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Inside The Seminary Closet

Reader Gabe Giella and I have been e-mailing about his own story. Gabe attended a small New England seminary in a conservative diocese in the era immediately after the clergy sex abuse scandal broke in Boston. Today, as an out gay man, he is unable to do ministry in the Catholic Church as a priest or lay person, so he has ceased to practice the Catholic faith. He has agreed to let me publish his account of seminary life here:

I’d kept two secrets for a very long time. First that I was gay and second that I wanted to become a priest. An unlikely, awkward combination for a public high school student in the 90s.

One way to avoid the topic about my sexuality was to play up the notion of a divine call to the priesthood, especially to my devout Catholic family and friends.

My first year of state college near Boston gave me the distance and freedom to explore and discover people who supported me as a gay person — a piece of information I shared mostly with spiritual mentors — and also in ministry. Part of that included leading a trip to Canada to hear the late Pope John Paul II speak at World Youth Day. The clergy sex abuse scandal was unraveling like a spool of yarn, a web with connecting points all across the globe. The pope was doubling down. He encouraged the thousands of youth gathered to not let the failings of a few keep us from following Christ as priests or nuns.

I now had the zeal I needed to make this transition. It was summer after a successful first year of college. I had planned on joining a fraternity in the fall and had a social and academic life that was flourishing, but I was compelled to put it aside to explore the priesthood.

A well connected priest whom I met on the bus en route to Canada and lived near me seemed to simply snap his fingers, and with very little questioning, an MMPI test given to me to fill out at home. A therapist asked what my sexual orientation was (I said straight), and within two short months I was enrolled in a small house of formation for undergraduate men pursuing the priesthood.

Having been raised with four sisters and no brothers, it was certainly a learning curve to live with almost twenty other men. I didn’t really know what was normal or commonplace or acceptable. I had to rely on my gut to navigate what increasingly seemed more like training for some sort of game than for ministry. I also felt both seen and understood as a gay person, but strangely and simultaneously also very cautious around that topic, if not downright fearful and secretive. I wasn’t a sicko. I hadn’t done anything wrong. There was simply no context to be myself.

I should be clear that this seminary experience on the outside had every appearance of orthodoxy, and even of traditionalism. This was not a place that promoted homosexuality whatsoever. In fact on paper, we were led to come down very hard on “liberalism” and anything of the like. We scoffed at guitar masses and nuns without habits. We would pass around books like Goodbye, Good Men, which chalked up the low numbers in seminaries to devout traditional men being turned away by so-called liberals and nuns who’d supposedly hijacked seminaries.

This seminary was nothing of the sort. It was an old boys’ club, complete with all the gin (usually scotch) and lace and incense one could imagine, and a love for Latin. Add a penchant for dressing up statues of the Virgin of Fatima with sumptuous fabrics and tiaras, too. In a frat house, there might be Victoria’s Secret catalogues strewn about. At the seminary, it was vestment and liturgical furnishing catalogs.

It was also an atmosphere of suspicion and secrecy. Nothing quite seemed clear, transparent, or holistic. It felt like acting school. The ethos, speech, and behavior that permeated the environment did not match the rather staunch vintage-like Catholic culture we were being trained to live and promote.

One seminarian openly went by a woman’s name as an alter ego.  “She” would come out with some choice words over bad choices in liturgical music, bad weather, or complaints about our seminary chef.

There were seminarians in their late twenties who had uncomfortably close friendships with high school boys.

Half-drunk priest guests would be leaving the bishop’s and clergy quarters at the crack of dawn while I was sitting in the refectory eating cereal, usually unable to sleep.

I remember feeling that there was an awful lot of overly casual familiarity between many of the senior priests and monsignors and the well-connected seminarians. Trips, stipends, lots of scotch, and lots of smoking. In what other world does a young man walk out of high school and into a social life almost exclusively with other men three times his age?

Two seminarians had told me each separately that their mutual confessor had alerted them of their sexual desire for each other in the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) telling them he had been informed of this by an inner voice he attributed to “Our Lady of Medjugorje”

At our fall retreat which was focused on “brotherhood” I was taken on a long walk through the woods by one of the well connected seminarians. He spoke cryptically about who I could trust and how I had to be careful with whom I associated and shared personal information. It would become clear when we returned to the rest of the group after our walk that some of the other men had been upset and jealous that we had been gone for so long. I felt the discomfort within me, but at the time, I wasn’t fully able to understand or see what was happening. Perhaps I didn’t want to.

As increasingly uncomfortable as things became, there remained a familiarity among us, as though perhaps most if not all of us shared the same secret.

The winter retreat was at cozy coastal retreat center. Its theme was “spirituality.” This experience began a spiral of events starting with the sacrament of reconciliation, and with confidential discussion being used as a backchannel for communicating gossip. At this time one of the seminarians had confided in me that he was attracted to another seminarian. It made for an uncomfortable winter wherein this man would openly be suggestive about my own sexuality in front of others on a number of occasions. By conjecture, he decided I would somehow appreciate him putting stacks of newspapers with headlines like “Gays in the Priesthood” outside of my bedroom door, as these were common during the unfolding of the sex abuse crisis. He would also place himself in the hallway to check out a particular seminarian just leaving the shower in a towel, and did it in an ostentatious way to involve imply I was checking they guys out as well. Eventually, these events seemed staged.

At the time it was popular to visit seven churches on the night of Holy Thursday. That’s always a big party night in rectories for its connection to celebrating the institution of the priesthood at the Last Supper. On that night there is usually a specially decorated shrine set up for people to pray into the late hours of the night; traditionally they will do this by stopping at seven different churches.

But that year, after hearing a drunken sermon during the liturgy, there was a large dinner party with the older seminarians who’d returned home. Everyone was fed copious amounts of red wine regardless of age. That Holy Thursday night it was declared in the hallway by the “in crowd” of seminarians that they  would be doing their “seven rectories devotion” in which they would play a game they referred to as “which priest will follow us into the bathroom?”

