How Gay Friendly was the Catholic Church in the Past?: Not Very. St. Peter Damian on Clerical Sodomy

St. Peter Damian’s
Book of Gomorrah

A Moral Blueprint for Our Times


by Randy Engel


Part I


The Life of St. Peter Damian (1007-1072)


            It appears that whenever Holy Mother Church has had a great need for a special kind of saint for a particular age, God, in His infinite mercy, has never failed to fill that need. And so, in the year 1007 A.D., a boy child was born to a noble but poor family in the ancient Roman city of Ravenna, who would become a Doctor of the Church, a precursor of the Hildebrandine reform in the Church and a key figure in the moral and spiritual reformation of the lax and incontinent clergy of his time.

            Tradition tells us that St. Peter Damian’s entrance into this world was initially an unwelcome event that overtaxed and somewhat embittered his already large family. He was orphaned at a young age, and his biographer John of Lodi tells us that were it not for the solicitude of his older brother Damian, an archpriest at Ravenna, the youth might have lived out his life in obscurity as a swineherd. But God deemed otherwise. Peter’s innate intellectual talents and remarkable piety in the light of great adversity were recognized by the archpriest, who plucked his younger brother from the fields and provided him with an excellent education first at Ravenna, then Faenza and finally at the University of Parma. In return, Peter acknowledged his brother’s loving care by adopting Damian as his surname.

            Although he excelled in his studies and quickly rose in academic ranks, Peter felt drawn to the religious rather than university life. His spirituality would be formed by his love for the Rule of St. Benedict and his attraction to the rigorous penance and individualistic practices of St. Romuald.

            In his late twenties he was welcomed into the Benedictine hermitage of the Reform of St. Romuald at Fonte-Avellena where he eventually became Prior — a position he retained until his death on February 21, 1072 while also serving as Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia, an honor bestowed upon Peter by Pope Stephen IX in 1057. The life of the well-traveled holy monk was distinguished by his great learning and a marvelous knowledge of Holy Scripture, and by great penitential acts, which served both as a rebuke and as an inspiration to his fellow monks and the secular clergy at a time in the Church when moral turpitude was endemic in clerical ranks. His wise counsel and diplomatic skills were employed by a lengthy succession of Popes, most importantly, Pope Leo IX, another forerunner of the Gregorian Reform. Peter Damian died in the odor of sanctity on February 22, 1072 in his sixty-sixth year.1

The Book of Gomorrah — A Lesson for Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

            Among St. Peter Damian’s most famous writings is his lengthy treatise, Letter 31, the Book of Gomorrah (Liber Gornorrhianus), containing the most extensive treatment and condemnation by any Church Father of clerical pederasty and homosexual practices.2 His manly discourse on the vice of sodomy in general and clerical homosexuality and pederasty in particular, is written in a plain and forthright style that makes it quite readable and easy to understand.

            In keeping with traditional Church teachings handed down from the time of the Apostles, he holds that all homosexual acts are crimes against Nature and therefore crimes against God who is the author of Nature.

            It is also refreshing to find an ecclesiastic whose first and primary concern in the matter of clerical sexual immorality is for God’s interests, not man’s, especially with regard to homosexuality in clerical ranks. Also, his special condemnation of pederastic crimes by clergy against young boys and men (including those preparing for holy orders) made over nine hundred years ago, certainly tends to undermine the excuse of many American bishops and Cardinals who claim that they initially lacked specific knowledge and psychological insights by which to assess the seriousness of clerical pederastic crimes.

            Upon a first reading of the Book of Gomorrah I think the average Catholic would find himself in a state of shock at the severity of Damian’s condemnation of clerical sodomical practices as well as the severe penalties that he asks Pope Leo IX to attach to such practices.

            Part of this reaction, as J. Wilhelm asserts with regard to modern Catholics’ adverse reaction to the severity of medieval penalties (including capital punishment for heresy), can be attributed to the fact that we live in an age that has “less regard for the purity of the faith”.3 Many Catholics have simply lost a sense of sin. It does not seem to matter if an overt effete homosexual cleric “camps” it out on the altar while administering heretical rites for an Ash Wednesday service. Like those watching Hilaire Belloc’s new barbarians at the gate, parishioners smile. They are titillated. They find him ‘amusing’.4

            Also, many Catholics today have little, if any, knowledge of how the early Church Fathers dealt with the issue of homosexuality, including pederasty, in clerical ranks.

