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Is it time to re-think seminaries?



The Catholic Church in Australia has reached a critical point in its journey where a total re-generation of the church is required. The findings of the sexual abuse of children in the Church has been the main catalyst, documented in the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The Final Report identified clericalism as a significant contributor to abuse across religious institutions Australia-wide. Clericalism is rooted in a theological belief that the clergy are different to the laity, having undergone an ‘ontological change’ at ordination (a change to the very nature of their being on receiving Holy Orders) and feeds the notion that the clergy may not be challenged. And according to the report, the culture of clericalism is on the rise in seminaries in Australia.

According to the report, ‘Clericalism is the idealisation of the priesthood, and by extension, the idealisation of the Catholic Church. Clericalism is linked to a sense of entitlement, superiority and exclusion, and abuse of power.’ A person suffering from clericalism sees himself as special, superior to others and worthy of greater respect. This could lead to arrogance and the belittling of others. Lay people can also be guilty of clericalism if they support this attitude. 

The initial training of pastors (I prefer to use the term ‘pastor’ over ‘priest’ to emphasise the pastoral nature of this role) occurs in segregated ‘clericalist’ environments, which according to the report, are likely to have a detrimental effect on psychosexual maturity of candidates and in turn ‘increased the risk of child sexual abuse.’

It’s no wonder then that amongst key recommendations from the Royal Commission, specifically mentioned was the issue of training of diocesan priests in seminaries as needing reform. According to the final report, ‘all Catholic religious institutes in Australia should review and revise their particular norms and guideline documents relating to the formation of priests.’  


'We need seminaries to be places that train new generations of clergy to be servant leaders who can pastor — not rule over — the faithful.'


It’s critical that the Plenary Council address issues of clericalism during pastoral formation. Thankfully church leadership is, to an extent, in agreement on the need for reform. Speaking of the cultural and structural changes the Plenary Council might spark in the church, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference Archbishop Mark Coleridge, said ‘this is no time for the Church to be putting up signs that say ‘business as usual.’

Reforming ‘clericalist environments’ requires viewing all aspects of formation with a critical eye. It seems logical that when a group of people is taken to an exclusive place and given special attention in small classes with others to look after board and lodging, feelings of separateness might eventuate. The same applies to these young men who are allowed to wear cassocks and collars before ordination. The estimation of themselves as ‘other’ is perfectly understandable.

The logical question that follows is this: if we are trying to eliminate clericalism from our church and from the training programmes for future pastors, why do we persist in having seminaries that adhere to a model that has produced problematic results? The church must explore other ways to prepare individuals for the task of being the parish pastor. After all, Jesus never sent his disciples to a seminary. Jesus introduced them to kingdom values not in a building, but ‘on the road’. 

In the first two centuries, it’s unclear how people were chosen to preside over the Eucharist. Once the religious orders were founded, starting with St Benedict, monasteries had their own criteria. Those not living in a monastery, that is, diocesan candidates, followed various pathways to ordination depending on the local bishop.

It’s worth noting that in the history of the church, seminaries are a relatively recent development. It was the Council of Trent (1545-63) that decided on a strict process of years of study in a single isolated location, to ensure pastors were properly trained. Students were separated from their families and communities and placed in a hothouse of spirituality and theological study.

Why was this model of training appealing? It provided literacy and a solid education for candidates and a place where, regardless of background, young men could study with access to facilities. It provided board and lodgings so training could be guided, continuous and supervised.

The system of seminaries has produced some excellent individuals like St John Vianney, whose good example led to the radical transformation of the community he served. And yet the clericalism that was allowed to grow inside the Church over the centuries has arguably offset many positive aspects of the training and practice of the ordained ministry.

And this does not apply exclusively to those training to become diocesan priests. The Final Report of the Royal Commission criticizes both ‘priests and religious’ regarding their training. However, members of religious and monastic orders like the Benedictines and Cistercians are distinct in that they are members of a familial community which supports and guides them; some are ordained but not all. Diocesan candidates generally do not have the same familial support. Where members of religious orders are less focused on ordination, it lessens the threat of both careerism, or the desire to climb ranks within the Church, and clericalism which can loom large in diocesan seminaries.


'He should not be given the impression that he is somebody special and above the community, but rather one of the community.'


In enabling clericalism, this current system of formation in seminaries contributed, however indirectly, to the shocking sexual abuse of minors exposed by investigations throughout the world. If we are serious about ridding the church of clericalism, we cannot continue with the seminary model as it has always been.

Some commentators who have taught in seminaries in the United States, including former seminary professors Colt Anderson and Christopher Bellitto, recognise the weaknesses of the traditional model, saying despite being staffed and attended by good people, ‘seminaries have played a significant role in the church’s current crisis,’ by enculturating students into clericalism. ‘Seminarians are fed a consistent message: their role is to rule over the laity and the religious as a result of their ontological change at ordination, not as a result of their virtue, knowledge, or model behaviour. They are being trained to be autocratic bosses, not servant leaders.’

We need seminaries to be places that train new generations of clergy to be servant leaders who can pastor — not rule over — the faithful.

The most important prohibitor of clericalism is to avoid physically isolating individuals who wish to join the clergy. Seminarians should be spending more time living in their parishes during formation. Theoretically, seminarians could continue to live at home, which would allow the candidate to maintain ties with contemporaries, while being involved in the practical life of the parish.

