[T]he most human response to the death of Scotland’s shamed cardinal came from the journalist whose articles forced his resignation. Catherine Deveney spoke with compassion and pity as she expressed the hope that Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien had found peace and forgiveness at the end. Deveney’s articles for the Observer in 2013 revealed that O’Brien had, for many years, conducted a series of inappropriate relationships with young priests under his jurisdiction.
Like others, she had been aware of a whiff of scandal surrounding this widely admired man who, unlike many of his predecessors and contemporaries, seemed to possess something that endeared him to people. It was only when O’Brien began to front an ill-advised and nasty campaign against same-sex marriage that three priests who had been in sexual relationships with him felt they had to speak out and subsequently approached Deveney with their stories.
A few months before this, I was informed by the editor of the Catholic Observer that O’Brien had chided her for publishing an article of mine in which I had criticised his attitude to gay people and the use of the word “grotesque” in describing their sexuality. Yet I didn’t derive any delight at his public outing, only a sense of deep sadness that a man with great qualities of leadership and compassion had been brought low by a lie that had probably stalked half his adult life. What misery and self-loathing must he have endured as he preached his fables about human sexuality. And yet what damage had he caused to the faith of thousands not by being revealed as a sinner but as a hypocrite.
Ironically, the term “grotesque” can be more accurately applied to a bitter and vile band of ultramontane Scottish Catholics who have been permitted to roam the country, spreading fear and hatred within the Catholic church. These haters barely deserve to be called human, such is their contempt for those who do not adhere to their distorted form of Christianity. They have conducted a reign of terror among priests they suspect of being gay by threatening to “out” them lest they recant and repent. On other occasions, they have stalked successful young single women in the church and asked inappropriate questions about the status of their relationships.
In some corners of Catholic Scotland a special level of suspicion is still reserved for Catholic women who have reached their 30s “without a man”. If Dante had existed today he would have reserved a special circle of pain and torment for this band of latterday inquisitors and social misfits.
Catholic leaders are in denial about sexuality and especially the “grotesque” form of it that they fear more than anything else. Latterly in his ministry, something caused O’Brien suddenly to begin deploying more militant and unpleasant language in describing gay people.
This would all be hilarious if it weren’t so tragic. The Catholic church is absolutely hoaching with gay priests and bishops. There are so many residing within the Vatican that they could probably form their very own order. I’ve been contacted by several in Scotland over the past few years, simply for highlighting the hypocritical oath that holds sway in the Catholic church and that has made their lives miserable.
It’s not difficult to understand why so many gay Catholics are attracted to the priesthood. In many traditional Catholic households, homosexuality is simply not allowed to be mentioned. In such an environment, a Catholic adolescent male who is encountering issues around his sexual identity might be told to take some headache pills and go for a lie down until the feeling goes away. Indeed, that pretty much sums up the entirety of Catholic teaching on this matter. These young men, already hating a part of themselves, are then drawn to the priesthood that offers them a state where they can embrace celibacy and subjugate their sexuality. It is an ecclesiastical and bizarre set-up with disastrous consequences.
Some of this has been evident in the decades of sex abuse by Catholic clergy in Scotland. Sadly, too, it has been evident in the lamentable response of the hierarchy and the reactionary praetorian guard of lay civil servants that surrounds it. The week before O’Brien’s death, Father Paul Moore, an 82-year-old retired priest, was convicted of sexually abusing three children and a student priest over a period spanning more than 20 years. Without going into the details, the abuse was as bad as it gets. His bishop knew about this many years before, yet chose to park the issue by moving him on. He was only doing what other bishops are told to do.
The principal victim who gave eight days of evidence has fought for many years to bring his violator to justice. During this time, he has been treated with a level of contempt and disdain by his own church which was astonishing to behold and utterly callous. There are thousands like him, stretching back decades, and yet the church now boasts of having the right safeguards in place to prevent future abuse. I’d be interested in examining these safeguards and asking why they were constructed without talking to any of the groups of people who survived widespread clerical sexual abuse.
Pope Francis will visit Ireland in August, where he will preach to the converted. It is a home game for the pontiff where he will encounter few protests. I’d encourage him to visit Scotland and find out for himself why tens of thousands of the faithful have abandoned the church. He might also wish to conduct a review of a hierarchy that, with a few exceptions, is no longer fit for purpose.
It might have been the first academic textbook that greeted the masses via the medium of Garry Trudeau’s comic Doonesbury. In a series of strips in June 1994, recently outed gay character Mark Slackmeyer attempts to pick up a fundamentalist Christian married man, and tells him that the church had, for a millennium, performed gay-marriage ceremonies. “Where did you hear such garbage?” the man replies, irate.
“It’s in a new book by this Yale professor,” answers Slackmeyer. “His research turned up liturgies for same-sex ceremonies that included communion, holy invocations and kissing to signify union. They were just like heterosexual ceremonies, except that straight weddings, being about property, were usually held outdoors. Gay rites, being about love, were held INSIDE the church!”
That week, at least two Illinois newspapers refused to print the strips, while a few dozen readers rang the distributor to ask “why Garry Trudeau exists to make their lives unhappy.” If the strip provoked controversy, the book, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, incited outrage both within and outside of the academic community. Its author, scholar John Eastburn Boswell, known as Jeb, died six months after the comic strips ran at the age of 47, of AIDS-related complications.
In barely 20 years at Yale, Boswell’s work as a historian managed to set the cat among the pigeons to stupendous effect, through years of meticulous scholarship that, if correct, undermined the very foundation of much modern homophobia. In the introduction to his 1980 American Book Award-winning Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century, he observed that gay people were “still the objects of severe proscriptive legislation, widespread public hostility, and various civil restraints, all with ostensibly religious justification.” Boswell’s work suggested, however, that this “religious justification” might, in fact, be bogus—a latter-day alteration, introduced hundreds of years after Christianity was founded.
A young John Boswell, known to his friends as Jeb.
The book argued that the Roman Catholic Church had not always been as hostile to gay people, and indeed, until the 12th century, had thought homosexuality no more troubling than, say, hypocrisy—or even celebrated love between men. The response to the book was explosive, if polarized. “I would not hesitate to call his book revolutionary,” Paul Robinson, a Stanford University historian, wrote in the New York Times Book Review in 1981. But other critics felt that, despite its attention to detail, its central thesis—that Christianity and homosexuality had not always been such uneasy bedfellows—was not only false, but a failed attempt by Boswell, gay and Catholic, to square two aspects of his identity they felt could not be reconciled.
