Homosexuality and Vocational Discernment and Choice

A Call for Evidence-Based, Astute Priestly Discernment in a Framework of Overall Moral Character Development

A seminary that is on-going in the cultivation and the learning of the skills of virtue as an expression of life-in-Christ, and as lived testimony to the Gospel, will be a seminary that is prepared to discern, and to equip, young men for a ministerial vocational choice.

The Calling of St. Andrew and St. John
by Tissot

At the request of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in the USA, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York prepared a Report, “Causes and Contexts of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010.” 1 The findings of this study impinge upon the way that bishops, and those involved in priestly formation, interpret and act upon Church documents that address the issue of homosexuality in the context of decisions about the entry of individuals into seminary formation, their progress in seminary formation, and their continued progress to ordination.

The phenomenon of sexual abuse of minors engages both heterosexual and homosexual acts, but has predominantly involved homosexual acts, and these mainly with pubescent youths. The John Jay Report distinguishes homosexual “identity” (associated with homosexual “inclination”) 2 and “behavior” involving homosexual acts. The quantitative and qualitative results of the John Jay study find “identity” to be a weak explanator for sexual abuse of minors. 3 In brief, evidence from the study indicates that the issue of sexual abuse of minors by clergy does not simply focus on the question of sexual inclination—of homosexual inclination.

I am in the fortunate position of being a member of a diocesan presbyterate that has had no cases of civil prosecution during the decades that the issue of clergy sexual abuse has captured so much media attention in Australia, as it has in the USA and elsewhere. Although my observations have not been numerous and not close-at-hand, the generalizations found in the John Jay Report are consistent with such cases as I have noted, and the conclusions that I have drawn. Among the complexity of causes in the sexual abuse of minors, the leading explanation is “whole-life integrity”—or better put, a lack of “whole-life integrity.” In guiding and assessing candidates for the sacred ministry of the Church, it is the human formation in, and manifestation of, manly integrity that has to be at the forefront.

Does this perspective mean that church documents on the issue of homosexuality are sidestepped? Not at all. But it does mean that responses to issues, and policy implementation, need to be informed by this evidence. The crucial document is that of the 2005 “Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with Regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in View of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders” from the Congregation for Catholic Education. This document makes a clear distinction between homosexual acts and homosexual tendencies. Upholding an acts-based morality, the Instruction states that unnatural acts “under no circumstances can be approved” and those who “support the so-called ‘gay culture’ cannot be admitted to the seminary, or to holy orders.” 4

Difficulty in Identifying and Assessing Homosexual Tendencies

Having made the distinction between “acts” and “tendencies,” the question of homosexual “tendencies” is, however, not so clear-cut. The difficulty in identifying and in assessing the issue of homosexual tendencies has been played-out in the 1997 revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church §2358, and this is reflected in the 2005 Instruction. 5 In Pope Benedict XVI’s responses during his interview with Peter Seewald for the book  Light of the World: The Pope, The Church and the Signs Of The Times, the Pope viewed the genesis of homosexual tendencies as “still an open question.” 6 The Instruction does not, however, address simply “homosexuality,” but “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.” 7 This is a very necessary refinement, as it indicates attention, not to whether a tendency is present, but the degree of its presence.

While the Instruction does not give a moral aetiology, the Holy Father Emeritus does allude to “early childhood” in considering the origins of homosexual inclinations. 8 In his focusing on early childhood, Benedict expresses—whether he realizes it or not—a somewhat Freudian viewpoint which is consistent with research evidence. Fundamental to Freudian understanding is the idea that all persons deal with tendencies that, within classical moral theology, are referred to as being “disordered.” From a Freudian standpoint, this involves the operation of the conscience (the “super-ego”), working through the active personality (the “ego”), to inhibit instinctual appetites (the “id”). In brief, natural processes of personality development involve the building-up of inhibitions, which in turn restrain the emergence of desires and behaviors, which are then subject to moral, social, or psychological stricture.

Freud’s clinical research dealt more with neurotics than with healthy personalities. But his work still provides insights for understanding the processes of personality and psychological development (including moral psychological development). 9 In a sense, this kind of perspective is present in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, where a sense of human development is present in its understanding of sexual morality. 10 But the important point, from a Freudian understanding, and in a subsequent psychological understanding, is that development is not necessarily linear, but is complex. 11 And such development is not necessarily healthy. It can be regressive.

