Sure to be controversial, a journalistic exposé of the “gay priest culture” that has brought so much publicity, and so much shame, to the Catholic Church.
The incidence of sexual abuse of minors at the hands of priests seems to have skyrocketed in recent years. But, reporters Berry (Lead Us Not Into Temptation, 1992) and Renner show, widespread reports of priestly misconduct have been circulating since the late 1970s, when straight priests left the Church in droves in order to marry while “the proportion of homosexuals among men remaining in the ministry escalated.” The gay priest culture that arose at that time was “cynical about celibacy, riddled with hypocrisy and narcissistic behavior,” they write; moreover, among its numbers were priests who later rose high in the ranks of the Church hierarchy, among them Father Marcial Maciel, the founder of the militantly right-wing Legion of Christ, whose misdeeds occupy much of Berry and Renner’s narrative. Against the malefactors stand a few dissidents such as Father Tom Doyle, the hero of this story; they are few, Berry and Renner argue, because the Vatican under Pope John Paul II has chosen to ignore child molestation while throwing the weight of what used to be called the Holy Office of the Inquisition against whistle-blowers. The authors, both avowed Catholics, seem not to be homophobic—“The notion that homosexual people are inclined toward ‘an intrinsic moral evil’ (as the Vatican would have it) is unimaginable coming from Jesus’ lips”—and they acknowledge that plenty of gay priests serve God without victimizing their young parishioners. Still, they might have been more careful to point out that “homosexual” does not ipso facto equal “pedophile,” an implied assertion at several turns.
Despite such lapses and a tendency to breathlessness, this stands as a well-reasoned indictment of contemporary Church policy, a useful rejoinder to John van der Zee’s Agony in the Garden (2002) and John Cornwell’s Breaking the Faith (2001).