Along with millions across the globe, I have been a great admirer of Pope Francis. Theologically, I am in total agreement with him that the Christian New Testament speaks of a preferential option for the poor, a radical call to abolish violence, and a moral duty to protect children. From the moment he assumed the pontificate, Francis has appeared to be a shining example of humility, hospitality, and hope.
So it is with consternation that I listened to his latest comments regarding homosexuality in the clergy. During an interview given to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, the Pope said it is a “serious matter” that “worries” him. Describing homosexuality as “fashionable,” Francis urged clergy to observe their vow of celibacy, going on to say that the Church had to be “demanding” in choosing candidates for the priesthood. And those responsible for training priests must make sure candidates are “humanly and emotionally mature” before they are ordained:
For this reason, the Church urges that persons with this rooted tendency not be accepted into ministry or consecrated life. — Pope Francis
Heavy words from the leader of 1.2 billion followers worldwide.
Assuming that part of the Pope’s rational for holding these beliefs is his concern over the child abuse scandal afflicting the Church, it is necessary to analyze his comments further. As reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center, “According to the American Psychological Association, children are not more likely to be molested by LGBT parents or their LGBT friends or acquaintances. Gregory Herek, a professor at the University of California, Davis, who is one of the nation’s leading researchers on prejudice against sexual minorities, reviewed a series of studies and found no evidence that gay men molest children at higher rates than heterosexual men.
Anti-gay activists who make that claim allege that all men who molest male children should be seen as homosexual. But research by A. Nicholas Groth, a pioneer in the field of sexual abuse of children, shows that is not so. Groth found that there are two types of child molesters: fixated and regressive. The fixated child molester — the stereotypical pedophile — cannot be considered homosexual or heterosexual because “he often finds adults of either sex repulsive” and often molests children of both sexes. Regressive child molesters are generally attracted to other adults, but may “regress” to focusing on children when confronted with stressful situations. Groth found, that the majority of regressed offenders were heterosexual in their adult relationships.”
Moreover, “The Child Molestation Research & Prevention Institute notes that 90% of child molesters target children in their network of family and friends, and the majority are men married to women. Most child molesters, therefore, are not gay people lingering outside schools (or churches) waiting to snatch children from the playground, as much religious-right rhetoric suggests.”
When taking into consideration the actual psychological research, the Pope’s views appear to be based not on scientific evidence but on simple prejudice. After all, the man was raised in a colonized culture that treated LGBT people as unnatural and in opposition to the Christian God. Sodomy, for instance, was treated in Argentina with the most severe forms of punishment, including even war against the indigenous Mapuche people, who openly embraced the sexual orientation of males, females, transgender, and intersexual people. Although the Pope may be a Jesuit scholar, a cosmopolitan in many respects, and an influential ambassador of global peace, when it comes to honoring and embracing homosexuals and homosexuality, he is an archaic by-product of an ignorant worldview.
Nevertheless, perhaps the Pope is onto something. Why stop with homosexuals? Why not bar heterosexuals from the priesthood as well? Why not whites and blacks? How about the old and young, too? How about the able and disabled? When one stops to contemplate the countless ways priests have done damage to humanity, I think the Pope should not just stop with turning away homosexuals. He should put a moratorium on letting anyone become a priest! No more bishops and archbishops; no more pastors and ministers; no more rabbis, imams and popes, too.
What the world desperately needs is more free thinking. These positions of religious authority inevitably — whether they are conscious of it or not — conspire to relinquish power and responsibility from individuals. In return for this theft of intellectual property, they regularly demand blind obedience and even the most grotesque forms of veneration. The social consequences for personal liberty and freedom of thought are obvious. Where do fatwas come from if not religious leaders? How did the Crusades start if not with edicts by the superiors of the Church? Who would have the power to order a mass suicide such as Jonestown, if not a charismatic pastor? Who animates the young to pick up arms and fight for God and country? Who promises them eternal life if they pay their dues? Who prevents condoms from being used in Africa, resulting in the continuing spread of HIV/AIDS? Who sanctions genital mutilation and other forms of bodily suffering under the guise of purity laws?
As Michel Onfray wrote in The Atheist Manifesto: “How strange that excision – female circumcision, with several languages using the same term for both kinds of mutilation – of little girls should revolt the westerner but excite no disapproval when it is performed on little boys. Consensus on the point seems absolute. But ask your interlocutor to think about the validity of this surgical procedure, which consists of removing a healthy part of a nonconsenting child’s body on nonmedical grounds – the legal definition of… mutilation.”
Onfray also said, “Religion is like magic. It is all about tricks.”
No more tricks, Pope Francis. No more hocus pocus. No more fear-mongering. No more discrimination camouflaged as morality. No more teaching by terror. No more catechism if it means that God’s children must be made to feel less beautiful and worthy just because of their genetic makeup. No more lies from the pulpit!
To be blunt: I say keep everyone out of the priesthood. Let’s not stop with homosexuals. I say institute a universal ban on religious authority all together. If you, Pope Francis, are as humble and service minded as you present, do something to show the world that you are a true equal. Forfeit your cloak. Step down from your position of eminence and be with the people as one of them. There is nothing about being a Pope that makes you more or less enabled to serve the poor, stand up for children, and stop war. So why be one? What is being a Pope about if not claiming superiority over others? What is being a priest about if not categorizing people by gradations of worthiness?
Pope Francis, don’t stop with homosexuals, keep going until you have banned all people from the priesthood. If you do that, the Church may be saved yet.
George Cassidy Payne is an independent writer, social justice activist, and domestic violence counselor. He lives and works in Rochester, NY. George has degrees from St. John Fisher College, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.