Three key points in approaching evaluation of homosexuality

These observations underscore several points:

  • Firstly, homosexual tendencies are, in fact, prevalent, although they are prevalently psychologically restrained by processes that are both intra-psychic and inter-psychic. 12
  • Secondly, the dynamics of psychological development are complex and on-going—not just one time only, or during certain periods. 13
  • Thirdly, the position of the Instruction that “(homosexual) tendencies must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate” 14 presents a misperception while failing to recognize the regressive nature of marked homosexual attraction and,  thus, its manifestation can occur at any point in life, and not only at the time of the emerging-adult. It is not unusual for men who have married, and have children, to “come out” in mid-life years, and assume a “gay” lifestyle. 15

My view is that placing psychological pressure on candidates to disclose their inner dispositions (and to disclose internal forum matter), as indicated by the Instruction, is ill-advised. 16 Nowadays, there are often reports in the media by Church officials that, unlike the past, require candidates for the sacred ministry of the Church to be “screened” (which usually mainly refers to “screened psychologically”). 17 This practice—now virtually universal prior to seminary entry—is contrary to the 2008 “Guidelines for the Use of Psychology,” issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education 18 This psychological screening essentially takes up the canonical safeguards through medical or psychological testing as they apply to clerics, and extends them to those who are seeking the clerical state through seminary admission and formation. 19 The Guidelines mandate only targeted psychological referral for identified concerns, and are predicated on informed consent, which is not consistent with the seemingly required “Sign here” encountered in the now-prevalent practice of pre-seminary psychological screening. 20

Tangled issue of professional psychological evaluation and ecclesial evaluation of homosexuality

A further and tangled issue arises from the fact that, since the 1975 removal of homosexuality from identification with a mental disorder by the American Psychological Association (a position now generally adopted worldwide by professional associations of psychology), homosexuality per se is not a matter of professional psychological reference. This perspective may seem to be at odds with the perspective of the Church, where homosexuality is described as a “disorder.” It is less at odds when a reference is made to homosexual practice and, thus properly named as a moral “disorder.” By analogy, one does not regard adultery as a “mental disorder,” but as a “moral disorder.” By further analogy, one would tend less to regard adultery as a dispositional “tendency,” than as a practice (that is, only those who commit adultery are termed “adulterers,” not those who simply have an inclination to commit adultery). This way of thinking underscores that seminary discernment should focus on conduct that is observable (i.e., on the practice of virtue), and not on internal dispositions. In this approach, discernment should principally be a discernment of moral character, and not of interiority and/or of psychology. Reference to psychologists may be advised for specific identified behavioral concerns. But the issue of homosexuality should principally be treated under the heading of “formation of moral character,” and should principally be addressed by evidence-based, astute priestly discernment in the external forum.

It is true that Church media reference to “psychological screening” is mainly with respect to contemporary “child protection practices,” where sexual attraction to minors is generally accepted as both a mental disorder, and a moral disorder. But even here, “psychological screening” as a safety measure is probably no more reliable—and, perhaps, is less reliable—than moral discernment. The lack of moral self-control, evident in sexual abuse of minors, is typically obvious in the lack of human maturity, and the lack of a vigorous and manly asceticism in those so disposed. Again, I point to the issue as one involving evidence-based, astute priestly discernment. Such an evidence-based discernment does not involve trespassing into the inner life of those offering themselves for the sacred ministry, and does not require mandatory psychological testing that infringes on a moral and professional appreciation of “informed consent.”

Emphasis on stable and observed virtue, not on “screening”

Rather than calling upon psychological testing and/or disclosure of intra-psychic dispositions, the emphasis in seminary entry and during seminary years—indeed, throughout ministerial life—should be on the practice of virtue. The six years before the diaconate provide sufficient time for a discerning seminary rector, his consulters, and the Bishop, to assess in the external forum whether a candidate lives a celibate life with poise, and manifests a broad-based integrity. Adopting this manner of proceeding reinforces both an acts-based view of morality, and respects the privacy of a man’s interiority. 21 As I have written elsewhere, “It is crucial for the confidence and openness of the person being counseled, and to assisting his human development, that no prying or lewd interest on the part of the counselor (or spiritual director or formator) should enter the pastoral (and/or direction/formation) relationship.” 22

Essential character of ministerial candidates

The remarks of the Holy Father Emeritus in the book,  Light of the World, were voiced in the context of his own abhorrence at what he had to deal with as Prefect, and as Pope, in matters of sexual abuse of minors—sexual abuse that was predominantly  homosexual in nature. He says that he finds this record “tremendously upsetting and depressing.” 23 While homosexuality, as such, may not be a strong indicator for the sexual abuse of minors, as the John Jay Report concludes, when questioned on homosexuality in the Roman presbyterate, Benedict responded, “Homosexuality is incompatible with the priestly vocation.” 24 His response captures an ontological position where a “proper sense of paternity” is seen as “intrinsic (to the) nature of priestly being.” 25 This, indeed, is signified in the pastoral form of address of priests, “Father,” and is integral to the identity of clergy in their life and ministry as sacred ministers. A man who has not personally appropriated a strong, natural-law based, masculine identity that is manifested in his stable manner of living, is not ready to receive and to assume an ecclesial paternity that is integral to Holy Orders.

Essentiality of careful specification of issues

This perspective does not, however, deflect from a necessary recognition of the complexity of the homosexuality issue, and the dangers in using wide-sweeping language. 26 In so far as is possible, our evaluations should be in the manner of an objective and external forum, and should be correctly specified. In this respect, the issue is an observed degree of homosexual tendencies—in the language of the Instruction: “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.” Where a young man stably manifests a robust masculine identity, and a masculine practice of the virtues, there are grounds for forming a view that “deep-seated, homosexual tendencies” are not a concern in selection for seminary entrance, continuing formation, and ordination.

