Brunett's remarks on gays, sex abuse by clergy stir anger
Some see comments as church's attempt to duck responsibility
October 18, 2004

  A lifelong Roman Catholic and an openly gay man, state Rep. Ed Murray felt sick to his stomach. Around the same time, Ave Maria Dover, a Catholic mother of a gay son, felt her church was "weeping."
  They are part of a wounded, vocal chorus upset with the Rev. Alex Brunett, the Seattle Catholic archbishop, after his comments on homosexuality and clergy abuse appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer last week.
  He said many of the country's clerical abuse cases have involved priests ordained in the 1960s, the same time he was protesting open homosexual behavior among his students at a Michigan seminary, where he was the academic dean.
  "One would not want to draw a tie (between homosexuality and clergy abuse), but I think it does raise the question," he said, referring to a recent national, church-sanctioned study that found that 81 percent of victims of clerical abuse were male.
  Brunett added that some of the gay seminarians he knew, whose ordinations he had tried to block, later turned out to be pedophiles. "I was right on the mark with these people," he said.
  His comments ignited an outburst of letter writing and phone calling among Catholic and non-Catholic gays and lesbians, and parents of gay and lesbian children. His words also sliced open a deep well of pain regarding Catholic doctrine on homosexuality and highlighted an ongoing area of controversy: the scrutiny of gay priests and seminarians.
  Studies have shown that the Catholic priesthood has long attracted gay men. Particularly in the '60s, before the concept of gay rights emerged, many gay Catholic men found the priesthood the only safe place to reconcile their feelings, said Leo Egashira, an editor with Dignity Seattle, the local chapter of a national group of Catholics who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.
  "It was the only lifestyle they could do without addressing their sexuality, which can be an extraordinarily painful" topic, he said. The church teaches that homosexuality is an intrinsic disorder and that homosexual behavior is a sin.
  Some experts say many heterosexual men have left the priesthood to get married since the '60s, leaving a higher percentage of gay men behind. A recent national survey of 1,200 priests found that 55 percent of them said there was some element of "gay subculture" among them, the National Catholic Reporter wrote.
  Earlier this year, a board appointed by the nation's bishops released a report that said attention must be placed on the "homosexual behavior that characterized the vast majority" of abuse cases. That is the report to which Brunett referred.
  The board said failure to discipline the sexual permissiveness in seminaries with a "gay subculture" contributed to an atmosphere where sexual abuse of adolescent boys was more likely.
  It said additional scrutiny may be needed for gay candidates into the priesthood, but it did not blame the abuse on homosexuality.
  "It seems clear to the board that the paramount question in this area must be whether a candidate for priesthood is capable of living a chaste, celibate life, not what the candidate's sexual orientation might be," the report said.
  The report -- and the abuse crisis -- have further fueled some bishops' refusal to accept gay men into their seminaries. Some bishops believe gay men face more temptation than straight men; others think gay men can't relate to a parish the way a "healthy father" could to his family, the report said.
  But many bishops, including Brunett, say the main criterion for acceptance into a seminary is whether a candidate can live up to his vows, regardless of sexual orientation, said Brunett's spokesman, Greg Magnoni.
  "I know what (Brunett's) position is with regard to individuals who are homosexual, and that is they are entitled to all the dignity and equality of every other individual."
  He said Brunett, when he was a seminary dean, had expected his students to be celibate, but had no issue with their orientation.
  But many people find the position "It's OK to be gay, as long as you don't act gay" hurtful and accused Brunett of blaming the abuse on homosexuality.
  "The church is on fairly thin ice, and trying to pin abuse on homosexuality is a failure on the archbishop's part and the church's part to take responsibility," Murray said.
  Many people reacted to Brunett's comments by pointing to studies showing that the vast majority of reported child sexual abuse involves men victimizing girls, with the inference that most abusers are heterosexual.
  "No thinking person would consider an act between a heterosexual pedophile and a female child a manifestation of heterosexuality. Neither is an act between a homosexual pedophile and a male child a manifestation of homosexuality," Marilyn Cass, a mother of a gay son and founder of a local group for Catholic families dealing with homosexuality, said in an e-mail.
"Both are acts of abuse."
  Bev Coco, a 78-year-old Catholic woman in Bellevue, said she has known many wonderful gay priests, after her son, who is gay, entered a seminary. He didn't finish, but his friends have turned into "wonderful" priests, she said.
  "I have never known any of them to be pedophile," she said.

P-I reporter Vanessa Ho can be reached at 206-448-8003 or