Grindr, blackmail and confession: The life of a gay seminarian

Frédéric Martel on power, homosexuality and hypocrisy in the closet of the Vatican

Holy See: between 60 and 70 per cent of seminarians are gay, according to Axel.

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Ydier and Axel are two seminarians whom I meet at the Mario Mieli cultural centre, in Rome. (Their names have been changed.)

“There are about 20 of us in my seminary. Seven are clearly gay. About six others have, we might say, tendencies. That agrees more or less with the usual percentage: between 60 and 70 per cent of seminarians are gay. Sometimes I think it’s as many as 75 per cent,” Axel tells me.

The young man would like to join the Rota, one of the three tribunals in the Holy See, and the initial reason for him attending the seminary.

Ydier wants to become a teacher. He wears a white cross on his shirt, and has dazzling blond hair. I mention this. “Fake blond! It’s fake! I have brown hair,” he tells me.

The seminarian goes on: ‘The atmosphere at my seminary is also very homosexual. But there are important nuances. There are students who really live out their homosexuality; others who don’t, or not yet.

“There are homosexuals who are really chaste; there are also heterosexuals who are practising for want of women, out of substitution, one might say. And there are others who only live it out secretly. It’s a very unique atmosphere.”

Even many older ordinands are still virgins when they reach the seminary. In contact with other boys, their tendencies are revealed or come into focus

The two seminarians share more or less the same analysis: in their view the celibacy rule and the prospect of living together prompts young men who are undecided about their inclinations to join Catholic establishments. They are far from their village for the first time, without their family, and in a strictly masculine context and strongly homosexual universe they begin to understand their uniqueness.

Often, the ordinands – even the older ones – are still virgins when they reach the seminary: in contact with other boys, their tendencies are revealed or come into focus. Then the seminaries become the context for future priests “coming out” and having their first experiences. It’s a real rite of passage.

The story of former American seminarian Robert Mickens sums up a path taken by many.

“What was the solution when you discovered that you had a different ‘sensibility’ in an American city like Toledo, Ohio, where I come from? What were the options? For me going to the seminary was a way of dealing with my homosexuality. I was in conflict with myself. I didn’t want to confront that question in the United States.

“I left for Rome in 1986, and I studied at the Pontifical North American College. During my third year at the seminary, when I was 25, I fell in love with a boy.” (By his own choice Michens was never ordained as a priest: he became a journalist at Radio Vatican, where he stayed for 11 years, and then for the Tablet, and he is now editor-in-chief of La Croix International. He lives in Rome, where I met him several times.)

Another seminarian, a Portuguese man I met in Lisbon, tells me a story quite similar to that of Mickens. He had the courage to come out to his parents. His mother replied: “At least we’ll have a priest in the family.” (He joined the seminary.)

Another example: that of Lafcadio, a Latin American priest of about 30 who now teaches in a Roman seminary (his name has been changed). I met him at the Propaganda restaurant after he became the lover of one of my translators. No longer able to conceal his homosexuality, he chose to talk to me frankly, and we’ve met up again for dinner five times during this investigation.

Like Ydier, Axel and Robert, Lafcadio linked his career path to his homosexuality. After a difficult adolescence in the depths of Latin America, but with no initial doubts about his sexuality, he chose to join the seminary “out of a sincere vocation”, he tells me, even though an emotional laziness and boundless ennui – the cause of which he didn’t know at the time – may have played a part in his decision.

Gradually, he managed to put a name to his malaise: homosexuality. And then, suddenly, a chance event: on a bus, a boy put his hand on his thigh.

I’m often horny. So many nights spent in random beds – and still this promise to return to the seminary before curfew

Lafcadio tells me: “I suddenly froze. I didn’t know what to do. As soon as the bus stopped, I fled. But that evening I was obsessed by that trivial gesture. I thought about it constantly. It seemed terribly good, and I hoped it would happen again.’

He gradually discovered and accepted his homosexuality, and left for Italy, since the Roman seminaries were “traditionally”, he tells me, the place “where the sensitive boys of Latin America are sent”.