One of these seminarians, upon returning from an evening of “seven rectories,” pulled me into his room and closed the door and asked me to perform oral sex on him.

It was sudden and bold, and the result of a late night of drinking at multiple rectories. While all signs pointed to something like this eventually happening, I still felt like I was caught up in something surreal and so upsetting it couldn’t possibly be real. It had all the elements of a soap opera.

Perhaps I said nothing at all. Perhaps my own facial expression said enough. Perhaps I told him off. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but do I remember the presumptive sneer on his face turning to a look of concern when he realized I was not complying with his request.  I went back to my room and found  the seminarian who’d admitted having a crush on the one who had just propositioned me sitting in my chair crying. He had positioned himself in the room next door, and had heard what had happened. He explained that he was crying out of jealousy that I was asked to perform a sexual favor rather than him.

“You’re so attractive,” he said. “You’re in great shape and you have beautiful clothes. Come on, you must know that everyone is staring at you all the time. You know full well that every guy here including the priests and even the bishop would f*ck you if they had the chance.”

It was a disturbing, puzzling, and fear-filled Easter, seeing friends and family and trying to tell them what a great time I was having in seminary, despite all that was happening.

A few days after Easter recess I was invited into the room of the seminarian who had been crying in my chair on Holy Thursday night. He had a fully stocked bar under the sink in his room which was totally against the protocol (and I think the law, too, as I don’t believe he was 21 at the time). He offered me a drink, which I took. He began flirting, taking the liberty to enjoy a campy conversation since I was one of the only people who knew the truth about him. We were sitting on his bed chatting and laughing and trying to keep our volume down since it was late. He abruptly got up and ran down the hall, yelling and knocking on doors and declaring that I was trying to remove his clothes, and that I had removed mine. Meanwhile I was standing there, fully clothed, ashamed and in shock, holding a Mike’s Hard Lemonade. I ran across the hall and locked myself in my room. What was happening?

A day or two later I received a call on my wall phone from a friend who had just seen both the seminarian who tried to frame me with the alcohol, and the seminarian who propositioned me, speaking to one of the priests in charge. My friend had heard my name mentioned. In my gut I knew what was happening. Their secret was out with me, and they had no dirt on me. That fact put me in a position of power, and so I had to be taken down. I had seen and learned and observed just enough to make me a liability, but I determined that I had to speak up. I determined that it might be worth risking being outed. I even thought in my naivete that the powers that be might appreciate the opportunity to address this unhealthy system, in light of the discovery of countless clergy sex abuse cases coming to light.

I was wrong.

I told the clergy staff, spiritual mentors,  and vocation directors what had happened leading up to this, and also confessed any wrongdoing I had done that year (the worst of which was taking a bottle of wine from the refrigerator and sharing it with a friend). A number of seminarians were also questioned over a period of a couple of weeks. Finals were looming, and there was a great amount of stress. I understood the term “walking on eggshells” in a new way. I hadn’t claimed to be perfect, or flawless, or angelic. I’ve not always kept boundaries as best as I could have done either. But I never tried to blackmail anyone. Surely, it was the job of the bishop and clergy in whom I’d confided to protect me…

It would be determined on the first day of finals that I would be asked to leave the seminary for “admitting the stealing and drinking alcohol.” The one who had shared the wine with me had a lesser punishment, and the others had none; they are both ordained now. I was ordered to pack up all of my belongings and leave that day. One of the staff priests was weeping and said he was sure this was “part of the Holy Spirit’s plan.” How would I explain this to my family and friends?

I had lived with the secret of my sexuality for years. Had I been obvious? Had I done something to deserve this? Would I “out” myself if I questioned or brought any of this to someone’s attention? I decided it was not worth the risk. I would have held anyone’s secret in order to keep my own from being exposed. The reason I lay these stories bare now it because of my strong belief that this pervasive dysfunctional culture is at the deepest core of the cover-up, abuse, and scandal of all forms–not just sexual–that continue to be rampant in these church circles.

I also call to attention the scapegoating of gay men by the Catholic Church regarding the sexual abuse of people of all ages. We are not talking about healthy, out, integrated men who are aware and unashamed of their sexuality. We are not talking about men who are simply repressed because they follow their vow of celibacy diligently. We are talking about deeply dangerous minds in the highest and lowest ranks of the Church’s clergy and hierarchy.

Years later, I was speaking with a priest who was in seminary with me while all of this happened. He is not celibate and doesn’t believe a great deal of the Catholic Church’s teaching, but maintains a high profile. I asked why he didn’t just leave our join another denomination so he could have a free and honest relationship with another man. “That’s not what I’m looking for,” he said. “Marriage, no thanks.”

Over the more than fifteen years since this happened to me, I have been able to put words to what I believe is behind the culture of sexual coercion, coverup, child abuse and so many other heinous crimes continually being committed by clergy:

Sexual secrecy is the currency in the church and learning how to use it is almost treated like an art form in seminaries. This culture has been woven into the fabric of Roman Catholic clergy culture for centuries. The church’s strict and absolute regulations around sex and sexuality which themselves are created and promulgated by the very men who breach them provide a perfect cover for those whose own sense of sexuality is without boundaries, regulation, or integration. Sexual secrecy and blackmail is the clergy’s bitcoin by which position, power, and control are bartered in the shadows, costing children and adults alike their faith, their safety and well being — and in some cases, their lives.

I asked Gabe if he would answer a few questions from me. He agreed. Here they are:

1. In your story, you’ve given an account of a localized version of what has been called the “lavender mafia” — that is, groups of gay priests who work in concert to exercise power, often by getting rid of threats … like you, even though you’re gay. How should we think about cliques like this, with regard to the scandal?

