In the aftermath of the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick following multiple accusations of sexual abuse, Robert Mickens, a veteran Vatican and church observer, reflected upon the connection between closeted gay priests and clerical abuse of power.
In a Washington Post op-ed essay, Mickens claimed that there seems to be a correlation between the Vatican’s active suppression of homosexuality and priests’ abuse of young boys, teens, and young men. He called homosexuality a “key component” to the clergy sex abuse crisis, as many of the cases involve boys and young men as opposed to girls and young women. Mickens clarified further:
“But let me be very clear: psychologically healthy gay men do not rape boys or force themselves on other men over whom they wield some measure of power or authority.
“However, we are not talking about men who are psychosexually mature. And yet the bishops and officials at the Vatican refuse to acknowledge this. Rather, they are perpetuating the problem, and even making it worse, with policies that actually punish seminarians and priests who seek to deal openly, honestly and healthily with their sexual orientation.”
[Editor’s note: Mickens’ used of “closeted” refers priests who have not dealt with accepting and affirming their sexuality. It does not refer to priests who have come to terms with their sexuality, but who choose to remain private about it for personal safety considerations.]
One of these Vatican policies was issued in 2005 shortly after Benedict XVI was elected pope. That document reinforced a “stay in the closet” policy, asserting that gay men should not be admitted to seminaries. Ironically, as Mickens reported, one of the leading authors of the document, Paris’s Monsignor Tony Anatrella, was later stripped of priestly faculties following abuse accusations of seminarians.
Beyond the overt efforts to keep gay men out of Catholic leadership, Church leaders continue to perpetuate the stigma that homosexuality is dirty, disordered, and unhealthy. Rather than speaking openly about it, clerics tend to shut down open conversations, which negatively affects the men’s psychosexual development. Mickens observes:
“The Vatican knows all too well that there are large numbers of priests and seminarians with a homosexual orientation. But rather than encourage a healthy discussion about how gays can commit themselves to celibate chastity in a wholesome way, the Church’s official policies and teachings drive such men even deeper into the closet.
“And like any other dark place lacking sunlight and air, this prevents normal development and festers mold, dankness, distortion and disease. Nothing kept in the dark can become healthy or flourish.”
In a Commonweal blog post commenting on Mickens’ essay, Faith in Public Life’s John Gehring highlighted an important fact about the debate concerning gay priests and sex abuse:
“If the church removed all gay priests from ministry today, it would suffer for that loss. Nor would it bring an end to the abuse crisis. The problem is with those bishops, and others with influence in the church, who at best are asleep at the wheel and at worst willing to excuse predatory behavior. “
Unfortunately, honesty does not seem to be the policy among Catholic leaders when it comes to gay men in the priesthood. The hushed treatment of homosexuality creates an unhealthy system which inevitably leads to abusive relationships between priests and those to whom they “minister.” Mickens essay brings sharp focus to the real issue:
“Our problem in the Church is of the abuse of power, an abuse that happens as a result of homophobia that keeps gay men in the closet, bars them from growing up and results in distorted sexuality for many gay priests. We need to address this elephant in the rectory parlor.”
–Lizzie Sextro, New Ways Ministry, August 9, 2018