The Screening, Protection, and Crisis Education of Seminarians

Fr. D. Paul Sullins, PhD, is a married Catholic priest. He was formerly an Episcopal minister and has been blessed with a marriage of 30 years and three children. Fr. Sullins recently retired as a Professor of Sociology at the Catholic University of America, and continues as Research Professor and Director of the Leo Initiative for Social Research at Catholic University; he is also a senior research associate of the Ruth Institute. He is a leader in the field of research on same-sex parenting and its implications for child development. He has written four books and over 100 journal articles, research reports, and essays on issues of family, faith, and culture. Fr. Sullins’s recent robust and important research on the sex-abuse crisis in the Church has received widespread and international attention. His research findings are important in the evaluation, formation, and protection of seminarians. Recommendations will be offered in view of them.

Fr. Sullins’s study1 analyzed national data collected by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, data codified from the 1100-page Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report released in August 2018, and data from a 2002 survey of Catholic priests by the Los Angeles Times. He has empirically shown that homosexuality in priests is strongly linked to the crisis’s origins.

Among his research findings that need widespread attention and discussion that he related in interviews are:

  • “In the 1950s, about 3% of priests were of a homosexual orientation, by their own reports. By the 1980s, that had risen to over 16%. So we have sort of a fivefold increase in the percentage of priests who are homosexual, in a pretty straight line from the 1950s through the 1980s.”
  • “We have a very similar increase in abuse incidents over that same period, and we don’t know the sexual orientation of any particular abuser. So we’re inferring from the association of those two correlations that there’s some influence of one on the other. So my conclusion has to be the opposite of that of the John Jay Report.”2
  • “Estimates from these findings predict that, had the proportion of homosexual priests remained at the 1950s level, at least 12,000 fewer children, mostly boys, would have suffered abuse.”
  • “A quarter of priests ordained in the late 1960s report the existence of a homosexual subculture in their seminary, rising to over half of priests ordained in the 1980s. This trend was also strongly correlated with increasing child sex abuse.”3

In addition, Dean Hoge’s 2001 research at Catholic University of America, reported that 55% of priests identified a homosexual subculture in their diocese or religious community. Forty-one percent of the priests said a homosexual subculture existed in the seminaries they attended. The younger the priest, the more likely he was able to identify a homosexual subculture. Forty-five percent of priests ages 25–35 said the subculture clearly existed in seminary, compared to 8% of priests over 56.4

Fr. Sullins stated that in order to deal with homosexual subcultures in seminaries, “the first thing is to stop the denial.”

The importance of this recommendation was supported by the recent experience of a young man discerning a priestly vocation to a religious community. He told his spiritual director that on his visit to a one religious community he was asked if he would prefer a room in the area with those who identify as homosexual or with those who identify as heterosexual.

Cardinals Brandmüller and Müller on
Homosexuality and the Sexual-abuse Crisis

The increase in homosexuality in the priesthood has been described by a number of Cardinals, including Cardinal Brandmüller, an authoritative Church historian who was president of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences from 1998 to 2009. He wrote in a recent article, “The situation is comparable to that of the Church in the 11th and 12th century.”

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller sees the present-day Church shaken to its foundations on account of the spread of sexual abuse and homosexuality “in an almost epidemic manner among the clergy and even in the hierarchy.”

He cites as a major cause and weakness the decline in opposing the currents of moral theology according to which “what was forbidden yesterday can be allowed today,” homosexual acts included. He invoked prayers to St. Peter Damien who spoke out strongly against the homosexuality in the Church in the eleventh century.5

Cardinal Gerard Müller, the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a recent interview stated that the Church needs to address the problem of homosexual conduct in the clergy, saying that “it can in no case be tolerated.”

He stated, “Only about 5% of the offenders are being assessed as pathologically pedophile, whereas the great mass of offenders have freely trampled upon the Sixth Commandment out of their own immorality and thus have defied, in a blaspheming way, the Holy Will of God.”

Cardinal Müller said, “That McCarrick, together with his clan and a homosexual network, was able to wreak havoc in a mafia-like manner in the Church is connected with the underestimation of the moral depravity of homosexual acts among adults.”6

Response to the Crisis

A number of steps need to be taken immediately to protect youth, seminarians and adults from further homosexual abuse by priests and Bishops.

These include a more psychologically rigorous evaluation of candidates for priesthood and the introduction of required programs on homosexuality and sexual morality in seminaries by Courage.

Courage is the only program in the Church for those with same sex attractions that teaches the fullness of the Church’s doctrine on sexual morality and chastity. The goals of Courage are friendship with Jesus and chaste male friendships.

