Vatican Tightens Rules on Homosexuals in Priesthood The Vatican releases the official version of a papal encyclical on homosexuals and the priesthood. The much-anticipated document bars practicing homosexuals from entry into the priesthood, and those who exhibit what it calls deeply-rooted homosexual tendencies.
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Vatican Tightens Rules on Homosexuals in Priesthood

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Vatican Tightens Rules on Homosexuals in Priesthood

Vatican Tightens Rules on Homosexuals in Priesthood

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

This morning, the Vatican released the official version of a papal encyclical on homosexuals and the priesthood. The much-anticipated document bars practicing homosexuals from entering into the priesthood and also those who exhibit what it calls `deeply rooted homosexual tendencies.' Last week, leaks of the document triggered sometimes angry debate over what it says, what it means and how it might be enforced. Some conservatives praise the document as a long-overdue reform; others say it does not go far enough. Some liberals say it enshrines discrimination and alienation in the church. Many gays object to its description of homosexuality as `objectively disordered,' and say it's an unfair effort to blame gay priests for the church's sex abuse scandal. But underlying the controversy is confusion over what the document actually says. The language is vague and it provides little instruction for those who will have to apply it.

Later in the program, the American Heart Association issues new guidelines on CPR. But first, homosexuals, the church and the priesthood. If you have questions about what's in the document and how it's going to be applied, give us a call. Our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is

And joining us now is John Allen, Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. He's with us by phone from his office there in Rome.

Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION, John.

Mr. JOHN ALLEN (National Catholic Reporter): Hi, Neal. Nice to be with you.

CONAN: First of all, is this encyclical a call for a purge of gay priests?

Mr. ALLEN: Well, first, a quick clarification. This is not a papal encyclical. This is actually a document of a Vatican office called the Congregation for Education, which is the one that has responsibility for seminaries. So it is not, directly speaking, a papal statement. It is, rather, a kind of routine Vatican document that has been approved by the pope, which doesn't mean it's not important or not binding. It does mean it's a bit lower down the food chain, so to speak, in terms of church authority.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ALLEN: Does it mark a purge of gay priests? No. In fact, it says nothing about already ordained gay priests. The Catholic theology is that once you're ordained, you're ordained for life; you cannot be unordained. And so this does not in any way affect the status of currently ordained gay priests. It is, instead, an instruction addressed to bishops and seminary rectors, that is men in charge of training future priests, telling them what kind of men they ought to ordain and what kind of men they ought to exclude. And as you said, the heart of its message is that men who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies should not be ordained priests. Of course, the $64,000 question is: What does that mean?

CONAN: Yeah. And what does that mean? It also says priest should not--or those hoping to become priests should not support gay culture. Does it define that, too?

Mr. ALLEN: No, but I think probably that's caused a bit less controversy because although we don't know precisely what it means, I think in practice, if would mean if you have a candidate who is taking part in gay pride parades or who is going to gay bars, that that ought to be a subject of concern. And I think most seminary rectors or bishops would take that as a matter of common sense, and so it's not something that's generated much debate.

Nor is the question, the other provision of the document's three provisions, that someone ought to be celibate for at least three years prior to ordination.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ALLEN: Again, I think most rectors or bishops would say that's sort of a commonsense rule of thumb.

The hard part of the document, of course, is this question of deep-seated homosexual tendencies. And because the document itself doesn't define the term, it has left some degree of ambiguity, I suppose, as to exactly what it means. There would be one school of thought that would take a fairly strict constructionist reading, so to speak, that would say it essentially means anyone who has a kind of permanent identity as a homosexual ought to be ordained--or ought to be excluded from ordination, rather. And then there would be another camp that would have a slightly more liberal reading, who would say, `No, deep-seated means something like someone who is fixated on their sexuality, incapable of being mature about it,' but would leave open the possibility that someone who has a kind of enduring homosexual orientation could still be considered. And we've seen very prominent people in the church give voice to both readings in the wake of the document's issuance.

CONAN: Is that going to leave it up to essentially local control as to how this is interpreted and applied?

