As a sex abuse victims’ advocate and investigative reporter, I have encountered many cases which led me to conclude that the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church is the result in part of a seriously flawed seminary recruitment and formation program that prescribes, but does not often enforce celibacy on the part of seminarians, priests, and bishops.
If someone wanted to start a Catholic college and proposed that male and female students be allowed to use the same restrooms and showers together, many would say that person was crazy. Yet, isn’t this exactly what Catholic Church leaders have done when they created minor (high school) seminaries and now accept men with same sex attraction to live and study in major (post-college) seminaries with other males? Let me explain.
Many predator priests who were caught and removed from ministry over the past twenty years were products of minor seminaries. If you asked them at age 13 and 14 when they entered these seminaries whether they were heterosexually or homosexually oriented, most would not know how to answer during this early stage of their psycho-sexual development. Unfortunately, many of them were groomed by faculty members whose homosexual behavior had a profound effect upon their own sexual orientation. Owing to the fact that the priests or older seminarians who groomed them were often perceived to be their best friends, they were programmed not to see the sexual perversions to which they were introduced as forms of sexual abuse. When they went home to visit their families during holidays or the summer, they never reported the “extra curricular activities” they were manipulated into performing.
Many of the “turned seminarians” were ordained priests and “passed the tradition on” by preying upon teenage boys in their schools and parishes as they themselves were groomed when they were the same age as the victims of their sexual predation. Like these priests who never told their parents what happened to them in the minor seminary, most of their teenage victims did not tell their parents or others what Father X did to them. Unfortunately, many of these grooming victims in time found that it was difficult for them to develop healthy and fulfilling relationships with women. While some victims in time became alcoholics or addicted to drugs, others ended up taking their lives while the priest who groomed them continued grooming and using other boys and young men as “fresh meat.”
When some victims of grooming discovered that other young men were abused by the same priest, they became motivated to reveal – often decades after the victimization took place – what happened to them. These revelations often resulted in predators being removed from ministry only after victims’ reports were covered up and they found themselves forced to bring suit against the dioceses or orders that were protecting the predators.
Church leaders who underreported and covered up for predators that were often created by an unsupervised and immoral formation program are failing to recognize how their current recruiting and formation policies are in many ways as problematic as the high school programs were in enabling predatory homosexual behavior to occur.
In light of the decline in heterosexually oriented candidates for the priesthood which has resulted in fewer ordinations and the closure and consolidation of many parishes, bishops and vocation directors have been accepting homosexual candidates on the condition that they, like heterosexually oriented seminarians, promise to lead celibate lives. Most Catholic clergy and laity fail to understand how problematic this policy truly is.
We don’t have men and women students share restrooms and showers because we know that would only result in sexual altercations. Yet, Church leaders seem to think that recruiting men with same sex attraction will not cause problems. In a number of abuse cases I have investigated, when a younger seminarian reveals that he is homosexually oriented to an older faculty member or fellow seminarian, the older person often is tempted to groom and/or come on to the younger man. This results either in the younger man accepting the proposition or rejecting and reporting the predator. In many cases, if the seminary rector himself is homosexual, the chances are that the victimized seminarian will be dismissed instead of the sexual predator faculty member owing to the rector’s own fear of being outed in the course of an investigation and having his career ended. When the sponsoring bishop and rector are both homosexuals, which is often the case today, one can be assured that gay seminarians are engaging in sins against nature with one another just as straight men would be tempted to have sin with young women if they lived in equally close quarters.
If a homosexual seminarian is dismissed from the seminary because he turned down the sexual advances of a faculty member, the bishop and seminary officials can simply cover up the dismissal by claiming it was discovered he was a homosexual and it was feared he might pose a threat in time to male parishioners were he to be ordained. No mention would ever be made of the sexual orientation and behavior of the person who came on to him, or of those to whom he reported the abuse.
While reports of sexual abuse in seminaries fifty years ago involved mainly homosexuals who were dismissed for propositioning straight seminarians, today, when many if the not the majority of seminarians are homosexuals, more seminarians are sinning with one another and with faculty members. As a result of this adult male sexual behavior, one can anticipate a reduction in the number of priests abusing teenage boys, but an increase in the number of priests sinning with fellow clerics or other adult men insofar as they are more easily available in chanceries, rectories, and seminaries.
Priests like La Crosse Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill who was caught using the Grindr app, as well as Chicago Father Daniel Montalbano whose naked dead body was discovered in his rectory bedroom hooked up to a sex machine, are merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of the much larger percentage of gay priests whose sex lives have not been made public and reported in the media. Insofar as the media does not want to report what it considers sexual relations between consenting adults, most US Catholics are unfamiliar with the large number of sex scandals that have racked seminaries in the U.S. and around the world, or the fact that the priest Pope Francis put in charge of his papal residence in the Vatican is Monsignor Battista Ricca. It was when a reporter asked the pope what he had to say about Ricca who was reported to have had a Swiss live-in boyfriend in Uruguay; to have been caught with a young male prostitute in an elevator; and to have been beaten up in a gay park, that Francis responded, “Who am I to judge?” If the pope surrounds himself with people like Ricca whose homosexual behavior he will not call into question, and as more reports surface of predatory homosexual behavior in seminaries like the North American College in Rome, one should not be surprised when one learns of sexually active gay priests not only living with one another, but also being buried together.
Anyone concerned about the growing shortage of priests and who wishes to support heterosexually oriented seminarians from being preyed upon or unjustly dismissed after reporting homosexual predation in their seminaries is encouraged to contribute to the Save Our Seminarians Fund.
Gene Thomas Gomulka is a sexual abuse victims’ advocate, investigative reporter and screenwriter. A retired Navy (O6) Captain/Chaplain, seminary instructor and diocesan respect life director, Gomulka was ordained a priest for the Altoona-Johnstown diocese and later made a Prelate of Honor (Monsignor) by Pope St. John Paul II.