I believe it is these cliques that are and have been the source of scandals of all kinds for centuries. Catholic clergy in particular have for centuries been notorious for operating sexually in the shadows and sometimes even in the open. Think of historic popes whose own sons were appointed as cardinals. Think of John Paul II, who held up rapist and molester Marcial Maciel as a “sure guide for youth.” The cliques that form in these so called lavender palaces are founded on a deep fear of being found out, and those who are in these circles — the ones I’ve encountered being the most “conservative” and “traditional” you could imagine — will go to any length at all to remain in the shadows.

They aren’t interested in genuine intimate friendships and healthy relationships outside of their circles, even with family members, who often are among those they are most trying to hide from. They will often dabble in a spiritual book or go to confession someplace far away where they won’t be recognized, as a way to sort of “reset” when they start feeling a little dirty — and then they do it all over again. It looks very much like a typical scene from a mafia movie with an underlying life of scandal and dishonesty often veiled with “family values” or in the case of the priesthood, traditionalism.

2. What is the answer, then? Father James Martin, SJ, has said that gay priests who are celibate should be free to come out within the Church. Do you agree? What about priests who do not intend to stop having sex?

I call on all Roman Catholic clergy to come out of the shadows about who they are. Those who have exploited sexuality through the perversion of pedophilia must come forward and go to the police. The bishops who know about them must turn their cases over to the police. All clergy — including bishops who are gay and celibate — must come out of the closet if they are to live with dignity, and if they are to acknowledge that their congregations have a right to the truth. This act could bring relief to the millions of Catholics who live closeted, shame-filled lives.

Priests who are not celibate must come forward and acknowledge it, and if they earnestly believe in the Church’s current teachings on homosexual relationships and celibacy, they must repent and stop. If they have simply been pretending to be celibate while not practicing celibacy, they need to acknowledge that they have been deceiving their congregations. If their behavior is due to their honest disbelief in the church’s current teachings, then they must be honest about that as well, and be open to the immense conversation and decisions that might result from that.

Bottom line: if priests were honest and or stood up for themselves as they are, and not out of self preservation against the very institution they represent, a tidal wave of change would happen. There would be a Pride Parade at the St. Peter’s Square if most of these men came out.

3. One striking aspect of your story is how outward manifestations of traditionalism hid an inner hothouse culture of homosexuality within the seminarians and clergy. What would you say to conservative Catholics who think the scandal is a liberal thing, or the fault of Vatican II? 

There are sick, broken, power hungry, scared men on both sides of the “liberal/traditional” Catholic fence. We have to stop blaming differences of opinion about things like guitar music at mass vs. the use of a pipe organ as the source of the problem. Priests who celebrate the Tridentine mass are often guilty of abusing their power. Priests who couldn’t care less about their choice of vestments are too. Some priests who preach against gay marriage are having gay sex. Some priests who preach acceptance of all people are having gay sex too. A particular priest who ended up sexually assaulting me, after rambling on about his love for the Tridentine Mass, responded to my question of how this results in anyone’s greater holiness and well-being with, “It doesn’t. That’s not the point.”

What is? The mystery and nostalgia hit evokes a time when priests would never have been suspected of anything, and the word gay just meant “happy.”

Conservatives have for decades now been scapegoating the Second Vatican Council for every problem to hit the planet, and this is no exception. It’s simply not the case. No side is innocent, and no display of liturgical, theological, or ideological extremism is a sign of a priest’s well-being.

4. You are against “scapegoating” gays in the priesthood for the scandal. I agree with you that the problem cannot be reduced to gays in the priesthood, but I also believe that it cannot exclude the problems that come with having gays in the priesthood. I think both the scapegoaters (“It’s entirely the gays’ fault”) and the see-no-evil crowd (“Gays in the priesthood have nothing to do with this”) are both dishonest. What kind of honest but healthy conversation should we all be having about the issue of gays in the priesthood, in light of the scandal? In other words, what do both sides have to bring to the table, and what do both sides need to leave behind?

I hinted at this above when I called for gay priests who are living under the guise of celibacy but who actively engage in or want to engage in gay relationships. I believe their numbers are legion, though I believe they share great comfort and status within the Church, and whatever relationships they do engage in don’t beg of them any level of accountability. The church is essentially the “other woman” (or other man in this context) to these men. It is not who these men find attractive (unless it’s minors) that’s the problem — it’s the secrecy around it.

For instance, in the Episcopal Church seminaries are filled with gay, straight, and people in between. Surely there are abuses of power there too, but in general they are not having conversations about things like whether or not “gay mafias” are there. I believe that gay priests coming out of the closet will challenge the church’s stance on homosexuality in general, or could have the power to. For every Catholic, that signals a change in identity. As we can see from the way politics have been playing out in the last few years, we know that a crisis of identity may be the crisis people are most afraid of accepting, even at the cost of accepting all manner of sexual dishonesty and blackmailing among the very leaders who create and enforce this identity.

UPDATE: Peter Mitchell, the laicized priest who was formerly of the Lincoln diocese, e-mails:

I thank Gabe Giella for his courage in sharing his painful story. It is very important for lay people to realize how broken and disillusioning the experience of entering the seminary is for so many good young Catholic men. You couldn’t make up how bad it is, because if you did, you would try to make your story believable, not as dark as the reality. Like so many of us who were inspired at World Youth Day by Pope John Paul II to enter the seminary, we soon found that when we did, we were immersed in a nightmare of distrust, suspicion, and secrecy. Six weeks after World Youth Day 1993, I found myself at a college seminary residence where guys were smoking marijuana in the woods out back and I was cleaning up vomit in the bathroom on Sunday morning from the guys down the hall who came in drunk at 3am from a local bar, not knowing how to square all this with my desire to be a priest. I felt angry and alone and didn’t know who I could trust to talk to about it.