In the capital he started living a well-compartmentalised life, without ever allowing himself to spend the night away from the seminary where he stayed, and where he now had important responsibilities.

With me he is “openly gay”, and he talks about his obsessions as intense sexual desires. “I’m often horny,” he says. “So many nights spent in random beds – and still this promise to return to the seminary before curfew, even when there were so many things to do!”

In accepting his homosexuality, Lafcadio also started seeing the Church in another light.

“Since then I’ve got better at decoding things. Sometimes I find monsignori, archbishops and cardinals making passes at me in the Vatican. Before I wasn’t aware of what they wanted from me. And now I know!” (Lafcadio became one of my precious informers because, young and good looking, with close connections inside the Roman Curia, he was subjected to sustained emotional solicitations and recurrent flirtations on the part of several cardinals, bishops and even a “liturgy queen” in the pope’s entourage – several of which encounters he described to me.)

Like a number of seminarians I have interviewed, Lafcadio describes to me another phenomenon that is particularly widespread in the church, so much so that it has a name: crimen sollicitationis (solicitation in confession). In confessing their homosexuality to their priest or spiritual director, the seminarians leave themselves exposed.

“A number of priests to whom I have confessed my doubts or attractions have made advances to me,” he tells me.

Often these solicitations are fruitless: at other times they receive consent and lead to a relationship; sometimes couples form. At yet other times these confessions – even though this is a sacrament – lead to touching, harassment, blackmail or sexual aggression.

The church puts up with the denunciation of homosexuals, but it forbids priests who are made aware of sexual abuse in confession to betray that secret

When a seminarian confesses that he has attractions or tendencies, he takes risks. In some cases the young man is denounced by his superior, as the former priest Francesco Lepore experienced at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

“In the course of a confession I mentioned my internal conflicts to one of the chaplains of Opus Dei. I was open and a bit naive. What I didn’t know was that he would betray me and tell everyone around him.”

Other seminarians have been trapped into having their confessions used against them to exclude them from the seminary; something that is strictly illegal under canon law because the secrets of the confessional are absolute, and betraying them should mean excommunication.

“Here again the church demonstrates double standards. It puts up with the denunciation of homosexuals, whose admissions have been elicited in confession, but it forbids priests who are made aware of sexual abuse in confession to betray that secret,” one seminarian laments.

According to several witnesses, cruising in confession occurs particularly frequently during the first few months of a seminarian’s training, during the year of “discernment” or “propaedeutic”, more rarely at the level of the diaconate.

Among the regular clergy, Dominicans, Franciscans and Benedictines have confirmed to me that they underwent this “rite of passage” as novices. Advances made, whether consented to or not, are justified by a kind of biblical excuse: in the Book of Job the guilty party is the one who yields to temptation, not the tempter themselves; in a seminary then the guilty party is ultimately always the seminarian and not the predatory superior – and here we encounter the whole inversion of the values of good and evil that the church constantly maintains.

Most of the seminarians I interviewed helped me to understand something that I hadn’t grasped, and that is very nicely summed up by a young German I met by chance in the streets of Rome.

“I don’t see that as a double life. A double life would be something secret and hidden. But my homosexuality is well known within the seminary. It isn’t noisy, it isn’t militant, but it is known. What is truly forbidden, however, is to be militantly in favour, to assert oneself. But as long as one remains discreet, everything is fine.’

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule does outstanding work, as it does elsewhere in the church. Homosexual practice is better tolerated in the seminaries when it is not displayed. But woe to him who causes a scandal!

“The only thing that is really banned is to be heterosexual. Having a girl, bringing a girl back, would mean immediate exclusion. Chastity and celibacy apply mostly to women,” the German seminarian adds with a broad smile.

While the celibacy of priests remains in place, a gay priest will always receive a better welcome in the church than a straight priest. That’s a reality

A former seminarian who lives in Zurich explains his point of view.

“Essentially the church has always preferred gay priests to heterosexual priests. With its anti-gay circulars, it claims to be changing things a little, but you can’t change a reality with a circular!

