Reporter Brandon K. Thorp explains how his investigation into the "lavender mob" running the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami —published here earlier today—came to be, and why the existence of a lively and hidden gay subculture within an institution devoted in part to demonizing homosexuals is an untenable and corrosive hypocrisy.
I first heard about the sodomy endemic in the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami last November, when I was drinking at a gay bar with my boyfriend, the journalist Penn Bullock. The bar was Sidelines; a sporty little place on the gayest street in Wilton Manors, Fla., which is maybe the gayest little town in America. It's not the kind of place into which heterosexuals wander by mistake.
There was a Catholic priest at the bar.
His name was "Father John," and he worked at a famous Catholic high school in nearby Fort Lauderdale. (That's him in the photo above, hanging out at the Stonewall Street Festival in Wilton Manors last month.) We were flummoxed when a bartender told of us his presence. I was a product of the Catholic parochial educational system, and like many such products, I'd spent a good chunk of my early life combating the notion that the Inventor of The Universe was angrily monitoring the use to which I put my genitals. I won, eventually, but it was close.
How was it, I wondered, that the very same institution that so mangled my adolescence was now subsidizing Father John's drinking at an establishment where men occasionally exchange blowjobs in the parking lot?
It didn't seem right. Penn and I invited a member of Father John's entourage to our table to explain himself. He was a young man, thoroughly sauced in the grand Catholic tradition. He, too, worked at a local Catholic school, and he laughed at our confusion. "Everyone in the Archdiocese is gay," he said.
The young man told us extraordinary tales: sex-and-ecstasy parties in Miami rectories, swinging priestly bachelor pads purchased with illicit cash, embezzlement schemes, S&M, and blowjobs-for-promotions. He described it all a little wistfully. "The party's over," he said, chugging his gin. There was a new Archbishop in town, a joyless stick-in-the-mud het named Thomas Wenski, who didn't much care for the gays. "Now everyone's paranoid," he said. "You'll never get a story out of this, if that's what you're looking for. Nobody's going to say anything."
But people had said things, as I learned the next week when I recounted my barroom encounter at the home of a friend, the journalist Thomas Francis. Francis had spent time on the religious corruption beat, and thought my story sounded familiar. He disappeared into his bedroom and returned with a big black binder entitled "Miami Vice: A Preliminary Report on the Financial, Spiritual, and Sexual Improprieties of the Clergy of the Miami Archdiocese," compiled by a group of pissed-off Catholics called Christifidelis, which corroborated a great deal of what I'd heard in the bar.
The original motivation for my investigation was plain hypocrisy-busting. The situation grew more complicated after I spent a few hours on the phone with a conservative Catholic blogger and recent law-school grad named Eric Giunta. Giunta was one of the primary contributors to "Miami Vice." He'd grown up in Miami, and felt called to the priesthood in his late teens. He was rejected from the seminary, it seems, because of his insistence that homosexual behavior is sinful.
This didn't seem like a very good reason to be rejected from a religious institution that is more morally offended by condoms than by AIDS. As I listened to his story, I began to feel pity. I wondered: Don't those who oppose "homosexualism" (as Giunta calls the gay rights ideology) deserve a place where they can be anti-homosexualist in peace? Oughtn't that place be the Roman Catholic Church?
Obviously, not everyone thinks so. As I conducted interviews with priests and papists of varying ideologies, a clear division began to emerge. There are those, like Giunta and the faithful of Christifidelis, who think Catholicism needs a purging; a rededication to moral rigor. Others believe, rather heretically, that the Church's moral rigor is the problem. "It would be far easier for the Church to change its teachings on sex than for someone to somehow force sex out of the Church," said a liberal priest—who, like all the priests I interviewed, insisted on anonymity. "Sex is such an important part of who we are. You're going to find a lot more people who are willing to embrace celibacy because of some sexual neurosis than guys who are willing to embrace it out of religious piety. And guess what? It doesn't work."
There's much to recommend that argument. Drag human sexuality into the open, remove the stigma, and you get rid of the culture of corruption that surrounds any deed committed guiltily, in the dark, by men who believe themselves depraved. Fail to do so, and you've declared war on nature. (To borrow one Catholic's phrase.)
And so the question comes down to celibacy. Does the Church liberalize and grow, as it has before, or does it buckle down, purify, and diminish? It must do one or the other. Otherwise, it is doomed to hypocrisy everlasting, and to the ongoing public erosion of whatever dubious moral authority it still possesses. Priestly sexual misconduct wasn't invented in the the Archdiocese of Miami—you could fill a medium-sized bookshelf with tomes about the homosexual subculture in the Church—and it can't be defeated there, either. Miami's a microcosm. The faithful must direct their attentions to Rome.