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Bishop: There Are Gays In The Catholic Hierarchy

Frank talk from a Catholic bishop who is tired of avoiding the elephant in the sacristy
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In a tough public statement to his flock on the current scandal, Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, goes there:

For the Church, the crisis we face is not limited to the McCarrick affair, or the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, or anything else that may come. The deeper crisis that must be addressed is the license for sin to have a home in individuals at every level of the Church. There is a certain comfort level with sin that has come to pervade our teaching, our preaching, our decision making, and our very way of living.

If you’ll permit me, what the Church needs now is more hatred! As I have said previously, St. Thomas Aquinas said that hatred of wickedness actually belongs to the virtue of charity. As the Book of Proverbs says “My mouth shall meditate truth, and my lips shall hate wickedness (Prov. 8:7).” It is an act of love to hate sin and to call others to turn away from sin.

There must be no room left, no refuge for sin – either within our own lives, or within the lives of our communities. To be a refuge for sinners (which we should be), the Church must be a place
where sinners can turn to be reconciled. In this I speak of all sin. But to be clear, in the specific situations at hand, we are talking about deviant sexual – almost exclusively homosexual – acts by clerics. We’re also talking about homosexual propositions and abuses against seminarians and young priests by powerful priests, bishops, and cardinals. We are talking about acts and actions which are not only in violation of the sacred promises made by some, in short, sacrilege, but also are in violation of the natural moral law for all. To call it anything else would be deceitful and would only ignore the problem further.

“Almost exclusively homosexual” is not quite right, but the truth is bad enough. The authoritative 2004 John Jay Study of Catholic priest sexual abuse found that unlike in the general population, where most victims of sexual abuse are female, four out of five victims of Catholic priests are male. Here’s a screenshot from the report:

Furthermore, the Jay report found that

The majority of alleged victims were post-pubescent, with only a small  percentage of priests receiving allegations of abusing young children.

So they weren’t pedophiles, strictly speaking. These were gay men who wanted to get it on with sexually mature (in the physical sense) boys.

Bishop Morlino goes on to mention former Cardinal McCarrick, and then:

It is time to admit that there is a homosexual subculture within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that is wreaking great devastation in the vineyard of the Lord. The Church’s teaching is clear that the homosexual inclination is not in itself sinful, but it is intrinsically disordered in a way that renders any man stably afflicted by it unfit to be a priest. And the decision to act upon this disordered inclination is a sin so grave that it cries out to heaven for vengeance, especially when it involves preying upon the young or the vulnerable. Such wickedness should be hated with a perfect hatred. Christian charity itself demands that we should hate wickedness just as we love goodness. But while hating the sin, we must never hate the sinner, who is called to conversion, penance, and renewed communion with Christ and His Church, through His inexhaustible mercy.

At the same time, however, the love and mercy which we are called to have even for the worst of sinners does not exclude holding them accountable for their actions through a punishment proportionate to the gravity of their offense. In fact, a just punishment is an important work of love and mercy, because, while it serves primarily as retribution for the offense committed, it also offers the guilty party an opportunity to make expiation for his sin in this life (if he willingly accepts his punishment), thus sparing him worse punishment in the life to come. Motivated, therefore, by love and concern for souls, I stand with those calling for justice to be done upon the guilty.

The sins and crimes of McCarrick, and of far too many others in the Church, bring suspicion and mistrust upon many good and virtuous priests, bishops, and cardinals, and suspicion and mistrust upon many great and respectable seminaries and so many holy and faithful seminarians. The result of the first instance of mistrust harms the Church and the very good work we do in Christ’s name. It causes others to sin in their thoughts, words, and deeds – which is the very definition of scandal. And the second mistrust harms the future of the Church, since our future priests are at stake.

Read the whole thing. 

Bishop Morlino has pretty clearly had it, and doesn’t care who he offends. His words cannot be reconciled with Father James Martin’s pro-LGBT point of view. Father Martin tweeted the other day:


I genuinely don’t understand how McChesney arrived at that conclusion. The John Jay report found that four out of five victims were males — nearly the opposite of what we find in the general population. And it also found that the overwhelming majority of those victims were not pre-pubescent children (which would indicate true pathology), but sexually mature boys. Facts are stubborn things.