In the lead up to Plenary, we need to consider alternate styles of preparation for ordination where seminarians have greater interaction and integration with their parishes and non-seminarian colleagues. The final document for the 2018 Synod on Young People, for example, proposes that there be joint formation courses for ‘young lay people, young religious and seminarians.’ This goes hand in hand with Pope Francis’ church considering a more integrated set of roles and responsibilities for both laypeople and clerics.

Receptive ecumenism also has a part to play. What styles of preparation do other denominations practise, and what can we learn from them?

To counter clericalism, it’s important that an individual’s preparation take place while being one the parish, one of a community with multiple ministries; he should not be given the impression that he is somebody special and above the community, but rather one of the community.



Gideon Goosen is a Sydney-based theologian and author. His latest book is Clericalism: Stories from the Pews, Coventry Press, 2020

Main image: Priest holding bible, close-up. (Emmanuel Faure/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Gideon Goosen, clericalism, seminaries, reform, parish priest, pastor, leadership



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Existing comments

And still all about little old men...?

Bernadette Reeders | 23 September 2021  

I was a cadet in the late fifties at the Royal Military College Duntroon in what was very much a ‘clericalist environment’. However, our training emphasised that our first duty was to those that we would be privileged
to command.

Peter Evans | 23 September 2021  

Thanks for a clear, highly relevant article, dear Gideon. ". . he (the seminarian) should not be given the impression that he is somebody special and above the community, but rather one of the community." Yes, in awe of Christ's revelation of The Father as of POWER UNDER; in contrast to the world's addiction to POWER OVER. As far as I can see, two obstacles block seminarians from serving in Jesus' own way: (1) The impossibility of doing it in human strength but only once they internalize: "It is not I that live but Christ who lives in me". Deep personal conversion & infilling by The Holy Spirit are essentials (see Romans 8:9 and 2 Corinthians 13:5; etc.). (2) The obstacle of parishioner bodies who WANT 'power over' clergy and reject the genuine 'power under' priest. We saw a local parish reject a sincerely Christ-like priest & delight in a replacement. A replacement who set himself as god & extended his powers, not by The Holy Spirit, but by affiliating to Freemason, Hindu, Buddhist, and worse factions. He leads an influential group of pagans who go through all the motions of Catholicism. In summary: your diagnosis is great but the prognosis must include personal conversion of seminarians and, especially, those who educate them. Yet, even that will be frustrated if there isn't a comprehensive Parish Renewal in what it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ (that is, one who is joyfully obedient to the Catechism of the Catholic Church). We often blame the clergy, Gideon, but what of the obdurately syncretistic, pagan, heretical, ritualistic, even demonic, parish spirits that loathe the sort of priests you rightly say we need??? Thanks again for a great article. Ever in the love of Jesus Christ; blessings from Marty

Dr Marty Rice | 23 September 2021  

Great article.I am a Catholic representative in an ecumenical organisation and work with many Salvation Army officers.They have a very hierarchical leadership structure combined with a strong ethos of 'servant leadership'.
A few years back I was lunching with a group of seminarians and we got to discussing this concept.
I came away reassured that at least in this particular seminary it was a very familiar concept.
We do expect our clergy to be leaders in our parish communities but encouraging them to be servants too is perhaps as much a task for us as for seminaries.

Margaret | 23 September 2021  

If people view the Church as a place of refuge, a place of light and a place of fellowship, the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse makes challenging reading. By its hierarchical structure, by its marked omission of women from the priesthood and from its concept of fixing the very significant trauma which permeates every layer of the structure of the Church (not only, but mainly) because of the sexual abuse perpetrated, it is not difficult to discern that change is imperative. The people who are called into ministry of the Church should be brought to the realisation of the extent of repentance required and they should not be afraid of being the least. God called Jeremiah with these words: "You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them for I am with you and will rescue you." That is a position of great vulnerability, not power.

Pam | 24 September 2021  
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Thanks, Pam, for mentioning women. And by the way do you have any ideas about how a seminarian's suitability for lifelong celibacy can be discerned?

Bryan Dunn | 24 September 2021  

Thanks Bryan. You've asked me a challenging question!
In a religious context celibacy is an abstaining. It's a separation, not for superiority, but for service. And it is a feature of priesthood in the Catholic Church. I believe the issue of sexual abuse by clergy stems from a misuse of power. Any sexual abuse situation stems from misuse of power and not primarily from lack of sexual relations. Discernment is a process all believers grapple with daily. And I would hope an ongoing process for seminarians and priests in the Church.

Pam | 25 September 2021  

Agreed. With all Dr Goossens’s good intentions, there’s nothing new here. ‘Servant leadership’ has been a stated objective for many years, but not many true servants get as far as the Seminary. (What about all those fundraising, supper-making, church-cleaning,loving parish women who are smilingly thanked then gently dismissed before the men have their meeting, or their ordination practice? How about recognising vocations to the priesthood among them? No, because the ontological change can be attached to penises only. Also, those women are like hens’ teeth these days -good luck, fellas, getting your teams of female supporters now.

Joan Seymour | 28 September 2021  

Precisely Pam, it's about power and the misuse of power. .

Ginger Meggs | 26 October 2021  

If the reform of the formation of priests, pastors is motivated by rejection of clericalism and sexual abuse, it is still reactive. It is far too narrow and conservative. You do not mention the all important matter of selection of candidates. Seminary training and novitiates were also supposed to weed out unsatisfactory candidates.Why not have the community select those they want to be their leaders? Including women? A system cannot review itself. (look at the coppers or Morrison's department). You need to look at all kinds of other spiritual and religious traditions internationally and historically from whom humbly to learn.

