Rev. John Shuster
I believe there is a direct relationship between sexual politics in the priesthood/hierarchy and any reform group’s ability to change the church. The key to VOTF’s survival and success lies in backing the right issues, understanding the needs and culture of the priesthood/hierarchy that owns and controls the church, and being relentless in the art of polite public confrontation that exposes sexual and financial improprieties and compels other Catholics to join and support you for change through strategic action.
Sexual politics in the priesthood/hierarchy
The myth of sexuality in the priesthood is that it is comprised overwhelmingly of straight men who are 99.9% sexually chaste in faithfulness to their promise/vow of celibacy. Mandatory celibacy is part of the power base of the priesthood/hierarchy. Because it serves a political function, a priest’s sexuality is not private, but a public issue. Catholics have been taught to honor and support priests because they profess to have forgone a traditional family to lead sexually chaste lives in prayer and service to the people of the church. That’s the ideal. The reality is quite different.
For centuries, gay men have been beaten, burned at the stake, tortured and killed for being whom God made them. They have suffered great loss personally and collectively. Like any group of persecuted people, they have sought safe places to hide and thrive. The priesthood, with its public and mandatory promise/vow of celibacy, became a perfect haven of safety and instant respect for gay men. It serves them well because it’s socially acceptable for them not to marry a woman and they live in-close with other men - somewhat beyond suspicion. They enjoy a comfortable lifestyle replete with the adulation of parishioners who have been taught to believe in the myth of total sexual abstinence within the clerical celibate lifestyle.
Gay men’s common history of suffering and the search for belonging, especially post Stonewall (google “Stonewall Riots” for background), has created a strong camaraderie among gay men in the priesthood. A core goal of the gay rights movement is to build political alliances that provide for the safety and well-being of the gay community. The common and well grounded fear of violence and persecution from straight people not only helps strengthen this bonding among gay men in general, but has also generated new political realities in the priesthood.
With the developing politicization of the gay rights movement and the widespread portrayal in our electronic media and literature of gay men as heroic yet still victimized by straight culture, much compassion has developed for the cause of gay rights. And rightly so. However, this compassion has superseded common sense and critical thinking at times. In certain venues, anyone attempting to criticize the shortcomings of a gay man and his leadership potential in a church setting can find himself or herself the target of a piranha-like attack from gay-friendly supporters. I think it is important to maintain a healthy balance between compassion for gay people and the realities of Catholic Church clerical gay politics.
Of the many effective gay priests I know, there are also those gay priests in leadership positions who lack the personal strength and qualities to provide balanced leadership that always finds the best solutions for the church. The worst gay church leaders I have met have been terminally narcissistic and vindictive towards anyone who might call them to task. The classic “power and control” explanation for their takeover and abuse of church power is a correct analysis in a general sense, but lacks the nuanced sexual politics specificity that many Catholics sense but find difficult to identify, articulate, and challenge. The need for clerical control has been expressed at the sexual level as well, and sometimes, unfortunately, with children and young people. I have spoken with gay survivors of clergy sex abuse. Often, their first sexual experience as confused gay teens was with the priest who was counseling them. The priest decided to “comfort” the teen by taking him to bed. That is abuse, statutory rape, and a legally prosecutable breach of a superior-subordinate relationship. Those priests belong in jail.
Priests who lead secret, active sexual lives are also open to blackmail and extortion. Those who abuse children are criminal manipulators by trade. They will use any means possible to gain access to children and then work to be protected once they have abused. When a predator priest finds out that Bishop Bill and Father Fred went on a gay cruise together last fall out of Miami, the bishop is compromised. The threat of outing makes Bishop Bill a compliant secret sponsor of the abuser. Is homosexual politics in the priesthood the sole cause of the sexual abuse crisis? No. Does it play a central role in the complex reality of the sexual abuse crisis? Yes, it does.
A number of gay priests of integrity have also left the clerical ranks in recent years. They have done so in many cases because they have rejected the sexual politics they have encountered and have a desire to lead a sexually authentic life with a partner/spouse. We have a number of partnered priests who are members of our Celibacy Is the Issue (www.rentapriest.com) group to which I belong. These priests need to speak out and share their spiritual journeys with you and the wider church populace.