Mr. ALLEN: Well, I mean, all church law in a sense is. I mean, it is a kind of standard feature of Vatican documents that they leave some room for local interpretation because, of course, the Catholic Church has got 1.1 billion members worldwide. It is very tough to make detailed policy that will make sense in every nook and cranny of the planet, and I think this document is probably no exception. I think what you will find is that bishops and seminary rectors who want to take a very strong sort of sweeping stance against the admission of homosexuals probably were already doing so, certainly will continue to do so in the wake of this document, but those bishops and religious superiors and seminary rectors who are inclined to take a bit more of a case-by-case approach will probably find enough latitude in the document to allow them to continue doing that.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And I wanted to ask you, there's a team of bishops that's visiting all the seminaries in the United States to examine, among other things, whether or not homosexuality is pervasive in those institutions. Is there any word yet back on what they're finding or what they plan to report?

Mr. ALLEN: No, these are teams that will be concluding the visits--at least the plan is, will be concluding their visits by the end of spring 2006. But then they will each be writing individual reports which have to be collected and gone over by the American bishop who is coordinating this project, and then he has to write a report that will go to Rome. And so this is a question of some months, if not years, before we get any kind of sense of what the results of that process will be.

CONAN: (800) 989-8255 if you'd like to join us. E-mail address is

And Rick is on the line with us, Rick calling from Sacramento.

RICK (Caller): Hi. Love the show, and I'm a big fan.

CONAN: Well, thank you.

RICK: I just have a question. The issuance of this document, is it at all related to the sex abuse scandal in that--are homosexuals being blamed for the sex abuse scandal? I mean, is there any research to indicate that homosexuals are more likely to commit these acts? 'Cause I hear the two being talked about together a lot. And...

CONAN: Yeah. John Allen, some gays have objected that they feel they're unfairly being scapegoated for this.

Mr. ALLEN: Yes. Now it probably should be noted that work on this document actually began in the mid-1990s, that is well before the most intense period of the crisis. I think at the time, the original impulse for the document was the perception that there is a disproportionate percentage of homosexuals in the Catholic priesthood, at least in the United States and potentially other places, and so the original motive was to address that. Now obviously, the sex abuse crisis, I think, probably lent a new degree of urgency to the support for this document in some quarters.

To be fair, I have, of course, been talking to Vatican officials about this document for--quite literally for years. I don't know anyone who would--at least in the Vatican who would blame homosexuals for the crisis. However, I think the view that they would take is this, that the study that the US bishops commissioned found that 80 percent of the accusations of abuse in the United States involved same-sex contact; that is contact between a priest and an adolescent male or a younger male. And they would deduce from that, I suppose, that gay priests in an all-male profession and in a line of work where you are much more likely to have unsupervised time with young men than you are with young women, that gay priests face special pressures and that, therefore, it requires a much higher degree of vigilance from bishops and from seminary rectors to make sure that men they're going to ordain can handle those pressures. I think that's the feeling. Now I understand, of course, that that's a debatable proposition, but I think that's the sort of climate of thought that produced the document.

CONAN: And, of course, psychologists, many psychologists would say that there's no connection between one's sexual orientation and one's attraction to children sexually.

Mr. ALLEN: No. And, in fact, the Vatican convened a scientific symposium on pedophilia in 2003 where their own scientific advisers told them that. So again, I say I don't think that the assumption underlying the document is that gays are more likely to be sexual abusers. I think the assumption underlying the document is that a gay priest who has those impulses is much more likely to find occasion to act on them than perhaps a straight priest would.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And it's also fair to point out that a lot of people would say a considerable portion of the sex abuse scandal was, of course, not only the incidents themselves, but the fact that the hierarchy covered it up.

Mr. ALLEN: Well, that's, of course, a separate question. And you're quite right. I mean, there is still a very lively debate on that point. The US bishops have adopted a very--some would say almost a draconian set of policies for priests accused of sexual abuse, of course, the one-strike-and-you're-out policy.

CONAN: Right.

Mr. ALLEN: There is no comparable policy, strong policy, in place for what to do about bishops who should have known better, should have intervened, but failed to do so.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Rick, thanks very much for the call.

RICK: Thank you, gentlemen.

CONAN: Among those deeply concerned by the Vatican document are priests who identify themselves as gay. Father Fred Daley is an openly gay priest. His parish is the St. Francis de Sales Church in Utica, New York, and he joins us now from the studios of Vermont Public Radio in Norwich, Vermont.

Very good of you to be with us today.

Father FRED DALEY (St. Francis de Sales Church): Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: What's your reaction to the document?

