Pope to Church: Risky Seminarians Must Go
National Catholic Register
Sept. 15-21, 2002
by ELLEN ROSSINI
ROME - Last spring, in a summit with U.S. cardinals, Pope John Paul II ordered Vatican "apostolic visitations" of U.S. seminaries. Through them, the Holy See would take a look at a key source of clergy sex-abuse problems: the seminaries that train priests.
Now, in a Sept. 5 address to another group of bishops - this time from Brazil - the Holy Father has delivered a powerful signal that one principle in particular should be high on the agenda of any seminary investigation: Sexually disordered men aren't appropriate candidates for priests.
In his Sept. 5 speech at his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, John Paul called for greater care in selecting candidates who have the capacity to live celibate lives and the exclusion of anyone with observable "deviations in their affections."
"It would be lamentable if, out of a misunderstood tolerance, they ordained young men who are immature or have obvious signs of affective deviations that, as is sadly known, could cause serious anomalies in the consciences of the faithful, with evident damage for the whole Church," the Holy Father said.
The term "affective deviations" is used by priestly formators to describe individuals with disordered sexual orientations - such as homosexuality or ongoing heterosexual activity - that are incompatible with priestly celibacy.
John Paul's comments are directly applicable to the situation in America. While the U.S. bishops have been unanimous in specifying what they want in future priests - healthy, holy men called to and capable of lifelong celibacy - they are clearly divided on the question of whether priestly candidates can possess a homosexual orientation.
The question is central to the sex-abuse cover-up scandal, as the large majority of known incidents are cases not of pedophilia - the sexual abuse of pre-pubescent children - but molestations of teen-age boys by homosexual priests who have already been active with adults.
"This whole topic is going to be addressed, especially as we go through our efforts to look at priestly formation," said Father Edward Burns, executive director for the U.S. bishops' Committee on Priestly Formation. "There are some bishops who have identified that they would not accept candidates who possess a homosexual orientation. There are some who take it on a case-by-case basis."
Bishops are in agreement that no one should be ordained who cannot demonstrate a commitment to celibacy, Father Burns said.
"It is important that any semblance of a gay element of the priesthood would have to be eradicated," he said.
But previous Vatican statements, like the Holy Father's Castel Gandolfo comments, have indicated that homosexuality as such - not only active homosexual behavior - is incompatible with the priesthood.
A 1961 instruction to the superiors of religious communities on "Careful Selection and Training of Candidates for the States of Perfection and Sacred Orders" states:
Advancement to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers."
What Kind of Men?
Bishop John Nienstedt of New Ulm, Minn., who is the newly elected chairman of the priestly formation committee, confirmed that warning, saying that he personally would have "serious reservations" in accepting a seminary candidate who is homosexual.
"I would say in the main that a person with a homosexual orientation would not be a good candidate for seminary life," he said. "The temptations are too great: You're living in an all-male environment, your closest friends are men. You're putting a person in harm's way."
Committee member Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Wichita, Kan., said that even without directly asking candidates about homosexuality, seminary rectors and bishops can discern through personal references, psychological testing and observation of moral character whether a sexual problem would present an obstacle to the ordained ministry.
"If they're sexually active we would not accept them. I think a person could be so caught up in the homosexual lifestyle where it would just overcome them, in which case they would not be a good candidate," he said. "Because I would consider homosexuality to be a disorder, if there is a serious homosexual problem, it would show itself in various ways. I would see it as not being fully mature."
However, outgoing formation committee chairman Bishop George Niederauer of Salt Lake City cautioned that the issue of selection of candidates relative to avoiding future child sexual abuse is more complicated than simply excluding homosexuals.
"What I don't want is some kind of link between being homosexual and being a molester of minors," he said. "Eighty to 90% of child sexual abuse is committed by married men or young men who will be married, so child abuse is not a heterosexual or homosexual problem; it is an illness and a disorder."
Committee member Bishop Daniel Walsh of Santa Rosa, Calif., also questioned any "causal connection" between homosexuality and the abuse cases.
"If these things happened - and most of them happened 20, 30, 40 years ago - these priests were trained under the old system," he said. "I think we are seeing the effects of the sexual revolution of the '60s. Some of them were not prepared for the sexual licentiousness of our society."
However, the known data on priestly sex abusers - and on abuse by homosexuals in general - does, in fact, point to a causal connection.
Philip Jenkins, author of Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis, has intensively researched the subject of clergy sex abuse. Jenkins, professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University, based much of Pedophiles and Priests, which was written in 1996, on data released by the Archdiocese of Chicago following abuse scandals there in the early 1990s.
Commenting last spring after the current scandal erupted, Jenkins noted that most clergy-abuse cases have involved minor boys who have sexually matured. "The proper word for a man who has sex with a boy of 16 or 17 is homosexuality," Jenkins said.
Sociological data also indicate that homosexuals as a group are far more prone than heterosexuals to engage in sex with minors.
"Although heterosexuals outnumber homosexuals by a ratio of at least 20 to 1, homosexual pedophiles commit about one-third of the total number of child sex offenses," said Tim Dailey, a senior fellow for culture studies at the Family Research Council.