On the other hand, a 2011 John Jay follow-up report attempts to save the popular narrative. From that report:

As generally understood now, homosexual behavior is the commission of a sexual act with someone of the same sex, in contrast to a heterosexual act, or sexual behavior engaged in by persons of different sexes. What is not well understood is that it is possible for a person to participate in a same-sex act without assuming or recognizing an identity as a homosexual. More than three-quarters of the acts of sexual abuse of youths by Catholic priests, as shown in the Nature and Scope study, were same-sex acts (priests abusing male victims). It is therefore possible that, although the victims of priests were most often male, thus defining the acts as homosexual, the priest did not at any time recognize his identity as homosexual.

So, just because a priest sexually abused boys does not mean he is gay, if he doesn’t call himself gay. What kind of sense does that make?

Okay, let’s move on:

Homosexual men entered the seminaries in noticeable numbers from the late 1970s through the 1980s. This statement is based on the direct experience and reports of seminary faculty and on many written reports by observers.190 It can be seen to have prompted the Letter on Priestly Formation by the Bishops of New England. What is not clear is whether the open expression of sexual identity in seminaries in this time period supports the thesis that more men were entering the seminary understanding themselves as homosexual—rather than being more likely to reveal themselves as homosexual—than in prior decades. Many ethnographic and journalistic reports by observers of Catholic seminary life in the mid-1970s and 1980s describe a situation that included much more open expression of homosexual identity, or what is called “homosexual lifestyle,” and some report homosexual behavior with adults as well. But any claim about the causal connection of the homosexual identification of late 1970s and 1980s seminarians to the likelihood of increased risk of engaging in child sexual abuse while in ministry would have to take into account the fundamental distribution of incidence. Men in the seminaries in the late 1970s and in the 1980s were members of cohorts that were identified with a decreased incidence of abuse—not an increased incidence of abuse.

A review of the narratives of men who were seminarians in the 1950s and of published histories of the seminaries themselves does not reveal any record of noticeable or widespread sexual activity by seminarians. The interviews done for the Causes and Context study and the data from the clinical files confirm this finding. Sociologist Dean Hoge, after a 2001 survey of diocesan and religious priests, reported their responses to a question about the presence of a homosexual subculture in the seminary they attended.  Only 3 percent of diocesan priests aged sixty-six or older, who would have been seminarians in the early 1970s, answered affirmatively. In contrast, 40 percent of the priests aged thirty-six to fifty-five, who would have been seminarians in the 1980s and 1990s, reported that there was a clear homosexual subculture in the seminaries they had attended. As was shown in Table 2.1, 40.3 percent of the priest-abusers from the Nature and Scope study were ordained in the 1950s and 1960s and committed sexual abusive acts in the 1970s. The men ordained in the 1980s account for a comparatively smaller percentage of the abusers, 7.1 percent. Finally, those men ordained after 1989 represent only 1.9 percent of the accused. Men who were seminarians during the period of a reported increase in homosexual activity did not go on to abuse minors in any substantial number. The 1980s cohort of seminarians is associated with a marked decrease in the incidence and a sustained suppression of abusive behavior.

If I’m reading this correctly — and I welcome correction if I’m not — the researchers are assuming that the self-reporting of priests on the number of homosexuals within seminaries reflects actual conditions there. The report appears to conclude that the entry of more gays into the seminaries correlates with less recorded instances of abuse. But John Jay also concludes that men who didn’t identify as gay could have committed same-sex acts of abuse. This seems to me to be little more than a semantic game.

It is entirely possible that those men who entered into seminary in the earlier era resisted identifying as gay (even though they were same-sex attracted) because of social stigma — a stigma that was declining in the 1980s. Relatedly, it is possible that gay men of that earlier era entered into the priesthood as a futile attempt to escape their same-sex desires — a pressure that men who went to seminary later did not have to deal with, given that it was relatively easier to be gay in wider society.

All of this strikes me as a sophisticated attempt to elide the fact that 80 percent of the sexual abuse of minors within the Catholic Church was committed against males by a demographic — gay men — who make up only 2.5 percent of the general population.

Moreover, the John Jay Report did not take into account the relationship between a generalized culture of sexual disorder within the priesthood, and the sexual abuse of minors. The late psychotherapist Richard Sipe, who specialized in the study of the sexuality of Catholic clergy, was a progressive Catholic, but one who held that it was impossible to make sense of the sexual abuse crisis without understanding it as part of a wider crisis of clerical sexuality. He wrote in 2008:

I. Catholic clergy submit to the rule of celibacy that is required for ordination to the priesthood. Most—from my experience I repeat most—Roman Catholic clergy do not want to be celibate (sexually abstinent). They wish to be priests; many genuinely wish to serve others; but many are bound by the status, advantages, and security that ministry provides.

