Homosexuals and the Catholic priesthood

A controversial Vatican document restricting the admission of gay men to the priesthood was published on Nov. 22, 2005. The document said the church “cannot admit to the seminary and the sacred orders those who practice homosexuality, present deeply-rooted homosexual tendencies or support so-called gay culture.”

The policy was spurred by the clergy sexual abuse crisis that erupted in 2002. Experts said homosexual men are not more likely to molest than heterosexuals and that heterosexual abusers may choose boys as victims because of their accessibility. Nevertheless, some critics of gay priests have linked homosexuality and abuse and see a ban on gays as a way of preventing more abuse.

The policy on homosexuals in the priesthood was released during a Vatican-mandated inspection of all 229 American seminaries and institutions that prepared priests. The inspection, known as an apostolic visitation, focused on two issues: “the need for fidelity to the church’s teaching, especially in the area of morality, and the need for a deeper study of criteria of suitability of candidates to the priesthood.” Sexuality was just one area of the inspection, but homosexuality was a big undercurrent of the investigation.

(The document obtained by Adista is in Italian. Catholic World News, an online news service, has an English translation. Various news agencies have used their own translations for key phrases.)

Why it matters

The Vatican inspection of U.S. seminaries and the focus on the sexual behavior of priests was triggered by the clergy sexual abuse scandal, which is considered the biggest crisis in the history of the Catholic Church in America. American Catholics constitute a major U.S. denomination. The scandal has had implications for other denominations and faiths, too. It has affected how pastors are trained and how they conduct their ministry.

Today, more Americans are becoming accepting of homosexuality and some states have legalized gay marriage. With popular opinion moving toward a more tolerant position regarding homosexuality,  what will the church decide?

Questions for reporters

  • Is there evidence that homosexuality plays a role in sexual abuse, or in the priest abuses, as some contend?
  • What do seminaries do to screen out potential abusers? Has research and expert knowledge on this subject found its way into seminary screening and training, or is there a gap?
  • Are priests in your diocese organized? Is there a priest senate or a presbyteral council? Are they affiliated with the National Federation of Priests’ Councils? Do they feel they have a voice?
  • The charter’s section on clerics in religious orders has been rewritten to clarify the orders’ internal autonomy while respecting a bishop’s authority within his diocese. How many order priests work in your diocese? How well are they covered by diocesan policies?
  • Are lay groups such as Voice of the Faithful active in your diocese? Are they allowed on church property or barred, as in some dioceses?

National sources


  • National Federation of Priests’ Councils

    The Chicago-based National Federation of Priests’ Councils is the leading voice for the nation’s Catholic priests. Contact the president, Father Anthony E. Cutcher.

  • Voice of the Faithful

    Voice of the Faithful is the leading grass-roots lay organization to emerge in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal. Based in Boston, the organization pushes for church governance reform and holding bishops accountable, and promotes victims rights. It has been critical of an effort to ban gay priests from ordination. Contact President Mark Mullaney.

  • Conference of Major Superiors of Men

    The Conference of Major Superiors of Men represents religious orders in the United States. Unlike diocesan priests, the priests and brothers in religious orders – Franciscans, Jesuits and Dominicans, for example – generally live in communities and by their orders’ rules. They are subject to local diocese mandates, but concerns have been raised about how to integrate the bishops’ charter with the orders’ historic autonomy. The conference is based in Silver Spring, Md. Contact John Pavlik.

  • Leadership Conference of Women Religious

    The Leadership Conference of Women Religious is an association of leaders of Catholic women religious in the United States and represents U.S. nuns and sisters. While male clergy commit the vast majority of abuse cases, victims’ advocates say abuse by women religious is an overlooked problem. The LCWR is also based in Silver Spring, Md. Contact the director of communications, Sister Annmarie Sanders, IHM.

  • Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

    SNAP, or the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the foremost advocacy group for clergy abuse victims. SNAP has regional directors and local support groups. Contact President Barbara Blaine in Chicago.

  • BishopAccountability.org

    BishopAccountability.org is a Massachusetts clearinghouse for information on sexual abuse by priests and on the hierarchy’s reactions. Contact President Terry McKiernan.

