Abuse Focus Now Turns to Causes
National Review Board Report Identified Three Things at Root of Pedophile Crisis: Lack of Seminary Screening, Gay Priests and Mandatory Celibacy

By Kevin Eckstrom
Staten Island Advance [Washington DC]
March 6, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Following a major report by the Catholic Church on the sexual abuse crisis that festered for half a century, focus now turns to three root causes identified by a lay review panel of experts: Seminaries, gay priests and mandatory celibacy.

The church's National Review Board, in its 145-page report issued Feb. 27, urged an overhaul of screening for seminary students to prevent psychologically and emotionally immature men from becoming priests.

"It is clear that some men became priests ... who never should have been admitted into the seminary or never should have been allowed to continue to ordination," the board said.

Catholic bishops will vote in November on a Vatican-ordered blueprint for seminary formation, and leaders say increased scrutiny for would-be priests will be part of that review.

The blueprint coincides with a planned "apostolic visitation" of U.S. seminaries by Vatican officials already in the works for at least two years. No time line has been set for the Vatican visit.

"One of the best things you can do in terms of spiritual direction is help a man not become a priest who shouldn't be," Bishop John D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., said in a televised "town hall meeting" Friday night at Catholic University.


A key component of the seminary review will be how to handle the issue of homosexuality. The landmark report on abuse by John Jay College of Criminal Justice found that 81 percent of cases involved boys, or cases "of a homosexual nature."

Gay Catholic groups are nervous that the board's report will spark a "witch hunt" of gay priests. Some estimates have said that between one-quarter and one-half of Catholic priests are gay. The board noted the presence of a "gay subculture" in many seminaries.

"This is a great way for the bishops to step back from their responsibility of being shepherds," said Matthew Gallagher, executive director of the gay Catholic group Dignity/USA. "They blame the crisis on the gay priests, and now they're going to blame the witch hunt on" the review board.

Some Catholic leaders, however, cautioned against a rush to blame gay men for the problem. "Homosexuals are normally, I'm told, attracted to homosexual men. So it's unfair to homosexuals, to the gay community, to scapegoat them," Chicago Cardinal Francis George said.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the gay issue is just one of many that needs to be considered.

"We do not wish to disparage or in any way to denigrate the very generous and faithful service of any of our priests who may be homosexually oriented but have been absolutely faithful to the promises they made," he said.

This fight, too, will likely play out in the seminaries, as officials consider the so-called "Bevilacqua model," in which former Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia issued a blanket prohibition on gay candidates in his seminary.


But perhaps the most crucial -- and challenging -- question for the church will be the issue of celibacy, which the board concluded is a "terrible burden for (some priests), resulting in loneliness, alcohol and drug abuse, and improper sexual conduct."

In the past year, small groups of priests and lay activists in at least a dozen dioceses have petitioned for a discussion of optional celibacy, which church leaders have flatly rejected. In December, Pope John Paul II said the "complete gift of self in celibacy" was not up for discussion.

There is near-universal agreement that celibacy is often misunderstood, both among priests and the larger public. Church officials said seminaries need to do a better job of preparing men to lead celibate lives.

"The problem here is lack of chastity. It's not homosexuality, it's not heterosexuality," said Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee, head of the bishops' priestly life and ministry committee. "The goal here is virtue, the goal is fidelity to one's promise, to integrity of life."

The review board called for the church to handle celibacy "in an open and forthright manner." It also called the church to do a better job of policing lapses of celibacy "in situations that do not involve the abuse of minors."

The Rev. Tom Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine America, noted that priests who lived alone accounted for nearly twice as many cases as those who lived in religious communities.

"Is the 'Lone Ranger' model of diocesan priesthood detrimental to the life of celibacy?" he asked.

The report said priestly "living arrangements bear revisiting."


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