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Letter to a Casuist

By Ty Geltmaker

Rev. Thomas Reese
Woodstock Center
Georgetown University
Washington, D.C.

Dear Thomas Reese:

Your comments on CNN to Piers Morgan (February 25th, 2013) regarding allegations of gay sexual activity in the Vatican are a perfect example of the casuistry I learned to reject – though the lesson wasn't always carefully taught – during my 12 years of Catholic education, fortunately tempered by the winds of reform under John XXIII, even as I at the end of the reign of Pius XII was learning Latin and serving as altar boy in a changing Church. I went on to other worlds from the Peoria into which I was born, baptized by the Rev. Athanathius Ostermeyer at St. Boniface Church and a great hybrid Catholic/secular education at Spalding Institute/Academy of Our Lady where reformist priests and nuns opened the world to curious students. I am forever indebted to the Catholic Church for having challenged me – as my not traditionally Catholic parents also did – to learn well and speak truth to power. I unfortunately know that my Peoria alma mater is now a John Paul II reactionary institution even giving academic credit for students writing anti-gay-marriage appeals to legislators.

As it happens, while in high school I realized I was both atheist and gay, traits well thought out and explored later as an undergraduate at Trinity College/Hartford (not a religious institution, even though while there I intensively studied the history of religious thought and biblical studies).

In the CNN Piers Morgan interview you made the odd case that yes, there are priests who are homosexuals, but that it was somehow anti-gay to accuse such priests of unrestrained homosexual activity (as opposed to straights who might be more capable of self-control). You also discounted the thought that such homosexual clerics have undue influence within the Vatican. That is the casuistic part of your position: you appear to be defending gay people from a charge of profligacy but you're actually trying to deflect attention from a contradiction that amounts to a moral disaster: the gay clergy’s homosexual behavior and influence in an institution which says homosexuality is an “intrinsic disorder.” [Josef Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, 1986.]

Growing up Catholic it was always obvious that the priesthood was for many homosexual men a way out of having to explain why they were not interested sexually in women and heterosexual marriage. Given the increasing social acceptance of gay relationships, this institutionalization of a kind of normalized homosexuality within the Catholic Church hierarchy has finally caught up with the Catholic Church in both its social message and its internal social relations. It's not the “gay pedophile” scandals but rather the out lives of people such as myself (once Catholic) and my Jewish same-sex spouse that have made the issue of homosexualiy a non-issue for all but the most intransigent bigots and casuists dedicated to keeping the Church’s dirty little secret.

Even if out gay people outside the Church are (with good reason) criticizing hypocritical homosexual priests and their ecclesiastical privileges, such criticism also comes now from honest Church members – gay and straight – who object to the hypocrisy of the Church as an institution willing to cast blame on others in same-sex loving relationships while its clergy indulges behind closed doors in behaviors it publicly condemns, seemingly to protect its status as an all-male club hostile even now to the very nuns (witness the investigations here in the United States of women religious orders) who have historically provided the backbone of the Church's work in education and healthcare, and without whom the Catholic Church would have collapsed decades ago, and of which I am a prime, thankful beneficiary.

When I lived in Rome (1972; 1975-79) it was well known that the Vatican was full of gay prelates, priests and seminarians, including many I met at gay clubs/discos such as Easy Going, SuperStar, and St. James. Most of these young guys were confused and in Rome having fled their provincial lives as gay refugees much as conservative Midwestern and southern American members of Congress are in D.C./Georgetown to live the “gay life” (whatever that might mean to them) even as they proclaim their opposition to gay rights to the folks back home.

Casuistry? I hope you get my point.

From February, 2013

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