I think that is one of the most painful experiences that seminarians across the spectrum share in common: from the minute you enter the seminary, you don’t know who to trust, and of course you can’t tell your family and friends back home what it is really like (because they simply would not believe you and it would “scandalize” them), so you just withdraw inwards and keep trying to “make it through.” Sadly, entering the seminary often does not help a young man find the healing that so many youth in today’s broken, hyper-sexualized culture need. It actually usually only increases a young man’s wounds of shame, because he feels he has to hide any struggle he may have if he wants to get ordained. This experience of “hiding” the truth about oneself leads to deep loneliness and alienation, which often sadly only further drives a young man into destructive behavior, sexual or otherwise. If a man has a priestly vocation, the institutional church’s seminary system often does not help him mature and become virtuous. Instead it teaches him to rationalize, ignore misconduct so as to get along (as in, now that you are a seminarian, come to bed with Uncle Ted), and shut down inside.

On the few occasions where I summoned the courage to actually go and talk about what was going on to the priests in charge at the different seminaries/houses of formation I lived in in New York, Philadelphia, and Rome (naively thinking that the priests in charge would want to know what was going on and address it), I was met with essentially the same response: “You are the problem for speaking out about this. There is nothing we can do about it. Grow up and accept that this is the way it is. If you want to be a priest, you will need to learn to be accepting and forgiving. We are now making a record in your personal file that you are a rigid and judgmental. You are more of a problem for the church than the person you complained about.”

It is extremely difficult for the average lay Catholic to understand something that is at the heart of the present crisis: The seminary system as it now exists actually destroys vocations in many instances. The evidence is overwhelming.

185 Comments (Open | Close)

185 Comments To "Inside The Seminary Closet"

#1 Comment By John On August 22, 2018 @ 9:19 pm

I agree with everything g your correspondent said. It’s time to get rid of the closet. The lying, hypocrisy and crime cover up must come to an end.

#2 Comment By Adrian On August 22, 2018 @ 10:26 pm

I can attest to what Mr. Giella describes. I attended College Seminary 2006-2007 and this is precisely the kind of unhealthy environment I encountered. I was 19 and incredibly naive. My mother was very worried as she helped me unpack. Long story short the love affairs between seminarians and priests were there. The sexual innuendo was ever-present and the gossip and secrecy were suffocating. It didn’t matter how traditional or liberal anyone was. That is typically a mask used to fit in and hide. The clergy works like a Mafia organization and they all protect each other. It’s a big frat house with no accountability to anyone and an alarming lack of honest spirituality. There were some great men there as well who did what they needed to do to get by but frankly even they fall in line when it comes to a “brother priest”. We greatly underestimate the power of this fraternity to keep secrets within it and protect and cover up for each other.

Many people like to make accusations against gay men in the priesthood but realistically the current way the Church approaches the issue (silence actually) is partly to blame. What’s a good Catholic man who happens to be gay do? The priesthood is the perfect escape for the sexually conflicted and it’s all because of the discipline of celibacy. No other church’s clergy has this kind of problem in the magnitude that we have it and it’s because of this and this only. Shame and the closet are detrimental to the human mind and spirit. We’ve discovered this and can attest to it scientifically yet the church and many others want to pretend it’s all fine. The gays just need to be celibate pick up their cross and shut up. Meanwhile everyone is happily getting divorced and using contraception…

Anyways I digress. The child abuse problem goes further than the lavender mafia. They sometimes overlap and they protect each other but the real pedophiles are a whole other thing altogether. The problem is that the abuse is allowed to happen because everyone is compromised and they’re all covering for each other. I sincerely thank God that I was there for only a short time. I’m still a practicing Catholic and committed to Christ and the faith. But it isn’t easy especially when you’re gay and you have to listen to all the hate thrown at you by the holy rollers while you know the truth about their beloved Fr. So and so.

#3 Comment By Mary On August 22, 2018 @ 10:59 pm

Secrecy isn’t the problem. Do you honestly think homosexuals could enjoy the prestige, respect, money, spiritual power, psychological power, and authority they enjoy in the priesthood if they were not secret? They want and need the secrecy to keep up their profitable gig. It is not dysfunctional secrecy, it is smart.

#4 Comment By Chris On August 22, 2018 @ 11:25 pm

“As I’ve stated, I’m not Catholic, but I have had an interest in history for most of my life”

With all due respect viewing the Catholic (or any other tradition really) Church from a historical viewpoint alone is the difference between visiting a particular culture and living in it.

@Andrea, the Lutheran Churches that have remained faithful to Lutheran history and practice do not ordain women.

#5 Comment By Frank W On August 22, 2018 @ 11:35 pm

I was dismayed by the former seminarian’s claim that Holy Thursday was a big “party night,” because it represented the night when the priesthood was first instituted. To the Catholic laity (whom it increasingly seems are the part of the Church that actually takes the faith seriously), Holy Thursday is more commonly celebrated as the night when Jesus instituted the Eucharist – the lifeblood of Catholic faith. Moreover, on Holy Thursday, the faithful are called to “wait and watch” with Jesus by praying through the night in contemplation of Jesus’s agony in the Garden.

It’s interesting to know that while the laity is faithfully observing the beginning of the Sacred Triduum, some priests and seminarians see an opportunity to party. I guess if you encourage the parishioners to spend all night in Church, there will be more room for you at the bars.

#6 Comment By Anne On August 22, 2018 @ 11:37 pm

The problem with these stories of Catholic intrigue for anyone trying to gain some sort of perspective on the various issues — or just equilibrium for Catholics reeling from too much information about the sex lives of people who aren’t supposed to have sex lives at all — is that the subject keeps changing, and changing so fast that everything blurs into a homophobe’s worst nightmare, like staring at one of Michaelangelo’s murals. It’s a man’s world, clearly, but how much is real and how much is Michaelangelo?

