The Elephant Remains In The Sacristy
Yesterday a reader sent this PDF copy of a letter the Catholic sociologist Richard Sipe sent to Robert McElroy, the current Catholic bishop of San Diego, which went unanswered. You might have heard about Bishop McElroy, a Francis appointee, in relation to his pro-LGBT stances. In this essay from last year, he denounced many Catholics critical of pro-gay Jesuit James Martin as guilty of “homophobia,” “bigotry” and “judgmentalism.” The Sipe letter indicates that Bishop McElroy has been swallowing camels. In the letter, Sipe — one of the most knowledgeable experts about clergy and sexuality — criticizes the bishop for refusing to meet with him to discuss the matter. Excerpts:
Institutional resistance is understandable, if surprising to me. So much of my work has been validated and in many quarters now taken for granted. The number of priests and bishops having sex with minors was not the primary or central focus of the study. But my calculation of 6% (six percent) clergy abusers as a base line has held up very well. [ the most recent validation is between 6 ½ and 9% in the U.S. Some dioceses have registered 23%. Some religious houses have recorded 25%.] Sexual violation within the RC clergy is systemic. I say that on the basis of observation and scientific conclusion. And I say that with empathy and concern.
Now that aspect of the sexual crisis is well known around the world. The crisis behind the scandal will be the next phase of reality with which to come to terms: Namely: the broad range and frequency of sexual behaviors registered in the clerical system. [Emphasis mine — RD]
“At any one time no more than 50% of priests are practicing celibacy.” [Emphasis in the original — RD] That was the hypothesis and thrust of A Secret World (1990) and repeated in Celibacy in Crisis (2003) In May 1993 at the Vatican International Conference on Celibacy in Rome Cardinal Jose Sanchez then Chairman of the Dicastery on Clergy fielded questions about my study and conclusions and a similar sociological statistical report by Fr. Victor Kotze of South Africa. Father Kotze concluded that in any three-year period only 45% of priests were practicing celibacy. When asked directly by reporter Mark Dowd, and a reporter recording for the BBC TV what the Cardinal thought of those studies he said, “I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of those figures”. [Emphasis in the original — RD]
More from the Sipe letter:
Sooner or later it will become broadly obvious that there is a systemic connection between the sexual activity by, among and between clerics in positions of authority and control, and the abuse of children. When men in authority—cardinals, bishops, rectors, abbots, confessors, professors—are having or have had an unacknowledged-secret-active-sex life under the guise of celibacy an atmosphere of tolerance of behaviors within the system is made operative. Many of the sexual patterns are set up during seminary years or in early years after ordination when sexual experimentation is initiated or sustained. The 2009 Vatican Report (in English) on American seminaries invented a new term—transitional homosexuality. I believe this is due to the awareness of the frequent activity in the homosocial structure of seminary and religious life.
Read the whole thing. It’s rough, but necessary. Sipe ends his letter to McElroy with:
Enclosed you will find a list of bishops who have been found wanting in their duties to the people of God.
The list is not part of the letter he posted to his site.
For many years, certain Catholics (I was one of them) have argued that the overall scandal cannot be understood without taking into account the networks of sexually active gay priests and bishops. You’d have to be deliberately blind to fail to see that the overwhelming number of victims of sexual abuse are male, and that most of them are not children, but sexually mature minors. The now-quaint term “lavender mafia” refers to the network of sexually active gay priests and bishops who cover up for each other.
