- The Washington Times - Friday, September 30, 2005

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops yesterday said a Vatican-mandated program of visits to 229 U.S. seminaries is not solely about gauging the effect of homosexuals on the priesthood.

It’s a mistake for “the media or an segment of the public” to reduce the visitation to one issue, the Most Rev. Edwin O’Brien, the archbishop of Military Services who is coordinating the visits.

“The visitation does take up homosexuality,” he said, but it’s also a look at whether seminaries are “helping to form men who … will be faithful to their commitments as Catholic priests and worthy leaders of the communities for which they will eventually be responsible.

“Within this cultural environment, there can develop, even among men preparing for the priesthood, an ambiguity both about the church’s teaching with regard to homosexuality and even whether some homosexual activity can be compatible with celibacy,” he said.

“The Catholic Church is not alone among Christian faiths in finding a great deal of concern within its community with regard to homosexuality and the clergy.”

The visits come as the Vatican is expected in October to release a document that says homosexuals, even celibate ones, would be barred from the priesthood.

The Rev. Robert Silva, president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, which represents 27,000 priests from dioceses and religious orders, said word of the Vatican plan has raised “quite a stir among clergy.”

“Those priests who are homosexuals are saying in order to maintain their integrity, they’d have to leave the priesthood,” he said. “I’d think that a man would think twice about whether he could stay.”

While not naming what percentage of priests are homosexual, it’s “a significant number,” he said.

While there exists, “a gay subculture that arises and becomes problematic for the seminary,” he added, “or certain kinds of behaviors that create divisions; such as the gay priests over here and the straight priests over there, I’m not sure an outright ban is the appropriate action.”

The Rev. Charles Bouchard, president of the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, the site of one of the first seminary visitations in the country, said the team was “very cordial and courteous” to the 25 seminarians and 20 faculty. The team was comprised of one auxiliary bishop from Philadelphia, three priests from New York and Kansas and one female researcher.

“I am not sure we have any students who are gay but I don’t think they self-identified to the visiting team,” he said. “And I don’t think the visiting team asked them point-blank as to their orientations.”

The policy at his institute, which is overseen by the Dominican religious order, is that seminarians must have been celibate at least three years before admission. Neither he nor any of the seminary rectors he knows, he added, “would flat out disqualify someone on the basis of sexual orientation.”

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