The crisis over sexuality in the Catholic Church goes beyond abuse. It goes to the heart of the priesthood, into a closet that is trapping thousands of men.
By Elizabeth Dias Photographs by Gabriella Demczuk New York Times
MILWAUKEE — Gregory Greiten was 17 years old when the priests organized the game. It was 1982 and he was on a retreat with his classmates from St. Lawrence, a Roman Catholic seminary for teenage boys training to become priests. Leaders asked each boy to rank which he would rather be: burned over 90 percent of his body, paraplegic or gay.
Each chose to be scorched or paralyzed. Not one uttered the word “gay.” They called the game the Game of Life.
The lesson stuck. Seven years later, he climbed up into his seminary dorm window and dangled one leg over the edge. “I really am gay,” Father Greiten, now a priest near Milwaukee, remembered telling himself for the first time. “It was like a death sentence.”
The closet of the Roman Catholic Church hinges on an impossible contradiction. For years, church leaders have driven gay congregants away in shame and insisted that “homosexual tendencies” are “disordered.” And yet, thousands of the church’s priests are gay.
The stories of gay priests are unspoken, veiled from the outside world, known only to one another, if they are known at all.
Fewer than about 10 priests in the United States have dared to come out publicly. But gay men probably make up at least 30 to 40 percent of the American Catholic clergy, according to dozens of estimates from gay priests themselves and researchers. Some priests say the number is closer to 75 percent. One priest in Wisconsin said he assumed every priest was gay unless he knows for a fact he is not. A priest in Florida put it this way: “A third are gay, a third are straight and a third don’t know what the hell they are.”
Two dozen gay priests and seminarians from 13 states shared intimate details of their lives in the Catholic closet with The New York Times over the past two months. They were interviewed in their churches before Mass, from art museums on the weekend, in their apartments decorated with rainbow neon lights and between classes at seminary. Some agreed to be photographed if their identities were concealed.
Almost all of them required strict confidentiality to speak without fear of retribution from their bishops or superiors. A few had been expressly forbidden to come out or even to speak about homosexuality. Most are in active ministry, and could lose more than their jobs if they are outed. The church almost always controls a priest’s housing, health insurance and retirement pension. He could lose all three if his bishop finds his sexuality disqualifying, even if he is faithful to his vows of celibacy.
The environment for gay priests has grown only more dangerous. The fall of Theodore E. McCarrick, the once-powerful cardinal who was defrocked last week for sexual abuse of boys and young men, has inflamed accusations that homosexuality is to blame for the church’s resurgent abuse crisis.
Studies repeatedly find there to be no connection between being gay and abusing children. And yet prominent bishops have singled out gay priests as the root of the problem, and right-wing media organizations attack what they have called the church’s “homosexual subculture,” “lavender mafia,” or “gay cabal.”
Even Pope Francis has grown more critical in recent months. He has called homosexuality “fashionable,” recommended that men with “this deep-seated tendency” not be accepted for ministry and admonished gay priests to be “perfectly responsible, trying to never create scandal.”
Recently Pope Francis will host a much-anticipated summit on sex abuse with bishops from around the world. The debate promised to be not only about holding bishops accountable but also about homosexuality itself.
“It really never was my shame. It was the church’s shame. They’re the ones that should have the shame for what they have done to myself and many, many other L.G.B.T. people.”
FATHER GREG GREITEN
“My family does not know that I struggle with this. I’ve never told them. I believe the church’s teaching on marriage, sexuality — just trying to understand what it means for me. It may sound kind of strange. I feel like, what I struggle with, I hope I can help other Catholics not lose their faith.”
“This is my life,” a parish priest in the Northeast said. “You feel like everyone is on a witch hunt now for things you have never done.”
Just a few years ago, this shift was almost unimaginable. When Pope Francis uttered his revolutionary question, “Who am I to judge?” in 2013, he tempted the closet door to swing open. A cautious few priests stepped through.
But if the closet door cracked, the sex abuse crisis now threatens to slam it shut. Widespread scapegoating has driven many priests deeper into the closet.
“The vast majority of gay priests are not safe,” said Father Bob Bussen, a priest in Park City, Utah, who was outed about 12 years ago after he held Mass for the L.G.B.T.Q. community.
“Life in the closet is worse than scapegoating,” he said. “It is not a closet. It is a cage.”
“You can be taught to act straight in order to survive.”
Even before a priest may know he is gay, he knows the closet. The code is taught early, often in seminary. Numquam duo, semper tres, the warning goes. Never two, always three. Move in trios, never as a couple. No going on walks alone together, no going to the movies in a pair. The higher-ups warned for years: Any male friendship is too dangerous, could slide into something sexual or could turn into what they called a “particular friendship.”
“You couldn’t have a particular friendship with a man, because you might end up being homosexual,” explained a priest, who once nicknamed his friends “the P.F.s.” “And you couldn’t have a friendship with a woman, because you might end up falling in love, and they were both against celibacy. With whom do you have a relationship that would be a healthy human relationship?”
Today, training for the priesthood in the United States usually starts in or after college. But until about 1980, the church often recruited boys to start in ninth grade — teenagers still in the throes of puberty. For many of today’s priests and bishops over 50, this environment limited healthy sexual development. Priests cannot marry, so sexuality from the start was about abstinence, and obedience.
