Recommended Reading
La Vida sexual del Clero
The Priesthood in Spain
Pepe Rodriguez
Editiones B. Serie Reporter, Pp. 360, 1995.

AUTHORITIES IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH are not interested in learning facts about the actual pattern and practice of celibacy among priests or religious, or among their own ranks for that matter.[1] This is as true of Spain as it is in the United States. Bishops are not interested now and they were not interested in 1990 when I published my study, A Secret World, or in 1995 when this book and Sex, Priests, and Power [2] were published. Even more astonishingly the bishops of the United States turned their collective thumbs down and noses up at the most sophisticated evaluation of the crisis of clergy abuse of minors written specifically as a service to them in 1985[3].

In 1990 an Archbishop wrote after reading my book ”I would have to say that it (the figures of sexual activity) certainly corresponds with so much I learned these twenty-seven years as a Superior.” He went on to say that although he knew that my book was not anti-celibacy he feared that it would be perceived as such and further it would be seen as disloyal and contribute to “a kind of voyeurism about the sex life of clerics.” I have not found one scholar (or Vatican official) who seriously disagrees with my conclusion that at any one time no more than 50 percent of clergy are practicing celibacy. That, of course, means that most priests are sexually active for a part or the whole of their priesthood. A 2006 report from Brazil also said that 50 percent of the priests there are not practicing celibacy.

I have not found it necessary to revise my 1985 estimates of clergy celibate/sexual practice save for priests who involved themselves with minors (upward to 9 percent), and homosexual orientation currently to 30-40 percent. Some people raise a hew and cry over the methodology Rodriguez and I used, (even as they agree with our figures). No one has presented better figures; none has come up with any better way to study the actual sexual practice and behavior of bishops and priests. Rodriquez suffered antagonism, but not disagreement on his figures.[4] His work needs to be added to the glossary of the sexual pattern and practice of men who are presented to the public as sexually abstinent (celibate).

Current studies about priests use well established sociologically, random selected clergy population to study the “happiness” of priests, or the numbers that would still choose priesthood—“do it again”—or attitudes about sexual issues. But not one study has attempted to study the pattern and practice of the sexual lives of priests and bishops.[5] Sociologists have limited themselves to poles and surveys.

Even the John Jay study of the Crisis of Sexual Abuse in the United States has only recorded the priests “reported” for the sexual abuse of minors (now well over 5,000 since 1950) from the data supplied by the various dioceses.[6] As more cases are documented the actual number of abusing priests is approaching 10 percent, for instance in Boston and Albany. Los Angeles had 11.5 percent of its active priests in 1983 subsequently revealed to be sexual abusers. The Diocese of Tucson harbored 24 percent abusers on its active clergy rolls in 1988—including retired Bishop Francis J. Green.

Edouard Del Rey reviewed this book in December 1995, but it is still available from Amazon. Rodriguez is a noted investigative journalist who is as interested as I am in understanding the “deep structures underlying surface phenomena.” None of this effort can be faulted as being anti-Catholic, anti-priest, or anti-religion. These are sincere efforts to establish facts that will aid solid reconfiguration of religious life.

The first part of the book discusses some theoretical issues that underlie the ecclesiastical requirement for priests to promise celibacy in order to be ordained to major orders. He points out what is well known that there is no biblical foundation for the obligation.

Rodriguez emphasizes the historical reasoning of celibacy based on economics. He quotes the 451 declaration of the Council of Chalcedon that “no one may be ordained priest or deacon if the local community has not nominated him” (i.e. can support him). Lateran III in 1179 likewise dictated that a man cannot be ordained “if he does not have a benefice that guarantees his subsistence.” (Celibacy became obligatory for ordination in the Roman Rite at the II Lateran Council in 1139.) He neglects a good many facts that would bolster his argument: The Synod of Elvira, 309 specifically dictates that priests abstain from sex even if they are married and all of their property should be inherited by the church. Pope Benedict VIII at the Synod of Pavia in 1122 stripped the wives and concubines of priests and deacons of all rights and status and decreed that children of these unions be relegated to serfdom (slaves). Benedict feared that church property would be dissipated among clerical offspring; and the ruling became part of the Imperial code.[7]

Rodriguez calls the psychological consequences of clerical celibacy “enormous.” He puts his finger on elements that foster and preserve psychosexual immaturity.[8] The risks begin in the seminary where the structures maintain the risk of cultivating infantile personalities. The result: “one part of the clergy loses its ability to become persons with the capacity to love, to understand, to have happy friendships, to know how to be affectively close to another person…they are converted into sacred functionaries, cold, distant, and useless to the communities in which they live.”

The seminaries in Spain come in for harsh criticism. (Are they really different in the United States?) Seminaries do not hesitate to recruit, accept, and ordain men showing poor psychological equilibrium and lacking common sense. The system represses independent thought and judgment in favor of obedience to church dictates. The spirit withers in an atmosphere of rigidity. He points to Opus Dei as a prominent example of this tradition.

The third problematic area undermining the integrity of the priesthood is the power and control that obligatory celibacy imposes. Priests are held in a kind of sexual bondage in a system of obedience to the bishop. Those who practice celibacy more rather than less of the time must conform or accommodate to a system of being ruled in mind and judgment. Others must pretend to be celibate or risk loosing their social status, their employment, their benefits, and association with the people they care for and who care for them. They must sacrifice everything if they blatantly defy custom. Many are afraid to leave the security of clerical culture.