  • DignityUSA

    DignityUSA “works for respect and justice for all gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons in the Catholic Church” and elsewhere. Contact executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke.

  • Catholic Assyrian Church of the East

    Catholic Assyrian Church of the East offers resources on current international and national news and a number of other topics concerning Catholicism


  • Robert Bennett

    Washington, D.C., attorney Robert Bennett was part of the 13-member board of prominent lay Catholics appointed by the U.S. Catholic bishops to investigate the sexual abuse crisis. He chaired the research committee that interviewed some 100 victims, psychiatrists, theologians, seminary heads and church officials and prepared the report on causes of abuse.

  • Thomas Reese

    The Rev. Thomas J. Reese is a Jesuit priest and senior analyst for Religion News Service. He writes and comments widely on Catholic culture and politics. He is the author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church

  • Michael J. Bland

    Michael J. Bland, a psychologist with a doctorate in ministry, is clinical-pastoral coordinator for victim assistance ministry for the Archdiocese of Chicago and a clinical counselor at the Center for Psychological Services in Oak Lawn, Ill. The ex-Servite priest was on the 13-member board appointed by the U.S. Catholic bishops to investigate the sexual abuse crisis. He works nationally as a consultant to dioceses, religious communities and other church-related agencies and was, as a child, abused by a priest.

    Contact: 708-424-0001.
  • Thomas Plante

    Thomas Plante is a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University in California and an expert on the causes and frequency of sexual abuse by clergy. He is the editor or author of multiple books, including Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: A Decade of Crisis, 2002-2012

Critical of gay priests

  • Joseph Fessio

    The Rev. Joseph Fessio is a close friend and former theology student of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Fessio is widely considered one of the most influential conservative voices in the American church, and he is an outspoken opponent of allowing gay men into the priesthood. Fessio is the editor-in-chief of Ignatius Press in San Francisco, which was the English-language publisher for Benedict’s books. Fessio spends much of his time in Naples, Fla. Contact through Rose Trabbic, media representative for Ignatius Press.

  • Michael S. Rose

    Michael S. Rose is associate editor of the New Oxford Review, based in Berkeley, Calif. He wrote an influential book, Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption Into the Catholic Church (Regnery, 2002), which argues that the priesthood is a largely gay profession and that many seminaries are run by a “lavender subculture” of homosexuals who are unfriendly to heterosexuals.

  • John Trigilio Jr.

    John Trigilio Jr. of Marysville, Pa., is president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy and pastor of a parish in the Harrisburg, Pa., Diocese. He co-authored Catholicism for Dummies (For Dummies, 2003), The Everything Bible Book (Adams Media, 2004) and Women in the Bible for Dummies (For Dummies, 2005).

Supportive of gay priests

  • Jeannine Gramick

    Sister Jeannine Gramick was ordered to stop ministering to homosexuals by then-Cardinal Ratzinger in 1999. She has defied Vatican orders to cease her ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics. Contact her through the organization she co-founded, New Ways Ministry, in Mount Rainier, Md.

  • Donald Boisvert

    Donald Boisvert, associate professor of religion at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, co-edited the collection of essays, Gay Catholic Priests and Clerical Sexual Misconduct: Breaking the Silence (Harrington Park Press, 2005). The book’s introduction says the Catholic Church is conflating homosexuality with pedophilia and warns of a “witch hunt” to weed out many good gay priests and seminarians.

  • Joe Maher

    Joe Maher is the founder of Opus Bono Sacerdotii (“work for the good of the priesthood”), a Mississippi lay group that defends the rights of priests accused of sexual misconduct. It assists priests and religious in crisis through a network of confidential experts in various fields.


Articles sympathetic to gay priests

Articles critical of gay priesthood

Accounts by gay priests


It is impossible to know how many priests are homosexual. Estimates and studies put percentages as low as 10 percent and as high as 50 percent. Psychologist and priest Donald Cozzens, a Catholic seminary president who wrote The Changing Face of the Priesthood: A Reflection on the Priest’s Crisis of Soul (Liturgical Press, 2000) has estimated as many as half are gay.