It might help to remind readers that the subject HAS changed: We’re now talking about the sex lives of seminarians, not child abuse. Sexual misbehavior in a seminary may be a legitimate subject of interest to Catholics, but it’s not, ipso facto, part and parcel of the child abuse scandal. That’s something that has to be proven, not just implied, insinuated or surmised. Even the existence of cliques or networks of gays in seminaries or the priesthood or what-have-you, should one or two of such groups get all their members drunk and go on CNN to be interviewed, doesn’t automatically connect them or any other “lavendar mafias” to the clerical abuse rings that preyed on boys and girls. So what are we supposed to take from these attempts to prove there’s something called a “gay subculture” within the Catholic clergy (a claim first put forward by John Jay researchers in 2002 and taken back by same in 2011)? That they’re a component of some general corruption inside the Catholic clergy? Or that they’re part of some criminal underground that abuses kids? That they’re an evil political force inside the Church? Or what? Revealing that there are gay seminarians, and that other seminarians act like creeps around them doesn’t tell me a whole lot. That this happens in traditionalist seminaries makes sense to me, given the fact that some of the most vocal antigay, pro-tradition Catholic clergy in recent history have been revealed to be gay (e.g., Cardinals McConnell of Boston and Spellman of New York, as noted here recently).

What Gabe is talking about here falls into the bad behavior usually referred to as corruption in the ranks. Corruption (drunkenness, sloth, vanity, elitism and cliques, both homosexual and heterosexual philandering, superiors winking at it all, etc.) has been a recurring problem in seminaries and monasteries throughout Church history. When it exceeds a certain level, reformers usually arise to begin the house cleaning that restores equilibrium. And so it goes. By historical standards, Gabe’s story is relatively tame, unless you judge by the plaster saintly image secular Hollywood ironically bestowed on all things Catholic from the mid-1940s until some 30 years later.

Coincidentally, the Catholic problem reporters and everybody else have been talking about on and off from the end of the 20th century to how — child abuse by Catholic clergy — just happened to hit a peak at around the same time Catholicism Hollywood-style was enjoying its heyday both on screen and off. Incidents of child abuse by Catholic clergy increased 16-fold from 1950 to 1980 and fell abruptly back to previous rates after that. Something caused that surge, something that wasn’t having that kind of effect until then. Was it the spirit of Vatican II? Was it the Sexual Revolution? Was it the Sixties per se? All came years after the surge began. Was it teh gayz? Did they somehow surge in numbers in 1950? Or more to the point, did they fade away in 1980? According to the John Jay report, during the late 1970s and early 80s the percentage of gays in the priesthood actually hit an all-time high.

I don’t have all the answers to why priests abuse kids, much less why they did it in such great numbers for so long. Some answers are known, and they’re complicated. All these issues and problems are. I just don’t see anything positive in making these sorts of unproven but insinuated connections between a sexual minority and what is a horrific crime. The dangers in this sort of thing have been proven, after all.

#7 Comment By James Urling On August 23, 2018 @ 6:42 am

Interesting how his answer to Dreher’s question about Vatican II is to simply say Vatican II isn’t the reason. No explanation, no evidence given that this problem preexisted Vatican II. Not very convincing in my opinion.

[NFR: This problem *did* exist prior to the Council. It’s in the data. Read Lee Podles’s “Sacrilege”. It is true that incidences of abuse went way up in the 1970s and 1980s, but then went down again, even though Vatican II wasn’t nullified. There’s no question that something happened in the 1960s: it was called the Sexual Revolution. To the extent the changes the Council made in Church life facilitated the Sexual Revolution, then the Council bears share of the blame. But correlation is not causation. I don’t have a strong opinion over whether the Council was a good or a bad thing (I lean towards bad), but I think we have to be as honest as we can be about what got the Church to this state. We have to remember too that some of these neo-traditionalist, anti-conciliar orders and seminaries are also fronts for sexually active gay men to play dress-up. They’re called the “Daughters of Trent”. — RD]

#8 Comment By BF On August 23, 2018 @ 6:58 am

MK must be the pen name of Cardinal Wuerl or Tobin. Nothing to see here, just a few bodies of wrecked children…er, speed bumps. I think Jesus would weep at the damage done to children and families at the hands of His church. It’s frankly disgusting that you can just skip over a mess that breaks His heart.

I don’t know who MK is, but his post says,

One last thing: parents must take full responsibility for their kids: we are sexually deformed culture. Yes trust, but always verify. I would never blame anyone else if somebody got my kid; I would blame myself. It couldn’t happen: I would spot it way early. It’s really not that hard. Whatever happened to personal parental responsibility? Cripes, the schools and families are far, far worse than the Church.

Incredibly, at this late date, he’s blaming the parents of the victims! Sounds like a priest or bishop to me, more likely a bishop. Either Wuerl or Tobin would be a good guess.

#9 Comment By LFM On August 23, 2018 @ 7:52 am

Anne writes, “What Gabe is talking about here falls into the bad behavior usually referred to as corruption in the ranks.”

It’s a little worse than that. The blackmail and attempted blackmail that Gabe details are serious crimes, and ‘framing’ someone to force him out of his school or job when he proves un-extortable in other ways is – if not a crime (and it seems to me they could be) – the kind of disciplinary corruption that does in fact make for ‘mafias’ and conspiracy networks. Good people are not safe in organizations in which such practises flourish.

I do not think that the problem is exclusively homosexual, but it is to a signficant degree a homosexual problem for reasons particular to the nature of the priesthood, which provides both extensive access to young males and a respectable, indeed holy, explanation for that access.

One reason to be grateful for the greatly lessened prejudice against homosexuality in the temporal world is that gay men will feel less need to seek shelter and a cover story in places like the Church.

#10 Comment By gem6183 On August 23, 2018 @ 8:01 am

I did a search/find of the word “woman” in this entire article and it came up twice. The first time it referred to a seminarian’s female alter-ego. The second time, it referred to the church as the “other woman.” In neither case did the word refer to an actual female person.