“While the celibacy of priests remains in place, a gay priest will always receive a better welcome in the church than a straight priest. That’s a reality, and there’s nothing the church can do about it.”

The seminarians I have interviewed agree on another point: a heterosexual cannot feel completely at ease in a Catholic seminary, because – and I’m quoting the expressions they used – of “the looks”, the “special friendships”, the “bromances” the “boy-chasing”, and the “sensitivity”, “fluidity”, “tenderness” and “generalised homoerotic atmosphere” that emanates from it. Anyone who wasn’t a confirmed bachelor would be flummoxed.

And another seminarian adds, repeating a mantra that I have heard several times: “Jesus never once mentions homosexuality. If it’s such a terrible thing, why does Jesus not talk about it?”

After a pause, he observes: “Being in a seminary is a bit like being in Blade Runner: no one knows who is a human and who is a replicant. It’s an ambiguity that straights usually take a dim view of.”

According to lots of statements I have collected in the Roman pontifical universities, the double life of seminarians has evolved considerably over the last few years because of the internet and smart phones. A large proportion of those who went out at the dead of night looking for chance encounters or, in Rome, in clubs like Diabolo 23, K-Men’s Gay, the Bunker or the Vicious Club can now cruise from the comfort of their own home.

Due to apps like Grindr, Tinder or Hornet, and hook-up sites like GayRomeo (now PlanetRomeo), Scruff (for more mature men and “bears”), Daddyhunt (for those who like “daddies”), or Recon (for fetishists and “extreme” sexualities), they no longer need to move or to take too many risks.

Along with my researchers in Rome, I also discover the homosexuality of several seminarians, priests or curia bishops thanks to the magic of the internet.

Often they gave us their email addresses or mobile numbers out of politeness or complicity when we met in the Vatican. After we went on to record the information, quite innocently, in our Gmail address books or on our smart phones, different accounts and names associated with them appeared automatically on WhatsApp, Google+, LinkedIn or Facebook. Often pseudonyms!

My team and I have managed to prove that Grindr does its job every evening inside the Vatican State

Starting with these borrowed names, the double life of these seminarians, priests or curia bishops – certainly very discreet, but not geeky enough – emerged from these networking sites as if through the intervention of the Holy Spirit! (Here I am thinking of a dozen precise cases, and especially several monsignori whom we have already encountered in the course of this book.)

Today lots of them spend their evenings on GayRomeo, Tinder, Scruff or Venerabilis – but mostly on Grindr.

Often priests spot each other without meaning to, having discovered that another gay cleric is a few metres away. And my team and I have also managed to prove that Grindr does its job every evening inside the Vatican State.

On Facebook, another site used a lot for cruising, because of the diversity of its members, it is easy to spot gay priests or seminarians. This is true, for example, of several prelates that we followed in Rome: most of them were unfamiliar with the confidentiality protocols of the social network, and left their list of friends visible.

You only had to look at the account of a Roman gay well connected in the homosexual community of the city to determine from “friends in common” whether a priest was gay or not. A timeline need not contain a single gay message: the way Facebook works almost always gives gays away.

To escape this you need to have compartmentalised your life – using separate networks and never having shared the slightest personal information – to such an extent that it is almost impossible.

Smart phones and the internet are changing the lives of seminarians and priests for better or for worse.

Complete Article HERE!

The Catholic Church is bursting with secrets. Investigating one will unravel them all.

Pope Francis in Rome on Feb. 14.

By Garry Wills

The New York Times published an extraordinary article this week based on interviews with two dozen gay Catholic priests and seminarians in 13 states. “Out” men and women today are often widely admired, but most of the interviews had to be conducted anonymously because the Vatican still treats homosexuality as “objectively disordered” — a policy that persists even though the representation of gay men in the priesthood is higher, probably far higher, than in the general population.

The relevant catechism about sexuality does not condemn people with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies,” just those who act on those tendencies. In other words, you can be gay so long as you don’t do anything about it. The Times article rightly presents this distinction as a trial for the priests involved — one of the last major throwbacks to the era of “the love that dare not speak its name” (as Oscar Wilde’s partner, Lord Alfred Douglas, put it). But I wondered how the church’s policy on homosexuality affects men and women, as well as boys and girls, who are not priests.

