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 Chapter 3 - Clerics in the Closet

Celibacy, not secrecy is the guide to sexual integrity

15 March 2006

Note: ON FEBRUARY 26, 2006 Cardinal-designate William Levada gave an address during the installation of the new rector of the American College in Rome. An article reporting the talk ran under the headline Levada urges gay priests to remain in closet. Reports from Rome say that he made a direct connection between homosexuality in the clergy and the pedophilia scandal.

These are grave errors for someone in his position to make. He also referred to the harm done by priests who announce their homosexual orientation as if the faithful are too ignorant to make the distinction between orientation and behavior.

The Vatican is quite confused about sex, as is demonstrated in its Instruction on the Visitation of Seminaries where it talks about “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” and “transitional homosexuality” and suggests that three years of sexual abstinence (presumably homosexual) qualifies one to practice celibacy for life. The confusion that leads church leaders to ask homosexually oriented priests to remain closeted only increases the opportunity and danger for good priests—heterosexual and homosexual—to carry on secret, non celibate lives.

Celibacy, not secrecy is the guide to sexual integrity.

The Roman Catholic Church cannot re-establish its integrity or its credibility until it is clear about the distinction between sexual orientation and behavior; between homosexuality and pedophilia; and the real meaning of celibate practice. To neglect open and honest dialogue leaves the church and clergy open to ridicule, and worse, hypocrisy.

In posting the following names it must be clear that there is no accusation of sexual activity on the part of anyone named. This is distinct from the Anglican Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire who professed not only his orientation but revealed his male partner. Certainly, listed here are opinions—some would say “allegations”—of orientation. Each name has been closely vetted based on some—usually public—facts that can lead to a reasonable opinion. (This section was written March 1) 

My intent was to publish at this time some preliminary results of our study of the sexual orientation of American bishops. We have posted thoughts on the development and progress of the study from time to time:

bullet Vatican Has the Right to be Wrong, 12-01-05
bullet Roma Locuta Est: Causa Aperta, 1-10-06
bullet Sexual Orientation & American Bishops # 1, 2-10-06
bullet Sexual Orientation & American Bishops # 2, 3-01-06

I can already say with reasonable psychological certainty that 34% of the American Hierarchy have a homosexual orientation or have been involved in homosexual activity.

As of March 5, I had submitted a list of 55 names of the American hierarchy to 12 well-informed Catholics, clergy and lay, in the United States, Europe, (and Rome). Of the total names on the list, 10 are alleged to be heterosexual in orientation.

None of the consultants had an argument with the names on the list; no one had any reservation about the designation of orientation or the substantiating data. But all except one (a person from Rome) discouraged the publication of the names at this time.

The strongest argument for delay is that the object of the study—to foster discussion on basic issues of celibate function in the priesthood and to establish clear distinctions between sexual orientation and behavior—would be lost behind a surge of sensationalism. A European scholar who understands my reasoning and the study pointed out that even a pope’s sexual orientation must eventually come up for consideration if the inquiry is followed to its logical conclusion.

I faced the same kind of caution and opposition before the publication of my study, A Secret World, in 1990. And of course, its publication led to a good deal of personal aspersions and “black-balling” from a number of the Catholic hierarchy; and I lost some friends. However, what I wrote then is now considered routine knowledge and raises little debate. At this age I hold little fear of personal repercussions or rejection because of my life work. Any teacher must be willing to risk misunderstanding.

But in my 1990 publication no names were used. This does change my current dilemma about publication. The problem in publishing this study—even in its preliminary but well-substantiated form—is that it does name names. This could be construed as an attack. That is not, and has never been the object of the research.

So, I am, on the advice of people who, like me, are concerned with the welfare of the church, going to postpone the publication of the first part of my study on the sexual orientation of the American hierarchy.

My contention, based on all my years of the study of religious celibacy, is that many men ordained to the priesthood do not know their sexual orientation. They are taught to avoid thinking about sex as a danger and temptation. This not only leaves them immature, but also vulnerable to the realities of their own sexual drives and the process of developing healthy affective relationships as they assume priestly duties. Pastoral ministry and contact becomes for them a sexual trap. Ignorance, fear, guilt, and shame are very poor guides for making solid moral decisions. Lack of knowledge of one’s orientation leads many well-intentioned and talented clerics—including bishops—into harmful sexual activity. The facts make it obvious. The problems will continue. The validity and usefulness of my observations will not go away because of a delay.

Suffice it to point out that Cardinal-designate Levada’s advice to 170 seminarians at the American College is counter-productive to the development of celibacy; it fosters hypocrisy and is destructive to the process of healthy personality integration.