Importance of observed stability

I have pointedly used the term “stably manifests.” It is important that the paternal and brotherly care of seminary formators (and maternal and sisterly care in the case of female formators) should be calm, patient, and firm. 27 Seminarians are still in the process of building their own characters, and may still be learning the dynamics of adult relationship and friendship. In this process, there may be ups-and-downs, and it is important to give seminarians time in forming the character integration that is necessary for sacred ordination. This may, at times, be testing for seminary staff, such as making judgments about what to say, and how much to say, and when to say—such as where indicators of infatuation that could turn to homo-eroticism are noticed.

Importance of positive implicit culture

A lot turns on the whole culture of the seminary, and clerical culture generally. I use an example from gym anaerobic exercise. Gym workouts are a regular part of my life, and over the years, one incidentally hears conversations in a weight-lifting room, and conversations that commonly talk of the male body in sports performance and in aesthetics. I do not think that I have ever observed behavior that seemed homo-erotic, or ever overheard remarks that were homo-erotic. Certainly, there are men who have improved their bodies and athleticism through gym workouts, and who live homo-erotic lives, but that simply is not present in the gym I frequent, because there is an implicit consensual culture that is sexual in the sense of being masculine, but not sexual in the sense of homo-erotic (homosexual). This is an analogy for the implicit culture that should be cultivated in a seminary, and in clerical circles, where guys should be involved in developing of their masculine identities, and in helping one another in building a wholesome masculine culture where young men can find stability, and poise, in a sexual identity that is fitting for lives as sacred ministers of the Church.

Masculine practice of the virtues

I also have pointedly used the term “masculine practice of the virtues.”  The gym example just instanced captures only one aspect of the paradigm, and does not capture a whole-life morality. But, it nevertheless provides a cue in that direction. A seminary that has a lot of overt prescriptions tends toward a deontic morality. Such a morality of obligation tends to construct worldviews of “premise,” “deduction,” “conclusion,” that weakly relate to a holistic human formation, and, thus, weakly internalize a moral schema. 28 To pursue a philosophical analogy, cultivation of a deontic morality may be “valid,” but not “sound.” 29 An empirical grounded-ness, and a reasonableness in reasoning, may be necessary for “soundness.” Properly understood, “virtues” are the practice of learned skills. 30 Seminary human formation, and continuing priestly formation, should occur in learning environments where young men build convictions and aptitudessuch as in the practice of openness (straightforward, honest), courage (bravery), uprightness (moral rectitude), patience (helping others along the way), courtesy (respect for persons), and friendship (personal intimacy that is not covert eroticism). This is not the classical list of “the virtues,” and is meant only to be suggestive of a holistic, whole-life, morality, and masculine moral character. 31

Building a stable and robust masculine culture for life-long ministry

My deep conviction is that the issue of homosexuality needs to be addressed in such a perspective. In cultivating an environment where young men grow in a life of virtue, one equips them for the five-years-out-of-the-seminary when a masculine strength of perseverance is so needed; one equips them for the era when age, and disappointments, and creeping middle-age mediocrity, may deflect from perseverance in authentic ministerial life; and so on, through to advanced, yet still youthful, ministerial years. Most men who desert the sacred ministry, do so for heterosexual attraction (rather than homosexual attraction), and they are more vulnerable where the seminary experience has not been one of strengthening the foundations of masculine maturity, and masculine virtue.

Some men may find, arising in their lives, homosexual tendencies that were previously not noticed, or previously weakly-noticed, or previously denied. Human sexuality is complex, and there is overlay and mobility in its complexity. Homosexuality may be various in its degrees, and is not an issue that is attributed to childhood, and/or resolved, or not resolved, during adolescence or young adulthood. The tendency toward deviant behavior is prevalent in the human person, and certainly is not confined to matters sexual, nor confined to any particular time of life.

A broad-based formation in natural law ethics, that is both “valid” and “sound,” provides a personal structure for continuing life choices, and practice of virtue, including chaste celibacy. Reasonable assessment of readiness for seminary entry, and the six years of seminary formation, generally provide a sufficient space of time for astute and informed objective assessment of fitness for sacred ordination. In this perspective, sexual morality is situated in the framework of overall moral character development, and moral character mainly viewed in the practice of virtues. Bishop Wong, Secretary of the Congregation for Clergy, sums-up in a similar manner:

The formative relationship achieves its objectives … (through) presence, the close daily guidance, the understanding of deeply-seated motives, and confrontation with the Gospel (that) enable the formator to bring about what he seeks to achieve in the candidate: the psychological and spiritual restructuring of the person as a response to the call of divine grace. 32

Learning and self-learning skills for virtuous ministerial life

A seminary that is on-going in the cultivation and the learning of the skills of virtue as an expression of life-in-Christ, and as lived testimony to the Gospel, will be a seminary that is prepared to discern, and to equip, young men for a ministerial vocational choice. It will be a place that builds manly character capable of sustaining a dedication of one’s personone’s sexual personto the mission of Christ and his Church. This manly character inherently involves a virile sense of paternity that will not be present where, in the language of the Instruction, “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” are manifest. But the foundations of this manly character, as developed and strengthened during seminary years, must be capable of handling both homo-erotic, and/or hetero-erotic tugs, that in one degree or another, will be encountered during ministerial life. Thus, I situate sexual morality in the framework of overall moral character development, that is formed in a natural law perspective of virtue ethics.

