Let’s Find Out the Real Number of Gay Priests in the Church

“It is time for the bishops to commission a reputable survey to determine what percent of their priests are gay. They should also do a survey to determine the reaction of their flock to the reality of gay priests.”

That’s one of the conclusions that Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, columnist for The National Catholic Reporter has come to after hearing about the Vatican’s reaffirmation of a ban on gay priests.  He explained his position in a blog post entitled “Yes, there are lots of good gay priests”

Reese was forthright in his condemnation of the Vatican document, noting:

“The idea that gays cannot be good priests is stupid, demeaning, unjust, and contrary to the facts. I know many very good priests who are gay, and I suspect even more good priests I know are gay.”

The fact that the Vatican continues to issues statements against gay priests (Pope Benedict XVI had issued one in 2005) creates an unhealthy atmosphere in the Church.  Reese explains that the existence of such negative instructions cause seminarians and priests “to lie about their sexuality — not a healthy thing, especially with your spiritual director.”  He continues:

“In an era when seminarians are being encouraged to live more healthy emotional lives, they should not be forced to lie about who they are. In such seminaries, the faculty and administrators either play inquisitor or turn a blind eye to sexual orientation. As a consequence, some psychologists evaluating candidates for the priesthood refuse to list sexual orientation in their reports, lest it be found by someone and used against the man.

“Like the military of old, the seminary and priestly culture becomes one of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ “

One of the real problems the Church faces in regards to gay priests is knowing just how many there are in the priesthood.  As someone who has traveled in church circles for most of my adult life, and who, for the past 22 years has spoken with clergy all over the country, anecdotal evidence convinces me that the number is at least 50% and most likely much more.  I say this not based on the number of priests that I have met who are gay, but from reports from priests, both gay and straight, and both pro-gay and anti-gay, who tell me what their estimates are based on their knowledge of local clergy.

Father Thomas Reese, SJ

Father Thomas Reese, SJ

Reese notes that bishops have often been opposed to finding out the actual number of gay priests:

“Before he died, I asked the sociologist Dean Hoge, who had done numerous surveys of priests, and he said that the bishops would never allow him to ask the question in any of his surveys. The bishops did not want to know, or they were afraid of the numbers being publicized in the media.”

But there are a wide variety of other motivations for keeping the lid on the phenomenon of gay priests.  Reese explains:

“Bishops and religious superiors continue to advise gay priests and religious to stay in the closet. Some fear too much publicity about gay priests will drive away heterosexual vocations, but today it is more likely that heterosexual young people will be driven away by homophobic prejudice. Others fear that gay priests will be shunned by their parishioners or looked upon with suspicion because gays have been falsely blamed for the sexual abuse crisis. And in today’s world, such priests and religious would likely be attacked in right-wing media, including social media. “

All of this leads Reese to call for a reputable survey to find out both the number of gay priests, and Catholic lay people’s acceptance of them.   While I don’t have a good answer for the first question, I think I have a pretty good idea of what the answer to the second question might be. Having spoken with scores of gay priests over the last two decades,  a number of whom are out to their congregations, not one has ever told me that the response has been negative.  Yes, one or two parishioners might have a

Having spoken with scores of gay priests over the last two decades,  a number of whom are out to their congregations, not one has ever told me that the response has been negative.  Yes, one or two parishioners might have a problem and might leave the parish, but the overwhelming response has been acceptance and love.  And this is from priests who serve in various parts of the country in an amazingly diverse set of parishes.  And the number of supportive Catholics will continue to expand as greater acceptance of LGBT people continues to rise in the future.

You can show your support for gay priests by signing New Ways Ministry’ statement “The Gift of Gay Priests’ Vocations” by clicking here,  reading the statement, and signing your name.  This statement is a wonderful way to let Catholic leaders know that Catholic lay people welcome and support the gay priests in their midst.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 12, 2016

7 replies
  1. Martin
    Martin says:

    Many of us will deplore this latest Vatican Congregation for the Clergy document as yet more evidence of a warped anthropology still persisting in some Curial Departments. However, it’s interesting to note that some fundamentalist Catholic groups – I will not give the link to them, since Bondings should not be so infected by them(!) – interpret Paragraphs 199-200 as relaxing the more restrictive 2008 “Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood.” Even though a false dichotomy is created between those perceived to have “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” and those with a “transitory problem”, the logic of this conservative approach is that those who have reached a psycho-sexual maturity, appropriately assessed psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually, should not necessarily be blocked from ordination.
    it’s worth noting that this document, even if bureaucratically approved by the Pope for circulation, enjoys no magisterial value. It is simply amending the Vatican’s ‘Ratio Fundamentalis’ for seminaries and places of formation for the Sacrament of Orders. Each Bishops’ Conference is required to submit on a regular basis their own national ‘Ratio’, governing the seminaries within their jurisdiction. The Vatican document is simply the template against which local ‘Ratio’s are judged, and subsequently approved of, or not, described in its English translation as a “General Executive Decree”.
    It is a juridical exercise, and each Bishops’ Conference develops and approves its own ‘Ratio’. In England & Wales, the policy remains that all seminary candidates, regardless of sexual orientation, are expected to have lived celibate lives for a substantial period of time before entering the seminary and are expected to show a clear commitment to celibacy, unless they have been specifically dispensed of this requirement, e.g as heterosexually married former clergy of other Churches. This policy has pertained for a number of decades now, and neither the 2005 Congregation for Catholic Education document, nor the 2008, have altered this stance.
    I was intrigued that this latest ‘Ratio’ appeared with no Vatican Press Conference presentation, no advance notice in Vatican bulletins that it would be available – in short, all very low key! What is significant is that the present ‘Ratio’ comes, not from the Congregation for Catholic Education which normally includes the monitoring of seminaries, etc, but from the Congregation for the Clergy. Is this one of the Curial bodies where there is ‘deep-seated’ opposition to Pope Francis’ reforms and pastoral praxis, not least in rejecting any who-am-I-to-judge principles? Let’s blow this one down, rather than up!

  2. Larry
    Larry says:

    While Fr. Reese’s idea is a good one, putting such a survey in the hands of the Church makes it DOA. First, I would suspect that any gay clergy would be suspicious of how their answers, if truthful, would be used against them especially by the likes of Chaput which would lead to false answers and a result that would be untrue. Also, seeing how the American Church handled the questionnaires for the laity requested by Pope Francis for his conference on the family, it is unlikely that they would be done well at all.

  3. Charles Jones
    Charles Jones says:

    A few years back a list of gay US bishops made the rounds. No surprises. Some of America’s most homophobic were on the list.
    I’d suggest that perhaps the number of gay bishops ought to be counted.
    And, their names noted as well.
    Following that we can begin to count the large number of gay priests.

  4. Barbara Marian
    Barbara Marian says:

    Might gay clergy answer a survey done by PEW, National Opinion Survey, or Public Religion Research? If so, how might these organizations be enlisted to gather the data and report on these important and timely questions?


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] New Ways Ministry’s Bonding 2.0 Blog. For the full story:  or follow the link to the NCR […]

  2. […] in the priesthood. (You can read Bondings 2.0’s coverage of Reese’s piece by clicking here, and you can read Fullam’s piece at Commonweal by clicking […]

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