When it comes to covering LGBT issues, The New York Times is a propaganda sheet worth reading only for the same reason that, during the Cold War, one read Pravda: to get the ruling class’s party line.
Today’s big piece on the agony of closeted gay priests is a classic of the genre. Note these passages:
Studies repeatedly find there to be no connection between being gay and abusing children. And yet prominent bishops have singled out gay priests as the root of the problem, and right-wing media organizations attack what they have called the church’s “homosexual subculture,” “lavender mafia,” or “gay cabal.”
Nope, nothing to see there. How did McCarrick rise and rise, even though the Church knew about him? Magic, I guess. The real problem, you see, is the horrible right-wing people who take the trouble to notice what’s right in front of everybody’s nose.
Study after study shows that homosexuality is not a predictor of child molestation. This is also true for priests, according to a famous study by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the wake of revelations in 2002 about child sex abuse in the church. The John Jay research, which church leaders commissioned, found that same-sex experience did not make priests more likely to abuse minors, and that four out of five people who said they were victims were male. Researchers found no single cause for this abuse, but identified that abusive priests’ extensive access to boys had been critical to their choice of victims.
Eighty percent of the victims of male priests were boys — most of them post-pubescent minors. And yet, we really can’t say that the homosexuality of the victimizing priests has anything to do with it. Only right-wing bigots would make that point.
The New York Times really does believe this. If they didn’t, their worldview would crumble. It is possible to believe that chaste gay priests really do have a heavy cross to bear within the Church, and that their story should be told — I happen to believe that myself — while also reporting the truth about the way unchaste gay priests carry on secret lives, and cover up for each other.
I wonder if this intrinsic journalistic disorder at the Times has anything to do with the fact that a freelance writer on assignment for the New York Times Magazine had the McCarrick story nailed (the preying-on-seminarians part) back in 2012, but the story never appeared. I know this because I was interviewed for the piece by the reporter, who had court documents, and at least one on-the-record interview with a McCarrick victim. The reporter told me a couple of months later that he couldn’t understand why his story was being spiked. The new male editor on the piece — the woman who had commissioned it had since moved on — kept putting roadblocks in front of him, and none of it made sense.
“Is your new editor a gay man?” I asked.
“Yes,” said the journalist. “What does that have to do with anything?”
Maybe nothing, I said. But then I told him about the prominent closeted gay conservative engaged by then-Cardinal McCarrick in 2002 to pressure my boss to spike a story I was working on about McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians. The pressure did not work with my boss, but in the end, I couldn’t publish a story, because none of my sources would talk about it on the record, or provide documentation. The point, I told the reporter, is that some powerful gay men don’t want this story known, presumably because it confirms a negative stereotype about predatory gay men. Besides, squeamish editors, gay or straight, convince themselves that this story is too dangerous to tell because hey, everybody involved is an adult, and how are we to know whether or not these seminarians consented to sex with the archbishop?
It took #MeToo to awaken journalistic sensibilities to the plain fact that a priest or seminarian who faces pressure to submit to sex with a bishop or archbishop cannot meaningfully consent. To its great credit, the Times finally exposed McCarrick’s scam last year, thanks to reporters Laurie Goodstein and Sharon Otterman, who published some of the same information that the freelancer working for the Times Magazine (which has a different editorial hierarchy from the newspaper, note well) told me back in 2012 that he had. The Washington Post later published an account of an anonymous seminarian who vomited in McCarrick’s apartment after an unwanted sexual encounter with the then-Archbishop of Newark. I knew about that encounter in 2012 because the freelancer whose story was spiked by the Times Magazine editor had it on the record, and told me that.
This morning’s Times story decries the injustices right-wing bullies and an uncomprehending institution visit upon gay priests, but it does not talk about seminarians and adult priests being preyed on by powerful gay prelates, as well as other priests who may not outrank them, but who have de facto power within a diocese. Take, for example, the current case in the Diocese of Gaylord (MI), involving a young priest named Father Matthew Cowan. Cowan complained to his bishop that he had been repeatedly sexually harassed by Father Dennis Stilwell, the vicar general (No. 2) of the diocese. When it appeared to Cowan that the diocese was dragging its feet on his complaint, and maybe even preparing to sweep it under the rug, he put evidence and a list of his concerns into this e-mail. Please read it.
Bishop Steven Raica suspended Father Cowan for sending that e-mail to some people within the diocese, but outside the clerical circle, saying that the letter violated the “unity” of the priesthood. Meanwhile, a group of laity in the diocese who are sick of lies and the cover-ups have started a group called Gaylord Diocese Watch, in part to defend Father Cowan. Last week, GDW alleged that Father Jim Holtz, a priest who had been removed from ministry by the previous bishop after credible accusations of sexual abuse of a minor, had quietly been allowed to serve under Father Stilwell in his parish. Excerpts from their allegation post:
Holtz’s name was on a list of 10 priests made public on Nov. 14, 2018 “who are known to have had credible and substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor made against them in the Diocese of Gaylord.”
