In 1506, the Venetian prostitutes’ guild lodged a complaint with the Signoria that homosexuality had become so prevalent as to threaten its livelihood. Civilizations in decline typically take on the characteristics of Bonobo monkeys, Nero’s Rome being the most lurid example. No precedent exists to my knowledge, though, for the priesthood to become the homosexual vanguard.
American Catholic priests are five or 10 times as likely to be homosexual as ordinary American men. In 1990, an American Franciscan priest mailed a survey to 500 priests selected at random. Forty-five percent of 398 respondents identified themselves as homosexual. “Studies suggest that perhaps 30-50 percent of priests (especially those under 50) are homosexual in orientation, compared with about 5 percent in the population at large,” writes Professor Donald Cozzens of John Carroll University.
Homosexuality in the US Church drew attention after an avalanche of lawsuits for alleged sexual abuse of minor children landed atop St. Peter’s throne. The New York Times estimates that 1,200 American priests were accused of sex abuse as of the end of 2002. No comparable estimates exist for the European priesthood, although the proportion almost certainly will be smaller than in the United States. In most Catholic European countries, such as Ireland and Poland, the proportion of homosexual priests is quite low, as it is in the Latin American and African wings of the Catholic Church.
Why do American homosexuals gravitate toward the priesthood, but not Irishmen or Poles? Priestly celibacy cannot be the only explanation, as it applies to Poles as well as to Americans. For that matter, the US branch of the Anglican Church appears quite as gay as the Catholics, having just elected an openly gay bishop in the state of New Hampshire. Anglican priests may marry.
The answer lies instead in the motives that bring Americans to the priesthood. Traditionally the priesthood represented a step up the social ladder for poor boys. In poor countries, the Catholic Church offered the only meritocracy willing to promote clever boys from impecunious families. Polish boys would aspire to the priesthood for the same reason that Turkish boys would aspire to the military.
Few American boys, however, are so poor as to consider the Church a vehicle for social advancement. Americans become priests out of conviction – but conviction about what? Eighty percent of American Catholics do not believe in transubstantiation (the transformation of wafer and wine into the body and blood of Christ during the Mass). They are religious in a general sort of way, but no longer can believe in the mysteries of the Church.
In the United States, priests no longer are the mediators of the great mysteries of death and rebirth, of sin and forgiveness, of damnation and salvation. The priesthood has become what Americans quaintly call one of the “helping professions,” such as psychology, social work, nursing and so forth. “Blessed are those who preach the gospel of peace,” said Jesus, but the gospel has changed a bit. Having joined the ranks of the helpers, American priests have adopted the secular gospel of St. Freud.
All traditional religious dogma is tragic; man suffers in this life because of sin, and through great struggle can achieve redemption despite his sinful nature. Religion does not expect life to be pleasant; it exists precisely because life is unpleasant (at least to the extent that it leads to the unpleasantness of death).
Inspired by psychiatry, the “helping professions” take a more cheerful view of life. Therapy, Prozac, and conflict-avoidance can solve all problems, provided that the “helpers” can extirpate the root of aggressive behavior, namely sexual frustration.
Civilization requires repression of the libido, Sigmund Freud argued (in Civilization and Its Discontents). Its foundation is the paternal family in which the father employs the threat of violence to suppress the sexuality of other family members:
If civilization requires such sacrifices, not only of sexuality but also of the aggressive tendencies in mankind, we can better understand why it should be so hard for men to feel happy in it. In actual fact, primitive man was better off in this respect, for he knew nothing of any restrictions on his instincts. As a set-off against this, his prospects of enjoying his happiness for any length of time were very slight. Civilized man has exchanged some part of his chances of happiness for a measure of security. We will not forget, however, that in the primal family only the head of it enjoyed this instinctual freedom; the other members lived in slavish thraldom.
Many Catholic priests are not traditional Christians, but Utopian radicals whose goal is to eliminate conflict by purging humanity of its aggressive instincts (Freud to his credit did not believe this could be done). In other words, they are homosexuals out of principle. They share with the radical feminists the idea that man’s aggressive instincts supposedly arise from sexual repression, whose source is the patriarchal family. The combination of an all-male fraternity with a Utopian agenda provides a magnet for male homosexuals.
For the same reason, issues such as gay marriage, legal protection of homosexuals and the sponsorship of alternative sexual subcultures stand at the top of the Utopian agenda. No respectable US university lacks a “gay, lesbian and transgender studies” department, and the elite schools compete with one another to define the cutting edge of social experimentation. The University of Michigan now offers a course called “How to Be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation.” A number of states, with Vermont in the lead, now are proposing to formalize same-sex “civil unions,” that is, marriage.
As usual, provincial America lags enlightened, sophisticated Europe. In June, the Swedish parliament passed a law forbidding speech or writing critical of alternative sexual lifestyles. No criticism will be forthcoming from the rest of Europe, whose male population sincerely hopes that all Swedish men (but not women) will become homosexual.
In the United States, the most likely outcome will be the strengthening of the heterosexual (that is, Evangelical) wing of US Christianity at the expense of the Catholics and other liberal Christians. Republican strategists view the issue of gay marriage as a gift for the 2004 elections. Democratic pre-candidates for the presidency require the support of the Utopian wing of the party to mobilize activists and money for the primary elections, which puts them under enormous pressure to support the sexual political agenda of the left. In the general election, though, support for alternative lifestyles will be a liability. The net result probably will be to continue the rightward shift in US politics.