“I was in my 50s when I came out. I entered the seminary at 18, a young, enthusiastic, white, male virgin who doesn’t know anything, let alone straight or gay. There were years that I carried this secret. My prayer was not that, would God change me. It was that I would die before anyone found out.”
FATHER BOB BUSSEN
“When I was in the eighth grade, there were three things I could do. I could be a truck driver like my dad. I could be a doctor, I wasn’t smart enough for that. But I was gay, so the only other thing left was, I could be a priest.”
The sexual revolution happening outside seminary walls might as well have happened on the moon, and national milestones in the fight for gay rights, like the Stonewall riots, on Mars.
One priest in a rural diocese said the rules reminded him of how his elementary school forced left-handed students to write with their right hand. “You can be taught to act straight in order to survive,” he said.
“I can still remember seeing a seminarian come out of another’s room at 5 a.m. and thinking, isn’t it nice, they talked all night,” the same priest said. “I was so naïve.”
Priests in America tend to come out to themselves at a much later age than the national average for gay men, 15. Many gay priests spoke of being pulled between denial and confusion, finally coming out to themselves in their 30s or 40s.
Father Greiten was 24 when he realized he was gay and considered jumping from his dorm window. He did not jump, but confided his despair in a classmate. His friend came out himself. It was a revelation: There were other people studying to be priests who were gay. It was just that no one talked about it.
He reached out to a former seminary professor who he thought might also be a gay man.
“There will be a time in your life when you will look back on this and you’re going to just love yourself for being gay,” Father Greiten remembered this man telling him. “I thought, ‘This man must be totally insane.’”
But he had discovered the strange irony of the Catholic closet — it isn’t secret at all.
“It’s kind of like an open closet,” Father Greiten said. “It’s the making of it public, and speaking about it, where it becomes an issue.”
One priest, whose parish has no idea he is gay, remembered a backyard cocktail party a few years ago where fellow priests were saying “vile” things about a gay bishop. He intervened, and came out to them. He lost three friends that night. “I broke the code by announcing to them that I was gay,” he said. “It was a conspiracy of silence.”
That is a reason many of the men are out to only a few close friends. The grapevine has taught them which priests in their diocese are gay, whom to trust and whom to fear.
“This is not the whole story of who I am. But if you don’t want to know this about me, do you really want to know me? It’s a question I’d invite the people of God to ponder.”
FATHER STEVE WOLF
“I was probably 40 when I came out to my family, and to some lay friends. Before then, I was out to certain classmates. I realized this is not a me issue. This is a human rights issue. If I were outed, I wouldn’t lie. But there is still way too much homophobia in the church.”
All priests must wrestle with their vows of celibacy, and the few priests who are publicly out make clear they are chaste.
Still, many priests said they had had sex with other men to explore their sexual identity. Some have watched pornography to see what it is like for two men to have sex. They ultimately found more anguish than pleasure.
One priest had sex for the first time at 62, no strings attached, with a man he met online. The relationship was discovered and reported to his bishop, and he has not had sex since. Another priest, when asked if he had ever considered himself as having a partner, wondered what that even meant. He paused, before mentioning one very special friend. “I fell in love several times with men,” he said. “I knew from the beginning it wasn’t going to last.”
Though open, the closet means that many priests have held the most painful stories among themselves for decades: The seminarian who died by suicide, and the matches from a gay bar found afterward in his room. The priest friends who died of AIDS. The feeling of coming home to an empty rectory every night.
So they find ways to encourage one another. They share books like Father James Martin’s groundbreaking “Building a Bridge,” on the relationship between the Catholic and L.G.B.T. communities. Some have signed petitions against church-sponsored conversion therapy programs, or have met on private retreats, after figuring out how to conceal them on their church calendars. Occasionally, a priest may even take off his collar and offer to unofficially bless a gay couple’s marriage.
Some may call this rebellion. But “it is not a cabal,” one priest said. “It is a support group.”
Just over a year ago, after meeting with a group of gay priests, Father Greiten decided it was time to end his silence. At Sunday Mass, during Advent, he told his suburban parish he was gay, and celibate. They leapt to their feet in applause.
His story went viral. A 90-year-old priest called him to say he had lived his entire life in the closet and longed for the future to be different. A woman wrote from Mississippi, asking him to move south to be her priest.
To some church leaders, that outpouring of support may have been even more threatening than his sexuality. Father Greiten had committed the cardinal sin: He opened the door to debate. His archbishop, Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee, issued a statement saying that he wished Father Greiten had not gone public. Letters poured in calling him “satanic,” “gay filth” and a “monster” who sodomized children.
“We have to get it right when it comes to sexuality.”
The idea that gay priests are responsible for child sexual abuse remains a persistent belief, especially in many conservative Catholic circles. For years, church leaders have been deeply confused about the relationship between gay men and sexual abuse. With every new abuse revelation, the tangled threads of the church’s sexual culture become even more impossible to sort out.
Study after study shows that homosexuality is not a predictor of child molestation. This is also true for priests, according to a famous study by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the wake of revelations in 2002 about child sex abuse in the church.
The John Jay research, which church leaders commissioned, found that same-sex experience did not make priests more likely to abuse minors, and that four out of five people who said they were victims were male. Researchers found no single cause for this abuse, but identified that abusive priests’ extensive access to boys had been critical to their choice of victims.