Boswell was young and brilliant, blond and boyishly handsome, with an incredible facility for languages. His work might at any time draw on any of 17 dead and living examples—among them, Catalan, Latin, Old Iceland, Syriac and Persian. As a teenager growing up in Virginia, writes the researcher Bruce O’Brien, he had converted to Catholicism from Episcopalianism. This conversion was precipitated by a show of tolerance and strength: “because, in large part, the archdiocese of Baltimore had voluntarily desegregated its schools, without a court order, solely because it was the right thing to do.” Here, he saw a Catholic church that was intrinsically moral and would be a beacon of light against intolerance—one that might lead the charge on other struggles for equality in a country whose sensibilities were shifting at great pace.
Many saw the book, therefore, as a chance for a reckoning—Boswell giving the church the opportunity to welcome the gay community. As his sister Patricia, who spoke at his funeral, puts it: “Jeb’s love of God was the driving force in his life and the driving passion behind his work. He did not set out to shake up the straight world but rather to include the gay world in the love of Christ… to acquaint all with the fearsome power of that love, the wildness, the ‘not tameness’ of it.”
A detail from the Medieval manuscript La Somme le roy, from around 1300, shows David and Jonathan embracing.
Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality is a 442-page journey through around 1,000 years of gay history. Assiduously researched, it jumps from country to country, instance to instance, drawing on examples of love between specific men, and generalized cases of societies in which sex between men was quite normalized.
Boswell spends some time delving into the relationship between the 4th-century Ausonius, a Roman poet living in Bordeaux, France, and his pupil Saint Paulinus, later the Bishop of Nola. Whether or not the relationship was a physical one is impossible to say—but the passionate affection the two had for one another seemed to transcend ordinary platonic friendship.
In whatever world I am found,
I shall hold you fast,
Grafted onto my being,
Not divided by distant shores or suns.
Everywhere you shall be with me,
I will see with my heart
And embrace you with my loving spirit.
“It would be inaccurate to suggest any exact parallel between such relationships and modern phenomena—as it is to compare medieval marriage with its modern counterpart,” Boswell wrote. But the idea that the concept of friendship has simply changed rang hollow to him—especially given that in many ancient societies, homosexuality was conventional and so might well have been part of a normal friendship. “Friends of the same sex borrowed from the standard vocabulary of homosexual love to express their feelings in erotic terms,” he wrote.
Saint Augustine, writing at the same time, described a friendship thus: “I felt that my soul and his were one soul in two bodies, and therefore life was a horror to me, since I did not want to live as a half; and yet I was also afraid to die lest he, whom I had loved so much, would completely die.” Elsewhere, however, he claims to have “contaminated the spring of friendship with the dirt of lust and darkened its brightness with the blackness of desire”—yet this is a denigration not specifically of homosexual lust and desire, but of sexuality more generally.
A 17th-century image of Saint Augustine, by the painter Antonio Rodríguez.
In the same period in Antioch, an ancient Greco-Roman city sometimes called “the cradle of Christianity,” Boswell described how Saint John Chrysostom visited the town, in what is today Turkey. Chrysostom was surprised to see the men of the city “consorting” not with prostitutes, but “fearlessly” with one another. Boswell quoted him: “The fathers of the young men take this in silence: they do not try to sequester their sons, nor do they seek any remedy for this evil. None is ashamed, no one blushes, but, rather, they take pride in their little game; the chaste seem to be the odd ones, and the disapproving the ones in error.” In this early Christian city, Chrysostom found homosexuality to be so very common and accepted that “there is some danger that womankind will become unnecessary with the future, with young men instead fulfilling all the needs women used to.”
Boswell shored up example after example of homosexual love and sex in the early Christian world over the course of almost 1,000 years. There were occasional laws against them, he pointed out, but they were not usually religious ones, but civil, where homosexual acts were fined as a way to increase tax coffers. Indeed, often the people being taxed in this way were not ordinary members of society, but bishops and clerics. “Purely ecclesiastical records usually stipulate either no penalty at all or a very mild one,” he wrote. Under Pope Saint Gregory II, for instance, lesbian activities carried a 160-day fasting penalty, likely under the same terms as Lent. A priest caught going hunting, on the other hand, would be in comparable trouble for three years.
In the 1980s, at a time when laws against sodomy remained in place in many American states, the book was a bombshell—especially for Catholics. The United States, at that time, was still a place of extreme homophobia and prejudice. In 1978, the openly gay politician Harvey Milk had been assassinated in San Francisco; a year earlier came Anita Bryant’s organized opposition to gay rights, with its rhetoric about saving children from gay “recruitment.” Queer studies remained a very niche part of academic study—Yale’s Lesbian and Gay Studies Center, which Boswell helped to found, emerged only in the late 1980s.
Criticism of Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, therefore, came on a variety of fronts. In some parts of the academic community, it came from historians like the R. W. Southern of the University of Oxford, who believed that “gay history” was not an interesting or important part of historical research. (Southern, O’Brien notes, was largely influenced by having grown up in “a repressed age where homosexuals were criminals [a word he used when talking about homosexuality.]”) In others, it came from theological scholars who picked apart Boswell’s thesis and found it undermined by the scholar’s deep, deep desire to be right. In the Catholic magazine Commonweal, after the book’s release, Louis Crompton wrote: “It is a pity that [the book] is … vitiated by a determination to construe all its voluminous evidence in the light of an untenable leading idea.” Some of its harshest criticism came from members of the gay community, who accused Boswell of being an apologist for the church’s atrocities against gay people. In the Gay Books Bulletin, Wayne Dyne wrote, decisively: “Christianity is definitely guilty of the stigmatization and persecution of same-sex relations in our civilization. It has served as a redoubt for bigotry of all sorts, and until those who call themselves Christians are ready humbly to acknowledge this, they are coming to us with dirty hands.”
Boswell, for his part, seemed to take the response in his stride. To the many critics who argued that such categories as “gay” and “straight” were modern conceptions, Boswell responded: “If the categories ‘homosexual/heterosexual’ and ‘gay/straight’ are the inventions of particular societies rather than real aspects of the human psyche, there is no gay history.” The book had caused controversy, but it had also won multiple awards and cleared important ground in developing this largely uncharted territory of gay studies.
Today, Boswell is remembered for two things—by those who didn’t know him, for his contributions to his field; and by those who did, for his unwavering kindness and generosity. A 1986 video of Boswell giving a talk shows a man who was at once dazzlingly bright and brilliantly charismatic. He’s likeable, urbane, often very funny. On and off campus, he was adored—by undergraduates, who clamored to be in his classes, and undergraduates; gay and straight members of faculty alike; and by many members of the Catholic community. At Harvard, where he had completed his PhD, he counted among his devoted friends John Spencer, rector of the Jesuit community of Boston, and Peter J. Gomes, the Plummer professor of Christian morals, after he came out publicly in 1991. “At a time of great public trauma for me, he wrote me out of the blue a lovely letter of support,” Gomes told the Harvard Crimson, shortly after Boswell’s death. “He gave me courage.”
