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Also on this website:
Toby Johnson's books:
YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned
from Joseph Campbell: The
GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness
GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe
LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE:
Fantastical Gay Romance set in two different time periods
THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil
TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: GaySpirit in Storytelling, a collaboration with Steve Berman and some 30 other writers
THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell
IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD: A Mystical Journey
Books on Gay Spirituality:
Articles and Excerpts:
Review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness
Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"
EnlightenmentYou're Not A Wave
Joseph Campbell Talks about Aging
What is Enlightenment?
What is reincarnation?
How many lifetimes in an ego?
Emptiness & Religious Ideas
Experiencing experiencing experiencing
Going into the Light
Meditations for a Funeral
The way to get to heaven
Buddha's father was right
What Anatman means
Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal
The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika
Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva
John Boswell was Immanuel Kant
Cutting edge realization
The Myth of the Wanderer
Change: Source of Suffering & of Bliss
What the Vows Really Mean
Manifesting from the Subtle Realms
The Three-layer Cake & the Multiverse
The est Training and Personal Intention
Effective Dreaming in Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven
There is a message behind the ongoing priest pedophilia/ephebophilia scandal that is being missed—especially by the current LGBT argument that the Church is wrong to connect the crisis to homosexuality.
What the crisis reveals is that being gay tends to make people more religious, more sensitive, more committed to service. That’s the implication of the revelation about priestly sexuality. What seems to be shocking to the public is there are gay men in the priesthood, because the public doesn’t understand homosexuality (or priesthood, for that matter). The crisis indirectly shows that “essential gayness” makes people “better” people, the way we used to think priests were “better” people (when we didn’t know about their sexuality and thought of them somehow as essentially eunuchs).
What the crisis reveals is that the Church's false and hypocritical condemnation of homosexuality—and sexual experience, in general—can have devastating consequences for these gay men who sought to give their lives to God by joining the Church, only to find a complex set of confusing and false double-binds in priestly life. Because the Church is so benightedly anti-sex and anti-gay, these men are effectively driven crazy (I use that word non-technically) and they do things beyond the pale and maybe even without knowing what they're doing.
Priests ARE gay because gayness is a holy kind of consciousness. Priests are sexual criminals because that truth is denied and vilified by the Church. It's Christian teaching about the nature of human incarnation that is wrong. And the proof is the “fruits” of that teaching—to use Jesus's test for veracity: “By their fruits you will know them.” Belief in the anti-sex doctrines and myths results in bad sexually–related behavior.
And on top of all that, the trauma in the lives of the victims is so much, much worse because of the conflicts, guilt, shame and embarrassment around sexuality and homosexuality the Church inculcates in them to protect its own closet.
We need a “new myth” that is psychologically sophisticated enough to honor sexuality and human incarnation and shape it positively. You'd think that is what Jesus was talking about 2000 years ago with his comment about who gets to throw the first stone, but his followers sure distorted the message.
The priestly pedophilia scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church and challenged the authority of the hierarchy tells us that there is something wrong in the Catholic teachings and doctrines about sex and embodiment. Priests are pedophiles not because pedophiles become priests but because priestly indoctrination warps men's judgment and their experience of embodiment. These men are victims of religion who end up acting sometimes in grossly inappropriate ways without conscious understanding of what they're doing.
There may be some men, even some homosexuals, who were attracted to the priesthood because of the power it could give them over other people, sexually and emotionally. But they are not certainly most priests. Most priests today joined at the end of parochial school or high school when they were 13 or 17 years of age. Such earnest young men were driven by na´ve zeal, selfless generosity, and the tenets of Catholic doctrine to renounce the things of the flesh entirely for the sake of God's immaterial, ethereal Kingdom. These boys don't join the priesthood because they think it will be a good way to get sex. If anything, they believe they will be able to give up sex entirely—and should, in order to be good boys.