The notion that a certain sexual identity leads to abusive behavior has demoralized gay priests for decades. Days after one man retired, he still could not shake what his archbishop in the 1970s told all the new priests headed to their first parish assignments. “He said, ‘I don’t ever want you to call me to report about your pastor, unless he is a homo or an alchie,’” he said, referring to an alcoholic. “He didn’t even know what he meant when he said homo, because we were all homos. He meant a predator, like serial predator.”
This perception persists today at prominent Catholic seminaries. At the largest in the United States, Mundelein Seminary in Illinois, few ever talk about sexual identity, said one gay student, who is afraid to ever come out. Since last summer, when Mr. McCarrick was exposed for abusing young men, students have been drilled in rules about celibacy and the evils of masturbation and pornography.
Classmates will say, ‘Don’t admit gays,’” said the student. “Their attitude is that it is gay priests who inflict abuse on younger guys.”
Priests across the country are wondering if their sacrifice is worth the personal cost. “Am I going to leave the priesthood because I’m sick of that accusation?” asked Father Michael Shanahan, a Chicago priest who came out publicly three years ago. “Become more distant from parishioners? Am I going to hide? Become hardened, and old?”
Blaming gay men for sexual abuse is almost sure to be a major topic this week at the Vatican, at a much-anticipated four-day summit on sexual abuse. Pope Francis has called the world’s most powerful bishops to Rome to educate them on the problems of abuse, after high-profile abuse cases in the United States, Australia, Chile and elsewhere.
“Why stay? It is an amazing life. I am fascinated with the depth and sincerity of parishioners, the immense generosity. The negativity out there doesn’t match what is in my daily life, when I see the goodness of people. I tune into that, because it sustains me.”
FATHER MICHAEL SHANAHAN
“When I first came to my parish, I remember thinking, if I were to come out now, this would be the kind of place I could. That is far from my mind now. Obviously to my friends, it’s nothing I hide. But the climate we are in, I’d never self-identify as a gay priest.”
The event has worried gay priests. A few years after the 2002 scandal, the Vatican banned gay men from seminaries and ordination. When the abuse crisis broke out again last summer, the former Vatican ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, accused “homosexual networks” of American cardinals of secretly working to protect abusers. And this week, a sensational book titled “Sodoma” in Europe (“In the Closet of the Vatican” in the United States) is being released that claims to expose a vast gay subculture at the Vatican.
A group of gay priests in the Netherlands recently took the unusually bold step of writing to Pope Francis, urging him to allow gay, celibate men to be ordained.
“Instead of seeing increased accountability on the parts of the bishops, it could become once again a condemnation of lesbian, gay, transsexual people within the church,” John Coe, 63, a permanent deacon in Kentucky, who came out last year, said about the summit.
Sitting in his parish’s small counseling room, Father Greiten reflected on it all. He wished he could talk to Pope Francis himself. “Listen to my story of how the church traumatized me for being a gay man,” he asked, into the air.
“It’s not just about the sexual abuse crisis,” he said, his voice growing urgent. “They are sexually traumatizing and wounding yet another generation. We have to stand up and say no more sexual abuse, no more sexual traumatizing, no more sexual wounding. We have to get it right when it comes to sexuality.”
For now, Father Greiten was getting ready for his 15th trip to Honduras with doctors and medical supplies. A shadow box hung on the wall behind him. It displayed a scrap of purple knitting, needle still stuck in the top. He calls it “The Unfinished Gift.”
“What if every priest was truly allowed to live their life freely, openly, honestly?” he asked. “That’s my dream.”
Elizabeth Dias covers faith and politics from Washington. She previously covered a similar beat for Time magazine. @elizabethjdias
This is a very good article with gay priests speaking about their own lives and experiences.
Gay men are called to priesthood and many of them make excellent priests.
The real issue to be sorted out is compulsory celibacy – for both gay and straight men.
Celibacy should be optional.
Both gay and straight priests should be allowed to have a partner when their lives are typified by love, committment and integrity.
The Church should bless living gay unions.
What is NOT acceptable is the orgiastic lives of people like McCarrick, Gorgeous, Derwin, King Puck, JP and others who treat sex as recreational matter resulting in drugs, rape, sexual assault and abuse.
It’s a pity the men above did not say what type of sex/love lives they thought priests should have.
The teaching of the Roman Catholic Church says: That sex outside marriage is a serious sin. That homosexuality is a grave disorder and sin. That masturbation is a serious sin. That pornography is a sin. That the use of condoms is a sin.
When you become an RC priest you represent the Church and its teachings.
You make a promise of celibacy – which just does not mean you will not get married – but also means you will not have a sex life.
The RC Church grants you ordination on the basis that:
You will be celibate and be chaste. That you will obey your bishop or religious superior. That you will pray the Divine Office every day.
You cannot grab all the benefits and privileges and forget about the responsibilities you have taken on and the vows and promises you made.
If you do that you are a HYPOCRITE and a PRETENDER.
When I first visited the Statue of Liberty in New York harbour I remarked that there should be a similar statue built opposite it – THE STATUE OF RESPONSIBILITIES.
Many RC priests nowadays are living double lives. And that goes right to the top with Benedict and his boyfriend George.
The RC priesthood is now being used by those who would not do well anywhere else in life. They use it for the “THREE HOTS AND A COT – a roof over their heads and three hot meals a day.
People have seen through them and are walking away from them in droves. Quite right too!
