Richard Sipe :: Priests, Celibacy & Sexuality - Click here to go to Home Page
Search this site
About Richard
Books by Sipe
Click & Learn
Contact Richard
Dialogue & Discussion
Docs & Controversy
Forensic Background
Forensic Reports
Media / News
Photo Galleries
Recommended Reading
Sipe Reviewed
Websites of Interest
Thomas P Doyle
Patrick J Wall
Maureen Turlish
Introduction Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4

 Chapter 1- Seminarians

10 January 2006

Recently a priest from New Jersey alleged in a legal complaint that three members of the American hierarchy have been homosexually active—Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, and Archbishop John Myers of Newark, New Jersey. Another similar allegation was raised previously against Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, New York. (Cf. Kristen Lombardi, The Village Voice, 2-7-06)

I have nothing to say about any legal allegations. They will play out in their own time and way.

Certainly, anyone who feels that they have a legitimate claim of harm against someone else has the right to appeal to the US courts for judgment and redress. That is the American way. As everyone knows, claims of harm done by the sexual activity Catholic clergy are nothing new. And the record stands on civil judgments against a number of bishops who have abused minors.

This lawsuit—no matter its resolution in the courts—raises questions far beyond the provability of sexual activity. That is a daunting challenge.

The major consideration here is the question raised by the Vatican in initiating the question: Are men of homosexual orientation suitable candidates for ordination to the priesthood?

The Instruction the Vatican issued as a guide to the investigation of American seminaries implies that men who have a (deep seated) homosexual orientation are not acceptable candidates for seminary education. Candidates who have a “transitory homosexual orientation” —whatever that is— and others who apparently can make a heterosexual appearance or pose for a certain length of time can pass muster.

Now what is new and raises the level of discourse in the public arena is the question about the sexual orientation of all clergy including cardinals and bishops. They can hardly be left out of consideration and discourse. In fact, the hierarchy of the church is exactly the place to begin to decipher the conundrum about orientation.

If questions about the sexual abuse of minors had been discussed in the public arena of serious consideration rather than kept secret in the back halls of chancery offices, in rumor, and wounded hearts we all would be better off.

Now, Orientation, not behavior is the salient question.

Here, Investigation and not accusation is the proper mode.

Asking the question about a churchman’s orientation some years ago would have been audacious if not downright improper.

To enter into productive dialogue about sexual orientation some clear distinctions have to be made.

  1. Sexual orientation is a moderately stable predetermined preference for one gender or the other as a sexual partner. It is basically a fact of nature.

  2. Orientation is distinct from behavior.

  3. Sexual orientation carriers with it, in itself, no moral implication. There is no sin or virtue attached to having one or the other orientation.

  4. This fact is complicated by two factors: social stigma and the Catholic Church’s convoluted pronouncement that men and women who have a homosexual orientation are inclined toward an “intrinsic evil,” and are “intrinsically disordered.” This opinion cannot stand the test of reason or scientific investigation. The doctrine of Original Sin that all humanity shares is sufficient moral ground for anyone’s sinful inclinations.

  5. The stigma about homosexual orientation is a social problem equal to the stigmas about race and religion that have been, and are still being fought in the arena of social justice. The Catholic Church is essentially dedicated to the pursuit of justice; even if its history has been spotty and its response slow, it ultimately comes out on the side of justice.

  6. This is not a project of “outing.” It is an honest dialogue wittingly or not, initiated by the Vatican.

  7. The object of this project is not finger pointing, shame or guilt.

I have long deliberated on how to advance the discourse about the sexual/celibate tradition of the Catholic Church. Since human sexuality affects us all, lay people and clergy alike, the task is multi-faceted and impossibly daunting. In trying to promote dialogue I disclose my assumptions.


I hold that in the constant tradition of the Catholic Church, homosexually oriented clergy have been held in equal regard as heterosexually oriented clerics. The history of saints and popes, founders and reformers of religious orders are clear evidence that sexual orientation was not a factor in their sanctity or religious productivity.


The concept of sexual orientation is a recently defined way of understanding human nature and behavior. Previously, both moralists and scientists measured and made their judgments on “acts.”


There is no scientific proof that one sexual orientation is superior or inferior to the other. There is no scientific proof that one orientation is more capable of practicing religious celibacy than another.


Church documents from the earliest recorded writings and councils deal with the sexual misbehavior (sins) of clergy. These records are consistent and voluminous. They condemn concubinage and counsel sexual abstinence even by priests within legitimate marriages. Documents also condemn sexual acts of clergy, between themselves and especially with minor boys.


The Catholic Church has every right to include only one gender in its priesthood despite the growing number of laypeople and clergy who question the wisdom of excluding married men and women from its ranks.


The Church has every right to require a promise or vow of celibacy—non-marriage and perfect and perpetual chastity (canon 277)—as a condition for ordination and the practice of priestly functions.


There is no proof that heterosexually oriented men practice celibacy in any greater numbers than homosexually oriented men. In fact the history of celibate violation seems to record just the opposite. A priest sociologist from South Africa (Victor Kotze, 1991) found that 45 percent of priests were sexually active in a 2-year period prior to his study. Even currently responsible records (2002) show that 50 percent of Swiss priests have relationships with women. In Germany 30 percent of priests appear to have more or less continuous sexual relationships with a woman. A study of Spanish priests (Pepe Rodriguez, 1995) claims that 53 percent of priests are sexually active with adult women, while 21 percent are sexually active with adult men. This examiner states that 26 percent of priests have been sexually active with minors (14 percent with minor boys, and 12 percent with minor girls.) In all, 65 percent of sexually active priests chose partners of the opposite sex. (Cf. Vatican Fights the Numbers )


The Vatican, in effect, if not in intention is in the process of making scapegoats of homosexually oriented priests (and men) under the mistaken illusion that there is a relationship between homosexuality (an orientation) and pedophilia-ephebophilia (a particular object of sexual desire). There is not one shred of scientific evidence to support that assumption.


The Catholic Church does have major problems and faces epic challenges in the area of its sexual moral teaching and practice.


In the light of the history of the Catholic Church, it is highly unlikely that it will be successful in excluding homosexually oriented men from its ranks. It is even more unlikely that the effort will solve its problems about celibate practice.


Serious questions also arise about the church’s right to eliminate from priesthood a segment of the gender it qualifies for ordination on the basis of an orientation that has been erroneously and arbitrarily labeled “intrinsically disordered.” There is no more scientific evidence for that judgment than exists for supporting the idea that the sun revolves around the earth. With its current sexual/celibate moral perspective the Church is reenacting the same quality and order of scientific error that it made at the time of Galileo.

 It is clear to me that all of us who care about the Catholic Church need to talk—directly, honestly, and openly.

Back to Top