Unless you have been living under a rock on Fire Island waiting for spring to arrive, you like the rest of us have been reading and watching the unfolding scandal within the Roman Catholic Church regarding pedophilia and its Priests. It is indeed a terrible tragedy that clergy have used so many children under the age of 18 sexually. This is not only a Roman Catholic problem however. This is a problem that crosses institutional boundaries and cultures.
All Churches have experienced scandal with its clergy being involved with children. The cases of abuse that seem so prevalent within the Roman Church are proportional with the number of Priests and Religious that the Church has on its roles. If a church only has 100 clergy, chances are that none or only one or two might be involved in this activity. If you have 50,000 clergy, then you may have a hundred or more involved. It is not so much that the Roman Church is corrupt in its inherent clerical moral values as it is a societal problem. Rome has severely mishandled how it dealt with and currently deals with this issue when it arises.
Studies have shown that ‘reported’ cases of child sexual abuse show a preponderance of the acts being committed by heterosexual men against children of both sexes. Let us not forget also that women commit child sexual offenses, which are underreported by adolescent males. Some of these incidents come to light when it is discovered that a female teacher is having sexual relations with a male student. This type of abuse however frequently ends up becoming humorous fodder for late night television shows.
We disagree strongly on how the Vatican has addressed this increasingly visual problem. They have once again equated pedophilia with homosexuality, and have ordered the cessation of the ordination of gay men into the priesthood. Once again, a decision has been made based on ignorance of human sexuality, homosexuality, and pedophilia. The prejudice and ignorance of Rome has resulted in a most precarious position for the their clergy, and especially for the Bishops.
First, how does one remove all gay priests? If a Priest has been celibate, do they check his mail to see if he receives Playgirl in the mail? Do they set up sex police within their ranks to place a watch on the movements of the clergy? Or do they listen to rumors among the clergy, and then act to remove based on these rumors? Does Rome realize that if they in fact could remove all gay clergy, that they would cease to be able to administer the Sacraments to the faithful? Do they realize that in addition to gay Priests and Deacons, they have gay Bishops, and perhaps a gay Cardinal in the United States?
Secondly, seminarians are already screened for their sexuality. The conclusion of the psychiatric evaluation of my sexuality, which was part of the entrance process for the seminary, concluded that I was probably bi-sexual. How did they come to this conclusion? I drew buttons on the dress of a stick figure that I had to draw of a woman. How absurd! Unless Rome resorts to polygraphing all of its candidates for the seminary, they will not succeed in this venture.
From my personal experience as a Roman Catholic seminarian, I personally can attest to a significant number of the clergy being gay. There is now a Bishop in this country that was reportedly sexually active in the Seminary, but has become one of the most conservative Bishops on the payroll of Rome. He now heads an East Coast Diocese.
James Cardinal Hickey thought that he had only a couple of Priests who were gay, and once asked me if I knew if any of the gay clergy abused children. On one hand, I commend the Cardinal for asking about child abuse (this was in the mid-80s), but on the other I chastise him for once again equating gay priests with pedophilia. At one time, the Cardinal’s entire inner circle was gay. None of them were pedophiles. You could go to gay bars in Washington, D.C., and find Roman Catholic Priests and Monsignors dancing on the dance floor. From personal knowledge, I know that a number of Priests, both gay and straight are sexually active. There are Priests who sleep with married women, as well as with men. The issue here is not so much one of pedophilia, as it is with celibacy. It is my belief that most men, gay or straight, who enter the Roman Catholic Seminary believe that they can remain celibate the rest of their Priesthood. Many in fact do accomplish this feat. However, let there be no mistake about it: the Roman Catholic clergy in this country cannot be classified as a celibate Priesthood.
So, it seems to me that Rome has to deal with the fact that its clergy is sexually active in the face of a required celibate life, along with cases of pedophilia. Celibacy was initiated in the Roman Church to protect the land and buildings owned by the Church. Rome feared the loss of its assets through inheritance of property by the wives and children of its Priests when the Priest died. This is about the wealth of the Church and its various holdings in real estate. Around this move for celibacy was created a doctrine declaring that to give up sex is a gift to God. I do believe that in some cases, men and woman of faith in the clergy do make the sacrifice of their sexuality as a pure and pious act to God, and that deserves to be recognized as such. However, the justification for enforced celibacy is that it allows the Priest to serve the people more effectively, and to enable him to love all of the people instead of just one does not hold water for me. It makes for many lonely Priests who lack a true understanding of what it means to be in a relationship with another person. This enables a lack of understanding of the pressures, problems, and difficulties that are encountered in a marriage or relationship. Not all can be learned from books.
The problem for Rome is how to deal ‘properly’ with sexual abuse of ANY kind, including the rape of nuns in Africa by Roman Catholic Priests. The solution is not to go on a witch-hunt, a favored pastime for Rome throughout the centuries, but to act intelligently to the entire problem of sexuality, as it now exists in its clerical doctrine. First, abuse must be reported to the police. The law applies equally to clergy and non-clergy. We do not live in a world made up of Bing Crosby Priests. This is not the “Bells of St. Mary.” The church must put right damage done to lives as a result of its policy and decisions.
Second, ‘mandatory’ celibacy should be eliminated. As with the Old Catholic Church, Priests should be allowed to get married, and yes, have life partners if they are gay. This will go a long way to end the hypocrisy that now exists within the ranks of the Roman clergy. Gay people are not evil, and the vilification of gays and lesbians should cease immediately. This position is no more correct then when Rome condemned Galileo for his belief that the Earth revolved around the Sun. It is time for ancient prejudices to cease to exist. It is time for a Pope who can deal with the realities of the world, which includes the God-given human nature of men and women.
Author of The Gay Face of God and If He’s Queer He Musta Done It, Archbishop Bruce J. Simpson, OSJB studied at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and Catholic University of America and was ordained a priest in 1996 by the Reformed Catholic Church and consecrated bishop in 1999. He went on to serve as the Archbishop Protector of the Benedictine Order of St. John the Beloved, the oldest Old Catholic Benedictine order in the United States.