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Battle lines drawn over Vatican stance on gays
Wed Nov 23, 2005 04:13 PM ET
By Jason Szep
BOSTON (Reuters) - Gay rights activists and liberal Catholics girded on Wednesday for a long battle over the Vatican's tougher stance on homosexuality, predicting the Church would lose thousands of followers in the United States.
The policy, drafted to deal with scandals over pedophile priests that erupted in Boston in 2002 and spread across the United States, says the Church can admit those who have clearly overcome homosexual tendencies for at least three years.
But practicing homosexuals and those with "deep-seated" gay tendencies and those who support a gay culture should be barred, it said. Conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church and in other religions welcomed the stand.
"We are calling on all Catholics of goodwill to speak to their priests and to express their outrage at this decision," said Harry Knox a director of Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group based in Washington.
"We'll seek to speak over the heads of the Pope to Catholics in the pews to urge them to take into consideration what Jesus would do if He saw His neighbor being treated in this way," said Knox. "Jesus would never exclude."
The Catholic Church would lose thousands of future priests in the United States, while those who remain will live in fear of "witch hunts," said Marianne Duddy-Burke of gay and lesbian Catholic group Dignity USA in Boston.
"A number of good, holy gay priests will probably quietly slip away from their calling because of the climate."
That is exactly what many conservative Catholics say should have happened long ago. They laud the 21-paragraph Vatican document for reinforcing a standing policy that many believe has not been properly enforced.
"This is not just about homosexuality or homosexual acts -- it's about an agenda and subculture that is in direct conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church," said Michael Rose, author of "Goodbye, Good Men: How liberals Brought Corruption Into the Catholic Church."
Like many conservative Catholics, Brian Saint-Paul, senior editor of the Catholic journal CRISIS, sees a firm link between homosexuality and the scandal over pedophile priests.
"That was not a homosexual scandal. It was a pedophile scandal. There's a significant difference. But there was some kind of same-sex element to it," he said. "Rome has to look at all the factors. So we see them addressing that now."
Underpinning his concerns is a 2004 survey by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice which found that, of 10,667 people abused by priests between 1950 and 2002, 81 percent were male.
Gay rights advocates said the Church was turning gay men into scapegoats for pedophiles and should address deeper failings that allowed U.S. bishops to move priests known to have abused minors from parish to parish instead of defrocking them or reporting them to authorities.
Daniel Maguire, a professor of moral theology at Marquette, a Jesuit university in Wisconsin, said the Church's underlying problem is its policy of mandatory celibacy and how this is interpreted as meaning not getting married.
"Many gay seminarians who weren't planning on getting married anyhow were drawn toward the priesthood but not necessarily drawn toward a virginal life," he said, adding that the new policy "will lead to a tremendous amount of deception and a 'don't ask, don't tell' kind of a regime."
Implementing it and defining "deep-seated gay tendencies" will prove tough to do, said Donald Cozzens of John Carroll University in Cleveland and author of "The Changing Face of the Priesthood: A Reflection on the Priest's Crisis of Soul."
"It is possible the vocation crisis will deepen," he said.
That would come at an alarming time for the U.S. Catholic Church, whose followers are in decline in proportion to the population.
There are currently 64.8 million Catholics in the United States compared to 45.6 million in 1966 -- or 23 percent of the population compared to 24 percent in 1966, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate in Georgetown.
(Additional reporting by Mike Conlon in Chicago)
Vatican Issues a Qualified Ban on Gays in Priesthood
By Tracy Wilkinson and Maria De Cristofaro
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
November 23, 2005
ROME — Men who have "deep-rooted homosexual tendencies" or who sustain a "gay culture" may not be trained to become Roman Catholic priests, the Vatican says in a new document posted Tuesday on a Catholic news website.
However, the church says, if a man had "transitory" homosexual tendencies that have been "overcome" for at least three years, he may be admitted to a seminary, the school that trains priests.
The document was quickly criticized by some gay rights sympathizers, who say the church does not understand homosexuality. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said the instructions would have little, if any, effect on how seminaries in the Los Angeles area admit candidates.
The new instructions are basically a reaffirmation of the church's long-standing ban on ordaining active gays into the priesthood. They repeat a 1961 condemnation of homosexual acts but provide more specific guidelines that were ordered partly in response to the sexual abuse scandal plaguing the church.
"It should not be ignored that there are negative consequences that result from the ordination of people with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies," the document states. "Such people find themselves in a situation that is a serious obstacle to correct relationships with men and women."
