Sipe Reports
Homosexuality & Catholic Culture

Catholic Culture Celibate or Not Contradictions Sodomy

#2 Gay Bishops & Priests: Celibate & Not

by AW Richard Sipe - Nov 01, 2012

Despite many good Roman Catholic clergy - gay and straight - the enormity of the problem of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy is an undeniable symptom that reveals the secret system of sexual activity, indulgence, tolerance, hypocrisy and cover up all the way to the top levels of authority. (Between 6 and 9 percent of U.S. priests get involved sexually with a minor; some studies have put the incidence as high as 25 percent in other countries.) 1

Homosexually oriented priests and bishops get unfairly burdened with blame for sex with minors because 80 percent of the reported minor abuse is with a boy - prepubescent or adolescent. But the symptom (and problem) of clergy sex abuse should not be confused with questions about the number of gay bishops and priests within the priesthood.

Some gay oriented bishops and priests act out, others practice celibacy. Homosexual acting out with boys is only part of the problem. The Church's duplicity about homosexuality is a fundamental distortion and disorientation.

Several months ago I attended a reception at the Officers' Club on a local military base. One of guests seated at our table was a Catholic priest. He said without embarrassment or apology, "I presume that every priest I meet is gay unless he declares himself otherwise".

Since this has not been my experience I prodded him for more explanation. In a long discourse about his forty years as an active minister and the number of gay priests he had served with he mentioned a classmate who had become an archbishop. Although he had avoided names up until that point, when he mentioned Minnesota I became very attentive since I was born and grew up there.

The current archbishop, John C. Nienstedt, I knew was indeed a product of Detroit (and Rome) where the speaker had experience. His name first surfaced when I learned about the painful concerns of a couple that were refused baptism of their newly born twins because they had been conceived by in vitro fertilization. Nienstedt's thesis provided some of the rationalization the priest used to refuse the sacrament.2.

Longtime Minnesota friends in and outside of clergy circles have kept me posted since 2008 about the outlandish positions the archbishop has articulated especially about sex (and obedience).

He said homosexuality resulted from some psychic trauma and "must be understood in the context of other human disorders: envy, malice, greed". (As if Original sin isn't a sufficient component of any human failing.)

Nienstedt spent a million dollars in a campaign to persuade registered Catholics to support a marriage amendment that would define marriage as only between one man and one woman. (It was defeated on November 6, 2012.) In connection with this effort he wrote every priest of the diocese and said the he would "not tolerate any open dissent" to his efforts.

He wrote an article about his official teaching on homosexuality to a local paper. When a woman objected to his interpretation he wrote her a letter: "Catholics are bound in conscience to believe this teaching (that homosexuality is intrinsically evil). Those who do not cannot consider themselves to be Catholic and ought not to participate in the sacramental life of the Church... Your eternal salvation may well depend upon a conversion of heart on this topic." (Star-Tribune 5-11-10)

Our clerical informant insisted that Nienstedt has a gay orientation that was known and talked about since his seminary days. [I never report the identification of a cleric's sexual orientation without at least three reliable independent personal validations. Those I have.]

His opposition to Gay Pride, Pro Choice, Marriage Equality and his insistence on obedience to church authority (especially incarnate in himself) could be attributed to doctrinal orthodoxy. But my years of observation and research lead me to conclude that a man - even an archbishop - has his personal sexuality that must be taken into account in understanding his pronouncements and behavior.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone addressed the November 2012 annual meeting of the USCCB in Baltimore decrying the number of successful gay marriage initiatives that were passed in recent elections. He boldly declared, these "People don't understand what marriage is."

This is the man who was arrested for drunken driving in San Diego after midnight on August 27, 2012 with a young priest friend and his 88 year-old mother in the car. He posted a $2,500 bond and was released from jail about noon the same day. Obviously there are some things he does not understand. Already there are factions in San Francisco who are asking when and if he will admit to his sexual orientation.

Allen Vigneron now archbishop of Detroit, who was Cordileone's predecessor as bishop of Oakland told his priests in conference, "I have never had an impure thought." What an odd assertion for a spiritual leader.

Both of these men should be closely monitored because gay bishops are a well-known secret in Rome - and they are frequently virulently homophobic. Journalist Camelo Abbate told the press the real clerical question is about hypocrisy - private vices and public virtue.

