Gay Seminarians Face Purge

Pope Benedict XVI OKs guidelines for unpublished policy to bar ordination of homosexuals

The long anticipated witch-hunt of homosexual men in U.S. Catholic seminaries is underway under Pope Benedict XVI, with the only reaction from gay Catholics being statements of protest.

The church says the purge is a response to the sex abuse scandals and an act of compassion toward the men. Catholic dissidents call it everything from an outrage to a work of the Holy Spirit that will in time lead to reform.

Just this week, Catholic World News reported that the pope “has given his approval to a new Vatican policy document indicating that men with homosexual tendencies should not be ordained as Catholic priests.” That policy has not been published, but the guidelines for sweeping the seminaries have.

Edwin O’Brien, Archbishop for Military Services, has been appointed by Rome to lead the “visitation” of seminaries, looking into 56 areas of adherence to orthodoxy in the training of men to be priests. One of six mandatory questions asks if there is “evidence of homosexuality in the seminary.”

“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 be accepted,” O’Brien told the conservative National Catholic Register. He believes all male seminaries are essentially a near occasion of sin for gay men and therefore is it uncharitable to subject them to such an environment.

John Allen, Vatican correspondent for the liberal National Catholic Reporter, said the ban on gay priests is “longstanding, but has been applied differently in the U.S. and the rest of the world.”

Under Pope John XXIII, considered a great reformer, a document was issued in 1961 saying, “Advancement to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty.” But that order came prior to the flowering of gay liberation.

Pope John Paul II said in 2002 that seminary candidates should be excluded if they have observable “deviations in their affections,” and linked the admission of homosexual men to the priesthood to the molestation scandals. Allen believes that Benedict’s enforcement action is part of his crusade against “moral relativism.”

Rev. Bernard Lynch, an out gay priest once active in the New York gay movement and AIDS activism, said, “They’re not just going after gay orientation but condemning our existence. They’re saying, ‘I wish you were never born.’”

Lynch, now working as an AIDS minister and psychotherapist in London, noted, “It’s not who we sleep with—it’s who we relate to and how we love. The real problem they have with gays is that we can love one another. If they admitted that they would have to change the whole men-on-top-of-women paradigm.”

He said he believes seminarians who are “ego dystonic,” meaning those who don’t accept themselves, may be able to avoid expulsion.

“If you have any self-respect, you’re not welcome,” Lynch said. “They are welcoming the sick and banning the healthy.”

Lynch believes this purge will compound the problem of sexual abuse by clergy.

“You will have dysfunctional men who can’t relate—a recipe for sickness,” he warned “It’s not the first time the Catholic Church has gone after a suffering people in the name of Christ—Jews, Muslims, women. They persecute relentlessly people who threaten their hegemony.”

It is unclear how the investigators will root out homosexually oriented men. Some sex researchers attach sensors to genitalia and show subjects porn to see what gets a rise out of them. If that sounds far-fetched, Jim Kirby, a former classmate of this reporter at Chaminade High School in Mineola, recalled that one of the brothers there during the years between 1967 and 1971 told him that he and his peers had been shown pictures of attractive men and women and then observed to see if their pupils dilated.

O’Brien’s office said he was traveling and unavailable to answer questions on what investigatory tools would be used in the seminary visitations. Monsignor Frank Maniscalco, spokesman for the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, emphasized that the planned inquiry is “an assessment of institutions—not individuals—to see if they are supportive of lifelong celibacy and the teaching of the Catholic Church.”

When asked if this were indeed a purge, Maniscalco said, “That is not the purpose of it,” and rejected charges that the church is scapegoating gay people. However, he added, “Anyone coming into a seminary needs to be about honest about whether they can live celibately.”

Maniscalco has not seen the Vatican document on homosexuality in the priesthood that the pope is said to have approved, but believes it applies to candidates for the priesthood, not those already ordained.

Rev. John McNeill, the out gay author of “The Church and the Homosexual,” an early published affirmation of gay Christian sexuality, said that, paradoxically, this crackdown may be evidence that “the Church is being transformed into a Church of the Holy Spirit where everyone will be equal and anyone can celebrate mass, man or woman.”

McNeill, who was expelled from the Jesuit order for his pro-gay teachings, predicted the Vatican’s moves will backfire.

“The sex scandals have undermined clerical authority and this move to eliminate gay people will not work,” he said. “If you run across a good priest, you run into a gay priest.”

He added, “At the heart of all this is feminophobia because the gay priest is in touch with the feminine. That’s why they’re more compassionate. The church is striking a blow against women.”

McNeill remembers O’Brien as an adversary on a “Donahue” TV talk show on gay Catholics years ago.

“It was obvious that he was one of those self-hating gay people,” O’Neill said. “That’s what I smelled.”

On O’Brien’s official website, the first paragraph of his bio reads, “Dining with devoted 17-year old sailors on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt somewhere in the Gulf. Waking up to the footsteps of young soldiers resolutely going about their duty in the dark, outside a tent in Kosovo. These are the experiences that inspire Archbishop O’Brien in his ministry.”

McNeill also believes that the current pontiff is homosexual. Allen, the Vatican expert who wrote a biography of then-Cardinal Ratzinger, said, “I found virtually nothing either way” on the new pope’s sexuality.

Brendan Fay, a gay Catholic activist who lives in Queens, said, “The response of the Vatican is an attempt to further scapegoat gay priests and seminarians in response to the pedophilia and sex abuse crisis. It shows the inability of the Church’s leadership to accept responsibility for the role of the bishops in the cover-up of those scandals.”

Fay, who produced a documentary on the late Rev. Mychal Judge, the gay priest who was the Fire Department chaplain and died on the job in the 9/11 catastrophe, said that the crackdown will lead to “a less healthy and more dysfunctional clergy who will become more deeply closeted.” He and several others interviewed for this article estimated the percentage of gays in the priesthood as at least half.

Jeff Stone, secretary of Dignity/New York, the gay Catholic group, said, “This is a tragic and misguided action that will deprive the church of some of its best priests.”

He said that experts gathered by the Vatican in 2003 in the wake of the scandals recommended continued ordination of gay seminarians. Stone agreed with McNeill that “the priesthood as we know it is coming to an end,” noting that the numbers are low to begin with.

McNeill said he had heard the Vatican was considering allowing priests to marry, though Allen in Rome had heard nothing of such a shift. Fay said that the Church needs married priests and out gay priests who can marry as well.

One anonymous gay priest told Newsday this week that the purge is “a disaster. I know many celibate gay priests who feel they could not live with any integrity in a church that treats gay men like this. And I know many seminarians who have been living celibate lives with ease, who would simply leave.”

The fact that this priest was anonymous and that the vast majority of gay priests are closeted puts a hurdle in the way of significant public protest of the Vatican attack. No demonstrations have been scheduled in New York and there is scant evidence that Catholic lay people are rising up from their pews to stop the purge.

At the conservative CatholicWorldNews.com website, readers welcomed the crackdown. One wrote, “Homosexual clergy are grossly disproportionate in number. No healthy male (read: heterosexual) would want to remain in a gay bar for more than five seconds after entering and recognizing his mistake. The same visceral recoil has undoubtedly deterred normal males from entering the priesthood.”

The seminary in St. Louis will be the first to get a visitation from a team of American bishops from September 25 to 29, an inquisition that will include meetings with each and every candidate for ordination as well as with faculty and staff.

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