Fr. DALEY: Well, certainly, I find the document very troubling, certainly not surprising. But I've been a priest for 31 years, and I realize looking closely at the document, I'm sort of grandfathered...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Fr. DALEY: ...but it's sort of troubling to read a document that tells me that, in a sense, my ordination was a mistake and we need to have guidelines to screen people like me out. It's rather disheartening to be told that I'm objectively disordered, that I'm incapable of relating to men and women in an effectively mature way. So I think all these things are very hurtful. And I think most troubling, at least to me, the document, like the other Vatican documents on this issue in the last 30 years, seems to disregard what the behavioral sciences are saying about sexual orientation. Once again, it mentions Scripture, and I don't think there's a mainline Catholic Scripture today, a scholar, who would in any way say we can use the Bible to--either the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament, to in any way point out moral guidelines concerning what we know today as sexual orientation. So to me, it's the same old rather mean-spirited--and it just doesn't seem to be based on the empirical knowledge that we have today, and that's disheartening.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Please stay with us, if you would. We're going to have to take a short break. And John Allen is going to stay with us, as well, there from Rome. If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is

I'm Neal Conan. Back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're talking about the Vatican's announcement today of rules on homosexuals and the priesthood. The document would ban those with deep-seated homosexual tendencies and those who support gay culture from the profession. Our guests are John Allen, Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, and Father Fred Daley, an openly gay priest at the St. Francis de Sales parish in Utica, New York. If you have questions about what's in the document, what it means or how it might be applied, give us a call: (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is

Let's get another caller on the line. This is Eunice, Eunice calling from from Charlotte, North Carolina.

EUNICE (Caller): Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

EUNICE: I had a question in regard to--Was the Bible used when they came to this decision? Because the Bible that I read clearly speaks against homosexuals, as does it speak against adultery, fornication and other things. So the question is, basically, was the Bible used to make this decision?

CONAN: John Allen.

Mr. ALLEN: Well, listen, I'm no Scripture scholar. I will describe what experts tell me, which is, of course, it depends which kind of expert you're talking to. I think a more sort of traditionalist or conservative reading of Scripture would very much echo what the caller says, which is there's clear biblical language against various kinds of sexual sin, including homosexuality, and that, therefore, you know, traditional Christian morality needs to uphold that.

Others would echo, I think, what Father Daley said, which is that what the--and this language comes up particularly in the Hebrew Scriptures, what Christians call the Old Testament--that what they were referring to is not what, in the modern period, we think of as homosexuality, that is they were not talking about stable, long-term, committed, monogamous relationships between two people of the same sex, and that, therefore, what was being condemned in Scripture is not what we're talking about today. I would say this is probably--my understanding, at least, is that among Scripture scholars and among moral theologians, those who reflect on ethics, this would certainly be a point of, you know, very vivid contemporary debate.

CONAN: Hmm. Thanks for the call, Eunice.

EUNICE: Thank you.

CONAN: OK. Bye-bye.

And I'd like to ask you, Father Daley--follow up on that, if you would. Obviously, this comes up all the time.

Fr. DALEY: Yes, it does. And I'm not a Scripture scholar, either, but certainly my study and research points out that certainly among most Catholic Scripture scholars, any of the six or seven verses in the Scriptures that refer to the word `homosexuality' cannot be used not only to understand anything about homosexual orientation, but many of those verses were relating to totally different topics, like hospitality and whatever. And in the translation from the Hebrew to the Greek to the Latin to the English or native language, there's even debate on whether the word in its literal Hebrew even was referring to what we would call as homosexuality.

So certainly, there's a lot of debate. But in the mainline Catholic area, it's pretty well concluded that the Scriptures cannot be used as a proof text to condemn or to approve of homosexual orientation as we know it today.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in. This is John, John's with us from Flagstaff, Arizona.

JOHN (Caller): Hello, there.

CONAN: Hi, there.

JOHN: I think the Roman Catholic Church is shooting itself in the foot. They definitely need people to be priests and nuns, and they also really should consider ordaining women. It's the wave of the future and they're running short on people as it stands.

CONAN: Well, let's leave the issue of women for another program. But, Father Daley, certainly there is a shortage of priests certainly in this country.

Fr. DALEY: There sure is. And also, there's a significant number of priests and certainly bishops who are gay. I always sort of joke if all the gay priests of the church in the United States decided to boycott this coming weekend, the church would be paralyzed. And so, yeah, I think focusing on orientation is the wrong thing to focus on. The church has every right and responsibility to make sure that those preparing for priesthood are ready, but they should be focusing more on, across the board, is a person able to integrate his sexuality, is a person able to commit oneself to celibacy, does one have the capacity to do that without causing violence in their lives, is a person able to relate with others. So all those issues, I think, affect whoever is applying for priesthood right across the boards of orientation. So to zero in on one particular part of that scale, I think, just doesn't make a lot of sense.

