AUTHORITIES IN THE
CATHOLIC CHURCH are not
interested in learning facts about the actual pattern and practice of
celibacy among priests or religious, or among their own ranks for that
This is as true of Spain as it is in the United States. Bishops are
not interested now and they were not interested in 1990 when I
published my study, A Secret World, or in 1995 when this book
and Sex, Priests, and Power
 were published. Even more astonishingly the bishops of the United
States turned their collective thumbs down and noses up at the most
sophisticated evaluation of the crisis of clergy abuse of minors
written specifically as a service to them in 1985.
In 1990 an Archbishop wrote after
reading my book ”I would have to say that it (the figures of sexual
activity) certainly corresponds with so much I learned these
twenty-seven years as a Superior.” He went on to say that although he
knew that my book was not anti-celibacy he feared that it would be
perceived as such and further it would be seen as disloyal and
contribute to “a kind of voyeurism about the sex life of clerics.” I
have not found one scholar (or Vatican official) who seriously
disagrees with my conclusion that at any one time no more than 50
percent of clergy are practicing celibacy. That, of course, means that
most priests are sexually active for a part or the whole of their
priesthood. A 2006 report from Brazil also said that 50 percent of the
priests there are not practicing celibacy.
I have not found it necessary to
revise my 1985 estimates of clergy celibate/sexual practice save for
priests who involved themselves with minors (upward to 9 percent), and
homosexual orientation currently to 30-40 percent. Some people raise a
hew and cry over the methodology Rodriguez and I used, (even as they
agree with our figures). No one has presented better figures; none has
come up with any better way to study the actual sexual practice and
behavior of bishops and priests. Rodriquez suffered antagonism, but
not disagreement on his figures.
His work needs to be added to the glossary of the sexual pattern and
practice of men who are presented to the public as sexually abstinent
Current studies about priests use
well established sociologically, random selected clergy population to
study the “happiness” of priests, or the numbers that would still
choose priesthood—“do it again”—or attitudes about sexual issues. But
not one study has attempted to study the pattern and practice of the
sexual lives of priests and bishops.
Sociologists have limited themselves to poles and surveys.
Even the John Jay study of the
Crisis of Sexual Abuse in the United States has only recorded the
priests “reported” for the sexual abuse of minors (now well over 5,000
since 1950) from the data supplied by the various dioceses.
As more cases are documented the actual number of abusing priests is
approaching 10 percent, for instance in Boston and Albany. Los Angeles
had 11.5 percent of its active priests in 1983 subsequently revealed
to be sexual abusers. The Diocese of Tucson harbored 24 percent
abusers on its active clergy rolls in 1988—including retired Bishop
Francis J. Green.
Edouard Del Rey reviewed this
book in December 1995, but it is still available from Amazon.
Rodriguez is a noted investigative journalist who is as interested as
I am in understanding the “deep structures underlying surface
phenomena.” None of this effort can be faulted as being anti-Catholic,
anti-priest, or anti-religion. These are sincere efforts to establish
facts that will aid solid reconfiguration of religious life.
The first part of the book
discusses some theoretical issues that underlie the ecclesiastical
requirement for priests to promise celibacy in order to be ordained to
major orders. He points out what is well known that there is no
biblical foundation for the obligation.
Rodriguez emphasizes the
historical reasoning of celibacy based on economics. He quotes the 451
declaration of the Council of Chalcedon that “no one may be ordained
priest or deacon if the local community has not nominated him” (i.e.
can support him). Lateran III in 1179 likewise dictated that a man
cannot be ordained “if he does not have a benefice that guarantees his
subsistence.” (Celibacy became obligatory for ordination in the Roman
Rite at the II Lateran Council in 1139.) He neglects a good many facts
that would bolster his argument: The Synod of Elvira, 309 specifically
dictates that priests abstain from sex even if they are married and
all of their property should be inherited by the church. Pope Benedict
VIII at the Synod of Pavia in 1122 stripped the wives and concubines
of priests and deacons of all rights and status and decreed that
children of these unions be relegated to serfdom (slaves). Benedict
feared that church property would be dissipated among clerical
offspring; and the ruling became part of the Imperial code.
Rodriguez calls the psychological
consequences of clerical celibacy “enormous.” He puts his finger on
elements that foster and preserve psychosexual immaturity.
The risks begin in the seminary where the structures maintain the risk
of cultivating infantile personalities. The result: “one part of the
clergy loses its ability to become persons with the capacity to love,
to understand, to have happy friendships, to know how to be
affectively close to another person…they are converted into sacred
functionaries, cold, distant, and useless to the communities in which
The seminaries in Spain come in
for harsh criticism. (Are they really different in the United States?)
Seminaries do not hesitate to recruit, accept, and ordain men showing
poor psychological equilibrium and lacking common sense. The system
represses independent thought and judgment in favor of obedience to
church dictates. The spirit withers in an atmosphere of rigidity. He
points to Opus Dei as a prominent example of this tradition.
The third problematic area
undermining the integrity of the priesthood is the power and control
that obligatory celibacy imposes. Priests are held in a kind of sexual
bondage in a system of obedience to the bishop. Those who practice
celibacy more rather than less of the time must conform or accommodate
to a system of being ruled in mind and judgment. Others must pretend
to be celibate or risk loosing their social status, their employment,
their benefits, and association with the people they care for and who
care for them. They must sacrifice everything if they blatantly defy
custom. Many are afraid to leave the security of clerical culture.