Catholic World Report published this piece on “the gay priest problem” on June 3, 2002 — sixteen years ago.The author is Paul Shaughnessy, a Jesuit priest. It begins by quoting Bishop Raymond Boland (d. 2014), then the ordinary of Kansas City, telling a Kansas City Star reporter that the fact that an unusual number of Catholic priests were dying of AIDS just goes to show how priests are human. Excerpt:
But Bishop Boland, like many of his brethren, is unwilling to concede the major premise. “I would never ask a priest how he got [AIDS],” he told Thomas, “just like nobody asked me two years ago how I got cancer of the colon. But I would provide for him. I would not write him off and say, ‘Because you’ve got AIDS and because there are doubts about how one can acquire it, therefore you’re not a good priest.’” Well, let’s take the case of a 3-year-old girl brought into the emergency room with a broken jaw and cigarette burns on her rib cage. Suppose the hospital personnel said, “Look, there’s more than one way to pick up these injuries, and the girl’s medical treatment will be the same whatever their cause, so there’s no point in asking how she got them.” Most of us would see such a response as a culpably willful refusal to face up to a grim reality. By the same token, when we are urged to pretend that there is room for doubt as to how most priests contract AIDS, we can be sure that our gaze is being intentionally diverted from the ugly and indisputable facts: a disproportionately high percentage of priests is gay; a disproportionately high percentage of gay priests routinely engages in sodomy; this sodomy is frequently ignored, often tolerated, and sometimes abetted by bishops and superiors.
The author goes on to cite the scandalous example of South African bishop Reginald Cawcutt, who had been recently exposed as being part of an online gay priests’ circle. Cawcutt, writing to the group, had called for killing or sodomizing Cardinal Ratzinger, because he was seen as an opponent of gays (“Kill [Ratzinger]? Pray for him? Why not just f— him??? Any volunteers — ugh!!!”). Astonishingly, Pope John Paul II did not cashier the creep. More from the article:
Bishop Cawcutt’s astonishing survivability puts one in mind of President Clinton’s, and to some extent the persistence of the gay priest problem and President Clinton’s immunity to scandal have a common cause: Clinton in his own sphere and gay clergy in theirs have been indispensable agents in the advancement of the liberal agenda. Like their secular counterparts, Catholic liberals, even where they do not positively applaud the sexual recreations of gay priests, are willing to overlook the resultant embarrassment in order that a more important end may be served–in order, that is, that gays may remain as active members in the Church to assist them in their project of replacing ecclesial authority with personal experience as the norm determinative of authentic faith.
The leadership of the liberal movement in the Catholic Church is still today dominated by former priests, brothers, and seminarians who abandoned their vocations in the 1960s and 1970s. 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.
One last excerpt:
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.
Read the whole thing. I remind you: the man who wrote this piece is himself a Jesuit priest. He’s writing from the inside, not the outside.
I bring this all up because a big reason Catholics are having to go through all this horror today with McCarrick is because the Church avoided back then facing up to the truth about the predatory gay networks in the clergy. As a frustrated liberal Catholic journalist told me back then, no Catholic liberals want to touch that story. Father Shaughnessy explained why. It’s also the case, for reasons Fr. Shaughnessy explains, that no secular media outlet wanted to touch it.
Mind you, this was 2002, before the gay rights revolution really started achieving lasting legal and cultural changes. Now that gay rights are widely accepted in American society, and same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, it would seem to me that secular journalists would allow themselves to look at what they wouldn’t look at back then. I’m thinking that pro-LGBT progressives in the Catholic Church, now that they’ve got a favorable pope in place, and key supporters in episcopates, even wearing cardinal’s red, must be afraid now that reporters following the many leads in the McCarrick scandal might unravel the tapestry of illusion behind which they’ve operated so successfully.
They’ve got to be panicking now … which is surely why the progressive Catholic journalist Robert Mickens published this column in the Washington Post saying that the real problem is gay priests who are trapped in the closet by homophobia. Excerpts:
And while no adult who is of sound psychosexual health habitually preys on those who are vulnerable, there is no denying that homosexuality is a key component to the clergy sex abuse (and now sexual harassment) crisis. With such a high percentage of priests with a homosexual orientation, this should not be surprising.
Hold on. That’s quite an admission coming from a progressive Catholic journalist, especially one as senior as the Rome-based Mickens: that “homosexuality is a key component” to all this. This is something that few if any of them would talk about back in 2002 and thereafter — nor would the secular media. More Mickens:
But let me be very clear: psychologically healthy gay men do not rape boys or force themselves on other men over whom they wield some measure of power or authority.
