Archbishop O’Brien on Homosexuality


The Baltimore Sun ran this piece a few days ago on their new archbishop. Edwin O’Brien is touted as having experience in ministry to and dealing with gays, but I have to wonder about the ignorance shown in this remark:

We don’t want our people to think, as our culture is now saying, there’s really no difference whether one is gay or straight, is homosexual or heterosexual. We think for our vocation that there is a difference, and our people expect to have a male priesthood that sets a strong role model of maleness.

I think it’s a serious mis-read to say that our (Western?) culture sees homosexuality as mainstream. There are aspects of the treatment of homosexuals in film and tv that strike me as not unlike Big Entertainment’s approach to blacks and uppity women forty to sixty years ago. Put them in comedy so we can laugh at them. Certainly that’s not the only portrayal of gays today or women of the 40’s. But ponder it. Do you really think Will & Grace is that much of an accurate portrayal of serious homosexuality? I don’t see it as much different from Billy Crystal’s character a generation ago. Or Bill Cosby’s I Spy character in the 60’s.

I think O’Brien also misreads “no difference” from the people who don’t watch screwball sit-coms. There are a lot of religious people who perceive what the apostle is getting at in this passage:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:27-28)

Lastly, I think there’s a touch of sexual naivete in the archbishop’s notion of “maleness.” If maleness is so tied up in people’s expectation of their clergy, what good is celibacy? Celibacy is a setting aside of one’s genital sexual activity so as to focus oneself with God and in ministry. Is training homosexuals to be celibate something way different from working with heterosexuals? Is a person’s sexual expression so tied up with their “maleness” or “femaleness” that it overrides the undeniable twenty-third chromosome?

Perhaps seminaries have failed to impress the importance and role of celibacy upon their students. That strikes me as more of a serious deficiency of rectors, spiritual directors, and bishops rather than the students themselves.

What I mean is this: if one priest acts out sexually, that indicates a failing of the individual person. If there is widespread abandonment of commitment, while it doesn’t absolve individuals of culpability, it also indicts teachers and leaders. And as a former seminary rector, Archbishop O’Brien is on the line for it.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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6 Responses to Archbishop O’Brien on Homosexuality

  1. Talmida says:

    I’ve been waiting for one of you guys to comment on this, but I guess I ‘ll just jump in.

    We think for our vocation that there is a difference, and our people expect to have a male priesthood that sets a strong role model of maleness.

    What exactly is a role model of maleness?

    And how does a celibate priest model it?

    Seriously, I’m asking.

  2. Liam says:


    My best response to tautological prelatial statements is to let them sink under their own weight. That’s why I left this one alone. Thanks for going into the breach.

    I recall a Newshour nodding head panel on same-sex marriage a few years back: the late Rev. Falwell and an Orthodox rabbi were the “cons”, as it were.

    I have a vivid memory of Falwell’s reaction to his “teammate’s” rationale for opposing same-sex marriage: because the rabbi felt many (not necessarily all) gay men embodied many of the best traits envisioned of fatherhood and husbandhood in the Hebrew Scriptures, the rabbi wanted them to marry women (with full disclosure, IIRC) and raise children. (Of course, the rabbit somehow neglected to address the invisible lesbians in his audience, but I am sure this was hardly shocking to them, let alone the straight women he was thinking might want these husbands, but I digress.)

    Which just goes to show that “maleness” has many values that can be attributed to it.

  3. Liam says:

    Sorry, “rabbit” was a typo….

  4. FrMichael says:

    If you’ve ever had the misfortune of being in a gay-controlled seminary or diocese, you’ll know exactly what Archbishop O’Brien is talking about.

  5. Liam says:

    Of course “gay-controlled” can be as much a function of the environment in which is realized as the persons involved. I’ve seen well-functioning organizations and groups led with excellence by gay and lesbian people. I’ve also seen highly dysfunctional ones. Sometimes it’s the people, sometimes it’s the environment, usually combination, for good or ill. I will say that I’ve seen some excellent priests who self-identify as gay but are true to their vows who’ve done marvelous work and leadership, and some who have been destructive and non-faithful to their vows, and shades in between. Ditto the straight priests.

    As for chancery culture, well that’s been systematically unhealthy in many dioceses for generations; the sexuality issue is but one possible arena for dysfunction. But it’s not necessarily so.

    In any event, the Abp’s comment remains circular and unilluminating.

  6. Talmida says:

    I’m reminded of the first season of the reality show, So You Think You Can Dance, where one of the judges tells a rather effeminate male dancer something along the lines of “I don’t care if you’re gay, straight, or inbetween. When you dance, you take the male part, therefore you must dance like a man. You must be manly!”

    I understand that. The man is holds the frame in couples dancing. He is the pursuer in tango. The man always leads.

    But dance is essentially a form (or pattern?) of mating behaviour. It makes a certain kind of (what’s the word I’m looking for, typological?) natural sense in dance.

    I just don’t get where maleness (if indeed it means manliness, or some kind of macho-ness) applies in the priesthood, to say nothing of providing a role model!

    I know a priest who’s a wonderful guy. Very friendly, great voice, loves to sing, loves music. Loves to bake and does so often. Is very involved with decorating and beautifying the church. Has nicer vestments than anyone other than the bishop and cares about looking nice. Worries about his weight and talks about dieting. Is very well groomed. When he’s on a roll, laughing or involved in conversation, his gestures strike me as a bit … dramatic.

    Is he gay? How would I know? Why would I care?

    Is he a role model? I think he is. He says a PERFECT mass. Very precise, very exact. He loves the mass and the rubrics, the bells and smells and it’s obvious. He is always sent seminarians and immigrant priests to teach them the ropes. His homilies are well thought out, precise, and well delivered. He has instituted regular monthly Benediction in his parish.

    If he IS gay, is his a “gay controlled” parish?

    The guy is a good priest. And a good role model. But maleness? What does that mean?

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