His parishioners trust Roger, who has known since grade school
that he wanted to devote his life to the church.
But hes afraid if they knew the truth about him he would
lose that sacred trust.
My ministry will not be able to continue if people knew
that I was HIV-positive, says Roger, who is gay and has broken his vows of celibacy.
Father Roger is not the only HIV-positive priest. He estimates
that over the course of his ministry, he has known 15 to 20 priests who have contracted
HIV through homosexual relations. Many have died.
Ive worked with priests who have died with
AIDS, says Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist and former priest, who has spent the last
40 years researching and writing about the sexual habits of Catholic clergy. I
estimated that 750 priests had already died of AIDS, says Sipe, who has analyzed
hundreds of cases of AIDS in the priesthood, and believes that another 750 priests
carry the HIV virus.
The Churchs Response
No one knows precisely how many priests have the AIDS virus or have died from the disease.
But a recent effort to find out was conducted by the Kansas City Star.
Reporter Judy Thomas, who has collected priests death
certificates over the past few years, says, We will be able to document that at
least 300 priests have died of AIDS and that is likely to be conservative.
But Sister Maryanne Walsh, the spokeswoman for the National
Conference of Catholic Bishops, the official voice of the church in the United States,
says this represents only a small percentage of priests.
It concerns me terribly that anybody has AIDS, says
Walsh. And even more so it concerns me that 300 of our church leaders, of our
priests, would have AIDS. But, she adds, even if you doubled that number,
youd have less than 1 percent. So while you have 300 tragic stories there, you
dont have a trend in the priesthood.
Even though AIDS can be contracted in a number of ways, experts
including Sipes believe many priests contracted the disease through homosexual relations.
In his new best-selling book, The Changing Face of the
Priesthood, Father Donald Cozzens, a respected Catholic seminary president, says there
is such a high percentage of gay priests in the church that he is concerned the
priesthood is or is becoming a gay profession.
Sipe, too, estimates that between 25 percent and 45 percent of
American priests are homosexual in orientation.
Sister Walsh says not only would it be difficult to find evidence
to support these estimates of gay men in the priesthood, but it is also irrelevant.
Theres no real purpose in saying whether someone is homosexual or
heterosexual, she says. The issue is whether they can make a commitment.
Indeed, the Catholic Church teaches that there is nothing sinful
about having a gay orientation or homosexual desires whether youre a priest
or not. Its acting on those desires that the church considers unnatural and
wrong. So when a gay priest has sex, he is not only violating his vows of celibacy, but
the churchs very strong moral teachings on homosexuality as well.
Preparing for Celibacy
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, an outspoken liberal Catholic leader in Detroit, believes most
priests are maintaining their vows of celibacy. But he says many of those men are gay.
Gumbleton also believes that until recently, Catholic Seminarians failed to teach priests
how to integrate their sexuality and didnt adequately prepare them for a lifetime of
But the church has made dramatic changes in the last decade in
the way it addresses sexual issues in seminary. Instead of denying or repressing sexual
desire, seminaries now use progressive psychology to help men deal openly with the once
taboo topics of sexual attraction as well as homosexuality.
Seminarians, for example, learn how to channel their sexual
energy, and that it is alright to embrace their homosexual orientation. They are taught
that intimate, nonsexual friendships may help keep them from breaking their vow of
And even AIDS is now being seriously addressed by the church.
Jesus didnt ask how people got leprosy, says
Father Dennis Rausch, a Miami priest who ministers to AIDS victims and also has full-blown
AIDS himself. We dont ask how they became infected. We are here to walk with
them not to judge them in their journey.
Rausch still has his job and can talk openly about his disease in
his diocese because he refuses to discuss how he contracted HIV. By his silence, he
hopes to sever the connection between homosexuality and AIDS.
The Church has worked so hard to take away blame and guilt
and shame and victimizing of anybody with this disease, he says.
But not all priests with AIDS feel as comfortable speaking so
openly. Often, their homosexuality and the violation of their vows of celibacy condemn
them, keep them from telling the truth about their disease, and prevent them from finding
the support they need.
Im comfortable with what Im doing, says
Roger, though he also says the double life he lives sometimes troubles him. If
people wanted perfect priests and ministers and rabbis, perfect clergy, wed all have
to take off our collars and leave the sanctuary. Roger adds, Im a good
priest. My HIV is a result of a poor choice I made in my life
And that doesnt
mean that I have nothing left to give to the Church
God will judge me with
all the strengths and the weaknesses that He has given me.