II. Celibacy (sexual abstinence) is not a common or persistent practice among Roman Catholic clergy. Many bishops and priests have had or are having some kind of sexual contact, experience, or relationship, at least from time to time.

III. Sexually active clergy, and those with a sexual history, run the risk of exposing their own activity if they bring a fellow cleric‟s activity to public attention. A great deal of information about priests‟ sexual lives, however, is circulated within clerical circles and some can be found in church records. Sacramental confession is a reservoir of sexual knowledge.

IV. In addition, sexual experiences with fellow seminarians or priest faculty are common in houses of training. [Estimates of twenty (20) percent sexual contact during formation are frequent among informed conservative sources.] Church authorities are aware of the situation. (Cf. the recent Vatican evaluation of U.S. Catholic seminaries, 2006 and the Vatican guidelines for the psychological screening of priesthood candidates, October 30, 2008).

V. Homosexual contact and slips are so common among the RC clergy that the Vatican has invented a new pseudo-scientific category of behavior—transitional homosexuality—especially designed to cover activity in seminaries and religious orders. This rationalization allows authorities to permit candidates who have been sexually active, even with minors, to admit them to ordination if they have been abstinent for three years.

VI. Even temporary involvement of a priest in a sexual relationship or experimentation with another priest puts him in a fearful state and a bind of “systemic blackmail.” He cannot expose the other priest without exposing himself and endangering not only his reputation, but also even his career.

VII. At times priests or seminary faculty are involved in sex-play or relationships with seminarians or young priests. Later the faculty member is promoted to the office of major superior or bishop. Even the good numbers of clergy who have been sexually involved and subsequently strive to establish celibate practice are caught in the circle of secrecy that covers even sexual abuse of minors. [There is no effective viable recourses to report misbehavior of a bishop.]

VIII. There is a scarlet bond of secrecy that is inculcated within the clerical system (reinforced via Confession), supported from the top down (Vatican), and preserved by bishops and superiors for fear of systemic or personal exposure. Candidates are taught this dynamic of secrecy about sexual activity and abuse from their first days in training.

IX. Wherever one finds a coterie of sexual abusing clergy one can locate a sexually active superior or one who tolerates sexual activity and abuse. The superior‟s sexual activity most likely is not minor abuse; activity with consenting adult females or males suffices to seal the bond. [Emphasis mine — RD] All RC clergy are caught in this system that demands cover up at any cost to save themselves (the Church) from scandal.

X. Truth, honesty, transparency, accountability, and lay people find no place within the Scarlet Bond. Denial is the most commonly psychic defense used to seal the bond from within. Rationalization and Mental Reservation are employed freely and frequently even under civil oath not to lie.

It would be unjust and inaccurate to scapegoat gay priests for the entirety of the scandal. But Bishop Morlino is right about the gay subculture within the priesthood. Exposing it and rooting it out will not solve the entire problem, but the problem cannot be solved without doing this. Remember, the thing so many priests and others within the Catholic Church had heard about Cardinal McCarrick for years was not that he abused minors. It was that he forced himself on seminarians.

In the year 2000 — nearly two decades ago! — the Jesuit priest Father Paul Shaughnessy wrote a big essay for Catholic World Report on what he terms “the gay priest problem.” If you don’t think this is an issue, read the story and have your eyes opened. Excerpt:

The leadership of the liberal movement in the Catholic Church today is still dominated by former priests, brothers, and seminarians who abandoned their vocations in the 1960s and 70s. Most of these left to marry, and for them contraception remains the touchstone issue. Of their companions in dissent who stayed behind in the priesthood, a disproportionately high number are gay, and even liberal writers have commented on the “lavenderization of the left” that characterizes the clerical wing of their movement. A review of a recent book on the priesthood by the National Catholic Reporter’s Tom Roberts typifies the position—uneasily held, nervously expressed—of the non-gay progressive:

“Considering Orientation” is the chapter of The Changing Face of the Priesthood that deals with the increasingly disproportionate number of homosexuals in the Roman Catholic priesthood and the one that leads the author, Fr. Donald B. Cozzens, to ask if the priesthood is on its way to becoming a “gay profession.” It is a devilishly difficult question to ask, first because almost no one in the hierarchical ranks wants anything to do with it, and because one can only approach it through a minefield planted wide with homophobes, right-wing zealots who see homosexual clergy as a particularly noxious manifestation of a liberal agenda, and the church’s teaching that the homosexual orientation is “objectively disordered.”

