Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Catholic World News News Feature

The roots of the scandal July 04, 2002

By Michael S. Rose

Thus far in 2002, Catholics throughout the United States have been scandalized by one revelation after another about sexual abuse among Catholic clergy. First came word of the notorious crimes of John Geoghan, a defrocked priest of the Archdiocese of Boston who stood accused of more than 130 counts of sexual molestation committed during a 36-year spree. He has thus far been sentenced to eight years in prison.

If Geoghan’s recidivist crimes weren’t awful enough, the bad news increased when the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law--under mounting pressure from the Massachusetts attorney general--revealed the names of dozens of other priests or former priests of his archdiocese who had been accused of sexual misconduct with minors.

Then a Missouri man alleged that Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell had sexually abused him while he was a seminary student. He also filed a federal racketeering suit, accusing the Catholic hierarchy in the United States of a pattern of illegal activity: a systematic cover-up of sexual crimes by Catholic priests.

The sexual crimes were horrible enough, but most shocking was this pattern of cover-up--the fact that Church officials knowingly protected repeat sex offenders and routinely reassigned them to posts that gave them access to new victims. Commentator (and Catholic) Patrick J. Buchanan likened the situation to Mafia dons providing safe houses for their henchmen. Such an analogy isn’t off the mark, considering that Auxiliary Bishop James Quinn of Cleveland once suggested that Church leaders should hide records of abusive priests at the Vatican embassy, which has diplomatic immunity against subpoenas.

Despite the media feeding frenzy, Church officials still hesitated to "come clean." Although Boston’s Cardinal Law released the names of the offending priests to law enforcement officials, he would not reveal to the media the number of priests involved. Only by examining court documents and speaking with local law firms did the Boston Globe discover that the archdiocese had settled sex abuse claims against at least 80 priests during the previous decade alone. That number would later swell to nearly 100--with no reason to doubt that it eventually go still higher.

Cardinal Law’s attitude seems characteristic of many American bishops, who often seem to believe that they and their priests are answerable to no greater authority than themselves. Indeed, we are finding that what happened in Boston was routine in many dioceses; similar grave problems have been revealed in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh, to name just a few. And further revelations in Boston about Father Paul Shanley, a public advocate of pederasty and a serial sex offender, have elicited the righteous indignation of a whole nation.


The key question now is: Why is this happening? The extent of the sex abuse scandals and the accompanying payoffs and cover-ups has mystified many of the faithful, who are simply at a loss to understand how this could have occurred and why it was swept under the rug for so long.

In the course of researching a new book (Goodbye, Good Men, Regnery) over the past two years, I have gathered plentiful evidence that the root of this problem--of both the cover-up and the sexual scandals themselves--extends down to the very place where vocations to the priesthood germinate: the seminary.

Too often seminarians who support the teachings of the Church, especially the teachings on sexual morality, have been dismissed for being "rigid" and "uncharitable" and "homophobic," while those candidates who reject the Church’s teaching or "come out" as gays to their superiors are given preferential treatment and then ordained to the Catholic priesthood. A corrupt, protective network starts in many seminaries where gay seminarians are encouraged to "act out" or "explore their sexuality" in highly inappropriate ways.

Father Andrew Walter of Bridgeport, Connecticut, who was expelled from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore for being "homophobic," recently told the New York Post that "activities and agendas on the part of homosexual guys were protected" in that seminary--which, due to its active and flagrant gay subculture, has long been nicknamed the "Pink Palace."

The fact is that many qualified candidates for the priesthood have been turned away for political reasons over the past three decades. Systematic, ideological discrimination has been practiced against seminarians who uphold Catholic teaching on sexuality and other issues; dissenters from Catholic teaching--particularly the Church's teaching on homosexuality--have been rewarded. This is the heart of the problem, and an understanding of this fact helps one to answer another burning question: Who is responsible for this state of affairs?

The liberal sociologist Father Andrew Greeley has called them the "Lavender Mafia"--a clique of homosexual dilettantes, acting in concert with liberal faculty members who are determined to change the doctrines, disciplines, and mission of the Catholic Church from within. Through the seminaries, this "Lavender Mafia" has brought a moral meltdown into the Catholic priesthood.


