It’s an issue

By Phil Lawler | Jun 02, 2020

A friend recently called my attention to a debate held at the Oxford Union last June, on the resolution: “This House believes the Catholic Church can never pay for its sins.” It wasn’t really much of a debate. With their focus on the sex-abuse scandal, the speakers couldn’t quite agree as to whether the Church is more criminal than vicious or more vicious than criminal.

But the final speaker (for one side or the other; it was hard to keep track) made a couple of revealing points. Dr. Jay Feiermann had worked for nearly 20 years as a psychiatrist at Paraclete Center in New Mexico, the world’s largest program for treatment of troubled priests, where he evaluated and treated 800 priests. He reported, simply, “The men that came to the program were there because they had sexually abused young boys.” He didn’t say they abused young people. He said young boys. No surprise there, but a clear confirmation, from a highly qualified witness, of what we already know.

Dr. Feiermann made a second striking observation, however, after he said that these priests had troubles with homosexuality. He quickly added that their problems did not involve homosexual activities with consenting adults. “We had nobody sent to the program for that issue,” he said, because “it was not an issue.”

Dr. Feiermann did not elaborate, but it’s interesting to think about what it means that homosexual activity by priests, if it involved only other adults, was “not an issue.” The psychiatrist didn’t mean that it was “not an issue” for him, because he notes that nobody was “sent to the program for that issue.” And who was sending them? Their bishops. The implication is that these bishops saw homosexual activity by priests with other adults as “not an issue.”

So some priests were sent away for psychiatric treatment because they had illicit sexual relations with boys, while others, who had illicit sexual relations with grown men, remained in active ministry. I do not mean to suggest that the two offenses are the same. They are not. Rape is worse than fornication, and molesting children is worse than exploiting adults. But all sexual activities outside marriage are violations of chastity, and for a priest sworn to celibacy, homosexual acts are a serious moral problem. It’s an issue.


Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at