  • “Homosexual orientation among Catholic seminarian students”

    The ReligiousTolerance.org article “Homosexual orientation among Catholic seminarian students” includes a list of the primary people who study this question and their research.

  • “CNS Special report: Coverage of John Jay study, National Review Board report”

    On Feb. 27, 2004, the lay-led Office of Child and Youth Protection of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a survey on the cumulative toll of sexual abuse inflicted on children by priests during the past 50 years. The office commissioned experts from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York to research most of the 194 U.S. dioceses. The John Jay researchers found that about 4 percent of U.S. priests ministering from 1950-2002 were accused of sex abuse with a minor – a total of nearly 4,400 clergy (almost all of them priests) accused of abusing more than 10,000 minors. Three-quarters of the incidents took place from 1960-84. (Catholic News Service maintains an archive of stories on the report.)

  • “Poll Analysis: Priests Say Catholic Church Facing Biggest Crisis of the Century”

    The Los Angeles Times did extensive surveys of U.S. priests in 1994 and in 2002. Read the story with links to other aspects of the poll.

Opinion polls

Priest shortage

To some, the issue of homosexual priests is tied up in the shortage of Catholic priests. There are two points of view. Some believe that a gay subculture of priests discourages heterosexuals from the vocation. The other view is that, given the shortage, the church can ill afford to discourage earnest, qualified, celibate men because of sexual orientation.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • John Baldovin

    The Rev. John Baldovin is professor of historical and liturgical theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass. His books include Worship, City, Church and Renewal and Bread of Life, Cup of Salvation: Understanding the Mass. He delivered a paper, “Priesthood and Sacramental Ministry: History and Theology,” at a 2005 Boston College conference on the Roman Catholic priesthood.

  • Thomas Groome

    Thomas Groome is a professor of theology and religious education at Boston College, where he chairs the department of religious education and pastoral ministry. His primary area of interest is the history, theory and practice of religious education. He wrote Educating for Life: A Spiritual Vision for Every Teacher and Parent and is the primary author of various religion textbook series from W.H. Sadlier, most recently the Coming to Faith series. He also wrote What Makes Us Catholic: Eight Gifts for Life. He delivered a paper, “The Future of Ministry in the Catholic Church: Our Best Hopes,” at a June 2005 conference on the Roman Catholic priesthood at the college.

  • Monsignor Edward J. Arsenault

    Monsignor Edward J. Arsenault is head of the St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., which treats psychologically troubled clergy.

  • Francis DeBernardo

    Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, Md., which serves gay and lesbian Catholics, has been critical of the Vatican’s resistance to homosexuality.

  • John Strynkowski

    The Rev. John Strynkowski has worked in the Vatican and served as executive director of the Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is rector of the Cathedral Basilica of St. James in Brooklyn.

    Contact: 718-852-4002.
  • Gerard McGlone

    The Rev. Gerard McGlone, a Jesuit psychologist, is executive director at the St. John Vianney Treatment Center in Downingtown, Pa. He has said he believes some tightening of the admission process is appropriate: “I think to a certain extent the Vatican is correct in trying to weed out unhealthy expressions of the homosexual experience.” But he is also worried that tougher guidelines might backfire by encouraging gay or sexually confused priests to deceive themselves about their own orientation, which could lead to a subsequent crisis and pathology.

    Contact: 1-888-993-8885.
  • Ronald E. Long

    Ronald E. Long teaches in the religion program at Hunter College in New York. He is the author of Men, Homosexuality and the Gods: An Exploration Into the Religious Significance of Male Homosexuality in World Perspective (Harrington Park Press, 2004).

In the South

  • Charlotte Rolnick Schwab

    Charlotte Rolnick Schwab is a psychotherapist and author who has lectured on the issue of sexual abuse and clergy, especially in Judaism. She draws parallels between what is happening in the Catholic Church and what goes on in other denominations and faiths. Schwab is the author of Sex, Lies and Rabbis: Breaking a Sacred Trust (1stBooks Library, 2002). Crucial issues, she says, are careful screening of candidates before ordination, policies for reporting by victims and follow-up to complaints, monitoring of clergy, and removal of offenders when it is established that abuse has occurred. She lives and practices in Delray Beach, Fla.

