Dialogue 02

Gay Priests

►A priest of 30 years wrote recently, “I now consider that every priest I meet is gay.” I think that stance is unfair, but it does demonstrate the still unaddressed set of sexual issues

►Richard Hasselbach wrote (Commonweal, 2002) about his experiences of being solicited for sex (“hit on”) by his spiritual director and a fellow priest:

"As I look back on these experiences that occurred almost twenty-five years ago I realize that the real trauma was not that a spiritual director violated trust or that a friend broke faith with a friendship.    These men were themselves victims of a system that simultaneously condemned homosexuality and tacitly condoned clandestine homosexual sex.   Living in a society that was also intolerant of homosexual behavior, they were forced to work out their intimacy needs in unhealthy ways.   Sometimes people got hurt in the process."

Journalist Angela Carella wrote in The Greenwich Time (9-29-2006) about the Vatican directive of November 2005 that told bishops and religious superiors that they cannot allow men who “practice homosexuality, present deep-seated tendencies or support the so-called gay culture” either into the seminary or ordination. This is nothing new. A 1961 document addressed to religious superiors states the case even more firmly: Advancement to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers.” Dean Hoge, one of the most respected researchers on the subject of the priesthood*, pointed out some of the problems facing the church when it comes to sexuality: “How do you define ‘homosexual tendencies?’”  He speculated that the Vatican study would not result in any big change because the biggest problem bishops face in candidate selection is, “there are not enough candidates.” Father Donald Cozzens*, another respected commentator on the priesthood was somewhat marginalized by the church when in 2000 he estimated a relatively high proportion of gay men in seminaries who tend to form a disruptive subculture (up to 50 percent). In a 2001 survey Hoge found that 55 percent of priests said that there clearly or probably was a homosexual subculture among priests. Cozzens reported that “Priests have told (him) stories of how they were approached for sex in the seminary, or how they locked the door of their room in the rectory to prevent the pastor or another priest from coming in at night.” He pointed out that it is difficult for priests to control the problem of gay acting out in the culture because “there is nothing in place for those who want to make a complaint.”

A priest and member of a religious community for over 25 years recounts his experience at the beginning of his training. It is a story I have heard scores of times from priests and religious trying to sort out the experiences of their personal and spiritual development.

“During my novitiate year, the novice master would end my monthly conferences by hugging me tightly and rubbing his face up and down mine. It was discomforting, to say the least, and I rejected it in my heart, but the culture promoted it. He took some of his favorites to the local bar and had sex with a number of novices, according to reports I have received. At least one man from those novitiate years committed suicide. The novitiate was the place where the spiritual lives (especially the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience) of young religious were supposed to be nurtured. In my case, it was the place where celibacy/chastity was violated on a regular basis.” (Signed)

A woman wrote about the effects that a parish priest’s affair had on her family and her reaction when he solicited this daughter for sex.

“There is so much press about homosexual pedophiles.  I believe that priests who prey on vulnerable women in their parishes are extremely destructive, as well.  Our family never entirely recovered from what happened between our parish priest and my mother.   I confronted Father ________ the day after he moved on me.  He listened, ash white, and simply said when I finished, ‘You are a harsh critic.’  He went on, then, to explain that the vow of celibacy was a mountaintop ideal to which every priest aspires, but that there are many falls along the way.  A man that thinks like that is not going to be very good husband material, either.” (Signed)

►Reports about priests who have sexual affairs with women and subsequently sexually proposition or abuse one or more or her children are frequent. The line between consensual sex between adults and sexual abuse of minors is an important demarcation, but it really does not exist for a priest or bishop. Sex by a man who publicly professes celibacy and privately is sexually active is a hypocrite. That fact reverberates in the lives of many people with tremendous destructive consequences.

*Dean R. Hoge (2006) Experiences of Priests Ordained Five to Nine Years. Washington D.C.:  National Catholic Education Association.

*(2002) The First Five Years of Priesthood and (2003) Evolving Visions of the Priesthood. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

*Donald Cozzens (2000) The Changing Face of the Priesthood. (2002) Sacred Silence: Denial and the Crisis in the Church. (2004) Faith That Dares to Speak. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

Posted:  2006-10-01

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