Unbinding the Gay Conscience (Alison, 2002)


Some of you may have known Benjamin O’Sullivan, a Benedictine monk of Ampleforth Abbey who killed himself early in 1996. As far as I can tell, Benjamin was set up by a reporter from the News of the World, and the only thing which prevented his death from being a murder was that Benjamin himself consented to the voice of the lynch mob and became the hand that put him to death. I felt that his death was brought about because this extremely attractive, apparently self-confident, effervescent young man had been unable to stand up as an ordinary gay man to the voice of the lynch mob. And the reason he had been unable to stand up to them was because he was bound in his conscience. Shortly after his ordination he had expressed a fear to me that he wasn’t really a priest, because “if they had known” surely they wouldn’t have ordained him. That hardly anyone who knew Benjamin well can have failed to know that he was gay is of course not relevant: the person caught in the trap looks at the world through fear-coloured spectacles, and fear darkens rather than illumines what it projects. But this gives a hint of what I mean by a bound conscience: the sort of person who can’t stand up and be what they are, who can’t trust in the goodness of what they are being given to become, whatever the lynch mob may throw at them, the sort of person who labours instead in a world of half-truths, any belonging being a half-belonging, because always feeling that “if they knew” then “I wouldn’t really be allowed here”. Which translates into a permanent and deep feeling of “I’m not really allowed here”.

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