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Queer and Catholic: A life of contradiction by Mark Dowd

09 March 2018

Malcolm Johnson on making sense of being labelled ‘disordered’

I LIKED this book. The author, now an award-winning broadcaster and journalist, has an easy and amusing style of writing, and his autobiography describes very frankly his attempt to put his faith and sexuality together. If gay Anglicans think that they have problems, then they should consider how Roman Catholics feel with the chilling phrase “intrinsically disordered” hanging over them.

The book begins with his upbringing as a northern working-class boy. Dowd is asked by his mother why he shouts out in his sleep the name of his good-looking friend Duncan, and she takes him to see her GP, Dr Bhanji, who says that Dowd will soon have a queue of girls after him because he is so good-looking.

Aged 15 and trying unsuccessfully to date girls, he falls in love with Paul, a fellow pupil at his RC school, but decides to test his vocation as a Dominican friar. In November 1981, he arrives at Blackfriars in Oxford and is counselled by Fr Herbert McCabe and Fr Giles Hibbert, who, after a while, make him realise that the religious life is not for him. Fortunately, he has always been helped by good counsellors, such as Fr Bernard Lynch, a “Colossus” and one of the few openly gay priests, who recently married his partner, Billy Desmond, in County Clare. Later, Dowd makes a documentary, Queer and Catholic, and from that experience he now reckons that between 40 and 60 per cent of RC priests are gay.

“If desire is, at least in part, founded on the unintended bedrock of prohibition, then an institution that recruits large numbers of gay men into a confined physical space and informs them that all sex is off limits is heading for trouble, unless God has bestowed on these hordes of young men that rare and oft-times elusive gift of celibacy.”

Towards the end of the book, Dowd asks himself whether he should have been ordained; but the laying on of hands would have imposed narrow limits set by popes and prelates. As it is, his priesthood is of another sort, bringing God to men and women, and bringing them to God.

Dowd’s ministry has been action-packed. In November 2014, he bravely flew to northern El Salvador, which had witnessed some of the most horrendous civil-war brutalities. His task was to build a radio station and help to train a team of people. Speaking Spanish learnt from a former lover, he was the man for the job, and is shortly to pay a third visit.

What next? Dowd has many years ahead and will continue to help people be queer and Catholic, because, he says, it is irrational for serious and reflective Christians to accept present church teaching on homosexuality.


The Revd Dr Malcolm Johnson is Master Emeritus of the Royal Foundation of St Katharine.


Queer and Catholic: A life of contradiction
Mark Dowd
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