This article is about individuals in the Roman Catholic Church. For a general discussion see Homosexuality and Roman Catholicism

Studies into homosexuality and Roman Catholic priests are contested and controversial. Roman Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy at their ordination and as such are called to refrain from all sexual activity. In addition, the official position of the Catholic Church, while calling for the 'respect' of homosexuals, condemns as sinful any active homosexual lifestyle. Nevertheless, several studies suggest that there are higher than average numbers of homosexual men (active and non-active) within the Catholic priesthood and higher orders.

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Estimating the number of homosexual priests

In 1102 Saint Anselm of Canterbury demanded that the punishment for homosexuality should be moderate because "this sin has been so public that hardly anyone has blushed for it, and many, therefore have plunged into it without realising its gravity'. It was probably only in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that a mass condemnation of homosexuality began in Europe. This moderated considerably in the final decade of the twentieth century with the distinction now made by Catholic Church authorities between homosexual orientation and homosexual genital activity, forbidding the latter while tolerating the existence of the former.

Modern times

Estimating the number of homosexuals in a given population can be problematic due to problems of measurement, definition, and heterogeneous geographic distribution. Estimates in large populations range from 1% to 15%, with a mean of 4%-5%. (See Demographics of sexual orientation.) Despite this, evidence from several studies has shown that there are higher than average numbers of homosexual men (active and non-active) within the Catholic priesthood and higher orders.

A number of anonymous studies have suggested a prevalence of homosexual leanings in the Roman Catholic priesthood. Studies by Wolf and Sipe from the early 1990s suggest that the percentage of priests in the Catholic Church who admitted to being gay or were in homosexual relationships was well above the national average for the United States of America.[1] Dr Elizabeth Stuart, a former convener of the Catholic Caucus of the Lesbian and Gay Christian movement claimed

"It has been estimated that at least 33 per cent of all priests in the RC Church in the United States are homosexual."[2]

Anecdotal press reports from anonymous sources also suggest that the incidence of homosexuality in the Roman Catholic priesthood is much higher than in the general population.[3][4] It is theorized part of the overrepresentation might be caused by heterosexual priests leaving in order to marry. But it may also have much to do with the Church offering a perceived 'sanctuary' for many men living in societies where homosexuality is criminalised or shunned - especially reducing the pressure by families to marry and have children.

In one report it was suggested that since the mid-1980s Roman Catholic priests in the United States were dying from AIDS-related illnesses at a rate four times higher than that of the general population; with most of the cases contracted through same-sex relations, and the cause often concealed on their death certificates.[5] Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of the Archdiocese of Detroit suggested that: "Gay priests and heterosexual priests didn't know how to handle their sexuality, their sexual drive. And so they would handle it in ways that were not healthy." Furthermore, the report suggested that some priests and behavioral experts believe the church had "scared priests into silence by treating homosexual acts as an abomination and the breaking of celibacy vows as shameful".

Official directives governing vocations

20th century

The Catholic Church today teaches that "Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder".[6]

Although a 1961 document entitled Careful Selection And Training Of Candidates For The States Of Perfection And Sacred Orders stated that homosexual men should not be ordained, this was left to bishops to enforce, and most did not, holding homosexuals to the same standards of celibate chastity as heterosexual seminarians.

With regard to the United States, in 2002 the Vatican ordered an "apostolic visitation", an examination of American seminaries directed from the Vatican. The visitation began in 2005, and the final report of that effort was issued in 2008. The report discusses "difficulties in the areas of morality", remarking that "Usually, but not exclusively, this meant homosexual behavior". The report describes steps taken to deal with the problem, including correcting a "laxity of discipline".[7]

The 2005 directive

In November 2005, the Vatican completed an 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. Publication was made through the Congregation for Catholic Education. According to the new policy, men with "transitory" homosexual leanings may be ordained deacons following three years of prayer and chastity. However, men with "deeply rooted homosexual tendencies", who are sexually active cannot be ordained.

No new moral teaching was contained in the instruction: the instruction proposed by the document is rather towards enhancing vigilance in barring homosexuals from seminaries, and from the priesthood. The document restricts itself to homosexual candidates. It does not mention paedophilia as a separate topic, nor any instruction regarding nonchaste heterosexual candidates.

The Catechism distinguishes between homosexual acts and homosexual tendencies. Regarding acts, it teaches that Sacred Scripture presents them as grave sins. The Tradition has constantly considered them as intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law. Consequently, under no circumstance can they be approved.....In the light of such teaching, this Dicastery, in accord with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, believes it necessary to state clearly that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called "gay culture".

