Will gays be banned from admission to seminaries? - Catholic Courier

Will gays be banned from admission to seminaries?

Homosexuality in seminaries and in the priesthood is a third-rail issue in the Catholic Church. Those who dare touch it almost inevitably experience a sharp jolt of criticism from one side or the other.

As of this writing, there have been reports that Pope Benedict XVI may have already approved a document barring even sexually chaste gays from seminaries and from the priesthood. Needless to say, this report, in conjunction with the apostolic visitation of U.S. seminaries and houses of formation, has created much anxiety and ill-will within the gay community.

The coordinator of the visitation of some 229 seminaries, theologates and other institutions that prepare men for the priesthood is Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, former rector of the North American College in Rome and currently head of the Military Services Archdiocese, which places him in charge of all U.S. Catholic military chaplains.

Comments made last month by Archbishop O’Brien have lent credence to the report that the pope himself was about to approve a document banning gays, whether chaste or not, from admission to seminaries and ordination to the priesthood.

“I think anyone who has engaged in homosexual activity, or has strong homosexual inclinations, would be best not to apply to a seminary and not to be accepted into a seminary,” the archbishop told the conservative National Catholic Register. He is also reported to have said that even homosexuals who have been chaste for 10 years or more should not be admitted to seminaries.

Andrew Sullivan, a prolific writer and an openly gay Catholic layman, mounted one of the most severe criticisms on his Web site (andrewsullivan.com, 9/20/05): “Notice that what is being discriminated against here is not someone’s actions or behavior, but their very identity. Notice that the church is implying complete lack of self-control to all gay priests, regardless of their record or potential.”

Sullivan pointed out that in 1986 then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith repudiated such thinking, calling it an “unfounded and demeaning assumption.”

But if Archbishop O’Brien’s remarks are a reliable indicator of the direction the apostolic visitation will take, and if the pope does, in fact, approve a new policy prohibiting gays from entering seminaries and being ordained to the priesthood, Sullivan charges that all gay seminarians and priests would thereby “be reduced and judged solely on their sexual orientation.”

“They cannot marry or form stable relationships; they cannot remain celibate; and they are potential molesters of children. What other logical inferences are possible from this new policy?”

The Vatican review of U.S. seminaries was explicitly requested by the American cardinals at the height of the sexual-abuse scandal in 2002. Significantly, there is not a single reference to that scandal in the 11-page document (plus a two-page appendix) that serves as an official guide for the 117 “apostolic visitors” who will spend at least four days in each seminary, theologate and house of formation, conducting confidential interviews with every faculty member and student as well as those who had graduated within the previous three years.

The assumption — unscientific and unwarranted on its face — that there is a clear link between homosexuality and the sexual abuse of young and teenage boys seems to be driving this investigation and also the related mandate to rid seminaries and the priesthood of gays, whether sexually active or not.

There is no indication, of course, that the projected papal edict and the outcome of the apostolic visitation would be retroactive in their effects. Because there are no hard statistics available (there are no boxes to check on any seminary admissions form), we are left with speculation that anywhere from 15 percent to 50 percent (or even higher) of seminarians and priests are gay, whether they are aware of their orientation or not. And about one-third of the episcopate as well.

Any new policy excluding gays from seminaries and the priesthood could generate a category-five hurricane inside the church. Some gay priests and seminarians might be angered enough to expose some of their brethren — the more highly placed, the more likely to be “outed.” Others would simply slip away from the church, feeling unwelcome and even despised.
If the policy were to be retroactive (it won’t, for obvious reasons), the chaos would be even greater and the damaging effect on the church far more catastrophic.

One of several problems with these latest initiatives is that they miss one of the major targets. As Father Kenneth Himes, chair of theology at Boston College, put it: “What really created the sexual abuse crisis was not poor formation in the seminaries, but poor personnel management in the chanceries.”

And in bishops’ offices.

Father McBrien is a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

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