Michael D. Breen | 24 September 2021  

As one who was formed for Diocsean Priesthood at Corpus Christi College, Clayton Vic ,in the 1980’s I have remained strong to the formation I received and to this day (over 33years later) the tasks as seminarians we followed have I believe enabled me to see and live a more human. Inclusive understanding of Church in today’s world. Whatever model of seminarian training is offered unless the potential candidate sees the wholesome nature of the formation then I fear a more clerlical presence of Priest will be present. I was fortunate to experience pastoral programs like Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) still offered in the wider community , as being insightful, often challenging one’s perceptions and I would say was groundbreaking. I sense though some potential candidates are influenced greatly from outside the seminary program of formation. This I feel has been going in for sometime. Wearing clerical attire as a student doesn’t help in creating for a more non clerical oriented presence of Church and ministries.

Peter Taylor | 24 September 2021  
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And wasn’t St John Vianney a good priest but one who preached a very exalted understanding of the role of the priest?

Joan Seymour | 28 September 2021  

I do not regard St John Vianney as an exemplar of pastoral leadership that is appropriate for today’s Australi-an church. To revere Vianney as a model pastor ignores the role of community development to face difficult social issues – both “temporal” issues and spiritually important issues such as those raised so clearly the church’s watershed, Vatican II. Not all wisdom is a gift from the higher levels of hierarchical clergy in the church, but can come from a wide spectrum of “God’s people” – even some who do not have the gift of on-tological transformation.
Good spiritual leaders inspire others for the benefit of the whole community rather than constraining devel-opment of each person to their own devotional life in the hope that such personal spiritual growth will then empower the community by some osmatic process.
John Vianney’s devotionalism he practised, and for which he is revered, is but one part of the full human spiritual development and practice we all need to emulate. The other parts need emphatic support to build a truly spiritual life in the world that we all need to recognise, appreciate and stimulate.

Jim Boyle | 24 September 2021  

A wonderful, enlightening article , on a very sensitive issue! Thank you Gideon for your common sense approach . The idea of priestly training while living at home , may have a
Lot of merit…people study for a degree can do this , why not people studying to become a priest. ,
They could become a more open and sensitive person , when dealing with relationships .
Thank you for your wisdom. Bernie

Bernie introna | 24 September 2021  
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You are right. Family ,mostly, can lay the foundation for a developing personality. Learning to give and take ; and you as a trainee priest are not the 'holy one'. Thanks

Bryan Dunn | 24 September 2021  

A very good article. I agree 100%

Louis Shane ALLAN | 24 September 2021  

The Seminary model is not limited to clerical education & training. It's used in the armed services, for example. But in the latter case, candidates usually undergo psychological testing. One tester told me the series of tests he used would not guarantee that the person who passed would make a good soldier. The best he could hope for was that anyone who failed would NOT make a good soldier. The process was one of negative selection. He said it was nigh impossible to predict how a 'good recruit' might cope with the ego-deflating, the inculturation methods of the Navy, say. Imagine how hard it must be to assess how a 'good recruit' for the priesthood or religious life might perform in an educational & formation program where cooperation with a divine power is a sine qua non. Can men & women be trained for servant leadership? A goal of Jesuit education is to produce "men for others". At the same time the Jesuits acknowledge the unequal distribution of talents among their students & the life choices available to them.
Some might be attracted to service in the church but an exclusatory Seminary system would not foster development of their altruism.

Uncle Pat | 24 September 2021  

Seminaries were a product of the Counter-Reformation to bring the Church up to scratch. The Jesuits were the great cultural warriors of this era and saved Catholicism in many parts of Europe. The question 'Are they relevant today?' is really a sub-question to 'How does God want the Church to witness Christ today?' This is a deep question to which the Pope and the hierarchy need to address their prayers. The Church is hierarchical and centred in the Vatican. Anything which happens here will have to be approved by the Vatican, which is, quite naturally, somewhat conservative. I think what are needed are clergy who are part of society, but also somewhat apart because of their calling. In the 21st Century I think the Latin Rite (the one we belong to) needs to introduce married clergy, so the parish priests can provide an example to their parishioners a celibate may be unable to do. Jesus grew up in a loving family, not a monastery. Theological education needs to take note of this: it can't be 'remote'. In the Orthodox Church you should not be admitted to a major order before you turn 30. You will, hopefully, be more mature then. We could follow this. It will be a long road. We need to get it right.

Edward Fido | 24 September 2021  

Very useful article as basis for reform of seminaries. Clericalism /separateness has many manifestations from ontological to dress, titles, ritual, pastor versus father, etc. Surely the long standing elephant in the room in this discussion of clericalism is celibacy. Marriage is a pathway to maturity for many with the partners developing self-knowledge and the multi-layered skills of intellectual, emotional and physical intimacy. Nemo dat quod non habet. Some celibate priests do not have the opportunity to develop and grow so as to relate better.
Professional supervision of priests can help immensely to turn this around. We all know of celibate priests who have been and are excellent pastors. We know also that the sensus fidelium of most -even 80 plus year old Catholics is that celibacy, as an essential adjunctive to priesthood, is not 'natural, leads to separateness, men's club identity, loneliness. Importantly, it does not give a lived experience of marital partnership, parenthood, parental love or loss or grief; a barrier in preaching and pastoral work at all the milestones of life.
As Pete Seeger said: ' when will they ever learn'. Yes, the 'flowers have gone', and so have the young men.
Men only is another matter

Bryan Dunn | 24 September 2021  

To point out the obvious, pastors training for ordination in most Protestant traditions live at home with their families / spouses / children and continue working in their parish all the way through. A very humbling, grounding way. One doesn't feel separate or special when one is changing nappies and taking pastoral calls in the midst of formation and study.

