Clerical Sexuality

A former priest looks back in sorrow

As a former Catholic priest and a currently practicing Catholic, I find myself answering questions from people of all religions about the daily seamy headlines. They want my take on the situation. They want to know if I have seen, firsthand, evidence of rampant decadence in the once-revered Catholic priesthood.

My answers come from my heart as well as from my head. I am devastated by the lives ruined by priestly predators. My heart also goes out to the vast majority of priests, good men who are being tarnished by the tawdry details of each story of betrayal. But the picture that has emerged of clerical sexuality out of control does not surprise me.

The Catholic Church has failed to help its priests become fully integrated sexual people. Sexuality has been a taboo topic. While requiring a celibate clergy, the church leaves priests largely on their own to work out their deeply human need for intimacy. Sexual issues, too painful or sensitive to address consciously, rear up from the unconscious and wreak havoc. Because they can’t deal with it openly, many priests are unable to develop a healthy adult sexuality. Whatever the incidence of child abuse, sexual dysfunction and frustration among the Catholic clergy are rampant.

I recall my own experience as a young man studying theology. When I got to the major seminary, I wanted to grow spiritually and challenge myself. I turned to a gifted young priest...

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About the Author

Richard Nugent Hasselbach is executive assistant and counsel to the president at Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York City.