Treading Carefully: the Gay Press
If the mainstream news media were at first reluctant to address the issue
of homosexuality in the current Catholic crisis, the gay press was also slow
off the mark.
In January and February, most gay publications showed no more awareness
of the Boston Globe’s investigation of clerical sexual abuse than
the rest of the non-Boston media. Cover stories during this time stuck to
familiar hot issues in the gay community: the legalization of gay marriage,
domestic partner health coverage, ending job discrimination, adoption
Not surprisingly, it was Boston’s Bay Windows—one of
the country’s 150 or so weekly or biweekly local gay newspapers—that
entered the fray first. In a February 14 column, editor Jeff Epperly praised
lay Catholics for being able to tell the difference between gay priests and
the hierarchy of the Church. The hierarchy, wrote Epperly, had "managed
to build the world’s largest, safest, and most well-known haven for
intrinsically disordered pedophiles."
Two weeks later, in the second of what would be a series of nine columns
on the crisis, Epperly sounded a cautionary note on the decision of the
Boston Archdiocese to turn over the names of more than 80 possible abusers
to law enforcement authorities: "[W]e who have been often painted with
the awful brush of child molestation … should be sensitive to how
investigations can spiral out of control."
The Advocate, the premier national biweekly gay magazine, broke
its silence February 23 with an (online only) column by Lewis Whittington
warning that when "scandals like this erupt, there is a compounded
negative impact on gays because such incidents play into the myth that gay
men are also pedophiles."
As if to confirm his fears, Pope John Paul II’s spokesperson,
Joaquin Navarro-Valls, told the New York Times in a March 3 interview
that the crisis had to do with homosexuality. "[P]eople with these
inclinations," he said, "cannot be ordained." But it was not
until Msgr. Eugene Clark, filling in for Cardinal Egan in New York’s St.
Patrick’s Cathedral April 27, blamed America for being "very
protective" of homosexuality that the gay press went into rapid
In an April 30 Advocate column, Peter Friedberg called Navarro-Valls’
remarks "a desperate effort to scapegoat gays, and—if a purge is to
be attempted—a severe blow to Catholicism." He also noted that
blaming gay priests would only "showcase a Catholic fact of life that
church officials are extremely loathe to draw attention to—the large
number of gay priests in U.S. parishes and religious orders."
"Hundred Protest NY Priest’s Anti-Gay Remarks from Pulpit"
ran the headline of Peter Cassels’ lead story in the May 2 issue of Bay
Windows. Two weeks later, the paper featured Beth Berlo’s story
("Outrage Grows as Catholic Hierarchy Steps Up Campaign to Blame,
Target Gays,") after Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua told
reporters that homosexuality is "a moral evil."
To counteract the linking of homosexuality and pedophilia, the gay press
turned to numerous spokespeople, press releases, and fact sheets distributed
to both the gay and straight media by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against
Defamation (GLAAD), DIGNITY/USA, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists
Association (NLGJA), and the Human Rights Campaign.
Online—where sites like www.gay.com, www.Inthelife.com, and
www.Planetout.com serve as a vital source of gay news and views—the
response was more than defensive, especially on the part of journalists long
engaged in battles with the Catholic Church over its designation of
homosexuality as "disordered," its opposition to condoms in the
age of HIV, and its outspoken opposition to gay marriage.
In an April 28 article on his website (www.humanrights.about.com), John
Aravosis, a former Republican congressional staffer turned gay
activist and political consultant, pointed out that while gay men work in
many professions that put them in charge of children, "you simply do
not see thousands of students or patients lining up to sue their teachers or
doctors." For him, the "common denominator in the child-sex cases
facing the Catholic Church is not the presence of homosexuals, but the
presence of Catholics."
Writing in the New York Press April 30, Michael Signorile, the
most read gay journalist on the left (www.signorile.com), called Clark’s
comments "a dangerous path for the Catholic Church to embark
upon," and added that gay activists and a press corps unafraid of
offending the church "begin exposing the many twisted, personal sexual
hypocrisies that envelop the increasingly tainted bishops and
Noting that Clark served as secretary to New York’s Cardinal Francis
Spellman ("one of the most notorious, powerful, and sexually voracious
homosexuals in the American Catholic Church’s history") Signorile, a
proponent of outing, concluded with a not-so-veiled threat: "If I were
a closeted bishop or cardinal in America, I would be very afraid."
If Aravosis was the politico and Signorile the rabble-rouser, Andrew
Sullivan (www.andrewsullivan.com) served as the token conservative. A
self-described Tory (and committed Catholic), from England, Sullivan has
gleefully angered the gay and lesbian community with everything from a
dismissal of "sissies" to support for a U.S. invasion of Iraq. He
is by far the most prominent self-identified gay commentator writing in the
mainstream media—with columns regularly appearing in Time, the New
Republic (which he once edited), and (until recently) the New York
Times Sunday Magazine.
While Sullivan offered no Catholic-bashing or threats to bishops, his
April 28 commentary in Time expressed obvious disappointment with the
"less-than-zero-tolerance" statement that came out of the American
cardinals April 23-24 meeting with Vatican officials in Rome. "As a
Catholic struggling to keep faith through all of this, I find myself asking:
Why? Why can these men not get the enormity of what has happened?"
Citing what had become the gay press’s oft-repeated estimate that 50
percent of priests are gay, Sullivan asked why the Vatican, which considers
gay behavior to be sinful, "still allows these allegedly sick people to
run its dioceses, churches and schools."