This perspective suggests a hermeneutic for receiving church documents and doctrine that realistically grapples with what we know from modern social sciences (and studies such as the John Jay Report); what we should uphold from natural justice that informs a correct reading of canon law; and upholds a true respect for the interiority of persons. “By their fruits shall you know them,” and wise seminary formators cultivate a seminary environment for the fruits of the Gospel to grow and ripen, so that young men may approach ordination with love, with manly poise, and with virtuous manly character.

  1. John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, Causes and Contexts of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010 (New York: City University of New York, 2011). ( Hereafter, John Jay Report.)
  2. This use of the term “identity” is not quite appropriate, as it implies an organizing principle for self-identity that is stronger than what is conveyed in the terms “inclination” or “tendency.”
  3. John Jay Report, 38, 62, 64, 74, 100, 102, 119.
  4. Congregation for Catholic Education, Instruction §2.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Benedict XVI, Light of the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 152.
  7. Instruction §2 & 3. It is relevant also to note that the Instruction twice uses the language of “presents deep-seated homosexual tendencies” (emphasis added), a language usage that is consistent with the perspective here argued that psychological testing should not be generally mandatory practice, but should be targeted where identified issues are seen as present in the behavior of a candidate. Such a reading is also consistent with n. 11 of the Guidelines (see. fn. 18, below) that speak of psychological evaluation “in cases of doubt concerning the suitability of a candidate (for admission to the seminary or admission to ordination) …” The Guidelines also uses the term “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” §10.
  8. Light of the World, 152.
  9. The processes of moral psychological development are treated in chapter 7 of P. A. McGavin,  Manly Maturity: Psychological Approaches to Personal Development (West Burleigh, Queensland, Australia, Australia: Publicious, 2012). (Available from Amazon.)
  10. For example, CCC §2352 on masturbation. This is extensively discussed in, P. A. McGavin (2011), “The Catechism on Sexuality: interpreting the “constant tradition,’” Australasian Catholic Record, 88(2): 219-231. (For web access, see, http//search.informit.com.au/)
  11. The Congregation for Catholic Education Guidelines (see fn. 18, below) pervasively uses the language of “development,” along with recognition of its gradual nature (§4, 5, 12), and also makes recognition that this gradual human development is “not always linear,” n. 2.
  12. These terms encompass over-lapping, rather than distinct sets, with intra-psychic referring to processes mainly within the person in the processes of personality development, and inter-psychic referring to processes that are mainly social in the processes of personality development. The latter social psychology processes may be overt, but are mostly covert, such as occur where the manifestation of homosexual behavior engages implicit cultural sanctions.
  13. This is argued in P. A. McGavin (2011), “Celibacy and Male Psycho-Sexual Development,” Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling, 65(4): 2-1-11.
  14. Instruction §2. In terms of internal consistency, this should be read as involving the discernment of a degree of manifestation of homosexual tendency, rather than simply the presence of “homosexual tendencies.”
  15. The term “coming out” arises from “gay” culture, and does not adequately capture the phenomenon, as it implies subjects who have long been repressed and closeted. This may be the case, but there are also cases where homosexual tendencies have been weak, or not much in consciousness, but where experience of feminine psychological cruelty (as is often a precursor to marriage breakdown), leads to preferring associative relations with men, and to finding affective satisfaction with men, that unfolds as homo-erotic attraction and practice. The “coming out” phenomenon is more complex than “gay” representations thereof that promote an ideology of “born this way.”
  16. See Instruction §3.
  17. An example of the pervasiveness of psychological screening processes in the USA may be seen in Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly, February 2, 2014. This includes a contribution by someone named as a seminary director of psychological services.
  18. Congregation for Catholic Education, “Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood,” June 29, 2008. The presence of a “staff psychologist” is directly contrary to the Guidelines where we read that experts in psychological sciences “cannot be part of the (seminary) formation team”, n. 6, and that “specialist psychological or psychotherapeutic techniques must be avoided by the (seminary) formators” §5.
  19. The canonical provisions, in fact, apply to the Christian faithful generally (Canon §220), but have been interpreted by the Congregation for Clergy in recent decades in respect of psychological testing of clergy. A 1998 decision of the Congregation for Clergy refers to a August 6, 1976 Instruction of the Secretariat of State (Prot. N. 311157) that says, “When a ‘personality’ test … is presented as a necessary pre-condition, or even simply ‘recommended,’ or said to be ‘desirable’ for recruitment, or for maintaining a position, or getting a promotion, there is evident doubt whether the person who undergoes such tests does so voluntarily.” And in this Decision, the Congregation for Clergy states, “It is the consistent teaching of the Magisterium that investigation of the intimate psychological and moral status of the interior life of any member of the Christian faithful cannot be carried on except with the consent of the one undergoing such evaluation, as is clearly written about in the instruction of the Secretariat of State of August 6, 1976 … ” (Cited in Gregory Ingels, “Protecting the Right to Privacy when Examining Issues Affecting the Life and Ministry of Clerics and Religious”, Studia Canonica 34 {2000}, 441f.)
