After Geoghan Murder, Are Media Treating Homosexuality Issue Differently?

SHIRLEY, Mass. — John Geoghan, a defrocked priest accused of being a serial sexual predator, was murdered on Aug. 23 in the medium-security prison where he was incarcerated in Shirley, Mass.

His killer was an alleged neo-Nazi who is serving a life term for murdering a homosexual man 15 years ago.

Besides the criminal-justice questions about why these two men were in the same section, or even the same prison, the media and law-enforcement coverage of Geoghan's death is jarring: From the New York Times and the Boston Globe to law-enforcement officials, suddenly the words “gay” and “homosexual” are being used in reference to a priest involved in scandal. It was an “anti-gay,” “gay-bashing” murder, a “hate crime,” motivated by “homophobia.”

“How Mr. Geoghan and Mr. Druce, who has strong homophobic views, ended up in the same unit is a focus of investigations by the state police, the Correction Department and the Worcester County district attorney's office,” a New York Times reporter wrote.

ABC's Charlie Gibson reported, “Prison officials are investigating how a convicted killer known to hate homosexuals was able to get at Geoghan.”

The coverage has left some wondering: Since when is it okay to talk about the “homosexual factor” in the Church scandals?

“The national press and the Boston district attorney did all they could simultaneously to create the higher level of outrage against the Catholic Church without mentioning the fact that it was active homosexual priests, not pedophiles, who were committing most of these crimes,” said Deal Hudson, editor of Crisis magazine. “Now that [Geoghan] has met with a violent death, the story is all about being a homosexual. A homosexual as a victim is news, a homosexual as perpetrator is not.”

Geoghan was serving a 10-year sentence for groping a boy in a public swimming pool; another child-abuse case was still pending. Accused by hundreds of abuse, 86 cases were settled last fall in a $10 million settlement with the Boston Archdiocese.

Although not all of the scandals in the news the last two years have involved pedophiles (adult men preying on children; most of them have involved homosexual priests and older teen-age boys), Geoghan's victims were young children.

The question of homosexuality in the priesthood, prior to Geoghan's death — a murder many believe adds tragedy upon tragedy — was seemingly off limits.

Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls said in a March 2002 New York Times interview, “People with [homosexual] inclinations just cannot be ordained.”

He elaborated: “That does not imply a final judgment on people with homosexuality, but you cannot be in this field.”

“The media can't have it both ways,” said Stanley Kurtz, a fellow at the Hoover Institution who writes frequently on family issues.“Did the Church scandal have something to do with homosexuality or not? Whatever responsibility bishops had for their handling of the problem, the great majority of actual cases involved homosexual acts. That fact has to be duly noted and its meaning explored. Being honest about the role of homosexuality in the Church scandal doesn't mean claiming that all homosexuals are child molesters. But some clearly were.”

Far from everyone agrees, however, that the scandals of the last two years have to do with homosexuality.

“I don't think homosexuality is the problem,” said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Conservatives blame the problem on homosexuals in the Church. Liberals blame the problem on celibacy or the fact that women cannot be ordained. I believe that the problem and the solution rests squarely on the shoulders of the those in the hierarchy of the Church.”

“Homosexuality in the priest-hood has absolutely nothing to do with pedophilia and the crisis in the Church,” said Ann Hagan Webb, New England co-coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and a psychologist. “As long as the Catholic Church continues to attempt to blame this problem on homosexual orientation, they will continue to demonstrate their ignorance about the sexual abuse and rape of minors and vulnerable adults.”

But Catholic psychotherapist Gregory Popchak cautions Catholics to take the issue of homosexuality seriously.

“It must be recognized that the homosexual person has unique obstacles he must face in integrating his sexual self,” he said.

“While the heterosexual person works out his identity in public, eliciting the guidance of parents and others in his quest for a whole identity,” Popchak said, “the shame the homosexual person experiences as he confronts the disintegration of his sexual self causes him to wrestle with many questions in secret, which grossly retards his sexual development. Healthy identities — sexual identities in particular — cannot be formed in secret.”

“But in such a psychological environment,” Popchak continued, “it is little wonder that almost 100% of the scandal consisted of the abuse of adolescent boys. John Geoghan and others like him were perpetually arrested in adolescence, and their disorder allowed them to see minors as peers with whom they could ‘work out' their sexual identity.”

“I am prepared to believe that Geoghan's gruesome murder was an anti-gay crime, a hate crime,” theologian Michael Novak said. “But it is odd, isn't it, that the Boston papers didn't report the priest-molesters' scandal as a gay scandal, a scandal of homosexuals gone awry. They could only come around to admitting that essential point by the back door, when one of the offenders had been murdered.”

Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.