Whether the priesthood is becoming a gay profession is not, of course, a difficult question to ask, or to answer. It will be a tough problem to solve, in part because Catholics like Roberts cherish a contempt for conservatives (“homophobes, right-wing zealots”) that overmasters their intuition that something has gone wrong with the liberal project when its closest allies in the clergy are linked in the public imagination with male ballet dancers and fashion designers.

The “minefield” that terrifies Roberts involves not the explosive potential of error but the explosive potential of truth. What is unthinkable, what seems to be psychologically impossible to concede, is that there is an aspect of post-conciliar controversy in which the conservatives might have been right after all. In the same vein, whereas the National Catholic Reporter via Jason Berry’s articles was among the first publications to broach the subject of clerical sexual abuse, the same paper remains bewilderingly doctrinaire in its refusal to question the dogma that the preponderance of male victims is entirely unrelated to priestly homosexuality. Though progressives lampoon the orthodox as cowards who shut their eyes and cover their ears while shouting the party line, in this arena there is little doubt as to who is asking the disconcerting questions and who wants to change the subject. The Kansas City Star series cites an example that is as telling as it is typical; the subject is pre-seminary HIV testing.

One religious order that doesn’t require the test is the Society of the Precious Blood. The Rev. Mark Miller, provincial director of the Kansas City province, said the testing raises issues that he does not wish to address. “When you ask a question, you need to know why you are asking it,” Miller said. “The answers that would come up put it in a category where we don’t want to go.”

Still, liberals characteristically refuse to acknowledge their own role in creating the gay priest problem, and often attempt to transfer the blame to others. Thus Roberts complains that “almost no one in the hierarchical ranks” wants to tackle the crisis—a complaint that is at least partly disingenuous. Much of the hierarchy’s reluctance to address the issue stems precisely from the beating it knows it would take at the hands of liberals should it treat gayness as a negative factor. Since liberals dominate the opinion-forming institutions in the Church—the media, the bureaucracy, education at all levels—and since they are able to call on powerful allies in the secular world to help discredit their adversaries, only the boldest of bishops would risk a truly candid discussion of the problem in public.

If anything, the situation has become much more difficult to tackle since 2000, given that the mainstream media have made homosexuality largely off-limits for critical examination. Nevertheless, the problem persists. Read Shaughnessy’s whole piece to learn his advice for how bishops, priests, and laity should deal with it.

It has held up very well over the years, as has Mary Eberstadt’s 2002 piece on “The Elephant In The Sacristy.” You might find it shocking that Catholics like Fr. Shaugnessy and Eberstadt were talking about this in national magazines so long ago, and nothing was done about it.

This brand-new Associated Press story shows just how distorted the issue is in the hands of the mainstream media. Look at how it starts:

Allegations that disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick engaged in sex with adult seminarians have inflamed a long-running debate about the presence of gay men in the Roman Catholic priesthood.

Some conservatives are calling for a purge of all gay priests, a challenging task given that they are believed to be numerous and few are open about their sexual orientation. Moderates want the church to eliminate the need for secrecy by proclaiming that gay men are welcome if they can be effective priests who commit to celibacy.

Among the most outspoken moderates is the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and writer whose book, “Building a Bridge,” envisions a path toward warmer relations between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community.

“The idea of a purge of gay priests is both ridiculous and dangerous,” Martin said in an email. “Any purge would empty parishes and religious orders of the thousands of priests (and bishops) who lead healthy lives of service and faithful lives of celibacy.”

It’s actually a fairly balanced report overall, but it labels Martin and Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, both of whom are outspoken liberals, as “moderates” — you know, exponents of the Sensible Center™, as opposed to those right-wing extremists. Father Martin has never spoken of his own sexuality, but he seeks to change the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality. That’s not “moderate,” and having openly gay priests who are chaste but who promote an understanding of sexuality contrary to the Church’s teaching is not helpful, to put it mildly.

Catholics are going to have to battle through this kind of smog if they want to clean up their church, and are going to have to be prepared to be hated by the media and the wider public.

UPDATE.2: A reader writes:

Regarding Morlino, he was on faculty at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit from 1990-1999. John Nienstedt was rector of Sacred Heart form 1988-1996. Morlino is also on the Ecclesial Advisory Board of the Napa Institute. Morlino’s strong words about clearing out the homosexual subculture don’t, apparently, apply to his friends.



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