Those found in their evaluations to have deep-seated homosexuality cannot be candidates for the priesthood as described by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Proper Evaluation of Candidates for Priesthood

Based on four decades of consulting work with candidates for seminary, seminarians and priests, I am convinced that the leading cause of the marked increase in the prevalence of priests who embrace a homosexual identity, as identified by Sullins’s research, is the failure of mental health professionals, vocation directors and Bishops to properly evaluate young men for the priesthood. A second cause is the quiet tolerance and acceptance of consensual, adult sexual relationships among clergy.

A third cause is the appointment by the Pope of bishops and cardinals who disregard the negative influence of those who cling to deep-seated homosexuality and the failure to correct those in leadership positions in the Church who have expressed the desire to bless same-sex couples.7 This winking at homosexuality is harmful to the formation of seminarians, priests and religious, as well as to the motivation of those with same-sex attractions to protect youth and adults by leading chaste lives.

We have described in the Catholic Medical Association’s Linacre Quarterly August 2011 issue on the crisis in the Church, which I co-edited, the testing and the psychological history that is essential in uncovering same-sex attractions and in protecting minors from abuse and the Church from further shame and sorrow.8

Boy Gender Conformity Scale (BGCS)

Our present recommendation is that the most important psychological test is the Boyhood Gender Conformity Scale (BGCS)9. The BGCS was developed at the University of Indiana and has the ability to identify homosexuality with 87 percent accuracy.

This measure is rarely been used by mental health professionals in the screening of candidates. This grave oversight needs to be corrected immediately through the intervention of bishops and religious superiors and vocation directors. They should insist that it be used in the evaluation of all candidates. Also, rectors of seminaries should require that the BGCS be submitted as part of the application process of all seminarians.

Its use could have resulted in seminarians receiving the proper spiritual direction and support that could have protected them from homosexual acting-out.

Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI)

The other essential psychological instrument that should be used for all candidates for priesthood is the Narcissism Personality Inventory10. Prior to the use of this measure, a history of narcissistic personality traits should be explored in candidates.

As I have described previously, narcissism is an epidemic personality weakness that leads people to believe that they are entitled to use others as sexual objects.

In fact, narcissism in the personality is the major cause in priests, bishops, and cardinals of acting with an entitled attitude, which is appropriately described as clericalism.

Consideration should be given to asking a parent who is supportive of their son’s vocation to consider completing an NPI on him also.

Pope Benedict wrote that selfishness has an effect upon all of us similar to that of gravity. He further warned that it can make one “a prisoner of the self.”

This is the only psychological measure that should be repeated, preferably in third theology, to help the seminarian evaluate the influence of this most prevalent personality weakness upon his life.

This self-knowledge is important because, in my professional experience, narcissism in priests was the leading personality weakness that led them to act against their masculine nature as protectors of youth by abusing adolescent males.

Psychological History

The essential history from childhood is the evaluation of the secure attachment relationships in four major areas, that is, the father, the mother, siblings, and male peers.

The most common conflict identified in those with unwanted SSA is the lack of close male friendships and a sense of not fitting into the male world. These males attribute this emotional pain to the lack of athletic abilities as a result of a lack of eye-hand coordination that is necessary to participate comfortably in baseball, basketball, soccer, and football. In a culture that is obsessed with sports as a measure of masculinity, it is difficult for a boy to develop healthy male confidence if he does not participate in some athletic activity.

An essential question in the evaluation process is asking for the name of the candidate’s best male friend in elementary, middle, and high school. Not infrequently, the male appears embarrassed and relates that he did not have a best friend when young, or did have one but he moved away.

The absence of close male friendships and male acceptance in childhood often results in unconscious loneliness, sadness, insecurity, social anxiety, anger, and a poor body image. The attraction to other males often begins prior to adolescence and is an unconscious attempt to escape from emotional pain.

Also, the lack of a close, loving, and supportive father relationship is present in some of these men that intensifies loneliness and male insecurity. This loneliness can emerge years later when living in stressful rectories or religious communities. Important historical information in attempting to understand McCarrick is that his father died when he was three years old.

The seminarians with the most intense same-sex attractions, in my experience, are those who did not bond with and feel accepted by male peers, nor with their fathers.

Today, pure narcissism fueled by unbridled sexual promiscuity and curiosity can also result in an attraction to the homosexual lifestyle.

Candidates with transitory same-sex attractions do not base their masculine identity upon their sexual attractions. While not understanding fully the origins of their same-sex attractions, they do not believe they were born with them and greatly desire to overcome them. Usually, they have not had a history of homosexual acting-out. They accept the fullness of the Church’s teaching on sexual morality and want to live and teach it. They do not subscribe to current societal views on homosexuality and same-sex unions.