One chapter is devoted to the
methods bishops use to handle violations of celibacy that cannot avoid
action. The methods are well known to the American public via the
Generally bishops do not conform
to the dictates of Canon law that provide penalties up to suspension
for sexual misconduct by a priest. It is debatable whether Spanish
bishops are more lax than the American hierarchy or whether US bishops
are more adept at denial, delay, deception, and dishonesty when it
comes to sexual malfeasance of priests. Secrecy to avoid scandal is
the gold standard of dealing with sexual problems in both countries.
Priests are transferred from parish to parish, to other dioceses or to
foreign missions (countries) without traceable notice to the receiving
jurisdiction. A significant number of problem priests come to the
United States from many dioceses around the world, not just Spain. The
author claims, however, that bishops are willing to make almost any
accommodation to a sexually active priest in order to keep him in
service to the diocese. He claims that the bishops are lax in
supervision and close their eyes whenever possible.
Rodriguez makes an astute
observation about the bond between a sexually offending priest and his
bishop. The offences and the concomitant guilt bind the priest ever
closer to the system and reinforce his dependency on it. I have found
repeatedly that these conditions frequently pave the way to
promotion and advancement within the system. The dynamic is similar
the workings of gang or cosa nostra-like maneuvers that
produce and reward loyalty by threat of exposure. The secret
transgressions form a bond that makes the man trustworthy.
A conclusion the author draws is
that the church is powerful and largely unassailable. Power and
control are prominent; justice, especially to victims, is tertiary and
avoided wherever possible. Secrecy is sacred.
The second half of the book
records numbers from a two-part study. The first series of figures
deal with the sexual practices generally of active priests:
95 percent of priests and
60 percent have sexual
26 percent have attachments
20 percent are involved in
12 percent are exclusively
7 percent are sexually
involved with minors.
These figures are not shockingly
different from those in the United States or in South Africa, or
Brazil. The priesthood is in flux: 20 to 50 percent of priests leave
the ministry worldwide—18.5 percent in Spain. In 1995 the median age
of 33,000 Spanish priests was 60 years.
A second series of figures come
from a group of 354 priests who are sexually active and report on
their sexual activity.
53 percent of this group are
sexually active with adult women.
21 percent are sexually
active with adult men.
14 percent are sexually
active with minor boys.
12 percent are sexually
active with minor girls.
In all 74 percent are
involved with adults.
And 26 percent are involved
65 percent of priests choose
sexual partners of the opposite sex.
35 percent of priests choose
same sex partners.
Rodriguez records the ages at
which the priests became sexually active: only 4 percent became active
before they were 24 years old, that would be prior to ordination. One
quarter started their sexual activities during the first five years
after ordination. But over half of the priests—64 percent—began their
sexual activity after they were 40 years old. These figures are
pregnant with meaning for the study of the priesthood. Masturbation
and other means of solitary satisfaction cannot endure the long
loneliness of ministry. The need for companionship grows more intense
as a man grows older. Sexual abuse of minors on the other hand is
likely to begin in the early years of the ministry
have mastered celibacy over the long haul are as secretive about their
processes as those who are sexually active. If priests could only
openly share knowledge and experience of celibacy it would be more
possible for more clergy to be successful and the victims of celibate
failure—girls, boys, women, men, and priests themselves—would be
spared much suffering and hypocrisy.
The Millenari, The Shroud of Silence: The Story of Corruption
Within the Vatican. (Via col vento in Vaticano. Kaos
editione, Milano: 1999) Translated from the Italian by Ian Martin
and published in Canada by Key Porter Books: 2000. A group of
Vatican officials wrote this book without attribution. The Vatican
condemned the work that became a best seller. It describes various
political and sexual corruptions in Vatican offices.
A.W.Richard Sipe, A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for
Celibacy, Brunner/Mazel, New York: 1990. Pp 324. and Sex,
Priests, and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis, Brunner/Mazel, New
York: 1995. Pp. 220.
Fr. Thomas Doyle, O.P., Ray Mouton, Esq. & Fr. Michael Peterson,
M.D. prepared a confidential report: The problem of Sexual
Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy: Meeting the Problem in a
Comprehensive and Responsible Manner in 1985 and presented a
copy to every American Bishop. The bishops ignored it, claimed
that they knew everything in it, reviled and repudiated the
authors. Although purloined copies were circulated it was
published for the first time in 2005 as a chapter in Sex,
Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church’s 2000 Year Paper
Trail of Sexual Abuse. Doyle, Sipe & Wall, Volt Press. Los
There was tremendous televised debate between the author, priests,
and members of Opus Dei, but no one has dared to challenge the
reality of the numbers. This has been my experience with my study.
Andrew Greeley, Priests, A Calling in Crisis, University of
Chicago Press, Chicago: 2004. Pp. 156.
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Report on the Sexual
Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church, February 27, 2004.
Sipe, A Secret World, p.44.
For a comparison to US clergy Cf. Kennedy & Heckler, The
Catholic Priest in the United States: Psychological
Investigations, USCCB, Washington, D.C.: 1972
The investigative reports of the Spotlight Team of the Boston
Globe in 2002 gained the most widespread attention about clergy
sex abuse in the United States, but Jason Berry wrote about the
problem in 1984 and published Lead Us Not Into Temptation
in 1992. All the reports record similar methods of concealing sex
problems of clergy.