  20. See, Guidelines §11. Writing from Australia, one may also identify instances of pre-seminary testing that are irregular in Australian civil law. Under the Health Practitioner National Law Act, it is illegal for anyone to use the designation “psychologist” unless registered with the Psychology Board of Australia, and thereby to be bound by the Code of Ethics of that Board (which, in fact, is the Code of Ethics of the Australian Psychological Association). That Code specifies non-coercive procedures (A.2.1); the ensuring that consent is informed (A.3.3); the avoidance of undue invasion of privacy (A.4); and client confidentiality (A.5.2) – provisions that are clearly in need for reinforcement of consistent observation in seminary practice and in the processes of seminary human formation in Australia and elsewhere.
    One might even wonder whether such considerations were in the mind of Pope Benedict XVI when by his Apostolic Letter, Ministrorum institutio of January 25, 2013, he transferred the oversight of seminaries from the Congregation for Catholic Education to the Congregation for Clergy. It is notable that as at end-2013, the Vatican website that shows the “Profiles of these Congregations” does not advertize the transference of these responsibilities as determined by this motu proprio of Benedict XVI, although the change is clear on the dedicated clerus.va website. One hopes that the stated purpose the motu proprio as implementing the “intrinsic link between formation before ordination to the priesthood and formation after ordination” (quoting Pastores dabo vobis of John Paul II) is upheld in any Curial reforms undertaken by the present Holy Father.
  21. The Holy Father Emeritus, in Light of the World, makes pointed reference to the dangers and the delicacy of judging “another person’s heart,” 84. Although I disagree with the loose use of the term “gay” by the present Holy Father, he expressed a similar viewpoint in his in-flight media interview during his return from World Youth Day 2013, saying “… Who am I to judge (gays).” (His language should have been “persons of homosexual inclination,” not “gays,” since the latter usage refers to person who adopts “gay culture.”)
  22. McGavin, “Celibacy and Male Psycho-Sexual Development,” 9.
  23. Light of the World, 25. Years later, as Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI recounts his encounter with sexual abuse of minors by priests as being one of “deep dismay” for him (“The search for true dialogue: Benedict XVI in a letter to mathematician Piergiorgi Odifreddi,”  L’Osservatore Romano, December 6. 2013, 10-11.)
  24. Ibid., 152.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Benedict is generally alert to the “many layers” of problems. This reference is to his words in discussing condoms, ibid., 145.
  27. In a perspective on “mentoring,” this is argued in P. A McGavin (2012), “Manly Mentoring for Maturity,” Seminary Journal, Winter, 87-92. Some wise words on mentoring are also presented in Bishop Jorge Carlo Patron Wong, “Candidates for the Priesthood and Religious Life: Selection, Screening, and Formation,” in Charles J. Scicluna, Hans Zollner, and David John Ayotte (eds.) {English edition Editor, Timothy J. Costello}, Toward Healing and Renewal: The 2012 Symposium on the Sexual Abuse of Minors, Held at the Pontifical Gregorian University (New York: Paulist Press, 2012), 59-78.
  28. This observation resonates with a psychological approach to understanding the learning of values that shows that guided learning achieves greater values internalization, and enhances recall of value learning, because of the greater cognitive processing compared with control domain learning. See, J. Vinik, M. Johnston, J. E. Grusec and R. Farrell (2013), “Understanding the learning of values using a domains-of-socialization framework,” Journal of Moral Education 42(4): 475-493, especially 489f (http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/30357240.2013.817329).
  29.  This is argued in P. A McGavin (2013), “Conversing on ethics, morality, and education,” Journal of Moral Education, 42(4):494-511 (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/03057240.2013.817330).
  30. This is argued in P. A. McGavin, and T. A. Hunter (forthcoming, September 2014), “The ‘We Believe’ of Philosophers: Implicit Epistemologies and Unexamined Psychologies,” International Philosophical Quarterly.
  31. A virtue approach to celibacy, that directly draws upon magisterial documents, is found in P. A. McGavin, (2010), “Growing in Celibate Chastity,” Human Development, 31(3), Fall: 32-37.
  32. Wong (2012), 61f (see fn. 27, above).
Fr. Paul Anthony McGavin About Fr. Paul Anthony McGavin

Fr. Paul Anthony McGavin holds a Masters in theology (TheolM) from the Catholic Theological College, Melbourne, and a PhD from the University of Melbourne. He is a priest of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, Australia. Much of his ministerial life was spent as a university educator, and as a senior faculty member at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra. He continues his work in pastoral ministry and is now a Catholic chaplain at the University of Canberra.