A world without women. Yes, celibacy is a huge problem in the Catholic church. But there’s a deeper sickness than that.

#11 Comment By Fr. Barnabas Powell On August 23, 2018 @ 9:22 am

As an Orthodox priest I read the above with both interest and sadness. I remember attending a dinner while I was in Boston at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox seminary at a nearby Roman Catholic seminary. While I was sitting at dinner with these Roman Catholic seminarians, one brother noticed my wedding ring and commented “I see you’re married. We aren’t allowed to be married.”

What followed was a discussion of the spiritual disciplines of celibacy and married life.

In the end, the discussion with these young men revealed that this isn’t so much about sexual behavior as it is a confusion of Christian anthropology, the purpose of the spiritual disciplines, the nature of salvation, and the theology of power, all of which, in my humble opinion, the West gets very wrong.

Not on purpose, mind you, but because of the development of doctrine in the West. And it shouldn’t be misunderstood that the East is without flaws. Far from it. We all look through a glass darkly.

The subsequent scandal and tragedy we see coming to light in our day is, of course, painful, infuriating, and floods the soul with the intoxication of anger and confusion. And intoxication always has varying degrees of harm and helpfulness attached.

The loss of faith by many will be understandable and indefensible. There will be no retribution that will be enough for some. And that means the illness that was the “mother” of this tragedy will have spread to the people who have been harmed by it.

Our current society will have all kinds of so called “insights” into this, specifically about sexual ethics, and they will, for the most part, be unhelpful since it seems our sophisticated age has decided that sexual passions aren’t “fire” to be tamed and taught how to be servants, but a “natural urge” that should be indulged as long as the constantly shifting line of “that’s acceptable” is psychotically adhered to, until the next letter is added to the ever growing acronym of protected tribes.

As a convert to the Orthodox faith and now a priest in the Church, I see this happening and my responses are like most people: anger, frustration, pain, shame, confusion, and so many others. I can’t wait to see justice done for the victims of these men. I can’t help but wonder about the institutionalized “silence” and dysfunction in a whole group of men who are called “father.” And, if I’m honest, I look into my own heart to see where the seeds of this failure lurk in my own life, and in our brotherhood, and ask God for the courage and humility to keep this darkness at bay in my own life as a priest.

But, in the end, I hear the words of St. Isaac the Syrian: “This life has been given to you for repentance. Do not waste it on vain pursuits.”

#12 Comment By sara On August 23, 2018 @ 9:41 am

@ Chris says: August 22, 2018 at 11:25 pm
“As I’ve stated, I’m not Catholic, but I have had an interest in history for most of my life”
With all due respect viewing the Catholic (or any other tradition really) Church from a historical viewpoint alone is the difference between visiting a particular culture and living in it.

With all due respect, I have referred to myself as an “outsider” and never claimed otherwise. If you have a problem with what I have said, then present your argument. This comment is a simple ad hominem attack – surely you can do better than that?

#13 Comment By sara On August 23, 2018 @ 9:52 am

@ gem6183 says: August 23, 2018 at 8:01 am
“I did a search/find of the word “woman” in this entire article and it came up twice.”

Yes. I didn’t search on the words “girl” and “girls” but I’m pretty sure the only mentions are to say the seminarians were acting like 14 yo girls and others praising that statement as “right on the money” and the like. Weird thing is that we know from years of research that girls mature faster than boys, physically, mentally and emotionally. So why switch the context from one sex to the other just to bash women/girls rather than simply accept that young men are often immature?

#14 Comment By Gary Lockhart On August 23, 2018 @ 10:34 am

“I also call to attention the scapegoating of gay men by the Catholic Church regarding the sexual abuse of people of all ages. We are not talking about healthy, out, integrated men who are aware and unashamed of their sexuality.”

Therein lies the problem. Homosexuals are neither mentally nor physically healthy. They’ve deluded themselves into believing that they are normal and nothing could be further from the truth. The rationalizing of intrinsically disordered sexual deviancy as being healthy and unashamed is demonic, plain and simple.

#15 Comment By Vin On August 23, 2018 @ 10:53 am

I comment as the father of a 13-year old boy. We are both heavily involved with our Church.

From what I have learned about seminary culture, while we respect the priestly office, no priest, no matter how well you know him, can be above suspicion of being a homosexual predator. While there are cases of heterosexual sin, clearly homosexuality is the most serious underlying issue.

Pick your word – rash, unfair, uncharitable, rigid, judgemental. Too bad. The institutional Church has knowingly let this go on for too long. There is now no punishment too great for individual priests or bishops, or the Church as a whole, for their countless offenses against boys and young (legal) men.

#16 Comment By Ex aedibus On August 23, 2018 @ 11:55 am

What Peter Mitchell says about knowing whom to trust in the seminary is true. Ideally, we should all be brothers in pursuit of the same goal. You learn quickly that there are those whom you cannot trust. You want to be able to trust every priest with whom you come in contact. Sad to say, there are some who while they might be priests, will never be brothers.

My own experiences with seminary formation were difficult. I was aware early on that my bishop could and indeed would toss me out without much thought. I lived in fear of those concerned with my human formation as a priest especially when I began theology.

Because of this, I felt that I could not speak out about some concerns I had. I did leave, but have now returned and was ordained a priest a couple of years ago. My new bishop treated me like a Christian and apologized for everything that was done to me under his predecessor’s era. I reentered seminary with his support.

At my last seminary, I had a classmate who exhibited deeply troubling behavior. His drinking was a problem then. He got away with, and was proud of getting away, openly flouting seminary discipline. He did things that would have gotten other seminarians expelled. As my own ordination to the priesthood approached, I began to have qualms of conscience about whether or not I should write to his bishop. I thought that the seminary had failed both him and the Church. To my shame, I did not. I did not want to be accused of interfering in the affairs of another diocese.