The problems sometimes begin even before the seminary training begins: during the admissions process. Properly screening applicants for the priesthood is obviously of grave importance to the Church. Yet unfortunately, over the past two generations this process has often been abused, and those who were sent away were those faithful to the teachings of the Church--especially those who accepted the traditional role and discipline of the priest, including lifelong celibacy.

At the same time, despite the hoops one must jump through (interviews, tests, evaluations) in order even to enroll in a seminary program, all too many sexual deviates easily advance--as recent events confirm. But one wonders: if the screening process isn’t catching the deviates, was the process designed to weed them out? Considering how many orthodox men have been turned away by seminary gatekeepers, it seems instead that the screening process was designed to prune the orthodox from the vocational vine.

Part of the initial application process consists of a psychological evaluation--which is, of course, fair enough. Those with certifiable psychological problems certainly don’t belong in the seminary studying for the priesthood. This type of evaluation is as necessary and important as running a criminal background check of applicants. But a problem arises when the process is abused. Too often the psychologists who evaluate the candidates are fallen-away Catholics who do not accept the teachings of the Church; sometimes they are even agnostics or atheists, and their religious beliefs (or lack of same) bias the way they evaluate candidates.

Invariably, issues of sexual morality come up during these psychological evaluations, as well they should. But too often when the applicant makes it clear to the psychologist that he is ready to embrace the discipline of celibacy, he is sized up as having a "disintegrated personality" or an "immature sexuality." Too often when the applicant makes it clear that he does not accept the gay lifestyle or homosexual acts, he is sized up as "rigid" and "inflexible."

As part of this procedure, it is routine for the psychologist to inquire about the applicant’s beliefs on issues of homosexuality. Whereas one might understand this line of questioning if it is undertaken with an eye to root out those inclined to homosexuality or those who are involved in the "gay lifestyle," the intent is too often a search to discover if the applicant is able to accept the normalization of homosexuality in today’s society--or, more to the point, in his study and work environment. If the psychologist isn’t looking for an approbation of immoral acts, he at least would like to discover that the applicant is "open-minded" in this regard.

And what if he is not? The orthodox applicant may well state Church teaching on homosexuality ("love the sinner, hate the sin," or "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and contrary to the natural law"). But when he does, the psychologist is liable to report that the applicant has an "unhealthy sexuality," or has "sexual hangups." On the other hand, the applicant who is "open-minded" is often deemed healthy and mature with an "integrated sexuality." In other words, those who accept Church teaching on human sexuality have been treated as the ones who show signs of sexual dysfunction and are therefore dismissed, while those who dissent from Church teaching are deemed sufficiently open-minded and accepted.


Dr. William Coulson, director of the Research Council on Ethnopsychology, said that many psychologists "screen out the most worthy candidates, because if they admitted that these were the right people to bring into the seminaries, they would have to admit that their whole program is wrong." He explained:

If you look at the data on the religious beliefs of licensed psychologists, you find that to a much higher degree than in the general population they are non-believers. I should say, they’re not non-believers; they believe in something totally different from what most Catholics believe in.

The problem can be distilled down to this: many psychologists who work under contract for dioceses and religious orders hold beliefs that differ, sometimes markedly, from the beliefs of mature, orthodox Catholics (even if sometimes these screeners are nominal Catholics themselves). Therefore they often fail to be objective in their evaluation of seminary applicants, using their own idiosyncratic belief system as the standard by which to judge an applicant’s suitability for the priesthood.

Dr. David J. Brown, a clinical psychologist who screens candidates for the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, is a case in point--if only because he has never been shy about broadcasting his opinions and beliefs. Brown has gone out of his way to make the case that homosexuality is "perfectly normal." Brown has argued publicly in many instances that "the sin of Sodom was inhospitality," and that "homosexuality is natural, not unnatural."

Testifying before the public school board in State College, Brown argued on spiritual grounds for legitimizing homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle in the public schools there. Brown told the board that he was "appalled" that the school district had excluded known militant homosexual speakers from nearby Pennsylvania State University from making presentations to teachers at in-service workshops. He stated that he was a Christian and that "hate" was not a Christian message--thus implying that hatred was the only possible motivation for those who refused to invite the pro-homosexual activists. Brown then went on to claim that Jesus Christ himself would be "appalled" if the presentations offering a positive view of homosexuality were not included in the teachers' workshops.