            Take, for example, the spiritual and physical penalties declared by the 4th Century architect of Eastern monasticism, St. Basil of Cesarea (322-379AD), for the cleric or monk caught making sexual advances (kissing) or sexually molesting young boys or men. The convicted offender was to be whipped in public, deprived of his tonsure (head shaven), bound in chains and imprisoned for six months, after which he was to be contained in a separate cell and ordered to undergo severe penances and prayer vigils to expiate his sins under the watchful eye of an elder spiritual brother. His diet was that of water and barley bread — the fodder of animals. Outside his cell, while engaged in manual labor and moving about the monastery, the pederast monk was to be always monitored by two fellow monks to insure that he never again had any contact with young men or boys.5

            One wonders how many homosexuals and pederasts would be lining up at Bernard Cardinal Law’s or any other American prelates, seminary door if they knew that such a harsh fate awaited them if they were found guilty of even attempting much less carrying out the sexual seduction and molestation of minor boys and young men?

            And speaking of seminaries, I might mention the papal ruling of St. Siricius, a contemporary of St. Basil, who ordered that “vessels of vice,” that is known sodomists, including those who had fulfilled their penance, were forbidden from seeking entrance to the clerical state.6

            Considering that the Book of Gomorrah was written in 1049 A.D. it borders on the miraculous to note how many of Damian’s insights can be applied to the current pederast and homosexual debacle here in the United States and abroad, including the Vatican. His treatise certainly stands as a masterful refutation of contemporary homosexual apologists who claim that the early Fathers of the Church did not understand the nature or dynamics of homosexuality. Rather, as Damian’s work demonstrates, the degradation of human nature as exemplified by sodomical acts is a universal phenomenon that transcends time, place and culture.

            One of the main points of the Book of Gomorrah, is the author’s insistence on the responsibility of the bishop or superior of a religious order to curb and eradicate the vice from their ranks.7 He minces no words in his condemnation of those prelates who refuse or fail to take a strong hand in dealing with clerical sodomical practices either because of moral indifferentism or the inability to face up to a distasteful and potentially scandalous situation.8

            Other issues tackled by St. Peter Damian which have a particular relevance today are:

• The problems of homosexual bishops or heads of religious orders who engage their “spiritual sons” in acts of sodomy.

• The sacrilegious use of the sacraments by homosexual clerics and religious.

• The special problems for the Church  related to the seduction of youths by clerical pederasts, and

• The problem of overtly lax canons and penances for clerical and religious offenders that make a mockery of the seriously sinful nature of homosexual acts.

The Motivation for a Treatise on Sodomy

            When the humble monk and future saint, Peter Damian, presented his Letter 31, the Book of Gomorrah, to Pope Leo IX in 1049, he made it clear that his first and overriding concern was for the salvation of souls. While the work is addressed specifically to the Holy Father, its distribution was intended for the universal Church, most especially the bishops of secular clergy and superiors of religious orders.

            In his introduction, the holy writer makes clear that the Divine calling of the Apostolic See makes its primary consideration “the welfare of souls”. Therefore, he pleads with the Holy Father to take action against “a certain abominable and most shameful vice,” which he identifies forthrightly as “the befouling cancer of sodomy,” that is ravaging both the souls of the clergy and the flock of Christ in his region, before God unleashes His just wrath on the people.9 Recognizing how nauseating the very mention of the word sodomy must be to the Pope, he nevertheless asks with blunt frankness:

            “... if a physician is appalled by the contagion of the plague, who is likely to wield the cautery? If he grows squeamish when he is about to apply the cure, who will restore health to stricken hearts?”10