The gay priest is required, generally, to uphold the official teaching of his church and of his superiors, making him a collaborator in the suppression of his gay brothers and sisters outside the clergy. In this way, without intending to, the victimized become victimizers. How does that play out, to take an example, in the confessional? If a penitent confesses homosexual activity to a gay priest, does the priest channel God’s forgiveness of a sin that he does not himself consider a sin? This is just one of the many ways in which we Catholics, if we refrain from criticizing this particular stance of our church, contribute to the persecution of the LGBTQ community.

The deepest irony is that a priest who is required to go against his nature is told that he must do this because of “natural law.” The church’s quaint theory of natural law is that the first biological use of an activity is the only permissible use of that activity. If the biological use of sex is for procreation, any other use is “against nature.”

The absurdity of this view is made clear by considering the first biological use for eating: the sustenance of life. If every other use of nutrition is against nature, then any diet beyond what is consumed for life-maintenance is a sin — in other words, no wedding cakes, no champagne toasts. Yet the church continues to adhere to so-called natural law because it underpins doctrine on all sexual matters, including the condemnations of abortion, contraception, in vitro fertilization and stem-cell research.

Given the stakes in these and other matters, the ban on gay sex involves a larger “church teaching” than the single matter of homosexuality.

Priests and bishops who cover up male homosexuality are prone to a mutual blackmail with those who commit and conceal heterosexual acts by the clergy — sometimes involving women, including nuns, who have been victimized by priests. The Times’s portrait of gay priests was followed by a powerful Feb. 18 article revealing that the church has internal policies for dealing with priests who father children. The Vatican confirmed, apparently for the first time, that a priest with progeny is encouraged to ask for release from his ministry “to assume his responsibilities as a parent by devoting himself exclusively to the child” — there being no requirement in canon law that a priest perform this basic act of love for his offspring and the child’s mother.

Secrecy in one clerical area intersects with secrecy in others. There is an implicit pledge that “your secret is safe with my secret.” If there are gay nuns — and why would there not be? — that adds another strand to the interweavings of concealment.

The trouble with any culture that maintains layer upon layer of deflected inspections is that, when so many people are guarding their own secrets, the deep examination of an institution becomes nearly impossible. The secrecies are too interdependent. Truly opening one realm of secrecy and addressing it may lead to an implosion of the entire system. That is the real problem faced this week by Pope Francis and the church leaders he has summoned from around the world for a conference at the Vatican to consider the labyrinthine and long-standing scandals of clerical sex abuse.

Complete Article HERE!

A Catholic Civil War?

Traditionalists want strict adherence to church doctrine. Liberals want the doctrine changed.

By Matthew Schmitz

Pope Francis must resign. That conclusion is unavoidable if allegations contained in a letter written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò are true. Archbishop Viganò, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States from 2011 to 2016, says that Pope Francis knew Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had abused seminarians, but nonetheless lifted penalties imposed on Cardinal McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI.

No matter what Francis does now, the Catholic Church has been plunged into all-out civil war. On one side are the traditionalists, who insist that abuse can be prevented only by tighter adherence to church doctrine. On the other side are the liberals, who demand that the church cease condemning homosexual acts and allow gay priests to step out of the closet.

Despite their opposing views, the two sides have important things in common. Both believe that a culture of lies has enabled predators to flourish. And both trace this culture back to the church’s hypocritical practice of claiming that homosexual acts are wrong while quietly tolerating them among the clergy.

As the liberal Vatican observer Robert Mickens writes, “There is no denying that homosexuality is a key component to the clergy sex abuse (and now sexual harassment) crisis.” James Alison, himself a gay priest, observes, “A far, far greater proportion of the clergy, particularly the senior clergy, is gay than anyone has been allowed to understand,” and many of those gay clergy are sexually active. Father Alison describes the “absurd and pharisaical” rules of the clerical closet, which include “doesn’t matter what you do so long as you don’t say so in public or challenge the teaching.”