CONAN: Hmm. John Allen, I wanted to ask you--John raised the point, the caller from Flagstaff--would this presumably apply also to lesbian orientation, deep-seated lesbian orientation, for women who wanted to be nuns?

Mr. ALLEN: No, because what's in focus in this document is ordination to the priesthood. So there actually is no official Vatican statement of policy, aside from a very brief reference in a 1961 document on religious life, although the principle scope of that was also priestly ordination. So while, I think, in religious life generally there probably would be a commonsense bit of wisdom that if someone is sexually active or struggling with that question, that certainly ought to be a note of caution. Officially speaking, they don't have a policy on the question.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Father Daley, let me ask you before we let you go. How different is this policy towards homosexuality and the priesthood from policies towards heterosexuality and the priesthood?

Fr. DALEY: Well, certainly, the first point made in the document, that a person must show the capacity to live a celibate life for about three years, certainly that--anyone looking for the possibility of committing themselves to celibacy, that would be across the board. So again, why centering in on just gay seminarians on that question is a question to me. The bottom line, I think, is, heterosexual and homosexual, bisexual, anywhere in that spectrum, is the person mature psychologically, sexually able to integrate sexuality into his life? Those are the big questions. And no matter where a person's at in sexual orientation, that would seem to me to be the healthy approach.

CONAN: Father Daley, appreciate your time today.

Fr. DALEY: Thank you.

CONAN: Father Fred Daley is the priest at the St. Francis de Sales Church in Utica, New York, and he joined us today from the studios of Vermont Public Radio in Norwich, Vermont.

The task of enforcing Vatican rules on homosexuals in the priesthood will fall mostly on those--or at least in large part, on those who recruit and screen applicants for the seminary. They're called vocations directors. Father David Nuss is the director of vocations for the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio, and he joins us now from the studios of WKSU at Kent State University in Ohio. I should also point out Father Dave is a friend of mine.

So nice to have you on the program, Dave.

Father DAVE NUSS (Diocese of Toledo): Neal, thanks for having me join you.

CONAN: How do you interpret this document? How's it change your job?

Fr. NUSS: I'm not sure that the change is going to be noticeable for me in the Diocese of Toledo. The focus of the document itself, I don't find it so much to be on homosexuality itself--in fact, there's even a disclaimer to that in the introduction of the document--but rather is to provide insight, criteria, if you will, for vocational discernment. And it really draws special emphasis to the capability that has to be demonstrated on behalf of a man that he can live a chaste, celibate lifestyle. And that's got to be in place prior to going into the seminary and prior going into the priesthood, and that's true for all men who express a desire for a priestly life in ministry.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Yet it does talk about those deep-seated homosexual tendencies. How do you ask about that? How do you find out about that? How do you go about it?

Fr. NUSS: Well, you ask it very directly. I'm very interested in a candidate's history, personal history, family of origin, sexual history, academic history, employment history if it's applicable, a history of life of living the faith in a particular parish or diocese and wherever. In addition to that, there are other people that I work with collaboratively--priests, sisters, lay people, psychologists--and the attempt is to put together a profile that genuinely and accurately reveals who that person is so who the man says he is indeed matches with all of the evidence and all of the other information that's collected.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Is this issue of homosexuality in the priesthood--does it come up when you talk to young men and presumably to their families, as well?

Fr. NUSS: I think it depends on the individual. I think it depends on the family. It depends on the location. I don't find it to be a prominent issue in my dealing with young people, which I do extensively with the responsibilities that have been entrusted to me. I would have to say that the issue itself is raised infrequently. There are other issues that seem to be more in the forefront of young people's minds than homosexuality.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Does the issue of--and again, there is this investigation going on about homosexual cliques in various seminaries in the United States. Does that issue come up?

Fr. NUSS: Well, it does in that I visit seminaries where our men are studying to be priests. So we have partnerships arranged with five different seminaries in the Midwest. In that particular case, the apostolic visitation is, indeed, at the forefront of seminary officials and seminarians' minds and topics of conversations as I visit those respective seminaries.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And I have to ask you, are people who are homosexuals, are they called to the priesthood the same way as heterosexuals?

