The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism
The University of Chicago Press, 302 pp.
Interesting, if true. That's how I'd sum up Mark Jordan's provocative and tangled examination of the clandestine role of homosexuality in the Catholic Church.
"The Silence of Sodom" tackles a question that is, at the least,intriguing and might even be important: Is the Roman Catholic Church run byhomosexuals? Mark Jordan thinks so. He argues that the all-male clerical andhierarchical structure of Catholicism both harbors homosexuals and harassesthem. Its liturgy abets homoerotic imagination while its moral theologyproscribes it. Though the church publicly condemns homosexual acts becausethey violate the natural order, Jordan argues that the condemnation actuallyarises from the veiled homoeroticism at work in the lives of priests,bishops, cardinals, and popes, some unspecified number of whom he believesto be active homosexuals.
An inquiry exposing the hypocrisy of preaching celibacy whilepracticing sodomy might also throw light on a wide range of the church'sdistinctive problems from the reluctance to ordain married men to the animusagainst ordaining women. A string of controversies, a few of which the bookexamines, might look different from this perspective: Does Catholicism'stop-down system of promotion and tenure really serve the church's mission ordoes it protect a homosexual subculture? Do the liturgical battles thatbeset the church derive from a Vatican penchant for proper rubrics, or fromcompeting strands of homoerotic imagination? For many reasons then, notexcluding the resolution of conspiratorial and titillating rumors andcharges, The Silence of Sodom could be interesting and even enlightening.
But is it true? If clerical sodomy is secretive and silent, what wouldverify Jordan's claim that "The most elaborate secrecies will be found inreligious institutions that condemn same-sex desires fiercely while creatingconditions under which they can flourish: the situation of modernCatholicism"? By definition, secrets and silence do not provide evidence-orat least, the kind that can be openly examined and adjudicated.
Does that mean fierce condemnation itself constitutes proof thatsame-sex desire flourishes in the ranks of the men who run the CatholicChurch? That is the direction of the opening argument. Jordan examines therhetoric of recent Vatican statements on homosexuality. And it is rhetoric,not content, that engages him; his argument being that one way to ensuresilence is for church bureaucrats to repeat condemnations loudly and atlength. Persuasion would mean engagement with the argument and experience ofthose who oppose official teaching on homosexuality as on many othersubjects. It is true that many Roman documents, particularly of adisciplinary nature, are not persuasive, including statements on the role oftheologians, episcopal collegiality, and inclusive language as well as thoseon homosexuality.
Is there evidence for silent sodomy from the lives of Catholic clergy?Jordan briefly recaps the argument of a previous book, The Invention ofSodomy in Christian Theology (1997). His exegesis of medieval texts placesthis "invention" at the door of the clergy who are both associated with"sodomy" and with its condemnation; who perpetuate its practices andsensibilities while loudly and hysterically condemning its presence evendown to today. That is Jordan's view. His single contemporary example isRudolph Kos, a priest and convicted pedophile (and one of Jordan's formerstudents at Holy Trinity Seminary, Dallas). Jordan believes that Kos'sbehavior was known to diocesan officials and fellow priests. That itcontinued Jordan attributes to the "church's habit of keeping secrets, evenfrom itself." And though he carefully distinguishes pedophilia fromhomosexuality, he insists that the same mechanism, "secrecy and silence,"that keeps same-sex desire closeted in the church allowed Kos to practicepedophilia. But why not consider that the same mechanism that would keepheterosexuals from confronting Kos-incredulity that a "celibate" priestcould do such a thing, might operate in the case of homosexuals as well? Inthe context of an argument that is all-gay all the time, Jordan cannotimagine the power of ordinary obtuseness or fear of confrontation. How manyprofessionals miss cases of child abuse? Who ever suspected the kindly oldlady down the street would turn out to be a serial killer?
"The epistemology of the closet," Jordan's operative metaphor (and thetitle of Eve Sedgewick's book on the subject), doesn't concern itself withordinary ways of knowing or the usual rules of evidence. It doesn't reallymatter, for example, how many or how few homosexuals, sexually active ornot, there may be among Catholic clergy, "because the closet is acollaborative construction of gay and straight." The proof: "There may bejust one homosexually active monsignor in a curial office of ten, but thecloset around him is built by all ten together." Is it really?