The importance of not challenging church teaching is seen in the contrast of two gay-priest scandals of the Francis pontificate. The first is the case of Msgr. Battista Ricca, a Vatican diplomat who, while stationed in Uruguay, reportedly lived with a man, was beaten at a cruising spot and once got stuck in an elevator with a rent boy. (In Uruguay, the age of consent is 15.) These facts were concealed from Pope Francis, who in 2013 appointed Monsignor Ricca to a position of oversight at the Vatican Bank.

After Monsignor Ricca’s sins were exposed, Francis chose to stand by him, famously saying, “Who am I to judge?” Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa suffered a less happy fate. The priest, who worked at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, announced in 2015 that he was gay and had a male partner, and asked the church to change its teaching. He was immediately fired. Both Monsignor Ricca and Monsignor Charamsa had sinned, but only one had stepped out of line.

The other rule of the clerical closet is not violating the civil law — or at least not getting caught. Francis defended Monsignor Ricca by distinguishing between sins and crimes: “They are not crimes, right? Crimes are something different.” This distinction provides cover for sex abuse. When countless priests are allowed to live double lives, it is hard to tell who is concealing crimes. Cardinal McCarrick was widely seen as “merely” preying on adult seminarians. Now he has been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.

Corrupt as this situation is, many Catholic leaders prefer it to the coming civil war. That seemed to be the attitude of Bishop Robert Barron when he called for an investigation that avoids “ideological hobby horses” like priestly celibacy and homosexuality. Bishop Barron is right to insist that accountability comes first. This is why anyone implicated in cover-up — up to and including Pope Francis — needs to resign.

But even if all the men at fault are held accountable, the hypocrisy will continue. The real danger the church faces is not ideological challenge from left or right but a muddled modus vivendi that puts peace before truth.

In 2005 the Vatican attempted to address this problem by instructing seminaries to turn away men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.” But several Catholic leaders immediately indicated that they would not abide by this rule. Because Pope Benedict did nothing to enforce the decree, it became yet another symbol of Catholic hypocrisy.

According to Catholic teaching, every act of unchastity leads to damnation. But many bishops would rather save face than prevent the ruin of bodies and souls. If the church really does believe that homosexual acts are always and everywhere wrong, it should begin to live what it teaches. This would most likely mean enforcing the 2005 decree and removing clergy members caught in unchastity. If the church does not believe what it says — and there are now many reasons to think that it does not — it should officially reverse its teaching and apologize for centuries of pointless cruelty.

Either way, something must change. Marie Collins, a sex abuse survivor, warned that the crisis in the church is bound to get worse: “More and more countries are going to come forward, and as victims find their voices, it’s going to grow bigger.” Everyone who wants to end sex abuse should pray that the Catholic civil war does not end in stalemate.

Complete Article HERE!

Cardinal George Pell To Face Sexual Assault Charges In Australia


Cardinal George Pell arrives at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday in Melbourne, Australia.

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A magistrate in Australia has ordered Cardinal George Pell, one of the Vatican’s senior-most officials, to stand trial on sexual abuse charges involving allegations from multiple individuals dating back decades.

Pell is the highest-ranking Vatican official to be charged in the church’s long-standing sex abuse scandal.

Although Melbourne Magistrate Belinda Wallington dismissed many of the charges against Pell, who was appointed archbishop of Sydney in 2001 and later oversaw the Vatican’s finances under Pope Francis, she said that the prosecution’s case was strong enough to warrant a jury trial on the remaining charges.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Wallington, following a month-long hearing committed the 76-year-old cleric “on charges against multiple complainants, involving alleged sexual offending at a swimming pool in the 1970s in Ballarat [near Melbourne], where the accused man was then working as a priest; and at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in 1990s, when he was the then Archbishop of Melbourne.”

Asked for a plea, a seated Pell – who has consistently denied wrongdoing — clearly announced, “Not guilty.”