Personal deception and dishonesty shatter credibility whenever they exist under the cloak of ignorance and secrecy. It is not necessary for anyone to announce his sexual orientation to be honest. Privacy and confidentiality are different than secrecy. What is essential to develop celibacy is for a person to know, accept, and live his life with sexual integrity. Celibacy will not flourish in any dark and secret heterosexual or homosexual clerical closet.

I am convinced that a person cannot enter into a reliable pursuit of religious celibacy unless he has an informed, clear, firm, and, accepting sense of his own sexual orientation. What ever it is. This is the context in which solid moral decisions can be made and emotional maturity can flourish.

The Vatican study of seminaries bets its reputation and money on the proposition that doctrinal orthodoxy will insure personality maturity and celibate conformity.

I do not know how to say it any more clearly: the stakes of history are against the equation that orthodoxy equates with virtue; scientific evidence rejects that proposition; reality defies that claim. Intellectual orthodoxy and conformity do not translate into or equate with moral behavior or virtuous choices. In fact, rigidity of mind and unquestioning adherence to someone else’s reasoning is a dangerous basis for intellectual, personality, and moral development.

I have tried for decades to convince bishops and rectors of seminaries—any of the few who would listen—to institute adequate training into the seminary curriculum that would match the life demand that celibacy requires. I have failed. In 1984, when I was still on the staff of a Pontifical Seminary I asked the rector to allow me to teach a semester course on How to Be Celibate. He said that it was unnecessary since the professor of moral theology spent two weeks on that subject in his course.

In the intervening years I have become less modest about my suggestion and more adamant about the demand that seminarians be educated about celibacy. I now am convinced that no less than a 3-year, 6-semester sequence should be required before a man is allowed to make a promise of life-long celibacy. That is not the only requirement. It is a minimum. In the process of dealing with hundreds of cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy—bishops and priests—I was asked to develop a syllabus for the 3-year sequence I proposed. Lawyers, not the church tendered that request. It was used as part of the non-monetary demands for the settlement of some sexual abuse cases. Neglect by superiors in selection, education, and supervision of the offending priests have been prominent in the large financial judgments imposed against the church.

In spite of all the words to the contrary I see zero to little progress in the church in coming to real terms with sexual failures and abuse by its ministers. The structural elements that have tolerated abuse are still firmly in place. Church authority simply does not take celibate practice seriously.

Instruction in the historical, physical, psychological and, pastoral dimensions of celibacy have to accompany the spiritual, ascetic, and sacramental aspects of this important commitment. If a priest has first a celibate vocation and then a vocation to priesthood (Cf. Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, 1990), as the Catholic Church teaches and requires he must be trained for that primary vocation.

The patch-dab occasional seminars on sexuality are not adequate to produce experts in celibacy—as every priest should be. Sexual/celibate training as it now exists in seminaries is window dressing at best, and harmful when it perpetuates the illusion that it fulfils the requirement for sex and celibacy instruction. Every priest should be as much of an expert on celibacy as he is in scripture. No seminary currently educates students to meet that obligation.

The seminary system instituted after the Council of Trent depended on IT to train men for celibate living. And most bishops still hold that belief. That training in regard to celibacy has failed miserably in many cases. Louis Tronson, the third Superior General of the Sulpicians (1676-1700), a society of priests dedicated to the education of priests, wrote: There are few priests who fulfill all [their] obligations; whence I infer a most dreadful consequence; There are few priests who will be saved. Sts. Bernard and Alphonsus Ligouri had even harsher judgments.

Lack of attention to teaching celibacy honestly and openly is not the only reason for the crisis of sexual activity and abuse by Catholic priests.

One among the reasons that seminary formation for celibacy fails is exactly what Archbishop Levada recommended—concealing, denying, and in effect not dealing with the issue of one’s sexual orientation.

Another major reason that training for celibacy fails in seminaries is that a significant number of the faculties are themselves sexually active. And beyond that, some of the faculty are sexually active with the seminarians they are teaching, counseling, or have in spiritual direction. Even priests on the faculty who are not sexually active are sometimes uneducated and over indulgent with students whose actions are evidently judged as “transitional”—in the words of the Vatican.

The church not only neglects adequate instruction on celibacy, it fails to examine what the system does to influence—encourage and produce—sexual activity. Secrecy and denial of reality continue to have their effects. 

The claims that current criticism of the church, hierarchy, and the priesthood are signs of anti-Catholicism are false and the product of misguided public relations efforts. One has only to listen to the words of saints and reformers on the priesthood—Francis, Ignatius, Catherine of Sienna, Etc. among them—to know that those who care most about the church can be its most incisive critics.

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