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How a ‘Culture of Predation’ Puts Seminarians at Risk for Abuse

Sexual double lives among the clergy and failures in celibacy formation are among key factors that make priests-to-be vulnerable.

Catholic seminarians and priests are breaking their silence about their experiences of sexual abuse or harassment after revelations that ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick reportedly sexually preyed upon seminarians and young priests for decades without any impediment.

And, in the process, they are helping to cast light on a “culture of predation,” similar to the pattern that has been alleged with respect to Archbishop McCarrick’s own misconduct toward seminarians, that persists in some U.S. seminaries.

Church analysts and seminarians interviewed by the Register describe various factors in seminary or clerical culture that have directly or indirectly provided cover to sexual predators: turning a blind eye to unchastity (heterosexual and homosexual), administrative failure or cover-up regarding sexual misconduct, deficient moral formation for celibacy and chastity, threats of retaliation, and lack of independent bodies to investigate confidential complaints.

Investigations have begun into four seminaries as of publication time as a result of the allegations, and more could emerge in the coming months.

Seton Hall University, which serves the Archdiocese of Newark’s Immaculate Conception Seminary and St. Andrew’s Hall college seminary, ordered an independent investigation of allegations of sexual abuse and harassment against seminarians after a Catholic News Agency report on Archbishop McCarrick’s sexually predatory behavior.

The Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, has opened an investigation into allegations of a culture of sexual predation under former vocation director Msgr. Leonard Kalin, who died in 2008.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s office of investigations is looking into claims made by John Monaco, a former seminarian, that he was groped by an older seminarian at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary during the 2010-2011 academic year when he was 17 years old. Monaco maintains the sexual-harassment complaint was mishandled.

And Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has ordered an investigation into the archdiocese’s seminary, St. John’s in Brighton, Massachusetts, over allegations from 2014 about sexual misconduct, alcohol abuse and failures by the vocations director and vice rector to address sexual harassment brought forward by two former seminarians.

David Fiorito, a former seminarian who attended St. John’s for a year starting in 2014 told the Register a person at the seminary was sexting students through the Grindr app (an online app that facilitates homosexual hookups). Fiorito said he and a small group of seminarians (including Monaco and Andrew Solkshinitz) found the sexter by creating a fake Grindr profile and identified him as a seminarian from the Boston Archdiocese.

Fiorito said the sexter was somehow tipped off to their group. He then deleted his profile and sent them a threatening message, saying he knew who they were and their names. They dropped their amateur investigation, but Fiorito said, as far as he is aware, the sexting seminarian was never punished, but has gone on to another seminary.

Underplaying Sex With Adults?

In the various responses of bishops to the McCarrick scandal, the bishops have generally used “child sexual abuse” to describe his alleged sexual contact with minors. But regarding his reported behavior with seminarians, most — but not all — bishops and cardinals who have commented have described it as “inappropriate” or called it “sexual misconduct.” Only some have called it “sexual abuse.”

One ex-seminarian who spoke with the Register called attention to the Pennsylvania grand jury report, which showed bishops and chanceries would use various euphemisms to obscure child sex abuse, including calling it “inappropriate conduct” or “boundary violations.” While attending an East Coast seminary in 2009, a fellow seminarian sexually assaulted him. The seminary administration preferred to call attempted rape a “boundary violation.” He was not told to report the assault to the police.

Another seminarian, who is now a priest for a diocese in the Northeast, said he was groped by his own formator at a party. He reported his “boundary violation” and was told to change his formator. Nothing else was done.

Leslie Lothstein, a forensic psychologist with more than four decades of treating clerical sex abusers, who has counseled the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on clergy sex abuse, said the Church’s leadership has not come to grips with the fact that it has to take the sexual abuse of adults just as seriously as the sexual abuse of minor children and vulnerable persons.

“It’s a moral crime against a child; it’s a moral crime against an adult; it’s a moral crime against an adult with a personality disorder or mental illness,” he said.

Read more at National Catholic Register