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Dr Dick Talks About Sexuality and Spirituality and His Eye-Opening New Book Part 2


Welcome to part two of my interview with the amazing Reverend Richard Wagner, better known to a lot of us as Dr Dick from Dr Dick’s Sex Advice With an Edge and his fabulous series of podcasts, ‘The Erotic Mind.’ Last week we talked about his gripping new book, ‘Secrecy, Sophistry and Gay Sex In The Catholic Church.’  This week, we’ll be talking about the split between spirituality and sexuality. Welcome back, Dr Dick!

KD: The split between spirituality and sexuality that exists in most people who have grown up in a society influenced by the Judeo-Christian mindset is different from the split between spirituality and sexuality in religious institutions, the split that played a major role in the loss of your priesthood. Do you think that institutional split will ever heal? Do you think institutional spirituality, for lack of a better way of putting it, will ever be reconciled with human sexuality as the vibrant creative force that it is rather than seeing it as a danger to be controlled?

DD: No, I don’t think there is a fundamental difference between the cultural and the institutional split.  One reflects and supports the other.

Will the split ever heal?  Yes!  Every person who works to heal the needless and artificial divide in him/herself brings all of us that much closer to a cultural and religious rejuvenation.  In the end, this is the work of individuals.  It is not the work of institutions.

KD: On a personal level, I feel that my writing of erotica, and my blog are, in a lot of ways, my attempt to facilitate the healing of that split. I suspect your work as a sexologist and with your fabulous website and podcasts, among other things are your attempt to do the same. How has it helped? Where do you hope it will ultimately lead?

DD: It’s true; my websites and podcasts are vehicles for me to promote the “gospel” of the reintegration of sexuality and spirituality.  I firmly believe that promoting one without the other is not optimum.  It’s like trying to walk with one leg instead of using two.

I’d heard from numerous visitors to my sites over the years who have told me they finally get it.  This kind of feedback is both heartwarming and invigorating.

KD: You’ve been immersed in both theology and the study of human sexuality in a deeper, more intellectual way than most of us will ever be, and I’m curious to know, theologically and sexually, why do you think that split ultimately happened?

DD:  It happened because disjointed people are much easier to manipulate. Just like it’s easier to topple a man standing on one leg than it is to topple one standing firmly on both of his legs.

For the most part, organized religion and the popular culture are all about exploiting people. Religion tells us that it holds the only key to spiritual enlightenment.  Our culture tries to keep us sexuality frustrated so it can use sex to sell us products and services.  Both, I believe, are cynical means of control.

People who are whole; those who have an integrated sense of self, who have reconnected their sexuality and spirituality are not so easy manipulated.  Church leaders and cultural despots know this and so they try to keep us off balance and disoriented.

KD: It occurs to me that some people might find it a bit strange to discuss spirituality and sexuality together at all, let alone consider that the two are both halves of the same whole. How would you explain that false dichotomy to someone who has never considered how the two might fit together?

DD: A dichotomy only persists for those who’ve never tried to rejoin these two fundamental aspects of self.  The concept of reintegration is foreign to them.  And since there is precious little in organized religion or the popular culture that would support a quest to heal the disconnect; they think being disjointed is ‘normal”.  It’s like a caged animal who only knows the inside of its cage; in time that cage becomes all the world to the animal.

I contend that if these two aspects of ourselves didn’t belong together, there wouldn’t be such a virulent push back from the powers that be when we try to reassemble ourselves.  Wholeness, after all, is power.

KD: Ultimately, what do you hope your book, and the journey that led you to write it will lead to, for yourself and for others? Did you see it when you wrote it as a tool to help others or a warning, or something else entirely?

DD: It was cathartic for me to tell my story.  And I am so delighted that it has finally been published.  If it helps anyone else in his/her personal journey, that will be gravy.  That being said, my story does concern itself with at least one universal for us all — establishing and maintaining our personal integrity.  I don’t know anyone who hasn’t experienced at lest some of that in his/her life.

DD: The book feels like the closing of a long and painful chapter in your life. What’s next for all the people living inside Richard Wagner’s skin? Where do you think the journey will lead next? Where would you like it to lead?

A nap for sure!

Honestly, there’s no grand plan.  I’m happy to continue to put one foot in front of the other on my journey, and try to be aware of things as they reveal themselves to me.  Frankly, I have no idea where I’m going or what the fates have in store for me.   I guess not knowing is part of the adventure.  I’m trying to embrace that philosophy of life and make it my own.

That being said, I am working on a follow-up book detailing the sexual molestation I endured at the hands of my Oblate superior while a 14-year-old seminarian in Southern Illinois.  And how all the religious superiors I told about these incidences did nothing.  The book will investigate the psychological and emotional trauma of clergy sex abuse and its impact on the psychosexual development of abuse victims.

KD: What a pleasure to have you here on A Hopeful Romantic, Dr Dick! For every question I asked, and every answer you gave, I could have asked ten more. Best of luck with your book, and as always with you fabulous website, podcasts, counseling, and all of the many other things you do! You truly are an inspiration.