Rev. Alison Sampson | 24 September 2021  

More than just the seminary formation suggested by Mr Goosen is needed.
The celibacy requirement also has to go. If seminary students live at home and go to theological schools attached to universities (including ACU), they will likely meet those who frighten the hierarchy most: girls!

Bruce Stafford | 24 September 2021  

It is not rocket silence to realise that there are those who have a vocation to the priesthood in the Catholic Church who do not have a parallel vocation to celibacy. The current solutions? Either find a nice Ukrainian/Melkite girl who will marry you and go through their Rite, or give up the idea. Most give up the idea. Consequently we have a shortage of priests. which is currently filled by recruitment in Asia or Africa. How successful this strategy is is very much open to question. There are real intercultural problems. Another huge problem is the poor wages and appalling conditions priests often labour under. The men who gave you the paedophilia crisis, or their hand-picked successors, are still behaving as if they were in Ireland in the 19th Century: they are often harshly, blindly authoritarian. Some of them urgently need redudancy. The Church urgently needs its Augean Stables cleansed. It will have to come from Rome.

Edward Fido | 25 September 2021  
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Edward Fido: ‘It is not rocket silence to realise that there are those who have a vocation to the priesthood in the Catholic Church who do not have a parallel vocation to celibacy.’ There’s a difference between a conclusion and a hypothesis. A vocation is a calling from God, not an autochthonous urge. The hypothesis here, presented in the tone of a conclusion, is that, in his mind, God has determined that a Catholic priest may be a married man. Has he? The argument frequently cited is the Apostles were married. Peter was, but there is no evidence that any of the others were. Paul, the associated Apostle, wasn’t. The incident of paying the temple tax, when Peter was told to find a coin that would suffice for both Jesus and himself in a caught fish, has been taken to suggest that the other apostles were men too young to pay the tax. As for existing married priests, the Orthodox Church is a ‘Church’ by grace and favour of the Catholic Magisterium, the Uniates are a junior branch of the actual Catholic Church which has the Christian tendency to be lenient until it can’t, and the Anglican refugees are in the same boat as perhaps that second child of the Biloela family ought to have been. They were given a visa to consecrate at a Catholic altar and remit sins in a Catholic confessional because… where else could they have gone? The marital state of the priesthood is considered to be a matter of discipline. Logic is logic. The logic of the discipline eventually goes back to the logic of whether the prototype priest could have been married and still carried out his vocation. The prudent thing, in the absence of proper theological, not sociological, support, is to say no. Could Christ not have palmed off a widowed wife and orphaned child to the care of the disciples? He did that with his mother. He couldn’t do much about having a mother (other than having her removed from the picture in the same way as Joseph, but that would have impacted Mariology), but it seems, in those matters in which he had discretion, he opted for the single man as priest. Perhaps, archaeological evidence that an Apostle married after Pentecost might strengthen the case for married priesthood. But, perhaps married priesthood is the stalking horse for a married episcopacy, which the ancient Uniate have never had, and even the foundational spirit of schism in the Orthodox have not seen fit to change.

roy chen yee | 27 September 2021  

Nicely reasoned, dear Roy. Shipwrecked by Apostle Paul's one wife 'episcopos' instructions in 1 Timothy 3. Tale care; stay well. Ever in the love of The Lamb; blessings from Marty

Dr Marty Rice | 28 September 2021  

Apparently, six years in a boarding school will infect the core of your manly being so much so that for the next fifty to sixty years you’ll be a robot in its thrall. That’s asking for a big swallow. Maybe, we should leave the seminary thing alone and insist that all parish-based priests work two days a week as nursing home attendants. Loving a spouse is a big deal? Even pagans love their spouses – and nursing home residents. As for that retrograde thing the seminary, is Vespers or Compline by Zoom really Vespers or Compline? The part-time nursing home attendants will have fifty to sixty years to vesper and compline solo. Can’t they have a measly 6 years to do them for real? Apparently, there’s some vicar of Christ somewhere who chooses to live in some dormitory kind of situation.

roy chen yee | 26 September 2021  

An Excellent article. I spent four years in a seminary and totally concur. Let's hope the Plenary Council will address this.

Charles Fivaz | 26 September 2021  

Reading a book many years, written by Umberto Eco, which is conversations between him and Carlo Martini, Umberto Eco offers a position of authenticity to Carlo Martini. ‘Do you want to go by the the name you bear or the robe you wear?’ And so they began a sharing of beautiful writings. The book is ‘To believe or not to believe’. This exchange has stayed with me for over 20 years. It has had a profound bearing on my life and my relationships with others.

Jo Dallimore | 26 September 2021  

Thanks for this thoughtful article. I absolutely agree that the formation of our pastors needs to be carefully reviewed and renewed. However, I very much think this can only be done properly if it is part of a whole rethinking of adult faith formation in our church; so that the formation of priests, its purposes and desired outcomes, is understood within a much broader space. If we can articulate what adult faith formation generally is supposed to be about and how it can be arranged for all adults, then we could go someway to being able to work out the role of priests and therefore what formation would best suit that role.