When he passed away in December 1994, Boswell had been in the Yale infirmary for some months. The music historian Geoffrey Block recalled visiting him in his hospital room, where, despite having only recently emerged from a coma, he was “brilliantly and miraculously holding court,” quoting lines from films and singing “Cause I’m a Blonde” from the musical Earth Girls Are Easy. Admirers and friends drifted in and out of the infirmary—friends he had helped through crises; a devoted graduate student; his father; the newly installed President of Yale, Richard Levin, who cried freely and readily. “A young barber who came to the infirmary room to give Jeb a haircut moved us to tears when he refused payment.”
Boswell died on Christmas Eve, surrounded by family, friends, and his partner of many years, Jerry Hart. In the months leading up to his death, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, which had been previewed in Doonesbury, incited similar levels of controversy to Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. Comprised of the study of more than 60 manuscripts from the 8th to the 16th century, it was a full investigation into the history of same-sex unions. These he described as relationships that were “unmistakably a voluntary, emotional union of two persons,” and “closely related” to heterosexual marriage, “no matter how much some readers may be discomforted by this.” Again, critics argued that he was looking for something that he dearly wanted to be there. Block, in his 2013 memorial, wrote how delighted and thrilled Boswell would have been to have been able to legally marry Hart. “I came across a sign on a lawn that would have made Jeb, a devout Catholic—perhaps paradoxically considering this institution’s take on his sexual identity—extremely happy. It simply said, ‘Approve R-74. My Church Supports Marriage Equality’.”
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, told Bavarian State Broadcasting “there can be no rules” about whether clergy can bless such relationships. Rather, the decision should be made on a case by case basis.
“One must encourage priests and pastoral workers to give people in concrete situations encouragement,” said the 73-year-old. “It’s about pastoral care for individual cases, and that applies in other areas as well, which we can not regulate, where we have no sets of rules.”
Marx, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, was responding to a question about why the Church is slow in moving forward on progressive causes like the ordination of women, blessings for homosexual couples, and the abolition of compulsory celibacy.
The important question, he said, was how “the Church can meet the challenges posed by the new circumstances of life today?”
Priests must take “the situation of the individual… their life story, their biography… their relationships,” into account, he added, rather than offer blanket regulations. The language and liturgical format of such blessings or other forms of “encouragement,” though, would require further consideration.
Marx previously called on the Church to apologize for centuries of anti-LGBT persecution.
“The history of homosexuals in our societies is very bad, because we’ve done a lot to marginalize [them],” he said in a 2016 talk at Dublin’s Trinity College. Calling the legacy of institutionalized homophobia “scandalous and terrible,” he added that, “As a Church and a society, we have to say ‘Sorry, sorry.’”
In 2014, Marx shocked attendees of the Synod of Bishops when he argued the Church couldn’t simply dismiss longtime same-sex relationships as worthless.
“We have to respect the decisions of people,” he said at the time. “You cannot say that a relationship between a man and a man and they are faithful [that] that is nothing, that has no worth.”
Papal apologies for the Catholic church’s behavior are a relatively recent phenomenon. Pope John Paul II, who held the title between 1979 and 2005, was the first to issue them. His successor, Benedict XVI, timidly followed that precedent; but it is Pope Francis who has turned the symbolic apology into something of a masterstroke, helping to shift the church’s atonement from a focus on historical wrongs to accepting moral responsibility for more current events.
In January 2017, Pope Francis met with Chilean survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests to apologize to them personally. It was a strikingly intimate gesture that demonstrates how the concept of papal apologies has evolved. Here’s a look at some of the most important apologies the church has made.
Galileo before the Holy Office in the Vatican. The astronomer was condemned by the Tribunal of the Inquisition for having defended the theories of Copernicus.
John Paul’s first papal apology in 1992 was for the church’s treatment of Galileo. In the 17th century, the church had branded the astronomer a heretic for (correctly) asserting that the sun was the center of our solar system. Because this contradicted the church’s position that Earth was the center, the church forced Galileo to choose between recanting his position or burning at the stake. He decided to recant, and spent the last several years of his life on house arrest.
This first apology was one of over 100 that John Paul issued during his time as pope, most of which concerned the church’s historical misdeeds. Yet not everyone was happy about this new turn in the papacy.
“There were some misgivings because many thought that would weaken the public standing of the Catholic church,” says Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University. “Some bishops or some cardinals evidently grew tired of this pope who thought that it was good for the church to apologize.”
Gregory Baum Roman is shown in this July 13, 1970 photo.
By MICHAEL VALPY
Gregory Baum was one of Roman Catholicism’s outstanding theologians of the 20th century, who let the Holy Spirit – rather than the institutional church – direct his restless, curious mind and could never understand why it landed him so consistently in controversy, criticism and vilification.
He called himself “the first Catholic theologian who publicly defended the ethical status of homosexual love.” He was reputed to be the author – certainly he was involved with the production – of the Winnipeg Statement of 1968 that distanced Canada’s Catholic bishops from Pope Paul VI’s July 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae, which prohibited artificial contraception.
Dr. Baum’s writing’s were accepting of liberation theology in the face of condemnation from the Vatican. He wrote on the works of tendentious Islamic reformer Tariq Ramadan. He was one of the church’s most eloquent and uncompromising advocates for social justice and society’s marginalized groups. He authored articles and books sympathetically explaining Quebec separatism to anglophone Canadians.
Though he was born into a Protestant Jewish family, he was drawn to Catholicism and the seminary in his 20s. He later left active priesthood and, in 1978, married a former nun. His autobiography, The Oil Has Not Run Dry: The Story of My Theological Pathway, published last year, revealed he was gay and had, in his 40s, a sexual relationship with a man.
“I did not profess my own homosexuality in public,” he wrote, “because such an act of honesty would have reduced my influence as a critical theologian.”
Indeed, throughout his adult life, he was one of the church’s great theologians on ecumenism, a fact that was noted in the citation when he was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 1990. As one of the Second Vatican Council’s periti (expert theologians) in the 1960s, he wrote an early draft of Nostra Aetate (In Our Time) – “The Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions” – that moved the church into the sunlight of accepting the unified spiritual goals of all humankind and especially the bonds between Christians and Jews, ending the church’s centuries-old branding of Jews as the killers of Jesus Christ.
