HIV Test Not Anti-Gay, Quebec Cardinal Says

Canadian Press [Canada]
Downloaded January 14, 2004

MONTREAL - HIV testing of applicants to the priesthood is not an attack on homosexuals, Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte said Monday.

"It's not only a profession, a job that we take for a few months or few years," he said at a news conference.

"For me the criteria is not what is your sexual orientation but what is your capacity to maintain, with God's help, interpersonal relationships within the celibate commitment."

Turcotte said the Grand Seminaire that serves Montreal will follow the lead of Roman Catholic dioceses in Edmonton and Vancouver because lifestyles have changed.

Potential candidates often arrive with baggage since the average age of men entering the priesthood in Montreal last year was 38.

Turcotte also said priests must have at least seven years of training and celibacy is not for everyone.

"It's no small challenge," he said of the demand. "A celibate life in the everyday world is not an easy one."

Even though the number of applicants has fallen dramatically in recent years, the church isn't desperate enough to accept anyone.

He insisted the tests are a health component of an exhaustive review of each candidate's background.

"People ask the church to be very severe in the choosing of their priests because of some scandals that happened, especially in the United States," Turcotte said.

"And in a way they don't want that we take measures that can contribute to that.

The Catholic Church in the United States has been rocked by sex scandals involving priests and boys. But Turcotte insisted the HIV testing had nothing to do with pedophilia.

When asked whether mandatory testing would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Turcotte said the tests would be optional.

"I think we do what we have to do with prudence and with the accordance of the candidates."

Some proponents have said testing is a safeguard against escalating medical costs and a way to ensure the diminishing flock of priests can perform their duties. But Turcotte denied that costs were a major consideration.

The head of a Montreal gay hotline said he was reassured by Turcotte's comments that the policy had nothing to do with sexual orientation.

But Laurent McCutcheon, president of Gai Ecoute, said people can lead healthy lives even after contracting HIV.

"One can be HIV positive and live for 15 to 20 years without being sick," he said in an interview.

"With medications, one can continue to work so a priest can have a career even if he is HIV positive."

But the executive director of the Canadian AIDS Society was more skeptical.

"It's a narrow-minded approach and I think there is a hidden agenda there which makes me very skeptical," Paul Lapierre said from Ottawa.

Quebec City archbishop Marc Cardinal Ouellet said HIV testing won't be required at the city's seminary as part of its regular screening.

"The matter was studied in the past and the seminary team decided not to use the test," Ouellet told reporters in Quebec City.

Canada's largest seminary, St. Augustine's in Toronto, also doesn't require HIV testing.

But the Catholic Church doesn't have a uniform policy across Canada.

"The seminary in the given diocese is the jurisdiction of that diocese," Deacon William Kohesch, spokesman for the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops, said in an interview from Ottawa.

"There is no national organization in place to oversee that kind of policy. There is no head office of the Catholic Church in Canada."

HIV testing became commonplace in American seminaries in the early 1990s, said Bill Ryan, spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"Virtually all dioceses have a physical screening process and that would in the normal course of events include that, so it's rather widespread," he said.

"With society's realization of this problem that gradually became part of the practice."


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