The media-driven sensationalization—and the legal claims for huge settlements of Church money—distort the reality of priestly “pedophilia.” What is properly called child molestation is predominantly a heterosexual phenomenon, with homosexuals no more likely than heterosexuals to sexually abuse prepubescent children. For what the priests were doing, ephebophilia would be a more correct term, love of post-pubescent teenagers, the mentoring pattern which some cultures—Classical Greece, the usual example—institutionalized as honorable and beneficial. (Of course, even so, you have to wonder how these priests could have been so ignorant of the laws about age of consent.)
An article on abcnews.com by Fr. Edward L. Beck cites statistics:
Of about 3,000 reported cases of sexual misconduct among priests committed in the past 50 years, only 300, or 10 percent, of those cases involved true pedophiles. Pedophilia is psychologically classified as sexual attraction to prepubescent children, younger than 13. Ninety percent of the reported abuse cases involved Roman Catholic priests classified as ephebophiles, those attracted to teens between 13 and 19. Of those reported cases, 60 percent were homosexual abuse and 30 percent heterosexual abuse, according to the 2004 John Jay Report commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In the media and in court, the sexual gestures of the accused priest are characterized as ravishment and child-rape to evoke images of forceful penetration—what frustrated, angry adult males do to females. Heterosexual dynamics get projected onto the situation, because the media, the courts, and the public don't understand homosexual sexual dynamics.
With gay understanding, we may see that, while some of these acts truly are crimes of rape and molestation, often they are far more innocent, well-intentioned, if terribly misguided and grossly inappropriate, gestures of affection. More likely, we can imagine, these adult priests, obsessed with religious imagery and driven by it to suppress sexual feelings, had come to revere the innocence of the young boys in their care. They see in those boys their own lost boyish innocence. They covet that innocence. And they desire the boy who incarnates it. They likely experience their desire as something totally different from sex, perhaps even as something holy. It certainly isn't the heterosexuality they vowed to abjure. They may believe they can save a youth from a dysfunctional upbringing. They may project onto a boy serving at their altar that this innocent youth too has a religious vocation and think their affection for him a sign of God's electing the boy to the next generation of priesthood. Drawn by the vision of Christ in the boy, they reach out to touch that vision and find themselves totally unprepared for the sexual emotions and compulsions that follow.
Media attention has made it appear that those coming forward to report that years ago they were traumatized by the homosexual advances of priests and to sue the Church for damages are now heterosexual adult men. About half the victims who've organized to challenge the Church cover-up of priestly sexual misdeeds are women; they weren't victimized by homosexual advances. And, of course, some of the victims are gay, but they're not the media focus. Were gay adults all similarly traumatized or were they, perhaps instead, liberated? There is no media attention, after all, given to proclaiming a priest had had sex with you and, even though it might have been embarrassing and a little creepy at the time, you've got good attitudes about your sexuality, have no recriminations against him, and no desire to claim money because of it.
The heterosexual adults, male and female, are right, of course, that they should not have had any sexual, especially homosexual, experience forced upon them. And it would have been especially inappropriate for it to come from a priest. But wasn't the psychological trauma caused less by the priest's advances than by society's and the Church's hysteria around sexuality and homosexuality?
If these people had been raised to understand all sexual activity to be wonderful and beautiful and an experience of God's vitality in the physical world, would they have ended up adult “victims”? Was the traumatizer the inept, psychologically crippled priest or the Church doctrine that made into a trauma what—in a VERY different setting, of course—could have been a simple, playful human interaction?
The homosexually-repressed priests fall in love with the wrong boys. Their gaydar has been rendered defective. Because they have been indoctrinated and traumatized themselves into denying homosexual feelings, they may be self-righteously judgmental toward obvious pre-gay, sissy boys. Having been required by the Church to be themselves “straight-acting and straight-appearing,” they fall for boys who are straight-acting and straight-appearing—and really straight.