            Leaving nothing to misinterpretation, Damian distinguishes between the various forms of sodomy and the stages of sodomical corruption beginning with solitary and mutual masturbation and ending with interfemoral (between the thighs) stimulation and anal coitus.11 He notes that there is a tendency among prelates to treat the first three degrees of the vice with an “improper leniency,” preferring to reserve dismissal from the clerical state for only those men proven to be involved in anal penetration. The result, Damian states, is that a man, guilty of the “lesser” degrees of the vice, accepts his milder penances, but remains free to pollute others without the least fear of losing his rank. The predictable result of his superior’s leniency, says Damian, is that the vice spreads, the culprit grows more daring in his illicit acts knowing he will not suffer any critical loss of his clerical status, he loses all fear of God and his last state is worse than his first.12

            Damian decries the audacity of men who are “habituated to the filth of this festering disease,” and yet dare to present themselves for holy orders, or if already ordained, remain in office.13 Was it not for such crimes that Almighty God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and slew Onan for deliberately spilling his seed on the ground? he asks.14 Quoting St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Eph 5:5) he continues, “... if an unclean man has no inheritance at all in Heaven, how can he be so arrogant as to presume a position of honor in the Church, which is surely the kingdom of God?”15

            The holy monk likens sodomites seeking holy orders, to those citizens of Sodom who threatened “to use violence against the upright Lot” and were about to break down the door when they were smitten with blindness by the two angels and could not find the doorway. Such men, he says, are stricken with a similar blindness, and “by the just decree of God they fall into interior darkness”.16

            If they were humble they would be able to find the door that is Christ, but they are blinded by their “arrogance and conceit,” and “lose Christ because of their addiction to sin,” never finding “the gate that leads to the heavenly dwelling of the saints,” Damian laments.17

            Not sparing those ecclesiastics who knowingly permit sodomites to enter holy orders or remain in clerical ranks while continuing to pollute their office, the holy monk lashes out at “do-nothing superiors of clerics and priests,” reminding them that they should be trembling for themselves because they have become “partners in the guilt of others,” by permitting “the destructive plague” of sodomy to continue in their ranks.18

Homosexual Bishops Who Prey on their Spiritual Sons

            Then comes the bitterest blast of all reserved for those bishops who “commit these absolutely damnable acts with their spiritual sons”.19 “Who can expect the flock to prosper when its shepherd has sunk so deep into the bowels of the devil ... Who will make a mistress of a cleric, or a woman of a man? ... Who, by his lust, will consign a son whom he spiritually begotten for God to slavery under the iron law of Satanic tyranny,” Damian thunders.20 Drawing an analogy between the sentence inflicted on the father who engages in familial incest with his daughter or the priest who commits “sacrilegious intercourse” with a nun, with the defilement of a cleric by his superior, he asks if the latter should escape condemnation and retain his holy office?21  Actually, the latter case deserves an even worse punishment says Damian, because whereas the prior two cases involved natural intercourse, a religious superior guilty of sodomy has not only committed a sacrilege with his spiritual son, but has also violated the law of nature. Such a superior damns not only his own soul but takes another with him, Damian states.22

The Continuing Scandal of Bishop Daniel Ryan

            I do not know who or what comes to one’s mind after reading such an excoriating censure of homosexual bishops and Cardinals whose unnatural lusts drive them to prey on rather than pray for the spiritual sons that Holy Mother Church has entrusted to their care. Mine went directly to the person of Bishop Daniel Leo Ryan.

            Ryan was consecrated an auxiliary bishop of the Joliet diocese on September 30, 1981 by Joseph L. Imesch, Bishop of Joliet, and assisted by Daniel W. Kucera, Bishop of Salina and the future Archbishop of Dubuque and prime architect of the infamous New Creation sex ‘catechism’ which bears his imprimatur.23 Two years later, on November 19, 1983, Pope John Paul II appointed Ryan Bishop of Springfield, IL. He was installed on January 18, 1984.24

            In 1999, Ryan took an unexpected early retirement for “health reasons” amid well-documented charges by Roman Catholic Faithful (RCF), based in Springfield, that he (Ryan) is an active homosexual who has engaged in gross homosexual misconduct with area under-age male prostitutes, and clergy.25 The Holy See and the American papal nuncio were said to have been aware of Ryan’s predatory homosexual propensities.26