He believed it was essential for the Catholic Church to change, to let power devolve from Rome. Well before the clerical sex-abuse scandal erupted, he diagnosed the church as “a company that becomes so big that it can’t be run any more.” Any management consultant, he wrote, would take one look at the church and would say, “This is simply impossible. You have to decentralize, you have to delegate. You need a different system.”
After studying for two years at New York’s New School for Social Research in the 1970s, he pioneered the introduction of sociology to religion, embracing the teachings and writings of political theorist Hannah Arendt and classical sociologists Marx, Tocqueville, Durkheim, Weber among others.
At the core of his theological convictions – and explaining so much of what he did – lay the writings of the early-20th-century French philosopher Maurice Blondel. They led to what may have been his most important book, Man Becoming: God in Secular Language, assessing positively Blondel’s acknowledgment of God’s redemptive presence in human history.
God, in other words, existed in the nitty-gritty of life – an “insider God,” as Toronto’s Regis College academic Mary Jo Leddy explained Dr. Baum’s view. You fall in love? That’s God at work.
God was on the ground with grace – the benevolence shown by God toward the human race, the spontaneous gift from God to people, “generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved.”
As leading Canadian Catholic Church scholar Michael Higgins wrote of Dr. Baum six years ago, the embrace of Blondel’s thought “proved to be Baum’s Copernican revolution. Henceforth his writing, research, teaching, and activism would be shaped by Blondel’s views: his theological anthropology; his rejection of the church’s negative valuation of the secular; his belief in the ubiquity of grace.
“It was not a big step,” Dr. Higgins said, “from Baum’s adoption of Blondel’s inclusivity to his realization that God is mediated by all kinds of things besides the institutional church.” Not a big step for Dr. Baum, but a step many others could never take.
Dr. Baum died Oct. 18 in Montreal of kidney failure. He was 94. When he had entered hospital several days earlier, he told friends he was “disappearing inside.” Those, such as Dr. Leddy, who came from across Central and Eastern Canada to visit him in his last days found him sunny, genial and serene as death approached.
Blondel’s impact was the goalpost in the evolution of Dr. Baum’s thought – the finish line to the formal shaping of his mind. The whole journey of his life was an opening of his thought to God’s presence in history exhibiting an inclusiveness that outreached the writ of the institutional church.
Gerhard Albert Baum was born in Berlin on June 20, 1923, to Bettie (née Meyer) and Franz Siegfried Baum. His well-to-do Protestant father died early and his Jewish mother had a passion for medieval art and Gothic and Romanesque architecture, to which she introduced her son.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, she made the choice to send her 17-year-old son to England to escape persecution under the Nazi race laws. She never saw him again.
As a nurse, she became infected with pneumonia in the hospital where she worked and died during the war.
When he arrived, the teenager was interned by the British along with other German older teens and adults – many of them scholars who became volunteer teachers in the internship camps, which enthused him.
He was transferred in 1940 to an internship camp in Quebec. He came to the attention of a woman active in volunteer work who sponsored him to attend McMaster University in Hamilton, where he studied mathematics and physics.
He also began reading Catholic thinkers Thomas Aquinas and Étienne Gilson.who established the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies at University of Toronto.
One Christmas he was given a gift of The Confessions of St. Augustine, the autobiography of the great Church Father detailing, among other things, his conversion to Christianity – and the young student was hooked. In the year he graduated from McMaster, 1946, he decided to enter the Augustinian religious order to become a priest. At this point he adopted the name Gregory.
After ordination, he was sent by his order to Switzerland’s University of Fribourg for graduate studies. Along the way he read a book on the Catholic Church’s treatment of Jews and was appalled.
His dissertation, touching on the subject, was completed in 1956 and published two years later under the title That They May Be One: A Study of Papal Doctrine (Leo XIII–Pius XII).
The dissertation came to the attention of German Jesuit Cardinal Augustin Bea and Dutch priest Johannes Willebrands, president and secretary respectively of the Vatican’s newly established Secretariat for Christian Unity. They admired the book, and Dr. Baum found himself appointed to the Secretariat, assigned to help prepare for the Second Vatican Council announced by Pope John XXIII in 1959.
Dr. Baum later told the story of Cardinal Bea, during the Council years, assigning his staff to guard their manuscripts until they got to the translators and were published, to save them from being snatched and their texts altered by church conservatives.
Nostra Aetate was easily one of the most important and – particularly with its section on the Catholic Church’s relationship with Jews – one of the most controversial documents to emerge from the Second Vatican Council. It made Gregory Baum’s name as a theologian and confirmed him as a leading interpreter of the Council’s accomplishments.
It also established him as a clear spokesman and writer on the church in the modern world – a role which he carried out for five years, on Cardinal Bea’s instructions, travelling around North America giving talks on the Council’s work before taking up a professorship at University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto.
The church was unable to contain his application of Blondellian thought and roaming intellectual curiosity.
Michael Higgins wrote of him, “Baum defines himself not as a theological shaper or foundational thinker, but as a journalist following his curiosity wherever it leads him.
“To Baum, one should note, ‘journalist’ does not betoken a scribbler with a deadline, but rather someone inexhaustibly fascinated with ideas, intellectual trends, and currents.” In an interview, Dr. Higgins called him an experimenter and explorer.
University of Toronto’s Prof. Stephen Scharper, a scholar in anthropology, environment and religion who did his doctorate under Dr. Baum’s supervision, described his work as “being attentive to where the Spirit was calling him.”
It called him repeatedly into controversy and censure, from which Dr. Baum never flinched.
He was thunderously criticized by the church hierarchy and had restrictions placed on his teaching after publicly dissenting from the Vatican’s 1976 Declaration on Sexual Ethics, with its strictures against homosexuality.
He was censured for declaring that the church was not immune from the social and institutional toxins that infect other organizations.
He himself openly criticized the church governance of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI – the latter who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger led the Vatican’s powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church’s thought police (and whom Dr. Baum knew well as a fellow peritus at Vatican 2).
His frequent public speeches, to say the least, got up the nose of his superiors (his 1987 Massey Lecture explored liberation theology and its justifying biblical exegesis, much of which the Vatican considered Marxist).
Dr. Baum’s openness toward the ordination of women and gay marriage also made him a target for conservatives.
The mildest of his critics labelled him a dilettante driven by mere trendy nonconformism.
In the late 1970s, he was summoned by his Augustinian order under direction from Rome to return to the order’s monastery which he refused to do.
He eventually withdrew from active priestly ministry and accepted a teaching position at McGill University after reaching the then-mandatory age of 65 retirement at University of Toronto. In 1978, he married former nun Shirley Flynn. Her death in 2007 left him grieving her loss for the remainder of his life.
His departure from the priesthood was a mystery to many who knew him, until the publication of his 2016 autobiography revealed that he left the church because of his personal commitment to being gay.
