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Benedict prepares to forbid gay priests

By Julia Duin
The Washington Times
September 23, 2005


   Pope Benedict XVI will move soon against homosexuality in the Catholic priesthood by issuing a Vatican "instruction" forbidding even celibate homosexuals from entering seminary.


    Seen as a response to the sexual-abuse crisis, which has cost the Catholic Church in the United States more than $1 billion in lawsuits, the instruction will be released next month.


    "Both the present Holy Father and many Catholic scholars and commentators have realized the sexual-abuse crisis was a sign of something much deeper and more widespread," said the Rev. Joseph Fessio, editor-in-chief of Ignatius Press in San Francisco, "such as the rejection of Catholic teaching, especially in the area of sexual ethics."


    The document will be issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education, which oversees 113,000 seminarians worldwide, and reports of its imminent release already has caused a furor in Catholic circles.


    "No one believed they would do it, but it looks like they're going to," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, former editor of the Jesuit magazine America and now a visiting scholar at Santa Clara University. "This policy seems to be saying celibacy is not possible for gay men, therefore we cannot ordain them."


    What's different about the document, according a Sept. 19 Catholic World News (CWN) article, is the proviso forbidding even celibate homosexuals. It is unclear what will happen to homosexual men currently in seminary.


    "The question is how will they define homosexuality," said Domenico Bettinelli, editor of Catholic World Report, a sister publication to CWN. "Do they mean people in active homosexual relationships or a guy who's had one nonstraight thought? Where will they draw the line? That's the million-dollar question."


    In 1961, Pope John XXIII issued a binding directive to canon law that ruled that 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."


    That law was either ignored in some U.S. seminaries during the sexually libertarian 1960s and 1970s or adjusted to allow a middle option of homosexual priests who promised to remain celibate, Father Fessio said.


    "There emerged a justification, a whole philosophy saying same-sex attraction is one of God's gifts," he said. "That's what was so insidious. Now in our present culture -- which is obsessed with sex -- the church must make sure its own ministers are not contaminated by this secularized worldview."


    In 2004, a church fact-finding team issued a report on the clergy sexual-abuse crisis that said 81 percent of the abuse was of boys and young men, prompting the Vatican to decide to revise and update the law.


    Monsignor Steven Rohlfs, rector of Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., said applicants to the priesthood are asked about their sexuality during mandatory psychological evaluations at the diocesan level.


    "It's been clear since 1961 that [homosexuals] were not to be admitted," he said. "Obviously that has not been adhered to at some seminaries."


    At seminary, "we don't ask the question unless there's a reason to," he added. "We presume people are heterosexual unless there is a reason to presume otherwise."


    He knows of no homosexuals among the 157 seminarians at St. Mary's, he added.


    This fall, the Vatican will send 117 investigators to look into all 229 U.S. seminaries on their fidelity to Catholic teaching and their admission criteria.


    Rumors of the new document have percolated all year on Catholic Web sites and publications, increasing with the elevation of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the papacy in April.


    As a cardinal, Benedict penned a 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons calling homosexuality "a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent."


    "There's a lot of psychological disabilities that disqualify people for the priesthood," Father Fessio said. "This one particular area has more disastrous consequences."


    But Father Reese said the document will punish men who did not choose their sexual orientation.


    "It's going to have the greatest impact on the homosexual seminarians who have been honest and open with their spiritual director, the rector of the seminary and their bishop," he said. "They will be the ones thrown out.


    "The deceptive guy who is going to gay bars and fooling around obviously isn't telling anybody. He is not going to get caught," he said. "It will be the guy in seminary for four years and who thought he'd be ordained in June who will be thrown out; the guy who thought he could be celibate and be a good priest."

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