            Among the witnesses who came forward to support RCF’s indictment against Ryan’s sexual exploits was Frank Robert Bergen, a former runaway turned male prostitute who contacted RCF and informed President Steve Brady that he had had sodomical relations as a minor with Ryan and other priests. Bergen said that the bishop had heard his confession and absolved him of his sins each and every time he had a sexual encounter with him."27

            When Bishop Ryan “retired,” his episcopal office was filled by Bishop George Lucas, former chancellor of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and a close associate of Archbishop Justin Rigali. Lucas’ installation reception was held at the Ansar Shrine Masonic Temple in Springfield, IL.28 His influential mentor, Archbishop Rigali was consecrated for service to the Holy See in the mid-1980s by Pope John Paul II and served as papal chamberlain and Secretary of the College of Cardinals until his return to the United States as Archbishop of St. Louis in 1994.29

            Under Lucas’s bishopric, RCF reports that Bishop Ryan has continued to say Mass publicly and has administered the Sacrament of Confirmation in both the Springfield and Joliet dioceses. He (Ryan) was in attendance at Lucas’s installation. In February of this year, the Springfield diocese announced that Bishop Ryan would be the presenter of “A Lenten Day of Reflection & Prayer for Priests,” at Sts. Mary and Joseph Church in Carlinville, IL.30

Seen Through the Eyes of St. Peter Damian


            Let us now recall the warnings of the monk-author of the Book of Gomorrah presented hereto.

            By any standard, the Holy See’s lack of public censure in the Ryan case must be considered incredibly lenient. No public chastisement, no shaved head, no chains, no solitary confinement in an isolated monastery under strict guard, no bread and water diet, as proposed by St. Basil. No! Quite the opposite!

            Bishop Ryan continues to remain a retired bishop in “good standing”. Neither his pederast activities with minor males nor the sexual harassment of his “spiritual sons” have been publicly denounced by either the Vatican or his fellow bishops including Bishops Lucas and Imesch. As predicted by Damian, Ryan has not been humbled by his personal shame or the shame he has brought on Holy Mother Church. Indeed the whole experience appears to have stimulated his audacity to even greater heights. He collects his pension, has unlimited mobility, easy contact with youth and where, by his very presence, he continues to pollute, figuratively if not literally, the faithful priests and religious of his and other dioceses who have to suffer daily the remembrances of his homosexual affairs. Not to mention the public scandal caused by his public appearances at public sacramental rites of the Church.

            So I find it necessary to ask, has the Holy See fallen into such a state of dissolution that it can no longer profess, much less protect, God’s interests in this matter and defend the sanctity of Holy Orders from the pollution of the sodomites? Do not the horrific acts of predatory homosexual clerics and bishops like Ryan, and Symonds and Ziemann, to name but a few, strike the fear of God into the heart of our Holy Father and the members of the Roman Curia?31

Clerical Homosexual Abuse of the Sacrament of Confession

            Leaving the matter of active homosexual members of the hierarchy and religious orders for the moment, let us move on to what Damian denounces as one of “the devil’s clever devices” concocted in “his ancient laboratory of evil,” by which confirmed clerical sodomites, experiencing a pricking conscience, “confess to one another lest their guilt come to the attention of others”.32

            As Damian observes however, though such men have become “penitents involved in great crimes,” they appear to look none the worse for their penances. “... their lips are not pale from fasting nor are their bodies wasted by self-denial,” nor are their eyes red from weeping for their sins, he observes.33

            The holy monk questions the validity of such confessions asking, “By what right or by what law can one bind or loose the other when he is constrained by the bonds of evil deeds common to them both?”34

            Quoting Holy Scripture concerning “the blind leading the blind,” (Matt 8:4; Luke 5:4) Damian continues, “... it becomes perfectly clear that he who is oppressed by the same guilty darkness tries in vain to invite another to return to the light of repentance. While he has no fear of extending himself to outstrip the other in erring, he ends up accompanying his follower into the yawning pit of ruin.”35

            Since this practice remains a common one today within the homosexual underworld of diocesan priests, bishops and religious and between pederast priests and their young victims, it may be well to recall that under the revised 1983 Code of Canon Law, the absolution of a partner (clerical or layperson) in a sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue is invalid, except in danger of death (Can. 977) and a priest who acts against the prescription of Can. 977 incurs a latae sententiae excommunication, the lifting of which is reserved to the Apostolic See. (Can. 1378 §1) Unless the offending priest has his excommunication lifted by the Sacred Penitentiary or the Holy Father, he has not been validly absolved. Should he attempt to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in a state of mortal sin he compounds his offenses with the grave sin of sacrilege.

