- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

CHICAGO — America’s Catholic bishops yesterday agreed to refocus and step up their opposition to the death penalty, while some prelates questioned omissions in a new document on priestly chastity that the bishops will vote on today.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, meeting on the first day of a three-day meeting at Chicago’s Fairmont Hotel, voted unanimously to craft a new theological statement opposing the death penalty to replace a 25-year-old one.

Several bishops said public sentiment against the death penalty, especially among active Catholics, has increased greatly in recent years and that the USCCB should prepare a statement for use as a short insert in church bulletins.

“Some Catholics do not know and are confused by the church’s teaching,” said Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y. “Sometimes it is oversimplified or dismissed.”

A statement, he added, would “refocus efforts on the Catholic campaign to end the death penalty,” give “greater visibility and clarity for our teaching” and “create new momentum for Catholic advocacy” on the issue.

The statement, which will be crafted by USCCB staff and voted on at the bishops’ November meeting in Washington, is a “tremendous opportunity,” Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick said.

“If we don’t take this moment,” he said, “we’ll be missing a great opportunity.”

On the issue of priestly celibacy, two bishops noted there was nothing in the 84-page “Program of Priestly Formation” about a required period of sexual abstinence before entering the seminary.

Archbishop Elden F. Curtiss of Omaha, Neb., asked why mention of “a period of sobriety required for sexually active candidates” had been removed from the document, which will set policy for future seminarians.

Bishop John C. Nienstedt of New Ulm, Minn.,, chairman of the USCCB’s committee on priestly formation said the Vatican would release a document on “homosexuality vis-a-vis admissions to seminaries, so we thought it wise to wait until this document from the Holy See.”

“I was not talking just about homosexuality,” Archbishop Curtiss responded. “I was talking about sexual experience … both of those [items were] dropped out.”

Auxiliary Bishop Peter A. Rosazza of Hartford, Conn., also requested a minimum waiting period for sexually active heterosexual candidates before they entered seminary. The document will be voted on today. The bishops’ meeting, part of which is closed to the public and the media, ends tomorrow.

Sexual backgrounds of Catholic clergy and seminarians have come under a magnifying glass since the massive extent of clergy sexual abuse of children, especially boys, was exposed in 2002.

Later, at a press conference, Chicago Cardinal Francis George said the upcoming Vatican document, whose release date is unknown, would take into account the “diverse” nature of same-sex attraction.

“What is understood by homosexuality, how you define it; all those questions have many answers,” he said. “In the case of an authoritative document, you have to be very clear what it is you’re talking to and what you’re talking about.”

Despite the lack of a set waiting period, “I believe that all American seminaries would not admit someone who had not, for a number of years, lived truly as a celibate man,” he said.

“Also right now, anyone who has been part of the gay subculture or who has lived promiscuously as a heterosexual would not be admitted a priori, no matter how many years in his background that might have occurred.”

After the Vatican has conducted a lengthy “apostolic visitation” of 213 U.S. seminaries this fall, the document may undergo a sixth edition to incorporate new Vatican guidelines, Bishop Nienstedt said.

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