Even before this revelation he had long been demonized by conservative Catholics for his writings and teachings. A 2012 interview on Catholic Salt + Light TV that he did with its chief executive, Rev. Thomas Rosica, generated hundreds of furious, outraged e-mails. “Yet Gregory was a very significant theologian of the Second Vatican Council,” Rev. Rosica said. “We owe much to him for his role in the decree of ecumenism and interfaith relations.”
In the most recent episode of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation podcast The Current, hostess Anna Maria Tremonti spoke with former seminarian and Vatican expert Robert Mickens who said, “There are a large number … of people in the priesthood and in religious life who have homosexual orientation,” adding “What you end up having are a lot of self-loathing, homophobic homosexuals in the priesthood.”
The Vatican and entire Catholic priesthood are apparently very, very gay
Mickens himself chose to leave the seminary when he fell in love with a fellow male seminarian. He lived in Rome at the time, and spoke to Tremonti about what he saw when he started going to Rome’s gay nightclubs and hotspots:
“Starting to go to gay places, you know, clubs and the beach … and I was running into all kinds of priests and even seminarians, people who worked at the Vatican. Gay bathhouses, I’d meet priests there. I met people who are bishops today. I pity these people because I know they must live double-lives. I don’t know how they do it. I think people end up self-destructing.
“I know a number of priests who have partners or who have ‘special friends’ from various stages of platonic to full-blown almost husband-and-husband relationships. The church and certainly the Vatican is certainly a homoerotic place. Take a look or walk through the Vatican museums. It’s all genitalia all over the place….
“And look at the rituals, the young men who sing at these things — it’s all men up there. The bring out the pretty ones, you know. Look at the bishops, look at who their secretaries are — it’s always the pretty one. And they’re blind to it. There’s nothing going on, but it’s eye candy; they love surrounding themselves. They wear dresses for God’s sake.
“In the Vatican, it’s basically as long as you’re discreet, you don’t get caught. But once you do, you’re all on your own. We’re not going to help you.”
According to Tremonti, a 2002 poll by The L.A. Times revealed that 15% of American priests identify as gay or “somewhere in between leaning on the homosexual side” — 23% of younger priests identify the same way. However, she also said that many gay priests that she has talked to say that the percentage is much higher, as high as 70%.
Mickens thinks the church wants to keep homosexuality a taboo so that “those pious young men” will continue to think of priesthood as a noble profession rather than simply as way to live a gay life. He also says that if the church began openly accepting its gay clergy and laymen, it would lose a great deal of support from its larger worldwide ministry. Put another way, the power of homophobia fuels the church, even though large numbers of homosexuals help run it.
Here’s the podcast where Mickens talks about the Vatican’s gay priests:
The story of a closeted Vatican insider who stood up to its homophobia
In the same podcast, Krzysztof Charamsa, a gay defrocked Polish priest (pictured in the featured image at top) said, “The Catholic Church is the principal political agency of homophobic position in the world. Very powerful.”
From 2003 until 2015, Charamsa worked as a senior add at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that writes and enforces Catholic rules. For most of his time there, his boss was Joseph Ratzinger, the cardinal who would later become Pope Benedict XVI (or as we liked to call him, Papa Ratzi), a pope who issued numerous statements against LGBTQ people including one calling them “intrinsically disordered” and calling homosexuality an “inherent moral evil.“
When asked of his opinion about the church’s stance on homosexuality, Charamsa (who was painfully closeted and still working at the Vatican) affirmed its goodness and then privately cried in his office afterwards.
He eventually fell in love with a man from Barcelona named Eduard. “When I discovered that I love this man,” Charamsa told the podcast in broken English, “I think ‘You must say who you are.’ For us there was no possibility to double-life. For me, for my partner, it was impossible.”
Charamsa’s friends recommended against his coming out in fear that it would jeopardize his career, financial stability, pension and influential standing in the church, but he came out in October 2015 anyway, introducing his partner to international journalists. During the announcement, he slammed the Vatican for its “paranoid homophobia” and apologized for his own complicity in the church’s demonization of gay people.
Though he issued his resignation, the Vatican formally fired and defrocked him soon after. He lost his pension, his status and is now forbidden from teaching in any Catholic university. He has since become an advocate for LGBTQ rights and Catholic reform. He also says that living with Eduard in Barcelona has helped him understand the love of family, feeling that people now love him completely because he is whole.
However, in his home country of Poland, Charamsa says, Catholic homophobia looms large, making LGBTQ people and even his family (who sometimes get ridiculed for his famous coming out) miserable. He recently appeared in Article 18, a documentary about Poland’s refusal of same-sex marriage.
Though he appreciates that the current Pope has encouraged Catholics to embrace LGBTQ people rather than demonize them, Charamsa says, “If the Church can’t make a serious, scientific reflection on homosexuality and include it in its teachings, even the Holy Father’s openings and warm words on gays are empty.”
Gay sex is a sin. The New Testament makes that abundantly clear.
Or does it?
According to one of the UK’s most prominent evangelicals, if Christian scholarship engages with archaeological evidence from the rediscovered ancient city of Pompeii, much of St Paul’s teaching on sexuality must be radically reinterpreted.
In a new online video for the Open Church Network, Revd. Canon Steve Chalke argues that by studying the remains of Pompeii, and understanding the ancient Roman world’s highly sexualised culture, we can find new meaning in chapters such as Romans 1, which have traditionally been misinterpreted to condemn same-sex relations.
Revd. Canon Steve Chalke says, “For too long the remains of Pompeii have been little known to members of the general public, but when the chance to examine them is taken, it becomes abundantly clear that in ancient Rome, sex was everything. 80% of the artwork recovered from Pompeii and its sister town of Herculaneum is sexually explicit and also reveals a fascination with the image of the stiff, erect penis – a symbol of power and pleasure. This is the context into which the New Testament was written.
“If you were a man in Roman culture, so long as someone was your social inferior – a slave, a gladiator, a woman etc. – it was considered socially acceptable and respectable to penetrate them. A married man would have a mistress for pleasure and a non-Roman boy for ecstasy. They called these people ‘infames’; those utterly lacking in social standing and deprived of most protections accorded to citizens under Roman law. There is also much evidence that Roman women also engaged exploitative sex – typically with female slaves, gladiators or male castrated slaves – whose testicles had been removed or rendered inoperative, so that they could not produce sperm and lost their desire for sex but still had the ability to perform it. Juvenal, the poet, tells us that bored Roman women took these eunuchs as lovers.
