Frequently Asked Questions

Over the years I have been interviewed hundreds of times. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about my life and work.

Some people see your life as unusual. What can you say about it?

I lived as a Benedictine monk and priest for 18 years. I served the Church as a monk, teacher, parochial assistant and confessor/counselor to priests and religious. People want to understand at what point I decided to leave the monastery and the priesthood. What prompted me to change my life, marry, raise a family and yet continue to teach and consult in major Catholic seminaries, write about celibacy and become an advocate for the victims of clergy abuse? Sister Joan Chittister once asked me how I reconcile my vocation with resignation from the priesthood. I told her that I see my life as a continuum; it is of one piece - one organic and spiritual evolution.

I was educated in Catholic institutions in Minnesota and Rome. My superiors asked me to seek training and do research on the mental health problems and stresses of Roman Catholic Priests. This fit very well with my interest in psychoanalysis that I developed in 1953. I can remember the exact moment I realized my vocation and life work was at the interface of religion and psychiatry/ spirituality and human psychology. Then I was hardly aware of how difficult and dangerous it would be to exist in these cross hairs.

During the process of my education, work, training and research I discovered that the traditional institutional priesthood was not my entire vocation. My call was to involve a different service. My teaching, writing and counseling priests to help live honest and loving lives has intensified over the past half century.

Are you a rebel or a sign of contradiction?

From 1988 to the present my work has involved me as a consultant or expert witness in a myriad of court cases involving child abuse by priests and bishops. Some people are puzzled by these efforts as if they are anti-priest or anti-church. Neither is true. Some people who know the extent of my work have attributed to me what I could never claim for myself - a whistle blower and a prophetic voice. To me this commitment is simply part of the continuum of my life, work and vocation. I feel morally and spiritually bound to see that facts about the priesthood are made visible, victims vindicated and children and the vulnerable protected from any abusive aspect of power corruption in the church.

Pedophilia/Abuse: Is this a symptom of systemic corruption?

Pedophilia is a technical psychiatric term that indicates that a person is sexually attracted to a prepubescent boy or girl. (This is usually a child under the age of 12 to 14 years of age - prior to menarche for a girl or the first viable ejaculation for a boy.) Sexual activity of an adult with an adolescent boy or girl is diagnosed as ephebophilia. Writer Malcolm Gladwell provided an accurate and more descriptive definition when he wrote, " A pedophile is someone adept not just at preying on children but at confusing, deceiving and charming adults responsible for those children." He provides a portrait of most of the Catholic priests and bishops who abuse.

What are the causes and percentages of bishops and priests who abuse minors?

Roman Catholic priests in the United States, Ireland and perhaps generally across the world are psychosexually immature and underdeveloped. This is the sad state of affairs that continues. It has been  "officially recorded" that about 2% of U.S. bishops and priests have sex with prepubescent children and 4% have sex with adolescents (mostly males). That is a long-term baseline but it does not reflect the true numbers of clergy abusers. In many dioceses and religious houses the percentage of sexual activity with minors is closer to 10%. Thirty percent of the 1966 and 1972 ordinations classes of St. John's Seminary, Camarillo California subsequently abused minors. In 1983 the Archdiocese of Los Angeles had 11.5% of its active priests subsequently identified as abusers. This year (2012), Jolliet, Illinois reported similar figures for abusive priests in its diocese around the same period.

Grand Jury Reports of a dozen dioceses in the United States sketch out the policy and practice of abuse among Catholic priests and the widespread cover up of criminal behavior by bishops. Two important American reports were produced about the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (2005 & 2011). The latter led to the first conviction and incarceration of a Catholic Church official for the endangerment of children.

Many members of the U.S. hierarchy are implicated in similar and even more egregious criminal violations in the abuse of minors and endangering children; the political power of the Church is so great that justice lags. Los Angelus and Cardinal Mahony is a prime example of the strangle hold church power has over civil justice. The judicial process in the State of Pennsylvania mobilized in response to the abuse of children by one of its staff members and the cover up of officials of the university is forming a prototype of the kind of investigation and prosecution that should prevail in Los Angeles and across the United States. Church and civil officials conspire to obstruct investigations and prosecution. From my half century of study I conclude that Los Angeles is the most corruption-mired archdiocese in the United States.

