Second Sons, Bowerbirds, and Gay Priests

Andrew Sullivan’s observation about homosexuality in the Catholic priesthood (first quotation below) brought to mind several other passages I had recently read. Here they all are, followed by a fanciful and probably baseless speculation:

It is worth noting, once again, how utterly hollow the Vatican is on the subject of homosexuality. It is an institution so embedded with homosexuality it makes Broadway look straight. The stories I’ve heard! The network of gay priests is vast in Rome, and is, in my mind, as unhealthy for those who get away with it—the hypocrisy must hollow out the soul in the end—as for those who impose it. Instead of grappling with this fact, owning it, and seeking to diversify the priesthood by ending the celibacy requirement and men-only anachronism, the Vatican clings on to denial and repression. And as society and the actual church evolves—as both must—the denial and repression must increase in proportion—until the sheer ridiculousness of the whole thing becomes apparent even to the most devout. (Andrew Sullivan: “Breaking News: The Vatican is Super-Gay”, The Daily Dish, 7/28/10)

Roberto Bellarmino followed the career that most wealthy Italian families dictated for their second sons: joining the Church. It was the easiest way to curb any future claims to an inheritance. (Ingrid D. Rowland, Giordano Bruno, p. 253)

For uncertain reasons, men who have older brothers are somewhat more likely to be gay… Assuming the odds of homosexuality are roughly 3 percent among first sons, they rise to 4 percent among second sons and 5 percent for third sons. (David G. Myers, Psychology, p. 477)

In The Mating Mind, the psychologist Geoffrey Miller argues that the impulse to create art is a mating tactic: a way to impress prospective sexual and marriage partners with the quality of one’s brain and thus, indirectly, one’s genes… Nature even gives us a precedent, the bowerbirds of Australia and New Guinea. The males construct elaborate nests and fastidiously decorate them with colorful objects such as orchids, snail shells, berries, and bark. Some of them literally paint their bowers with regurgitated fruit residue using leaves or bark as a brush. (Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 407)

Could the centuries-old tradition of forcing second sons to join the Church partly account for the homosexual “coloration” of the priesthood—its fondness for over-the-top aesthetic expressions of ceremony, vestments, music, art, and architecture? Could bowerbirds help us understand why an increasingly homosexual priesthood might have used these colorations over the centuries to attract yet more homosexual men into the fold?

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