In the London Review Of Books, Colm Tóibín reviews The Pope Is Not Gay by Angelo Quattrocchi, and comes up with a mind-numbingly simple analysis of clerical culture, social norms, gay priests and ecclesiastical/institutional fear. As I was reading it, I was simultaneously flashing on my own childhood, adolescence and early adulthood as a priest.
I swear he was in my head. A sample:
This is almost an aspect of the Catholic religion itself, this business of knowing and not knowing something all at the same time, keeping an illusion separate from the truth. We knew that the bread and wine, for example, were literally and actually changed into the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ by the priest at Mass, and, at the same time, we must have known that this was not the case, that, really, they remained just bread and wine.
This is one of the best treatments of clerical culture, fashion, gay power and hopefulness in the midst of despair that I have read in years. And it just gets better from there.
The shame an adolescent felt about being gay in those years should not be underestimated; the feeling that you were less than worthy, that if people found out the truth about you they would despise you, went deep into your soul. This was another reason to become a priest. You could change your own powerlessness into power. As a priest, you would be admired and looked up to, you would spend your life - as so many Catholic priests have indeed spent their lives - doing good and being good. And being seen to be good, being needed by the sick and the dying, being wanted to officiate at weddings and baptisms and funerals, saying the sacred words which would mean so much to the congregation, all this would offer you a fulfilled and fulfilling life. Becoming a priest solved not only the outward problem of forbidden and unmentionable sexual urges, but, perhaps more important, offered a solution to the problem of having a shameful identity that lurked in the deepest recesses of the self.
This idea of knowing two things at the same time has been essential to gay people in other ways. Gay people have known that our sexuality was actually, despite what we read or were told, quite normal, quite natural; it was only the world that thought otherwise. While the world's view often ate into the self, there was another part of the self which remained intact, confident, sure. Introspection, the study of the self, for gay people became necessary, fruitful. The struggle between our knowledge and their prejudice often meant that a spiritual element in our being - something private, wounded, solitary and self-aware - had reason to come to the fore and seek nourishment in a close relationship to God. This is another reason so many gay men have become priests.
This was so true for me - and judging by our conversations, for many of my seminarian/priest friends. But it doesn't stop there. Tóibín looks at Ireland, Europe, secularization, the sex abuse crisis, celibacy, Maureen Dowd, clerical wardrobe changes and the Pope's handsome secretary, explaining all with such common sense you want to invite him to lunch, or for the weekend.
If you want to understand more deeply my struggle with the church, or maybe your own read the full text here.
It explains a lot.