Beth Gibson | 27 September 2021  

Gideon focuses on the 'training of diocesan priests in seminaries as needing reform.' and I ask: what types of current theological thinking and practice could be let go?
* Priests who want to celebrate their first mass in Latin after ordination * Support for the return of altar rails, priests celebrating mass with their backs to the congregation * Too much focus on an Opus Dei spirituality, a private confessor, deep suspicion of women * Preoccupation with Church dogma, the Catechism, Canon Law rather than scripture, the 'inspired word of God' * Poorly qualified teaching staff * Theological perspectives which look to the past rather than to the 'not-wetness of the Kingdom unfolding in our midst * Seminary curriculums that resist expert reviews and regular analysis from outsiders and reformers

Peter Donnan | 27 September 2021  
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Well said Peter. By 'not-wetness' you mean God's Realm that is here and yet is also progressively advancing to fullness. I read that as proper Catholics saying: 'We are in, boots-and-all, yet also expecting to be transformed."
Ever in the love of Jesus Christ; blessings from marty

Dr Marty Rice | 28 September 2021  

Gideon I agree with your analysis of clericalism. It has bred a superior, smug perception in priests and religious that they are far better and holier than their lay counterparts and that canon law must be obeyed (hidden behind) in preference to civil law.
Last Sunday at mass the homily made no mention or analysis of the Readings in James 5:1-6 or of Matt 5:27-32. Other than that they were commented on as "challenging readings". It was all general fervour about the upcoming plenary council and gushy admiration of Pope Francis comments re a "dirty church' and life in the trenches. I always thought an obligatory homily should address the readings - but no.
The fact is important topics left out of the PC agenda should address: Women's equal rights and female ordination; Married men ordination like the Eastern churches; the common sense recommendations of the Royal Commission to clean up the pervasive and continuing sexual abuse of children; the finding that the Bishops should be appointed by the Laity and not by Rome for example; the abolition of same sex boarding schools.
Now some (but not all) of these objectives are espoused by at least two of our "representatives' at said PC, namely: Frank Brennan SJ and John Warhurst PE.
Let's hope both of these confront the Bishopric rage for once to see if we can get some long overdue reform in this top heavy organization before it next turns turtle in the storms to come.

Francis Armstrong | 27 September 2021  

Beth Gibson summed it up very well. What Catholics need today is an adult faith for the real, not an imaginary, world. Jesus was perfectly grounded in the real world. Part of the reason, as the Rev. Alison Simpson makes eminently clear, if you read between the lines, is that this grounding came from family life with Mary and Joseph, who were real people, not statues in a church. When Giovanni Guareschi has Don Camillo speaking to the Christ above the altar, he is really listening to the inner Christ of his conscience, which all Christians have. One of the problems we, who were exposed to the rather brutal shilleglah-style Catholicism so prevalent in the 50s and 60s in this country had, was it alienated so many, gave them long lasting psychological problems and deadened their consciences. A perfect example of the abuse of true religion, I would say. I will never forget Fr Paddy Stephenson SJ who encouraged us to read the Bible and Fr Poss Leeman SJ who praised me for being interested in Theology. God knows what our choleric parish priest would have thought of this! He is long dead and forgotten, their memory lives on,

Edward Fido | 27 September 2021  
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Right on, dear Edward. A sincere and joyful relationship with Jesus Christ, prayerful immersion in The New Testament, and a theological understanding that maturely encompasses both the common human experience and contemporary nuances, will help equip our priests for 21st century ministry. Always in the grace & mercy of Jesus; love & blessings from Marty

Dr Marty Rice | 28 September 2021  

The John Jay study of sex abuse in the USA found 10% of victims where children, mainly boys, 80% were youths and young men. The US Bishops could not see any connection between homosexual acts and homosexual orientation. If clericalism manifests itself in sex abuse, then clericalism seems strongest in those who are same-sex attracted and in their allies who protect them. It is my understanding that the majority of victims in Australia were also male and that the Bishops here also see no link to the homosexual orientation. Perhaps modernist ideas on sexual behaviour have entered into the Church and perhaps it will be the removal of these ideas that actually prevents sexual abuse.

Christopher Howard | 27 September 2021  
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Christopher, there are around 1 million male survivors of sexual assault in Australia. The Royal Commission examined the experiences of children who were sexually abused in institutional care settings.
In total, nearly 7,000 survivors of sexual abuse gave evidence to the royal commission and 2 out of 3 of them were male.
• Between 1 in 6 and 1 in 10 males are abused before the age of 16;
• For male victims, around 4 out of 5 abusers are male, 1 in 5 are female;
• 3 out of 4 victims of abuse in religious institutions are male;
• On average, it takes men 10 years longer to disclose childhood sexual abuse than women;
• Common effects include mental and physical health issues; relationship issues; sexual difficulties; substance abuse; addiction and risk-taking;
• The way we respond to men and boys who disclose can help or hinder recovery;
• Being a victim or survivor of sexual abuse increases men’s risk of suicide. Source AMHF website.

