Rob Perez

Raising Cane

By Rob Perez

Gay priests forced
back into closet

What a difference a decade, a new leader and a sex scandal make.

Hawaii's gay priests, some of whom in the 1980s were relatively open about their sexual orientation, are now in virtual hiding, at least when it comes to their sexuality.

They aren't often seen in gay bars anymore.

They don't attend gay Catholic functions.

They don't show their sexual orientation like they used to.

When the Star-Bulletin asked about a half dozen to discuss a Vatican proposal to ban homosexuals from the priesthood, they all declined, through intermediaries. They wouldn't even talk on an off-the-record basis.

You can't blame them.

The sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic church nationally has focused greater attention on the issue of homosexuality and the priesthood, particularly because most of the victims were young males.

But critics claim there's no evidence to show gays are more likely to molest minors than heterosexuals. The fact that all priests, gay or otherwise, take a vow of celibacy and aren't supposed to have sexual relations with anyone further muddies the issue and has come under increasing criticism. Add to that the criticism that the church has failed to adequately educate priests about human sexuality and the matter becomes even more fuzzy.

"We see it as a child abuse issue rather than a sexual orientation issue," said Gene Corpuz, president of Dignity Honolulu, an organization that supports gay Catholics and their friends. "Yet gay priests are being made the scapegoats of all this."

That's why many remain underground.

It didn't used to be like this.

Hawaii in the 1980s and early 90s was known among gay networks on the mainland as being a haven for homosexual priests, even to the point of the church turning a blind eye to sexually active ones -- a notion the church disputes.

Hawaii was considered a place where gay clergy could go to social events with their partners and not worry about reprisals from their employer. Some even lived with their partners.

"You could see priests at gay-supported functions, either as a couple or by themselves," Corpuz said. "There really was no big deal about it."

One local attorney recalled going with a group of openly gay men, including two priest couples, to the movies at Kahala Mall.

"You could tell this was a group of gay men," said the attorney, who asked that his name not be used. "There was nothing subtle about it."

In the 1980s priests even celebrated Masses at Dignity functions, though the services typically were low key and held at non-church properties, Corpuz said.

The decade also marked the rise of AIDS, with a number of Hawaii priests contracting the often sexually transmitted disease.

Carolyn Golojuch, a former employee of the Honolulu diocese and now president of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said she knew of at least three local priests who died of AIDS.

Former Bishop Joseph Ferrario, in a 1986 interview with the National Catholic Reporter, recalled the case of one such priest. "We had one of the biggest funerals we've ever had, for him," he said.

Gay rights advocates say the church under Ferrario, who ran the diocese for more than a decade until his retirement in 1993, was tolerant of gay priests as long as they were relatively discreet about their homosexuality.

In the late 1980s Ferrario angered conservative church members when he supported a gay-rights bill prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Ferrario viewed the state legislation as a human rights measure, not a sexual orientation one, but his stance upset conservatives nonetheless. Some believe the church wouldn't take the same stand today.

Once Bishop Francis DiLorenzo succeeded Ferrario, the church no longer was tolerant of gay priests, prompting many to leave the islands, according to gay-rights advocates.

"That's when the purge began," said the local attorney, who personally knew at least six gay priests, most of whom no longer live here.

Patrick Downes, the diocese spokesman, denied that DiLorenzo had an agenda to drive out homosexual priests. "The bishop didn't come in and say, 'Okay, all the gays out of the pool,''' Downes said.

If DiLorenzo learned that any priest, gay or heterosexual, violated his vow of celibacy or committed a homosexual act, the bishop would take action against that priest, Downes said.

He also questioned the notion that the church was more permissive toward homosexual priests under Ferrario, noting the same policy was in effect then.

In addition, Downes said, Ferrario eventually implemented a policy that prohibited priests from presiding at Dignity services.

Ferrario, who still lives here, was not available for comment, according to Downes.

Corpuz said one of the first signs that things would be different under DiLorenzo came in the mid-90s when a Chaminade sister was suspended -- the church says she was reassigned -- at the urging of the bishop. The suspension came after she was given an award by Dignity, Corpuz said.

DiLorenzo would not comment on the case.

Since that incident, however, local priests who were supportive of Dignity stopped attending its functions, fearing repercussions, Corpuz said.

No one knows for sure how many Hawaii priests are gay.

In a recent national survey more than half the priests questioned said there clearly was or probably was a gay subculture in their diocese or religious order.

Braddoc DeCaires, a former Oahu resident who recently moved to California, said most priests he knew growing up here were gay.

"It was like a subculture you didn't talk about much," said DeCaires, who is gay. "But you could see that was definitely the way it was."

You can see that even less today.

Given the climate, however, you can hardly blame gay priests for keeping a low profile.

Star-Bulletin columnist Rob Perez writes on issues
and events affecting Hawaii. Fax 529-4750, or write to
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu 96813. He can also be reached
by e-mail at:

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