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Introduction Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4

 Chapter 4 - Bishops Too

Do Bishops Have A Sexual Orientation?

Aug 1, 2006

The question of sexual orientation is not just an American question or merely a Catholic concern let alone the sole focus of Roman Catholic clergy. But it is an important human question in which religion, and Catholicism in particular, ought to take a lead in addressing—because justice and human rights are at stake every bit as much in this area as in issues of racial, religious, and ethnic justice.

One incident that brings the issue to mind is an Associated Press release on March 3, 2006 that notes that the publisher of a weekly newspaper in Cameroon (where homosexuality is illegal) was sentenced to four months in jail for publishing the names of people alleged to be gay or lesbian. (A Catholic Bishop was among those named.) The publication and subsequent trial led to a spike of anti-gay riots.

So much for understanding and tolerance—and rationality for that matter!

If a journalist publishes the names of people and identifies them as heterosexual is he also subject to the threat of incarceration?

Sex Not A Private-Personal Matter For a Priest

The declaration of sexuality for a priest is not a private matter. His promise of celibacy makes the promise of his sexual life an open book.

Religious celibacy is a freely chosen, dynamic state, usually vowed (promised) that involves an honest and sustained attempt to live without direct sexual gratification, in order to serve others productively, for a spiritual motive. [Oxford Companion to Christian Thought]

Catholic priests and religious are among an extremely small group of human beings who make their sexual practice—lack of it—public. The Church and the priest actually guarantee that clergy are sexually safe because a priest cannot be ordained or maintain his ministry if he is not celibate.

Some theologians who do not know the essence and the constant church teaching about celibacy try to rationalize that celibacy means only to remain unmarried. That is not what canon law says:

Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are obliged to observe celibacy, which is a special gift of God, by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and can more freely dedicate themselves to the service of God and humankind. (Canon 277)

Recently a priest-canon lawyer-from Catholic University of America argued, “In as much as celibacy refers to the obligation of remaining unmarried, no priest violates this obligation by sexual misconduct with minors or vulnerable adults. He does violate, however, his obligation of continence when he engages in any kind of sexual relationship.”

This is an argument cut from the same cloth posed by a religious superior that made the claim that “two or three failures in a year do not constitute a violation of celibacy.” I responded at the time that his reasoning means that a priest may abuse three minors a year and still claim celibacy; or even more audaciously, a priest could impregnate two or three women in a year and still claim celibacy.

A priest who was being investigated by the police protested that he was “celibate”—he had had sex with only 4 women and 10 men in the dozen years since his ordination. Another priest who was admitted to a hospital and diagnosed with AIDS claimed that such a conclusion was impossible since he was a “celibate.” The medical conclusion stood. This kind of reasoning is fallacious and insidious. Catholic lay people do not buy it; and bishops shouldn’t either.

But even educated and sophisticated priests like Andrew Greeley fail to make the distinction between the nominal identification “celibate”—a person who takes the vow—and a person who is practicing sexual abstinence. Scientific surveys conducted in connection with the Los Angeles Times render a conclusion by Greeley that priests are the “happiest” men in America. Greeley calls this group “celibates,” but no real effort is expended to determine the actual pattern and practice of celibacy.

Failures In Practice

Certainly failures in the practice of celibacy are possible. Masturbation is the most common sexual “sin” that bishops and priests commit. Most lay people would grant clergy a dispensation for that failure even when they hold themselves to a higher standard. They will not go along with sexual relationships with minors. No excuses. That behavior does not fall under the rubric of celibacy, neither does an on-going relationship with a woman or man, nor does the use of pornography. A failure can be understood; a pattern of behavior is different. Forgiveness of a failure is not denied, but hypocrisy is intolerable.

Tolerance for a human weakness in a priest or bishop does not demand that he expose each incidental sexual failing to public scrutiny, but that understanding does not extend to tolerance of a double life. Bishops or priests who have mistresses or male companions no longer qualify as “celibates,” no matter how understandable their behavior.