Francis Armstrong | 28 September 2021  

Christopher Howard has pointed out the elephant in the room, which someone like Roy Chen Yee, in his 'boarding school' piece blissfully ignores. That is involuntary same-sex sex in a hierarchical all-male environment. It was, sadly, standard English public school fare. Peter Cook, the comedian, was raped at Radley and told not to tell by the perpetrator. I believe it was rife within certain Provinces of the Christian Brothers. A gay English former cleric refused to go to one theological college, because he felt that the senior students there were predators, looking for 'fresh meat'. Stephen de Weger, a former contributor to ES, is an expert on priestly predation on adults. He has a website. This is all pretty sick stuff and it goes to the highest levels. Remember 'Uncle Ted', the defrocked and disgraced former Cardinal in the USA? After this, no wonder the people in the pews are disgusted and leaving in droves. What is to be done? Several things. First of all the Church needs to refine its teaching on sex. Hopefully, fulmination against masturbation from the pulpit has ceased. Same-sex orientation is not 'inherently disordered', but some contemporay expressions of it need to be challenged. I have known several decent, gay genuinely celibate Anglican clerics. An 'Oxford Street lifestyle' is out. Women deacons would be a useful counterbalance to this. Decent, normal women, who are not 'Catholic tragics', with a life outside the Church. People like Joan Seymour and Jo Dallimore, amongst others, would be superb.

Edward Fido | 30 September 2021  
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You mean ‘gay genuinely chaste.’ ‘gay genuinely celibate’ is retired Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson which is nonsensical anyway. If you’re chaste by promise to God, you’re neither hetero- nor homo-. Those become redundant categories because, by your promise, you forbid yourself from operating in either domain. A chaste by promise to the divine does not have sexuality because that chaste cannot act sexually. Even a secular chaste, if the intention is to be permanently so, has moved beyond the hetero- homo- categories. If the intention for chastity or celibacy isn’t permanent, the person is neither but only on a diet.

roy chen yee | 30 September 2021  

Would that such cut-and-dried compartmentalisation worked, Roy. As a gay Catholic who has never gravitated towards the 'Oxford St' end of the continuum, I can assure you that I'm no different to/from the straight men and women, some of them priests, who incline towards infidelity on a regular and habitual scale. What this means in practice, if I may join this hearteningly honest conversation about priestly formation, is that an openly-declared same-sex orientation should constitute no barrier to becoming a priest than whether one is biologically male or female. The pastoral impulse, surely, is the major prerequisite and not one's sex or gender orientation. Some years ago Brisbane's late Archbishop Francis Rush, when counselling me about the collapse of my hetero-normative marriage, indicated that a major concern of his was what he called the 'plethora of gay priests and seminarians offering themselves for the priesthood'. He opined that he could see how the prospect of a 'life-world' unshared with women might constitute an attraction to the priesthood for gay candidates, while offering the hidden prospect (although hardly a conscious initial trigger for 'joining up') of falling in love with another man. The insistence on priestly celibacy has unquestionably 'fed' pedophilia!

Michael Furtado | 04 October 2021  

Priests don’t have sexuality because they don’t need it. They may decide that they want this need if married priesthood happens. If that happens, another fissure will open up in the Church concerning priests ‘identifying’ with a gay sexuality who want to marry men with the same sexuality, of whom other priests are a possibility. Prudence is seeing a package deal looming in the horizon, same-sex marriage in society, other-sex marriage in the Church, pressure for same-sex marriage within the Church, and the smirking face of victory of the Devil when Divorce inevitably turns up for the festivities as the last cab in the rank, alighting from which is also Lucifer’s personal canonist with plans to rewrite the rule book on annulments to cover priests and gay priests. The Holy Spirit is a spirit of order, not chaos.

roy chen yee | 08 October 2021  

If priests don't have sexuality (tell that to the abused) because they don't need it, why do they need testicles Roy? Why is their sexual physiology relevant to their ordination?

Ginger Meggs | 25 October 2021  

‘If priests don't have sexuality (tell that to the abused)’ As in you don’t have a spare couch (tell that to the homeless guy in front of Woolies)?

roy chen yee | 26 October 2021  

‘If priests don't have sexuality….because they don't need it, why do they need testicles?’ Because God is merciful and he gives those priests who have abandoned their calling to be a spiritual parent the second-class option of excusing themselves partially by becoming a natural parent?

roy chen yee | 26 October 2021  

Incarnation is political. Why not incarnate as a woman? Why not incarnate as a hybrid? With God, are not all things possible?

God incarnated as a male, the form of the species that has always wielded domination physically and institutionally, and, often, wickedly, over the other form, because, in truth, God is male. He won’t incarnate any other way because he would be wearing an illusion. It wasn’t the act of choosing to be housed in a subtype of the human mode that was political. Political is the fact that the subtype is what God is.

Women are always going to be stuck with Jesus as a male, no matter how abusive their fathers, brothers and other males have been towards them. Palestinians are always going to be stuck with the fact that God is a Jew. If Palestinian Christians can get over the stumbling block that God is Jew (a problem which doesn’t really bother the few Samaritans still extant), women can get over the stumbling block that God is male.

If male is what God is, then the processes which issue from him, such as the ability to consecrate and to forgive, are, until we can test otherwise, male processes. Given that we can’t test whether they are or not, prudence is not to go beyond what we see Christ doing when he appointed only males as apostles.

roy chen yee | 26 October 2021  

'IF God is male...' Don't you realise Roy that every time you try to justify an exclusively male priesthood by assigning gender to God you circumscribe and belittle 'Him'. It is not unlike declaring that 'God is an Englishman' and see where that got us. Has it occurred to you that most of the 'gods' that men have created have been male because they have been created by males in the image of males ? Who is to say that the Abrahamic god is any different? Have you also realised that gender, or sexuality, is only a relatively recent development in the evolution of life on earth? It serves some very useful reproductive purposes, but it didn't evolve to make one group more 'dominant' than others, and certainly not the group that we call 'male'. Just ask a praying mantis and an number of species of spiders. Nor do the females in all vertebrate species adopt a 'caring role' in distinction to the male's 'domineering' role. Just ask the emu. Sure, in the human species, we've seen a lot of male domination, most of it unhealthy even when well intended. But that is cultural, not natural or even 'God-given'. It will take time, but hopefully we, especially in the Global West, will work our way out of all that benightedness but it won't help to teach young men that their role is to dominate because they have testicles.

Ginger Meggs | 28 October 2021  

Ginger Megg:

1. 'Don't you realise Roy that every time you try to justify an exclusively male priesthood by assigning gender to God you circumscribe and belittle 'Him'. Do I? Tell me how. By responding to the post, not by reacting to it.

2. 'it won't help to teach young men that their role is to dominate because they have testicles.' Where do I say or imply that? Respond to the post; don't just react to it.

3. 'Have you also realised that gender, or sexuality, is only a relatively recent development in the evolution of life on earth? It serves some very useful reproductive purposes, but it didn't evolve to make one group more 'dominant' than others, and certainly not the group that we call 'male'. ' And? The relevance of this comment to the post is?

Happy to respond to a response. Can't respond to a reaction because a brain-twitch carries no sense.

roy chen yee | 28 October 2021  

Thanks but no thanks Roy. I'm not interested in having an on-line brawl with you. Cheers.

Ginger Meggs | 28 October 2021  

I find all this talk about the "Oxford Street" gay from Edward Fido (and also Michael Furtado in a previous post) to be quite offensive.
In my experience, the people I've met while socialising in Oxford St are the honest ones who are comfortable with their sexuality and are not afraid to be seen.
Meanwhile, there's a huge culture of closet cases cheating on their wives and parishes, having gay tristes in private!
Can you at least give gay people who frequent gay bars the decency to think they may just be there for company and to socialise? We are not just animals.

AURELIUS | 14 October 2021  

Please don't misread my intentions, Brother Aurelius. I intended no slur against the denizens of the particular gay lifestyle that Sydney has to offer. After all, where would the Jesuit ministry at St Canice's be were it not for Oxford Street? It happens that there are few such haunts in Brisbane and elsewhere in which to seek refuge in such humanising and pastoral social and cultural contexts. Indeed, I am sure that Jesus would have spent his time there if the Spirit of the Gospels succeeds in penetrating the fug and bilge of misinformation and contempt that Rampaging Roy has made his particular homophobic metier.

Michael Furtado | 15 October 2021  

‘the fug and bilge of misinformation and contempt that Rampaging Roy has made his particular homophobic metier.’ Actually, it’s more the ‘show me the logic in this’.

There are homosexuals who don’t believe in same-sex marriage or trophy children. They wish to live in a civil union situation because it allows them to structure their material affairs as a couple (joint insurance, hospital visiting rights, etc.) without changing the norm that a home with genetic parents is the best home for a child. Insofar as they are practising homosexuality, they are in formal non-compliance with Scripture but, then again, given that nobody is simultaneously on right terms with God in all four sin-sectors ‘which cry to Heaven for vengeance’, we’re all in formal non-compliance with Scripture pretty much all the time, and, hopefully, accepting that we are so. That’s not the same as someone refusing to accept that s/he is in non-compliance and expecting Church and society to normalise itself around that rebellion.

There’s a difference between the untidy gay Oxford Street gypsy who does not expect society to normalise to him or her and the clinical suburban gay bolshevik who does. The gypsy can be given space and lead time because God often takes his time with the untidy.

Father Martin says that gays know about and adhere to Church teaching but omits one logical consideration: if a Catholic gay adheres to Church teaching, a Catholic gay is no longer, conceptually, gay. In fact, if a Catholic gay struggles at adhering to Church teaching, s/he is no longer, conceptually, gay. Sure, there might be recidivism but recidivism, as a concept, isn’t a thing that is celebrated. So, what’s with celebrating the LGBTIQ* difference? It’s only scratching, and enabling, the LGBTIQ* itch.


roy chen yee | 15 October 2021  

PS. Aurelius, Big Thanks for hopping onto this site after so long an absence and welcome back! I might add that homosexuality has no statistical links with pedophilia despite the tawdry attempts of some here to perpetuate that myth in an important discussion about the future of seminary education that Gideon has introduced and jewels like Pam and Joan have joined in. Fond as we are of Edward, he bears some culpability in this reckless regard, with his persistent, indisciplined and repetitious rodomontade about English boarding schools and Anglican & Orthodox divines juxtaposed alongside pejorative references to the Irish. Be sensitive to causing hurt, Edward, without losing sight of the gold you have on offer.

Michael Furtado | 15 October 2021  

PPS. And nice to see Roy returning to his flip-floppery of double-somersaults (15/X). Where would we be without the highly-imaginative technicolour dreamcoat that he stitches around the complexity of his impossibly contradictory positions, turning the Kamasutra, as it were, into a pas-de-trois? Interesting too that that the occasional slip between the inner-city doona and the out-of-fashion futon meets the canonical requirements of his own anti-suburban alt-right magisterial dispensatory proclamations. Where are you, Aurelius, when he really needs you?