  • Jason Berry

    Jason Berry, a Louisiana journalist, broke the first stories of sexual abuse by priests in 1985. He wrote Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children and, with Gerald Renner, Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II.

  • Paul R. Dokecki

    Paul R. Dokecki is a professor in the department of human and organizational development of George Peabody College at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. He wrote The Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis: Reform and Renewal in the Catholic Community (Georgetown University Press, 2004).

In the Midwest

  • Mark Jordan

    Mark Jordan is a professor of Christian thought at Harvard University’s Divinity School and is an expert on issues of homosexuality in Catholic life, especially in the priesthood. He is the author of The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism, 2002) and Recruiting Young Love: How Christians Talk about Homosexuality (2011). He calls on the church to recognize its many gay Catholics among the leadership and the faithful. He also posits that the culture of Catholicism and gay culture have much in common and that male desire has been a central fact of the priesthood. Contact via Michael Naughton in communications.

  • R. Scott Appleby

    R. Scott Appleby is professor of religious history at the University of Notre Dame and John M. Regan Jr. director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. He teaches courses in American religious history and comparative religious movements and is the co-editor of Being Right: Conservative Catholics in America (Indiana University Press, 1995).

  • Edward P. Hahnenberg

    Edward P. Hahnenberg is chair of Catholic systemic theology at John Carroll in Ohio. He is author of Ministries: A Relational Approach (Crossroad, 2003). He can discuss the role and future of lay ministers in the priest shortage.

  • J.D. Davidson

    J.D. Davidson is an emeritus professor of sociology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. He specializes in the study of American Catholicism. He co-authored a 2004 study of American Catholic attitudes and his books include Catholicism in Motion: The Church in American Society.

  • Richard J. Hauser

    The Rev. Richard J. Hauser is professor of systemic and spiritual theology at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. He says that the commitment and ability to live celibately is the essential condition for ordination to priesthood, for gays and for straights.

  • James Bacik

    The Rev. James Bacik is former campus minister and adjunct professor of humanities at the University of Toledo. His books include Apologetics and the Eclipse of Mystery and Catholic Spirituality: Its History and Challenge.

  • Susan K. Wood

    Susan K. Wood is chair of the department of theology at Marquette University in Milwaukee, and she is member of the Sisters of Charity order of Leavenworth, Kan. Her books include Spiritual Exegesis and the Church in the Theology of Henri de Lubac (Eerdmans, 1998) and Sacramental Orders (Liturgical Press, 2000). She can discuss the historical development of the priesthood, the crisis in priestly identity, the shortage of priests and the role of lay ecclesial ministers who often fill in for pastors.

  • Howard Bleichner

    The Rev. Howard Bleichner is assistant spiritual director at St. Paul Seminary in Pittsburgh. Bleichner wrote View From the Altar: Reflections on the Rapidly Changing Catholic Priesthood. He is a Sulpician priest with more than 40 years’ experience in seminary formation. He formerly was rector of the theological college at the Catholic University of America. He blames seminary problems on self-actualization psychology, a seminary influence in the late 1960s and 1970s.

    Contact: 412-456-3048.

In the West

  • Sarah Brennan

    Sarah Brennan is clinical director of the Samaritan Counseling Center in Albuquerque and an expert on sexual abuse and clergy perpetrators. During the course of a decade, Brennan treated hundreds of priests at a center for clergy sex offenders in Jemez Springs, N.M., operated by a religious order, the Servants of the Paraclete. The center closed in 1994.

    Contact: 505-842-5300.
  • Robert Goodkind

    Robert Goodkind is a psychologist in private practice in Albuquerque, N.M. He also worked at the Paraclete center treating abusive priests in the 1980s and 1990s and is conversant with the pathology of the clergy abuser. 505-256-1021

  • Robert E. Shore-Goss

    The Rev. Robert E. Shore-Goss is a former Jesuit priest who now is senior pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in the Valley in North Hollywood, Calif. He has been an activist in gay rights organizations, and among the books he has co-edited are Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible and Gay Catholic Priests and Clerical Sexual Misconduct: Breaking the Silence.

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