- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 17, 2002

The official newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, which has been mired in a sex scandal involving priests, says the church should consider whether to continue requiring priests to be celibate and whether an unusually large number of homosexual men become priests.
"Even if our present woes in the archdiocese were suddenly to disappear, these questions have taken on an urgency and will not slip quietly away," the Pilot newspaper said Thursday in its lead editorial, part of a special issue that focused on the problem of priests and pedophilia.
The editorial, headlined "Questions That Must Be Faced," said no one can rest easy, even though defrocked priest John Geoghan, who has been accused of molesting more than 130 children in six parishes, is behind bars. Geoghan is serving a nine-to-10-year prison term for fondling a 10-year-old boy.
"There are outstanding [child abuse] allegations against six other archdiocesan priests; and these scandals have raised serious questions in the minds of the laity that simply will not disappear," Monsignor Peter Conley, executive editor of the Pilot, wrote in the editorial. He listed these questions that need to be addressed:
"Should celibacy continue to be a normative condition for the diocesan priesthood in the Catholic Church?
"If celibacy were optional, would there be fewer scandals of this nature in the priesthood?
"Does priesthood, in fact, attract a disproportionate number of men with homosexual orientation?"
Monsignor Conley said these questions are especially perplexing for American Catholics. "We Americans live in a popular culture that simply does not understand, let alone prize, celibacy as an expression of love for the Lord and His kingdom," he wrote, adding:
"Would abandoning celibacy be the proper answer to new data from the contemporary sciences or would it be surrendering to popular American culture?"
A married clergy is "no panacea," given that such an arrangement "presents its own distinctive problems and liabilities," led today by a 50 percent divorce rate. In the editorial, Monsignor Conley also encouraged more attention to the issue of homosexuals in the priesthood and asked if there is an effective way to screen for that sexual orientation.
"Evidence now seems to indicate that it [homosexuality] is a genetically inherited condition," Monsignor Conley wrote. "Morality comes into play only when we deliberately choose to act contrary to our conscience, the natural law and the teachings of the church."
"True, the church teaches a very high morality in matters of sexuality, but not higher than its teaching on truth and honesty," he added.
The Pilot said no one should expect quick answers to the questions the editorial raised. "More studies, with concrete data, will be necessary before an intelligent response can be made. Right now emotions are running too high," Monsignor Conley wrote.
Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, said her organization has long supported the idea of "optional celibacy and married priests."
"I find it surprising that the Pilot should go so far as to say optional celibacy for priests should be considered," she said in an interview yesterday.
But Ms. Kissling, like others asked about the editorial, said she does not believe ending celibacy will end sexual abuse of children by priests. "The biggest problem here is that, up until now, too many bishops have engaged in cover-ups of child sex abuse … openness and immediate dismissal are demanded in such cases, not hypocrisy and cover-up," she said.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declined to comment.
Maurice Healy, spokesman for the San Francisco archdiocese, said he thinks the issues the Pilot editorial raised are "valid." But he said that because the editorial raises issues such as celibacy and sexual orientation in addressing the problem of clerical sex abuse, "there's a danger." People could conclude wrongly they are causes or "indicators of child abuse" in the current emotional environment, he added.
The issue of child abuse by priests has been much in the news in San Francisco. A judge ruled on Friday that it is too late to prosecute a former priest on 224 charges of pedophilia for acts purportedly committed between 1964 and 1980.
Cardinal William H. Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore, addressed the problem of the "ugly sin" of pedophilia in an article Thursday in the Catholic Review. "I want all to understand … [that] my practice is and will continue to be that no priest who has been credibly accused of abusing a minor can return to active ministry."

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