While the preparation for this document had started 10 years before its publication,[8] this instruction is seen as an official answer by the Catholic Church to several sex scandals involving priests in the late 20th/early 21st century, including the American Roman Catholic sex abuse cases and a 2004 sex scandal in a seminary at St. Pölten (Austria).[9] Two months before his death in 2005, Pope John Paul II, troubled by the sex scandals in the US, Austria and Ireland,[8] had written to the Congregation for Catholic Education: "Right from the moment young men enter a Seminary their ability to live a life of celibacy should be monitored so that before their ordination one should be morally certain of their sexual and emotional maturity."[10]

The document has attracted criticism based on an interpretation that the document implies that homosexuality is associated with pedophilia.[11] There were some questions on how distinctions between deep-seated and transient homosexuality, as proposed by the document, will be applied in practice: the actual distinction that is made might be between those who abuse, and those who don't.[12]


The Belgian college of Bishops elaborated that the sexual restrictions for seminary and priesthood candidates apply likewise for men of all sexual orientations.[13] Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York has been quoted as saying that the Vatican's directive was not tout court a "no-gays" policy.[14]

The Vatican followed up in 2008 with a directive to implement psychological screening for candidates for the priesthood. Conditions listed for exclusion from the priesthood include "uncertain sexual identity" and "deep-seated homosexual tendencies".[15]

Homosexuality and the episcopacy

A staunch theological liberal throughout his episcopate, Archbishop Rembert Weakland retired on May 24, 2002, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 and amid revelations that he had paid money, out of diocesan funds, to a former graduate student Paul Marcoux,[16] an alleged gay lover.[17][18]

Other recent sex scandals involving Roman Catholic bishops have included Juan Carlos Maccarone in Argentina in 2005 and Francisco Domingo Barbosa Da Silveira in Uruguay in 2009.


Mass Appeal is a 1984 film starring Jack Lemmon and Željko Ivanek as Deacon Mark Dolson, who is struggling with his homosexuality and church authority as a seminarian.

See also


  1. J. Wolf, Gay Priests, New York, 1989; R. Sipe, A Secret World: sexuality and the search for celibacy, New York, 1990
  2. Dr Elizabeth Stuart Roman Catholics and Homosexuality' quoted by Kate Saunders in Catholics and Sex
  3. Boston Globe / Spotlight / Abuse in the Catholic Church / Opinion
  4. Attorney: priests claim 70 percent of U.S. bishops are gay
  5. Report: Priests hit hard by hidden AIDS epidemi
  6. Letter Homosexualitatis Problema to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the pastoral care of homosexual persons 1 October 1986;
  7. Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect (December 15, 2008). Final report of the apostolic visitation of seminaries in the United States. Congregation for Catholic Education of the Roman Catholic Church. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 "'Nothing Extraordinary'?" in Inside the Vatican (ISSN 1068-8579), January 2006
  9. In New York Times:
  10. quoted in "'Nothing Extraordinary'?" in Inside the Vatican (ISSN 1068-8579), January 2006
  11. "Statement From The Board Of Directors and Staff of the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries" November 29, 2005. Accessed June 18, 2007
  12. The Guardian November 30, 2005 Editorial
  13. Press communication of the Belgian bishops (29 November 2005):
  14. Allen, Jr., John (2009-02-23). "Archbishop Timothy Dolan headed to New York". National Catholic Reporter. 
  15. Zenon Card. Grocholewski, Prefect (June 28, 2008). Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood. Congregation for Catholic Education of the Roman Curia. 
  16. NationalReview
  17. Heinen, Tom; Zahn, Mary (2002-06-01). "Weakland begs for forgiveness". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 2007-07-07. 
  18. Dahir, Mubarak (2002-07-23). "The dangerous lives of gay priests: fearing a witch-hunt in the wake of the sex abuse scandal, gay Roman Catholic priests talk of their dedication to their work and their God—and of the secret loves that put their careers at risk". The Advocate. Retrieved 2007-07-07. 


  • Stuart, E, CHOSEN - Gay Catholic Priests Tell Their Stories, Geoffrey Chapman, London (1993) (Dewey 261.835.766st) ISBN 0-225-66682-0 (A series of interviews with Gay Catholic Priests)
  • Atila Silke GUIMARÃES - The Catholic Church and Homosexuality, Tan Books & Publishers, Charlotte (1999) ISBN 0-895-55651-0

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