  1. Avatar Paul L. Kozlowski says:

    Dear Father,

    With no disrespect; however, after reading your article your answer is a big “?”

    Maybe I can help you out. The Formators either: have had their head in the sand and/or have been deeply deceived, and/or were or are in cohorts with allowing homosexual oriented men with deep seated tendencies into a Seminary. – Wait a minute wasn’t a former Archbishop (considered a powerful American Bishop) an homosexual who was finally caught. How much control and power did he exercise over his Seminaries? The problem has to stop and disclosure must be made about one’s sexual orientation.

    If a person who is homosexual oriented and does not disclose this (one’s sexual orientation) at the time of entry to a Seminary, he should be immediately booted – even after Ordination. Sort of like being deceitful about being in prison at one time. That is the issue here. Many wolves and in sheep’s clothing will enter the fold or come in His Name. Wake up Church. Pope Emeritus Benedict XI is right!

    Also, it is a quantum leap of difference between comparing moral disorders of adultery vs. homosexual acts. Homosexual acts differ in the degree of depravity. In that they go against the natural sexual order, whereas adultery does not. Compare bestiality w homosexuality and it is more fair, sorry to say.

    • Fr McGavin Fr McGavin says:

      I think you should re-read the article. There is no “quantum leap” between adultery and homosexual practice. The point is about practice, not inclination. And the Church documents make clear that the inclination is one of degree (“deep seated”). You are a “boots” kind of person who think that “boots” are the answer. I have argued that wise discernment is required, and that psychological testing is not. Calm the heat, and re-read calmly.
      Father McGavin

  2. Avatar A Vocation Director says:

    As a Vocation Director, I ask and observe the following things:
    1) Are you heterosexual? The correct answer is YES.
    2) If yes, do you have a homosexual past? The answer should be NO.
    1) Is he effeminate? My observation should be NO.
    2) Does he conduct himself in a masculine way? My observation should be YES.
    It’s as simple as that. Avoid all the drama, it’s not rocket science. Go with common sense; works every time.

    God bless,
    A Vocation Director

    • Fr McGavin Fr McGavin says:

      If “common sense” is wisdom, I was indeed arguing for that, and not for psychological testing.
      Father McGavin

  3. Dear Father,

    No disrespect intended at all but, I feel the idea that homosexuality is not a psychological disorder is indefensible. As someone who struggles with a moderate level of same-sex-attraction, I can personally attest to the fact that it is a psychological disorder and has very explainable roots. There is however a difference between the disorder and the behavior. One may not be sexually attracted to the same gender but still engage in sexual activity with them…that is an isolated moral problem. But an actual attraction sexually and emotionally is completely disordered and stems from experiences early in life (usually a lack of love–to varying degrees–from a father as a child. EVERY SINGLE “gay” person I have ever known has affirmed this experience.).

    I encourage you to look at the work of Dr. Joseph Nicolosi

    Best regards

    • Dr McGavin Dr McGavin says:

      What you have said is consistent with what I have written.
      I also have never encountered a homosexual person (in the marked homosexuality sense) who has not experienced deprivation in masculine mentoring during crucial formative years. And you’ll recall that in my article I verify the observations of Pope Benedict.
      My article is for wise discernment and for targeted use only of psychological referral. But psychological referral can only be to registered psychologists, and registered psychologists will necessarily observe the practice codes of their professional associations. What you refer to in my article is my reference to these practice codes. If you read the article calmly, you will not find evidence of my disagreeing with what you are saying.
      Father McGavin

      • The removal of removal of homosexuality from identification with a mental disorder by the American Psychological Association was no more a scientifically based decision than are any of the decisions that have been made in the last few years about what should be in the Diagnostic Manual of the APA (DSM). So much so that psychiatrist, who are real medial doctors, are declining to use the listed disorders because they are the result of political manipulation and trends.
        I do believe that homosexual behavior, like all moral decisions is the result primarily of a moral failure. Homosexual tendencies are usually the result of a disordered psychologically based trauma primarily occurring during childhood. I do not know a single person living the gay lifestyle who was not psychologically damaged as a child. I suspect there are some, though I also suspect those individuals are people who were confused by natural hormonal based feeling during adolescence who were then led astray by sexual predators who took advantage of them.
        I certainly believe that trusting the psychological profession to provide protection in this instance is the wrong decision. It cannot be a substitute for discernment. Spot on Father.

