What Attracts Homosexuals to the Priesthood?

Why would a young homosexual man today, in a time of general acceptance of homosexuals in all walks of life, choose the priesthood?

About a month ago, in Crisis, Kevin Wells suggested that one cause for Bishop Strickland’s dismissal was the ire of other bishops at his raising the issue of homosexuality in the priesthood at the USCCB conference in 2018. Regardless of whether that was a cause for his dismissal, the issue—for some it is not a problem—of homosexuals in the priesthood is divisive. 

Assuming, as I do, that there is an influential number of homosexuals, or those sympathetic to homosexuality, in the priesthood, I want to ask not so much how this has come to be but, more importantly, why it continues to be so. In other words, why would a young homosexual man today choose the priesthood?  

This column is published pseudonymously. Before writing this, I consulted two sources who are much more “in the know” than I am on this issue. Both thought it was a good question to ask, and one gave some support to my ideas. Interestingly, though, both said they did not want to write about it now for fear of the fallout. I may add that both sources are of absolute integrity and courage. I say this only to show that, however one thinks on the issue, it is one that does not allow for the taking of prisoners. I have no personal fear of the repercussions, but I do have concern for those dear to me. With that out of the way, let me proceed.   

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So, how did we get here? The obvious answer is the devil. What better way to cripple the Church? Heresies can be fought because men can argue and the Truth can be known. Destroying our belief in the men themselves, though, pulls the rug out from that. Cardinal X may be as brilliant as St. Thomas Aquinas, but if he’s a pervert, you won’t listen to him in the first place. And sexual loyalties, especially clandestine ones, are notoriously stronger than ideological ones.

The causes of homosexuality are complex. Also, there has never been a time when the priesthood has been spotless. But if we want to say that homosexuality is more of a problem today than in times past, one reason may be the devastation of men during the two World Wars. This is a broad brush and, while conjectural, also, I submit, plausible. 

The male population of Europe was severely thinned out after World War I. This happened again in World War II, with the thinning of American manhood added to it. Catholic men who survived the wars and wanted to marry were in a buyers’ market, so to speak. For those Catholic men who “weren’t of the marrying sort” but wanted a respectable career, the priesthood was a good alternative. This was definitely not the rule, but it may have been enough of an exception to gain a foothold. Besides, as we know, Satan does not follow the rules.  

The 1960s poured gas on the fire. The Sexual Revolution infiltrated the Church almost as much as anywhere else. She fired a salvo with Humanae Vitae but was so repulsed by the reaction, even among her own clergy, that she remained silent on sexual matters for some time. Seminaries didn’t ask about, much less teach, sexual purity.  

By the end of the 1960s, the Church was hit with a dearth of vocations and priests. Many priests had left the Church to get married; that left many who “weren’t of the marrying kind.” In the 1970s, dioceses desperate for vocations did not ask too deeply into an applicant’s sexual proclivities; besides, those who should have been doing the asking might have wanted a certain sort. The “spirit of Vatican II” also had a crushing effect. It is a fact that applicants during this time who held traditional views were often turned away.  

So, by the mid-1980s we had a solid block of homosexual clergy. Pope St. John Paul II, whatever his shortcomings on not confronting this issue, nevertheless inspired a generation of young men enthusiastic for the Faith. That may have restored some balance coming into the Third Millennium; but influence, not numbers, are what count, and the influence seemed definitely there. 

But now we have the question of the last thirty years. Why would a young homosexual man choose the priesthood today? Or put another way, what attraction does the priesthood have for a homosexual man? Homosexuality is accepted today. The young man would find hardly any career closed to him because of his homosexuality; in some spheres, it may even be a check in his favor. The priesthood may be one of the few fields where the discovery of this “lifestyle” still has some fear of disgrace and recrimination. So why choose it? 

One type of young man may believe that God is calling him to it despite his homosexuality. He believes that God will give him the grace to remain chaste while he shepherds his flock. He may even believe that by pursuing this vocation, he will be “cured” of his homosexuality. Another type may believe he is called to the priesthood because of his homosexuality; that he will in some way be a “groundbreaker,” one of those who will show the world that an openly homosexual man can be a good priest and that he can lead the Church to recognize the legitimacy of homosexual relations. If either of these two is the case, it is up to those helping the young man discern the vocation (assuming he tells them about his homosexuality) to tell him “No.”

Let me posit another possibility. It is admittedly conjectural and anecdotal, but does, I believe, have some basis. After giving it, I shall qualify it, so bear with me. It has to do with how we have come to view the priesthood and priests in the time since Vatican II. It may be that before Vatican II we viewed priests as almost demigods. A priest was a mysterious figure in a cassock and baretta, aloof from the life of others. At Mass, it was his office, not his personality, that was paramount. 

In the Usus Antiquior worship, it didn’t matter whether Fr. Gregarious or Fr. Taciturn celebrated. The rite subsumed him; the words weren’t even his own but that of an ancient language he could not manipulate. Except for the homily, you didn’t care who the celebrant was, and the celebrant didn’t—in a sense—care who was in the congregation. It could be two people; it could be two hundred. Psychologically, he (the celebrant) got little, if anything, out of it either way. 

