9.20.2005

Pope Bans Gay Priests

Report: Pope Bans Gay Seminarians

from Newsday

Pope Benedict XVI is said to have approved a document saying that homosexual men should not be ordained as Roman Catholic priests, a conservative Catholic Web site reported yesterday.

The long-anticipated document, prepared at the request of the late Pope John Paul II, reportedly calls on bishops to bar even chaste homosexuals from seminaries because their orientation is rooted in a personality disorder that may undermine their capacity to minister.

"If this is true, it's a disaster," said a gay priest who asked not to be named. "I know many celibate gay priests who feel they could not live with any integrity in a church that treats gay men like this. And I know many gay seminarians who have been living celibate lives with ease, who would simply leave."

Since the recent priest sex abuse scandal, the issue of gay priests has gone from taboo to one of the most hotly debated aspects of the crisis. Noting that the overwhelming majority of victims were teenage boys, powerful members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy have framed the problem as homosexual priests unable to live chastely. Liberals tend to see the roots of the scandal in a culture of clerical secrecy and the church's mandatory celibacy requirement.

While the document does not represent any change in church teaching, it is expected to have a significant impact on American seminaries because it flies in the face of the de facto policy of "don't ask, don't tell" in most of them. For that reason, many conservatives hail it as a get-tough policy that is a badly needed corrective. Others, however, say they fear it will drive some gay seminarians deeper into the closet even as it diminishes a declining pool of seminarians.

"I believe it would have a strong impact, but I'm afraid it would be negative," said the Rev. Donald Cozzens, a former seminary rector who wrote a book several years ago describing how the priesthood "is, or is becoming, a gay profession."

"The number of seminarians is already dramatically down from 40 years ago," Cozzens said. "This may make the situation even more dire than it already is. And I'm also concerned that it might drive out men who might be destined to give very fine service to the church."

Also critical is how the directive is enforced, a process likely to vary from seminary to seminary.

"How one goes about making these determinations will be key," said John-Peter Pham, a papal scholar at James Madison University. "In some places, I could see witch hunts and anonymous accusations. In others, I'm sure it will simply be observed in the breach, much like the ban on contraceptives."

The report comes as a sweeping inspection of 229 U.S. seminaries is about to begin. That review, also triggered by the sex abuse scandals, will look for "evidence of homosexuality."

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