|THREE PROBLEMS: SEX IN SEMINARIES, SEX IN AFRICAN CONVENTS, AND THE CHILDREN OF PRIESTS|
EVERY human being has problems. Every institution has problems. Why is it that we as individuals or as a member of an institution—say for instance the church—get excited, defensive, or belligerent if a problem is talked about? Pointing out problems is not an attack. Talking about problems is not a “put down” any more than when a physician says he thinks we have some deficiency. A diagnosis is not an insult. One is always free to seek a “second opinion” or disregard, out of hand, observations offered. That is the spirit in which this posting is offered.
SEX IN SEMINARIES Readers often write about their personal experience. One of the frequently talked about but seldom addressed problems is sexual activity in the seminary. That includes issues from masturbation to sexual seduction by faculty members and experimentation by seminarians. Paul Hendrickson—a Washington Post reporter who even at that time had been nominated three times for a Pulitzer Prize— published the first account of sex in an American seminary that I am aware of. (Seminary: A Search, New York: Summit Books, 1983) The author tells his personal story in calm, factual terms that keep it from being an exposť. But the narrative matches closely the actions of Bishop Anthony J. O’ Connell (and others) as described by men who were instructed in sexuality by him when they were in the seminary and he was their spiritual director. The scenario is not unique. The stories are multiple. The tragedy is that the sexual violation takes place not only in the seminary, but also under the guise and in the secrecy of confession, spiritual direction or education.
This problem is not limited to American seminaries and religious orders where hundreds of examples are already on record. The Franciscan seminary at Santa Barbara, California is still picking up the pieces from harm done to minor seminarians by one quarter of the faculty over a twenty-year period until it closed in 1987. St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota—an institution that has contributed great work in the American church—harbored several major superiors that preyed on there own adult community members. This in turn produced some priests and brothers who sexually abused minors and college students. These are but two institutions who are now attempting reform.
A group of Vatican officials under the moniker “Il Millenari” wrote Shroud of Secrecy: The story of corruption within the Vatican. It appeared first in Italian and was translated into English (Toronto, Canada: Key Porter, 2000). The content, its various awkward styles, plus the swift condemnation of the Vatican assure its authenticity.
The dynamic is the same in American seminaries as it is in the Vatican—rewards can be had for sexual favors, and negative consequences can follow resistance. Archdioceses/dioceses and religious orders, chancery offices, and the USCCB have all been touched by this pattern.
This is how insiders describe it in the Vatican:
It could be said with more vulgarity, but the allegation is clear: sex exists among the prelates (that is bishops, cardinals) in the Vatican. Sexual favors are used for promotions.
The pattern and practice of promoting bishops’ and priests’ sexual partners is endemic in the Roman Catholic Church. Although this is a well-known fact, everyone (including me, I admit shame facedly) is afraid to name names, only partly because of repercussions. The practical odds are still against making revelations now as is demonstrated by the authorship of the Shroud where many Vatican insiders had to hide behind one nom de plume. There is not much hope that the current Vatican visitation of American seminaries will do much to alter this pattern and practice.
NUN-VICTIMS An African priest—sexually abused when he was a youngster by a missionary in his village—wrote in 1988 to tell me of a visit to his home country. We had met earlier when he was lecturing in the US. At that time we spoke many times about the challenges of celibacy and the problems of abuse in Africa, especially of children.
When he went back to Africa for a home visit from Rome where he was stationed, a Mother Superior of a group of nuns consulted with him about a problem. The local bishop requested (read demanded) that she make her sisters available for sex with his priests in order to protect them from disease.
This was in 1988.
In November 1999 Papal Nuncio in Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Archbishop Francisco-Javier Lozano, gave a speech to the Congolese Episcopate in Nairobi in which he assailed the immorality of the Congolese priests abroad who ”sink into certain vices of the flesh, of alcoholism, of suspicious and dangerous traffics.”
In the same speech, not intended for publication, Lozano decried, “many cases of nuns who were the victims of sexual abuse all the way to the crime of abortion, in order to hide the very serious sin.” He also noted the “priests who have one or several concubines, who have children, and many children in extreme cases.”