Straight teenage boys aren't the proper object for the priests' affections and ministrations. These young men won't benefit from learning that the condemnations of homosexuality are a cover for a secret and a technique for pulling the wool over the eyes of the breeding masses. But sexually mature gay teenagers might very well benefit from a relationship with a priest—not, of course, from Father prematurely and inappropriately manipulating them into adult sexual intercourse. That simply shouldn't happen. But from Father mentoring them in the ways of the world, letting them in on the Church's secret, and telling them how beautiful and innocent and beloved by God they are—and how blessed that they'll grow up to be gay men. (Such an honest and intimate, but totally non-sexual, relationship with a priest when I was in the seminary dramatically helped me become a proud and psychologically healthy adult gay man.)
A question that remains unanswered—and maybe unanswerable—is whether priests and other religious have always been pedophiles, i.e., sexual initiators. Catholic seminarians joke about the so-called jus primi noctis (“right of the first night”), according to which, supposedly, in ancient times the feudal lord or the presiding priest had the prerogative to sexually initiate a virgin bride on the first night of her marriage. Perhaps one of the traditional functions of the priesthood was to initiate young people into sexuality. That's not to defend it, just to question what's actually been going on.
It's a joke in modern American society that parents can't bring themselves even to have the “bird and the bees talk.” They become tongue-tied by their reluctance to see their beloved babies grow up to sexual adulthood and by their own sexual awareness of their children. Parents are confronted with feelings that cannot be allowed into consciousness. Fathers can't initiate their sons into masturbation. Mothers can't show their daughters how to feel the pleasure their bodies are capable of experiencing.
Sexual maturity ends the innocence of childhood; sexual, emotional, and relational issues displace the simple concerns of the playroom. Delaying that is a boon to the children and an aid to their maturation. The offense of sexual advances towards children shouldn’t be understood as the sex, but the theft of childhood.
Yet they are going to become aware of their physical urges. Their genital organs are going to mature. That's inevitable. So who should teach sons and daughters how to touch themselves and to celebrate human incarnation in feeling flesh? Shouldn't it be priests? Who better should understand how to place all these feelings in the context of ego-transcending love? Who better to tell boys how to bring themselves to orgasm without snickering and embarrassment? Who better to teach them—at the proper age, of course—the Body Electric techniques for finding ecstasy in sexual arousal?
Obviously it isn't going to be the Catholic priests of today's Catholic Church, with its anti-sexual, homophobia-justifying agenda. To find such priest-initiators we have to recall those hunter-gatherer days when the religions worshipped the Great Mother and celebrated her mysteries with reverent orgies and transcendence-inducing orgasms. To find such priests perhaps we have to create a metaphorical history of such a matriarchal time. Perhaps we need a radically new religion.
Considering the trauma, belligerence, and violence that our current anti-sexual, patriarchal religions have produced, perhaps it's not just the altar boys who've been f--ked by the priests. All of us have had the wool pulled over our eyes.
The ecclesiastical solution to the scandal has been to blame homosexuals in the priesthood and to act surprised that there are such men in their midst. Of course, there are homosexuals in the priesthood. Priests are likely to be gay. They are supposed to exemplify self-sacrifice, generosity, sensitivity, kindness, and non-competitiveness—all the traits of gay men.
Celibacy is said to keep homosexuals out of the Church, but celibacy is actually not the renunciation of sex, but of marriage and childrearing. Sex is, of course, indirectly forbidden because, according to Catholic doctrine, sex is only lawful in the state of marriage. Celibacy originated in the need to avoid widows and children becoming the responsibility of the institution. Church property couldn't be allowed to pass through inheritance outside the Church. Priests can't have heirs.
Homosexuals, especially in the old days before the Gay Rights Movement and the awareness in society of gayness as a psychological phenomenon, enter the priesthood because they aren't motivated to pursue sex with women, marriage, or parenthood. They're just the kind of men the Church needs. They're drawn to the religious life because the Church provides the doctrinal explanation for their disinclination toward heterosexual sex. The Catholic Church helpfully declares that sex is the greatest temptation and boys shouldn't even look at girls for fear of arousing sinful passions. Is it any wonder young, unaware homosexuals would seek refuge in the Church?
