Survivor: Vatican

Under Pope Benedict XVI, the Roman Catholic Church is jumping at the chance to drive gay priests from its ranks. The move continues to divide the church

BY Natalie Hope McDonald

November 07 2005 1:00 AM ET

Gay men and
lesbians who were wondering just how far Pope Benedict XVI
would take his decades-old homophobic agenda had to wait
only a few months: The Vatican is finalizing a
document intended to renew its efforts to purge gay
priests.

Reportedly, the
tenor of the directive is that homosexuality and the
priesthood are essentially incompatible. To that end, the
Roman Catholic Church will likely demand that gay
candidates demonstrate years of celibacy before they
can enter seminary. Further, the church may prohibit
its priests and institutions from making any appearance of
public support for gay people. The church in the
United States has already begun Vatican-ordered
inspections of its 229 seminaries, looking for, among
other things, “evidence of homosexuality.”

Despite
expectations that the pope would approve a still harsher
“instruction” that even celibate gay men be
barred from the priesthood, this latest move from the
Vatican comes as an unprovoked attack.

“This
whole issue has been raised by the official church within
the context of the sex abuse scandal,” says
Michael Rocks, former president of the Philadelphia
chapter of Dignity USA, an LGBT Catholic group. “What
does this say about priests who are gay who already have
come out and supported gay issues publicly? What does
this say about the thousands and thousands of gay men
who have already taken stands? They’re protecting
the hierarchy at all costs. People used to say the police
were a group who always protected themselves. [The
church] puts the police to shame.”

R. Scott Appleby,
professor of 20th-century U.S. religious history at the
University of Notre Dame, says that if the Vatican enforces
this decision, “it could end up restricting
entry into the priesthood to heterosexuals, which is a
de facto extension of the existing teachings. Even
worse, it would place homosexuals into the position of
hiding their orientation, lying and suppressing their
identity, or not entering the church.”

Joe Murray, U.S.
convener of the Rainbow Sash Movement, a group of
Catholics who wear rainbow sashes to mass to denote that
they wish to receive the sacrament as openly gay men
and women, regularly attends services at the
Immaculate Conception Parish in Chicago. Murray compares
the latest witch hunt to the military’s
“don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
“I’d like to know how they’re going to
enforce this. The U.S. military can’t do it.
What does the Vatican have that the Pentagon
doesn’t?” he asks. “If they are
able to enforce this, it would backfire. More churches
would be closed and less people serving.”

When the
church’s plans were first made public, friends of
Father Mychal Judge—an openly gay Roman
Catholic priest and chaplain of the New York Fire
Department who was killed during the events of September 11,
2001—were equally angry. Thomas Von Essen, New York
City’s former fire commissioner, called keeping
such men out of the priesthood a shame.

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