Silent No Longer
A gay priest speaks out
BustedHalo: What would it take for the Church to include homosexuality in their sexual ethic?
Fr. Gerard Thomas: That is topic I don’t feel qualified to answer because I am not a moral theologian. The Church is pretty clear about what It feels about homosexuality I’m speaking more about my limited experience of being a celibate gay priest, which I believe is more the topic at hand.
BH: How about married clergy? How would that affect the priesthood?
GT: First of all, there are already married Catholic priests, since married Episcopalian priests have converted to Catholicism. So I think that it’s clear that the Church has no problem with it. I hope someday soon that they will accept married Catholic men to the priesthood.
There are always going to be people called to celibacy in the priesthood. It’s a special way of life that’s not for everybody but certainly it is for some people. And certainly in religious orders there are always going to be people living in chastity because that is a constitutive part of what it means for them to live in community and it’s a great witness for a lot of people. I generally think that married clergy is going to happen a lot sooner than later. I think simply because of the numbers it is just going to force the issue. Edward Schillebeeckx the theologian wrote that it would be a shame if the Church thought more of celibacy than it did of the Eucharist. The need to have people receive the Eucharist is much more central to the Church than celibacy.
BH: On a very simple level: homophobia doesn’t just exist in the Church but in society at large. As a gay man what do you think is behind that?
GT: Fear. For straight men it’s a fear of being associated with gay men. Early on boys are taught to not be a sissy, not to be a fairy, not to be a fag. That’s the worse thing you can be; it is grilled into you as being reprehensible early on. So there is a societal factor. I think a lot of men fear the idea of homosexual sex. They might fear the idea that they may be homosexual, that they may have ever had homosexual feelings or tendencies. Those are some of the basic reasons I think for homophobia, and I certainly think another reason is that people do not know gays or lesbians. James Allison the English Catholic theologian talks about the gay man as an “other.” When he speaks about it in his work, which is very compelling, it is in the sense that in the Christian world there is no “other.” When Jesus came to first century Palestine he was going out to the people that were seen as “other”: he was going out to the sick, the unclean gentiles, Romans, tax collectors and he was always bringing people into the community. He was eliminating the line between the person and the other. Unfortunately in our society today, although it is lessening, the gay person is still the other, and especially so in the Church. And there are lots of reasons for it. Also, frankly, whatever you think about the Catechism, it is clear that homosexuals are second class citizens in the Church. They are the only people in the Catechism about whom an essential part of themselves is seen as disordered.
BH: Really? You believe they are the only people in the Catechism seen as second class citizens?
GT: Well you don’t see the Catechism saying that disabled people are disordered, or people of a certain minority are disordered, or women are disordered. Yes, they are singled out with that kind of language which can do nothing but make a gay person feel like the “other.” It reinforces the notion that the gay person is the “other” rather than part of God ‘s creation
BH: Clearly you don’t believe, as some might say, that being gay is a choice?
GT: No I don’t. Who would choose that? Who would choose to not have a family or to be persecuted by society? If it’s a choice I wonder who would make that choice and who, as a young boy, would choose to be stereotyped and marginalized? So I think the idea of a choice is absolutely ridiculous.
BH: How about the critics that would argue that you can cure this orientation or change this orientation?
GT: I think that’s absolute scientific nonsense. All the literature I’ve read seems to say you might as well try to cure heterosexuality. Good luck. Second of all, once again it denigrates an essential part of the person. I mean why don’t you try to cure someone who has a certain color of skin? Why would you do that? Jesus did not try to change people. Jesus tried to help them accept who they were, and it was only when their illness was preventing them from being a member of the community that he was able to do something. And I think that Jesus is always going out to people in love and respect and loving them for who they are. In effect, he’s going out to the most marginalized. I mean I think that if Jesus was around today he would be hanging around gay men and lesbians because they are the most marginalized group in the Church.
BH: Do you think that married clergy would further marginalize the gay celibate priesthood?
GT: Only as long as it takes for one of those priests or bishops to have a gay son or lesbian daughter. The more that priests are involved in married life and family life–which necessarily involves some gay sons or daughters–the easier it will be for them to understand gay and lesbian people.
BH: Can you speak of the conflation of pedophilia or pederasty to homosexuality? If you work with the figure of 25 percent of priests are gay, then what percentage are pedophiles or pederasts?
GT: I would say a miniscule percentage of that 25 percent are pedophiles. I would think that the only reason why gay priests are seen as pedophiles is because the only public model you see of a gay priest is people that have been convicted of sexual abuse. You never see a celibate gay priest speaking out of his experience. To use an extreme example, it’s as if you only talked about a particular population of a minority that lived in jail and you never talked about the leaders in the community or those who were fathers or lawyers or doctors, but all you saw in the media was that they were criminals. Then the majority would start to say that “well, all members in that minority are criminals.” It can’t be said enough that the overwhelming majority of gay priests are celibate. And yes it would be wrong to deny the fact that the overwhelming number of cases of sexual abuse was men preying on young boys and adolescents. That is very true. But that does not mean that gay priests are pedophiles, nor does it mean that gay priests are any more likely to be pedophiles–that’s not what the research shows.