It has since come out that he has been in a homosexual relationship with a former parishioner and had added drug use to his substance abuse issues. I have written his bishop finally. Who knows if I will be listened to? He has since been put back in a parish. My greatest fear is that he will do something to cause an even greater scandal and that his bishop and diocese won’t be monitoring him.

If I had brought this up in seminary, I could have been labelled rigid and judgmental. In this age of Bergoglian “mercy”, being rigid is seen to be a bad thing. I had already experienced enough horrific treatment from the seminaries.

I have to say that there have been deep emotional wounds which have been caused as a result of what is euphemistically called “formation”. I hope things will improve, but I am not optimistic.

#17 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 23, 2018 @ 12:57 pm

With all due respect viewing the Catholic (or any other tradition really) Church from a historical viewpoint alone is the difference between visiting a particular culture and living in it.

Ah, yes. And anybody “white” has no business writing about any aspect of history involving “black” people, because they just don’t know what it fells like.

(I would agree that a Protestant should not try to describe in detail what the exaltation of experiencing the Eucharist feels like to a devout Roman Catholic or Orthodox practitioner… but that wouldn’t disqualify them from interviewing several who are able to describe it, and then writing about what they said.)

#18 Comment By The Dean On August 23, 2018 @ 2:29 pm

I’m sorry but this story by an admitted gay man may be true but may not be true. The problem in the Roman Catholic Church are gay priests abusing their power by selecting young boys typically 14-17 years old.

This is not my opinion but the opinion of The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue Ph.D. who has studied this phenomena extensively.

The American Conservative should get Dr. Donohue’s opinion on this subject (supported by extensive studies) and not just a gay seminarian that has an axe to grind.

In my opinion perhaps one way to get rid of this problem is to consolidate Roman Catholic seminaries in the United States to just two, one on the west coast and one on the east coast. Philosophical consistency, better oversight, and a more sophisticated vetting process would insure The Church is letting in men that want to serve Christ not themselves.

#19 Comment By Fr Martin Fox On August 23, 2018 @ 2:59 pm

Gem6183 said:

A world without women. Yes, celibacy is a huge problem in the Catholic church. But there’s a deeper sickness than that.

I don’t want to be snarky, but come on. There is no “world without women.” Do you mean the seminary? There are women in the seminary, who work there on the staff, and who are instructors. Do you think the seminarians are sealed off from the outside world? This is not so. Do you think these seminarians don’t have mothers, sisters, former girlfriends, female friends?

Seminarians have often worked before the seminary, and the will work during summers while in seminary. Do you think they encounter no women at these jobs? As coworkers, as employees, as supervisors, or as customers?

Seminarians frequently spend time in parishes, in non-parish activities like soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and the like. Do you think these are “worlds without women”?

And then when a priest arrives at a parish, women are involved in every way. Very often, women will predominate among volunteers and staff.

Now, if you are saying that there are men who avoid women and don’t have healthy interactions with them, that is possible and it is a problem. But that’s different from what you said, I think.

#20 Comment By Loudon is a Fool On August 23, 2018 @ 3:25 pm


So what are we supposed to take from these attempts to prove there’s something called a “gay subculture” within the Catholic clergy (a claim first put forward by John Jay researchers in 2002 and taken back by same in 2011)? That they’re a component of some general corruption inside the Catholic clergy?

Yes. Full stop. The connection between all these different stories are (1) bishops lie (maybe not all of the time, but they lie a lot), (2) the bureaucratic machinery of the Church seems to be completely ignorant of the mission of the Church and (3) bishops are willing to ignore, cover up and even cooperate in manifest injustice and even diabolical evil in order to protect . . . What? I don’t know what. Not the Church. Not the people they have a responsibility to protect. Their position and status maybe? Their secrets? Those seem the most likely to me. Their behavior is so strange and inexplicable it suggests they’re probably compromised by their own sins and compromised by decisions they’ve made in the past to allow the rot to persist, and if any of it comes to light maybe all of it will and they’ll face the humiliation of a McCarrick or Wuerl or Farrell or Tobin (although I’m not sure those last three even realize they’ve been humiliated).

One of the most shocking things to me about these stories is learning that bishops are liars. Liars are the worst. How can you be a cleric and be a liar? It’s really not that hard to not be a liar. It’s pretty low hanging fruit. And being a liar is such a character defect that liars do all sorts of other terrible things. That fact that the lies the bishops are telling and the acts that are being covered up are gay acts complicates the story (it, for example, causes the media to ignore a story of corruption they would otherwise be very eager to tell) and, possibly, the solutions. But at the end of the day the problem is the corruption. If what was being uncovered was a network of heterosexual priests preying upon women in the confessional I would be as shocked and disgusted. But I suspect you would be much more willing to talk about that set of facts. And you certainly wouldn’t question the motivation of those trying to uproot and uncover the problem.

#21 Comment By Sharelle Temaat On August 23, 2018 @ 4:51 pm

The problem with this story is that it has nothing to do with Catholicism which is about salvation/damnation. And virtually every diocese does the same religious fluff never getting around to preaching death, judgment, heaven and hell.

They are about this world and all the happiness they can get now because no other hope exists.

#22 Comment By MK On August 23, 2018 @ 5:22 pm

BF: Incredibly, at this late date, he’s blaming the parents of the victims! Sounds like a priest or bishop to me, more likely a bishop. Either Wuerl or Tobin would be a good guess.

If you are a parent, and your kid gets molested, and are blaming:

1) The school system, 2) The Church
3) Society, 4) The Boy Scouts, 5) ….

You have lost your mind! Blame the institution all you want. But it’s you, the parent, who must watch your kids around other adults and check out the environment. I don’t care if it’s a priest, teacher, or whatever. Your responsibility. Period. Trust, but verify.

