Celibacy, not secrecy is the guide to sexual integrity
FEBRUARY 26, 2006 Cardinal-designate William Levada gave an address during
the installation of the new rector of the American College in Rome. An
article reporting the talk ran under the headline Levada urges gay
priests to remain in closet. Reports from Rome say that he made a
direct connection between homosexuality in the clergy and the pedophilia
are grave errors for someone in his position to make. He also referred to
the harm done by priests who announce their homosexual orientation as if
the faithful are too ignorant to make the distinction between orientation
Vatican is quite confused about sex, as is demonstrated in its Instruction
on the Visitation of Seminaries where it talks about “deep-seated
homosexual tendencies” and “transitional homosexuality” and suggests that
three years of sexual abstinence (presumably homosexual) qualifies one to
practice celibacy for life. The confusion that leads church leaders to ask
homosexually oriented priests to remain closeted only increases the
opportunity and danger for good priests—heterosexual and homosexual—to
carry on secret, non celibate lives.
Celibacy, not secrecy is the guide to sexual integrity.
Roman Catholic Church cannot re-establish its integrity or its credibility
until it is clear about the distinction between sexual orientation and
behavior; between homosexuality and pedophilia; and the real meaning of
celibate practice. To neglect open and honest dialogue leaves the church
and clergy open to ridicule, and worse, hypocrisy.
posting the following names it must be clear that there is no accusation
of sexual activity on the part of anyone named. This is distinct from the
Anglican Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire who professed not only his
orientation but revealed his male partner. Certainly, listed here are
opinions—some would say “allegations”—of orientation. Each name has been
closely vetted based on some—usually public—facts that can lead to a
reasonable opinion. (This section was written March 1)
intent was to publish at this time some preliminary results of our study
of the sexual orientation of American bishops. We have posted thoughts on
the development and progress of the study from time to time:
I can already say with reasonable
psychological certainty that 34% of the American Hierarchy have a
homosexual orientation or have been involved in homosexual activity.
March 5, I had submitted a list of 55 names of the American hierarchy to
12 well-informed Catholics, clergy and lay, in the United States, Europe,
(and Rome). Of the total names on the list, 10 are alleged to be
heterosexual in orientation.
the consultants had an argument with the names on the list; no one had any
reservation about the designation of orientation or the substantiating
data. But all except one (a person from Rome) discouraged the publication
of the names at this time.
strongest argument for delay is that the object of the study—to foster
discussion on basic issues of celibate function in the priesthood and to
establish clear distinctions between sexual orientation and behavior—would
be lost behind a surge of sensationalism. A European scholar who
understands my reasoning and the study pointed out that even a pope’s
sexual orientation must eventually come up for consideration if the
inquiry is followed to its logical conclusion.
the same kind of caution and opposition before the publication of my
study, A Secret World, in 1990. And of course, its publication led
to a good deal of personal aspersions and “black-balling” from a number of
the Catholic hierarchy; and I lost some friends. However, what I wrote
then is now considered routine knowledge and raises little debate. At this
age I hold little fear of personal repercussions or rejection because of
my life work. Any teacher must be willing to risk misunderstanding.
my 1990 publication no names were used. This does change my current
dilemma about publication. The problem in publishing this study—even in
its preliminary but well-substantiated form—is that it does name names.
This could be construed as an attack. That is not, and has never been the
object of the research.
am, on the advice of people who, like me, are concerned with the welfare
of the church, going to postpone the publication of the first part of my
study on the sexual orientation of the American hierarchy.
contention, based on all my years of the study of religious celibacy, is
that many men ordained to the priesthood do not know their sexual
orientation. They are taught to avoid thinking about sex as a danger and
temptation. This not only leaves them immature, but also vulnerable to the
realities of their own sexual drives and the process of developing healthy
affective relationships as they assume priestly duties. Pastoral ministry
and contact becomes for them a sexual trap. Ignorance, fear, guilt, and
shame are very poor guides for making solid moral decisions. Lack of
knowledge of one’s orientation leads many well-intentioned and talented
clerics—including bishops—into harmful sexual activity. The facts make it
obvious. The problems will continue. The validity and usefulness of my
observations will not go away because of a delay.
it to point out that Cardinal-designate Levada’s advice to 170 seminarians
at the American College is counter-productive to the development of
celibacy; it fosters hypocrisy and is destructive to the process of
healthy personality integration.
deception and dishonesty shatter credibility whenever they exist under the
cloak of ignorance and secrecy. It is not necessary for anyone to announce
his sexual orientation to be honest. Privacy and confidentiality are
different than secrecy. What is essential to develop celibacy is for a
person to know, accept, and live his life with sexual integrity. Celibacy
will not flourish in any dark and secret heterosexual or homosexual
convinced that a person cannot enter into a reliable pursuit of religious
celibacy unless he has an informed, clear, firm, and, accepting sense of
his own sexual orientation. What ever it is. This is the context in which
solid moral decisions can be made and emotional maturity can flourish.