I would have more respect for them if the observed the Catechism they promote and preach and practice what they preach.
What were your misconceptions about Priesthood before discerning it?
Who inspired you on your journey?
When I first started to think about the priesthood, I wondered if I would be stifled, I wasn’t sure if the priesthood would give me enough opportunity to go out and explore life. Would I be restricted to the Church building and the presbytery? Also I wondered if I could manage the studies as I didn’t have a degree and my experience at school wasn’t exactly great.
As I would go to Mass week in and week out, it kind of remained routine until a newly ordained deacon arrived in my parish which brought everything alive for me, this led me to explore my faith and come to know Jesus Christ who would change my life for ever.
My greatest worry when discerning my vocation was whether I could cope without a family of my own and if I could still keep my friends and the people I loved in my life?
What was your greatest worry when discerning your vocation?
What have been the highlights of living out your vocation?
The highlights of my ministry so far are celebrating daily Mass, celebrating my cousin’s wedding, baptising my nephew and helping the many people go home to Heaven, by absolving their sins and putting them at peace with God before they die, one of my main tasks as a hospital chaplain.
What would you say to someone else considering Priesthood?
I would say to you if you are considering following Jesus as a priest, give everything you’ve got. It’s an amazing life and it just keeps getting better! If you want meaning in your life then go down this road, it’s a beautiful adventure and you will see and experience things that will give you so much life and joy!
How is the lived reality of your vocation different to how you had perceived it?
My lived reality of being a priest is that I have more friends than I’ve ever had before, I am out all the time to share in people’s lives and my life couldn’t be richer with the various events and experiences I have the privilege to have!
How has living your vocation brought you joy?
Being a priest brings a great sense of joy because you get to share in people’s lives at every level. From birth to death and everything in between, sometimes in the same day! People give you access to their world not because of you but because you are Christ, you share in His Priesthood. It is a beautiful privilege.
Two men and a woman who were with a trainee priest when he fell 20ft from a loft window will not be charged with attempted murder, police have said.
John Paul Lyttle, 28, was left fighting for his life in a coma after toppling from a ledge where he sat smoking at 4am in Clifton Road, Isleworth.
The three witnesses, aged between 18 and 21, had earlier met Mr Lyttle in a pub on June 14 before he invited them back to the terraced house where he was staying with Reverend Ray Lyons.
Officers arrested the trio on suspicion of attempted murder and later released them on bail. A spokesman for Hounslow Police confirmed this week that detectives have decided not to take further action.
The speedy recovery of the talented pianist, who has been discharged from Charing Cross Hospital, was hailed a “miracle.”
He had smashed his head on a concrete patio in Rev Lyons’ garden, and ambulance crews arrived to find him with a fractured skull and back injuries. He was rushed to hospital where his family, originally from Belfast, flew to be by his bedside.
Rev Lyons, who has lived in Isleworth for 29 years, said: “I can only say it’s miraculous really, it has been an answered prayer. We just hope that (his recovery) continues.”
Ben Colangelo, manager of the Ards Friary, in County Donegal, Ireland – where Mr Lyttle worked in 2007 – said: “(John Paul) is a living, talking, walking miracle.
“He was expected to have a 18 to 24 month recovery at the least. Five weeks after the incident he is back home.
“I have spoken to him and he awaits a plate to be inserted into his skull, quite literally, to hold his brain in. It has been a blessing and we are just absolutely delighted with his incredible recovery.
“All our prayers were for him and they have been answered. We hope now that the final operation goes smoothly.”
So, let’s see. JP fell through a window at 4 am at a priest’s house where two young men and a young woman were “socialising” with him.
At first the police suspected foul play and considered charging them with attempted murder.
Then there were no charges brought.
But nobody has ever properly explained what happened?
A Franciscan representative says JP is “a walking miracle”.
Father Ray Lyons, if he is still a “Father”, agrees with the walking miracle theory.
Over the past twenty or thirty years I have watched the Catholic priesthood go from being a very mixed bag of men to becoming an almost exclusively gay profession.
And this development is very bad.
When I was in seminary between 1970 and 1976 homosexuality was hardly ever whispered about in the seminary.
Clonliffe Seminary in Dublin had 120 seminarians there in my time. There was a little homosexuality happening but it was rare and well below the surface.
In St John’s Waterford from 1973 to 1976 it was even less common and I was only aware of one active homosexual. I became aware of because he came on to me. I rushed in panic to discuss it with my spiritual director and nothing happened.
As a young priest I was “hit on” by two older priests and a monastic abbot. I did not respond to their overtures- mainly because I saw it as a big sin that would lead me away from God and damage, if not destroy, my priesthood.
I am not saying that my repression was either good or healthy. But it did teach me how to say “NO” to myself and to situations I could not handle.
There has to be a place in all our moral lives for saying “NO”.
How have we gone from a situation in which seminarians struggled with themselves to practice celibacy and chastity to where we are today – with seminaries being little better than gay saunas?
There have been changes to culture and religion.
1. The more sexually liberal society. 2. The fall off in belief and church attendance leading to the ignoring of religious rules and dogmas. 3. The fact that more people are more educated than before. 4. The cultural changes that facilitate younger people having sex earlier in life.
There are others I’m sure.
Of course there was too much emphasis on sexual sins in the past.
But now, at least as far as seminaries are concerned, the pendulum has swung the other way.