Dailey released a report in May detailing the link between homosexuality and abuse of minors and noted that even homosexuals acknowledge the link.
"In The Gay Report, by homosexual researchers Karla Jay and Allen Young, the authors report data showing that 73% of homosexuals surveyed had at some time had sex with boys 16 to 19 years of age or younger," Dailey said.
Apostolic visitations to all 48 U.S. seminaries were ordered by the Holy Father in April in the specific context of the abuse scandal and confirmed in Article 17 in the bishops' June charter for the prevention of child sexual abuse by clergy.
The last apostolic visitation, headed by then Bishop John Marshall of Springfield, Mass., began in 1984 and was completed in 1989-90, according to Father Burns of the bishops' priestly formation committee. As well, voluntary visitations occur each year at the request of individual seminaries.
No information is yet available on when the apostolic visitations will begin or who will compose the teams. Father Burns said Sept. 6 that the bishops are still awaiting a "conversation" to take place between the three bodies that will organize the visitation: the bishops' conference, the U.S. apostolic nunciature and the Congregation for Catholic Education.
"The bishops are ready for a sense of direction on how to proceed with the apostolic seminary visitations," Father Burns said.
John Paul's comments Sept. 5 provide them with direction in several key areas. Along with his strong signal not to ordain homosexually oriented candidates "out of a misunderstood sense of tolerance," he called also for a general renewal of seminaries, including a more careful selection of professors who are holy, well trained theologically and faithful to Church teaching.
He said in some parts of the world seminaries and theology institutes are promoting a "mutilated vision of the Church" and were forgetting "the essential: that the Church is participation in the mystery of Christ incarnate."
In some cases, the Pope said, legitimate theological efforts to make the Christian message more accessible to modern men and women had not been "duly controlled," resulting in "compromising the nature of theology and even the content of faith."
The Holy Father said bishops had a responsibility to watch over their seminarians' theological studies to ensure quality and sound doctrinal content.
Said John Paul, "The existence in some theological schools and seminaries of poorly prepared professors, [some of whom] are even in disagreement with the Church, causes profound sadness and concern."
He explained that it is not acceptable to let "those who are formed, to be exposed to the disorders of formators and professors who lack explicit ecclesial communion and clear evidence of seeking holiness."
Some U.S. bishops and many laymen have also expressed concern about the connection between homosexuality and dissent from Church teaching on sexual issues.
"The crucial thing, from my point of view, is they reject the teaching of the Church," said Dale O'Leary, a Catholic writer who for the past seven years has studied what she and others refer to as same-sex attraction disorder.
"You see so clearly that [men who have sex with men] do not understand what sexuality is. They really do use people as objects," said O'Leary.
As well, individuals who have identified themselves as "gay" and who believe that they cannot give up homosexual behavior and/or urges may feel a psychological imperative to dispute Church teachings on sexuality, noted the Catholic Medical Association's 2000 statement, "Homosexuality and Hope."
Said the CMA statement, "Such persons may feel it is futile and hopeless to resist same-sex desires and embrace a 'gay identity.' These same persons may then feel oppressed by the fact that society and religion, in particular the Catholic Church, do not accept the expression of these desires in homosexual acts."
Bishop Nienstedt said someone who identifies himself as "gay" would not be called forward to ordination because his agenda - that a homosexual lifestyle and a heterosexual lifestyle are morally equivalent - would directly contradict what he would be called to proclaim as a Catholic priest.
"In order to be a priest, they're going to have to have a sense of their own person, they're going to have to be happy with the Church's teachings on sexual issues, they will need to enter into a sense of spiritual fatherhood," said Bishop Olmsted in agreement.
Bishop Nienstedt noted that upcoming apostolic visitations will not be the first occasion for U.S. seminaries to look closely at these concerns.
He said he hopes the visits will also reveal the great progress made in the last 20 years to form and ordain the best and most dedicated priestly candidates.
"I believe that the programs we have in place - the formation programs, seminars, workshops that are being done on chaste celibate living - have been very substantial, and the young men I see being ordained today reflect very well the tradition of the Church," he said.
They're dedicated, they're disciplined and they're highly motivated to give themselves completely to Christ, their whole being, their sexuality being a part of that."
A survey released last month by Catholic University of America sociologists Dean Hoge and Jacqueline Wenger gives support to that perspective. Titled "Catholic Priests' Attitudes Toward Celibacy and Homosexuality," it was based on a sampling of 858 randomly chosen priests from 44 dioceses and 45 religious institutes.
The survey recorded a sharp spike in orthodox views among younger priests. Whereas 73% of priests between ages 56 and 65 supported the statement, "Celibacy should be a matter of personal choice for diocesan priests," only 33% of those between ages 25 and 35 agreed.
Said Bishop Nienstedt: "If anything, the present seminarians are really the disciples of Pope John Paul II. They're not afraid. They've been inspired by this pontificate. They've been called to a kind of dedication and solid intellectual, spiritual and apostolic formation that he reflects."
Ellen Rossini writes from Dallas.
(Register staff, CNS and Zenit contributed to this report)