Keep in mind the Church is not any more of a “problem” here than any other institution, statistically. Parents are crazy to assume it is. And it’s their fault if they do. Nobody should hero-worship priests/pastors. And this goes for Catholics, Protestants, Mormon, Muslim, public schools, your local sports team, the family next door, uncles, whatever. This is a sexually deformed culture and nobody takes responsibility anymore. Not bishops, not cardinals. Everyone just points and sputters and blames others.

Well, not me. I take full responsibility for my kids. But good luck with your approach.

#23 Comment By sara On August 23, 2018 @ 6:31 pm

@ Siarlys Jenkins says: August 23, 2018 at 12:57 pm
“Ah, yes. And anybody “white” has no business writing about any aspect of history involving “black” people, because they just don’t know what it fells like.”

Thank you, Siarlys. I do find it funny that the comment to which Chris was responding was the ONE that I posted in which I expressed absolutely no opinion but simply pointed out the existence of The Gomorrah of St. Peter Damian, something that is simply a fact of history.

#24 Comment By Dcn. JT On August 23, 2018 @ 6:55 pm

How about doing a story on a good and holy seminary? There is plenty of horrible stuff going on in the Church (most of which was decades ago), but it seems like you people are running an assassination campaign on ALL seminaries and seminarians. I’m a transitional deacon (diocesan), and the seminary I attend is a place where good and holy priests are formed. Celibacy is lived out, the priests are tremendous role models, and the seminarians would never tolerate–let alone perpetuate–any sort of “gay culture” here. I’m sure we’re not the only seminary like that in the country…

#25 Comment By Anne (the other one) On August 23, 2018 @ 9:40 pm


What came out in the Boston 2002 crisis, altar servers were raped in the Sacristy before Mass. Father John Geoghan raped over 150 children alone.

These parents were NOT crazy. The Boston Archdiocese was solely at fault.

Are you going to follow your teenager around 24/7? What happens when there is a subsitute teacher? Stay behind stage during class plays? Sit in the backseat in driving ed classes?

Bubble wrapping children isn’t healthy.

#26 Comment By Lidia Michael On August 24, 2018 @ 10:32 am

Is it every seminary? Are there no good seminaries left?

#27 Comment By sara On August 24, 2018 @ 1:02 pm

@ Fr Martin Fox says: August 23, 2018 at 2:59 pm
“I don’t want to be snarky, but come on. There is no “world without women.””

I think you are taking this a bit too literally. Obviously, men would not exist in a world without women and vice versa. I believe what was meant was a world where women’s voices are not heard, where they have no influence or where, at the very least, their voices and influence have little to no value.

#28 Comment By Dale Matson On August 24, 2018 @ 1:31 pm

As Gabe told his story of seminary life, It seemed similar (although not to the degree) to the life and social dynamics of prison.

#29 Comment By Barbara James On August 25, 2018 @ 9:13 am

Raised in a conservative Afro-Caribbean Catholic family, currently a Protestant clergywoman.

I didn’t have any inkling of the lavender mafia when I was in my teens and twenties still attending Catholic churches.

But I knew there was no place for me if I wanted to become ordained, much less be married and have a family as an ordained person.

Running off with the Protestants, I am sure some of my relatives thought I was a heretic. But it seems there are a lot more heretics among the priests and bishops in the RC church.

#30 Comment By davido On August 25, 2018 @ 11:58 am

I am grateful to God in Christ that He led me to be a Protestant evangelical and have nothing to do with the putrid corruption and heretical theology that is Roman Catholicism.

#31 Comment By EngineerScotty On August 26, 2018 @ 12:49 pm

How about doing a story on a good and holy seminary? There is plenty of horrible stuff going on in the Church (most of which was decades ago), but it seems like you people are running an assassination campaign on ALL seminaries and seminarians.

The trouble with that is–where are they, and how do you know? A cynic might argue that there are two types of seminaries–those in which sexual abuse has been reported, and those that haven’t yet been caught. Anyone who portrays Seminary X as holy (look how orthodox the priests in charge are! Look at how chesty the priests it produces) is bound to be embarrassed afterwards. The shining example of traditional Catholic orthodoxy, after all, was (for many years) Maciel, and look how that turned out.

#32 Comment By EngineerScotty On August 26, 2018 @ 1:00 pm

Ah, yes. And anybody “white” has no business writing about any aspect of history involving “black” people, because they just don’t know what it fells like.

(I would agree that a Protestant should not try to describe in detail what the exaltation of experiencing the Eucharist feels like to a devout Roman Catholic or Orthodox practitioner… but that wouldn’t disqualify them from interviewing several who are able to describe it, and then writing about what they said.)

I wouldn’t go that far–and would add that some independence from a subject is often beneficial to careful study of it. Certainly, any argument that smacks of the various theories of “cultural appropriation” that one occasionally sees on the loony left (suggesting, for example, that a white chef cannot and should not run a Thai restaurant–for a famous counter-example and extended debate, google [1]), ought not be taken seriously.

But on some cultural topics, being an “insider” is helpful, simply because outsiders will have a hard time finding out information that is not publicly available or discoverable, but requires trust and access to uncover. Ricker’s skill as a chef of Thai cuisine would be far diminshed if, on his many trips to Thailand, the local chefs and such refused to share anything with this white-skinned American who darkened their kitchen doors.

#33 Comment By EngineerScotty On August 26, 2018 @ 1:54 pm

Shorter version of the letter offered above:

“The real problem isn’t predators in the priesthood, it’s gays in the clergy. And liberals and Vatican II. Please redirect any outrage generated by the former to oppose the latter.”

#34 Comment By Dave On August 26, 2018 @ 9:11 pm

How does one contact the author?

[NFR: Drop me an e-mail at rod — at — amconmag — dot — com, and I’ll forward it to him. — RD]

#35 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 27, 2018 @ 12:09 pm

But on some cultural topics, being an “insider” is helpful

Of course. That is part of the mix.