Fr. NUSS: Yeah, Neal, it's a complicated--you know, human sexuality is such a complicated, mysterious reality that God has given to us. There's not an easy answer to that. Indeed, there is a call from God, and there has to be a capability that the church needs to discern that that man has so that the call itself is authentic, that it's real, that it's genuine, that that man can succeed in a healthy and in a holy way.

CONAN: Hmm. Let's get a listener on the line. This is Ellen, Ellen calling us from Esterole(ph) (pronounced es-ter-roll)--Is that right?--in Florida.

ELLEN (Caller): Esterole (pronounced es-stair-roll), Florida.

CONAN: Esterole, OK.

ELLEN: Near Ft. Myers.

CONAN: Thank you.

ELLEN: Yes. Yes. I am president of Call to Action in Florida, and I would just say that I'm very disappointed that our church is again acting discriminately. We would never deny--I hope we would never deny a black person from the priesthood or a left-handed person. Because somebody happens to be born sexually orientated different than the majority of people, I think it's wrong that the church would discriminate and even question them. I think we have wonderful homosexual priests, wonderful homosexual bishops. I would hate to see any of them leaving. And God bless the people like Father Daley who stay and do a good job for our church.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Ellen.

John Allen, the document does address the issue of discrimination of homosexuals. Such persons must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. Any sign of unjust discrimination in that regard should be avoided, it says. Yet obviously it says they shouldn't be in the priesthood.

Mr. ALLEN: Well, yes. Now it would be stressed by the people who worked on this document that they are not making a statement about what would be known in Catholic parlance as sacramental theology--that is, they are not saying there is something inherent about homosexuals that makes them unworthy of ordination. This is instead what's known as a prudential judgment, that in the cases outlined in the document--that is, the three instances: someone not capable of being celibate for at least three years, someone participating in the gay culture, someone with deep-seated homosexual tendencies--that's it's simply unwise at this point for the church to ordain them.

Neal, I wonder if I could ask your other guests a question.

CONAN: Sure.

Mr. ALLEN: Father, I heard you say a moment ago that as you approach this document, you see the concern not so much as homosexuality itself but as the capacity to accept the demands of the priestly life. I'm wondering does that mean that if you had a candidate who had a kind of stable, fixed, same-sex orientation but who, nevertheless, seemed psychologically mature, seemed capable of accepting in an integrated way all of the demands of the priestly life that despite this document, you would still be willing to take a look at that person?

Rev. NUSS: Well, the Vatican, as you know, is prudent not to have any kind of a ban on the admission of men with homosexual tendencies to the priesthood at all, homosexual inclinations. And so sexual activity is something that needs to be studied and that needs to be revealed and that needs to be discussed. But the tendencies or inclinations towards homosexuality in and of itself is not a prohibition for admittance into the seminary or ordination.

CONAN: We're talking about the issue of homosexuality in the Catholic priesthood.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And, John Allen, what Father Nuss just said about that, is that the way you're hearing this document being interpreted in Rome?

Mr. ALLEN: Well, I think again it depends on to whom you put the question. I think there are certainly many, including some of those who were involved in putting this document together, who would read it in a slightly more restrictive fashion, who would make a distinction between what they would call transitory homosexual tendencies or experiences--that is, someone who struggled with their sexuality in their teens, for example, or somebody who experimented in college--but certainly would say that anyone who has a fixed homosexual identity--that is, a fixed orientation to the same sex--as they would read it--and this would include a number of Vatican officials; this would include some US bishops; certainly some who've been commenting on this document--they would say that person ought to be excluded. On the other hand, I would say that in conversation with many seminary rectors, with many vocations directors, with many other religious bishops and superiors around the world, I hear them saying things closer to what Father just said, which is that as far as they're concerned, homosexuality in and of itself is not so much the concern as how integrated that is into the whole of someone's life and how prepared they are to accept and live the demands of Catholic priesthood.

And so again, I think that the implementation of this document--in other words, what concrete difference it's going to make on the ground in diocese in religious communities--I think that very much remains to be seen.

CONAN: Well, Father Dave, do you anticipate getting further instructions? Would your bishop say, `We've gotten this document and here's what it means in terms of what we do here in Toledo'?

Rev. NUSS: Well, it's certainly appropriate for me to have ongoing conversation with my bishop, as I'm an agent of my bishop in Toledo. And then also with the group of people that I work with collaboratively in the diocese who assist me with screening and assessment, including professional people as well--psychologists--I'm going to have discussion with them about this. I think it's prudent and I think it warrants that.