Places you can find Dr Dick/ Richard Wagner


Dr Dick Talks About Sexuality and Spirituality and His Eye-Opening New Book Part 1

I’m very excited to have Rev. Richard Wagner with me today for the first in a two part interview. A lot of you out there will know him as Dr Dick from his fabulous website, Sex Advice with an Edge, but this man has more layers than a wedding cake and every one of them is totally fascinating. Welcome, Richard Wagner!

KD: I know you as Dr. Dick, who interviewed me on your fabulous Erotic Mind podcast series. When we did the podcasts, I was scared to death, having never done anything like that before, and you put me at ease and made it so much fun. I love your podcasts, and your website, and I’ve found several of your essays on the Catholic Church and sexuality to be fascinating. But I have to admit, it seems strange for me to think of you as Richard or Reverend Wagner, and I can’t imagine you as Father Wagner. You’ve worn lots of hats in your life, and as I read your book, Secrecy, Sophistry and Gay Sex In The Catholic Church: The Systematic Destruction of an Oblate Priest, I am reminded just how different those hats are. Tell us about the people Richard Wagner is, and tell us how do all of those people you are live comfortably together in the same skin?

DD: Wait, are you telling me I don’t have multiple personality disorder after all?

I’m getting a lot of that same reaction from people who have known me as one or another of my “personalities”.  But the remarkable thing is that I’ve never experienced any disconnect between, Fr. Wagner, Richard Wagner, therapist and Dr Dick.  I suppose that’s a good thing.  Imagine if I had difficulty making room for all these personas in my skin.

The truth of the matter is that I am all these “personalities” and there is virtually no distinction between them.  I suppose they reflect, as you suggest, different hats I’ve worn over the years, but the hats fit on the same head.  Curiously enough, each “personality” compliments and infuses the others.  I honestly couldn’t be Dr Dick if I weren’t also Richard Wagner and Fr. Wagner.

Besides my sometimes biting humor when it comes to human sexuality, as evidenced daily on Dr Dick’s Sex Advice, there is also an abiding sense of reverence for our capacities to express ourselves sexually.  And I am painfully aware of how short a time we all actually have to explore this gift before our life is over.

KD: The events that ultimately led you from being an Oblate priest in the Roman Catholic Church to doing the wonderful, though extremely different work you do now are an astonishing example of the power of a religious institution to crush anything it considers harmful to itself, whether that threat is real or imagined. They are also the events that led ultimately to the publishing of your book. I know this is a bit like asking you to bring me the ocean in a teacup, but could you tell us briefly what happened.

DD: My book tells the story of my dismissal from The Oblates of Mary Immaculate; a Catholic missionary order based in Rome.  My association with the Oblates began at the age of fourteen as seminarian in 1963 and I was ordained an Oblate priest in Oakland, California in 1975.  In 1978, The Oblates formally assigned me to pursue a doctorate degree in clinical sexology at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, a postgraduate school in San Francisco.  For my dissertation, I chose to study the behaviors and attitudes of gay Catholic priests in the active ministry.  The study, titled Gay Catholic Priests: A Study of Cognitive and Affective Dissonance, was completed in 1981. I was awarded my doctorate the same year.  With that I became the first Roman Catholic priest in the world to hold an advanced degree in clinical sexology.  To this day, I remain the only one.

To my great surprise, and then alarm, I became an overnight media sensation, attracting attention throughout the U.S. and even abroad. Instead of focusing on my research and its results, the sole object of interest became my own personal identity as a priest and gay man.  Nothing else mattered, all context was drowned out, all rational discussion quashed, and what had begun as a story about my work was instantly transformed into a full time red-meat scandal.  What followed was a shock that altered my entire life.  Within a matter of months, the Oblate Superior General in Rome contacted my provincial superior in Oakland and demanded my immediate resignation from the Oblates.  Either that, he warned, or dismissal proceedings would be brought against me.


KD:  I still find it difficult to know what to say in response to such an experience, other than how pleased I am that out of your ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ something as eye-opening and truly ground-breaking as your book could come. Could you tell us about your book, Secrecy, Sophistry and Gay Sex In The Catholic Church: The Systematic Destruction of an Oblate Priest, What inspired you, ultimately to write down everything that happened to you? I also know that it was a rough journey to actually get it published. What happened?

DD: The book is in two parts.

Since I wouldn’t resign my priesthood; I contend I did nothing wrong, my community moved to dismiss me.  The first part of my book narrates the dismissal process that lasted for an agonizing thirteen years, until the final decree of separation was issued on May 13, 1994.  What happened to me was unconscionable and I wanted my brother Oblates to know that.  So I wrote my defense as an open letter to them.

It is a lengthy letter reviewing the entire convoluted process leading up to my formal separation, and demanding from my brothers some form of acknowledgment and restitution for the hardships imposed on me.   The letter is a fully documented history based on the years of correspondence between me and the successive Oblate administrations with which I had to deal.