However, we are not talking about men who are psychosexually mature. And yet the bishops and officials at the Vatican refuse to acknowledge this. Rather, they are perpetuating the problem, and even making it worse, with policies that actually punish seminarians and priests who seek to deal openly, honestly and healthily with their sexual orientation.
Mickens does get a lot right. He contends that there are large numbers of gay priests who cannot be honest about their orientation, given the Church’s teachings. He’s right about that, and right that the secrecy is a cancer within the Church. But look at what he does here:
And yet there are gay priests who have found a way to wholesome self-acceptance of their sexuality. Some of them are sexually active, but many live celibately. Arguably, they are among the best and most compassionate pastors we have in our Church.
Yes, Father might be picking up men in a gay bar on the weekend, but arguably, he’s a dear, and if only the Church would get over its homophobia, we’d be better off. Says Robert Mickens, who ends by denouncing the “clericalist, homophobic culture in the Church today.”
You watch: this is going to be the progressives’ stand going forward: the real lesson of the Cardinal McCarrick scandal is that the Church has to allow gay priests to be out and proud and affirmed.
There can be no doubt that Team Mickens is right about how the culture of secrecy, denial, and clericalism facilitates this problem. But there can also be no doubt that his preferred solution would do nothing to arrest the sexual corruption within the clergy, and the hemorrhaging of the Catholic Church’s spiritual and moral authority. If the Catholic Church teaches moral truth about homosexuality, then the Mickens solution is no solution at all, but would instead mean the institutionalization and normalization of serious sin. How is that liberalization working out for the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America — all of which are in demographic collapse?
Pay attention here: in the past, Catholics (and others) on the theological Left and the Right have allowed their own theological and ideological convictions to warp their approach to dealing with the scandal. Neither side has wanted to go after its favorite prelates, or to criticize aspects of Catholic life that would bring discredit to their own causes within the Church. For conservatives, that has meant resistance to discussing the role the culture created by celibacy plays in the scandal, as well as the obedience conservatives show to episcopal authority. For progressives, as I’ve said, it’s what Mary Eberstadt, in a 2002 (!) article, called “The Elephant In The Sacristy”. Excerpts:
What even this brief recitation makes clear is a cluster of facts too enormous to ignore, though many labor mightily to avert their eyes. Call it the elephant in the sacristy. One fact is that the offender was himself molested as a child or adolescent. Another is that some seminaries seem to have had more future molesters among their students than others. A third fact is that this crisis involving minors–this ongoing institutionalized horror–is almost entirely about man-boy sex. There is no outbreak of heterosexual child molestation in the American church. In the words of the late Rev. Michael Peterson, who co-founded the well-known clergy-treating St. Luke Institute, “We don’t see heterosexual pedophiles at all.” Put differently, it would be profoundly misleading to tell the tale of Rudolph Kos–what he was and what he did–without reference to the words “homosexual” and “gay.”
Of course, as the bishops and many other savvy observers of the debate will also know, just such distortion has become commonplace–indeed, is the literary norm–in the daily renditions of what the tragedies in the Church are actually “about.” The dominant view in the press right now–what might be called the “anything-but-the-elephant” theory–reads like this. Whatever the scandals may appear to be about–as it happens, man-boy sex–they are actually about something else. “It should be clear by now,” as the New York Times put it in a classic formulation, “that this scandal is only incidentally about forcing sex on minors.” Similarly, the New Republic: “We all know that the sexual abuse of minors is horrific; but somehow the bishops did not react with horror. That is what truly shocks.” And the New Yorker: “The big shocker has been not so much the abuse itself–awful and heartbreaking though it is–as the coldly bureaucratic ‘handling’ of it by hierarchs like [Boston’s Bernard] Law and the current archbishop of New York, Edward Cardinal Egan.” And, for good measure, the New York Review of Books: “The current scandal is not a sex scandal.”
