Catholics Have a Problem. But Is It Celibacy?
Are there a disproportionate number of homosexuals within the Catholic priesthood? If so, does celibacy cause this problem? And would abolishing celibacy solve it?
These are the questions Catholics have been struggling with since learning that a former Archbishop of Washington, DC, forced seminarians to engage in homosexual relations with him. Worse, for decades “everyone knew.” But no one did anything about it.
The answers involve more than just Catholics. But let’s start there.
Catholics Have a Problem
Studies showing a larger-than-normal number of homosexuals in the priesthood are decades out of date. Anecdotal evidence, however, is strong.
In 2002 Bishop Wilton Gregory, then the head of the American bishops, said, “It’s an ongoing struggle to make sure the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men.” Indeed, in the first 12 years of the new century, my own family had two pastors who later turned out to be practicing homosexuals.
Another pastor of ours left the priesthood, “married” a man and posts his support for the LGBT agenda and its lobbying groups on his Facebook. This man had once been the bioethics expert for our Archdiocese, with a regular column in the Archdiocese’s newspaper. In fact, he was my pastor when I was the leader of a campaign to overturn our State Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling.
My wife was near tears for several Sundays that October, wondering why the Family Institute of Connecticut executive director’s own seemingly faithful pastor was refusing to even mention the campaign from the pulpit. The Church was asking every pastor to do so. Now we know why.
Everyone Has a Problem
So a Catholic priesthood with a secret network of homosexuals who soft-peddle the Church’s teachings seems to be a real thing. But did clerical celibacy cause it? Would abolishing celibacy fix it? I don’t think so.
As the head of an ecumenical organization (the Family Institute of Connecticut), I have worked with clergy from a wide range of denominations. It is because of that experience that I disagree.
First, the liberal mainline Protestant clergy is, in my experience, gayer than the Catholic priesthood. Drive down any Main Street in Connecticut and you are now more likely to see a rainbow flag hanging from their churches than you are a cross. Clerical celibacy did not cause the wholesale apostasy of the Protestant mainline.
Second, closeted homosexuality among married African-American clergy is one reason why the Black church does not speak as strongly on this issue as it once did. I have spoken with older African-American pastors who are beside themselves over what they are seeing among the younger clergy whom they mentor. Again, that is a problem that cannot be pinned on celibacy.
White Evangelical clergy, on the other hand, seem to be undergoing an epidemic of heterosexual adultery.
I can think of four of them off the top of my head. They run the spectrum from relatively mild (a publicly confessed “emotional affair”) to episodes involving children in the congregation secretly fathered by the pastor decades earlier and only admitted to now. And 21% of Evangelical youth pastors and 14% of pastors admit they currently struggle with pornography.
These are men I have worked with on pro-life and pro-family issues for years. What they all have in common is a sexual brokenness that is widespread throughout our society. The McCarrick scandal is of a piece with things happening in all the churches. These things go way beyond clerical celibacy or even homosexuality. That should not surprise us.
First, because the clergy are not immune to temptation and to sin. They are fighting — or giving into — the same anti-Christian culture we all face.
Second, because the clergy are a greater target of Satan’s than the average layman. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will scatter” (Mat 26:31).
We should pray daily for our clergy. We should also encourage them and help them in their work. This will prevent burnout, which makes them more likely to give in to temptation.
And we should think about other solutions to the problems our clergy face. More on that next time.
Peter Wolfgang is president of Family Institute of Connecticut.