VOICES AND ECHOES
FEBRUARY 4, 2000 • HOUSTON VOICE
AIDS, the priesthood and Catholic hypocrisy
Matthew A. Hennie
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"Non quam duo, semper tres."
That's the prevailing rule at St. Stanislaus
and other Roman Catholic seminaries across
In days and evenings filled with prayer,
meditation and discussion, a strict commandment is issued to the young novices, as those
wishing to enter the priesthood are called.
"Not in twos, always threes."
And try to avoid "particular friendships"
The rules are designed to undermine the
sexual currency that even church officials
acknowledge emerges from an all-male environment of those sharing so much in common.
With little or no teaching at seminary about
human sexuality—much less homosexuality—the results are chilling.
In a remarkable series of reports last week
by the Kansas City Star, the Catholic hierarchy
is called to answer for a silent epidemic of
AIDS among the priesthood. In an exhaustive
survey, the newspaper found the death rate
from AIDS among priests to be four times the
"There have always been the comments
made on this that a celibate priesthood must
be somewhat attractive for one who is homosexual, because you're joining a fraternity or
group which has a status in society, and you
don't have to come out of the closet,"
acknowledged Bishop Raymond j. Boland, of
the Kansas City diocese, in an interview with
"I can't argue with that statement. There
must be that attraction. Now, how much the
attraction has ever been fulfilled is very difficult to know."
Harry Morrison, a California priest who
has AIDS, agreed.
"Young Catholic boys trying desperately to
honor the strict sexual morality of the church
and having no attraction for women see a
vocation to the priesthood not only as an honorable way out, but also as a social way out,"
he told the paper.
In fact, 15 percent of priests responding to
the Star's survey identified themselves as gay
AIDS in the priesthood,
and another five percent said they are bisexual. Assuming most priests would be extremely reluctant to acknowledge same-sex attraction, the numbers are extraordinary
And they suggest widespread knowledge
among Catholic clergy about the existence of
many, many gay priests.
Four years in the making, the Star series
tells the heart-breaking stories of priests under
pressure from the church who kept secret
from loved ones their homosexuality, their
sexual activity, their infecbon with HIV and
often even the cause of their deaths.
And whatever the series says about the failure
of the Catholic Church to deal effectively and
compassionately with AIDS in the priesthcxxJ, it
says even more about the church's morally bankrupt teachings about homosexuality.
In seminary, the church teaches the vow of
celibacy as one of the most important obligations of the priesthood.
For these committed men, each of whom feels
a special calling to devote their entire life to their
faith, celibacy is viewed as a means of achieving
the spiritual purity necessary to perform the
holy rites and responsibilities of the post.
But even with that intense and enduring
mobvation, many fail to live up to their calling
to be celibate, and engage not only in sexual
activity, but often unsafe sex, as the Star report
makes abundantly clear.
And yet the very same Catholic bishops
who no doubt know much more than the Star
about sexually active priests, straight and gay,
recently issued a modified teaching on homosexuality that required of gay Catholic laity
the same vow of celibacy that the church's
committed priests cannot fulfill.
The bishops acknowledged in their
report—styled as an open letter to parents
struggling with accepting their gay children—
that homosexuality is experienced as an unalterable orientation by most people and harboring same-sex desires is no more sinful than
At the graveside of his brother, a Jesuit priest
who died of AIDS in December 1990, Dennis
Dobbels told the Kansas City Star that he
regrets his brother waited until only weeks
before his death to tell his family about his
secret life and cause of death.
Implicitly admitting the uselessness of
prayerful or psychotherapeutic efforts at
"converting" to heterosexuality, the bishops still drew the line at acting on homosexual desires.
Gay Catholics are required by their church
to live a life of celibacy, like priests, never acting on their natural, God-given sexual desires,
even within the confines of a loving, committed and monogamous relationship.
In fact, in places like Hawaii and
California and Vermont, Catholic clergy
have been active in opposing same-sex
marriage even though the institution has
been shown by centuries' evidence to foster the type of committed romantic relationships that win church approval among
It's true, ol course, that the Catholic Church
has a colorful history of teachings completely
separated from human reality, as illustrated
recently by an angry lecture from Pope John
Paul II, who urged opposition to secular
divorce laws that permit the dissolution of
even one consummated marriage.
But the church's teaching on homosexuality is particularly cruel because it
allows for absolutely no expression of
human sexuality—the proscription covers masturbation as well, as any spilling
of semen is considered sinful—even
though our orientation is viewed as
With this new and devastating evidence that celibacy fails at an alarming
rate even among clergy, the church's
most committed members, the Catholic
record on homosexuality has been laid
bare as illogical, hypocritical, corrupt
Kansas City Star
"AIDS in the Priesthood"
available on the web at