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Religious Tolerance logo

About the Roman Catholic Church

Homosexual orientation among
Catholic seminarian students

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A Vatican document of 1961 bars persons with homosexual orientation from ordination and religious vows. However, this document appears to have been almost completely ignored. 1

It is important to keep in mind that the vast majority of priests, with a heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual orientation, do not molest or sexually abuse young people.

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Some definitions:

We will most frequently use the rather awkward term "person with a homosexual orientation," in this essay to avoid confusion. Terms like "Gay" and "homosexual," are ambiguous.

bulletTo many conservative Christians, homosexuality is interpreted in terms of behavior. A homosexual is a person who engages in same-sex behavior.
bulletTo most others, including religious liberals, gays, lesbians, human sexuality researchers, and mental health therapists, homosexuality is interpreted in terms of sexual orientation. The term refers to a person who is attracted to persons of the same gender. A homosexual may choose to be celibate, or may be sexually active.

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What percentage of seminary students have a homosexual orientation?

As noted in an essay on priests with a homosexual orientation in the Roman Catholic priesthood, estimates range from "perhaps more than 10%" to 58%. It is generally recognized that a larger percentage of seminary students than priests have a homosexual orientation. However, nobody knows with any degree of accuracy.

Men with a homosexual orientation might be attracted to the Roman Catholic priesthood for a variety of reasons:

bulletMost probably feel deeply that they have a definite calling by God to become priests.
bulletSome may be attracted by the "caring and nurturing nature of the priesthood, which is part of the nature of ministry." 2
bulletThe current bar against marriage for priests has no inhibiting influence, as it does among potential priests with a heterosexual orientation.
bulletPriests are generally respected by the public. Being ordained gives homosexuals instant relief from the persecution that they had experienced as laity.
bulletThe priesthood gives them protection from homophobia and the potential of physical assault. Much of the public assumes that many middle-aged and older men who have never been married are gay. Thus, the priesthood becomes a safe place to hide their sexual orientation.
bulletThe Roman Catholic priesthood may be attractive to persons with a homosexual orientation because, at this time, is an all-male institution. They would feel comfortable there.
bulletSome seminary students might be attracted by the homosexual sub-culture of most seminaries -- a culture that is probably not present in schools that train for other professions.
bulletIt is possible that some predatory candidates for the priesthood might seek ordination because it would give them a position of power over the laity and give them access to many children.

At this time, the Roman Catholic Church does not normally exclude male candidates for seminary because they have a homosexual orientation. The one exception is believed to be St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. 3 At least one seminary, University of St. Mary of the Lake, IL, a.k.a. Mundelein Seminary, accepts students with a homosexual orientation, but not those who admit to frequenting gay bars. 4  However, while in seminary and after ordination, all students are expected to remain celibate.

With the church's current requirement of priestly chastity, seminaries are having difficulty recruiting heterosexuals to the priesthood.

bulletFather Donald Cozzens wrote that several studies have concluded that about 50% of priests and seminarians are gay. 5
bulletDavid France of Newsweek, referring to St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, CA, wrote: "Depending on whom you ask, gay and bisexual men make up anywhere from 30 percent to 70 percent of the student body at the college and graduate levels." 3
bulletRt. Rev. Helmut Hefner, rector of St. Johns Seminary "accepts that his gay enrollment may be as high as 50 percent." 3
bulletGay journalist Rex Wockner commented: "When I was in the Catholic seminary in my early 20s (St. Meinrad College, St. Meinrad, Ind., 1982-1983; University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, Ill., 1983-1984), at least 50 percent of the students were gay....At St. Mary of the Lake, the straight students felt like a minority and felt excluded from some aspects of campus life to such an extent that the administration staged a seminar at which we discussed the problem of the straight students feeling left out of things..." 6
bulletAuthor and sociologist James G. Wolfe estimated that 55.1% of seminarians were gay. 7
bulletBishop Jerome Listecki is an auxiliary bishop of Chicago, rejects some estimates that as many as 50% of seminarians have a homosexual orientation. 3

It would seem that about 50% of present-day seminary students may have a homosexual orientation.

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Does the gay sub-culture in seminaries affect heterosexual seminarians?

