Monday, April 18, 2016
On chastity vs hands down deep pockets
Celibacy is a “gift” to the Catholic priesthood; a key part of a grand vow and voluntary choice for life (usually). That for gay Catholics celibacy is just baldly assumed should be an outrage. Such individuals are deemed to be in a kind of second-rate priesthood; entered into involuntarily, and with zero trappings or institutional support.
Of course, this has long been a successful recruitment strategy for the priesthood and convents; for centuries, it was almost a no-brainer. When puberty made it clear the depth and type of one's sexual identity, and assuming one wanted to remain a good Catholic, to enter the priesthood was a free first-class ticket for life (and beyond) while the only non-sinful alternative was a bleak, hard road.
This balance has now been torn asunder, of course. For the last few decades, very few gay Catholic adolescents in the West have succumbed to the Church’s bluff. When one alternative in a binary “choice” involves demonstrable psychological distress for life, discarding the very binary framework, and instead entering into a life of “sin” is, I suggest, a profoundly moral decision. To have taken the easy road would be to encourage blackmail; and ditto for the hard road.
This is at the heart of the Catholic Church’s inability to deal with its deep sickness within. Without substantial fresh flows into the priesthood, the whole system quickly becomes illiquid. The small numbers of new seminarians are much more likely to be heterosexual – for whom the category of second-rate celibate does not apply, and so in general are more fickle in their belonging. Incumbent gay priests are thereby doubly deprived of young gay men to have uncomplicated intra-workplace dalliances with (one of the tacit fringe benefits of the priesthood, it would seem).
This crisis actually has already passed; with the paedophilia epidemic of the 1970s and 1980s being a grim marker of the transition period. Akin perhaps to a butterfly flapping its wings causing quite something else, the modern gay rights era has a causal relationship to the paedophilia epidemic of my childhood.
To attribute blame here would be ludicrous, I hope it goes without saying. The thinking-in-centuries Catholic Church was caught wrong-footed and on the hop. Equally, this rupture explains why the Church must clamp down so heavily on even a small gesture of homophilia within its ranks. Loosely speaking, the present-day proliferation of out gay men and women is now a sort of rival priesthood to the Church, albeit one without earthly trappings built-in to the job description.
Though middle-age gay ex-Catholics are only a part of this diverse mob, their presence as secular traitors – who should have been priests – has been a singular, and quite personal, tipping-point. My age cohort bore the brunt of the paedophilia epidemic, as priests on a sinking ship took out their fears and frustrations, indiscriminately. In the 1970s and 80s, it was probably a desperate, double-or-nothing recruitment strategy, to keep some semblance of business as usual. The hope at the time must have been that, for gay Catholic adolescents with strong stomachs and love of hypocrisy – which is to say, future leadership material – the old closet bargain was still on.
However, few, if any, of my generation bought this – leaving the Church in a lurch. Its human capital now in probably terminal decline, it has had no choice but to focus its efforts on the other sort of capital – money. As this focus alone would seem crass, the Church also kept some moral irons in the fire. Chief among these is that old chestnut, the virtue of the celibate closet for gay Catholics, and the relatively-new, corollary evil of the “gay lobby”. As a PR strategy for a tarnished institution, this is beyond ridiculous. But for an organisation now bereft of a large cohort of middle-aged leaders (or leaders in waiting), I can understand the logic and attraction of this strategy for the ageing keepers of an objectively rudderless real-estate empire and cash-box.
Like inbred third-world oil-sheikhs, the Church both can afford the very best lawyers and PR lackeys (some of whom purport to be journalists), and indeed nothing less would compensate for the imbecility of the client. Accordingly, the paedophilia epidemic grew a substantial industry of hangers-on in recent decades – loyal retainers, if you like, with proven strong stomachs (through representing guilty paedophiles, and discrediting and vilifying victims).
Having such loyal retainers, just because the task one initially engaged them for dries up should not mean that they are let go. This is the final, delicious irony – that the Catholic Church has now effectively outsourced its homophobia – a new and growing line of work – to expensive professionals. The emergence of this (secular and self-perpetuating) “priesthood” was perhaps inevitable – a liking for first-class trappings, and a lack of moral scruples allows a pleasing congruence between geriatric cash-box keeper and up-and-coming cash-box donee.
Or put another way, the old game of blackmail successfully continues in another guise. The sexuality of this new outsourced “priesthood” scarcely matters, as long as they follow the homophobic script. It is easy money, I suppose. But for me, and I’m quite sure for a disproportionate and growing number of my generation also, the hard road – staying celibate from the financial tentacles of the Catholic Church – has never looked so attractive.