Most of the document's key details were previously reported in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere. But the Internet publication Tuesday by Adista, an Italian Catholic news service, represented the first time the document in its entirety has been disclosed.
On Nov. 29, the Vatican is scheduled to formally release the instructions, which Adista said were signed by Pope Benedict XVI on Aug. 31 and by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski on Nov. 4. Grocholewski is the prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Vatican body in charge of drafting the guidelines.
As expected, the document — years in the making — stops short of ordering an absolute ban on homosexuals in the priesthood, as had been feared in some circles.
Instead, it allows for a more nuanced approach that in effect makes room for gays who are celibate, have been celibate for three years or do not flaunt any aspect of a gay culture, which church officials have defined as the use of gay movies, books and websites, and participation in gay pride events.
It also reiterates church teachings as contained in the Catholic catechism, which state that homosexual acts are immoral and a grave sin and that homosexual tendencies are "intrinsically disordered."
It encourages ordained priests to help prevent the admission to seminaries of active gays.
"If a candidate [for the priesthood] practices homosexuality or exhibits deep-rooted homosexual tendencies, his spiritual director, as well as his confessor, have the duty to dissuade him from pursuing ordination," the instructions indicate. "It would be gravely dishonest for a candidate to conceal his homosexuality in order to pursue ordination.
"That kind of inauthentic effort does not correspond to the spirit of truth, loyalty and self-offering that should characterize the person who is being called to serve Christ."
Despite an acute shortage of priests in some parts of the world, the Vatican decided to institute a more careful screening of candidates to the clergy. Officials said they were responding to two concerns: the sexual abuse scandal in the United States and elsewhere, and criticism from some Catholics over what they saw as a growing gay subculture within seminaries and in church life.
Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said that seminary candidates in Los Angeles already are required to be celibate for at least two years before they can be admitted.
"The challenge, I think, for the media is to make sure it is not sort of taken out of context," Tamberg said. "There will be some people who from what they hear in the media will think: 'Oh my God, this means no gay will ever be ordained in the priesthood again or anybody with a homosexual orientation will never be ordained again.' That's simply not true."
Though the specific instructions pertain to homosexuality, they should be seen as part of many efforts to address spiritual challenges for men considering the priesthood, Tamberg added. More important than sexual orientation is an ability to lead others to Christ, he said.
"Any impediment that would prevent a priest from fulfilling that duty is cause for examination or disqualification," Tamberg said. "That could be one's sexuality that, one way or the other, gets in the way; it could be alcoholism; it could be that that person is incredibly selfish and not willing to give of themselves in the measure that is required of a priest."
In addition, some church officials argue that preventing the admission of active gays to seminaries, which by their nature are all-male institutions, will encourage more otherwise-reticent heterosexuals to join the priesthood.
Critics counter that if a priest is celibate, as church doctrine requires, then it should not matter whether he is gay or straight, and the new rules will only drive gays underground. They also say that the church is decades behind the time in its attitude toward homosexuality.
Sister Jeannine Gramick, a nun who was ordered by the Vatican in 1999 to stop her ministry promoting the rights of gay men and lesbians, said she believes celibate gays should face no barriers to priesthood.
"I believe that the document shows a lack of understanding of sexuality," Gramick said. "It does not appreciate the dimensions of human sexuality and the continuum that exists in terms of sexual orientation; it is rejecting a whole continuum of people the scientific community recognizes as valid and normal and natural."
Though she believes the new rules will cause some gay priests and candidates for the priesthood to leave, others will simply remain in the closet, she said.
"What I see this doing is perpetuating the problem of a secret institution that we are trying to overcome," said Gramick, who remains with the order of the Sisters of Loretto. "With this whole sexual abuse crisis we were talking about creating an institution that is transparent," and this does not do that, she said.
Also, gay men are unfairly singled out with restrictions that do not apply to straight men, she said. "Does the institution say to heterosexual men that you cannot participate in aspects of heterosexual culture?"
At the same time, some observers said the instructions were less restrictive than had initially been expected.
Father Thomas Rausch, professor of theology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said the three-year rule keeps the door ajar for gay seminary candidates.
"It still leaves up to the local bishop the important role of admitting candidates to the seminary. So, in that sense I don't think it's going to have a major impact," he said.
If it ordered that no gay candidates be accepted at seminaries, he added, "it clearly would be discriminating against gay candidates, and that would clearly be unjust."
Wilkinson reported from Melilla, Spain, and De Cristofaro from Rome. Times staff writer Lisa Richardson in Los Angeles contributed to this report.