The fact that someone would pose such an argument is not news itself. But when such a man, whose views are publicly known, is contracted to screen applicants for the seminary, what is remarkable is the obvious incompatibility. Can one really expect that someone who holds such opinions will be objective when evaluating the candidate who expresses acceptance of the Church’s teaching on sexual morality?

In 1999, the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) issued a position statement on psychological evaluation of candidates for the priesthood. This paper was drafted by a task force of eight physicians (including four psychiatrists), a consulting psychologist, and a moral theologian. The report began:

There are numerous reports that mental health professionals who do not support the teachings of the Catholic Church on sexuality have been chosen to evaluate candidates for the priesthood and reject candidates who do accept the Church’s teaching on grounds that they are ‘rigid.’ There are also reports that some mental health professionals do not report homosexual attractions and conflicts in candidates for priesthood to diocesan officials or religious superiors.

The CMA statement recognized that "the choice of mental health professionals for the evaluation of candidates for the seminary who do not accept Church teaching on sexuality may be based on the belief that such persons would be more ‘objective.’" But the group rejected that argument, explaining:

There is, however, growing recognition that in the mental-health field an objective or neutral approach to the evaluation of a person’s mental health is probably not possible nor advantageous. Everyone brings cultural bias to his work: therefore, the growing trend which recognizes the value of matching the therapist to the client. Shared background and culture can be extremely helpful in evaluating mental health. For example, behavior in one culture might be viewed as pathological, such as the excessive expression of anger, in another, is viewed as expected and normal.

In addressing the question of psychological evaluations for seminary candidates, the CMA offered the following recommendations:

Mental health professionals chosen to evaluate candidates for the priesthood should as far as possible share the cultural background of the devout, faithful, mature candidates they are to evaluate. The professionals should be Catholics in good standing, who support the Church’s teaching on sexuality, life, contraception, homosexuality, celibacy of the priesthood, the ordination of only men, and the hierarchical structure of the Church.


If the psychological evaluation process at some seminaries is weeding out the orthodox who accept Church teaching on sexual morality, and at the same time allowing homosexuals to advance into the seminary, it stands to reason that there will be a disproportionate number of gay seminarians.

Two years ago the rector of the Cleveland seminary confirmed that there are also many seminary faculties which include a disproportionate number of homosexuals. And he added that "straight men in a predominantly or significantly gay environment commonly experience self-doubt." In order to understand the magnitude of the problem, one must understand that the gay subculture is so prominent at some seminaries that these institutions have earned nicknames such as The Pink Palace, Notre Flame, and The Theological Closet.

To illustrate the problem, also consider this letter written by a former seminarian--now an ordained priest--to his rector:

Upon my arrival at Mundelein, I assumed there would be some gay students. I also assumed that I could handle that. I am a straight man, not a homophobic monster. Still, nothing could prepare me for the "underculture" of homosexuality that has been supported by the formation staff. The other problem at Mundelein is that if a straight student complains about this, he gets blackballed as a "conservative." To be at events where guys seem to have their [supervisor] priest’s blessing to be "out, proud, and open" about their love life really bothers me. And I am not alone.

This letter was written in 1999.

At St. John’s Seminary in Boston that same year, one seminarian was sexually harassed by another seminarian so persistently that he was forced to file a restraining order against his classmate. He did so only after he determined that the administration at the seminary would do nothing to protect him. But even worse, the victim was scolded by seminary administrators for embarrassing the seminary, while nothing was done about the gay seminarian whose harassment had created the problem. In fact, the victim left the seminary, while the gay seminarian advanced toward ordination.

Several Detroit-area priests recalled the widespread homosexual promiscuity during the 1980s at St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. They described their seminary as a "veritable hothouse" for the gay subculture. Said one of the priests: "Everyone there knew what was going on. There were visits at night as gay seminarians cruised from room to room." Little effort was made to hide either the sexual orientation or the homosexual activity of the seminarians at St. John’s, and, he added, "it was not uncommon to see seminarians acting out in a fairly public setting."