Other traumatic experiences from childhood that sometimes emerge are bullying trauma by siblings or peers, and sexual abuse. Adolescent and young-adult homosexual behaviors and pornography are also important issues that need to be addressed.

The late Fr. John Harvey, OSFS, the founder of Courage, recommended that candidates for priesthood with transitory SSA should lead chaste lives for three years before applying to seminary.

Also, the lack of a secure, loving mother relationship can result in significant loneliness and male insecurity. Unless addressed, such psychological conflicts can create a risk factor to attractions to adolescent females and to acting-out with adult women.

Healing

Once psychological factors are identified as important in the transitory SSA, vocation directors and bishops not infrequently recommend spiritual direction and treatment of the emotional conflicts, some during seminary formation and others initiating treatment before starting seminary.

If the evaluation process indicates a weakness in male confidence from the absence of close male friendships, the young man is encouraged to meet with a spiritual director to work on his relationship with the Lord as his best friend in his childhood, adolescence, and young adult life.

He is also encouraged to enter into the forgiveness process with male peers who hurt him. Growth in the virtue of gratitude for one’s God-given male gifts at each life stage is also recommended, especially when attracted to another male.

For those candidates who lacked a secure, loving father relationship, spiritual direction that focuses on growth in the relationship with St. Joseph as another loving father and with God the Father are often very helpful. Such spiritual direction should be with a priest who has successfully helped seminarians grow in these spiritual relationships.

Also, gratitude for one’s unique God-given masculinity in association with growth in male friendships and friendship with Christ can, over time, decrease effeminate mannerisms.

One seminarian, who had been working on forgiving a distant father and critical older brothers and male peers, because of his inability to play sports, related that while on retreat he had the experience of understanding that his masculine identity was not determined by these males. Rather, his masculinity was first and foremost determined by his configuring himself daily to become another Christ and by accepting God as his father. This insight helped him greatly in the difficult process of forgiving his father, older brothers, and male peers.

Another seminarian identified the origins of his SSA as male insecurity related to a poor body image that resulted in attractions to other males. He found that, as his friendship and identification with the Lord deepened, his insecurities decreased and his confidence grew. When temptations did occur, he was able to respond successfully to them by appreciating both the gifts in the other seminarian and in himself.

Mental health professionals who screen candidates and who are not familiar with this approach to evaluation and healing would benefit from attending the annual conference Courage offers for priests and mental health professionals (couragerc.org).

Also, bishops and vocation directors should determine whether mental health professionals who evaluate candidates from priesthood and who treat seminarians know how to determine whether same sex attractions are present and are familiar with their treatment. Those who do not accept the Church’s teaching on sexual morality should no longer be allowed to screen candidates nor treat seminarians.

New Approaches

Since the post-crisis programs have failed to identify two of the leading psychological causes of the sexual-abuse crisis, homosexuality and narcissism in priests, new programs need to be developed that address these issues for seminarians and priests.

An online format would be ideal, with Courage developing one aspect of the program with its successful and loyal approach to homosexuality, and with Catholic mental health professionals, with proven expertise, forming the section on narcissism and psychological conflicts.

It is important to cite that the recent criticism of the late Fr. Harvey, Courage, and myself in regard to the sexual-abuse crisis is filled with falsehoods.11

An earlier expression of anger against Courage, then in a passive-aggressive manner. was the publication in 1997 of the USCCB’s document on homosexuality for youth, Always Our Children (AOC). This severely flawed document failed to describe the well-documented serious psychological and medical risks to youth in the homosexual lifestyle, nor did it cite Courage, the only program for those with same-sex attractions in the Church that is loyal the teachings of the Lord on sexual morality.12

AOC is another example of the shameful failure in spiritual fatherhood by the bishops. Spiritual fathers protect youth rather than place them at risk of abuse by offering them and their parents an unscientific document which also deliberately ignores the benefits of Faith. There can be little doubt that McCarrick’s role in the development and approval of this document by the majority of bishops was not of a minor nature. His harmful legacy and influence must end.

AOC should be withdrawn as soon as possible with a request for forgiveness to Catholic parents and youth. Also, bishops should be cautioned not to use it in their dioceses.

The USCCB should make a commitment to address the real spiritual and psychological issues in the crisis programs. To date, the denial of the roles of the rejection of the Lord’s teaching on sexual morality and the psychological conflicts of narcissism and homosexuality in the crisis, in all likelihood, can also be attributed to the far-reaching influence of McCarrick and other Cardinals and Bishops with similar views.