Many seminaries are just hotbeds of orgiastic gay sexuality.
We must have Christian ideals when it comes to sex.
Sex should never be used to exploit, abuse or use.
Ideally sex and love should always be connected.
I dont think that, for a Christian, there is just recreational sex.
I’m not saying that we all live up to that ideal ALL the time.
But we should be trying to.
The fact that the priesthood has become homosexualised and homoeroticised is NOT good.
Sex, like many things, can become an addiction.
Many current priests and seminarians are full blown sex addicts.
Addicts often end up doing great harm to themselves and others.
People like JP, Gorgeous, Rory, McCamley are sex addicts.
Addiction requires recognition, compassion and treatment.
Did you know that alongside AA for alcoholics there is SA for sex addicts.
There are branches of SA all over Ireland and the UK.
RECENTLY ORDAINED FATHER JOHN PAUL LYTTLE OF PORTSMOUTH DIOCESE HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM MINISTRY AFTER REPORTS OF SCANDALS AT THE CHURCH OF THE ENGLISH MARTYRS IN READING, BERKSHIRE.
A former altar boy and the current altar boy organiser has complained to the bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan that Fr. Lyttle attempted to seduce him in the presbytery after dinner and wine.
The complainant has also reported the incident to the police who have interviewed Fr. Lyttle.
A separate complaint has been made about Fr. Lyttle distributing photographs of his genetalia on a gay dating site.
The dating site pictures were sent to all the Catholic parishes in Reading by an anonymous source.
The first complaint was the subject of a report by the Portsmouth Safeguarding Officer, Angela McGrory.
AB – COMPLAINANT
MD – FATHER MICHAEL DENNEHY PP VG READING
JP – FATHER JOHN PAUL LYTTLE
EM – ENGLISH MARTYRS
ANGELA MC GRORY REPORT
Monday 20th May 2019 I was visited in the safeguarding office by a male – this male AB is 28 years old and is a police officer by profession.
I have known AB since 2011 when he travelled as part of the Diocesan Group to WYD in Madrid, AB stepped up as a group leader and a first aider on that pilgrimage although had initially registered as an Over 18 Pilgrim.
AB had requested a meeting with me to discuss a safeguarding issue.
Fr JP Lyttle invites AB over to the presbytery for a catch up due to AB not being at church. ***
Re Fr Michael Dennehy
AB first discussed how he and his mother have been active parishioners at English Martyrs, Reading for nearly 20 years. AB has been Altar Serving since 2006 (mostly Sunday 9:30 & 11:30 masses) and recently been the Master of Ceremonies in the parish and also organising a Youth Christmas party with no support from other parishioners/ priests.
AB’s mother has been involved in the being the readers co-ordinator, choir, SVP, being a welcomer and organising Tea/ Coffee after mass to help raise money for the construction works in the Parish. Sunday 17th March 2019
MD was very distant in the Sacristy and was very snappy with AB and an Altar Server, that Altar Server asked AB what was wrong with MD to which AB replied “I don’t know but he has most probably has a lot on his mind so give him some space and I will do the same.”
Just before the 11:30 AB asked Fr. JP Lyttle (JP) for clarification as to what was wrong with MD as it effecting/ making some of the servers feel uncomfortable in the sacristy before Mass and AB thought he had done something wrong.
JP responded no, on that occasion it was his fault as he explained MD was annoyed at him as he had failed to return to Church yesterday (Saturday 16th in the evening) as expected to hear confessions because he was out drinking in Reading town centre.
AB thought this was not a good admission by a newly ordained priest that has come straight from the Cathedral but at least it wasn’t him that MD was annoyed at.
Saturday 23rd March 2019 (text messages between AB & MD)
09:54 hours from Fr Michael Dennehy (MD ) saying “ are you able to meet JP and I today regarding the role of MC and altar serving? Would 3pm be OK? You are welcome to bring someone with you. Fr. Michael.”
10:31 AB replied “I cant today – I am on a bike ride. Whats on the agenda?”
10:40 MD wrote “The role of MC and altar serving. Tomorrow afternoon?”
10:51 AB replied “I might be able to do tonight around 8pm. Can you itemise what you will be bring up during this meeting to allow me time to prepare.. please”
12:09 MD wrote “ The current arrangements are not working.”
13:30 AB replied “ tonight 8 o’clock will be better for me I wont have time after Mass tomorrow please can you send me an itemised agenda of what you want to be discussed beforehand that be great.”
15:26 MD wrote “ 8pm is fine. The only item is the failure to address shortcomings already identified in altar serving and inadequate preparation of the liturgies in the parish.”
16:08 AB replied “see you at 8.”
AB attended English Martyrs at 8pm on Saturday 23rd March 2019 with his mother. Fr JP Lyttle was also present in the meeting.
When this meeting started MD asked AB what is this all about to which AB was confused, MD went on to say that AB is giving off a lot of animosity towards him to which MD turned towards JP and said that JP has witnessed it. AB asked when and how?,
AB also mentioned to MD that there is no animosity at all, AB reminded MD that he asked if MD was available to meet up for a beer? However MD had given up alcohol for lent. AB asked MD if there was animosity then why would he invite MD out for a drink?? AB asked JP for examples, of when this animosity occurred that he witnessed, JP could not provide any evidence for this.
MD had indicated he was not happy with the altar servers and told AB that he had failed his ministry and failed the Altar Servers. MD was very aggressive, leaning forward in his chair, pointing with his pen and very abrupt.
