Half of US Catholic clergy sees a gay presence in priesthood
Attempting to bring hard data to a persistent rumour in the Catholic Church, Chicago researchers said on Friday that more than half the country's priests say they perceive a gay subculture in their diocese or religious institute, with 19% saying it clearly exists.
The survey, conducted last year, found that 55% of priests say such a subculture "clearly" or "probably" exists in their diocese or religious institute. 41% of priests said a homosexual subculture clearly or probably existed in the seminaries they attended.
The younger the priest, the more likely he was to identify a clear gay subculture in the seminary. 45% of priests age 25 to 35 said a subculture clearly existed in seminary, compared with only 8% of priests over age 56, and 3% of those over 66.
"Our conclusion, based on these data and on our focus groups, is that homosexual subcultures increased in visibility, and probably also in numbers, in recent decades," said Jacqueline Wenger, a doctoral student and research assistant who co-authored the study with Catholic University of America colleague Dean Hoge.
The study, presented in Chicago at the 64th annual meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, was based on a 2001 mail survey to which 1279 diocesan and religious order priests, both active and retired, responded. The response rate was about 70%. Wenger and Hoge followed up with 75 personal interviews.
The study described a subculture as a group of people with "preferential friendships, social gatherings and vocabulary." It did not question priests about their own sexual orientation.
In her presentation, Wenger pointed out that the survey was commissioned two years ago by the National Federation of Priests' Councils, well before the abuse scandal took off.
Wenger and Hoge decided to include questions about homosexuality in the survey after Fr Donald Cozzens raised the issue in his 2000 book The Changing Face of the Priesthood. Cozzens reported on a number of studies that suggest gay men make up 30 to 50% of the priesthood and said gay subcultures should be discouraged at seminaries.
Bishop Wilton Gregory, leader of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, earlier this year spoke of the church's "ongoing struggle to make sure that the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men," and the papal spokesman said people with "these inclinations just cannot be ordained."
The comments angered many who said church leaders were trying to pin the scandal on homosexuality and deflect blame from leaders who allowed known abusers to continue as priests. They stressed that researchers have found no link between homosexual orientation and sexual abuse.
But controversy over gay priests predates the current crisis, and some critics have argued that a gay subculture has a negative impact on seminaries, possibly even deterring some men from joining the priesthood.
National Federation of Priests' Councils
Association for the Sociology of Religion
The Changing Face of the Priesthood: A Reflection on the Priest's Crisis of Soul by Donald B. Cozzens (Amazon)
19 Aug 2002