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The Question of Gays in the Seminary

Taken from the Washington Post

The Vatican is internally circulating draft proposals that would bar homosexuals from becoming priests, a policy long discussed within the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy but getting renewed attention in the wake of sex abuse scandals in the United States.

No action to bar homosexuals from seminaries is likely anytime soon, a senior Vatican official said today. The official said the document, which originated in the Vatican department responsible for Roman Catholic education, is being passed around for comment from a variety of officials and experts. "It is being studied. We are far from formulating a policy," the official said.

The initiative comes as American bishops are awaiting a Vatican judgment on policies they have implemented aimed at removing sexually abusive priests from parish work and possibly defrocking them. Bishop Wilton Gregory, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is scheduled to arrive in Rome this weekend to receive the Vatican decision on the policies.

Catholic legal experts and Vatican officials have indicated that they believe the U.S. rules conflict with internal church law and therefore may not get a full endorsement. According to some reports, the U.S. standards may receive approval only on an experimental basis. "There may be a need to seek harmony between the American policy and canon law," the senior Vatican official said.

The wave of sex abuse scandals in the U.S. Catholic church ignited a debate over whether homosexuality per se played a role. The equating of homosexuality and abuse riled critics who say there is no evidence that gays are more likely to engage in abuse than heterosexuals.

Others contend that pointing the finger at gay priests is a way to deflect attention from the alleged responsibility of bishops who allowed the scandal to unfold.

All sides agree that many homosexuals have been ordained. Gregory, in remarks this summer, said there was an "ongoing struggle to make sure that the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men."

A survey carried out last year by the Catholic University of America found that 41 percent of U.S. priests said a gay subculture "clearly" or "probably" existed in seminaries where they studied and 55 percent said the same for their parishes or religious institutes.

According to the Catholic News Service, which first reported on the Vatican's draft document, the proposal argues that homosexuals ought not to be admitted to the priesthood because the Church regards homosexuality as "objectively disordered." In effect, their sexual orientation would be enough to bar ordination even if they embraced celibacy as priests.

In the United States, there has been quiet but persistent disagreement among Catholic Church leaders about the ordination of gay priests. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington has said that the key question is not a candidate's sexual orientation, but whether he is ready, willing and able to live in perpetual celibacy.

Some other prelates, such as Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia, take the position that Catholic seminaries should exclude any candidate who has a history of homosexual activity or who discloses a same-sex attraction, regardless of whether he has acted on it.

When a heterosexual man joins the priesthood, Bevilacqua has said, he gives up a "good thing," while a gay man who takes a vow of celibacy "is giving up what the Church considers an abomination."

Despite their different views, each camp supports rigorous psychological testing of candidates for the priesthood to weed out potential sex abusers, a practice now standard in all U.S. seminaries.

Neither camp suggests that it is realistic to try to remove homosexuals who have already been ordained. And neither side is in favor of ordaining anyone who is sexually active, whether homosexual or heterosexual.

Reactions to news of the Vatican's draft policy were divided. Stephen Brady, president of the Roman Catholic Faithful, an Illinois-based organization that publicizes what it considers heretical positions among bishops and clergy, called the draft policy "a serious indictment against U.S. bishops" for allowing large numbers of gays into the priesthood.

Roman Catholic Faithful and other conservative groups point to a 1961 Vatican document instructing bishops not to ordain homosexuals. "Had the teachings of the Church been followed since 1961, a majority of these cases would not have happened," Brady asserted.

Michael S. Winters, a Catholic writer in Washington, predicted that quiet lobbying by U.S. bishops would prevent the draft from being approved. "Maybe 40 years ago, you could get away with something like this. But everybody knows today that half our clergy are gay, and the overwhelming majority are wonderful priests who don't go out and abuse children," Winters said. "So who are they kidding?"