Vatican study of seminaries bets its reputation and money on the
proposition that doctrinal orthodoxy will insure personality maturity and
I do not
know how to say it any more clearly: the stakes of history are against the
equation that orthodoxy equates with virtue; scientific evidence rejects
that proposition; reality defies that claim. Intellectual orthodoxy and
conformity do not translate into or equate with moral behavior or virtuous
choices. In fact, rigidity of mind and unquestioning adherence to someone
else’s reasoning is a dangerous basis for intellectual, personality, and
tried for decades to convince bishops and rectors of seminaries—any of the
few who would listen—to institute adequate training into the seminary
curriculum that would match the life demand that celibacy requires. I have
failed. In 1984, when I was still on the staff of a Pontifical Seminary I
asked the rector to allow me to teach a semester course on How to Be
Celibate. He said that it was unnecessary since the professor of moral
theology spent two weeks on that subject in his course.
intervening years I have become less modest about my suggestion and more
adamant about the demand that seminarians be educated about celibacy. I
now am convinced that no less than a 3-year, 6-semester sequence should be
required before a man is allowed to make a promise of life-long celibacy.
That is not the only requirement. It is a minimum. In the process of
dealing with hundreds of cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy—bishops
and priests—I was asked to develop a syllabus for the 3-year sequence I
proposed. Lawyers, not the church tendered that request. It was used as
part of the non-monetary demands for the settlement of some sexual abuse
cases. Neglect by superiors in selection, education, and supervision of
the offending priests have been prominent in the large financial judgments
imposed against the church.
of all the words to the contrary I see zero to little progress in the
church in coming to real terms with sexual failures and abuse by its
ministers. The structural elements that have tolerated abuse are still
firmly in place. Church authority simply does not take celibate practice
Instruction in the historical, physical, psychological and, pastoral
dimensions of celibacy have to accompany the spiritual, ascetic, and
sacramental aspects of this important commitment. If a priest has first a
celibate vocation and then a vocation to priesthood (Cf. Archbishop Daniel
Pilarczyk, 1990), as the Catholic Church teaches and requires he must be
trained for that primary vocation.
patch-dab occasional seminars on sexuality are not adequate to produce
experts in celibacy—as every priest should be. Sexual/celibate training as
it now exists in seminaries is window dressing at best, and harmful when
it perpetuates the illusion that it fulfils the requirement for sex and
celibacy instruction. Every priest should be as much of an expert on
celibacy as he is in scripture. No seminary currently educates students to
meet that obligation.
seminary system instituted after the Council of Trent depended on IT to
train men for celibate living. And most bishops still hold that belief.
That training in regard to celibacy has failed miserably in many cases.
Louis Tronson, the third Superior General of the Sulpicians (1676-1700), a
society of priests dedicated to the education of priests, wrote: There
are few priests who fulfill all [their] obligations; whence I infer a most
dreadful consequence; There are few priests who will be saved. Sts.
Bernard and Alphonsus Ligouri had even harsher judgments.
attention to teaching celibacy honestly and openly is not the only reason
for the crisis of sexual activity and abuse by Catholic priests.
among the reasons that seminary formation for celibacy fails is exactly
what Archbishop Levada recommended—concealing, denying, and in effect not
dealing with the issue of one’s sexual orientation.
major reason that training for celibacy fails in seminaries is that a
significant number of the faculties are themselves sexually active. And
beyond that, some of the faculty are sexually active with the seminarians
they are teaching, counseling, or have in spiritual direction. Even
priests on the faculty who are not sexually active are sometimes
uneducated and over indulgent with students whose actions are evidently
judged as “transitional”—in the words of the Vatican.
church not only neglects adequate instruction on celibacy, it fails to
examine what the system does to influence—encourage and
produce—sexual activity. Secrecy and denial of reality continue to have
claims that current criticism of the church, hierarchy, and the priesthood
are signs of anti-Catholicism are false and the product of misguided
public relations efforts. One has only to listen to the words of saints
and reformers on the priesthood—Francis, Ignatius, Catherine of Sienna,
Etc. among them—to know that those who care most about the church can be
its most incisive critics.
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