To solve the pedophilia problem, the Church needs to offer a sex-positive vision, a doctrine of sexual pleasure that allows priests to form sexual bonds with women, perhaps women priests—or with other conscious gay adult men—and that utilizes modern technologies to prevent conception. The Church needs to embrace masturbation (perhaps as meditative, spiritual practice—the way some modern gay men are doing), contraception, even abortion in the service of body-positive, celibate (i.e. childless) sex lives for priests.
Instead, Church authorities address the scandal by driving out the openly gay, sexually aware priests. They say they're getting rid of the bad apples, leaving only properly repressed heterosexuals in the ranks. This leaves the Church with the even more confused, conflicted, repressed men in various stages of nailing shut their closet doors. Proclamations of the evil and inherent disorderedness of conscious gay people ring with hypocrisy.
Everybody sees that the real “crime” is the hierarchical cover-up. The bishops—even the Pope—lied and shielded the child-abusers to protect their own public image and fundraising abilities. This has been partly, of course, out of the same kind of loyalty that causes police officers to protect other police officers and doctors to protect other doctors, but perhaps also out of the bishops' innate understanding that the sins of the priests often weren't as heinous as the scandal has made the public believe.
But the bishops are in great part responsible for the public's hysteria, and the hysteria indeed makes the priests' behavior heinous and its consequences traumatizing. (Secrecy and cover-up always make sexual abuse far more emotionally damaging than the actual act of sex itself.)
Conscious gay people’s awareness of the secret homosexual slant to things and our own understanding of the innocence of homosexual affections allow us to see that the bishops demonstrate a certain understanding and sympathy for the pedophile priests. Perhaps the bishops see this is not something new and that the ephebophile priests' behavior though not acceptable is at least “understandable.” (That’s the word Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, used about violence against homosexuals.)
But then instead of finding somebody to blame, why don't the bishops defuse the hysteria by telling the truth about homosexuality? As Church historian Mark Jordan describes in The Silence of Sodom, the real crime is that the Church knows it's a gay institution and understands the homosexual peccadilloes of its priests while fiercely denying the truth and ratcheting up its rhetoric against homosexuality to bolster the denials. The Church's sin is being soft on conflicted, closeted homosexuals in its midst while being hard on open, self-affirming gay people in modern, secular society. The Church opposes gay rights, fights gay marriage, objects to safe sex education, and condemns homosexuality as unnatural and disordered—all to protect its own secret.
Priests serving in the Church, and especially idealistic young seminarians, identify themselves as gay not in rebellion to Church authority but out of personal integrity. They're not necessarily violating their vows: One can be openly gay and proud and be sexually continent. For men (and women) in the Church, it's an act of courage, psychological health, and honesty to tell the truth—to themselves, to their brothers or sisters in religious community, and to God. Openly gay priests and seminarians aren't disobedient, they're heroic. They're telling that truth about the Emperor's new clothes. They are not the ones who need to be disciplined.
But maybe gay priests should be leaving the Church—for their own sake. Conventional religion—with its antiquated understanding of human psychology, rigid rules of social behavior, and neurosis-inducing attitudes toward embodiment—is not the place for gay men. Gay men are spiritual and spiritual men are usually gay. These men deserve a religion that enables them to flourish as the saints they are, not one that cripples their sexuality and shapes them into predators. What a terrible waste of good gay lives!
This article is based on material from Toby Johnson's Gay Perspective: Things our [homo]sexuality tells us about the nature of God and the Universe (White Crane Books, 2008).
Toby Johnson, PhD is author of nine books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, four gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality and editor of a collection of "myths" of gay men's consciousness.
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.
PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature
of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They
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