The priest recited a long list of active homosexuals who were ordained: Some of the priests are now vocal gay activists, and others have left the priesthood to take up a full-time gay lifestyle in the San Francisco area. At least two are know to have died from AIDS. Others have been placed on administrative leave after charges of sexual abuse of minors. All of the offending priests, my informant said, were known to be active homosexuals during their seminary years.


Heterodoxy is a related factor in the fostering of a gay subculture in many seminaries. According to one seminary professor:

Gays do particular damage in seminaries and houses of formation. As instructors, they have erected and maintained a culture of mendacity that has left no area of Catholic life untouched. Over the past three decades, this priest-professor added, seminarians have commonly been "coached in a vocabulary of equivocation, discouraged from giving ex animo assent to Church teaching, taught in fact to work as subversives." He went on to say: "Gay instructors and administrators undercut orthodox and heterosexual seminarians and colleagues who attempt to protest against the dominant culture."

In many seminaries, the view of priestly life in which toleration of sexual indulgence grew and diffused is a product of the gay ascendancy within the clerical world. The protective network that covers up the crimes of clerical sex abusers starts in seminaries where the gay subculture is fostered, and promiscuity is protected.

Seminary courses on human sexuality, for instance, have been so distorted in recent decades that a great number of priests have been effected by a formation that, at best, promotes a perverted view of life. Father Joseph Wilson of Brooklyn, New York, attended the Dallas seminary in the early 1980’s. He was a classmate of notorious sex abuser, Father Rudy Koss. He describes his seminary experience by reporting that "sexually scandalous situations proliferated, and good men abandoned their vocations in disgust." Father Wilson recalls that a moral-theology professor who argued that "gay sex is in some ways preferable to straight sex," and that the seminarians were treated to a lecture by Father Paul Shanley--the priest-advocate of man-boy love who is now at the center of the scandal in Boston. [For further reflections from Father Wilson, see page XX.]

In the late 1980s and early 1990s at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon, Dr. Robert Torres, the staff psychologist who had been providing psychological evaluations and counseling to seminarians for years there, taught a mandatory human sexuality course for first year theology students. The required textbook was Our Sexuality by Robert Crooks and Karla Baur--in which the authors evidence, in a sometimes explicit way, an advocacy of homosexuality, oral sex, male-to-female anal intercourse, and bestiality. The textbook-- lavishly illustrated with drawings of different positions for sexual intercourse, close-up photos of men who have had sex-change operations, and photographs of various contraceptive devices-- supports these sexual variations and explains them in graphic detail. An entire chapter of the book is devoted to "masturbation exercises." In the chapter on homosexuality, in addition to providing detailed information and illustrations on oral and anal sex, the authors discuss the option of having an "open coupled" relationship--having one primary sex partner along with many auxiliary partners--and a gay couple is shown in a photo being "married" by a minister of the Metropolitan Community Church in Honolulu. The entire course presentation on human sexuality, said Father John Lewandowski of Fargo, North Dakota, who remembers the course vividly from his seminary days, "was an offense against chastity." Neither the professor nor his chosen textbook spoke postively about celibacy, he added, nor were seminarians by any means encouraged to remain chaste.

Another controversial sex-ed textbook used widely in US seminaries was written by a Detroit priest, Father Anthony Kosnik. Published first in 1976, Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought takes the same desensitizing approach to sexual morality as the textbooks used as the Dallas and Oregon seminaries. Although billed as a "handbook for confessors," it more accurately amounts to a broad attack on Catholic Church teaching. Father Kosnik’s book even endured the wrath of the Vatican, which formally denounced it in a rare statement issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Of the countless criticisms of the book, perhaps the pithiest came from Msgr. Hubert Maino, former editor of The Michigan Catholic, who said on a local radio talk show that it was "soft on bestiality." Father Kosnik, who taught at St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Michigan until 1982, maintained that Catholics must jettison the view that holds fornication, adultery, homosexuality, sodomy, and bestiality to be intrinsically evil acts. He also wrote that priests must understand that "God is surely present" in homosexual relations that are marked by "sincere affection."