Pope Benedict XVI addressed a group of diocesan clergy in Italy on 25th July 2005. In his remarks he commented on the great number of vocations to the priesthood in Africa. “Of course,” he said, “this joy carries with it a certain sadness, since at least some of them come in the hope of social advancement. By becoming priests, they become like tribal chiefs…Bishops must be very careful in their discernment…” During the same exchange he said that the African Bishops were aware that in spite of many vocations, “many are condemned to terrible loneliness and many do not survive morally.”
Already, in 2000 (November 3rd) Apostolic Nuncio, Lozano wrote to Western embassies, and asked officials “to apply, if possible, restrictive criteria as far as the granting of visas to Congolese clergy.” The reason for the request from the church was made clear: “It is more and more frequent to see a large number of Congolese leave for Europe or Northern America to study. When their studies are completed, they refuse to get back to their diocese (even when called back by their bishop), except, of course, for a vacation or personal interests.”
Regrettably, many African priests who have not been adequately vetted, and some who have had allegations about their qualifications, have been welcomed into service by Archbishops in the United States—for instance Levada in San Francisco and Flynn in St Paul. The annual review in response to the 2002 Dallas Accord, cited both Archdioceses as deficient in implementing programs overseen by The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Office of Child and Youth Protection. In their audit (10-25 to 29-04) of the San Francisco Archdiocese’s compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Young People noted that the Archdiocese of San Francisco “Required Action: Provide a schedule for the completion of the background investigations for employees and volunteers.”
I learned about sexual/celibate problems among African clergy in 1993 at the Vatican International Conference on Celibacy in Rome.
One concerned Catholic recently wrote:
SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF ACTIVE CATHOLIC PRIESTS Recently I received a letter from an adult man I don’t know, who has set up a website to reach out to children of priests who are still active in the priesthood. I have not yet spoken to him at any length, but the letter points to one of the longest standing disciplinary problems in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church—priests who have sex with women. Morris L. West chronicles a contemporary situation between a priest and his housekeeper in his 1957 novel The Devil’s Advocate.
Even before celibacy was established as a universal prerequisite for ordination (II Lateran Council 1139), legislation to deal with the wives, concubines, and children of priests escalated to the point (Synod of Pavia 1022) that subdeacons, deacons, and priests’ children were reduced to serfdom. This meant that the women could be sold as slaves.
Every historian recognizes that a large part of the concern was not about sexual misbehavior, but the threat to church property that families and children posed for church authority. The monetary concerns of the church should be talked about. Money and scandal appear to be a greater worry for church officials than people—women and children.
Many dioceses and religious orders pay a certain amount of support to the children of priests, those their fathers have abandoned as a mistake. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles pays $200 a month for child support of in these situations. More than that has been denied even to the mothers of special-needs children. That niggardly policy is overseen by the same social work trained Cardinal who has protested that he will go to prison if necessary to defend the rights of immigrants. The one stance in all justice is just as despicable and the other is meritorious. (This is the same Cardinal who still vigorously fights against the rights of men and women sexually abused by priests and bishops of his Archdiocese)
A Carmalite priest in the Midwest fathered a son during a brief period when he was on a leave of absence from his order. He abandoned the woman and her son, returned to the order, and was appointed Vocations Director. Pleading poverty, the order offered $200 per month for support.
There have been several groups of women that have come together to give counsel and support to women who have been involved in emotional and sexual affairs with priests. The longest standing, as far as I know, is Good Tidings Ministry in Canadensis, PA. There are others.
The man who writes below seems to be in a different situation. His father was and is an active priest. His mother is the priest’s faithful companion. Both appear to be stable and happy in their secret arrangement. The question he asks is what burden do the children (illegitimate?) of these secret lovers carry?
This man says he is looking for like-situated men and women who will all remain anonymous so that they can freely share their experiences without “fear, shame, embarrassment, and ridicule.”If we cannot face our problems we have no hope of solving them.