What is the percentage of straight versus gay priests in the Roman or Latin rite of the priesthood? The few studies that exist estimate a gay population of anywhere from 10 to near 70 percent. Why the inconclusive spread? The hierarchy has successfully resisted any comprehensive third-party study of the sexual orientation of the priesthood. Why won’t the bishops allow a full and open analysis? What do they have to hide? This same culture of clerical secrecy was encountered by journalists, police, and insurance investigators trying to get to the bottom of the clergy sex abuse atrocity. What are the bishops fighting to protect this secrecy?
There are indicators that point to the reality of a politicized homosexual majority in the priesthood and its hierarchy.
Richard Sipe has been researching sexuality in the priesthood for over 40 years. He is a psychologist and educator who recently co-authored Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes with Tom Doyle and Patrick Wall tracking the nearly 2000-year history of abuse in the church. After reading Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes I understood more clearly the issues that drove me out of my chosen profession of parish priest. One of Sipe’s latest research areas is the sexual orientation of bishops and how this impacts the inner workings and policies of the Roman Catholic Church. Richard and I exchange emails and he has posted some of our correspondence on his website. The following webpage from his site discusses priestly sexuality and provides a revealing list of papal and episcopal sexual orientation:
It is my opinion that today’s priesthood/hierarchy is over 50% gay. That number brings significant political power and influence to the group of men who legally own and direct our institutional Roman Catholic Church in the style of a medieval oligarchy.
The early church that was closest to Jesus was family-based and leadership was shared by women and men. According to Acts 15, it was a democratic church where everyone had a voice. We have an established history, a clear precedent, of a married priesthood in our tradition that was suppressed at the Second Lateran Council in 1139. Women were also priests in the early church for the first 500 years. (Torjesen, K. J. When Women Were Priests. Harper San Francisco. 1993) Despite parish closures and the reduction of sacramental ministry to the Faithful, the current hierarchy has reaffirmed that celibacy will stay, and no discussion is even allowed concerning the ordination of women. Given the dire need for more priests to drive our sacramental ecclesiology, what is the hierarchy really trying to safeguard and protect? Why do they limit membership in the priesthood only to men who promise not to marry women? We all know the standard answers we get from the Vatican in response to these questions about mandatory celibacy. Does the reality of a politicized homosexual majority in the priesthood/hierarchy change your perception concerning the motivation for these official reasons to maintain mandatory celibacy for priests and exclude women and married persons from the inner sanctums of church power?
In chapter seven of his book, The Changing Face of the Priesthood, Donald Cozzens provides varying information about the percentage of gay/straight men in the priesthood and seriously discusses the thesis that priesthood is a gay profession. The theme of homosexuality in the priesthood is a far from understated in his writing. It is a constant thread in this book.
I recently spoke with a respected journalist who has interviewed a number of Roman Catholic religious leaders – arch/bishops, religious provincials, etc. I told him of my interest in researching homosexuality in the priesthood and its political ramifications. He told me up front that he was gay and stated that all but one of the religious leaders he has interviewed recently are gay men. When I asked if, in his opinion, the priesthood was a predominantly gay profession, his response was “Yes. Most definitely.”
I was contacted by a “researcher” a few months ago, likely a journalist or an author, who is trying to document the transfer of funds from arch/diocesan bank accounts to gay rights organizations. She found some of my writing on the Internet, was impressed with my frankness, and thought that I could help her find a way to get through the organizational barbed-wire fences protecting such information in the institutional church. I told her up front that I had no magic wand to help her get this data. As I asked her more specific details about her project, she politely wound down the conversation and thanked me for my time. People are tracking this issue of sexual politics in the priesthood – at a number of different levels.