The first step toward making celibacy more teachable and more practicable is to clarify the distinction between orientation and behavior. By demonizing orientation and confusing it with a “tendency toward evil” we obscure the importance of behavior. Reality is blurred just as it is when we fail to make the distinction between “celibacy” as a designation and celibacy as an actual practice.

So at the heart of the matter are fairness in regard to sexual orientation and its clear operational distinction from sexual behavior. The Vatican is proceeding with its examination of Catholic seminaries in the United States. If representatives of an organization are going to demand a revelation of one’s orientation as a condition of employment, the ones demanding that condition should disclose theirs. The bishops and priests who are examining the seminaries with a mandate to eliminate homosexually oriented candidates from seminaries have a responsibility: In fairness the examiners must reveal their orientation to those examined. To do less makes a charade of the process and becomes a testament to hypocrisy. What is more the inquiry takes on the specter of a witch-hunt.

Sexual orientation is not to be equated with behavior. Orientation is a given of nature. Behavior involves choice. Character and behavior count in determining one’s fitness for ministry. Orientation does not.

The Unnecessary Hero

A few heroic and honest priests are emerging who have declared their sexual orientation. That is heroic because it is not necessary, and at this time may open them up for ridicule. But that act of honest defiance is a step toward a normalization of the reality of sexuality that will not be eliminated from bias and hate until orientations are recognized as differences like the color of skin or eyes.

No place is better suited to leading the way to clarity about sexual orientation than the Catholic Church. The reason? Catholic saints have demonstrated for centuries that homosexual orientation is not an impediment to service, holiness, or love. Neither is heterosexual orientation a guarantee of the same. The tradition of celibacy has been a service to humanity. Celibacy puts sexual orientations in their place—of no account as far as celibacy is concerned. Every sexual orientation is equally open to grace and redemption. Every orientation is capable of perversion.

Members of the foreign press corps in Rome talk freely among themselves about the orientation of Popes: Pius XII (divided opinion), John XXIII, heterosexual, Paul VI, homosexual, John Paul II, heterosexual, and Benedict XVI, homosexual. They are not talking about behavior, and certainly not about any deviancy, vice or virtue. They are making informed observations about orientation—not about denigration or praise, or qualitative evaluations, strength or weakness. They are recognizing one of the inevitable facts of human existence—everyone has a predominant sexual orientation.

The New Ways Ministry is a gay-positive ministry of advocacy, justice and reconciliation for lesbian and gay Catholics, families and friends. Since 1977 they have worked for justice and on behalf of lesbian and gay Catholics and reconciliation within the larger Christian and civil communities. I have known a number of straight priests who have aided and support the work of the ministry. Even they are overly careful not to identify orientation out side their own circle as if it were an insult or “crime”—not unlike Cameroon.

Likewise, DignityUSA is the United States' largest and most progressive organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Catholics. They make great efforts to counter the dishonest, hate-filled, anti-gay rhetoric so prevalent inside and outside the Catholic Church. The organization and its members have a wide spectrum of Catholics who support them and the ideals they stand for. The group is sensitive to the dishonesty among many bishops, priests and lay Catholics about sex, celibacy and sexual orientation. They too, are violently, or at least cautiously resistant, to dealing openly with the issues of orientation in the clergy. They still think of such talk as “outing”—forced exposure of ones orientation—rather than open honest consideration of facts rather than accusations or insults.

Until the Catholic Church leads the way to reason, justice, and honesty in all matters sexual the crisis in the Church and among the clergy will continue and prevail. Making clear the distinction between orientation and behavior is one necessary step in that process. This will promote the knowledge of the equality of sexual orientations and eliminate myths and misconceptions that hide evils and hypocrisies. 