“So engrained was this way of thinking and behaving that it became incorporated into religion. Drug and alcohol fuelled orgies featuring men sleeping with women, men sleeping with men and women sleeping with women and men were even classed as acts of worship.”
Chalke argues that against this backdrop, verses such as the often quoted Romans 1 v 27 (“In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error”) should be understood to condemn the power-driven sexual hierarchy and abuse so common to Roman life, with the rest of the chapter condemning their sex-driven approach to worship and idolatry.
“Every Christian believes God to be a God of love. It is no wonder that these abusive practises are condemned by inspired scripture. But, it is a disingenuous misreading of the text to conclude that what Paul describes in Romans 1 can be used to prevent people forming loving, faithful and nurturing relationships with people of the same-sex.”
The video, containing graphic images that were discovered in Pompeii, which also deals with the three other passages in the New Testament that have traditionally been used to condemn any kind of homosexual activity or even orientation has been released and is available at openchurch.network.
Chalke continues, “The content of the video is so graphic that we’ve had to place a parental warning label on it – however I have not released this out of any desire to provoke or shock for the sake of it. Because of widespread ignorance of the ancient world and Greco-Roman culture in churches across the West, we throw Bible verses around without understanding their context. We misunderstand Paul’s criticism of rituals that exploit power and abuse people and then, out of ignorance, use them to try to prevent people of same-sex orientation from finding loving, committed and fulfilling partnerships and of entering into, what I believe is, the holy institution of same-sex marriage. For the Church, the Bible is the corner stone of faith and practise. It is time we took it more seriously. The Church has a duty to use every tool of modern scholarship available in this task.”
The ancient city Pompeii was buried – although not, as we now know, destroyed – when the nearby, supposedly extinct, volcano Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, covering it and the nearby town of Herculaneum and their inhabitants in many tons of pumice and volcanic ash. Although the disaster remained in people’s minds for many years it was eventually forgotten, until the exploration of the ancient site started in 1748.
However, work to excavate the city still continues today and it is only in relatively recent years that there has been sufficient public access to allow the findings to influence theological and cultural scholarship.
Biblical arguments for LGBTQ rights and a queer Jesus may seem like new ideas, but they were pioneered about 200 years ago by an influential British philosopher — in writings that were published only recently.
Philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832) presented Biblical evidence for Jesus’ homosexuality as part of his theological defense for same-sex love in “Not Paul, but Jesus Vol. III.” It was published for the first time in 2013 and is freely available to download or view online. He died on June 6, 1832.
Bentham didn’t dare publish it during his lifetime because he feared being labeled a “sodomite” himself. At the time “buggery” was punished with death by hanging in England.
This champion of sexual freedom was far, far ahead of his time. “Not Paul, but Jesus” lays out many of the same arguments that are still used today by LGBTQ
Christians and our allies: debunking the scriptures typically used to condemn LGBTQ people and pointing out that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. Bentham goes on to present an idea that many still consider blasphemous. He suggests that Jesus had male-male sexual relationships.
Bentham wrote the book so long ago that the word “homosexuality” had not been invented yet. Instead he has a chapter titled “The eccentric pleasures of the bed, whether partaken of by Jesus?” His language may sound quaint, but his ideas are right on target for today. Bentham himself struggled with words for what we call homosexuality, deliberately creating new vocabulary so he could avoid the negative connotations associated with the terminology of his day (sodomy, buggery, perversion, etc.).
Bentham is best known as the founder of Utilitarianism, a philosophy that advocates “the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people” A respected thinker during his lifetime, Bentham was also far advanced on a wide range of other legal, economic and political issues. He coined the word “international.” He was one of the first proponents of animal rights. He supported women’s equality and opposed slavery and capital punishment. He corresponded with various world leaders, including US presidents Jefferson and Madison. Several South and Central American nations sought his advice in creating their constitutions and legal codes. Born and raised in a devout Anglican family in London, he became an agnostic who believed that religion was an instrument of oppression. His solution was separation of church and state.
In the third volume of “Not Paul, but Jesus Vol. III,” Bentham corrects false interpretations of what would later come to be called the “clobber passages.” He identifies the sin of Sodom as gang-rape. He puts the sexual prohibitions of the Hebrew scriptures into historical context, pointing out that many of the other taboos are no longer enforced.
Bentham dismisses Paul’s condemnations of homosexuality as an asceticism not shared by Jesus himself. He sees romantic love between Old Testament heroes Jonathan and David — and possibly between Jesus and his beloved disciple John, noting that the Bible reports their loving touch without condemnation.
Jeremy Bentham engraving by J. Thomson, from a painting by W. Derby
Bentham goes on to analyze the account in Mark’s gospel of “the stripling in the loose attire” (now usually known as “the naked young man”) at the arrest of Jesus — a passage that continues to fuel 21st-century speculations in the LGBTQ community. He urges readers to consider the most “probable interpretation” for the nakedness. (In a different manuscript he made it clear that the youth was probably a male prostitute loyal to Jesus.) Bentham even hints that Jesus was killed for homosexuality, asking readers to consider what interaction with a naked man could be “so awful” that it leads to cruel execution.
Pro-LGBTQ Christians today often note that Jesus never said anything against homosexuality. Bentham makes the same point in his own elaborate way, with sentences such as: “In the acts or discourses of Jesus, had any such marks of reprobation towards the mode of sexuality in question been to be found as may be seen in such abundance in the epistles of Paul—in a word, had any one decided mark of reprobation been so to be found as pronounced upon it by Jesus, in the eyes [of] no believer in Jesus could any such body of evidence as hath here been seen [to] present itself be considered as worth regarding.”
Indeed Bentham’s main purpose in all three volumes of “Not Paul, but Jesus” is to show the error in following the ascetic Paul instead of the true Christianity of the more tolerant Jesus, who accepted the human pursuit of pleasure. This concept is introduced in the first volume of “Not Paul, but Jesus” was published in 1823. Fearing hostile reactions, Bentham used the pseudonym Gamaliel Smith. The second volume, which deals with the early church, and the third volume, which focuses on sexual morality, remained unpublished.
Bentham wrote more than 500 pages explaining his liberal views on homosexuality during the last 50 years of his life. Some of these documents may have circulated among his followers, but none of it was published during his lifetime.
The first Bentham writings on homosexuality to be published were primarily secular. His 1785 essay “Offences Against One’s Self: Paederasty” is considered the first document arguing for decriminalization of homosexuality in England. He reasoned that consensual sex between same-sex partners should not be punished because it does not harm anyone. The essay was not published until 1931, when a fragment first appeared in print. The full essay was finally published in 1978.
Only now are Bentham’s writings on Jesus and homosexuality coming to light. The third volume of “Not Paul, but Jesus” was not published in any form until 2013. It was released last year by the Bentham Project at University College London, which counts him as its spiritual father.