Like many married Roman Catholic priests, I have witnessed first-hand the practical consequences of the predominance of homosexual leadership in the priesthood. During my eighteen years in the seminary/priesthood a number of priests declared their love for me and invited me to bed. The most surprise kiss I ever received was from a priest. I heard many straight priests complain over the years how they were excluded from projects or promotions/assignments because they did not take part in the social and sexual activities of the gay majority. They were excluded and left behind because they were not gay.
As a young priest, I was very impressed with an older priest, Father Patrick. He was an excellent homilist, erudite, well-read, and witty. I wanted to get to know him better. I was a young priest looking for a mentor. We developed a friendship and spent hours discussing theology, etc. One night he asked me to sit down for a talk. He began the conversation by saying: “John Fitzpatrick and Patrick Fitzjohn.” At first, I laughed at his apparent play on words. Then it hit me (remember my name is John) and I understood what he was really saying. I started to feel nauseous. I was scandalized in the truest and deepest sense of the word. He just looked at me because the ball was in my court. He had come out to me and invited me, in not too subtle code, to engage in anal sex. I recovered enough from the shock to shake my head “no” in response. He ignored me from that day on.
I was an idealistic seminarian. I believed that once I graduated from the predominantly gay Midwestern seminary of the 70’s that I would be with the real, professional, and dedicated priests who lived the ideals I had learned in my Catholic upbringing. (My contacts in the priesthood tell me that the seminaries are still predominantly gay.) I quickly learned that there is a well-developed gay network in the priesthood and homosexual activity is a litmus test for franchise-level participation in the power structure. Something broke in me that day with Father Patrick. With hindsight, I have come to believe that mandatory celibacy has become a political tool used by gay men in the priesthood to sustain their safe haven and their financial and sexual arrangements. In today’s church, celibacy does not work to promote the Kingdom of Heaven, but to serve a small and secret kingdom right here in plain sight on earth.
It makes clear sense why one out of every three priests has left the corporate priesthood to marry – they were slowly and methodically driven out by the pervasive majority gay culture. Many straight priests were scandalized by the double standards they witnessed and they left the sexual corruption they encountered to start a new life. Married priests are usually described as having “left the priesthood to marry.” It should be more accurately stated that many straight priests decided to leave the clerical lifestyle because they found it difficult to live in a clearly homosexual environment – all men and no women. Once that decision was made, it was only natural for straight priests to marry women and get on with their lives. The gay priests stayed in the clerical system that they dominate and where they have their intimate significant-other relationships, while still publicly functioning as priests in good standing with the blessings of the Vatican.
Of the straight priests who have stayed, many have also taken to leading sexual double lives on a permanent or sporadic basis. I know of straight canonical priests who go from woman to woman and they too are moved from parish to parish when the scandal of their abuse of position is exposed. I’ve talked with women whom priests have romanced with the false hope of marriage then abandoned. There are also priests out there with hidden families. Imagine the denial and stress that places on wives of active canonical priests and their children. They are forced to live double lives too. They don’t deserve a life of secrecy and avoidance of the truth.
For every straight priest who has become sexually involved with a woman against his promise/vow of celibacy, I have observed three gay priests who have broken their vows with men. The straight priests tend to leave the corporate priesthood for traditional marriage life based on a spiritual model of partnership. Gay church officials stay because they own the church leadership system - culturally and legally. It protects and sustains them, and gives them a forum for love and security that is well hidden from critical view behind the veil of “celibacy”.
When news of the sex abuse atrocity hit the media in 2002, do you recall the first corporate response from the US hierarchy? Their proclamation was “Celibacy does not cause pedophilia.” Most people nodded in agreement with this deflection, but there was a deeper issue at play. Of all the subjects they could have addressed, why did they choose to protect mandatory celibacy first and foremost? Mandatory celibacy and the myth of sexual continence/purity is critical to protecting the gay majority culture of the priesthood. So, it makes good sense for VOTF to choose celibacy as a central issue. With mandatory celibacy lifted for priesthood, all viable candidates will be able to present themselves for priestly studies and ordination. Many are called to priesthood, but few to mandatory celibacy. The influx of married persons and women into the priesthood would dilute the predominantly homosexual power block in the church. Will the current hierarchy ever allow that to happen?