U.S. Reaction to Vatican's Anti-Gay Push

The Vatican is working to push gays out of the priesthood. The latest policy statement by the Roman Catholic Church against homosexuality in the clergy is getting mixed reviews by American Catholics.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, the young comedian Dane Cook. We'll listen.

But first, the Vatican this week released its long-awaited document concerning homosexuality and the priesthood. The document says men with, quote, "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" should not be ordained. NPR's Jason DeRose spoke with Catholic seminary professors and current and former students for their reaction. Here's his report.

(Soundbite of chapel service)

Choir: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible).

JASON DeROSE reporting:

Evening chapel at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood is a time for the community to come together and celebrate the Lord's Supper. The union is a graduate school of theology for members of religious orders. Students and faculty here received the Vatican document earlier this week after months of leaks about what the document would actually say.

Father DON SENIOR (President, Catholic Theological Union): Some have speculated that there'll be a lot of hemorrhaging from the seminaries or from the priesthood itself. I really don't see that.

DeROSE: Father Don Senior is the president of Catholic Theological Union. He says the document is simply a restatement and consolidation of earlier policies regarding homosexuality.

Fr. SENIOR: The person who has a homosexual orientation who feels a call to priesthood has to be able to show that they have the capacity to live a chaste and celibate life for a period of time--the policy in the document is three years--prior to their ordination.

DeROSE: Still, Senior fears the larger society may view the document as homophobic rather than nuanced theology.

Fr. SENIOR: It's partially because of the church's teaching about homosexuality as a psychosexual disorder as it's described; also, the disproportionate amount of gay candidates or gay priests in relationship to the total population.

DeROSE: Ethics Professor Father Tom Nairn says some of the language in the document is vague. For instance, it distinguishes between so-called deep-seated homosexual tendencies and adolescent experimentation without defining either term. But Nairn defends the document and says it offers helpful guidance to those charged with forming new priests.

Professor TOM NAIRN (Catholic Theological Union): If a person has so identified with what it calls the gay culture, that that person sees everything through the eyes of gayness, there's going to be a difficulty in truly ministering to all the people he or she needs to minister to as priests.

DeROSE: Nairn says a lot hinges on the concept of `affective maturity,' which also goes undefined.

Prof. NAIRN: What that question is regards whether a homosexual person has attained the level of affective maturity necessary to be ordained.

DeROSE: Nairn says by not defining the concept, an individual seminarian's spiritual director can decide whether a person is mature enough to become a priest. If seminary professors and spiritual directors feel a person is not mature, the Vatican instructs them to dissuade the seminarian from pursuing ordination. But former Jesuit seminarian Don Dunbar criticized the document and says it understands being gay and being mature as mutually exclusive.

Mr. DON DUNBAR (Former Seminarian): It bothered me a bit that there seems to be an assumption that gay people can't reach affective maturity. It simply eliminated that as a category: Gay people can't be affectively mature. And based on my experience of both lay and seminarians and priests who are gay, I simply don't find that to be valid.

DeROSE: Dunbar is deeply concerned that further limiting who can become a priest will only exacerbate the priest shortage, which has reached crisis levels in some areas.

Mr. DUNBAR: We don't allow women, we don't allow married men and now we don't allow homosexual men. We've pretty much eliminated the ability to convey the sacraments to the people, and I think that's a really sad and wrong direction for the church to be moving.

DeROSE: The new Vatican document does not mention at all the context from which the crackdown on gay priests arose, the sex abuse crisis. And theology student Sandra Sullivan says that's a glaring omission and the document is an inadequate solution.

Ms. SANDRA SULLIVAN (Theology Student): It's definitely a misguided attempt to respond to the sex abuse scandal. The assumption underlying it is somehow that a gay man is more likely than a straight man to become a pedophile, when, in fact, that's not the case at all.

DeROSE: Sullivan says the focus of the church should rather be rooting out the men who have abused and continue to abuse their power by molesting minors, both boys and girls. Jason DeRose, NPR News, Chicago.

(Soundbite of chapel service)

Choir: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible).

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. More in a moment on DAY TO DAY.

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