Although greeted with a wave of protest, suggestions by Vatican spokesman Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls of a link between homosexuality and sexual abuse by priests cannot be lightly dismissed, and in fact, demand further exploration.
Part of the sensitivity in this discussion is the fear that such comments imply a connection between homosexuality and pedophilia. But in the overwhelming number of cases made public so far, the victims have been teenage boys (not girls), meaning that this does not fit the clinical definition of pedophilia, which is the obsessive sexual attraction to prepubescent children.
In order to truly get at the root of the problem, the imperative question is why has the homosexuality of priests resulted in the molestation of adolescent boys?
According to most estimates, 25-50% of priests are homosexuals, compared to the 3-5% of men in the general public who are gay. Not only does the priesthood have a disproportionately strong appeal to
homosexuals, but most of the priests involved in the scandals came of age during the sexual revolution of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Adding further fuel to the fire is the immaturity of many of these priests, who often joined the seminaries fresh out of grade school, denying them the normal social experiences of adolescence. The combination of homosexuality, lax sexual attitudes, and immaturity has proven a recipe for disaster.
The vast majority of priests accused of sexual abuse are middle-aged, an age group who came into the priesthood at a time of massive social
upheaval, both in society at large and within the Church hierarchy. Around that time, homosexuals, or those who were at least sympathetic,
began assuming more positions of power, including heading up dioceses
and seminaries, according to Michael S. Rose, author of the forthcoming
Goodbye Good Men. In an interview, Rose discusses how now-deceased Joseph Bernadin, who was later Cardinal of Chicago, pushed out many conservative clergy members throughout the diocese and in the
seminary when he became Archbishop of Cincinnati in 1972, replacing them
with homosexuals and homosexual sympathizers.
Male homosexuality is inherently promiscuous. In a heterosexual relationship, women moderate the innate, intense male sex drive. But in a homosexual context, there is no such check. In short, gay couples have two people with male attitudes about sex, which naturally leads to a more permissive view of sexuality. And when seminaries began filling up with homosexuals—-both in terms of seminarians and in leadership positions—-promiscuity inevitably followed.
In The Changing Face of the Priesthood, author Father Donald
Cozzens, the former head of a Catholic seminary, depicts the priesthood as “becoming a gay profession,” and says that homosexual culture is now dominant at many seminaries. In an interview for this story, one priest says that at his former Milwaukee seminary, an openly gay seminarian often had his “good friend” come for overnight visits—-all with the knowledge and tacit approval of the administration. Rose cites several examples in Men of gay priests and seminarians living an active, promiscuous homosexual lifestyle, including some who party together at gay nightclubs.
So how does this relate to the sex abuse scandals? The generation
of priests who are largely responsible for the rash of sexual abuse cases mostly entered the priesthood at an extremely early age, ushered into an ensconced environment where they never got a chance to grow up. Teenage boys are the natural objects of sexual desire for an immature homosexual who was enveloped in a promiscuous, homosexual culture in the seminary.
What’s the solution to this national tragedy? Given that homosexuals are such a significant presence in the American priesthood, the Church can’t exactly run them all of out of town, nor should they. Just because someone is homosexual does not mean that he is necessarily sexually active, although Rose is skeptical that a gay priest in a sexually charged, all-male environment can adhere to the chastity discipline.
Reducing the number of homosexuals in the priesthood also might prove an elusive goal, because someone who’s gay still faces a much lower personal cost to becoming a priest than a heterosexual, who actually has to forgo having a wife and kids. Rose says that many vocation offices have been actively recruiting gay men to seminary life for at least 30 years, perhaps to enhance the clout of what liberal priest Father Andrew Greeley has dubbed the “lavender mafia,” or the power structure of the gay subculture of the priesthood.
The Church needs to come to grips with the situation that has developed over the past 35 years. Homosexual conduct by seminarians and priests must be absolutely condemned, and chastity must be thoroughly reinforced as a crucial element of the priesthood. The only way to achieve that goal is by altering the dominant gay culture found in many
seminaries and even some dioceses.
Changing the culture of the priesthood is only the first step in
addressing the sexual abuse crisis, but it is an absolutely necessary
cornerstone of any successful reform effort.
Editor’s note: Joel Mowbray is a lifelong, practicing Catholic.