Church’s epidemic of child sex abuse. I’ve been reporting that Pope Francis, far from being the progressive paragon that many people paint him as, is actually a classic religious homophobe.

The fact that he repeats the hoary old shibboleth that homosexuality is a “fashion,” implying that being gay is a lifestyle choice, reveals astonishing ignorance, sadly typical of religious homophobes.

Once upon a time, we human beings didn’t understand sexual orientation. We lacked knowledge. We lacked empirical evidence. We didn’t know that a small but significant percentage of us are born wired to be attracted to the same sex.

We know better now. Lesbians and gay men are ordinary, minority variants of human beings. We aren’t mentally ill. We aren’t intrinsically immoral. We aren’t disordered. We’re just harmlessly different. Every major medical and mental health professional association in the world agrees with that assessment.

Pope Francis denies all that knowledge. Forget “Who am I to judge.” Let me show you what he really thinks — in his own words.

For some background, understand that the Catholic Church banned men with gay sexual orientations from seminary training in 2005. Further, many bishops are calling for a purge of gay men who entered the priesthood before the ban or who realized their orientation after their ordination.

One of the top officials in the U.S. Catholic leadership, Cardinal Raymond Burke, has called for at least a partial purge, according to a report in the New York Times.

Now it seems clear in light of these recent terrible scandals that indeed there is a homosexual culture, not only among the clergy but even within the hierarchy, which needs to be purified at the root… It is of course a tendency that is disordered.

Gay men are neurotic

The controversy over gay priests is the context needed to understand Francis’s other comments like this quote from the book I cited above. Speaking of gay, celibate candidates for the priesthood, Francis says, “In consecrated life and priestly life, there is no place for this kind of affection.” He said candidates with “neuroses or strong unbalances” should not be accepted “to the priesthood nor to (other forms of) consecrated life.”

In the context of the interview, Francis’s meaning is unambiguous. He’s saying that men who are strongly sexually attracted to other men are neurotic and unbalanced.

According to The Guardian, Francis warns existing gay priests especially to behave impeccably, saying nothing about straight priests who break their vows of celibacy. His clear implication is that gay clergy members are especially likely to cause scandal for the Church.

Gay clergy were urged to be “impeccably responsible” in a warning over bad behaviour that was notable for its silence on heterosexual clergy who break their vow of celibacy.

We “have to urge homosexual priests, and men and women religious, to live celibacy with integrity, and above all, that they be impeccably responsible, trying to never scandalise either their communities or the faithful holy people of God,” the pope said.

So, to summarize the Pope’s position, gay men are societal fashions whose sexual drives make us unbalanced and neurotic. We’re especially likely to scandalize the “holy people of God” if we become members of the Catholic clergy.

His words are going to create enormous suffering among innocent people. His characterization of gay people as mentally ill is going to create more stigmatization, more bullying, and more persecution. His condemnation of transgender people will do the same. The Church endorsement of criminal punishment for LGBTQ people advances human suffering.

People often advise me that I’m wrong about religious homophobia, suggesting that people need to just chill and agree to disagree with one another. They even cite compelling evidence that large percentages of Catholic priests are (barely) closeted gay men. Be that as it may …

Closeted gay priests haven’t stopped the Church from being a fierce enemy to LGBTQ people. They didn’t stop the mobs in Poland. They don’t stop Church leaders from urging that gay men go to prison. They don’t stop Church pronouncements that form the basis for unjust discrimination against gender and sexual minorities.

Are you LGBTQ, have LGBTQ family, or do you count yourself an ally on general principal? Whatever the case, please understand that religious institutions that oppress minorities needs confronting, not placating.

Members of minorities who collaborate with persecutors have gone by various unflattering names over the centuries. Isn’t it odd that gay priests are generally afforded respect rather than being treated as collaborators?

James Finn is a long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Act Up NYC, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to

James Finn - The Blog

Collected Writings. Stories and ramblings from a long-time LGBTQ thinker and activist.

James Finn

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Writer. Runner. Marine. Airman. Former LGBTQ and HIV activist. Former ActUpNY and Queer Nation. Polyglot. Middle-aged, uppity faggot.

James Finn - The Blog

Collected Writings. Stories and ramblings from a long-time LGBTQ thinker and activist.

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