This was very alarming for AB and his mother. AB asked MD why he hadn’t responded to any emails that AB had sent and had a list of times and dates when AB sent the emails – which was from January 2019. MD had no reply. MD stated that he was sick of being the Altar Server, Sacristan and Priest, he went on to say that he is fed up of setting up for mass, having servers that do not know what they are doing and then said in relation to children that serve “If I am honest they are quite frankly crap!”
MD saying this about 8 year olds up is completely out of order. MD went back and said why is he having to set up for mass? AB replied “I get here at church at 8:30-8:45 before the 9:30am Mass to set up and everything is done. What time do you want me to get here? I cant get here any earlier otherwise I will be sleeping here the night before.”
The meeting finished at approximately 8:45pm.
AB said to me that the behaviour of MD in this meeting was completely unnecessary and would not expect that from a Priest & Vicar General especially when AB is volunteering and has given up every possible weekend to be there, put his personal life on the back foot as this potentially could be a vocation that he wants to go into.
AB’s mother who was very involved in the parish has not returned to that Church since she thought that MD behaved in a way in which she cannot accept that priest would do and that he was bullying her son.
Especially when AB & Mother had catered for both of them for dinner. AB felt really aggrieved by this as he waited in the car park of EM for 2 hours when Fr. George passed to make sure MD was okay when he arrived back at EM.
AB feels this behaviour is not acceptable to a young volunteer in the parish, even if not performing to the standard expected and MD not happy with him this should have been shared with him (and had amble opportunities) in the spirit of formation and cooperation, not as an angry, unprofessional & offensive outburst.
Altar Servers practise at English Martyrs MD very briefly said that you and quickly moved on. when AB was saying goodbye to the servers at the end of the practise, there was no sign of both MD & JP. This felt very upsetting after all the time and effort AB has put in over the years.
ABs last day as Master of Ceremonies and MD did not even say thank you for all the work, effort and ignored AB all morning. Did not even bother to say or show any gratification and this made AB feel that everything he has done in the parish for the Altar Servers and 20 years of being apart of that community is all worthless. This is completely unacceptable from a Parish Priest/ Vicar General.
Re: Fr JP Lyttle
Since JP arrived in the Parish AB has felt the need to challenge JP on how he interacts with some of the servers.
One instance when JP was not happy with the servers he spoke to them in the middle of mass over the microphone and that made the young servers feel extremely small and very embarrassed.
More recently AB and JP have been getting on and on occasions had a drink together.
Thursday 7th of February 2019 Fr JP invited AB to the presbytery telling him on a Whatsapp call at that MD would not be home. AB was travelling back from working away so it depended what time he arrived back home. Due to AB not being at church for a couple of weeks due to the comment made by a parishioner, ABs mother said “go and have a chat to Fr. JP and talk things through.” That was the reason why AB then attended to presbytery at English Martyrs. AB arrived at English Martyrs at 8:02pm.
JP cooked dinner, Salmon and veg. After dinner JP suggested that they go upstairs in his personal lounge as its more comfortable. AB mentioned that JP’s lounge has two leather bucket type seats to the left of the door. 1st bucket seat is a single seat where JP was sitting and there is a coffee table that is in the middle of the 2nd bucket seat which has room for two people. The pair consumed a lot of wine – AC says 3 bottles.
During their conversation AB mentioned that he had considered the priesthood at times but did not feel that he would not be accepted. JP kept insisting AB to tell him why he did not feel he would be accepted.
AB described this as very intense with JP telling him to hold his hand and look at him. JP went on to say we are normal and JP went on to say “I wank and I watch porn, I am constantly horny’
AB feels hindsight that this statement was said to make it ok for him to say whatever he wanted to, although AB was shocked at a priest making such a statement to a parishioner.
At roughly 11:40pm (AB knows this time as mother text him) after saying this JP moved from the seat where he has been sitting all evening and sat next to him on the left hand side. JP repeatedly said “I think you are amazing.” And after the third time of saying this JP placed his right four fingers on AB’s left thigh roughly in the middle but towards to outside of his leg.
JP moved his hand briefly when AB moved his thigh away then placed it back in the same position on AB’s left thigh.
AB believes he was “testing the waters.” JP then kept saying that he should stay the night, eventually saying that they had a spare room. AB said no as mother is collecting him and is on her way.
AB texted his mother twice to pick him up and told JP that AB’s mother is on her way. As AB was walking down the stairs JP followed behind still encouraging AB to stay the night.
When AB was at the bottom of the stairs JP was on the landing half way down, and fell into the side table knocking an ornament on the top then said “tell your mum, the parish priest says stay and she will let you.”
AB looked at him in a strange way after this comment and JP replied “well not the parish priest but you know what I mean.” AB laughed this off said “goodnight” and left. ACBs mother had not arrived so AB started walking up the road.
AB considers Fr. Jon Paul Lyttle’s behaviour predatory and it raises serious causes for concern in how he would behave with younger/ vulnerable men in a similar situation especially with his role within the Royal Berkshire Hospital as the Catholic Chaplin.
AB reported JP to Berkshire hospital and schools.
When Portsmouth refused to properly engage with AB he contacted me.
