Click & Learn
September 25, 2005

The Vatican is going to repeat an investigation of Catholic Seminaries that they conducted 25 years ago, but with a new focus and motivation. I knew some of the investigators on that first round. Much of that investigation ended up as window dressing to reassure the seminary system that they were doing a bang-up job. And that is the kind of report they got. There were little changes: reaffirmation that women and former priests should not be teaching theological students. That directive had some effect, but there have been silent holdouts in many of the better seminaries.

The Vatican this round—in an inquiry that supposedly aims to shore up the practice of celibacy—is looking in the wrong places and taking the wrong focus.

The investigators are going to look at priesthood candidates and their trainers to see if celibacy is adequately taught and observed. That is valid. And the answers are clear. Celibacy is neither taught adequately nor practiced well by students or teachers in Catholic seminaries. (I will not make many friends in high places by saying so, but there is plenty of evidence of sexual activity among the students and faculties of Catholic training centers.)

But the examination of sexual activity and non-celibate observance needs to start at the top—in the Vatican and in chancery offices, with bishops, cardinals, and their assistants.

If Vatican officials and American Bishops (and certainly any person who plans to conduct an examination of sex in American seminaries) filled out a self-survey questionnaire it would give everyone a body of data to know just what we are looking for in candidates for the priesthood.

But, as I said, seminaries are the wrong place to start looking for celibate data.

Secondly, the focus of the Vatican investigation for understanding celibacy is completely wrong. The Vatican is trying to sniff out, not only homosexual behavior, but also homosexual orientation.

Good luck. In many ways that search is a no-brainer.

It is only recently that modern psychology has teased out the concept of sexual orientation. Previously, religion and science based their observations on acts-behavior. Orientation is a far more subtle differentiation than any act.

Catholic clergy of every rank have always included a larger proportion of homosexually oriented men than exist in the general population. Father Donald Cozzens along with many other knowledgeable churchmen put the current proportion of homosexually oriented priests as upward of 50 percent.

History clearly includes homosexual saints, popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests—a host of productive faithful servants. And thus it is today.

Many of the homosexually oriented bishops and priests are doing good work and practicing celibacy. I put the emphasis on practicing—not pretending—and not just enjoying clerical benefits while they are sexually active in some way or other.

I have estimated a smaller number of homosexually oriented priests (30-40 percent) than other researchers have because I have had long term contacts that can allow one to distinguish behaviors from orientation.

There are priests who are homosexually active both in and outside the confines of seminaries. But the social circumstances of clerical living and relationships have to be accounted for. Sometimes there are heterosexually oriented men who behave in homosexual ways and visa-versa. For instance, there are sayings from military life that give us clues about the distinction between sexual feelings, behavior and orientation. One is: “If the ship is underway it’s not gay.” And another: “What happens on the ship stays on the ship.” Sexual feelings do not cease in circumstances where a man’s outlets for his sexual preference are curtailed.

The Vatican, in the person of Bishop Edwin O’Brien, has suggested that any man who has had a same sex experience or is homosexually oriented should be barred from the priesthood. Supposedly the logic being that this will eliminate any homosexual behavior.

Good luck. That is equivalent to saying that the government will eliminate sex in prisons if heterosexual men are isolated from any gay prisoner. The Nazis organized their SS under that assumption and it proved to produce precisely the opposite result.

I am among the first and the most enthusiastic supporter of any effort the Church could make to understand, teach, and practice celibacy. I have spent my life trying to understand the phenomenon in all of its complexity. But the Vatican is off base and plain wrong about the structure and motivation for its investigation.

The American church under extreme pressure from the media, courts, and victims of clergy sexual abuse commissioned a study that resulted in some hard data about priests’ and bishops’ behavior. Three to six percent of Catholic priests can be counted on to have sex with minors.

Because 80 percent of the abuse victims are boys the men in power said, “Ah, ah. We now know that the cause of the sexual problem in the church is the gays, the homosexuals, the queers, who have snuck into our ranks uninvited, surreptitiously and for the first time in the last 50 years.”

As I stated earlier, there has always been a larger proportion of gay oriented men in the priesthood than in the general population. But—and this is a vital but—there is no connection between homosexual orientation and choosing a child as a sex object. There in not one scientific study that contradicts that statement.

Think clearly about it. When a 35-year-old man abuses a 13-year-old girl we don’t hit our forehead and say, “there goes one of those heterosexuals again!” We can make a clear distinction between sexual orientation and object of sexual desire. Gay men are not more geared toward sex with children than straight men are. That pedophilia is a problem across the board of sexually active men does not absolve the church from its specific problems with its clergy.

The church does have to account for the large proportion of immature, psychosexually underdeveloped priests that have shown up on the radar screen of every serious study of Catholic clergy. (Cf. Kennedy-Heckler, 1972)

The myopic design, focus, motivation, and purpose of searching for homosexual men in seminaries is doomed to produce a distorted picture, no matter how it comes out. It only raises the unanswered questions about celibacy.

Who is really practicing perfect and perpetual chastity? Will each of the bishops and priests investigating the seminaries be certified as heterosexually oriented and long-standing practitioners of perfect celibacy?

Concern for the sexual welfare of priests and people is a worthy goal. The Vatican needs to proceed in a more intelligent and reasonable way than is demonstrated in the currently biased and unbalanced proposed investigation.

It is difficult for anyone to talk about sex. Sex is a tricky area of human adjustment and behavior to examine. Those who are going to conduct the investigation into the sexual reality of seminaries need first of all to be honest with themselves.

I have devised a hundred question inventory for Vatican appointed priests who are going to study the celibate-sexual practice of clergy. These are some of the same questions that Vatican officials and bishops should have to answer first:

(Numbers 1 to 25 are deleted from this version.)

26. Do you or have you ever masturbated?
27. Have you ever looked at pornography?
28. Have you ever had any sexual contact with an animal?
29. Have you ever had any sexual contact with another person?
30. Have you ever had sexual contact with an adult woman?
31. Have you ever had any sexual contact with an adult male?
32. Have you ever had sexual contact with an adolescent girl?
33. Have you ever had sexual contact with an adolescent boy?
34. Have you ever had sexual contact with a child who was five years younger than you?
35. What was the gender of that child?
36. How old were you at the time of the contact?
37. What thoughts or images sexually excite you?
38. When was your most recent orgasm, from any source?
39. What images accompanied your most recent orgasm?
40. What are the usual circumstances of your orgasms?
41. What has been the longest period during which you practiced perfect celibacy?

(Numbers 42 to 55 are deleted from this version.)

56. What do you consider your sexual orientation?

(Numbers 57 to 100 are deleted from this version.)