Michael Furtado | 21 October 2021  

‘And nice to see….’ This is an example of reacting but not responding to a post.

roy chen yee | 22 October 2021  

Re. your's of 22/X, Roy. I've dealt with all your oft-repeated and cliched classification of Gays and others ad infinitum in these columns. Your repetition won't make my explanations admissible to you. Most times I ignore you as, regrettably, do many others here . I only respond when you get abusive or so obscure that I fear for your sanity.

Michael Furtado | 29 October 2021  

‘dealt’: You mean ‘deflected’.

‘Your repetition won't make my explanations admissible to you’: Look! A ‘palindromic’ sentence! It’s still true when you reverse the parties.

‘ignore…as…do many others here’: Good, no distraction means I can dedicate my complete attention to your posts for the purpose of hallowing them for posterity with an editorial comment or two, sometimes a comment per post and sometimes a comment per line. All in the service of the Magisterium, of course.

roy chen yee | 29 October 2021  

‘dealt’: deflected?

‘Your repetition won't make my explanations admissible to you’: This sentence works the same when the parties are reversed.

‘as…do many others here’: They must be in communication with you outside this forum for you to know that. If so, whatever. If not, shame on you for that progressive sin of ‘appropriation’, regarded by progressives as mortal but by everybody else as venial.

‘respond…abusive’: ‘Abusive’ is what the moderator’s ‘magisterium’ or ‘conscience’ tells him or her that ‘abusive’ is. Given that, in your frame of logic, magisterium and conscience are personal states of experience (like a cannabis ‘high’ maybe?), to claim ‘abusive’ is to trespass upon somebody’s no-go zone (at least, by your own frame of logic).

‘respond…obscure…sanity’: Edward Fido (or so he says) so feared for my sanity that he wrote to the moderating authority to remove me from this site. I guess the MA’s conscience must not have sustained the claim. Your fear, being another trespass on the ‘no go zone’ of the MA’s conscience, is, by your own frame of logic, a logical absurdity. What makes you think sanity is promoted by responding to an obscurity with an absurdity?

roy chen yee | 29 October 2021  

What is it, Roy, that you fear about sexuality such that it permeates so many of your comments?

Ginger Meggs | 07 November 2021  

‘What is it….’ See Handing on a tradition, 29/10/21. Because mischaracterisation and misuse of sexuality is the easiest way anyone can give the finger to God by saying, as did Lucifer, ‘I will not serve.’ You don’t need money, power, intellectual gift or athletic prowess. You don’t have to be of a particular race or gender. It is the most democratic of sins, and the most efficient of sins because it is one that doesn’t bother anybody’s hip pocket nerve unlike, say, being uncharitable to the homeless guy in front of Woolies. It is a religious deviation which is not, simultaneously, like theft or murder or assault, a civil deviation, so you can go on cocking a snoot at God for as long as you’re alive with no material impediment. It’s also a sin the existence or non-existence of which depends entirely upon the intention and will of one person only, ie., it’s also the easiest sin to fix. As such, it makes those who want to clean out the world for God by fixing the environment or the refugee intake situation but not the bedsitter inside them in which their Holy Spirit has to live witting or unwitting hypocrites.

roy chen yee | 09 November 2021  

So it's the FEAR of the MISUSE of sexuality that drives you Roy? And the fact that you seldom, if ever, post about the misuse of power, money, position, information, access... etc. in civil or religious settings suggests to me that either there is, in your opinion, relatively little misuse or relatively little to fear in that misuse. (Capitalisation was for emphasis, not shouting, as I can't do italics)

Ginger Meggs | 09 November 2021  

‘FEAR of the MISUSE’ (as italics): ‘Fear’, unless used in a metaphorical or analogical sense, is for neurotics and people with phobias. No, just pointing out the illogic.

‘And the fact that you seldom, if ever, post about’: That’s because intrinsic evils are authoritatively declared to be so by the Magisterium. You don’t have to be an expert on the topics because it’s been taken care of. Two thousand years of thinking and teaching on the topic has declared, for example, that homosexual practice is invalid because it is immoral. With issues such as employee compensation, people seeking protection, etc., areas of ‘prudential’ evil that fall within two of the four ‘sins which cry to Heaven for vengeance’, you have to know many facts about those situations which makes the reliability of your opinion less certain. For example, why should the UK accept any boat-hoppers from France? Isn’t France about as good an example of a country of asylum as, say, the US or Australia? But, the refugee population is a bottomless pit. Does that mean boat after boat can be allowed to set out for Australia from Indonesia?

The Bible itself distinguishes between sins ‘against the body’ and sins which take place outside it, implying that the ones against it make a slum of the Holy Spirit’s habitat within you. You can argue with God about why the Holy Spirit can’t live somewhere else but that’s what the book says, and questions about the Holy Spirit’s accommodation are an engineering issue above my pay grade.

roy chen yee | 10 November 2021  

‘FEAR of the MISUSE’ (as italics): ‘Fear’, unless used in a metaphorical or analogical sense, is for neurotics and people with phobias. No, just pointing out the illogic of misuse.

‘And the fact that you seldom, if ever, post about’: That’s because intrinsic evils are authoritatively declared to be so by the Magisterium. Other 'evils' can be contested as to their existence or causes and effects.

roy chen yee | 11 November 2021  

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