Abuse of minors by Catholic clergy is tolerated in many countries. One study from Spain claimed that 25% of clergy get involved sexually with minors (Pepe Rodriguez). Irish clergy record a high percentage of priests acting out with minors. Ireland has been rocked by the public revelation of thousands of child victims of priests, nuns and brothers. Only 973 abusers have been fingered so far by several investigations - The Ferns Inquiry (2005), The Murphy Report (2009), The Ryan Report (2009) and The Cloyne Report (2011), but they have outlined the practice and dynamics of sexual abuse by clergy and the conspiracy of the bishops in Ireland to cover up the crimes. The religious staffs of State schools for boys and girls demonstrate unbelievably horrendous abusive behaviors.

Currently intense investigations into priest sexual abusers in Australia are also producing astounding results of endangering children. Australian officials claim that abuse of minors by Catholic clergy is strikingly out of proportion with the population. The conclusion as of October 2012 is that  "Catholic clergy commit six times as much abuse as those in the rest of the churches combined."

Police investigators there are finding systemic obstruction of investigations - the same situation that exists in the U.S. where the Catholic Church expends huge amounts of money and personnel energy to obstruct the release of documents in addition to its efforts to hide and cover up for clergy abusers.

Reports from Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, and even now even a trickle of reports from Italy and Poland demonstrate how pervasive the problem of priest abuse and cover up is woven into the culture of Catholic clergy.

Everywhere in the Catholic Church the sexual problem involving clergy is systemic. Catholic clergy live and are supported by a homo-social system where all of the elements of power are reserved to men. The veneer of holiness and altruism that cloaks the institution of the Roman Catholic Church masks a clerical culture infused by excessive narcissism. The system tends to reward adolescent-like men who are narcissistic in orientation. They employ narcissism in the service of their altruism (for their own glory) while the system itself encourages an  "acquired situational narcissism" to exist and advance in the culture of the Church.

Is there a Catholic pattern for sexual abuse?

Investigations into the Boy Scouts and violations at Penn State University have both profited from studying patterns of abuse in the Catholic clergy and the cover up by bishops. Sexual abuse of minors is not restricted to Catholic priests, brothers and nuns. It is all too common behavior in all religious denominations and on every level of society.

But what is unique to the Catholic clergy of the Roman Rite is the demand that they profess perfect and perpetual chastity, therefore celibacy (Canon 277). The requirement of mandated celibacy forms a very special sociocultural entity. Supposed celibacy forms a power structure, a secret system of control. The demand for celibate profession is part of the process of introduction and survival in the Catholic ecclesiastic institution; it involves relinquishing to one degree or another ones self to a circumscribed, all male authority regulated by a supposedly sexually abstinent group where conformity of mind and will are demanded and prized.

For clergy the church is a  "total institution" that confers an alternative identity and security in exchange for the sacrifice of self, including all sexual activity. Little by little candidates immerse themselves in an atmosphere and function of a group that  "has all the right answers" and is more powerful and important than any other social entity. As a man moves up in the ecclesiastical system more conformity and obedience are expected and demanded for further advancement. Obedience that binds an individual (even blindly) to church authority is the ultimate test of loyalty and proof that the individual can now justly assume institutional identity. There is little psychic distinction between self and institution and thus ones value is subsumed by identification with the power, prestige, and status of the Church.

Clerical culture molds an attitude toward sexuality that often leads to a double life where a bishop or priest is publicly attentive to his church duties at the same time he maintains a private sexual life. Sometimes this secret life is with a consenting woman or man. But a proportion of clergy who cannot establish adult relations  "fall in love" with minors, take advantage of them and do great harm at the same time they are committing criminal acts. All that is secret. Priests who get sexually involved with minors frequently receive tacit permission and easy forgiveness for their behavior from superiors who are or have been sexually active. Those men are not in any position to correct the offending cleric; they tend to cover up behavior of a brother priest even when it is criminal  "for the good of the church". I have frequently witnessed this dynamic.