Vatican support is needed for clear, rather than ambiguous, teaching on homosexuality. Fr. Sullins’s research demonstrates that proper mental health screening of candidates that attempts to uncover and address the two leading psychological conflicts in clerical sexual abusers, narcissism and homosexuality, are essential.

  1. D. Paul Sullins, “Is Catholic clergy sex abuse related to homosexual priests?,” (Ruth Institute, 2018), ruthinstitute.org/_literature_243759/Clergy_Sex_Abuse_Report.
  2. Fr. Paul Sullins with Matthew E. Bunson, “Is Catholic Clergy Sex Abuse Related to Homosexual Priests?: An interview . . . ,” National Catholic Register, ncregister.com/daily-news/is-catholic-clergy-sex-abuse-related-to-homosexual-priests.
  3.  Doug Mainwaring, “Landmark study proves homosexuality is strongly linked to Catholic clergy sex abuse,” LifeSiteNews, lifesitenews.com/news/landmark-study-proves-homosexuality-is-strongly-linked-to-catholic-cle.
  4. Darlene Gavron Stevens, “Half of Catholic clergy sees a gay presence in priesthood,” Chicago Tribune, chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2002-08-17-0208170232-story.html.
  5. As quoted in Sandro Magister, “Dubia cardinal invokes St. Peter Damian, condemns ‘sodomitic filth’ in Church,” LifeSiteNews, lifesitenews.com/opinion/dubia-cardinal-invokes-st.-peter-damian-condemns-sodomitic-filth-in-church.
  6. Maike Hickson, “INTERVIEW: Cdl. Müller on abuse crisis and its link to homosexuality in priesthood,” LifeSiteNews, lifesitenews.com/blogs/interview-cdl.-mueller-on-abuse-crisis-and-its-link-to-homosexuality-in-pri.
  7. See Dorothy Cummings McLean, “Fr. James Martin: Pope appoints ‘gay-friendly’ bishops, cardinals to change Church on LGBT,” LifeSiteNews, lifesitenews.com/news/fr.-james-martin-pope-appoints-gay-friendly-bishops-cardinals-to-change-chu; also Jonathan B. Coe, “What the Cupich Moment Can Teach Ambitious Seminarians,” Crisis Magazine, crisismagazine.com/2018/what-the-cupich-moment-can-teach-ambitious-seminarians.
  8. See “The Distinction between Deep-Seated Homosexual Tendencies and Transitory Same-Sex Attractions in Candidates for Seminary and Religious Life,” available at ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6026963/.
  9. S. Hockenberry and E. Billingham, Boyhood Gender Conformity Scale (BGCS) (Bloomington, IN: Department of Applied Health Science, Indiana University, 1987).
  10. See openpsychometrics.org/tests/NPI/.
  11. See “Responses to the Sexual Abuse Crisis and the Problem of Cover up” at priestlyhealing.com/sites/default/files/files/Crux5.pdf.
  12. See “Special Report — Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Homosexuality: An Appeal Concerning Always Our Children,” Crisis Magazine, December 1, 1997, crisismagazine.com/1997/an-appeal-concerning-always-our-children; also Gerard van den Aardweg, PhD, “Jesuit magazine uses ‘gay science’ to deny link between gay priests and abuse crisis: Psychologist,” LifeSiteNews, December 4, 2018, lifesitenews.com/opinion/jesuit-magazine-uses-gay-science-to-deny-link-between-gay-priests-and-abuse.
Dr. Richard P. Fitzgibbons, MD About Dr. Richard P. Fitzgibbons, MD

BS from St. Joseph's University; MD from Temple University School of Medicine, Dept. of Psychiatry, Hospital of the University of Medicine, and the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center.

Richard Fitzgibbons, MD, is the director of the Institute for Marital Healing, located outside Philadelphia, and has worked with hundreds of Catholic marriages and families over the past 40 years. He coauthored Forgiveness Therapy: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope (American Psychological Association Books, 2015), in which he addresses the importance of a treatment plan to uncover and address excessive anger in marital conflicts and divorce. His book Habits for a Healthy Marriage: A Handbook for Catholic Marriages will be published in 2019 by Ignatius Press.

Over the past 38 years, Dr. Fitzgibbons has consulted with priests from many dioceses and religious communities. He has authored articles in The Priest on identifying and resolving emotional conflicts in priestly life and has given conferences on these topics in many dioceses. He coedited an issue of the Catholic Medical Association's Linacre Quarterly (August 2011) on the crisis in the Church, and has served as a consultant to the Congregation for the Clergy. His website is www.PriestlyHealing.com. He has spoken twice to the spiritual directors of American and Canadian seminaries on the origins and healing of transitory same-sex attractions and in many conferences for seminarians.