I emailed Safeguarding:
I have been sent a copy of the report, composed by Angela McGrory, into the complaint of AB against Fr. John Paul Lyttle of English Martyrs Reading – a complaint that says that Fr. Lyttle tried to seduce a parishioner who happens to be police officer.
I am further informed that others complaints against Fr Lyttle have been received with regard to him distributing naked pictures of his gentalia on the internet.
I want to ask for a statement clarifying
1. What is the diocese’s response to these complaints?
2. Is the diocese, Fr Lyttle and the PP VG of English Martyrs willing to give the victim a written apology?
Their defenders say they educated boys whose families couldn’t provide for them; their detractors say they were a byword for classroom brutality and abuse. Starting our series on Catholicism ahead of the visit of Pope Francis, our reporter explores the complex legacy of the Christian Brothers
Regret and sorrow: Brother Edmund Garvey. Photo: Gerry Mooney
It is an unlikely headquarters for an age-old congregation that used to be one of the most powerful and feared institutions in the State. The European Province of the Christian Brothers is run from a modern office block, built by the order in a leafy lane off Griffith Avenue in Dublin 9. When I arrive to meet Brother Edmund Garvey, the leader of the Irish Christian Brothers, I am greeted by a woman in the reception area of a sleek modernist building with the atmosphere of a small multinational corporation. In days gone by, lengthy conversations between Brothers and women were actively discouraged. The rules of the order stated that Brothers “in all conversations with females, must observe great reserve and modesty and make the conversations as brief as possible”.
The Brothers have dispensed with the dark cassocks in which they patrolled classrooms up and down the land for generations. I am welcomed into a boardroom by Brother Garvey, neatly dressed and businesslike in a sky blue shirt and navy tie. The modern Christian Brothers are a slimmed-down operation. They have had to adapt to a society in which vocations are non-existent – and their role as disciplinarian teachers has long vanished. Louth-born Brother Garvey tells me that when he became a postulant, a trainee for the congregation, as a 14-year-old in 1959, the order was hitting its peak in terms of numbers. In its heyday there were as many as 1,300 Christian Brothers across the country – and over 4,000 around the world – who had all taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Now there are no more than 170 brothers surviving in the whole of Ireland – and the average age is 79. The Congregation’s Irish leader says the last Brother to join up was in 1995 – and he left after only half a decade. The power may have gone as the Brothers disappeared suddenly from public view, but they have left a deep imprint on the male Irish psyche. There is a legacy of resentment among many former pupils about their excessive use of corporal punishment. Memories of beatings are still vivid among a cohort of middle-aged and elderly men, and there is a lingering feeling that all too frequently the punishment was indiscriminate and random. At the same time, there is also an appreciation that the Brothers provided an education, particularly to the less well off. Often, when you talk to ex-pupils, they may harbour both resentment and a certain level of gratitude at the same time. When I raise the difficult questions about the Brothers’ legacy, the response of Brother Garvey is one of studied remorse, and he chooses his words carefully.
The congregation’s founder Edmund Ignatius Rice was actually against the use of physical punishment, a point that is highlighted by Brother Garvey. “He believed that where possible, it should not be used at all,” says Brother Garvey. “There was a huge overemphasis on corporal punishment that crept into the schools, unfortunately.” So why did the order go against the wishes of its founder, to such an extent that it became a byword of classroom brutality among a significant section of the population? Pressure on exam results
He attributes this to the fact that schools were paid by their exam grades – so there was enormous pressure to get results. Even more damaging to the congregation than the reputation for classroom severity were the damning findings of the Ryan Report of 2009, which found that sexual abuse was “endemic” in industrial schools for boys run by the Brothers. The report also found that “a climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment” permeated the schools. “Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from,” the report said. Pondering the findings of the Ryan Report almost a decade later, Brother Garvey expresses regret about what happened. “The report was extremely severe on the industrial schools, on the Christian Brothers and the way those institutions were run.
“It’s a matter of extreme regret and sorrow and shame that people would have suffered to the extent that was described in the Ryan Commission in those institutions.” Brother Garvey acknowledges that the most vulnerable in society living in industrial schools suffered “in horrendous ways”. “That is unpardonable, unconscionable – and I would almost go as far to say even unforgivable, but I would perhaps not go that far.” The Brothers leader says the State committed young people to these institutions. He questions why the severity of the industrial schools was not spotted, inspected and eliminated.
“Somebody had to know, but nothing was really done about it.” So is it hard for the surviving Brothers to come to terms with the damage done to the Congregation’s reputation? “If people have a difficulty with us, it is difficult listening to their story and accepting it,” says Brother Garvey. But he says that generally the local communities in which the Brothers live are extraordinarily loyal, and there are good relationships. “By and large, they have not shown any animosity or aggression towards the Brothers.”
In 2009, the congregation promised to pay €34m towards a redress scheme for victims of abuse in residential institutions. Brother Garvey says the order still has to pay €8.8m of that amount, and he says he hopes the total bill will be cleared by early next year. The Brothers may be diminished in number, but the congregation still has a high turnover of cash, tied up in a number of companies and charitable trusts. Assets of €332m In 2009, the assets of Brothers were valued at €332m – of which €262m was tied up in real estate and €70m was in financial assets. On top of this, the congregation transferred school property worth €430m to a linked body known as the Edmund Rice Schools Trust.