By his posture, his focus was not on the congregation, and, being ad orientem, the congregation didn’t so much see him as see through him. The fact that the words of the Mass were often inaudible, and obviously spoken not to the congregation but to Someone on the “other side” in front of him, made his personality a “nonissue.” 

If that is how we viewed the priest then, it is no longer so. Rightly or wrongly, I believe we—and by “we” I mean many laity and some priests—now see the priest as a type of CEO of the parish. (This view could be applied up the ecclesiastical chain.)  

I would argue that this sense of the priest is advanced and enhanced with the Novus Ordo. By intention or chance, consciously or unconsciously, the person and personality—rather than the office—of the priest becomes important. For half an hour each day, and for an hour two or three times on Sunday, during weddings and funerals, he is—as many parishes officially designate him—the presider and facilitator. If it is not blasphemous to say so, he is the master of ceremonies.  For half an hour each day, and for an hour two or three times on Sunday, during weddings and funerals, [the priest] is—as many parishes officially designate him—the presider and facilitator.Tweet This

I do not entirely blame priests who have fallen victim to this. My own profession involves much public speaking, and it is a constant challenge—and temptation—to find ways of dealing with those in front of me. For a priest at Mass, it would take a superhuman amount of humility and recollection not to take into account the reaction of those he is facing.  

I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist. My experience of those who have been (and are) tempted by homosexuality, though, has led me to believe they have a deep need for affirmation and attention; a desire to be accepted and recognized. We all have this to some degree, but the homosexual, perhaps because of a wound beyond his control, feels this more deeply. Hence the attraction to the theater and more conspicuous dress. They can be painfully shy but all the more so desirous of pleasing. I have known young men drawn into homosexuality not because of a definite attraction to those of his own sex but simply out of a rejection by those of the other.  

My argument, therefore, is that many homosexual men are drawn to the priesthood because with the Novus Ordo Mass it offers a safe, frequent, and immediate gratification of this need for attention and affirmation. In extreme cases, it can be a craving for adulation.  

Along with active homosexuals, there are also what Fr. Paul Mankowski called “tames.” In a 1996 essay for The Latin Mass, he describes “tames” as worldly, terrified by isolation, overly friendly but incapable of real friendship. They have a notable lack of interest in “first principles,”—e.g., metaphysics and dogma—because such things cause division. Their religious convictions are tailored to conform to the most influential forces of the environment. They are “Company men,” extremely susceptible to emotional blackmail. They are ambitious and careerist, with a demand for personal loyalty in proportion to an incapacity for adherence to principle. 

So, while perhaps not actively homosexual themselves, they side with the homosexual element in the priesthood lest they appear out of step with the times or run the risk of their own past sins being known. It also describes a priest who would love nothing better than being the center of attention as often as possible. 

Having said this, let me state clearly what I am not saying. I am not saying that all priests who prefer the Novus Ordo are homosexual. I am not saying the Novus Ordo was designed with the homosexual in mind. The origins of the Novus Ordo are troublesome enough without putting that on the plate. There have been problems with homosexuality among clergy celebrating the Latin Mass. Statistically, it does seem to be rarer, but that could also be simply because priests celebrating the Latin Mass come from traditionally-oriented families and seminaries where ideas of chastity and purity have been taken more seriously. I am also not saying that priests who are outgoing or affable are, by that fact, homosexual. 

What I am saying is that it is plausible to me that a young man with an abnormal desire for attention and affirmation would be drawn to a career which can—not necessarily does—offer satisfaction of affirmation and attention on a daily basis, and much more so than in other careers. I am saying that the Novus Ordo allows for the gratification of these desires more so than the Latin Mass—again, not by purposeful design, but simply because he faces and “interacts” with the people and the language is “his.” 

We all have our horror stories of priests who flout the rubrics; who ad lib the prayers; who wander among the congregation like a talk-show host during the homily; who seem unable to get through Mass without injecting some humor or in some way drawing attention to me. The variations on the Novus Ordo—children’s liturgies, teen liturgies, young adult liturgies, folk Masses —give further scope to exhibitionism. Again, I’m not saying the Novus Ordo was made for this but only that this is possible in the Novus Ordo while it is impossible in the Traditional Mass. 

So, get rid of the Novus Ordo and we won’t have homosexuals in the priesthood? This is clearly not the case. Again, there are many chaste, self-sacrificing, wonderful priests who celebrate the Novus Ordo, and the traditional community has had its scandals. The Latin Mass, however, offers—one could say requires—an idea of the priesthood that is self-abnegating and self-effacing. It says to any aspirant, “You are an instrument and nothing more. Your personality is of no account. If what you want is praise, attention, and recognition, do not look here.”  

I know some will get angry with this idea, and others will scoff at it. Some priests, though, who want to celebrate the Latin Mass but are forbidden, may see their longing articulated by it. In any event, I believe that until we return to a vision of the priesthood that is discreet and unassuming, we shall have problems with those who, for whatever reason, want to exalt or affirm themselves. It is an idea worth thinking about. 

[Photo Credit: Shutterstock]


  • Francis Magister

    Francis Magister is a pseudonym for a teacher at a Catholic school.

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