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Catholic prelate
denounces gay clergy

Catholic prelate
denounces gay clergy

The American prelate overseeing a sweeping Vatican evaluation of every seminary in the United States told a weekly newspaper that men with "strong homosexual inclinations" should not be enrolled, even if they have remained celibate for years. Archbishop Edwin O'Brien made the comments to the National Catholic Register newspaper as Roman Catholics await word of a much-anticipated Vatican document on whether gay men should be barred from the priesthood.

O'Brien and several other U.S. bishops have said they expect that document to be released soon. "I think anyone who has engaged in homosexual activity, or has strong homosexual inclinations, would be best not to apply to a seminary and not to be accepted into a seminary," O'Brien told the independent newspaper. He said that even gays who have been celibate for a decade or more should not be admitted, the Register reported in its September 4-10 edition.

O'Brien, who leads the Archdiocese for the Military Services in Washington, declined through an assistant Monday to comment to the Associated Press. The Vatican ordered the seminary review three years ago in response to the clergy sex abuse crisis to look for anything that contributed to the scandal, which has led to more than 11,000 abuse claims in the last five decades. The evaluation is set to begin later this month, and much of the focus is expected to be on sexuality, including what seminarians are taught about maintaining their vow of celibacy.

The Vatican agency overseeing the evaluation--the Congregation for Catholic Education--is also reportedly drawing up guidelines for accepting candidates for the priesthood that could address the question of gay seminarians. The church considers gay relationships "intrinsically disordered."

A senior Vatican official had suggested previously that the document might have been shelved but told the AP on Monday that he cannot rule out that a Vatican office might issue such a document. O'Brien told the Register, "The Holy See should be coming out with a document about this."

James Hitchcock, an expert in church history at St. Louis University, said that while it is impossible to know what Pope Benedict XVI has decided regarding the document, the archbishop's comments should not be dismissed as simply one man's view. "O'Brien is well-connected and probably knows what the thinking in Rome is," Hitchcock said. "Officially, he's not speaking for the Vatican, but he's not speaking out of tune with the Vatican either."

The debate over gays in the priesthood reached a crisis point last year when a study that the U.S. bishops commissioned from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found that most of the alleged abuse victims since 1950 were adolescent boys.

The exact number of gay seminarians is not known. Estimates vary dramatically from one quarter to more than half of all American priest-candidates. However, several Catholic leaders say the gay presence is so large that straight seminarians feel alienated and many have dropped out over the years. Yet even these leaders concede there is no easy way to enforce a ban on gay priest-candidates, since many do not discover they are homosexual until after they enroll and others may simply hide their sexual orientation from seminary administrators. As part of the seminary evaluation, 117 bishops and seminary staff will visit 229 campuses over the next year and then present their findings to the Vatican.

Debbie Weill, executive director of Dignity USA, which represents gay and lesbian Catholics, accused bishops of "scapegoating" gays to divert attention from the failure of church leaders to protect children. "There's a long history in the Catholic Church for centuries of gay priests serving the church well," Weill said. "For the Catholic Church now to suddenly bar gay priests, it would be a very foolish decision and harmful for the church overall."

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