Church's two-faced attitude to gays cruel
There’s no great shame in this. There are far worse sins than hypocrisy and if everyone who is hypocritical about sex were sent to hell, heaven would be an awfully lonely place. But it is awfully weird. It creates an institution that is very like the priest I encountered in the TV studios: with one face for the public, another in private. There may be some hermit in the mountains or anchorite in the desert who does not know that many, many priests, nuns, bishops and cardinals are gay. But for everyone else in the church, it’s just a fact – a fact that cannot be true.
How those who are gay cope with their situation is their own affair, but there are some public consequences to this strange doubleness. One of them is particularly paradoxical: it ups the ante in the game of homophobia. Knowing that many good priests are gay doesn’t result in tolerance and decency. It creates a perverse form of denial, that of protesting too much.
It is, alas, not at all accidental that Cardinal Keith O’Brien, alleged by four priests to have “attempted to touch, kiss or have sex” with them, has been the most hysterical denouncer of proposals to legalise gay marriage, which he compared to legalising slavery.
Even more damagingly, but just as paradoxically, the two-faced approach has fed into the church’s appalling responses to child sexual abuse. The confusion and evasion that surround the perfectly normal state of homosexuality generated an atmosphere in which all sex, whether with consenting adults or with victimised children, is treated on the same level, as a fall from grace and an administrative problem to be managed.
And, in the end, the church’s double life in relation to homosexuality is just cruel. Some priests manage maintaining two different personas very well. Some perhaps even take a kind of pleasure in it. But for some, even at the very top of the clerical tree, it is an appalling strain.
When the desire to touch and be touched, to love and be loved, is “inappropriate behaviour”, it must become appallingly hard to know what is and is not appropriate. In an age when covering up the inevitable outbreaks of desperate desire is increasingly impossible, the church must learn to embrace what is normal and natural.