Imagine that you’re in charge of a seminary. Seminarian #1 reported to his counselor that while at a bar, another seminarian he was out with (Seminarian #2) patted a guy on the behind after they’d been drinking. It hadn’t gone any further – it wasn’t as if the two men went home together, or had engaged in any further physical affection – but it was enough to trouble Seminarian #1. The counselor reports the incident to you, and you call Seminarian #2 into your office.
Seminarian #2’s story is identical to what you already knew from the counselor: he’d been drinking, and playfully patted a guy’s butt. Nothing else happened. You question him further, and he reveals that several years earlier, he’d twice had gay sexual experiences after he’d been drinking. He insists that it was an experimental phase, and that he’s prepared to live a celibate life. You send him to counseling, in order to find out if he’s got what it takes to live a celibate life, and to see how much of a problem the history of drinking is going to be. The evaluation suggests that he’s prepared to live a celibate life.
These are the facts you’ve got. Given them, what would you do as rector of the seminary? Specifically, you’re faced with a troubling question: should you deny Seminarian #2 ordination over these incidents, or not? Should the answer be the same as if the sexual history were with women? Mentally answer these questions, then click before.
As you might have guessed, this is an extremely important question, and it’s one that Bishop Kicanas faced while he was rector of Mundelein Seminary, according to his version of events. He decided it would be “unfair” to prevent Seminarian #2’s ordination on the basis of these facts, and the young man was ordained. Seminarian #2, better known as Father Daniel McCormack, went on to molest twenty-three boys… that we know of. As you might have guessed, this has put Bishop Kicanas (who is currently poised to become the next president of the USCCB) into a lot of hot water. His attempt at explaining the situation he’s found himself in made this much worse, as he said:
“It would have been grossly unfair not to have ordained him. There was a sense that his activity was part of the developmental process and that he had learned from the experience. I was more concerned about his drinking. We sent him to counseling for that. I don’t think there was anything I could have done differently.”
If you close your eyes to the monster that McCormack revealed himself to be, it’s pretty easy to understand where Kicanas is coming from here. He felt it would be unfair to stop an ordination over the relatively small incident at a bar, even coupled with the earlier sexual activity, since that earlier activity seemed like experimentation rather than a gay lifestyle. And since all of the incidents in question were preceded by drinking, that seemed to him to be the issue to tackle. If McCormack sobered up, he’d probably not find himself in these situations… or so the logic seems to have gone.
Well, the news reports that have included this quote haven’t given it any context, so it sounds like Kicanas is saying that although he knew McCormack was a molester, it would have been unfair to stop him from becoming a priest, and that’d he’d do it over again. That’s not at all what he was saying, and I wonder what Kicanas’ liberal critics wanted him to do — stop the ordination of a homosexually-inclined seminarian? Or just psychically know which gay seminarians preyed upon very young boys?
I should note here that even had the story not turned out so tragically, Kicanas made the wrong decision. This would become more clear in subsequent years. A few years after Kicanas made his fateful decision, the Vatican issued guidelines for handling seminarians with same-sex tendencies:
Deep-seated homosexual tendencies, which are found in a number of men and women, are also objectively disordered and, for those same people, often constitute a trial. Such persons must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. They are called to fulfil God’s will in their lives and to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter.
In the light of such teaching, this Dicastery, in accord with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, believes it necessary to state clearly that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called “gay culture”.
Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.
Different, however, would be the case in which one were dealing with homosexual tendencies that were only the expression of a transitory problem – for example, that of an adolescence not yet superseded. Nevertheless, such tendencies must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate.
This last paragraph, of course, directly addresses the situation as Kicanas presents it. He’d determined that the early sexual experiences were “transitory,” or in his words, “part of the developmental process.” Yet McCormack was still patting a man’s butt in a bar while in seminary. Not only should this have set off more alarm bells than it did (I’m inclined to think if it were a woman he’d done this to, it would have been taken more seriously), the Vatican’s guidelines are quite explicit: this is objective evidence that McCormack’s homosexual tendencies were not “clearly overcome,” so his ordination should have been halted, or at least delayed for a few years.
Now, when these guidelines came out in 2002, the Vatican was slammed in the media for conflating pedophilia with homosexuality. But the Vatican was just noting the obvious: the sex-abuse scandal has had a shockingly high proportion of male victims, and it doesn’t seem to be random. Even the rather liberal Jesuit, Fr. Thomas Reese, has asked:
Eighty-one percent of the [sex abuse] victims were male. Why? What role does homosexuality play in this crisis? There is no hard data on what percentage of the clergy is homosexual, because the bishops refuse to allow such a study.
Nobody (or virtually nobody) is suggesting that all pedophiles are gay, or all gay men are pedophiles. But in this particular context, there seems to be a serious correlation, which we don’t necessary fully grasp, between priests with gay tendencies, and priests who molest minors.
So given this, it seems to me that (1) the Vatican’s guidelines have been once again vindicated, and (2) it’s troubling that Kicanas doesn’t seem to have learned anything from this (the statement “I don’t think there was anything I could have done differently.” is galling, given that the Vatican had explained exactly what he should have done differently). But it also seems that Kicanas has been attacked somewhat unfairly here. He was presented with a tough situation — without being at the bar, it’s impossible to say whether the pat was jovial or romantic. And with McCormack and the counselors’ evaluation promising that he’d stay celibate, I don’t think Kicanas is alone in thinking that the decision he made was the right one. Still, I don’t know — part of the reason for setting the facts up in the beginning as I did is to try and gauge from you: what would you have done in this situation? What were you thinking was the right answer before you read the rest of this post?