As such, it throws a unique light on the internal workings of the Catholic Church and on the typical methods that church officials employ to suppress compromising truths, to exonerate themselves of wrong-doing, and to punish anyone who dares to draw into the open the institution’s interior secrets.  It shows how the church silences and hustles out of sight anyone who dares to speak out.  It is a sad and disturbing account of corporate malfeasance, canonical corruption, and institutionalized homophobia on a massive scale.

The second part of the book is my complete doctoral dissertation. Soon after the controversy with the Oblates began I learned I was being silenced by Rome.  I realized that if I didn’t get at lest a few copies my dissertation out before the order from the Vatican arrived it would have never seen the light of day. So apart from a small run of photocopies made available in a hurried arrangement in 1981 very few people have ever seen my research.

So this is the first time that my thesis has been made available to the public at large.  It remains the only large-sample study ever conducted of the sexual behaviors and attitudes of Catholic priests in active ministry, and my sample were all gay men by design.  While some may consider the sample of fifty participants to be small, it is in fact quite large given the hiddenness of the target population.  As the narrative portion of my study makes plain, the tools of intimidation and control that church authorities routinely employ to keep gay clergy silent and invisible are extremely effective, even in the case of one as prepared as I was to fight against them.

Wardell Pomeroy, my doctoral supervisor, was astonished not only by the size of my sample but also by the candor, depth, and thoroughness of the participants’ responses.  During all the years that he worked with Alfred Kinsey on the monumental Kinsey Reports—a project that involved literally thousands of participants—only two or three priests were interviewed.  What’s more, the sexual behaviors of these men were not specifically linked to their vocations but were simply folded into the study’s general statistical results.

The only reason I was able to obtain my sample was because I was a gay priest and I had extensive contacts in the informal network of gay clergy that exists throughout the U.S.  My sample’s size and the insights it provides into the behaviors and attitudes of gay clergy are still without rival as a primary source on the subject.

And if you’ve just taken the time to read through all of that, you’ll understand why it was so difficult to find a publisher.  Some publishers wouldn’t touch the manuscript because they feared reprisals from the Catholic Church.  Other publishers thought the subject matter was presented in to scholarly form.

KD: When we skyped before we did The Erotic Mind podcasts, we discovered that we had a lot in common in that our spiritual journeys had led us in directions we never could have imagined. We both felt that our journeys were about healing the split between spirituality and sexuality. Do you feel writing a book documenting the events that led you to where you are now has helped to heal that split? Do you think it may help others?

DD: Yes to both your questions.

As you know, I believe there is a needless and a very artificial separation between sexuality and spirituality in western culture.  When I first came out as a gay priest I was absolutely convinced that I had something unique to add to the conversations we, as a culture and we as a church, were having about both of these fundamental human concerns.  I believed then, as I do now, that no one will ever find sexual and spiritual peace until he/she reunites these two concepts within themselves.  They should never have been rent asunder in the first place.

The publication of my book has helped me do that for myself, and it just might provide a template for others who are trying to reconnect sex and spirituality in their lives.

KD: Dr Dick and I will be discussing that fascinating and all-important link between spirituality and sexuality in more detail next week. Same time, same place. Don’t miss out on Part 2 of my interview with this multi-faceted, fascinating man. In the meantime, here’s where you can find Dr Dick/ Richard Wagner /Fr Wagner and buy his amazing book.

Places you can find Dr Dick/ Richard Wagner

More on Sexuality, Spirituality and Creativity with Dr Dick

Be sure to catch Part two of Dr Dick’s interview with me on his fabulous series, The Erotic Mind. Dr Dick tells me that the first half of our our interview was a big hit, and tons of people downloaded to hear us talk about the creative process and healing the rift between sexuality and spirituality. If you missed it, tune in, catch up, and find out why so many people are having a listen.

Dr Dick is a Clinical Sexologist in private practice in Seattle. He has been a practitioner of Sex Therapy and Relationship Counseling for 30 years. He believes in affirming the fundamental goodness of sexuality in human life, both as a personal need and as an interpersonal bond. Plus he’s an all-around great bloke!

Talking Sexuality, Spirituality and Creativity with Dr. Dick

I’m very excited to be Dr. Dick’s guest for the next two weeks on his fabulous podcast series The Erotic Mind. I recently discovered The Erotic Mind series, and I’m definitely hooked! Dr Dick and I talk about sex and religion and the creative process and lots of other exciting topics.

Dr Dick is a Clinical Sexologist in private practice in Seattle. He has been a practitioner of Sex Therapy and Relationship Counseling for 30 years. He believes in affirming the fundamental goodness of sexuality in human life, both as a personal need and as an interpersonal bond. Plus he’s an all-around great bloke!

Part 2 of Dr Dick’s interview with me will be 8th November. Put it on your calendar.

Don’t miss Dr. Dick’s other two on-going interview series, Sex Edge-U-cation, and Sex Wisdom.