Why do you write?

As a youngster I was fascinated by mystery stories by writers like Perry Mason, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christi and others. I would read late into the night trying to figure out a solution before I came to the last chapter. My clinical training and research evoked in me the same kind of interest. How did dialogue and observations hang together with the unexpressed secrets? What did the data I was collecting about the celibate/sexual behaviors of priests mean?

By 1990 when I published my first book A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy I felt I had solved part of the mystery of religious celibacy and its struggles. I had discovered that there was neither an operational definition of celibacy nor any sense of the process of becoming celibate. Behaviors of men called  "celibate" formed a secret world of culture and sexual activity. No one had addressed some obvious questions: How many priests really observe celibacy? How do they accomplish it? What does the process of becoming celibate entail? How many priests in the Church have relationships with women? How many priests are gay? The data in that book was collected and organized from a 25-year ethnological study of the celibate/sexual adjustments and behaviors of Catholic priests in the U.S. (1960-1985). Subsequently I published seven more books on clerical celibacy.

With psychological certainty I could estimate that at any one time no more than 50% of Catholic clergy were in fact practicing celibacy. When, in 1993, that study was presented to Cardinal Jose Sanchez, at the time Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, he said,  "I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of those figures". Naturally no one can know exact figures because sexual activity of clergy is very fluid and a great deal of experimentation persists among priests. But we can safely estimate that 25 to 30% of bishops and priests get involved sexually with women. Most knowledgeable Catholic clerics in the U.S. now estimate that at least 40 to 50 % of clergy have a homosexual orientation and at least half of them are sexually active. All those figures are conservative estimates.

Why is the church against homosexuality when so many priests are gay?

I wrote the article  "Is The Pope Gay?" It focused on Pope Benedict XVI, but it was neither an attack nor an allegation of misbehavior. It was meant to provoke discussion of the topic so important for Catholic clergy and the whole church. The position of the Catholic Church about homosexuality is not only wrong headed it is unsupportable and hypocritical. Since official teaching considers homosexuality as intrinsically evil it is impossible for the Vatican to dialogue or explore its position.

The Church's basic teaching on human sexuality is simply wrong. It is equally as false as its former belief that the sun moves around the earth. It ignores the scientific, psychological and socio-spiritual realities of sex and human relationships.

Homosexuality is a God-given orientation just as heterosexuality is. The church's position that it is an intrinsic disorder fails equally when it comes to understanding masturbation and birth control that it plasters with the same label. This is patently false and offers inadequate pedagogy.

When I posed the question about the pope's sexual orientation it was only to raise these areas for calm and rational discussion. Many informed people in Rome believe that Pope Benedict XVI has a homosexual orientation. This is neither an accusation of fault nor any implication of wrongdoing. But the official teaching of the church proscribes that men of homosexual orientation should be allowed to train for the priesthood or be ordained (Cf.1961 Directive).

The patent hypocrisy of church teaching and practice is a travesty. Many saints had a homosexual orientation and many good priests are gay and celibate.

Homosexual orientation is neither an illness nor a perversion. To oversimplify: It is an inborn attraction and disposition to love persons of the same sex, even sexually - parallel to persons of heterosexual orientation and disposition. Homosexual persons can behave perversely and be ill just as heterosexually persons can.

Hypocrisy is the greatest religious sin. Although homosexuality among the clergy and in the general population involves difficult and complicated social and moral questions to confront it is one area of necessary discussion for serious Christians.

Why exclude women from the priesthood?

Excluding women from the priesthood is based on a bad cultural habit and destructive tradition of degrading women and keeping them from equality and power. That stance has a long history and must be faced just as the practice of slavery was.

There are no solid theological reasons for keeping women out of ministry. There is a good deal of misogyny in clerical culture. Fear and loathing of women is deeply entrenched in the power structure of the church. The threat of women to this power extends even to a married clergy.

