Sex, Celibacy, And Priesthood


The traditional Catholic Church views true celibacy as a gift from God. But today's reality paints a much different picture. In Sex, Celibacy, and Priesthood, the Most Rev. Lou A. Bordisso reviews the research on sexual activity and celibacy among Catholic priests.

Featuring heart-wrenching, anonymous, and candid self-disclosures about the sexual behaviors of heterosexual, gay, and bisexual priests, Bordisso explores the meaning of celibacy in accordance with Roman Catholic ...

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The traditional Catholic Church views true celibacy as a gift from God. But today's reality paints a much different picture. In Sex, Celibacy, and Priesthood, the Most Rev. Lou A. Bordisso reviews the research on sexual activity and celibacy among Catholic priests.

Featuring heart-wrenching, anonymous, and candid self-disclosures about the sexual behaviors of heterosexual, gay, and bisexual priests, Bordisso explores the meaning of celibacy in accordance with Roman Catholic Church teachings, doctrine, and canon law. Sex, Celibacy, and Priesthood provides an honest and frank study of current perspectives on celibacy in light of priestly sexual behaviors. It allows for Roman Catholic priests to speak out in their own voices about their struggles and the conflicts they experience between celibacy and their sexual activities.

At a time when most are disgusted with the sexual scandal cover-ups, smokescreens, and veil of secrecy provided by many Roman Catholic bishops and their apologists, Sex, Celibacy, and Priesthood tells the truth and encourages us to think imaginatively and compassionately about an issue of crucial importance to the Roman Catholic Church at this moment in history.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781462038411
  • Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/17/2011
  • Pages: 108
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.26 (d)

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Sex, Celibacy, and Priesthood

A Bishop's Provocative Inquisition
By Lou A. Bordisso

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Lou A. Bordisso
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4620-3841-1

Chapter One

The Church and Celibacy

Most scholars who study celibacy within the Roman Catholic tradition embrace celibacy as a gift from God and generally agree with it. Keane (1977) eloquently describes the gift of celibacy and sexuality in his book entitled Sexual Morality: A Catholic Perspective.

The first point to be made is that for celibates as for everyone else, human sexuality is a great and good gift of God. Celibates are called to serve God and their fellow people as sexed persons, not as people whose sexuality has somehow been neutralized or taken away. The love celibates bring the world is profoundly qualified by sexuality. Celibates love others as men and women. Celibates may thus be proud of their sexuality and all that goes with it ... (150)

I fully appreciate that celibacy has broader implications than genital-sexual behaviors. While appreciating celibacy has more to do with human emotion, affectivity, fidelity, and intimacy than with sexual activity, the area Sex, Celibacy, and Priesthood tackles is limited in scope. There is a difference between the public perception of what it means to be a celibate and the private reality of sexual identity and sexual activity as a Roman Catholic priest. In other words, this book will examine both the ideal of celibacy as well as name the daily struggles, conflicts, and tensions Roman Catholic priests have with celibacy, chastity, and sexual activity.

From a legal position, Canon 277 in the New Code of Canon Law clearly states the legal position of the Roman Catholic Church on the matter of celibacy and sexual abstinence.

Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are obliged to observe celibacy, which is a gift of God, by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and can more freely dedicate themselves to the service of God and humankind.

Clerics are to conduct themselves with due prudence in associating with persons whose company could endanger their obligation to observe continence or could cause scandal to the faithful.

The diocesan bishop has the competence to issue more specific norms concerning this matter and to pass judgment in particular cases concerning the observance of this obligation. (209)

Flannery, OP (1982), in Vatican Council II: More Post Conciliar Documents, presents the Vatican's rationale and basis for celibacy.

Celibacy for priests is in full harmony with the vocation to the apostolic following of Christ and with the unconditional response of the person who is called and who undertakes pastoral service. Through celibacy, the priest, following his Lord, shows in a full way his availability, and embarking upon the way of the Cross with paschal joy he ardently desires to be consumed in an offering which can be compared to the Eucharist.

If celibacy is lived in the spirit of the Gospel, in prayer and vigilance, with poverty, joy, contempt of honours, and brotherly love, it is a sign which cannot long be hidden, but which effectively proclaims Christ to modern men also. For words today are scarcely heeded, but the witness of the life which displays the radical character of the Gospel has the power of exercising a strong attraction. ("The Ministerial Priesthood" Synod of Bishops, Ultimis temporibus, 30 November, 1967; cited in Flannery 1982, 687)

As this section unfolds, it will become quite evident that there is a huge disconnect between the reality of celibate chastity in the life of a priest and the legal, theological, and spiritual ideals of holy Mother Church. The traditional model of celibacy suggests that celibacy excludes all genital-sexual activity. Keane (1977) disputes those who suggest otherwise.

