The Screening, Protection, and Crisis Education of Seminarians

Fr. D. Paul Sullins, PhD, is a married Catholic priest. He was formerly an Episcopal minister and has been blessed with a marriage of 30 years and three children. Fr. Sullins recently retired as a Professor of Sociology at the Catholic University of America, and continues as Research Professor and Director of the Leo Initiative for Social Research at Catholic University; he is also a senior research associate of the Ruth Institute. He is a leader in the field of research on same-sex parenting and its implications for child development. He has written four books and over 100 journal articles, research reports, and essays on issues of family, faith, and culture. Fr. Sullins’s recent robust and important research on the sex-abuse crisis in the Church has received widespread and international attention. His research findings are important in the evaluation, formation, and protection of seminarians. Recommendations will be offered in view of them.

Fr. Sullins’s study analyzed national data collected by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, data codified from the 1100-page Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report released in August 2018, and data from a 2002 survey of Catholic priests by the Los Angeles Times. He has empirically shown that homosexuality in priests is strongly linked to the crisis’s origins.

Among his research findings that need widespread attention and discussion that he related in interviews are:

  • “In the 1950s, about 3% of priests were of a homosexual orientation, by their own reports. By the 1980s, that had risen to over 16%. So we have sort of a fivefold increase in the percentage of priests who are homosexual, in a pretty straight line from the 1950s through the 1980s.”
  • “We have a very similar increase in abuse incidents over that same period, and we don’t know the sexual orientation of any particular abuser. So we’re inferring from the association of those two correlations that there’s some influence of one on the other. So my conclusion has to be the opposite of that of the John Jay Report.”
  • “Estimates from these findings predict that, had the proportion of homosexual priests remained at the 1950s level, at least 12,000 fewer children, mostly boys, would have suffered abuse.”
  • “A quarter of priests ordained in the late 1960s report the existence of a homosexual subculture in their seminary, rising to over half of priests ordained in the 1980s. This trend was also strongly correlated with increasing child sex abuse.”

In addition, Dean Hoge’s 2001 research at Catholic University of America, reported that 55% of priests identified a homosexual subculture in their diocese or religious community. Forty-one percent of the priests said a homosexual subculture existed in the seminaries they attended. The younger the priest, the more likely he was able to identify a homosexual subculture. Forty-five percent of priests ages 25–35 said the subculture clearly existed in seminary, compared to 8% of priests over 56.

Fr. Sullins stated that in order to deal with homosexual subcultures in seminaries, “the first thing is to stop the denial.”

The importance of this recommendation was supported by the recent experience of a young man discerning a priestly vocation to a religious community. He told his spiritual director that on his visit to a one religious community he was asked if he would prefer a room in the area with those who identify as homosexual or with those who identify as heterosexual.

Read more at Homiletic and Pastoral Review