Some writers do draw attention to the elephant–but only in order to dismiss it. Here is A.W. Richard Sipe, for example, a psychiatrist and former Benedictine monk who is as widely quoted as any other authority on the scandals: “It’s not a gay problem; it’s a problem of irresponsible sexual behavior and the violation of boundaries” (emphasis added here and below). Here is a Jesuit writing in the English Catholic magazine the Tablet: “The problem is not the abusing priests’ homosexuality, but rather their immaturity and their abuse of power.” Thereby has developed what might be called the cultural imperative of the scandal commentary–the proposition, as the president of the gay Catholic organization Dignity put it, that “Homosexuality has nothing to do with it.”
Such strenuous, willful, and perverse denial of the obvious, repeated unceasingly on paper and airwaves and websites these last several months, has been injurious to the greater good on at least two critical counts. First, the insistence on false definitions has deflected attention from where it ought to be–i.e., on who, exactly, has been injured in all this, who has done the injuring, and how restitution might be made. Second, and what is even more dangerous, this widespread repudiation of sheer fact has been inimical to the most important mission facing the bishops and, indeed, all other Catholics. That is the responsibility of doing everything in one’s power to prevent this current history, meaning the rape and abuse of innocents by Catholic priests, from ever being repeated. Insisting that things are not what they appear subverts that end, to say the least.
In what follows, therefore, I propose that we tunnel down through the diverting abstractions in which the debate has been shrouded, and then reason back upward from the level of simple fact. For in focusing precisely on the uncontested facts of cases, we do learn something potentially useful not only to the bishops as they hammer out policies for the future, but also to the victims, and possibly even the perpetrators, of this evil. In order to get there, however, we must be able to call the elephant by its name. The real problem facing the American Catholic church is that a great many boys have been seduced or forced into homosexual acts by certain priests; that these offenders appear to have been disproportionately represented in certain seminaries; and that their case histories open questions about sexuality that–verboten though they may have become–demand to be reexamined.
Please read the whole thing — and reflect on the fact that this appeared in a national magazine (the Weekly Standard) sixteen years ago.
The media averted its eyes back then. It’s going to do the same thing now, if it can — and if it can’t, it’s going to take the Robert Mickens line: that the real problem is homophobia. Don’t you believe it. Don’t you believe it for a second.
Evil, destructive men are getting away with it because many conservative Catholics are afraid to be seen as insufficiently loyal to the Church. Evil, destructive men are getting away with it because many liberal Catholics — and their sympathizers in the media — are afraid to be seen as insufficiently progressive.
One more time: you cannot blame the scandal entirely on gay priests. But until and unless the networks of sexually active, even predatory, gay priests are exposed, and the public understands exactly how they work, and how they’ve worked (often in concert with conservative Catholics reluctant to air the Church’s dirty laundry) to conceal abhorrent behavior, including abuse — nothing will change.
Nothing. Will. Change.
UPDATE: A priest writes:
One point you didn’t make was Mickens’ risible suggestion that the Catholic Church forces gays into the closet.
That is precisely what has NOT happened. So a young man comes back having given up on seminary after one semester saying that on the first night the Rector threw a party and turned up in a T shirt that said “Am I gay?” on the front and “Ask my boyfriend” on the back.
Seminaries called “The Pink Palace” Franciscans marching in the Gay Pride parade, priests (this is practically the default setting) telling young men who experience same sex attraction that they should accept themselves and find a nice boyfriend, the epidemic of priests dying from AIDS. The archbishop who had a gay artist paint a homoerotic mural on the wall of his cathedral and was promoted to be head of the Family whatever in the Vatican? The list goes on. The Catholic Church forcing gays into the closet? Hardly.
I wrote last year about Bishop Paglia’s homoerotic mural, which features his own likeness. He is now the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life.