Comments

  1. Avatar james keating says:

    I would add a fourth reason under “the proper evaluation” section. There has been a devolution in teaching the truth that chaste celibacy is a supernatural call from God. It is NOT a bureaucratically imposed suffering on men who ‘want’ to be priests. Having men go forward in priesthood who cannot or will not or who have no idea they must channel their erotic desires in the deepest contemplative prayer will continue to be a source of unchaste behavior in priests. Being a priest is not “my” idea it is a call to allow Christ to live his bridegroom mysteries over again in a man’s body. Do you have THAT call? Fewer priests who reject this mystical life are needed.

    • Yes. I agree. In our theologates in India, professors say it is “unnatural” for a man not to have sex. But that would mean that Paul and Jesus were unnatural!!!! They should teach celibacy as a supernatural gift.

  2. At the time these problems are recognized these men should be immediately dismissed from seminary. The problems are usually deep seated and rarely go away attesting to all the counseling and moving priests about and that has been a complete failure.

  3. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    Strong opinions, to be sure, about cause and effect. Is homosexuality the cause of sex abuse? That seems to be implied. Are there any peer reviews of Paul Sullins research? There is no mention of heterosexual activity among priests. I suppose this is missing because the heterosexual activity is more likely between consenting adults, even though a power issue is involved. Because it is undetected, is heterosexual activity among priests less a problem then homosexual activity? Screening candidates is a necessity and can be helpful in the growth process for people growing up in a narcissistic culture. However, it is not the solution. Men and women seek to promote the ego and run from any threat to the ego. Wisdom would suggest caution if it is thought that getting rid of homosexuals will solve all our sex abuse problems.

  4. Avatar Bruce Teich, MD, FAAFP says:

    Very well-said and very well-researched again, my good Dr. Fitzgibbons! Thank you. Please continue to make your voice heard. May we the faithful church militant continue our daily work to help bring the hearts of men back to the Heart of Christ. Holy Mother Church shall indeed conquer this filthy evil infestation.
    Bruce Teich, MD, FAAFP

  5. Avatar PM Peloquin says:

    A fifth area under “the proper evaluation” section, and perhaps a more controversial one, I believe, may be screening for spiritual trauma, as well as personal histories that reflect problems of demonic access in one’s life and one’s family: i.e. family generational influence, occult experience, soul connections, and unforgiveness. Deep spiritual trauma wounds are difficult to detect and fester over many years until dysfunction erupts, usually in relationships.

  6. Avatar Kenneth Davis says:

    Another difficulty with this article is comparing self-identified homosexuals across decades. Other research indicates that as society has become more accepting of homosexuality, people (including priests) are more comfortable admitting to a homosexual orientation. Thus the apparent rise in self-identified homosexual clergy between 1950 and 1980 might be explained simply by the fact that as society became more accepting of this orientation, priests were more comfortable (or more self-aware?) admitting to this orientation.

    • Avatar Michael Wagner says:

      This possibility was specifically addressed in the research by Fr. Sullins, and was a controlled factor in the analysis. The findings discovered were found to be robust taking this effect into consideration. The original article is well worth the read for those interested in replicating or reviewing. As a psychologist, I was impressed by his research.

  7. Avatar Terese M. Schroeder says:

    Has there been an earnest inquiry into the Congregation of St. Paul? When I reached out to the president of that order several years ago, it was because I was personally aware of a seminarian that had lived a homosexual lifestyle for many years before entering seminary. The president of the order, Fr. Michael McGarry, was quite surprised at my bold assertions about this seminarian. But he did not indicate any alarm about this man’s past lifestyle. We discussed the church’s teaching on the restricting admission of SSA folks to seminaries, but he was unmoved. Father McGarry did not properly handle the situation, in that he did not stop that seminarian from being ordained. Rather he avoided addressing this man’s past and the risk to souls, not to mention the sacrilege possible in the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist Later I learned from Fr. James Lloyd, CSP (author of “Catholicism and Same Sex Attraction”) that he estimated that 50% of the priests in his order, the Congregation of St. Paul, were homosexual. This is an atrocity. But all of us catholics over 50 have seen these folks in action. They are undermining Catholic teaching in so very many ways. We need to see that this stops.

    • Avatar Raymond F Rice says:

      I too once told a seminary rector many years ago about a student who was actively chasing boy/ men and women. But he was ordained and a few years later thrown out of the priesthood for stealing parish funds.