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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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.