  4. The big question is are you Homosexual? If the answer is yes. End of interview. No Seminary! What in the World is letting Homosexuals into the priesthood? Even if they are not active it is still considered a disorder. Disordered Priests in a Church with a history of Pedacasty which are Homosexual men who are attracted to adolescent boys. It’s been around since the time of the Greeks. Wait what is the attraction of the Homosexual into the Priesthood anyways? Could he be attracted to Jesus as a lover. That us really disordered and if ArchBishops are allowing these Homosexuals in the priesthood with a wink of the eye has the Church really learned anything of the damage done the Her. The Catholic Church has been disfigured by the Pedacasty Crisis done by Homosexual Priests at the behest of the Bishops some who are Homosexually disordered themselves. The problem is not going away. The Catholic Church has lost Billions of dollars of donated money from the Catholic faithful to payoff civil damages that should not have happened in the first place. Catholic Priests are not suppose to be Homosexual. The next question should be are Homosexuals ordained Priests illicit in Divine Law? Were these Priest truthful in the first place and ordained in Mortal sin? How can a Catholic Priest be ordained in Mortal sin? Mortal sin cuts the soul away from God! God does not want to have anything to do with that soul until that soul repents. The Catholic Church has lost many members because of this crisis let’s hope Satan does not prevail in this Crisis!

    • Dr McGavin Dr McGavin says:

      The big question which your right concerns do not answer is the fact that often there is not a “Yes” or “No” answer to the question that you pose. This is so because sexual disorder is prevalent, and it is a question of degree of disorder. Further, such a “Yes” or “No” would be at the point in time that the question is posed, whereas sexual disorder can manifest itself at any life-era. Thus the issue is one of practice of virtue. Virtue is learned, and the learning process involves wise pastoring and grace.
      The USA has had a marked history that you recount. This makes calm discernment difficult, and the record of courageous and wise episcopal oversight is chequered. But a calm and sure discernment and administration remains needed, and it is this that I argue. And psychologists will not supply this.
      Father McGavin

      • Thanks for giving an honest left answer in this world of modernization. Your expertise in Phsycology which has nothing to do with spirituality. Spiritually the disorder would be coming from Satan. Homosexuality by it’s nature is based on peversian not that it just rests there but the perversion also can rest in the heterosexualality but with Hetrosexual which is ordered in Nature that’s why we have a sacrament called marriage with a male and a female and God makes the top of the trinity in marriage. Where as it could be said that where Homosexual illicit marriage is at the top of this triangle is Satan who wants to be like God. This disorder feeds it self in sin which the ultimate horror to anything good. But why does a man who desires another man in this disorder would want to become a priest unless their is some intrinsic evil that is of want to be in the priesthood. There are some Homosexual priests out there who are active, who do a good job of covering his bases. Until he gets caught but some never get caught. Yet these Homosexual men are still getting into the seminaries with the Bishops wink of the eye. This is through calm discernment and have nothing to do with virtue. If it was Holy Virtue from the Holy Spirit this man would have been turned away. There are Archbisops who are actively recruiting Homosexual men into the priesthood. This completely illogical and not of the Holy Spirit. So why is the Church continuing to take the same road to perdition which has cost the Catholic Church in the Billions of Billions of dollars. This is serious we have seen the disaster. This is not the 1970’s with this experiment of having Homosexuals in the Priesthood or Monasteries. Even the Priest rehabilitation centers such as St. Luke’s in Maryland which was started by a Homosexual Phsyciatrist who became a priest with the wink of the Archbisop. St. Luke’s rehab was another experimental disaster. Pope Benedict XVI was on the right road of turning the this crisis then the rug was pulled right from under the whole Church with his resignation. Now the Church is in confusion and there are innocent Catholic children still at risk to become future victims and not including active consenting Homosexual relationships between priests or homosexual boyfriends.
        Sixtus Maximus.

  5. Avatar Anderson Thomas says:

    As so far as sexual orientation goes, seminary and formational institutions are no place to work out personal confusion.

    • Dr McGavin Dr McGavin says:

      Sexual confusion is not an issue of “present” / “not present”; it is an issue that is pervasive. Seminarians necessarily will work through “confusions” of varied kinds, including sexual ones, and “confusions” that are not calmly and wisely addressed go underground only to emerge later. Careful discernment and pastoring is needed. Nothing in my article suggests that seminaries are a place to work out marked “confusions”.
      Father McGavin

  6. Avatar donald byrnes says:

    First, in the article’s second paragraph the sex abuse of minors which brought on the scandal is said to be “predominantly” homosexual acts with pubescent youths. “Overwhelmingly” (more than 80%) might be a better word. And second, the first thing that came to mind as the article went on was – where was the reference to the many studies on the origins of the homosexual disorder set out in the Catholic Medical Association’s “Homosexuality and Hope”? This short booklet should be standard fare for anyone charged with evaluating seminary candidates.