One chapter is devoted to the methods bishops use to handle violations of celibacy that cannot avoid action. The methods are well known to the American public via the media.[9]

Generally bishops do not conform to the dictates of Canon law that provide penalties up to suspension for sexual misconduct by a priest. It is debatable whether Spanish bishops are more lax than the American hierarchy or whether US bishops are more adept at denial, delay, deception, and dishonesty when it comes to sexual malfeasance of priests. Secrecy to avoid scandal is the gold standard of dealing with sexual problems in both countries. Priests are transferred from parish to parish, to other dioceses or to foreign missions (countries) without traceable notice to the receiving jurisdiction. A significant number of problem priests come to the United States from many dioceses around the world, not just Spain. The author claims, however, that bishops are willing to make almost any accommodation to a sexually active priest in order to keep him in service to the diocese. He claims that the bishops are lax in supervision and close their eyes whenever possible.

Rodriguez makes an astute observation about the bond between a sexually offending priest and his bishop. The offences and the concomitant guilt bind the priest ever closer to the system and reinforce his dependency on it. I have found repeatedly that these conditions frequently pave the way to promotion and advancement within the system. The dynamic is similar the workings of gang or cosa nostra-like maneuvers that produce and reward loyalty by threat of exposure. The secret transgressions form a bond that makes the man trustworthy.

A conclusion the author draws is that the church is powerful and largely unassailable. Power and control are prominent; justice, especially to victims, is tertiary and avoided wherever possible. Secrecy is sacred.

The second half of the book records numbers from a two-part study. The first series of figures deal with the sexual practices generally of active priests:

  • 95 percent of priests and bishops masturbate.

  • 60 percent have sexual relations.

  • 26 percent have attachments to minors.

  • 20 percent are involved in homosexual practices.

  • 12 percent are exclusively homosexual.

  • 7 percent are sexually involved with minors.

These figures are not shockingly different from those in the United States or in South Africa, or Brazil. The priesthood is in flux: 20 to 50 percent of priests leave the ministry worldwide—18.5 percent in Spain. In 1995 the median age of 33,000 Spanish priests was 60 years.

A second series of figures come from a group of 354 priests who are sexually active and report on their sexual activity.

  • 53 percent of this group are sexually active with adult women.
  • 21 percent are sexually active with adult men.
  • 14 percent are sexually active with minor boys.
  • 12 percent are sexually active with minor girls.
  • In all 74 percent are involved with adults.
  • And 26 percent are involved with minors.
  • 65 percent of priests choose sexual partners of the opposite sex.
  • 35 percent of priests choose same sex partners.

Rodriguez records the ages at which the priests became sexually active: only 4 percent became active before they were 24 years old, that would be prior to ordination. One quarter started their sexual activities during the first five years after ordination. But over half of the priests—64 percent—began their sexual activity after they were 40 years old. These figures are pregnant with meaning for the study of the priesthood. Masturbation and other means of solitary satisfaction cannot endure the long loneliness of ministry. The need for companionship grows more intense as a man grows older. Sexual abuse of minors on the other hand is likely to begin in the early years of the ministry

Priests who have mastered celibacy over the long haul are as secretive about their processes as those who are sexually active. If priests could only openly share knowledge and experience of celibacy it would be more possible for more clergy to be successful and the victims of celibate failure—girls, boys, women, men, and priests themselves—would be spared much suffering and hypocrisy.

[1] The Millenari, The Shroud of Silence: The Story of Corruption Within the Vatican. (Via col vento in Vaticano. Kaos editione, Milano: 1999) Translated from the Italian by Ian Martin and published in Canada by Key Porter Books: 2000. A group of Vatican officials wrote this book without attribution. The Vatican condemned the work that became a best seller. It describes various political and sexual corruptions in Vatican offices.

[2] A.W.Richard Sipe, A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy, Brunner/Mazel, New York: 1990. Pp 324. and Sex, Priests, and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis, Brunner/Mazel, New York:  1995. Pp. 220.

[3] Fr. Thomas Doyle, O.P., Ray Mouton, Esq. & Fr. Michael Peterson, M.D. prepared a confidential report: The problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy: Meeting the Problem in a Comprehensive and Responsible Manner in 1985 and presented a copy to every American Bishop. The bishops ignored it, claimed that they knew everything in it, reviled and repudiated the authors. Although purloined copies were circulated it was published for the first time in 2005 as a chapter in Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church’s 2000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse. Doyle, Sipe & Wall, Volt Press. Los Angeles: 2005.

[4] There was tremendous televised debate between the author, priests, and members of Opus Dei, but no one has dared to challenge the reality of the numbers. This has been my experience with my study.

[5] Andrew Greeley, Priests, A Calling in Crisis, University of Chicago Press, Chicago: 2004. Pp. 156.

[6] The John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Report on the Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church, February 27, 2004.

[7] Sipe, A Secret World, p.44.

[8] For a comparison to US clergy Cf. Kennedy & Heckler, The Catholic Priest in the United States: Psychological Investigations, USCCB, Washington, D.C.: 1972

[9] The investigative reports of the Spotlight Team of the Boston Globe in 2002 gained the most widespread attention about clergy sex abuse in the United States, but Jason Berry wrote about the problem in 1984 and published Lead Us Not Into Temptation in 1992. All the reports record similar methods of concealing sex problems of clergy.