Is Celibacy the cause of sexual perversion and should it be abolished?

There is no question that Mandatory celibacy is untenable. No one can impose a charism (a grace). And the forced celibate obligation is without a doubt a factor in the abuse of minors as well other clerical sexual aberrations. Some scholars say that celibacy is a perversion in itself and a violation of God's original command to Adam,  "to increase and multiply".

I was present at an audience with Pope John Paul II in 1993 during which he said that he (and no pope) had the authority to change the requirement for a vow of celibacy in order to be ordained to the priesthood. And he and other popes have acted in defiance of this proclamation. The same restriction on his power obviated the ordination of women to the priesthood. I do not believe either statement.

I agree that mandatory celibacy for ordination must be changed. It simply does not work. I do not agree that religious celibacy is a perversion nor that celibacy that is freely chosen and lived is a cause of perversion. Celibacy is a charism - a gift - and it cannot be forced or legislated. To attempt do so is a perversion. That is why it has never worked well nor been successful for a majority of priests and caused so much pain and destruction.

Is the church too focused on controlling sex?

Yes, for two reasons: it has lost touch with its spiritual origins and it has failed to listen to the experience of married people. There was a perception during the early days of the church of a necessity to control the organization, discipline and material goods of this budding social and spiritual entity. The demand for celibacy that had some very real and deep regard for the spirituality of men who did give up everything to imitate Jesus (like the monks of the desert) was used to implement organizational control. Like the sower of seed in the Gospel weeds and wheat grew up together. Celibacy has had mixed results in the life of the Church. But the real question is one of control, power and money. The concentration of money and power in the church has been a constant source of its corruption.

Jesus, and the New Testament generally, offer no directives about celibacy and little about sexuality. The process of evolution continues to infuse knowledge and understanding of human development and also of biblical scholarship. We must respect our God-given capacity to learn and develop an informed conscience.

Does corruption proceeds from the top down?

Yes. At the First National Conference for Victims & Survivors of Roman Catholic Clergy Abuse held in Chicago, October 1992 I said:  "the problem of child abuse now visible is the tip of the iceberg. When the whole story of sexual abuse by presumed celibate clergy is told it will lead to the highest corridors of the Vatican." 

Corruption in the Church comes from the top down. Many saints have held this position. Wherever one finds sexual abuse of minors on any level of the clergy there are inevitably men in authority above them who are sexually active themselves or who are tolerant of such behavior. If celibacy were truly and widely practiced on the highest levels of the Church there would be no room for the abuse of minors.

As I collected data on the behaviors of bishops and priests the systemic dynamic of celibate/sexual violations became more and more apparent. Bishops and priests are sexually active behind a veil of feigned abstinence. The sexual crisis of the Roman Catholic Church splashed in bold headlines across continents demonstrates the workings of their secret world.

What is your religious commitment?

People frequently ask if I am still a believer? Jesus Christ is the foundation and ground of my life and being. I believe in Who and What Jesus said He is.

The two operational pillars of my theology and work are secured in two directives: Thomas Aquinas' dictum,  "grace builds on nature" and St. Irenaeus' belief that  "the glory of God is man fully human". These tie together my experience of religion and psychiatry and my existence at the interface of psychology and spirituality.

Like so many Catholics today I retain nostalgia for the comfort of ritual, the beauty and grandeur of music, gesture and vesture. But the current sexual and financial corruption of the Church renders churches and ritual unavailable and empty. This is a painful phase of a profound reformation precipitated by the definitions of the Second Vatican Council like those articulated in Gaudium et Spes. We, not the hierarchy, are the Church - the People of God.

The current crisis has moved many deprived Catholics to realize that our core spirituality and the truth of our religion is beyond the outward forms and prevails in communion with the living presence of Jesus. This is not a rejection of sacramentality, but a more profound awareness of its essence that will be realized more completely - beyond magic and myth - when this Reformation is formulated. Spiritual life like all life is a process. I think of the process in mundane terms like pealing an orange - the essence is there and more accessible once one removes the outside skin.


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