It is not clear how much the assets of the order are worth now. In the most recent accounts published by the charity regulator for 2015 and 2016, the European Province of the Brothers, whose activities are largely in Ireland, had a total gross income of €29m and it spent €33m. Brother Garvey says the money helps towards the care of retired members of the congregation, most of whom are elderly. The order also funds adult education and summer camps for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, promising a “week of fun-filled activities in a safe and friendly environment”. Richmond Newstreet, an Irish-registered company linked with the congregation’s international operations, has net assets of €20m, according to the most recent accounts. So, after the horrors of the Ryan Report, and the never-ending accounts of beatings inflicted on pupils in the past, what does Brother Garvey believe is the positive legacy? “If it hadn’t been for the Christian Brothers, you’d wonder what kind of education system we would have had,” he says.
“They provided a good education and gave it freely, and laid down a good schools infrastructure that is going forward.” While the abuse in industrial schools and other institutions was investigated in the Ryan Report, has the issue of violence perpetrated by teachers in Christian Brothers schools really been explored. Many ex-pupils still carry the emotional scars. Professor Pat Dolan, director of the Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway, believes there should be a type of truth commission so that adult victims can tell of what they suffered in school. Dolan, who suffered regular beatings at North Brunswick Street CBS, says: “The Brothers did a lot of physical harm and they got away with it – when they shouldn’t have got away with it.” Brothers carried an exotic range of weapons, from bamboo canes, to chair legs and ruler sticks – and the familiar one-and-a-half-foot leather strap.
“In the classroom, if you got your spelling wrong you got slapped, and at one time I was slapped on a daily basis,” says Professor Dolan. While this form of corporal punishment was still quite common in other schools apart from the Christian Brothers, many former pupils educated by the congregation report much more violent attacks that went unpunished. It is the apparently random nature and frequency of these assaults that Professor Dolan finds disturbing. He remembers one attack from a lay male teacher, who punched and slapped him repeatedly across the head when he tried to defend a classmate with a stammer. “I was very fortunate in that I had a very protective mother who complained about this, and as a result after first year, it was not so bad.”
Dolan says there are three arguments commonly made in favour of the disciplinarian regime: firstly, pupils got slapped, but it did not do them any harm; secondly, not all the teachers were violent, and many were decent; and thirdly, there is the familiar defence, articulated by Brother Garvey, that the Brothers provided an education when no-one else would do. Prof Dolan says the fact that some pupils did not feel that they were harmed by corporal punishment should not negate the suffering of others. Corporal punishment He acknowledges that there were kind Brothers, but he says many of these men worked with violent teachers – and did nothing to stop them. By the late 1960s, campaigners were beginning to question the approach of the congregation to discipline and call for a ban on corporal punishment.
Frank Crummey, who was involved in the campaign group Reform, recalls the uproar in Ireland after he went on the Late Late Show in 1968 and accused the Brothers of abusing children. Crummey had suffered beatings at Christian Brothers schools in Crumlin and Synge Street. He says that on one occasion, an unidentified cheeky pupil called a Brother with a limp a “hoppy bastard”, and the teacher did not know who it was. “The Brother took me to a glasshouse, and twisted my leg until I screamed – and told him the name of the boy.” He remembers the regime at Synge Street as “cruel and vicious”. And he says he suffered more because he would not hold out his hand for a slap – or bend over for a beating. “I could never bring myself to do that, so one occasion, the teacher got another Brother and they kicked the shit out of me in a corner as I lay there.”
Damages of one shilling Later, in his work as a campaigner for Reform, Crummey was involved when Kathleen Moore took a case against the Brothers when her son David was badly beaten. A jury found the punishment excessive, but only awarded damages of one shilling. The former Labour Party senator and newspaper editor John Whelan can see two sides to the Christian Brothers story. In 1973, at just 12 years of age as a boy in Monasterevin, Co Kildare, he signed up to become a Christian Brothers postulant and left home for the life of a trainee in Carriglea Park in Dún Laoghaire. That was in spite of some Brothers in his school meting out harsh punishment. “At school, there was definitely an element that was sadistic and brutal. They did not pass up the opportunity to give you a dig in the ribs, a crack across the side of the head, or a box across the lugs.”
But Whelan does not go along with the idea that the Brothers were all brutal and says we should not apply modern-day standards to an era when corporal punishment was not only legal, but actively encouraged. He says he found some of the brothers “extremely decent”. In his period as a postulant, he says he learned a lot and prayed a lot, read Thomas Aquinas, and spent long periods with his fellow trainees in total silence. The only woman in his life at this time, according to his own account, was Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. Gradually it dawned on the teenager that the life of a Brother was not for him. “I could not see a life without girls – puberty came in the door and my vocation went out the window.”
Whelan says he was shocked at the revelations in the Ryan Report, but not surprised by them. According to Whelan, if you take a coterie of young boys away from home and school them in a surreal, sexually repressed environment over a period of years, there are obvious dangers. From the 1960s onwards, the authority of the Brothers was increasingly questioned, and their hold on the male population loosened. Brother Edmund Garvey says the cultural change happened from the moment The Beatles made their first noise in Liverpool. “We began to feel the effects of a well-educated population,” says the congregation leader. “We created a people who could stand up and question their lives. From the mid-sixties on there was a numerical and inexorable decline.” @KimBielenberg
Does Brother Garvey truly understand the global crimes his brothers have perpetrated?
Surely the evils perpetrated by his colleagues totally destroys the Brothers legacy?