Many priests and theologians have commented about the gay sub-cultures in Catholic seminaries:

bulletAn anonymous priest from the Boston area commented in an interview with Joe Fitzgerald of the Boston Herald: "there's a subculture of gay priests and everyone knows it. I went through seminary with a lot of them and got hit on. And when I reported it, I was harassed to a point where, emotionally, it was very difficult to get ordained. I'm not the only one who had to fight to get through it; I know guys who left because of it. It was clear there was a cabal tacitly saying, 'Don't bother reporting this stuff.' You wouldn't believe the self-justifications, like, 'Well, celibacy only applies to not getting married, so since we're not getting married we can do whatever we want.' It was horrible, with a lot of intimidation, but I stayed because I felt this was what God was calling me to do; besides, if I'd walked, they'd have won." 8
bulletFather McBrien, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame, commented that some seminary students "...who feel they have a genuine vocation for priesthood go into a seminary and feel very alienated by the gay culture. I don't say this in any homophobic sense. It's just the reality." 2
bulletPope John Paul II held a meeting with the American cardinals which dealt with the clerical sex scandals. Afterward, Bishop Wilton Gregory, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said: "One of the difficulties we do face in seminary life or recruitment is made possible when there does exist a homosexual atmosphere or dynamic that makes heterosexual men think twice [about entering.] It is an ongoing struggle to make sure the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men." 9
bulletR. Scott Appleby, a history professor at Notre Dame, said: "People I know quite well have left the seminary either in disgust because people are not keeping vows, or in alienation because theyíre not gay. In some cases itís a serious problem." 3
bulletThe Most Rev. Wilton Gregory said: "[T]here does exist a homosexual atmosphere or dynamic that makes heterosexual men think twice." 3
bulletThe Rev. Charles Bouchard, president of the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis said: "I think straight priests and seminarians shouldnít be whining. I just donít think itís a big deal." 3
bulletFather Donald Cozzens wrote: "What impact does the gay subcultrue have on the straight priest and seminarian?....straight men in a predominantly or significantly gay environment commonly experience chronic destabilization, a common symptom of which is self doubt...Their psychic confusion, understandably, has significant implications for both their spiritual vitality and emotional balance." 10
bulletTimothy Radcliffe, Master of the Order of Preachers, commented on the emergence of a homosexual sub-culture within a seminary or religious order: "It can threaten the unity of the community; it can make it harder for the brethren to practice the chastity which we have vowed. It can put pressure on brethren to think of themselves in a way that is not central to their vocation as preachers of the Kingdom..." 11

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Associated essay:

bulletExclusion of homosexuals from Catholic seminaries
bulletRoman Catholic priests with a homosexual orientation.

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Careful Selection And Training Of Candidates For The States Of Perfection And Sacred Orders: (S. C. Rel., 2 Feb., 1961)." Online at: http://www.rcf.org/
  2. "Gay Priests," Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, 2002-MAY-10, at: http://www.pbs.org/
  3. David France, "Gays and the Seminary," MSNBC, 2002-MAY-20, at: http://www.msnbc.com/
  4. "Catholic Seminary Admissions Tighten in Scandal," The Data Lounge, 2002-MAR-27, at: http://www.datalounge.com/
  5. "Vatican threatens gay purge of priesthood," The Data Lounge, 2002-MAR-6, at: http://www.datalounge.com/
  6. Rex Wockner, "The end of Catholicism in America," PlanetOut, at: http://www.planetout.com/
  7. James G. Wolf, "Gay Priests," Harper and Row, 1989, Pages 59-60. Cited in Father Donald Cozzens, "The Changing Face of the Priesthood: A reflection on the priest's crisis of soul," Liturgical Press, (2000), Page 99.
  8. Joe Fitzgerald, "Priest fears gays in ranks pose threat to Church," Boston Herald, 2002-MAR-6, at: http://www2.bostonherald.com/
  9. Melinda Henneberger, "Pope delivers apology to victims of sex abuse," New York Times, 2002-APR-24, at: http://www.starnews.com/
  10. Op Cit, Father Donald Cozzens, Page 101.
  11. Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., "The Promise of Life," International Dominican Information, # 361, 1998-APR, special number, A Letter to the Order,  Page 96.

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 or Home page > Religious Info. > Basic info > Sex abuse > here

or Home page > Religious violence > Sex abuse > here

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Copyright © 2002 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-MAY-14
Latest update: 2005-NOV-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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