Sodomite Priests and the Sacred Mysteries

            In a lengthy and scathing attack on faulty and “spurious” canons and codices related to penalties for various sodomical acts that were in use by the Church in the mid-1000s, Damian compares them to the harsh and long penances assigned to laymen guilty of unnatural acts with men and beasts by the Church Fathers at the Council of Ancyra (314 A.D.), and finds them wanting.36

            If, under earlier Church laws, a layman guilty of sodomy can be deprived of the Holy Eucharist for up to twenty-five years or even till the end of his life, how is it possible that a similarly offending cleric or monk is let off with minor penances and is judged worthy to not only receive the Holy Eucharist but consecrate the Sacred Mysteries?, he asks.37 If the holy Fathers ordained that sodomites should “pray in the company of demoniacs,” how can such a cleric hope to rightly exercise his priestly office as a “mediator” between God and His people? Damian continues.38

            Later, Damian returns to this same theme and exclaims “For God’s sake, why do you damnable sodomites pursue the heights of ecclesiastical dignity with such fiery ambition?”39 He warns these clerics, who persist in their unnatural lusts, against inflaming the wrath of God, “lest by your prayers you more sharply provoke Him whom your wicked life so obviously offends”.40 At the conclusion of this section, Damian reminds clerics and prelates alike that, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”41 (Heb 10..31)

Remarkable Insights into the Nature of Homosexuality

            In his description of the unnatural passions that rule over the sodomite, Damian reveals an extraordinary degree of perception regarding the narcissistic, promiscuous and compulsive psychosexual aspects of homosexual behavior.

            “Tell us, you unmanly and effeminate man, what do you seek in another male that you do not find in yourself?” he asks. “What difference in sex, what varied features of the body?” he continues.

            Then he explains the law of life. “For it is the function of the natural appetite that each should seek outside himself what he cannot find in his own capacity. Therefore, if the touch of masculine flesh delights you, lay your hands upon yourself and be assured that whatever you do not find in yourself, you seek in vain in the body of another,” he concludes.42  

The Particular Malice of the Vice of Sodomy

            A wise Dominican once told this writer, that once the vice of sodomy has contaminated a seminary, Church authorities have only two options — close the place down and send everyone home or do nothing and simply wait for the moral rot to spread until the foundation collapses on its own. Why is this particular vice so deadly to the religious life?

            According to Damian, the vice of sodomy “surpasses the enormity of all others,” because:

            “Without fail, it brings death to the body and destruction to the soul. It pollutes the flesh, extinguishes the light of the mind, expels the Holy Spirit from the temple of the human heart, and gives entrance to the devil, the stimulator of lust. It leads to error, totally removes truth from the deluded mind ... It opens up hell and closes the gates of paradise ... It is this vice that violates temperance, slays modesty, strangles chastity, and slaughters virginity ... It defiles all things, sullies all things, pollutes all things ...

            “This vice excludes a man from the assembled choir of the Church ... it separates the soul from God to associate it with demons. This utterly diseased queen of Sodom renders him who obeys the laws of her tyranny infamous to men and odious to God... She strips her knights of the armor of virtue, exposing them to be pierced by the spears of every vice ... She humiliates her slave in the church and condemns him in court; she defiles him in secret and dishonors him in public; she gnaws at his conscience like a worm and consumes his flesh like fire. ... this unfortunate man (he) is deprived of all moral sense, his memory fails, and the mind’s vision is darkened. Unmindful of God, he also forgets his own identity. This disease erodes the foundation of faith, saps the vitality of hope, dissolves the bond of love. It makes way with justice, demolishes fortitude, removes temperance, and blunts the edge of prudence. (emphasis added)

            “Shall I say more?”43

            No, dearest St. Peter Damian, I think not.

