Archive for Sunday, April 28, 2002

Church strains on new issue: gay clergymen

April 28, 2002


— Like many of his brethren, Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida has struggled to come to terms with the issues surrounding the sex abuse scandal that has splintered the Catholic church.

The difficulty showed in words and actions last week as Maida and other U.S. cardinals discussed their views on sexual orientation versus the issue of sexual predators, while seeking to forge a new policy on dealing with priests guilty of abuses.

A careful and deliberate speaker, Maida strained to answer questions whenever the word "homosexual" came up in the same sentence with the word "priest" during two days of historic meetings at the Vatican.

Consider Maida's response when asked whether he thought he had ordained gay priests or whether he thought a growing number of gay men were entering the priesthood:

"I don't think so and I don't know so. I have to honestly answer that I really don't know the orientation. I just assume that everyone's heterosexual."

He raised the ire of gay-rights groups and liberal Catholics with a comment Tuesday in which he said cases involving priests who molest minors are not strictly pedophilia cases, but are "homosexual-type" problems. The remark was lauded by groups that use Catholic doctrine against homosexuality to promote anti-gay agendas.

No link intended

Maida said Wednesday that he didn't mean to link homosexuality to pedophilia, which is a sexual attraction to pre-adolescents.

"Homosexuals are not pedophiles," Maida said, after the cardinals wrapped up their two-day meeting.

But Maida has noted that most of the cases involving clergy sex abuse involve priests sexually molesting teen-age boys.

"Pedophilia is a situation where you have a priest who molests a boy from zero to 12 years old," Maida said. "Then you get into the adolescent area; that's where the homosexuality problem kicks in."

The cardinals return to the United States with plans for Catholic leaders to immediately begin visiting seminaries to assess the suitability of priests-in-training.

The cardinals' final communique from the summit called for Vatican representatives to conduct special reviews of U.S. seminaries immediately. They are to assess whether Catholic teachings and principles, such as celibacy, are strictly followed. And they will review the criteria for judging candidates for the priesthood.

The directive appears to reflect concerns raised by Bishop Wilton Gregory of Illinois, who attended the summit as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. On Tuesday, he said a homosexual atmosphere dissuades heterosexual men from joining the priesthood.

Issue ripe for debate

The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest and editor of the Catholic weekly America, said the issue of gay men in the priesthood will be debated for a long time.

In a written observation about the Vatican summit, Reese said all the prelates agree that if a person is sexually active, whether homosexual or heterosexual, he cannot enter the seminary. He said there also is general agreement that celibacy is required.

Some church leaders and others appear to think that homosexuals cannot be celibate, he said, though others say most gay priests are celibate.

In St. Peter's Square, as the cardinals wrestled with these issues, a delegation from the Association of Christian Therapists watched Pope John Paul II address thousands of pilgrims from around the world.

The Rev. Joseph Scerbo, a Franciscan priest from San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and the association's president, said he welcomed efforts to curtail abuses.

But Scerbo suggested it was scapegoating by Catholic leaders to single out gays in the priesthood for special concern."

"The issue in celibacy is not whether you're gay or straight, male or female, but the issue is whether you can live a celibate life and respond to the call to grace," Scerbo said. "Who cares if they're gay or straight?"

"Part of the Body of Christ," said Scerbo, referring to the Catholic church, "is gay."

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