Abbate is an Italian investigative journalist who is not gay; he published two books on the current sexual problems of Roman Catholic clergy - Sex and the Vatican and Golgota a treatment of clergy pedophilia (2012).

He talked to NEWSWEEK in July 2011 about an investigative story he wrote about sexual activity of priests in Rome "This is not about homosexuality;" he said, "this is about private vices and public virtues. This is about serious hypocrisy in the Catholic Church."

He summed up his observations: "For residents of Rome, the sight of courting priests is hardly an anomaly. The phenomenon is a well-known secret here, and one that was largely ignored until last weekend, when the Italian weekly magazine Panorama published a shocking expose called "Le Notti Brave Dei Preti Gay," or "Good Nights Out for Gay Priests." (August 18, 2011)

Abbate spent 20 days undercover posing as the boyfriend of a man who ran in gay clerical circles, secretly videotaping the sexual escapades of three Rome-based priests. (He) "caught the priests on hidden camera dirty dancing at private parties and engaging in sex acts with male escorts on church property. He also caught them emerging from dark bedrooms in time to celebrate mass. In one postcoital scene, 'Father Carlo' parades around semi naked, wearing only his clerical vestments. Abbate's 'date' even had sex with one of the priests to corroborate the story."

The public validation that some priests are gay and active is not new.

Already in 1994 the death of a Dublin priest in a gay bathhouse hit the Irish headlines. The priest collapsed on the floor with a heart attack around two o'clock A.M. "men stepped over and around the priest's nude body for two hours before two other priests, members of the same gay club found him at four o'clock A.M. The owner of the club told the media that at least twenty priests belonged to the same club."

Whether gay-oriented, merely opportunistically experimenting or in longer term dedicated relationships, bishops and priests in large numbers do get involved in adult homosexual behaviors and liaisons.

Within sacramental confession and the process of spiritual direction some priests secretly sanction sexual acting out and consider "lapses" minor faults rather than indications of behavioral or developmental problems in need of serious attention from anyone considering a life of sexual abstinence. Mutual masturbation is unwisely sanctioned without understanding the psychic and developmental meaning of the behavior. A counselor at one seminary told me that he thought sexual exchanges between students helped the men to "mature" and justified his evaluation of the learning experience; "men know how to pleasure each other better than anyone".

Some seminaries tolerate same-sex experimentation while some rectors and professors encourage heterosexual experimentation to "set their students straight". A deacon slated for ordination to the priesthood the following week had sex with a prostitute on his way back from his spiritual retreat prior to the ceremony. His confessor absolved him without any special alarm

This moral blindness to clerical sex secreted in confession from the very beginning of clerical training is one major reason why the amount of sexual abuse of minors has thrived and been tolerated by bishops and priests.

A man was advanced to ordination despite his habit of compulsive masturbation - up to six times a day. The logic of the decision in the mind of his confessor was that he would change once he was relieved of the pressure of studies. Things did change. A few years later he was cited for abusing children.

The Catholic Church defines all sexual behavior as "sin", swaddles it in guilt and steadfastly holds that they are the only arbiters of forgiveness. They are quick to forgive themselves and each other with the justification that "everybody fails" and "priests are only human". [Cf. the judgments of Fr. Benedict Groeschel]

In the early years of my counseling career several seminary rectors sent men on the verge of ordination for an evaluation. In several cases the precipitating event was the discovery of a sexual involvement with a woman or man and even questionable associations with minors.

What I determined to be serious questions about their readiness for a commitment to priesthood were brushed aside. Since there was no obvious major psychiatric diagnosis manifested, the questions of personality development and character I raised were discounted and the men proceeded to ordination with unfortunate destructive and painful results in almost every case.

The criminal dimensions and the incalculable harm done to priests' sexual victims has been ignored and minimized by hierarchy. Bishop Loras Watters of Winona, Minnesota spoke volumes about the attitudes of other bishops when he mouthed the response when one of his priests was reported for child abuse: "Little boys heal".

I have witnessed the performance of bishops and cardinals in depositions associated with clergy sexual abuse. They clearly hold themselves above "man's" law and demonstrate with the convenience of memory failure, mental reservation, and at times with outright and boldfaced lies that they are beholden only to God's law. Their superior commitment is to the "welfare of the Church".