Repent and Reform Your Lives

            Like every saint before him, and every saint that will ever come after him, St. Peter Damian exhorts the cleric caught in the vice of sodomy to repent and reform his life and in the words of the Blessed Apostle Paul, “Wake up from your sleep and rise from the dead, and Christ will revive (enlighten) you.”44 (Eph 5:14) In a remarkable affirmation of the Gospel message, he warns against the ultimate sin of despairing of God’s mercy and the necessity of fasting and prayer to subdue the passions:

            “... beware of drowning in the depths of despondency. Your heart should beat with confidence in God’s love and not grow hard and impenitent, in the face of your great crime. It is not sinners, but the wicked who should despair; it is not the magnitude of one’s crime, but contempt of God that dashes one’s hopes.”45

            Then, in one of the most beautiful elocutions on the grandeur of priestly celibacy and chastity ever written, Damian reminds the wayward cleric or monk of the special place reserved in Heaven for those faithful priests and monks who have willingly forsaken all and made themselves eunuchs for Christ’s sake. Their names shall be remembered forever because they have given up all for the love of God, he says.46

            Fraternal Correction is an Act of Mercy

            Saints are realists, which is no doubt why St. Peter Damian anticipated that his “small book” which exposes and denounces homosexual practices in all ranks of the clergy including the hierarchy, would cause a great commotion in the Church. And it did.

            In anticipation of harsh criticism, the holy monk puts forth his own defense as a ‘whistle-blower’. He states that his would-be critics will accuse him of “being an informer and a delator of my brother’s crimes,” but, he says, he has no fear of either “the hatred of evil men or the tongues of detractors”.47

            Hear, dear reader, the words of St. Peter Damian that come thundering down to us through the centuries at a time in the Church when many shepherds are silent while clerical wolves, some disguised in miters and brocade robes, devour its lambs and commit sacrilege against their own spiritual sons;

            “... I would surely prefer to be thrown into the well like Joseph who informed his father of his brothers’ foul crime, than to suffer the penalty of God’s fury, like Eli, who saw the wickedness of his sons and remained silent. (Sam 2:4) ... Who am I, when I see this pestilential practice flourishing in the priesthood to become the murderer of another’s soul by daring to repress my criticism in expectation of the reckoning of God’s judgement? ... How, indeed, am I to love my neighbor as myself if I negligently allow the wound, of which I am sure he will brutally die, to fester in his heart? … 48

            “So let no man condemn me as I argue against this deadly vice, for I seek not to dishonor, but rather to promote the advantage of my brother’s well-being.

            “Take care not to appear partial to the delinquent while you persecute him who sets him straight. If I may be pardoned in using Moses’ words, ‘Whoever is for the Lord, let him stand with me.’ (Ezek 32:26)”49

True Church Reform Begins with the Vicar of Christ

            As he draws his case against the vice of clerical sodomy to a close, St. Peter Damian pleads with another future saint, Pope Leo IX, urging the Vicar of Christ to use his office to reform and strengthen the decrees of the sacred canons with regard to the disposition of clerical sodomites including religious superiors and bishops who sexually violate their spiritual sons.

            Damian asks the Holy Father to “diligently” investigate the four forms of the vice of sodomy cited at the beginning of his treatise and then provide him (Damian) with definitive answers to the following questions by which the “darkness of uncertainty” might be dispelled and an “indecisive conscience” freed from error:

            Is one who is guilty of these crimes to be expelled irrevocably from holy orders?

            Whether at a prelate’s discretion, moreover, one might mercifully be allowed to function in office?

            To what extent, both in respect to the methods mentioned above and to the number of lapses, is it permissible to retain a man in the dignity of ecclesiastical office?

            Also, if one is guilty, what degree and what frequency of guilt should compel him under the circumstances to retire?50

            Damian closes his famous letter by asking Almighty God to use Pope Leo IX’s pontificate “to utterly destroy this monstrous vice” that a prostrate Church may everywhere rise to vigorous stature”.51



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