Gays, Priests & Pedophiles
October 24, 2005
I get a lot of questions about the relationship between homosexual
orientation, gays in the priesthood, and sexual abuse of minors by
clergy. All difficult questions. It is important to address the
range of distinctions between these subjects. Sexuality is an
immense area for exploration. There are some very important basic
points that have to be made in order to begin dialogue about
orientation, priesthood and abuse of minors.
1. Sexual Orientation has to be recognized as an area of
reality in itself. It can be related, but it is distinct from
behavior. Orientation is a given, either by nature or by earliest
experience so profound that it is irreversible. Behavior involves
choice. Alfred Kinsey (1948) was on the right track when he said
that orientation is not a clear, clean, and rigid separation between
heterosexual and homosexual—one's orientation is on a spectrum.
Clerics within the clerical system (like Father Don Cozzens)
estimate that homosexually oriented men in American seminaries now
range upward to 50 percent and beyond. I will trust others to
estimate the number of seminarians who may have a gay orientation.
My estimate about men within the priesthood remains at 30 percent
precisely because of the lack of precision in identifying
orientation-even for the person himself.
2. Behavior in itself is not an absolute proof of the
preponderance of one orientation or the other. Some heterosexually
oriented (men for example) can and do get involved with same-sex
behavior under circumstances of isolation and pressure. Prisons are
a good example. Seminaries and certain religious cultures are
another. Some homosexually oriented men can and do get involved with
a range of heterosexual behaviors under some circumstances. Colleges
and the armed services are situations where the social pressure to
prove one's manhood by having sex with a woman can be experienced as
a requirement. Some men can be opportunistic and seek sexual
gratification where ever and when ever they can. Even a few priests
- a sad truth. But, all things being equal, which they never
completely are, a mature person will know and seek sex with a person
of his predominant gender preference.
3. Sexual orientation is not only distinct from behavior generally,
it is distinct from the "object of sexual excitation." Who
(and what) excites a person sexually is part of a person's make up
and is not a choice. Everyone has a certain range of persons,
images, and circumstances that he experiences as sexually exciting.
Or to put it another way: Whether one is homosexual or heterosexual
in orientation there are an unlimited number of people within a
person's sexual preference who simply are not sexually appealing.
Personality, looks, religion, social class, gender, and age are only
a few of the factors that affect a person's sexual responses. Sexual
excitation is spontaneous and only partially controllable.
Sexual behavior in a mature person is a considered choice. Sexual
education should be centered on helping people make rational,
responsible, and wise choices based on accurate information and
4. Persistent sexual attraction or involvement with a youngster by
an adult is considered beyond the range of acceptable (normal)
objects of sexual attraction (in spite of the fact that the
excitation may not be controllable). Sexual activity with a minor is
a crime. Most religions consider it a sin. Mental
health people diagnose it as an illness, especially if the
activity is with a prepubescent girl or boy. Therefore society
requires that a person control this inclination and refrain from
this behavior that is always exploitative because it is impossible
to establish it on an equal and mutually consenting basis. The
consequences of this sexual behavior are generally negative, and
often devastating for the psychosexual development of the minor.
There is not one scientific investigation that justifies a
conclusion that there is a connection between orientation and sexual
abuse of minors (homosexuality and pedophilia).
5. No one knows for sure the number of abusers, victims or frequency
of sexual abuse of minors in the general population. The John Jay
study of the Catholic priesthood in the United States claims that
4.3 percent of priests between 1950 and 2002 were reported to have
abused a minor. Reports from various dioceses ranged between 3 and 6
percent priest abusers, however, Boston admitted to 7.6 percent, New
Hampshire to 8.2 percent. These self-reports are probably more
accurate than that of New York that reported 1.4 percent. In 1983,
11.4 percent of the active diocesan priests in the Archdiocese of
Los Angeles were sexual abusers; 4 percent of the religious priests
there also abused minors. Over 75 percent of all the parishes in
that archdiocese had at least one sexually abusing priest on their
staffs during the period 1950-2002.
Estimates vary greatly about the number of victims in the general
population, but one national center claims that 38 percent of all
women and 19 percent of all men are sexually abused by the end of
their adolescence. There is no question that more girls in the
general population report abuse than boys. This is in contrast to
the victims of Catholic clergy abuse where the 2004 report claims
that 78 percent of the victims claiming abuse by priests are boys.
And the criminal justice system (the source of most statistics about
sexual abuse) reports that the most recalcitrant sexual abusers are
homosexually oriented men who are fixated on prepubescent boys. That
is probably true of all populations, clergy or not, but that
situation does not reflect the preponderance of priests who have
been reported for abuse.
6. Confusion and error become inevitable if one equates orientation
with behaviors or equates orientation with the object of sexual
excitation. And this is what church officials are doing when they
attack gay priests as if homosexuality is the cause of the abuse of
boys. Orientation, object of excitation, and behavior are separate
entities and engage distinct drives.
7. So we have to deal with what we know are facts: Some priests and
bishops are gay. (Estimates range between 25 and 70 percent). Some
priests and bishops are sexually active in a whole range of
behaviors, heterosexual and homosexual. Pepe Rodriguez, (1995)
writing about priests in Spain found that among practicing priests
95 percent masturbate; 60 percent have sexual relations; 20 percent
experiment with homosexual practices; 12 percent are exclusively
homosexual in orientation and behavior; 26 percent have attachments
to minors; 7 percent have been sexually active with minors. Father
Victor Krotze (1991) in a two-year study of priests in South Africa
found that 42 percent of priests had been sexually active during
that time. In my own 25-year study (published 1990 & 2003) I
estimate, that at anyone time, 50 percent of priests in the US are
sexually active. I also estimated that between 1960 and 1985 6
percent of priests had sexual contact with minors.
8. The practice of celibacy is the basic problem for bishops and
priests. The Vatican focus on homosexual orientation is a smoke
screen to cover the pervasive and greater danger of exposing the
sexual behavior of clerics generally. Gay priests and bishops
practice celibacy (or fail at it) in the same proportions as
straight priests and bishops do.
I know that this is only a beginning of discussion. Much more needs
to be considered—not simply numbers or percentages—to come to grips
with the issues of sexuality in its physical, social, moral, and
spiritual dimensions. Such a discussion is crucial not only because
it affects priests, but also all Christians.
A huge danger during this crisis, that manifests its most prominent
symptom in the abuse of minors by clergy, is to over-simplify,
blame, or scapegoat anyone to minimize or hide the real problems
that face the church.
All the studies (even those commissioned by the hierarchy) and every
grand jury report so far made public identify the "bad guys."
Bishops, gay and straight, who tolerated, covered up, and in the
end, fostered the abuse of girls and boys are the men responsible
and accountable for the crisis. This is an old story. Saint Peter
Damian made the same claim to Pope Leo IX in 1051.