Support for gay priests trying to do their job under duress remained a
recurring theme. "Plenty of homosexual priests have served with great
integrity, never violated their vows, and have served their people
generously," former priest and psychologist Eugene Kennedy told Rhonda
Smith in the March 3 Washington Blade. "I have not found gay
priests to be a plague on the priesthood," wrote Chuch Colbert, a gay
student at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, in the March 29 issue of the
Advocate. "Rather, they have been miracle workers."
Journalists in the gay press had more trouble finding common ground on
the issue of priests accused of abusing adolescent boys. Honest dialogue on
the gradations of immorality (and criminality) between abusers of
pre-pubescent children (so-called "true pedophiles") and abusers
of adolescents ("ephebophiles") would cause the greatest
Local gay papers distanced themselves from condoning any sexual contact
between adults and teenagers, a position widely adopted after the early days
of gay liberation in the 1970s. In the early 1980s, for example, the
National Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA)—to which the alleged serial
rapist Father Paul Shanley belonged—was banned from taking part in Gay
In his February 28 Bay Windows column, "Making It Clear We
Condemn Pedophilia," Peter Epperly emphasized that for gay publications
and journalists "repudiating all that Shanley represents is a wise use
of their time." In response, Epperly received a number of anonymous
emails accusing him of anti-sex McCarthyism. "This isn’t a witch
hunt," he replied. "It’s a discovery period during which we’re
all finding out exactly how deep human selfishness can run."
On his website’s May 29 Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan attacked
some Catholic conservatives for morally differentiating pedophilia and
ephebophilia. This was, said Sullivan, a way to shift blame to the victims
by implying both that teenagers were complicit in the sexual activity and
that the scandal "is not about the abuse of minors or the abuse of
power to cover such assaults up, but…a function of the dreaded
homosexuals." There were, he said, no shades of gray: "Victims of
abuse are victims of abuse, whether they are 15 or 5."
But it was less black and white for Michael Signorile, who in his April
23 New York Press column criticized "defensive liberal and
openly gay pundits" for being too quick to dismiss the idea that some
of the abusers were "not pedophiles but gay men who struggle like their
straight counterparts to keep the celibacy vow." Revealing that at age
17 he had a "non-coercive" sexual relationship with a priest in
his 20s, Signorile drew a line between that type of consensual affair and
the damage done to "people over whom a priest has authority, can force
himself upon and can silence."
For their part, lesbian commentators routinely gave support to gay
priests under siege. For example, in the May 27 issue of Florida’s
biweekly gay paper the Express, guest columnist Terry Loncaric wrote,
"The Vatican has lumped homosexuality with perversion against children
and has alienated the loving, gay members of their congregation by assuming
that gay priests who fall through the cracks will be the first to attack
But, angry at yet again standing on the sidelines of a national issue,
lesbian journalists brought a critical edge to the discussion. In "Do
We Condone Pedophiles?," an article that appeared on www.Planetout.com
February 27, Paula Martinac complained that a "romanticized vision of
adult-youth sexual relations has been a staple of gay literature and
gay-themed films." She also expressed the concern that while
"women are rarely perpetrators of pedophilia…lesbians get lumped
together with gay men by our critics anyway—and we lose jobs as teachers
and sometimes our own kids because of it."
A major question through the spring was what, if anything, the bishops
would do about the homosexuality issue at their June meeting in Dallas. When
they voted down an amendment to monitor gay priests and remained otherwise
mute on the entire subject, mainstream papers were quick to pronounce
victory for the gay community. The gay press was unconvinced.
Headlines in the June 20 Bay Windows read: "Gays Greet
Bishops’ Conference With Skepticism" and "Gays Still Threatened
in Catholic Church Despite Victory at Bishops Conference." The June 20
Advocate ran a news commentary by Francis DeBernardo warning that by
retaining "their pledge of complete cooperation with the Vatican
investigation of U.S. seminaries," the prelates would do nothing to
stop plans to "ferret out gay seminarians."
Meanwhile, the debate continued over how much the gay community would be
affected by the six months of revelations of sexual abuse and episcopal
cover-ups, of conservative attacks on gay priests and continual public
dialogue about the crisis. In another June 20 article in Bay Windows,
Mubarak Dahir hopefully suggested that Americans were looking to the
Catholic hierarchy as the principal villain in the crisis. "Much to
their credit, average Catholics refused to accept this flimsy pretext
[blaming gays] as an excuse for the Church’s abysmal record on abuse and
Would Catholics now feel differently about their parish priest if they
found out he was gay? In the June 21 cover story of the Texas Triangle,
Bill Mochon, a gay psychologist consulting for the Church, was optimistic:
"[I}t comes down to the experience that the person has had with their
priest. If he’s good, responds to them well, and doesn’t create a
scandal, they don’t care if he’s gay or straight."
But in a June 20 column in Seattle Gay News, Rev. Troy Perry,
the founder of a gay Catholic organization, counseled caution: "I’m
in solidarity with the millions of people who are casting a wary eye on all
faith groups that continue to scapegoat God’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and
Finally, belatedly, gay publications took an interest in the victims at
the center of the crisis. They found, as the mainstream press had, that
children and teens singled out for abuse were those in the parishes who were
most vulnerable—from the working poor, from disordered homes, from
neighborhoods where people were unlikely to pursue legal action. And often
enough, the victims were gay or bisexual.
In the June 25 issue of the Advocate, John Gallagher interviewed
gay men who said they had been abused by priests. One of them, John London,
told of being molested by two priests at a Catholic boarding school: "I
was only 15 at the time, just beginning to develop sexually and coming to
terms with myself as gay."
Another, Arthur Austin, described how, at the age of 20, he had an
emotional breakdown because he was unable to deal with his homosexuality.
"Desperate to talk with someone, he turned to a priest for
counseling," wrote Gallagher. "The priest was the Rev. Paul