For celibates, the physical implication of their commitment to a certain style of freeing love is that they will abstain from genital sexual activities that are proximate to sexual intercourse. Sometimes today, one hears the opinion suggested that as long as a celibate has the celibate mentality or attitude, he or she can engage in physical sexual activities without violating the norm of celibate living. It is true that celibate love has priorities that transcend the physical aspect of human life. Nonetheless, there remain certain physical sexual standards for celibates, and it would be a serious mistake to use our broader personal and communal approach to celibacy as a means of dismissing the physical aspects of celibacy. (156)

The reality is that Roman Catholic priests are not only questioning the meaning of celibacy but are more and more engaged in genital sexual behaviors. I recommend that celibacy models do not dwell as much on traditional virtue of sexual abstinence as much as speaking to the reality of the sexual activity of contemporary Roman Catholic priests.

Given the mounting empirical data related to priestly celibacy and sexual activity, it is tempting to embrace contemporary models of celibacy that allow for various approaches. However, it is prudent to weigh the emerging research data against traditional models of celibacy, ethical standards, and moral codes without being rash. Kosnik et al. provide a reasonable argument to support the prudent approach to celibate chastity with reference to their own review of scientific literature in Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought (1977).

Empirical research to date has provided only inconclusive data on the issues concerning this study. Culture obviously plays a significant role in determining what, to our visceral judgment, shall appear "natural" or "deviant." It is not clear what, if any, evil consequences to the individual or society necessarily follow upon practices thought of as somehow deviant. At the same time, it is not conclusively established that such practices are harmless ...

Despite this lack of resolution, this excursion into the empirical research has not been without benefit. While no ethical position is compelled by the empirical data, its very inconclusiveness should give pause to one who might otherwise to facilely assume that human experience confirms his moral persuasion ... (77)

Now that we have been given pause, let us proceed to new models of celibacy that are grounded in the real-life sexual behaviors and celibate chastity of Roman Catholic priests.

Celibacy research studies suggest that gay, straight, and bisexual Roman Catholic priests are significantly sexually active, and many priests, particularly gay priests, outright reject mandatory celibate chastity. One of the largest studies on celibacy and sexual behaviors among Roman Catholic priests to date was by Sipe (1989). His research was a twenty-five-year study of 1,500 self-identified heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual Catholic clerics. Sipe's research concluded that 50 percent or fewer Roman Catholic priests in the United States even attempt celibacy and only 2 percent actually achieve what he defined as total chastity and true celibate achievement.

Sipe's research showed that of the 1,500 priests studied, 2 percent had achieved total celibacy, 8 percent had consolidated celibacy, 40 percent attempted celibacy, 20 percent had ongoing heterosexual relationships, 8 percent had heterosexual associations and sexual experimentation, and 10 percent had homosexual associations. Although Sipe does not define "problematic," his findings also indicated that 5 percent of the priests reported problematic masturbation. In addition, he found that 4 percent had adolescent partners and that pedophilia was reported by 2 percent and tranvestism by only 1 percent.

Wagner (1980) surveyed the sexual behaviors of fifty gay Roman Catholic priests in North America to determine gay priests' views of celibacy and genital-sexual expression. Of the fifty gay priests studied, 90 percent strongly rejected the church's requirement of mandatory celibacy for priests, while another 8 percent qualified their disagreement.

The priests Wagner studied reported on their understanding and commitment to celibacy in their own lives. His findings concluded that most of the gay priests were highly sexually active and defined celibacy in accord with their own behaviors. Only 2 percent defined celibacy as a commitment to forgo traditional heterosexual marriage or the homosexual equivalent of a permanent exclusive relationship. Another 26 percent understood celibacy as a commitment to regulate their sexual behavior in terms of general Christian moral values. Several research participants (16 percent) understood celibacy in terms of a commitment to God, Gospel values, and a more-than-usual openness to the needs of others without any relationship to sexuality. Some gay priests (14 percent) admitted that they were confused about the conflicting interpretations of celibacy, while others offered no definite opinion.

All but six reported being unfulfilled in terms of intimacy needs by their priestly or religious lifestyles. Coupled with this, is the recurring theme appearing throughout the responses which is a desire for a lover by the majority of those who are currently without one. Only 13 (26%) of the respondents reported having a lover at the time. (Wagner 1980, 99)

In addition to reporting the views of gay priests pertaining to celibacy, Wagner noted that these priests were especially sexually active.

The composite picture of sexual behaviors of this sample ... reveals them sexually active. Forty-nine (98%) respondents are masturbating at a mean frequency 6 nearly three times that reported by Kinsey in Sexual Behavior and the Human Male.

Fourteen (28%) respondents report a history of heterosexual coitus. Eight (16%) respondents reported that contact occurred after ordination. Forty-eight (96%) respondents reported a twice-per-week mean frequency of same-sex contact ... Overall, the respondents reported enjoying ongoing activity while experiencing a minimum of sex-related guilt ... The majority of respondents (62%) were self-identifying as gay previous to their ordination, but only 46% had shared that identity with another by the same time. (99–100)

Bordisso (1992) researched fifty-nine Roman Catholic priests regarding celibacy, genital-sexual activity, and priesthood. The research subjects were priests from the United States and Canada and included only those priests who responded to the invitation to participate. Due to the method of selection and the controversial nature of the study, those who participated in the research may differ from those who chose not to be included in the study. The research findings were consistent with the two similar studies by Sipe and Wagner already cited. The Bordisso study suggested initial empirical groundwork is being established indicating that heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual priests are challenging the traditional and orthodox definition and practice of celibacy. Hence, the definition and practice of celibacy of the Roman Catholic priests studied more often than not excludes sexual abstinence and continence.

