I know a young man who years ago was seduced by an older priest in a position of power. He was a young, attractive, pious, and naïve seminarian, an avid reader of Courage materials, and unable to integrate his sexuality into the rest of his life. He was the perfect target.
Eventually he was able to snap out of the influence of the priest and reported what was going on, but to his knowledge nothing ever came of it. I’ve been thinking about him while reading the McCarrick report, and also about when I experienced an attempted seduction.
In my case, it was a priest I had known for some time. He had helped me navigate my sexuality and knew personally Courage’s founder. He recommended that I not identify as gay. He recommended to me Fr. Harvey’s writings early in our relationship. I read much of them.
A couple of years lapsed before I saw him again. During that time, I had gone from being a closeted naïve “same sex attracted” kid to a gay man with a decent amount of sexual experience. I had entered into a chaste relationship with another Christian and was very happy.
When I met with the priest after that lapse in time, I was more confident, less insecure. We were more frank and open. But when he started to tell me about his sexual experiences, I knew from my own that I needed to be cautious. I was saddened by them. I value vows.
He asked questions about my relationship. I could tell by the fact that he was fishing for sexual details, that something wasn’t right. I had learned to read manipulative men and was a fairly skilled conversationalist. I was able to navigate our meeting safely.
But I have no doubt that if I were more naïve and less integrated, that the conversation would have led to sexual contact with the priest. The closet isn’t safe. I now realize how much being sexually experienced, out, and in a relationship helped to protect me. My advice to young gay Christians: be wary of anyone, especially older gay men and men in ministry, who fishes for sexual details. This is true even in the confessional, where you don’t have to give every little detail in order to have absolution. There’s a pleasure that can come from the voyeuristic listening to sexual stories. We need to be attentive to the dangers associated with this pleasure.
This is, once again, why I am highly skeptical of Courage and its founder. I know one man who was speaking at a Courage conference years ago, and Fr. Harvey’s main issue with the talk is that he didn’t get into enough detail about his sexual sins. Sharing sexual exploits has been a cornerstone of the Courage ministry from its beginning. I’ve heard stories of men who learned way more about the ins and outs of hooking up through Courage meetings than in any other settings. Honestly, the way that some gay friends describe Fr. Harvey’s probings creeps me out.
This is also why, when young “same sex attracted” or gay men reach out to me for advice, I refuse to have conversations about sexual activity. I will give general advice, but if they get into specifics I recommend that they meet with a therapist to discuss. It’s important to set clear and appropriate boundaries and to help them understand why this is important. It helps to prevent situations where they could set themselves up for either abuse or co-dependency. When someone I don’t know reaches out for advice, my most common response is, “I can’t really give you advice since I don’t know you personally, and context is very important. But I can give you my guesses at relevant questions I’d ask.”
The Church at all levels should be taught to identify, mitigate, and respond to risks for abuse. Unfortunately, this will involve hard conversations. And these conversations might uncover dangers and harms that were able to hide beneath the surface previously. But as hard as shining a light might be, it’s what we need for healing and in order to move forward.
Chris Damian is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “I Desired You: Intellectual Journals on Faith and (Homo)sexuality” (volumes I and II). He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops.