Sex Offense: One Part of His Story. (Church in Crisis)

National Catholic Reporter, June 7, 2002 | Go to article overview

Sex Offense: One Part of His Story. (Church in Crisis)


Following is an account by a priest who asked to remain anonymous. We are assured that, though a few details have been slightly altered to preserve anonymity, the account accurately reflects one priest's experience. It is rate that NCR allows a piece to be published anonymously, but the editors believe the content warrants the exception. The tale points up the complexity of the sex abuse scandal and raises serious questions about such absolute and quick solutions as the "one strike and out" proposal in disciplining priests who have been accused of sexual abuse.

Why have priests sexually abused minors? Many of the answers being offered to this question are based on stereotypes, usually the most notorious cases involving serial predators. But these are not the typical cases, most of which go back 20 to 40 years and do not involve many victims. I myself am a priest who committed this crime nearly 30 years ago. This is my story. It is not the whole story of my life, my calling, my spirituality, or the good I have accomplished in the priesthood--just the bare facts that led me to offend, and what happened afterward.

I was a "lifer." I entered minor seminary in the early 1960s at age 14 and went straight on to college seminary, theology and holy orders. We had no seminaries in my diocese, so I boarded at seminaries elsewhere. Discipline in minor seminary was very strict; rules were rigid. Vocations were plentiful, and dismissals occurred regularly, especially for serious offenses like talking back to a priest or leaving the property without permission. Once in a while someone would be dismissed because he was effeminate or it was suspected he was homosexual. Such boys would just disappear without any goodbye or explanation of their going. We only heard rumors.

I had been attracted to girls in grammar school (and I'm attracted to women now), but in minor seminary I never saw any girls my age. The only women were the nuns in the kitchen. Even on summer vacation, seminary rules dictated that we could not go on dates or frequent the company of girls, and my pastor had to sign a document at the end of the summer testifying that I had observed these rules.

In my junior year, when I was 16, I became aware that I was furtively glancing sometimes at other boys in the dorm as they were undressing. Because no normal male would ever do such a thing, I concluded that this strange habit could only mean that I was homosexual ("gay" still meant "happy" then). As soon as I admitted this to myself, I instantly recognized that I could not possibly discuss this thought with anyone, because if the troth were known I would be abruptly booted out under a cloud of shame and my vocation to the priesthood would be over before it started.

For the next six years of high school and college seminary., I totally suppressed the terrible truth about my sexual orientation--as I knew it then. No one would have identified me as a homosexual--or a heterosexual either. I became the perfect, asexual seminarian who was never troubled by fantasies or masturbation. During all my years of seminary, no issues of sexuality were discussed with us by the priests (only priests were on staff then), except for human reproduction in biology class. Anything to do with sex was grave matter to be handled by the seminary confessor, a retired priest whose indignant voice roared through the chapel when he scolded a boy for masturbating. I don't blame the priests on the faculty for this. They were good and dedicated people, and they gave us an excellent education in all subjects. They treated sex as everybody did then; it was not a subject for public discussion.

When I was 22, I went to a big seminary for theology. It was refreshing to meet many new people and make new friends. Vatican II had ended a couple years earlier; the windows had opened, and fresh winds were blowing. The rigid seminary rules were a thing of the past; the atmosphere was relaxed and open. …

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