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Too many priests are preaching the truth but living a lie

Cardinal O'Brien's resignation prompts a regular, churchgoing Catholic to urge an end to hypocrisy and feigned surprise over gay priests.

  • Peter Stanford
  • International
  • February 26, 2013
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For us million or so run-of-the-mill Catholic Mass-goers in Britain, there have been plenty of bishops’ letters and other hellfire sermons about gay marriage to sit through of late. Since the argument from the pulpit is always the same, my mind often wanders and I find myself focusing instead not on the message but on the messenger.

As a “professional” Catholic – having once edited the Catholic Herald – as well as a private one, I’ve met many clerics. Many are openly gay. Or so open when not saying Mass that it is easy to forget I’m not meant to remember it when they are.

In general, such double standards don’t overly concern me. Like the rest of us, priests, monks, bishops and even cardinals are as God made them. Whatever inner tension they struggle with as leaders in a Church that teaches that to be gay is – and I am quoting a document sent out by the soon-to-retire Pope when he was Cardinal Ratzinger – “a strong tendency towards an intrinsic moral evil”, that is a matter for their own conscience.

Tolerance wears a bit thin, however, when they start attacking gay marriage in such strident terms from the pulpit, and even signing letters en masse in protest at the Government’s proposals. It is getting dangerously close to hypocrisy.

“Madness” and “grotesque” are two of the many inflammatory words used by Cardinal Keith O’Brien, until yesterday Britain’s most senior Catholic cleric, in his virulent and very public campaign against gay marriage. He may have failed to move public opinion, but his efforts did win him the “Bigot of the Year” award from the gay rights lobbying group, Stonewall.

At the time, I recall thinking that they were being a bit harsh. As a person, O’Brien is said to be charming and rather diffident, and on platforms he is only trotting out Catholic dogma, stripped of the caveats and nuances that more polished ecclesiastical bigwigs south of the border tend to employ. But now O’Brien has been forced to resign by allegations that, at its simplest, suggest he is a hypocrite who doesn’t practise what he preaches in matters of sexuality. Three priests and one former priest have claimed that he behaved inappropriately towards them – charges that he denies.

It has long been the rule of thumb among Catholic leaders that a blind eye will be turned in the corridors of power to what allegedly goes on in private, but if the details come out in public – the bishop who fathers a love-child, for instance – then the institution throws up its hands in horror. “We never even suspected,” they say. “How could he [and it is always a he] have misled us so!”

I had thought my Church was growing out of this habit. Pope Benedict has given a clear and consistent lead during his eight-year pontificate about the need openly and honestly to address the institutional culture that allowed the scandal of clerical abuse to go on unchallenged for so long. His apologies to victims of that abuse, and his promises that the Church will do better in future, are among the most important legacy he will leave when he steps down later this week. And yet the continuing stream of allegations against priests suggests that nothing is really changing.

Various research projects over recent years have tried to estimate the number of Catholic priests who are gay. Figures come in between 10 and 30 per cent. At the lower and more realistic end of the scale, that is nothing surprising, merely mirroring what goes on in society at large.

But the Catholic Church is not the same as society at large. It defiantly stands out against the tolerant tide of a secular and sceptical society and claims to represent a more enduring set of values. And in many ways that is a positive thing, when it comes to challenging prevailing economic arguments, or rampant individualism, consumerism and the celebrity culture.

It is why I keep going to Mass every Sunday and send my children to a Catholic school. Indeed, that is what I want to hear sermons about, not what sound perilously close to condemnations of openly gay men and women from those in the closet.

Full Story: Too many priests preach truth, but live a lie 

Source: The Telegraph

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