Researcher Links Abuse Crisis to Influx of Gay Clergy

An interview with Ruth Institute sociologist Fr. D. Paul Sullins

In November 2018, Christian nonprofit the Ruth Institute, a group dedicated to researching the ruinous effects of the sexual revolution, published a groundbreaking study of the role homosexual clergy have played in precipitating the clerical sex abuse crisis in the United States. Authored by senior research associate Fr. D. Paul Sullins, Ph.D., the report titled “Is Catholic Clergy Sex Abuse Related to Homosexual Priests?” revealed a striking correlation between the rise in the number of homosexual priests and the explosion of clerical sex abuse. 

Analyzing data from the John Jay Report on sex abuse of minors and a Los Angeles Times survey reporting the number of homosexual priests in the United States, Fr. Sullins found a nearly one-to-one correlation between the rise of homosexual clergy and seminary subcultures and sex abuse of minors.

Church Militant spoke with Fr. Sullins on Tuesday about his findings.

Church Militant: Many Church insiders, often citing the conclusions of the 2011 John Jay Report, argue that the abuse crisis has nothing to do with homosexuality. Your research indicates otherwise. Can you explain the discrepancy?

Father D. Paul Sullins: The John Jay researchers reasoned that the crisis had nothing to do with sexual orientation because they found no correlation between the incidence of abuse and the number of homosexual priests. They didn’t actually look at any data on homosexual priests, but based their conclusions on clinical samples or media reports. I examine actual survey data in which priests report their own sexual orientation, which shows there is a very strong correlation with the incidence of abuse and with the proportion of victims who were male. Thus, taking the John Jay Report’s own argument, and just as a statement of empirical fact, the spate of child sex abuse in the 1970s and 1980s was strongly related to a concentrated presence of homosexual men in the Catholic priesthood.

CM: Likewise, many Church insiders argue that the Dallas Charter has largely ended clerical sex abuse. Your report, however, indicates that abuse has declined less than commonly thought. Can you speak to this, and to the disturbing rise in the number of abuse incidents since 2010?

PS: By the most stable measure, I found that abuse in the past decade is only about one-fourth as high as it was in the 1980s, when abuse was at its peak, but it has risen 17% over the past decade. The National Review Board (NRB), established by the Charter to review the bishops’ compliance and success with the Charter, also warns that abuse may be rising.

The chair of the NRB, in his latest report to the bishops on the data for 2018, writes: Compared to 2017, the Annual Report notes that the number of allegations, mostly historical, have significantly increased. … What is concerning are the 26 allegations by current minors (12 males and 14 females) reported in 2018. … These current allegations point to the reality that sexual abuse of minors by the clergy should not be considered by bishops as a thing of the past or a distant memory.

The NRB attributes the rise to growing complacency among a minority of bishops in vigilantly maintaining the policies and best practices prompted by the Charter to keep children safe from predators in Catholic settings. In the past, bishops enabled the crisis by ordaining homosexual men to the priesthood, despite the clear guidance of the popes that this was not to be done. Bishops also allowed priests to continue to prey on child victims, sometimes shielding them from exposure and using nondisclosure payments to keep victims silent.

CM: Your new companion study “Receding Waves: Child Sex Abuse and Homosexual Priests Since 2000” suggests that the nature of the clerical sex abuse crisis is shifting, with the number of male victims declining and the number of female victims rising. To what do you attribute this?

PS: From 2000 to 2016, the percent of child sex abuse victims of priests that were male plummeted from 74% to 34%. The biggest reason for this shift, as far as I can tell, is that very few homosexual men were ordained as priests during this period. In other words, the abuse of boys rose when more homosexual priests were ordained through the 1980s and now has dropped as fewer homosexual priests have been ordained from the 1980s to the present.

CM: In your opinion, what role have the bishops had in propagating the sex abuse crisis?

PS: In the past, bishops enabled the crisis by ordaining homosexual men to the priesthood, despite the clear guidance of the popes that this was not to be done. Bishops also allowed priests to continue to prey on child victims, sometimes shielding them from exposure and using nondisclosure payments to keep victims silent. Today, the bishops are collectively compounding the problem by a lack of transparency about their role in enabling the abuse and avoiding declaring politically uncomfortable teachings of the Church about the sinfulness of homosexual behavior or the ideals of the gay lifestyle.

CM: Pope Francis’ recent motu proprio Vos Estis Lux Mundi puts metropolitan archbishops in charge of any investigation into allegations of abuse by brother bishops. Many Catholics have voiced dissatisfaction about this, as it renders the metropolitan’s power almost absolute. In your opinion, can the bishops be trusted to self-police?

PS: No. Bishops are rightly and wisely effectively autonomous in their own diocese in most matters of Church discipline. They are not called to be policemen, not for their priests and even more so not for each other. The only one who can discipline a bishop is the Holy Father. Even if they could, on the issue of clergy sex abuse, I strongly doubt that the bishops have the will to call one another to serious account. Clearly, they did not do so in 2002, and it’s not likely they will do so today.

CM: What can be done to effectively combat the crisis?

PS: First and foremost, prayer and reparation by the Catholic faithful. This is immensely powerful. Ultimately, this crisis will not be ended by “combating” the sin involved, but by the mercy and power of Christ to heal His body. Second, hear the suffering of the victims, and find ways to love and support them. In a real way, they bear the wounds of Christ on behalf of the Church. Third, find out whether your own diocese is among the quarter of dioceses that have slipped in the implementation of the Charter or its associated best practices, and ask your diocesan leaders why they have defaulted on taking all the steps they can to protect vulnerable children.