The ambiguity of stated religious values and the insubstantiality of church moral teaching revealed in those exchanges overwhelmed me. Empathy for the violated children and concern for their welfare was disregarded. Those people, to use the mindset of men like Neinstedt and Cordileone, don't know what sex is all about.

This attitude of sexual denial and superiority permeates Catholic sexual teaching to its core. On the one hand the church condemns masturbation as intrinsically evil (The most frequent sexual practice of clergy). The church's moral construct about all sexual behavior is a house of cards that rests on the maintenance of masturbation as mortally sinful behavior - pleasure not in the service of procreation. Contraception, sex prior to marriage, or after divorce, all abortion, homosexuality, same sex marriage, and in vitro fertilization are all easily and arrogantly condemned - not discussed - by bishops like Nienstedt when their own orientation and practices remain secret and shrouded in sacred mystery.

Do they have a right to privacy in light of their public teaching?

Are there solutions to the dilemmas between clerical teaching and behaviors?

There are three obvious interventions that could have a profound effect on the understanding of human sexuality, the integrity of clergy behavior and the safety of Catholics. Open honest discussion of every aspect of clerical celibate/sexual practice should be the first step toward solutions to clerical life and a ministry of integrity.

Jesuit scholar Thomas Reese proposed a second bold step toward clarification that would turn the clerical dialogue on its head and change the whole tenor of sexual conflict in the church. During an informal table-talk discussion at a May 2012 conference concerning clergy abuse in Santa Clara, California he said that 100 priests should stand up together and make a public declaration that would go like this: "I am a priest; I am gay; and I am celibate."

Third, there is a dire need for a major reassessment of confession. Confession (sacrament) is a long established religious practice for Catholics - a source of grace, comfort and spiritual growth. Many people find consolation, relief and encouragement from the honest exchange of their personal concerns and sins of conscience by sharing them with a priest in an aura of the strictest confidence. They experience forgiveness, strength and reformation.

But confession is often seriously misused and distorted as a cover up, dodge of responsibility and an excuse to continue reprehensible behavior. This pattern of perversion often begins during seminary training where it forms a building block for a secret system of a double life.

Seminarians are required/encouraged to have a confessor and receive the sacrament weekly. Some use it as an aid to self-knowledge and spiritual/psychological maturation; for others it becomes a routine of denial and self-deception.

The knowledge that the seminary staff garners through the secret self-disclosure in the process of training is one of the foundation blocks of clerical culture. Sex is secret but shared with men who are too frequently sexually active themselves and who at times use the confidences as improper entre into their penitent's life. At the very least the practice establishes a process of secret bonds of powerful and lasting control. Revealed behavior is tolerated and sealed. The foundations of a double secret life are solid and irreformable within the clerical system.

Most priests are neither trained nor equipped to be confessors. This makes confession a very dangerous place.

This place of intended grace has been too often used as the site of seduction. The penitent, vulnerable and striped of defenses, exposes him or herself to a priest who is interested is using the knowledge to seduce his victim. Herein lie the deception and the danger. Many priests are neither sexually safe nor equipped to deal with intimate concerns, sexual and otherwise.

I have reviewed over twelve hundred cases of priests who sexually abused minors. I made a mistake of not keeping a record of the number where confession was an element in the scenario of sexual assault.

The Church long ago averred to this danger. Laws in the 12th Century record a persistent concern and the Council of Trent established the rule of using a "box" to separate priest and penitent. Vatican documents and rules have not been successful enough. I can say from my pastoral and clinical experience that seduction in or around Confession is common and has gone on for centuries. Further, confession continues to be a situation endangering all who approach without caution.

The inadequate quality of clerical candidates for the priesthood, the lack of training for priests, the pernicious church attitudes and teachings about sexuality and above all the clerical system that perpetuates every element above reinforces a culture rife with the mentality of control and addicted to apodictic pronouncements rather than dialogue, reason and reformation.



  1. Cf. Pepe Rodriquez study of Spanish clergy.
  2. "Human Life in a Test-tube: the Moral Dimension of in Vitro Fertilization and Embryo Transfer" 1977.


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