Fear Factor Operative in Bishops' Policies on Gay Priests. (Opinion)

By DeBernardo, Francis | National Catholic Reporter, May 17, 2002 | Go to article overview

Fear Factor Operative in Bishops' Policies on Gay Priests. (Opinion)


DeBernardo, Francis, National Catholic Reporter


Eating live bugs? Scary! Bungee jumping off a skyscraper? Terrifying! Being buffed alive? Horrifying! Expelled from the priesthood or seminary because of your sexual orientation? Well, now this one is in a league all its own! Nothing on TV can match this type of scarifying.

The producers of TV's hit show Fear Factor could take a lesson in fright from what some bishops have been saying lately about gay priests and seminarians.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, a Vatican spokesperson, initiated the fear festival with his uninformed and bordering-on-heretical comment that gay priests' ordinations may not be valid. Since then we have seen an explosion of homophobic comments from men who should know better. Bishop John D'Arcy of South Bend, Ind., said that gay men and "excessively effeminate" men should not be ordained; Belleville, Ill., Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the bishops' conference, has publicly worried that seminaries and the priesthood may be "dominated" by gay men. We have learned that Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua has not permitted the Philadelphia seminary to accept gay men.

The current campaign of fear directed toward gay men is designed to do three things: First, lay the blame for the current crisis on an already persecuted minority; second, blur the distinction between sexual dysfunction and sexual orientation; third, send a chilling message to all in the church, gay and straight, who work for the rights of lesbian/gay people.

Since these strategies are not founded in truth, they will ultimately fail. However, on the way to failure they will cause an immense amount of damage.

The first and most important problem with the fear appeal is that the bishops are doing exactly what caused the sex abuse scandal in the first place: They avoid the real problem, which is the bishops' own lack of leadership, responsibility and accountability. This behavior repeats the pattern of lies and subterfuge that got the church into trouble in the first place. In finding a convenient scapegoat, they avoid having to acknowledge their own culpability. This strategy virtually guarantees that the church will be repeating the current crisis some time soon.

Fear will cause an already silent group to become more silent. For many years, priests have been reluctant to acknowledge a homosexual orientation because they understood that bishops would penalize them if they did so. …

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