Homosexuality is “the ticking time bomb in the Catholic Church,” a former Dominican friar told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.
Mark Dowd, who is himself openly gay, spoke to Amanpour as a blitz of new scandals hit the Catholic Church, just days before Pope Benedict XVI is set to step down from the papacy.
The Vatican announced on Monday that the archbishop of Scotland is resigning, a day after British newspapers published accusations of decades-long sexual misconduct with other priests. An American Cardinal is facing fresh allegations of covering up abuse. And Italian newspapers over the weekend published sordid accounts of homosexuality and blackmail within the Church hierarchy.
That last allegation, of a secret “cabal” of gay priests, has been dubbed the “Vati-leaks” scandal.
“When you have this culture of secrecy and guilt and repression,” Dowd said, “you have conditions which foster the potential for blackmail and for manipulation.”
Dowd, who is now a journalist, said that gay men are “massively over-represented” within the Church.
“About half,” he said, “if not more, of all the people attracted into seminaries in the priesthood are gay themselves.”
Dowd said the basis for his claim was on- and off-the-record conversations with members of the Church, as well as personal experience.
Despite stepping down, the Scottish archbishop, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, denies the charges levied against him by fellow priests.
“We don’t know all of the details; we know what’s been reported to us by the papers,” Father Tom Rosica, an assistant Vatican spokesperson, told Amanpour. “Certainly this is not a pleasant moment for the entire church. When one member suffers, all of us suffer.”
The suffering certainly does not seem to be abating. The Church’s child sex-abuse scandal has been building in recent years, but Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation seems to have invited the deepest reckoning yet.
Veteran Vatican journalist Marco Politi, speaking with Amanpour in Rome, called Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation “the last act of a series of crises.”
“He had, from the beginning, crises with Islam, crises with the Jews, crises with the world of the science because of the condom and HIV,” Politi said. “And finally, the great Vati-leaks crisis: These secret documents about corruption in the Vatican, about struggles between Cardinals, about disease and opposition against his secretary of state, and about lack of transparency of the Vatican Bank. This certainly was pushing him to accelerate his resignation.”
Nonetheless, Politi dismissed the idea of a “gay cabal,” as reported over the weekend by la Repubblica and Panorama, emphasizing that no one has actually seen the report.
“The idea of a gay cabal is rubbish,” he said. “Here in the Vatican, there are monsignors who have love affairs, with women and with men. But they hide it. They are liberals or conservatives, but certainly they don’t act like a gay lobby.”
Politi said that when Cardinal Ratzinger was elevated to the papacy, he wanted to “turn a new page” on the sex abuse scandal.
“He understood how deep this problem was,” Politi said. “But he has not had the courage to order all the bishops to open the archives to see the hidden victims, which are still thousands and thousands all over the world.”
The sex abuse scandal weighed heavily on the Pope, Dowd said. He recounted an interview he conducted several years ago with Pope Benedict XVI’s brother, Georg Ratzinger.
“He said [Pope Benedict XVI] was basically lying awake at night sweating and worrying about it,” Dowd said, “and that actually in terms of his own emotional health it taken a great toll on him.”
As to whether reformers can hope for a more liberal Pope in the future, Dowd was optimistic.
“In my experience,” he said, “the Catholic Church is always liable to surprise.”