I wish to reemphasize and reiterate what I have written previously in this series. (Sexual Orientation #1, #2, and #3) Vatican statements about sex are confused. This is clear in its Instruction on the Visitation of Seminaries where it talks about “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” and “transitional homosexuality” and its equation of sexual orientation with behavior. Cardinal Levada, now head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the Office of the Inquisition) on February 26, 2006 asked homosexually oriented priests to remain closeted. This suggestion is a travesty and 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.

The 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.

I do not believe—in fact I emphatically reject—the Vatican statements that declare that homosexual orientation is an “objective disorder.” The Vatican’s reasoning is that the orientation itself “is a more or less strong tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil.” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 10-1-86)

This opinion has no scientific merit; it is not a position of “human reason illuminated by faith.” It is simply false. It is wrong-headed. Homosexual orientation is NOT an objective disorder.

Likewise, this concept is theologically meaningless; it is insincere, untruthful, and perverted. The doctrine of Original Sin is sufficient to take care of all humans whatever their sexual orientation.

I am not dealing here with homosexual acts. That is a different discussion—an important and essential dialogue, but it necessarily involves separate issues of the nature of human sexuality (scientific) free choice, the meanings of love and human relationships, the evolution of biology and morality. And more.

In posting the following names it must be clear that there is no accusation of sexual activity on the part of anyone named. Listed here are opinions of orientation. Each name has been closely vetted based on some—usually public—facts that can lead to a reasonable opinion.



Location of Diocese

Opinion of Orientation

Cardinal Anthony  J. Bevilacqua

Philadelphia, PA


+Cardinal Joseph Bernardin
Chicago, IL
Homosexual / Bisexual

Bishop Robert H. Brom

San Diego, CA


+Cardinal John Cody

Chicago, IL


Bishop Edward P. Cullen

Allentown, PA


Bishop Paul V. Dudley

Sioux Falls, SD


Bishop Thomas L. Dupre

Springfield, MA


Cardinal Edward M. Egan

New York, NY


+Joseph A. Ferrario

Honolulu, HI


Archbishop Harry J. Flynn
St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN
Heterosexual / Bisexual

+Bishop Louis E. Gelineau

Providence, RI


+Bishop Francis Joseph Green

Tucson, AZ


+Bishop Joseph Green Reno/Las Vegas NV Homosexual
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory Atlanta GA Homosexual

+Bishop George H. Guilfoyle

Camden, NJ


Bishop Joseph Hart

Cheyenne, WY


Bishop Howard J. Hubbard

Albany, NY


+Bishop Thomas Lyons

Washington, D.C.


Bishop Robert N. Lynch

St. Petersburg, FL


+Bishop Leo T. Maher

San Diego, CA


Bishop Richard J. Malone

Portland, ME


Archbishop Eugene A. Marino                                            

Atlanta, GA


Cardinal Theodore McCarrick

Newark, NJ


Bishop James F. McCarthy

New York, NY


+Bishop Emerson Moore

New York, NY


+ Bishop P. Francis Murphy Baltimore MD Heterosexual

Archbishop John J. Myers

Newark, NJ



Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell Palm Beach, FL Homosexual

Archbishop John R. Quinn

San Francisco, CA


+Bishop James S. Rausch

Phoenix, AZ


Bishop Frank J. Rodimer

Paterson, NJ


Bishop George E. Rueger

Worcester, MA


Bishop Daniel L. Ryan

Springfield, IL


Archbishop Robert  Sanchez

Santa Fe, NM


Bishop Lawrence D. Soens

Sioux City, IA


+Cardinal Francis Spellman

New York, NY


Cardinal J. Francis Stafford Denver CO Homosexual

Bishop Joseph R.. Sullivan

Baton Rouge, LA


Bishop J. Keith Symons

Palm Beach, FL


Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland Milwaukee, WI Homosexual

+Bishop Lawrence H. Welsh

Spokane, WA


Bishop J. Kendrick Williams

Lexington, KY


+Cardinal John Wright

Pittsburgh, PA


Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann

Santa Rosa, CA


              + indicates those who are deceased

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