“Until that list became public in November, virtually nobody at St Francis was aware Fr. Dennis Stilwell allowed a known child molester to work at the altar, with altar servers and in religious education for many years,” said Dr. Richard Brenz, spokesman for Gaylord Diocesan Watch, an activist group formed last month.
“Holtz never could have passed the Gaylord Diocese basic background check that every employee in a parish and school is required to undergo,” Brenz said. “It is bad enough that Holtz was selected by Fr. Stillwell to work with and be around children on parish grounds, but the secrecy surrounding his involvement is even more outrageous.
As faithful Catholics who have once again been betrayed by our local bishops who shroud everything they do in secrecy yet preach about transparency, we once again call on the media to investigate this scandal,” Brenz added.
“Bishop Steven Raica wrote in response to the Pennsyvania scandal, ‘…we must not let down our guard. We must remain vigilant.’ Yet his own vicar general ignores the basic rules in place to protect children. We are sorry to say that we have little confidence in Church officials to protect our children. At the very least, parents of children attending the St. Francis Elementary School and who are altar servers should have been notified of Holtz’s background.
Gaylord Diocese Watch offers further information about Father Holtz:
Holtz’s Facebook page, which is easily accessed by the public, shows he has given favorable ratings to books in the last two and three years with explicitly homo-erotic themes. In the section of his Facebook profile titled “Reviews” several of the books have covers with an image of handsome young men in provocative poses. One book, “Leap of Faith,” which Holtz gave a 5-star rating (on a scale of 1-5) shows two men kissing.
The description on the Amazon web site to purchase “Leap of Faith” indicates: “This is a full length romance novella which has multiple gay sex scenes. Mature readers only. Set in the onset to WWII.”
Another book which received a 5-star rating from Holtz is “My Dream Boy.” Clicking the image of book takes the reader to a web site titled “Romance Week,” which carries this summary of the book:
“Jake and a couple of his college friends learn about a cruising spot near campus and decide to try it out. They soon find that they can get a blowjob there and in no time they’re doing it to each other… and more. Then the school year ends and Jake moves home. He misses his pals and the hot sex they had and is looking forward to a boring summer. But things look up when new people move in next door. Their son is a gorgeous young guy and Jake makes it his mission to get to know him. What he doesn’t know is that Evan also likes guys.”
Another book that received a 5-star rating from Holtz is “Wizards Moon,” which is summarized on the Romance Week web site thusly: “I wish to buy a boy. A warrior from the Northlands purchases a young man for purposes both secret and perhaps sinister.”
Did Father Stilwell violate the Dallas Charter by allowing Father Holtz to serve? Did Bishop Raica know this was happening? Why is Father Cowan, the whistleblower, the one being punished in this matter? Is it because Father Cowan could see that the network was going to protect one of its own?
Remember the lesson of McCarrick (a lesson that has been made clear over and over since 2002): if you want to see the Catholic Church clean up its act, then the laity has to speak up, speak often, and speak loudly. A priest who does it on his own may well be run over by the hierarchy, as Father Cowan apparently has been.
And on the question of the networks of gay priests protecting each other’s secrets — including the secrets of abusers — understand that the mainstream media is more often than not part of the conspiracy. It has a narrative to uphold. You will hear about priests like Father Gregory Greiten, a gay priest who came out to his parish, and who is featured in the NYT story today; priests like Father Matthew Cowan — whose friends have set up a Go Fund Me page to help him pay his legal bills in this matter — are harder for our mainstream media to see.
Now, In The Closet Of The Vatican, the scandalous Frederic Martel book that will be released on Thursday sounds like it will need to be read with a strongly critical eye, one capable of sorting out juicy gossip from fact. Martel sounds like the kind of gay activist who believes as a matter of principle that the more opposed a cleric is to normalizing gay sex, the deeper inside the closet that cleric must be. Nevertheless, early reports from those who have read ITCOTV — European title: Sodom — indicate that the book explodes the quaint New York Times myth that the gay clerical network is a malicious right-wing invention. Take this passage from a report on the Martel book appearing in Crux, a non-partisan Catholic outlet:
Perhaps the most salient reason for the timing of the book’s release is the rule that “behind the majority of cases of sexual abuse, there are priests and bishops who have protected the aggressors because of their own homosexuality and out of fear that it might be revealed in the event of a scandal.”
“The culture of secrecy that was needed to maintain silence about the high prevalence of homosexuality in the Church has allowed sexual abuse to be hidden and prelates to act,” he continues.
While Martel steers clear of the argument that homosexuality within the priesthood is a driving force for sexual abuse, he argues that the culture of secrecy is what allows it to flourish, along with its cover-up, even within the highest ranks of power.
Exactly. Propagandists ignore this fact. But a fact it is. The Martel book is going to make this impossible to ignore, though I expect the Times and others to do their best.