A clarification. Kevin Drum and Andrew Sullivan both linked to my recent post re: The Pope’s recent communique allowing for an expedited form of entrance into full communion with Rome for Anglicans (while maintaining their distinctive traditions).
Here was the ‘graf in question:
If personal experience and lifelong immersion in a sub-culture is any form of persuasive evidence, I can tell you that conservative Anglo-Catholicism — at the clerical level — is totally dominated by gay men. Mostly repressed. What used to be called when I was in seminary, the pink mafia. And the thing that is the initial trigger for this decision is the upcoming very likely to happen decision to ordain women as bishops in the Church of England (there have already been women priests there for about 15 years or so). Which has a certain irony in this case. If these Anglo-Catholics join the Roman Communion they can join up with very conservative Roman Catholic groups like Regnum Christi and The Legionaries of Christ, also totally dominated by closeted gay fellows. You don’t need to be Sigmund Freud to see the awesome tragic humor in a bunch of non-wife-having grown men wearing pink dresses (and in the Pope’s case super expensive fabulous Prada shoes!!!) telling everybody else they shouldn’t be gay.
Which generated some interesting responses all across the spectrum. [I note that I shouldn’t have used the word decision twice in the same sentence–ugh, where’s my editor?] But a portion of the response seemed to imply that I harbor anti-gay bias. (I even got accused of underhandedly outing the Pope!!) I’m not quite sure how you get to that, even taking that paragraph in isolation (although I suppose I could see how it could be read that way), and certainly not if you read the rest of the post.
If you read the rest of Andrew’s commentary in his post, he and I are on the same page.
But if there was any doubt, let me put that to rest. My criticism was really twofold.
One critique is that the culture in both Roman and Anglo-Catholic circles (particularly among clergy–and remember I say this as someone whose is going to be a priest) allows for this kind of vampy quality, if you will, but all the while promotes an official anti-gay line. The criticism is not of gay men in church life. Far from it. Rather the problem, as I see it, emanates from the closet.
I’m reminded of the great line in To Be or Not To Be where the Nazi tells Mel Brooks they can put a play on so long as there are no “homosexuals, Jews, or gypsies”. To which Mel Brooks famously responds, “without gays, Jews, and gypsies, there’d be no theater!!!”
The same can be said of gay men in both the Roman and Anglo-Catholic worlds. Without their contributions there would be no such churches. But this fact has never been officially accepted.
And this isn’t the only such wink-wink game going on in the Catholic clerical world. I’ve spent some portion of time in Latin America (Mexico, Peru, and Nicaragua to be precise) and how many times did I meet a local parish priest who had a live-in nanny or church secretary or housecleaning lady or whatever they called her along with the priest’s “nephew” or “niece”? Answer: more than once.
Why don’t we just call it what it is? She’s not the cleaning lady; she’s his wife. He’s her husband. That’s their child. They’re a family. The family is a good, naturally beautiful thing. What’s unnatural is to be unable to call this what it is.
Just so with gay clergy. Their offering is a very holy one, but the gift becomes marred when locked into this tortured game of doing everything possible–inevitably ending in the sad tragicomedy I wrote about earlier –to not admit what is totally obvious and staring you in the face. When freed from this hypocritical charade, their lives become become a symbol both of a desire for and expression of redeemed humanity (Or so I believe anyway).
The second critique, again by no means universally valid, concerns another one of these unspeakable taboos: that a segment of the sub-culture of gay Anglo/Roman Catholic priests is very misogynistic. I know that for those on the outside that might seem a rather strange statement given the whole TV stereotype of gay men hanging out with women all the time, but it does exist.
Who knows what accounts for that reality of misogyny in this context? You might attribute it to guys being guys and the way some guys inevitably treat women as inferior. You might attribute it to being schooled in a culture that treats some humans as higher beings, infusing them with almost god-like status, and then confining this recognition only to men. Any of the above, all of the above, something else, some combination of other factors. Who knows, but whatever the cause the effect is real.
And my hunch (and it’s only that at a hunch) is that the Pope’s outreach will likely have its most fertile soil (if only initially) in that world.
The combination of hypocrisy and misogyny is pretty atrocious although I suppose it’s neither more nor less atrocious than misogyny from straight men and other forms of hypocrisy (religious or otherwise).
A little personal background (which I don’t normally do here but I guess this calls for it) might help clarify where I stand in this. As I mentioned last time, I used to be a Jesuit, I spent four years (from age 20-24) training with them, for which I owe a great deal of gratitude as it was an environment of great learning and caring for me personally. One of these things that was involved with life in a religious order was a vow of celibacy. It just so happened that this one element was the one many people typically focused on but it was still only one piece.
Anyway, during that time a pattern started to occur in my life, which I did not see coming, namely that because of the vow of celibacy, I ended up forming a number of very deep friendships with women. Women about my age. Mostly, though not all, straight women. They allowed their shields to go down, an experience I didn’t realize until later was very rare and essentially only took place because of the rather different life circumstances/commitments I was in at the time. And when the shields went down, and the women opened up, it was an entry into a very special, very unique, very different world from the one that I had mostly lived in. Not that I was prejudiced against women at the time, but I would never have guessed what was going in their worlds prior to their sharing. It was a really privileged communication and experience for me to be granted access and vision to that inner world and it changed the way I saw and felt life.
At the same time I was living in houses full of men, in most cases at least half if not more of whom were gay. Now I don’t want to make a mistake in the other direction and romanticize (and therefore de-humanize) those men, as they obviously all had their own individual personalities and lives which included but also were more expansive than sexual orientation. But my experiences in their company also made me begin to assess my own sense of manhood and masculinity (again I was in my early twenties, a good time to be doing all that investigation and identity formation).
I was more drawn to that life for the sense of being on a mission, having a great purpose to fulfill, in the sense of a Band of Brothers. The gay members taught me something about being and not just doing. Something about celebration and relaxation and care in life . The promotion of beautiful aesthetics were a part of that energy, but it encompassed more than that arena. This isn’t a threat or a critique of the mission side of the Jesuits, it’s just a rightful compliment.
So to both of those groups I owe a great debt of gratitude for having graced my existence with their being and loving, something at the time I wasn’t always very good at explicitly saying (particularly to the men). Consequently, on one level I can joke about the whole ludicrous nature of Anglican-Roman Catholic stuff because a good deal of it is so flippin’ silly. On the other hand, it’s very painful. I’m not saying my pain is the pain of women or gay men or that somehow I know what it’s like (totally, completely) to be such a person. But I do know pain caused from being close to people who suffer for those reasons. Which doesn’t make me some hero, just normal (by my understanding).
To see those two close relational groupings intersect in the midst of the two communities (Anglican and Roman Catholic) that combined I’ve spent my entire life –or rather to see it come out in worldwide media–is very strange and saddening. But perhaps, if one is so inclined in belief, The Divine might make some lemonade out of these human-made lemons yet.