A section on “Jesus’s Sexuality” is also included in the 2012 article “Jeremy Bentham: Prophet of Secularism” by Philip Schofield, director of the Bentham Project. He draws on the “Not Paul” book and another set of manuscripts to draw powerful conclusions such as this:
Bentham claimed that, unlike Paul, Jesus did not, according to any account that appeared in the four Gospels, condemn either the pleasures of the table or the pleasures of the bed. On the contrary, Jesus’s opposition to asceticism was shown in his condemnation of the Mosaic law in Matthew 9: 9–17…. Bentham pointed out that Paul’s most forceful condemnation was directed towards homosexuality. Bentham responded that not only had Jesus never condemned homosexuality, but that he had probably engaged in it. There were, moreover, many females in Jesus’s immediate circle, and again Bentham saw no reason why Jesus might not have engaged in heterosexual activity as well.
Although Bentham doggedly defended consensual sexual activity between same-sex couples for half a century, his own love life remains a mystery. The son of a wealthy lawyer, he was a child prodigy who grew up to be a brilliant and eccentric recluse, living alone in London in what he called “a state of perpetual and unruffled gaiety.” He referred to his home as his “hermitage.” He lived there with a “sacred teapot” called Dicky, a favorite walking stick named Dapple, and a beloved tom cat addressed as the Reverend Doctor John Langborn. He declared, “I love everything that has four legs,” and allowed a colony of mice to share his office. One study concludes he had Asperger Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. Check this link for an 1827 description of Bentham’s eccentricities.
The philosopher’s influence continued to grow after his death as his supporters spread his ideas. Most of what is now known as liberalism is rooted in Bentham’s philosophy. His diverse followers included economist John Stuart Mill and feminist firebrand Frances “Fanny” Wright, who once exclaimed in a poem, “Oh had I but the Lesbyan’s lyre, / Blue-eyed Sappho’s fervid strain, / Then might I hope thy blood to fire…”.
Contemporary queer theologians such as Robert Shore-Goss have recognized him too. Shore-Goss writes a section about Bentham in the chapter on “Christian Homodevotion to Jesus” in his book “Queering Christ: Beyond Jesus Acted Up.”
During his 84 years Bentham wrote manuscripts totaling more than 5 million words, and many remain unstudied and unpublished. The Bentham Project is busy recruiting volunteers worldwide to transcribe them. More words of wisdom are likely to emerge from this prophet of LGBTQ rights who once summed up his approach to life by saying: “Create all the happiness you are able to create: remove all the misery you are able to remove.”
In light of the proposed Catholic Synod in 2020, there is an issue that, if not included, may prove to be a fatal flaw for the current church hierarchy.
By Stephen de Weger
As distasteful as it may be, having now been dragged through the public square of the royal commission, unless the Synod faces up to another plank in the Church’s own eye, that of clergy sexual activity and misconduct involving adults, its hopes may well be dashed before they are even discussed.
Such sexual activity may be perceived in many ways. While it may be seen as a deeply human and spiritual expression of love between a celibate and an understanding other, it has also been described and experienced as ‘mistakes’ or ‘experiments’ on the journey to celibacy; the repercussions of mandatory celibacy; professional sexual misconduct; sexual/indecent assault; or simply spiritual and power abuse.
Regardless of how it is perceived, sexual activity between clergy and adults happens, and must be addressed. Not only does it happen, but research has shown ‘clerics are more likely to engage in sexual misconduct with adults than minors’.
One reason Catholics found the reality of child sexual abuse a difficult pill to swallow was that for decades its reality was kept secret to avoid scandal. Canonical prohibitions, cover-ups, media boycott threats, and even inter-cleric blackmail ensured the public never heard of clergy sexual activity in any form.
Even if there were suspicions, few had the language with which to name and discuss, as Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea describes in her 2004 paper Psychosocial Anatomy of the Catholic Sexual Abuse Scandal, ‘priests raping nuns, priests living with paramours, priests masturbating regularly, priests dying of AIDS, priests sodomising children, priests soothing their loneliness in the arms of beloved women or men’.
Furthermore, such discussion was taboo. But then came the sexual revolution and Vatican II, not to mention a less ‘frightened’ media.
In 1992, psychologist to clergy, Sheila Murphy, wrote a little known book titled A Delicate Dance: Sexuality, Celibacy and Relationships Among Catholic Clergy and Religious. The introduction was written by Donald Goergen of The Sexual Celibate fame.
“The sexual revolution and Vatican II was a release from ‘parental control’ resulting, for many, in the sudden emergence of full-blown psychological adolescence with all its risk taking, uninhibited experimentation and lack of a fully developed sense of responsibility.”
One of the conclusions Murphy reached from the stories of her 236 female and 97 male clergy/religious participants was that the sexual revolution of the 60s, along with the ‘window opening’ of Vatican II, played a part in an increase of clergy sexual activity with adults, resulting in spikes of such activity in the 70s and 80s.
The sexual revolution and Vatican II was a release from ‘parental control’ resulting, for many, in the sudden emergence of full-blown psychological adolescence with all its risk taking, uninhibited experimentation and lack of a fully developed sense of responsibility. As a result, of those who did not leave the clerical life, many without developed internalised scaffolding either slid into such adolescent liberalism or, collapsing under new adult demands of freedom, retreated into reactionary conservatism. Others grew up and adopted new ways of being ‘celibate’. Clergy sexual misconduct is found in all three groups. Furthermore, most victims of this misconduct are still living today, but remain unacknowledged; and most have never spoken up about their experiences.
Every graph portraying clergy sexual abuse of children shows a spike in the 70s and 80s. This spike is to be expected given time spans of research, the age of victims, and the new openness towards reporting. My own study of clergy adult abuse, however, showed the same spiking.
While much more research is needed, and while acknowledging the reality of severe under-reporting, I suspect that the spike in my study is related to the sexual revolution and Vatican II reforms, as Murphy suggests. To simply dismiss this possibility out of fear of being perceived as conservative or lacking in compassion militates against a possible fuller understanding of this whole issue.
One cannot simply ignore the reality that in this period, society, including the Church, underwent a sexual ‘diaspora’ from centuries of centralist control and policing. A severe pendulum-swing away from previous restrictions could only be expected and many clergy fully participated in that swing. But what did we swing into?
According to the gospel of sexual revolutionaries, writes Murphy, ‘freedom from sexual hang-ups was the answer to all society’s ills … good sex would lead to instant intimacy; good sex would alleviate loneliness; good sex would eliminate interpersonal tensions’. How could this new social psychology, supported by such secular saints of sexual liberty as Kinsey, Masters and Johnston, and Hite, not be attractive to many clergy who had lived under the repressions of Victorian and Vatican sexuality?
