To: (Multiple email addresses may be specified by separating them with a comma)
Clergy Abuse: The Third Level
BY The Editors
Catholic News Service reports that, on April 8, before his
visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI issued a clarification about
homosexuals in seminaries. It’s important background to what he said on April
15 aboard Shepherd One, traveling to the United States.
said of the abuse crisis, “I think we have to act on three levels: the first is
at the level of justice. … We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the
sacred ministry; it is absolutely incompatible, and whoever is really guilty of
being a pedophile cannot be a priest.”
first-level of response to the crisis is a step that the bishops in the United
States have already definitively taken. The zero tolerance policy ends the
ministry of any priest accused of inappropriate acts toward children.
second-level of response to the crisis, said Pope Benedict, is the “pastoral
level.” Victims of abuse don’t just need legal justice; they need healing and
reconciliation. After all, the Church is more than a human institution, it’s a
channel of God’s grace to souls. Reconciliation isn’t just a public relations
issue, it’s an eternal imperative. Benedict himself modeled this second level
of response when he met with victims of abuse during his visit.
third-level of response the Church must make to the abuse crisis has to do with
seminaries, said Pope Benedict. This work, too, has already begun. The Holy
Father cited the visitation of seminaries, and said the Church would do “all
that is possible” to ensure seminaries are properly preparing candidates. “Only
sound persons can be admitted to the priesthood and only persons with a deep personal
life in Christ.”
brief remarks on the plane were not meant to be comprehensive. But it is
striking that even in that brief exchange, Pope Benedict made key distinctions
that are at the heart of the Church’s approach in the seminaries.
speaking of the first level response and keeping churches free of predators, he
said “I will not speak at this moment about homosexuality: This is another
it is. The Vatican sees very clearly that pedophilia is different in kind, not
just degree, from homosexuality. Only a profound psychological darkness makes
people capable of pedophilia. The response has to be zero tolerance.
his words also suggest that there is another moment in which to speak of
homosexuality and the priesthood. That moment had come the previous week, which
is when Catholic News Service says Benedict reaffirmed the Vatican’s 2005
“Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with
Regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies.”
Instruction was all about what Pope Benedict on the plane called the “third
level” of response to the abuse crisis: the seminary’s role in weeding out
unfit candidates. And the Instruction makes its own careful distinctions.
distinguished between candidates with a “deep-seated homosexual tendency” and
those who had experienced a “transitory problem,” perhaps in adolescence. The
Congregation for Catholic Education taught: “[T]his Dicastery, in accord with
the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments,
believes it necessary to state clearly that the Church, while profoundly
respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy
orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual
tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.’”
In other words: Homosexual feelings or
experiences in your past don’t bar you from being a priest. But being part of
the “gay scene,” ongoing involvement in homosexual acts and identifying
yourself as “gay” as an integral part of who you are — all of that is a
2005 teaching is nothing new. In a 2002 speech, Pope John Paul II linked the
abuse scandals with seminary instruction and called for the exclusion of
seminary candidates with observable “deviations in their affections.” And, lest
we forget, his words echoed a 1961 instruction to the superiors of religious
communities on “Careful Selection and Training of Candidates for the States of
Perfection and Sacred Orders.”
spring, “In a clarification approved by Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican said its
2005 document prohibiting the admission of homosexuals to the priesthood
applies to all types of seminaries,” reports Catholic News Service.
includes houses of formation run by religious orders and those under the
authority of the agencies dealing with missionary territories and Eastern
Churches, said a statement signed by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican
secretary of state.
of this sounds terribly intolerant to our culture today. But a February 2004 John
Jay Criminal College study commissioned by the bishops gives hard data that
necessitates the policy. The study revealed that the majority of sexual abuse
by clergy took place during the 1960s and 1970s, with 81% of the victims being
males between the ages of 11 and 17.
that evidence, National Review Board member Dr. Paul McHugh, former
psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, summed up the abuse crisis as
“homosexual predation on American Catholic youth.”
as the Catechism teaches, deserve respect and acceptance. They are certainly
not all abusers — far from it. “This inclination, which is objectively
disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial.”
nearly all the abusers were homosexuals, and involvement in the homosexual
scene lends itself to sexual excess and militates against sexual restraint. To
be “tolerant” in the face of the facts as we know them would be to continue to
put American Catholic youth at risk.