ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The Vatican says that practicing homosexuals and those with strong tendencies toward homosexuality should not be allowed to enter the priesthood. The Roman Catholic Church's position is reiterated in a document which was leaked on the Internet by a Catholic news agency. The document has been years in the making, part of the response to the American sex abuse crisis. It was not supposed to be released until next week. And joining me now is NPR's religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty.
And, Barbara, what exactly does the document say?
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY reporting:
Well, it says a couple of things. First, it says that men who want to enter the seminary and become priests cannot display three tendencies. The first one is they can't be practicing homosexuals; they have to be chaste. The second is they can't--and I'm quoting here--"present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies." It's a rather vague term that has some gay priests puzzled and a little bit angry. Third, they say that seminarians can't support the so-called `gay culture,' and by that, what the Vatican means is these men aren't supposed to go gay pride marches or be overt about their sexual orientation.
But I have to say the document makes a distinction between deep-seated gay tendencies and what it calls, quote, "the expression of a transitory problem." For example, a young man may have had some experiences as an adolescent, and yet he could still qualify for seminary if he had been celibate for at least three years.
SIEGEL: And what has the reaction been so far to this document?
HAGERTY: Well, Robert, it really depends on who you talk to. I've spoken with a gay priest who say the document is going to discourage highly qualified men who are oriented toward homosexuality to choose, say, another denomination or another career where they feel wanted. This priest also thought the document would encourage something of a `witch-hunt'--his words. He believed it will encourage people at seminaries to report on each other, and that that's going to have the effect of driving gay seminarians back into the closet.
Now others says that the document isn't nearly as strongly worded as it could have been and as many expected. For example, there was talk earlier this year that a seminary candidate would have to have been celibate for 10 years before qualifying for seminary; now it's only three years. So some believe that the document may be kind of difficult to enforce. I mean, for one thing, how does a seminary official know if a man has a gay tendency or not?
HAGERTY: Right? And my sense from talking to people is that this document takes a much more middle-of-the-road approach than it really could have.
SIEGEL: This isn't entirely new as church doctrine. Why did the Vatican feel the need at this point to clarify its position on homosexuality in the seminaries?
HAGERTY: Well, I think that there are a couple of reasons. One is that studies suggest that seminaries and the priesthood have become a bit of a haven for gay men. One respected researcher found that something like 40 percent of seminarians are gay, though only a tiny fraction are actually practicing. So there's been complaints by heterosexual men that seminaries are really difficult places to be in because they're so sexually charged.
There's another piece of the background, Robert, and a lot of people don't like this. The Vatican decided to take up this issue after the sexual abuse crisis broke out in 2002. And some conservatives and apparently the Vatican seemed to draw this link between homosexuality in the priesthood and pedophilia. And as I said, that gets people really, really angry. They say sexual orientation has nothing to do with pedophilia, but it is the context of this document.
SIEGEL: It's been leaked. What happens next with this document?
HAGERTY: Well, right now there's a group of Roman Catholic priests who are investigating all 229 American seminaries, and they're trying to kind of get a sense for what the seminaries are like and if there's a gay culture. So the next step is that this investigation has to be completed.
SIEGEL: Thank you. NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty.
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