The findings of Bordisso's research suggest that a statistically significant percentage of both homosexual and heterosexual priests are sexually active. As expected, gay priests (91 percent) were more sexually active than were their heterosexual counterparts (40 percent). Heterosexual priests were sexually active even though most believed that celibacy excluded all genital-sexual activity (85 percent). In fact, nearly half of the sample of heterosexual priests had been in long-term relationships that included genital-sexual activity (45 percent). At the very minimum, all but 16 percent of the heterosexual sample of priests had masturbated.

The responses of the heterosexual clergy indicated that they participated in sexual activity and are in conflict with the traditional definition of celibacy that promotes sexual abstinence and perfect continence as the ideal.

Chapter Two

Written Responses from Priests

As a way to enflesh and embody the empirical research data, I asked the priests to respond to the question, "How have you resolved conflicts, if any, between your sexuality and your vocation as a priest?" I also asked the priests to reflect on their personal understanding, definition, and practice of celibacy. The responses were supplied anonymously in writing and are transcribed verbatim.

There is no disclosure of any identifying information of the participating clergy. The names of participating clergy provided below are fictitious. For the sake of privacy and confidentiality, references to geographical locations are changed.

The following reflections are personal accounts written by homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual priests in North America describing their sexual identity, joys, and struggles to resolve conflicts, if any, between their sexuality, sexual behaviors and their celibate priesthood.

Personal Priestly reflections: conflicts between sexuality and Priesthood

* Heterosexual Priests

Father Francis: Personal growth and experience has helped me to integrate needs of intimacy without genital sexuality. Church and law of celibacy only said "no" without processing the need to integrate one's personal needs as a human being with one's profession. Celibacy has become a free choice only after mistakes! Now it is freeing. Previously it was imposed by state of life and religious custom of law. Models of maturity were not easy to find as few people willingly talked and shared their resolutions. I merely experienced rigidity, a mature humanness, or a spineless softness open to whim. One from a family environment that was healthy had better innate sense on what was truly human and therefore Christlike.

Father Tom: Any conflicts that arise (other than normal human conflicts) do not come from the priesthood but from inappropriate expectations of other people. I believe that fully acknowledged and integrated sexuality is essential to effective living of professional priesthood.

Father Clement: a) Personal growth in understanding sexuality. b) Good personal and spiritual direction from a priest-director and confessor. c) Willingness to understand the origins of lack of sexual integration and to confront fears and difficulties. d) Keeping the support of good priest friends while struggling to integrate sexuality into life. e) Realizing that time and effort bring better balance, understanding, and integration.

Father Augustine: I do not experience my sexuality as in conflict with my profession as a priest. The locus of conflict within my life is rather between my faith-acceptance of myself as I am with all my weaknesses and defects as being the object of God's unconditioned love, and my instinctual tendency to evaluate myself because of others' expectations of me.

Father Simon: I have a strong feeling about commitment to the priesthood so I am careful about too close a relationship with a woman, which could make the commitment difficult. I think that this parallels a married man's relationship with other women, if he wants to preserve his marriage.

Father Steven:

a) I emphasize friendships with many single men my age, not necessarily priests.

b) I have chosen several young families my age to be special friends to help keep me aware of family life.

c) I prayerfully consider how elements of my work are in fact very intimate in nature and thus sexual.

d) I try to stay away from masturbation or any instances where I may be tempted to genital expression of my sexuality.

e) I pray often specifically about my sexuality and I sometimes grieve the fact that I will have no children. This has been particularly important for me.

Father Charles: Have learned that intimacy is essential both for my spiritual growth and for living a celibate life. I have several intimate friendships with women that I have fostered over many years. Despite occasional difficulties, my "concupiscence level" is most peaceful when celibate intimacy is present: mutual sharing, vulnerability, hugs, etc. Of course, without continuous meditation and meaningful pastoral ministry, I do not think the intimacy would/could remain celibate!


Excerpted from Sex, Celibacy, and Priesthood by Lou A. Bordisso Copyright © 2011 by Lou A. Bordisso. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Chapter One: The Church and Celibacy....................1
Chapter Two: Written Responses from Priests....................10
Personal Priestly Reflections: Conflicts between Sexuality and Priesthood....................11
Personal Priestly Reflections: Understanding, Definition, and Praxis of Celibate Chastity....................31
Chapter Three: Alternative Models for Celibate Chastity....................60
Chapter Four: Pastoral and Theological Reflections....................67
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