    • Dr McGavin Dr McGavin says:

      “Predominantly” can be read as “overwhelmingly”: I know the statistics.
      The article does not focus on the origins of homosexual disorder because it treats present response and the formation of virtuous life. My reference to the observation of Pope Benedict is briefly amplified with remark about origins that especially locate in deprivation of wholesome male mentoring during crucial formative years. My article does not provide a comprehensive bibliography for the topic, since my principal purpose is to address the need to attend to a Church way of doing things (directions that were then under the Congregation for Catholic Education, and are now under the Congregation for Clergy), rather than a civil society way of doing things. Seminaries are a place for forming discipleship of a quality fit for the sacred ministry of the Church.
      Father McGavin

  7. Avatar Andrew Butler says:

    Dear Father McGavin, Thank you for your carefully written and thought-provoking article. Your endorsement of an approach to formation based upon careful discernment and pastoring over against a psychologically-based one seems a wise idea to me. It seems odd and inconsistent that some rightly recount the failed psychological enterprise aimed at rehabilitating pedophile priests but trust the same institutional bodies responsible for it to effectively determine the suitability of a candidate to the priesthood. If the approach you endorse had been implemented in place of the flawed schema that precipitated and/or worsened the abuse crisis, I expect the scope of the scandal would have been greatly reduced. Incidentally, why is it you post alternately as “Fr McGavin” and “Dr McGavin?” And finally, I, too, was confused by the comment titled “Worshiping the Devil by Default.” The post refers to several journal articles (in mostly Catholic publications noted for their orthodoxy) that I was able to track down. If you’re interested in reading any of them please let me know in an email and I’ll send you a list of links to them. Pax et Caritas, Andrew

    • Fr McGavin Fr McGavin says:

      The “Father” and “Doctor” is because both apply to my person. The posting concerning the BigPulpit com posting arises because I could not interpret it. The Web Editor has since done so.
      I do not speak against psychological referral where specific neuroses or psychotic conditions are identified. And psychologists as psychologists may be able to help in developmental issues. But, as I argue in my Journal of Moral Education article (below), “moral psychology” is not quite what the Church would understand by that term. On the question of pedophiles, one is dealing with “children in men’s bodies” (wicked children in men’s bodies), and reform of that kind of long-standing perverse under-development and mis-development rarely occurs. That’s why virtuous development during seminary years is so crucial, as this involves assisting “growing up” in a wholesome way.

  8. Fr James Gibson CR Fr James Gibson CR says:

    Fr. McGavin– Excellent article and helpful for vocational recruiting! I would just suggest, from beneficial personal experience, that the “requirement” of psychological screening versus sound moral –virtue-guided– discernment for seminary candidates is not an either-or proposition. Both can and should be beneficial to personal growth of a holistic personality. When I joined my religious congregation in the early 1970’s, both a medical evaluation (check-up) and a psychological evaluation were asked of me. On both processes, my voluntary release of information was necessary for the religious formation personnel to have any access to it. I found that just as medical self-knowledge could guide my habits of eating, drinking, exercise, etc., so also psychological self-knowledge helped greatly the development of my personal maturity. The benefits of the psychological information went far beyond the question of sexuality. The evaluations were a guide to my rectors in fostering my growth in peer relationships, dealing in a healthy way with my introverted personality, and eventually to growth in personal leadership– a needed quality for pastors!
    In general, I believe both virtue-based discernment AND psychological evaluation are instruments of God’s grace in preparing priests –and religious– for service in the Church.

    • Fr McGavin Fr McGavin says:

      Fr Gibson,
      My article was not about the removal of psychological testing, but about the use of psychological services contrary to the Instruction and Guidelines of the Congregation for Catholic Education (the oversight is now transferred to the Congregation for Clergy), and for making well-tested external forum observations of a wisdom kind in discerning and fostering vocational suitability.

  9. Readers might find of interest our articles from the Catholic Medical Association’s Linacre Quarterly 2011 issue on the crisis in the Church, The Distinction between Deep-Seated Homosexual Tendencies and Transitory Same-Sex Attractions in Candidates for Seminary and Religious Life, http://www.priestlyhealing.com and Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Clergy. The Boy Gender Conformity scale should be used by all mental health professionals in the screening of candidates for seminary.

  10. The correct link for the article that I have recommended is http://www.maneyonline.com/action/doSearch?AllField=Richard+Fitzgibbons&SeriesKey=lnq.
    Seminarians with same sex attraction should be required to participate in the treatment of their psychological conflicts, particularly weaknesses in male confidence as demonstrated in a number of international studies, in order to protect adolescent males and the Church from further shame and sorrow.

    • Fr McGavin Fr McGavin says:

      Thank you Dr Fitzgibbon for bringing to my attention the useful and well-informed Kleponis and Fitzgibbon article in Linacre Quarterly. Your depiction of “transitory same sex attraction”, drawing on extensive literature and experience, is I believe accurate. I note that you are a Consultant to the Congregation for Clergy (and that Seminaries are now under that Congregation, rather than under Catholic Education), and, please God, your advice will be wisely utilized by that Congregation. I continue to have reservations about “required” psychological testing. Those who have “deep seated homosexual attraction” according to your description are readily identified. Those who have “transitory same sex attraction” as you outline will also present over time what needs address in a targeted way. I stand by my reading of the Instruction and Guidelines of the Congregation for Catholic Education.

  11. Fr McGavin Fr McGavin says:

    I do not understand this posting, nor its heading “Worshiping the Devil by Default”. There is certainly “seduction … in culture” (that is nothing new), and discernment is required to identify seduction.
    I do not connect with the reference to “My Invisible Friend”. I do not see the “invisible friend” in my article. Ministry is about discipleship under Jesus Christ. He is not “invisible”.


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