The issue is that even though the revolution was needed, many forever-adolescent clergy at the time fell also into the outstretched arms of the emotional promises of sexual promiscuity, laced strongly with sexualised spirituality, or spiritualised sexuality, propelled by a ‘love and then do as you please’ mantra, because, after all, ‘God is love’. Sadly, according to victims/survivors of clergy sexual misconduct, this new unintegrated liberal mantra too often also became the major ‘pickup’ line that many a misconducting cleric used for grooming, or as a way of justifying their experimenting.
What the Church and almost everyone has up to this point ignored is that for every sexually active cleric there was and is another person involved. These real women and men have been, too often, cast aside as collateral damage; as ‘mistakes’ or ‘experiments’ of clergy on their journey to, or indeed, rejection of celibacy; their versions of what occurred rarely, if ever, validated or included in the discussion.
Now that the bishops have been forced by royal commissions and media exposure to deal with the reality of clergy child abuse, they can not ignore that of adult abuse. Unless the Church — its hierarchy, clergy and religious, conservative and liberal, gay and straight, and what’s left of the laity — spends some effort now to remove the plank from its own collective eye, any attempt of the 2020 synod ‘to stop the drift, revive hope and set a vision‘ is going to be ignored.
Former Baltimore priest lends expertise on sexual abuse to ‘Spotlight’ and ‘The Keepers’
Richard Sipe, center, a former Baltimore-based priest who wrote several books on priests and sexual abuse, with Phil Saviano, left, a victim, and Terry McKiernan, who runs a nonprofit group that tracks the Catholic clergy scandal, at a screening for ‘Spotlight’ in 2015.
Richard Sipe, the former priest who spent 25 years studying the sexual behavior of the Catholic clergy, appears in “The Keepers,” the Netflix documentary series about the unsolved murder of Sister Catherine Cesnick and the monstrous abuse of some of her students by the chaplain of a Baltimore high school in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Sipe is the bearded fellow with the cool eyeglasses in Episode 4.
A Benedictine monk and priest for 18 years, Sipe came to Baltimore to study counseling at the old Seton Psychiatric Institute. He left the priesthood at 38 and married a former Maryknoll sister. He practiced psychotherapy in Maryland before moving to California with his wife in the late 1990s. He has written six books and contributed to numerous documentaries on the celibate priesthood and sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. He estimates that he has reviewed more than 1,500 cases and provided expert testimony in 230.
Sipe famously helped the Boston Globe reporters who broke the story of widespread abuse by priests in Massachusetts. In “Spotlight,” the Oscar-winning film about the Globe’s investigation, the actor Richard Jenkins plays Sipe – or at least his voice, by phone – telling reporters that his lengthy study of priests found that six percent of them had had sex with children. Sipe provided the Globe Spotlight team with guidance throughout its lengthy investigation.
So he’s an old hand at this. He’s heard a lot of stories and told many.
Sipe found credible Wehner’s story, including her claim, made some 25 years after Cesnick’s murder, to have been taken by Maskell to see the slain nun’s body in a secluded, wooded area. Sipe believes Wehner and other victims can repress their memories of traumatic experiences for years.
And while repressed memory is still a debated concept in psychiatry, his embrace of it is not what made Sipe prominent and controversial. Rather, it was his research and his published findings about the abuse of minors by priests, accompanied by his criticism of celibacy, that brought Sipe to public attention and earned him the ire of Catholic hierarchy.
He argued then, and argues now, that child sexual abuse by the clergy should be addressed as part of an examination of celibacy, which, he says, stunts the psychological development of priests, leaving them emotionally unprepared for the celibate life.
“Don’t say we have celibacy,” he corrects me during an interview. “We have only a rule of celibacy. We have a large number of priests who claim celibacy but who do not practice it. And 6 to 9 percent of priests are involved with minors sexually.”
When Sipe first made that disturbing claim years ago, church officials criticized him and some, he says, told him to shut up about it. He says he was invited, then disinvited, to sit on a Maryland state council on the abuse of minors.
“I was blackballed,” he says. “Bishops wouldn’t have anything to do with me.” Among his critics was the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Washington, one William E. Lori, now the archbishop of Baltimore. “Mr. Sipe’s approach is not helpful,” Lori told The Baltimore Sun in 1994. “It’s an approach that is anti-celibacy. He seems to relate the tradition of celibacy to sexual immaturity. Celibacy is not the problem.”
But it is, insists Sipe, now 84.
A five-year study in Australia, he says, supported his findings. And a comprehensive study by John Jay College of Criminal Justice, published in 2004, confirmed his original estimate of the percentage of American priests involved with minors. The study found, he says, that more than six percent of priests ordained between 1960 and 1984 were alleged to have had sex with children. A longer look, from 1950 to 2002, found 10,667 children allegedly victimized by 4,392 priests. Half of their victims were found to have been between 11 and 14 years of age; about 80 percent of them were male.
Sipe had seen the scandal that rocked the church coming.
In his 1990 book, “A Secret World,” he described a system in which church officials held celibacy as an ideal, yet ignored violations. Priests who had an interest in women were advised to “take a housekeeper.” Priests who abused children were routinely recycled, moved from parish to parish by superiors, their problems never addressed. Those who went after children, Sipe argued, had been locked into an adolescent stage of development.
Over the last three decades, the Catholic Church has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits brought by thousands of victims, male and female, around the world. Popes, cardinals and bishops have apologized numerous times for the church’s complicity in the offenses of priests. And yet, for Sipe, the condition that fostered the abuse of minors, celibacy, remains in place.
“I said it in 1992,” he says. “I knew enough by then. I said, ‘The problem we’re looking at is the tip, and if we follow it to its foundation, it will lead to the highest corridors of the Vatican.”
But still? Hasn’t an epic lesson been learned from all this?
“I’m convinced we’re not past it,” Sipe says. “People have sexual impulses that they have to deal with, and the church doesn’t deal with them. Church leaders hold up celibacy, as if it is some kind of ideal, as if it is even possible.”
And what if the Roman Catholic Church were to do away with the all-male, celibate priesthood?
“I think it would lead to a flourishing,” Sipe says. “I think we would see a renewal of men and women committed to the priesthood. We have nuns with advanced degrees ready to step in . . . The danger is, it will upset the power structure. The resistance would come from the established male hierarchy; they don’t want to give up power and entitlement.”
Still, Sipe believes, there will come a day for the married priesthood. “The Catholic religion will evolve,” he says. “The church will not prosper without woman and marriage in the priesthood.”