Last year, Pell stated publicly, “I am innocent of these charges, they are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”

Lawyers for Pell had argued that all the allegations were untrue and should be dismissed.

More than 30 witnesses testified in the four-week hearing. The Associated Press writes, “His alleged victims testified in the first two weeks of the preliminary hearing via a video link from a remote location to a room closed to the media and public.”

Pell, who is free on bail, was due to appear in County Court on Wednesday to hear his trial date.

The Herald reports:

“After the magistrate left the bench, a group of people at the back of the court room clapped.”

… Cardinal Pell left the court building at 11.55am, and was jeered by people outside the building as he got in a white car and was driven away. A wall of police officers stood on the bottom two steps of the court building to ensure he was not surrounded by media.”

Complete Article HERE!

Glenstal monk urges church to change attitude on sexual ethics

Fr Mark Patrick Hederman calls for church to modernise its approach to sexuality

Fr Mark Patrick Hederman: “It is surely time to take a more comprehensive approach to the ethics of sexual behaviour.”

The Catholic Church’s “stifling teachings on sex” need to be dramatically modernised, a Benedictine monk has said.

Fr Mark Patrick Hederman, the former abbot of Glenstal in Limerick, said the church also needs to address its subjugation of women and open a national discussion on sex, celibacy and ethics.

He said the progressive attitude shown by the nation in the marriage equality referendum have not been reflected in all parts of society.

“Now that we have legislated for gay marriage and accepted the fact that sexuality does happen for reasons other than procreation; now that we also recognise that some of the most heinous sexual crimes have been perpetrated within the ‘sanctity’ of marriage; it is surely time to take a more comprehensive approach to the ethics of sexual behaviour,” he said.

“Every or any sexual activity can be good or evil, and the act itself right through to the moment of orgasm is always somewhere on a spectrum between selfish egotism and altruistic communion.”

Fr Hederman (72), a former headmaster in Glenstal Abbey, said that for centuries sex in Ireland was only talked about in the context of “the natural law of God and confined to religious discourse”.

Reality check

However, he believes the time has come to have a greater conversation and for the church to have “a reality check” on its ideals.

In relation to a person’s emotional or sexual life, he said in the past it was as if the church felt such a life did not exist.

“It was presumed that it arrived fully fledged in the marriage bed, the only location where its practice was permitted. Even the most basic courses on love-making teach that a man has to train himself to prevent orgasm occurring prematurely before it can be shared with his partner.

“This does not come naturally. On the contrary, the natural orgasm and ejection of sperm for a man is unencumbered and immediate. That is the biological way, the optimum performance in terms of procreation and reproduction of the species.

“Lovers have to learn, discipline themselves, and gain a control which will help them to be sexual in a way that makes them sensitively reciprocal. Otherwise sexuality is the tool of selfish individuality and autistic monologue,” he writes.

Rejected lifestyles

Fr Hederman is a prolific author and his latest book, The Opal and the Pearl, is published this week and calls for a more modernised attitude from the church on sex. The book takes its title from a letter from James Joyce to Nora Barnacle in 1909.

In it, he writes that Catholics who wish to remain “conservative and old-fashioned”, should avoid being “sectarian and supportive of values and lifestyles which have been rejected by the majority of 21st-century families.

“Otherwise we are categorised as out-of-date leftovers from a previous era, such as the Amish communities in America and Canada.”

Fr Hederman said that while he believes in celibacy and the condition of Christian chastity, “I don’t believe that everyone who wants to devote their life to God should be required to be celibate.”
He said the progressive attitude shown by the nation in the marriage equality referendum have not been reflected in all parts of society.

“Now that we have legislated for gay marriage and accepted the fact that sexuality does happen for reasons other than procreation; now that we also recognise that some of the most heinous sexual crimes have been perpetrated within the ‘sanctity’ of marriage; it is surely time to take a more comprehensive approach to the ethics of sexual behaviour,” he said.

“Every or any sexual activity can be good or evil, and the act itself right through to the moment of orgasm is always somewhere on a spectrum between selfish egotism and altruistic communion.”

Complete Article HERE!