CONAN: And it's--they're going to be extensive. The document doesn't give you a lot of guidance as to what to do, does it?

Rev. NUSS: No, as you mentioned aptly in the beginning, it's vague. It's vague in its wording, and it's intentionally done that way because I think it takes serious the individual. I think it respects and it reverences and is sensitive to treating people as people and not having general absolute edicts of particular behavior, so that what might be considered inappropriate, say, action between men in a Mediterranean community--keep in mind this is a worldwide ecclesiastical document--may indeed be interpreted differently in downtown Toledo, Ohio, and the church prudently respects that and in doing so respects each individual.

CONAN: Father Dave, good to talk to you.

Rev. NUSS: Thank you so much, Neal.

CONAN: Father David Nuss, director of vocations for the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio, and he joined us from the studios of WKSU at Kent State University in Ohio.

When we come back from a break, we'll be talking with Bishop William Skylstad, who's the bishop of the Diocese of Spokane and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. We'll also be talking about new recommendations on CPR from the American Heart Association. It's the talk of the nation from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

And here are the headlines from some of the other stories we're following here today at NPR News. President Bush is expected to make a major address on Iraq tomorrow morning at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Earlier today in El Paso, Texas, the president said it would be a terrible mistake to pull US forces out of Iraq without having achieved victory. And major highways are gradually reopening in many of the Plains states. It could be days before some people there get electricity restored though. The region is digging out from the first blizzard of the season, which dumped as much as 20 inches of snow. You can hear details on those stories and, of course, much more later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, the abortion debate takes center stage here in Washington as the Supreme Court hears arguments on New Hampshire's parental notification law. We'll hear taped excerpts from the arguments before the Supreme Court, and analysis tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

Today we're talking about the document released by the Vatican this morning aimed at deterring homosexuals from entering the seminaries and becoming priests. Still with us is John Allen, Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, and joining us is Bishop William Skylstad. He's bishop of the Diocese of Spokane and president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. He's with us by phone from his office in the Catholic pastoral center there in Spokane, Washington.

Nice of you to joins us today, sir.

Bishop WILLIAM SKYLSTAD (Diocese of Spokane, Washington): Thank you, Neal. Glad to be with you.

CONAN: This document that's come out--and obviously this has been the subject of discussion for a long time now--how will you actually implement it here in the United States?

Bishop SKYLSTAD: Well, I think in many ways, Neal, there's nothing particularly new in the document, although it certainly, I think, offers some clarification about the screening of candidates. I think the screening process for candidates for priesthood has been in development over the years--certainly far, far greater and much better than when I entered the seminary over 50 years ago. This is an ongoing process, and this document from the Holy See I think will tend to make even clearer the screening process that needs to go on to make sure that we have people in ministry who have an effective maturity and who lives their lives responsibly with regard to their own sexuality and ministry.

CONAN: A lot of confusion is centering around the interpretation of the phrase `deep-seated homosexual tendencies.' Again, it doesn't give you a lot of guidance on how to interpret that phrase.

Bishop SKYLSTAD: Well, Neal, I think really the important statement in the document is in the earlier section, the first section, which says that the entire life of a sacred minister must animated by the gift of his whole person to the church and by an authentic pastoral charity. And then it goes on to the need for an effective maturity. That has to be the primary in a good candidate for priestly ministry. If, however, this bridges over to a deep inclination towards homosexuality then that's another matter and the judgment of the church says that a person who has this, even though it's not clearly defined--when that impedes his ministry, with that impedes his relationship with people, when that becomes principally his orientation and identification in life, then I think the statement from the Holy See saying this could be an impediment to--is something that would not allow a person to be a good candidate for priesthood

CONAN: We were speaking earlier with Father Fred Daley, an openly gay priest in Utica, New York, and he was saying that one of the things he has some problems with that are being described as objectively disordered, among other things, and also the sense he says he comes away with--what he describes as a mean-spirited document, that his ordination was a mistake.

Bishop SKYLSTAD: Well, in the earlier part of the document and in my own statement that I released this morning, I state that the church affirms the dignity of all human beings and the respect that should be shown to all people irrespective of their sexual orientation. But then I also go on to say in my statement that what about those who, for example, are homosexually inclined priests and who are presently priests today? And I go on to say that the answer lies in the lives of those men who with God's grace have truly been dedicated priests seeking each day not to be served but to serve their people, faithfully representing and word and example the teaching of the church in its fullness. So I think that's--you know, that's--there are those who have a homosexual orientation who are doing I think really fine work in the church. And as I stated initially a moment ago, we have a deep reverence and respect for every person no matter what their orientation, whether it's in ministry in the church or whether it's, of course, in the larger society itself.

CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line. This is Jim. Jim, calling us from Denver, Colorado.

JIM (Caller): Hi, Neal. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

JIM: I had a question and a comment. It seemed the previous priest from Ohio had mentioned that, in answer to your question as to whether or not homosexuals are called into the priesthood, and he commented that, well, that may be the case but then it's up to the church to see if they're capable, and I'm not sure that squares with what someone's belief in God would be that if they're called in service that should be suitable enough for them to pursue that, and yet why should it be left to some administrator to determine whether or not they're capable of being a priest. I think they probably have a better perspective on some of the real issues that people face if they've had that kind of experience. So I'm just kind of curious as to what the bishop would comment on that.

Bishop SKYLSTAD: Well, the document itself is meant to be helpful for the discernment of vocations to priesthood and it's meant to be helpful in clarifying the issues for the bishop, for the diocesan vocation director, for the spiritual director and for the candidate himself. So it's the--even though a person may be called to a certain life, it's really the church who calls someone, deeming that person capable of ministry and having the necessary prerequisites for ordained ministry. It's the church ultimately that calls the bishop who calls that person to ministry.

JIM: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Jim. And I wonder do you worry, Bishop Skylstad, that, again, there are--there is a problem with the numbers of priests in this country. Are you afraid or do you worry that this will further diminish, A, the number of applicants and, B, maybe some priests who are in the priesthood now might feel alienated and think about leaving?

Bishop SKYLSTAD: Well, I've already stated actually some weeks ago that the church is not into witch-hunts or gay bashing. I think that there are priests out there who are doing good ministry, very good ministry, and are living very chaste and celibate lives. I think that the thrust of the document in the main I suspect has already been pretty well integrated into the screening process for dioceses and seminaries. I think that's probably a reality already. So I don't personally think there's going to be a decrease in the number of candidates coming forward. This document asks for openness about sexual orientation and the need of appropriate qualifications for vocations to priesthood. We want our priests to be the best possible in terms of their own sexual integration and effective maturity, so that they minister to people in a very loving, responsible way without violating boundaries that are very inappropriate according to church teaching and church practice.

CONAN: And one final question; I wanted to bring John Allen in on this as well, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter there in Rome. We're, of course, talking about this application to the Catholic Church here in the United States. This is obviously a document that applies to the Catholic Church worldwide. Is this seen, John Allen, as an American problem?

Mr. ALLEN: Well, I think it would be seen predominantly as a Western problem in the sense that, you know, we in the developed West have a kind of gay liberation movement. We have a culture of open discussion of these sorts of issues that doesn't obtain in many other parts of the world. And certainly if you look at the press reaction to this document around the world--this was not a front-page story today in Nairobi or in Bangkok or in Buenos Aires. I mean, this is something that is being--that is generating controversy and generating conversation largely in Western Europe and North America.

Now I don't by that mean that anyone in the Vatican believes that it is only Western Europeans or Northern Americans who produce gay priests. I think there is a recognition that homosexuality is a part of human experience and therefore there are undoubtedly gay priests in all parts of the world. But in terms of the kind of open discussion and debate over the question of admission to seminaries and in the status of gay priests, I would say that is largely a Western phenomenon.

CONAN: Would you agree, Bishop Skylstad?

Bishop SKYLSTAD: Well, I think that's probably true, but we have to remember too that I think human sexuality is a gift that we all have whether it's here in the states or in Southeast Asia or anywhere else in the world. So even though perhaps it's--the discussion is much more in the public forum here, the reality is that in every nation amongst every people, this is something with which we must deal in a most positive and respectful way.

CONAN: I'd like to thank you both for joining us today. Bishop William Skylstad, the bishop of the Diocese of Spokane, and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who's kind enough to join us from his office there in Spokane, Washington. Appreciate your time.

Bishop SKYLSTAD: Thank you very much.

CONAN: And John Allen, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter joining us by phone from his office in Rome. Appreciate your time today too.

Mr. ALLEN: You're welcome, Neal.

CONAN: And when we come back, it's the new guidelines on CPR from the American Heart Association.

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